BY SEAN CLARK
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers.]
To Be Sung Underwater, by Tom McNeal. Reviewed by Susan Salter Reynolds (Los Angeles Times).
I’m going to start this week’s entry off not with a book that instantly grabs me, but one I find myself a bit skeptical about. It’s definitely a book for those inclined for the literary genre: you could build a Masters level English course around the names Reynolds drops in the first two paragraphs of her review. Still, by her account this is a meticulous and artfully crafted book. It’s exceedingly difficult to write a book about a “midlife that took a wrong turn 27 years earlier” without being, well, boring (Reynold’s “midlife” there is a somewhat confusing usage). It takes strong writing to pull that off. I’ve never heard of McNeal before today, and this is generally not my sort of book, but after a review like this, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
[Get a copy of To Be Sung Underwater at Powell’s.]
Popular Crime, by Bill James. Reviewed by Nathaniel Rich (New York Times).
Here’s something unexpected. Bill James is a well-known baseball writer. He’s written a ton of baseball books that provide a popular bridge between statistician fare and layman pleasure reads. In this book he takes his signature approach and applies it to…murders. As Rich explains, “the book is primarily a history of the murders that have obsessed American newspaper readers since Dec. 22, 1799, when the body of a young Manhattan woman named Elma Sands was found floating in a well at what is now 89 Greene Street.” I’ve certainly watched my share of crime shows, even stats-and-science heavy ones, and I know of people that are way more into them than me. If, like them, you have a thing for real life murder mysteries, and you’re a fan of numbers or baseball writing, this book just may be tailor made for you.
[Get a copy of Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence at Powell’s.]
There But For The, by Ali Smith. Reviewed by Alex Clark (Guardian).
At first glance, this plot might seem kind of tedious. A guest at a bourgie dinner party escapes upstairs and locks himself in a room “and refuses to come out. Ever.” But, as a fan of Clue (the movie, but also the board game) as well as literature, and to an extent pop culture, the book as Clark further describes it is pretty intriguing. I’m a sucker for character studies, and if you stir in a little bit of mystery, you’ve got a pretty winning recipe. That not to say this is a mystery (and there’s no murder to speak of–it’s all time-slips and introspection), but the element is there. All told, this seems like a fun if somewhat shallow book.
[Get a copy of There But for The at Powell’s.]
Bonus Book Trailer: Instead of picking on crappy ones (which is almost all) here’s a good book trailer for The Sisters Brothers, which Nico dubbed a Great Read.