Critical Notes

Roundup, Mark Twain Edition

By Eric Banks

A century after his death, Mark Twain continues to get plenty of prime review coverage. Edmund Morris writes on the University of California Press’s publication of The Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1 in the Wall Street Journal, while the Globe and Mail invited Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin to weigh in. Ward Sutton, at B&N Review, responds with an illustrated take. (For what it's worth, readers are scooping up copies too, as Jennifer Schuessler writes in the New York Times, whose bestseller list has the book in territory usually occupied by Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart.)

Also in the B&N Review, Tom LeClair handicaps the National Book Awards fiction finalists; the winner will be announced this week. It's a fair bet that the recipient will be somewhat more grateful than Thomas Bernhard famously was; at Bookforum, NBCC biography finalist Geoff Dyer looks at a collection of the Austrian writer's bilious acceptance speeches, My Prizes. At the Washington Post, Marcella Valdes reviews one of the surprise finalists, Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel. Elsewhere in the Washington Post, NBCC member Gerald Bartell reviews John Lawton's A Lily in the Field, while at Washington Monthly, Michael O'Donnell writes on the publication of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Letters.

In the Boston Globe, Katherine A. Powers considers Richard Francis's “excellent” Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia, while Steve Weinberg reviews the memoiristic Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Rise From Slavery to Bittersweet Success, by Carolyn Marie Wilkins. Laura Miller writes in Salon on Avi Steinberg's Running the Books, a memoir of his stint as a prison librarian (“what a lapsed Orthodox Jew learned from the pimps, con men and gangsters in the big house”). At the San Francisco Chronicle, Troy Jollimore reviews Paul Auster's new novel Sunset; Mark Athitakis's essay on the Auster appears at the B&N Review.

Elsewhere, here's Janice Harayda's review of Martin Gayford’s diaristic account of sitting for Lucien Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf, and Heller McAlpin's piece on Jay Parini's novel about Melville, Passages of H.M. At the London Review of Books, Hilary Mantel, recipient of the 2009 NBCC Fiction award for Wolf Hall, recounts the writerly aftershocks of her summer stay in the hospital following surgery (“When Virginia Woolf’s doctors forbade her to write, she obeyed them. Which makes me ask, what kind of wuss was Woolf?”) And from somewhere off the beaten path, here's Elaine Showalter on James Ellroy's memoir of sorts, The Hilliker Curse.

Finally, at Slate, NBCC member Paul Devlin asks the musical question (re: the Yale University Press's Anthology of Rap), why is it so hard to get the lyrics right?