BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers.]
Lightning Rods, by Helen DeWitt, reviewed by Scott Esposito (L.A. Review of Books)
Given the ludicrous premise at the core of this book, Glory Holes would have been a more accurate (if less appealing) title. It involves comic adventures based around corporate-sanctioned anonymous sex, and Esposito says the glory hole inventor’s intricate sexual fantasies provide the book’s “deepest look into a character’s soul.” With a premise this weird, Lightning Rods should either be awful or amazing, and given the rave reviews (cf. NYT and Millions) I might just be tempted to give it a try.
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, by Charles J. Shields, reviewed by Christopher Buckley (New York Times)
This bio sounds worth reading as much for the story of Vonnegut’s personal life, marked repeatedly by tragedy, as for the expected behind-the-scenes glimpses at famous novels. Buckley’s review is sharply written and enjoyable; his verdict is “diligent, readable but uneven.”
The Language Wars, by Henry Hitchings, reviewed by Barton Swaim (Wall Street Journal)
The Language Wars sounds full of historical anecdotes about linguists and lexicographers, from matters of taste (like why Americans don’t spell “labor” with a “u” ) to technical questions of usage (like whether “hysterical” should be used as a synonym for “hilarious”). In addition, Swaim discusses the conflicts between grammatical “prescriptivists” who eschew strict grammatical guidelines, and the rest of us who, as Swaim says, simply want “to know if using ‘impact’ as a verb will make [us] sound stupid.” Intriguing review, and a good book for word nerds. Also, Barton Swaim is an awesome name.
Parallel Stories, by Peter Nadas, reviewed by Benjamin Moser (New York Times)
Claims that a long novel is too labyrinthine must be taken seriously when they come from a reviewer who calls Proust “gossipy bubbliness.” It sounds like there’s a lot to like in Nadas’s epic new novel, but if, like me, you’re on the fence, this review might tip you back.
In brief: The guy who wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret, now a Martin Scorsese movie, also wrote the eye-catching YA novel, Wonderstruck. Read more about him here. … Jonathan Lethem’s new collection of essays is worth a look. … Ghost Lights draws comparisons to both The Pale King and Heart of Darkness. … This review of Margaret Atwood’s latest weird book provides an excellent overview of Atwood’s struggle against the “science fiction” label. … This review of a historical novel about Vladimir Nabokov’s younger brother wants you to like the book, but I’m not convinced.