BY NICO VREELAND

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


The Balloonist, by MacDonald Harris. Reviewed by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post.

When Michael Dirda calls a novelist “highly original,” that’s my cue to listen up. This is a reissue of a book first published in 1976, about a Swedish “aeronaut” who attempts, with two companions, to pilot a balloon to the North Pole. There are erotic flashbacks and bombastic philosophizing, but I’m most interested in the “bleakly exhilarating vision” and Dirda’s promise that this is “the perfect reading for winter.”


Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright. Reviewed by Janet Maslin in the New York Times.

This new book about the director Paul Haggis and Scientology will not be published in the UK over libel concerns, and won’t be published in Canada for murky reasons Random House declines to comment on. After this review, these issues become a bit clearer. Maslin says the book is “full of wild stories and accusations,” and that Wright quotes from “what is claimed to be a short secret Hubbard memoir,” which sounds every bit as suspect as Xenu. All in all, it sounds like this one provides more lurid details than salient new information.


The Miniature Wife, and Other Stories, by Manuel Gonzales. Reviewed by Hector Tobar in the L.A. Times.

Tobar doesn’t drop Marquez’s name in this review, but that’s who his descriptions remind me of. Gonzales’s debut story collection includes a man whose muscles wither as he composes music, a hijacked plane that stays in the air for twenty years, a unicorn, and lots of other fantastic elements. If there’s a 5% chance this guy is the next Marquez, then the book is probably worth a shot.



Wool, by Hugh Howey. Reviewed by Alison Flood in the Guardian.

The Guardian rather disingenuously compares Wool to Fifty Shades of Grey, because both began as fan fiction and gained such a following that they’ve been properly published. Wool is, in fact, a gritty dystopian story about a world where the outdoor air is poisonous, all humankind lives in one massive underground silo, and a priest class tries to keep the populace ignorant. Flood calls it uneven but really good when it’s good.


In brief: Everybody’s reviewing Jared Diamond’s new book, and we will, too, when I manage to finish it. In the meantime, here’s David Brooks on it. … The LA Times’s Winter Book Preview. … This hard-boiled noir novel might have the weirdest and worst cover I’ve seen in a while. … A graphic novel roundup via the BN Review.

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