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Book Review Roundup

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Did you miss any of the big book reviews this weekend? Catch up with the highlights below.


"Solar," Ian McEwan
The New York Times

There's little that's lifelike about "Solar," despite its relentless pretensions to relevance. The story is structured like a crossword puzzle, in rows and columns of little empty boxes that McEwan helps us fill in by providing witty riddles whose solutions flatter our intelligence. The process feels pleasantly antic and cerebral, but in time its premeditated quality becomes preposterously artificial, as do its swerves into heady slapstick humor.


"Every Last One," Anna Quindlen
The New York Times

Mary Beth, the narrator of Anna Quindlen's engrossing new novel, "Every Last One," values stability and sameness, finding quiet contentment in her long, amiable marriage to an ophthalmologist and in her flourishing career as a landscaper.


"Beatrice and Virgil," Yann Martel
The Los Angeles Times

Life draws Henry into another story, just as the writer in "Life of Pi" is drawn into Pi Patel's story. This layering of fiction and nonfiction requires peeling on the part of the reader. It is a continental trick, an ancient understanding of the power of stories to reveal and obfuscate -- the play within the play. The author is little more than a vessel, a reedy pipe through which the story blows.


"Blockade Billy," Stephen King
The Los Angeles Times

"Blockade Billy" is hardly essential King; it's a short book that he's given to Cemetery Dance Publications, a small press in Maryland. There's nothing wrong with that, but you have to wonder if it would have appeared in print any other way. Like all King's work, it has momentum, but reading it, ultimately, is like watching a big leaguer sit in with a farm team: interesting, perhaps, but without the giddy excitement, the sheer, explosive sense of possibility, that marks the highest levels of the game.


"A Country Called Amreeka," Alia Malek
The San Francisco Chronicle

The stories in this book are clearly told, with warmth and a quick wit, and together form a wonderfully lucid and rational look at 20th century Arab American life. A book like this would be valuable in any era, but particularly now, when we're just beginning to stumble out of the darkness of eight years of xenophobia and buckshot paranoia, it's welcome, brave and necessary.


"Between Two World," Roxana Saberi
The San Francisco Chronicle

Although "Between Two Worlds" is not the first book that documents the quotidian hardships of a term in Evin's Section 209, it is, by virtue of Saberi's skillful reconstruction of dialogue, a spot-on chronicle of the paranoia and utter buffoonery of the Iranian government and its apparatchiks.


"A Ticket to the Circus," Norris Church Mailer
The Washington Post

[T]his isn't primarily about Norman Mailer and not very much about American literature. (He didn't have writers for friends.) It's about American celebrity culture -- Norris and Norman managed to get around -- and overextended family life. Carole Mallory, one of his old girlfriends, has just published a perhaps more serious version of Mailer-events in "Loving Mailer." But if you want to be both edified and amused, you really can't do better than "A Ticket to the Circus." The title is apt.


"The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century," Alan Brinkley
The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Brinkley has told the cautionary tale of the Luce Half-Century with the rigor, honesty and generosity that Luce's own magazines too often sacrificed to the proprietor's enormous ego and will to power.


"The Rage Against God," Peter Hitchens
The Guardian

["The Rage Against God"] is a memoir, as well as an assault on Christopher Hitchens's popular but poorly argued God Is Not Great (2007). In 2008, the brothers engaged in a public discussion about the coherence of religious belief. Peter reveals that they almost came to blows on that occasion, and that he has vowed never to debate with Christopher under the spotlight again. The Rage Against God is meant to be a grown-up substitute for more shouting matches.

Within limits, the project is a success.

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