BY NICO VREELAND

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers.]


Believing Is Seeing, by Errol Morris, reviewed by Kathryn Schulz (New York Times)

Errol Morris is right up there with Werner Herzog in the pantheon of filmmakers whose obvious genius seems to want more than a single medium. Morris’s new book takes six pairs of photographs and investigates the stories behind them. One such pair shows a roadway during the Crimean War with, and subsequently without, cannonballs strewn about next to it. The story to investigate: did the photographer place those cannonballs in order to make his picture more dramatic, and if so, how does that change the truth of the photograph? Schulz’s review is thorough and even-handed, despite the fact that much of Morris’s material originated on the NYT’s own Opinionator blog. She calls the book “so subtle, elliptical and exhaustive that it lies just to the pleasurable side of tedium.” (Bonus: Errol Morris’s favorite commercial.)  [Get this book]


An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus , by William Todd Schultz, reviewed by Camilla Ciuraru (Boston Globe)

Diane Arbus said that she took pictures of freaks because they had already experienced the great trauma of their lives, and so they lived with unusual freedom. The rest of us normals, she contended, are each awaiting our own trauma, and so we live under the blurry shadow of an immense fear. Schultz’s biography attempts to examine Arbus’s photographs to better understand exactly what she was trying to do. According to Ciuraru, the project is a complete failure, but it’s interesting to watch Ciuraru dissect it. [Get this book]


Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson, reviewed by Stefan Beck (BN Review)

Johnson’s latest seems to rehash an old premise. Beck sees this, analyzes it and explains it (he actually gives the outline in Madlibs form, spliced from a description of a past novel), and then he falls for Johnson’s charms anyway. An excellent review.  [Get this book]


Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War, by Hal Vaughan, reviewed by Judith Warner (New York Times)

If, like me, your attention drifts as soon as fashion is brought before it, then you might be as surprised as I was to discover that Coco Chanel, the genesis of a thousand oblique perfume commercials, was also “a wretched human being. Anti-Semitic, homophobic, social climbing, opportunistic, ridiculously snobbish…” Indeed, the question isn’t whether Chanel sympathized with Nazis, but only the extent of her involvement with them. Warner soon makes it clear that Vaughan’s isn’t the best examination of Chanel’s bizarre life, but this review is an excellent encapsulation of it. [Get this book]


In brief: David L. Ulin very weirdly recommends “The 9/11 Commission Report” as the best 9/11 book of the decade. … The first Susan Salter Reynolds column for the L.A. Review of Books. … Lorrie Moore writes about Friday Night Lights in the NY Review of Books. … 10 cool book apps chosen by USA Today.

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