BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers.]
Religion for Atheists, by Alain de Botton. Reviewed by David Brooks in the New York Times.
Alain de Botton seems like an eloquent intellectual who descends only occasionally into maddening pretension. His latest book, in which he prescribes that atheists adopt some of the practices and rituals of organized religion, is the kind of pretentious societal prescribing that should’ve probably been killed. Brooks indulges him for quite a while, teasing out the most enlightening facets of de Botton’s thesis, before finding that “many of his ideas seem silly.” This is a book to read about, but not one to read. Also, the sketch of de Botton’s idea for a “Temple of the Earth”—a Washington Monument that you stand inside to become non-deifically inspired—is something to see.
The Cove, by Ron Rash. Reviewed by Ursula K. Le Guin in the Guardian.
This odd review throws a wet blanket on my own anticipation of Rash’s latest novel, portraying it as a straightforward, mechanical tale of doom, described in simple language, with inevitable results. That would also be a fair description of Serena, Rash’s excellent previous novel, but Le Guin doesn’t find much to recommend The Cove. It’s cause for a bit of concern, if not yet panic.
Reading for My Life, by John Leonard. Reviewed by David L. Ulin in the L.A. Times.
Ulin’s opening line reads: “I want to talk about criticism, about what it is and how it operates.” He never really quite gets there, not in the way I wanted from one of the country’s best book critics writing about another critic whom he obviously admires. But along the way, Ulin’s meanderings are worth the trip, and it seems John Leonard would’ve liked it that way.
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff. Reviewed by Ron Charles in the Washington Post.
This might be one of those books that everybody likes but me—it wouldn’t be the first time. Ron Charles writes pretty sharp reviews, and he’s obviously smitten with Groff. She writes good characters, I’ll stipulate that, and it sounds like this novel will play to her strengths (interiority, as opposed to interaction). But I’m still not buying.
In brief: Spring books preview in the LA. Times. … Interview with Jonah Lehrer, whose new book concerns the neuroscience of creativity. … The Expats seems indeed to be a solid if unmemorable thriller. … Mystery roundup in the Wall Street Journal. … On the birth, evolution, and death words. … Michael Dirda on a sci-fi novel that still holds up decades later.