Book Review Roundup: Victorian Sex And Alan Arkin's Memoir

03/21/2011 02:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"An Improvised Life: A Memoir" by Alan Arkin

Fans and admirers of the Academy Award-winning star will enjoy "An Improvised Life" for the insight to be gained from this personal visit with an actor who proves to be quite deft with a pen. Those who share Arkin's interest in the acting life will find a great deal to like here, as well.

"Lee Krasner" by Gail Levin

Widely known as it may be, Krasner's life story -- now told in full -- is compelling. Art historian Gail Levin, also an expert on artist Edward Hopper, has drawn on her close association with Krasner and extensive research to produce a biography that rings fair and true.

"This Vacant Paradise" by Victoria Patterson

Patterson writes with the exuberance of a natural storyteller. Her cast is rich, her narrative sinuous and masterfully structured. Esther is a compelling heroine, a grown-up version of the popular girl whose exploits we once watched from the shadows of junior high.

"Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism" by Deborah Lutz

Indeed, the real interest of Pleasure Bound is not what it tells us about the Victorians, because the information was already there, and so were the interpretations. Lutz's contribution lies in what her book tells us about us in relation to them. Why do we want these sex stories, and not just any stories, but the Victorian versions, tales of oppression followed by jack-in-the-box eruption? Why is it irresistible to think about 19th-century gents (and a few gentesses) trapped in their desires? To picture them doffing top hats and unlacing crinolines, and then diving into the four-poster? To imagine the respectable citizens of a confident age exchanging secret looks, playing footsy under the lace-covered table?

"Almost a Family" by John Darnton

Each of us wrestles with the past -- miserable or not -- and each of us finds our own way to heal. John Darnton, happily married with children and a new profession as a novelist, is evidence that the shadow of the past does not have to darken the present. Luckily for us readers, Darnton's way of coming to terms with his life and his family's life was to write a gripping, moving and fascinating story about it.

"Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World" by Tina Rosenberg

I appreciate the point she's trying to make. There are positive, powerful, overlooked uses of peer pressure, many of them convincingly documented in her book. But I wish Rosenberg didn't feel the need to make her point a line. Solutions are not one size fits all--they are, in fact, maddeningly bespoke.

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