Critical Notes

Swing Time, Secondhand Time, and Interesting Times

By Bethanne Patrick

The old (purportedly) Chinese curse has come true. We live in interesting times. 

For the moment, those times are still producing lots of interesting book reviews, as you'll see in this roundup. Several members weigh in on the new Zadie Smith, while others focus on poetry, which we will need more of as the weeks between the election and the inauguration pass. Nonfiction gets attention, too, and includes a thoughtful take on Dylan's Nobel as well as a piece about the oldest extant Jewish book. 

Happy reading, happy sharing, and Happy Thanksgiving to all. 

Walton Myumba notes the “rhythmic play of shadow and light” in Swing Time by Zadie Smith for LARB. Michael Magras reviewed it for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and found it a “challenging novel” with some imperfections. Ellen Akin's Minneapolis Star-Tribune review reminds us that this is Smith's first first-person narrator, and an extended look at “the fraught territory where individual experience negotiates social norms.” Over at The Brooklyn Rail, John Domini calls it “a construction of quite monstrous bagginess.”

In Asymptote, Lori Feathers reviews Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich, saying the book's arrival in English “serves as a timely antidote to reports in the Western press about Russian nationalism.” 

At The Washington Post, Katherine A. Powers covers the year's best audiobooks, including Behold the Dreamers, Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary, and The Pigeon Tunnel.

Joseph Peschel finds that Francine Prose's new novel isn't, alas, a barrel of monkeys: The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In Jewniverse, Erika Dreifus tells the tale of the earliest known Jewish manuscript in the new world, on display for the first time at The New York Historical Society. 

Yes, Bob Dylan deserves that Nobel Prize, writes Greg Barrios in The San Antonio News-Express; “To imply that a real poet or writer was denied this award because it was given to Dylan is a lack of understanding of what a poem or poetry is or can be in this century.”

Julia M. Klein reviews David Cesarani's Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews, 1933-1949 for The Boston Globe and finds that the author's “great gift for synthesis” helps to puncture “the twin myths of German efficiency and Jewish gullibility and passivity.”

Rayyan Al-Sharwaf covers Future Sex by Emily Witt for The Toronto Star and writes that it's “stylistically uneven” but “best when laying bare the infantilization of women woven into assertions made by people, even certain feminists, who ostensibly wish to empower them.”

For The Washington Post, Elizabeth Lund's Best Poetry of the Month column includes new collections from Philip Levine, Christian Wiman, and Paul Muldoon.

Celia Bland writes about C.D. Wright's Shallcross for Tarpaulin Sky, paying tribute to the recently deceased Wright and testimony 'to an artistic truth rather than a factual one.”

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