BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall, by Frank Brady, reviewed by Garry Kasparov (New York Review of Books)
I’m a sucker for reviews of biographies written by someone close to the biographed—a good one will have a way of whorling into half a memoir in its own right. And so: Kasparov reviewing a Bobby Fischer book? Yes, please. He recounts years of chess history and explains his own thoughts and feelings as part of the fray, but skates—or skirts—around the most interesting questions of genius and madness. Still, this is an outstanding piece.
Pub Walks in Underhill Country, by Nat Segnit, reviewed by Alfred Hickling (Guardian)
Segnit based his debut novel on a handful of pub-walk pamphlets he “found,” written by a troubled, supercilious, (fictional) expert walker named Underhill. From the review, it’s difficult to clearly picture how Segnit frames the novel—which comes in the form of Underhill’s unfinished magnum-opus walking pamphlet—and how he handles the interplay between his own fictional persona and that of Underhill. Still, Hickling’s review makes the book sound charming and possibly successful, though such meta-novels are nearly impossible to pull off. This review is worth a read, if only to work out for yourself what this novel might look like—Pub Walks itself is hard to get in the U.S. as of now.
A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, reviewed by Nick Owchar (L.A. Times)
Last year, the mammoth vampire genre novel written by a “real” writer was The Passage (which is OK, but not nearly as good as the hype). Now Deborah Harkness, a history professor and nonfiction author, takes a hefty cut at vampires and daemons, as well as the witches of the title. Owchar bobs and weaves in his overly restrained review, at one point writing, “Can I just say how difficult it is for a guy to read this stuff?” but never quite drawing a bead. The Boston Globe‘s review, on the other hand, calls Witches “a Dan-Brown-worthy blend of horror-movie kitsch, New Age cheesiness, and romance-novel saccharine.” In sum: avoid.
Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin, by Bruce Chatwin, reviewed by Brooke Allen (BN Review)
I’ve never heard of Bruce Chatwin, a travel writer who died more than two decades ago, but I find something interesting in this kind of letter collection (though, perhaps tellingly, I’ve never actually read one). Still, if you’ve blazed through, say, the Kerouac/Ginsberg letters and still want more, this will be right up your alley. I especially enjoy reading a few choice K/G letters and imagining they’re correspondence between James Patterson and Nora Roberts.
In brief: Here’s another front in the same war as the Harkness novel: the L.A. Times gives West of Here a very charitable write-up—the Globe comes down a little harder. 19 months ago, Cambridge cops arrested Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard professor, for breaking into his own house not far from C4 HQ—19 months is a pretty quick turnaround for these two books. Finally: The New York Review of… movies?