25 Books to Read Before You Die
 
 

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Review-a-Day

Monday, September 26th


 

Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human by Grant Morrison

Virgil for Superheroes

A review by Greg Baldino

Whether they be gods or angels, the idea of sentient beings beyond us mere mortals but recognizably similar has influenced human thought since the earliest days of tale-telling around the fire. In some tellings, they are of a state of grace from whence humans fell; in others they are a potential, something that might, by labor or virtue, be reached by all. In the 20th century, these tales were given new form with the advent, at the publishing of Superman's first adventure in Action Comics #1, of the superhero. This sub-genre of a sub-genre, born of the highest mythologies and the lowest pulp denominators, rose up from a declasse and maligned artform to become the dominant mythology of the modern world, influencing philosophical discourses as much as box office receipts.

Grant Morrison is no stranger to these creatures. Long before he became one of the most acclaimed and popular comics writers of the last two decades, being trusted with the corporate treasures of Batman, Superman...



Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa by Marc Estrin

The World Was His Roach Motel

A review by Ron Charles

A raid on Kafaka's 'Metamorphosis'

I will never kill another cockroach. Neither will anyone who reads Marc Estrin's brilliant debut novel about Gregor Samsa. And that's just the beginning of this book's audacious intentions.

Jumping off from Franz Kafka's famous novella, Insect Dreams describes an even stranger metamorphosis. In the original, poor Gregor, a salesman in Prague, found himself transformed one day into an enormous bug. In Estrin's continuation, that bug mutates into the savior of humanity.

The story opens as the fires of World War I begin licking the timbers of European...



The Best American Sports Writing of the Century by David Halberstam

A review by Dave Weich

I first intended to give this book to a friend for his birthday, but after bringing it home for a night I realized I wanted it for myself, too. For starters, Roger Angell (in my opinion, the best baseball writer alive) is here, writing an essay I hadn't read about troubled pitcher Steve Blass. John Updike, also, writing about Ted Williams, and Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio. But there's so much more than baseball in these nearly eight hundred pages. John McPhee on tennis. Norman Mailer on Muhammad Ali. Golf, football, hockey, fly-fishing, chess, mountaineering, horse racing, and more. No single...



A Dash of Daring: Carmel Snow and Her Life in Fashion, Art, and Letters by Penelope Rowlands

Rag Mags

A review by Benjamin Schwarz

On a bleak October day in 1933, Martin Munkacsi, a prestigious Hungarian photojournalist who'd never before taken a fashion picture, was on Long Island's Piping Rock Beach with a socialite model and Carmel Snow, the new fashion editrix of Harper's Bazaar, who had hired him to shoot a feature for the magazine's "Palm Beach" issue. Munkacsi, who would become one of the most successful photographers of his generation, ordered the shivering model in bathing suit and cloak to run toward the camera. The resulting snap revolutionized fashion photography. Until then, models were all but mannequins...



Everyman by Philip Roth

The Disappearing Novel

A review by Joseph O'Neill

Following the historical panoramas of his recent work, Roth's new novel -- a novella, really -- is a transfixing summary biography of a seventy-one-year-old mortal from Elizabeth, New Jersey: "He'd married three times, had mistresses and children and an interesting job where he'd been a success, but now eluding death seemed to have become the central business of his life and bodily decay his entire story."

Thus the personal history of this "average human being" is reduced almost to a surgical history: hernia trouble as a boy; a burst appendix and peritonitis in his...



The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

The Usual Suspect

A review by Jeffrey Goldberg

In October 2002, Osama bin Laden issued a statement in which he analyzed America's inexhaustible number of sins and prescribed ways of repenting for many of them. The statement was, by the standards of bin Laden's cave encyclicals, unusually coherent. (Unlike, say, his most recent video, released in early September, which ranged across the sub-prime mortgage crisis, America's high rate of taxation, and the work of Noam Chomsky -- the latter treated sympathetically, of course.) The 2002 letter laid out in a somewhat deliberate fashion bin Laden's main complaints, and it helped to answer a...



Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Dennis Odriscoll

In The Word-Hoard

A review by Adam Kirsch

"Remote on the one hand from the banal, on the other from the eccentric, his genius was calculated to win at once the adhesion of the general public and the admiration, both sympathetic and stimulating, of the connoisseur." So writes Thomas Mann about Gustav von Aschenbach, great writer and national institution, in Death in Venice; and the description applies unexpectedly well to Seamus Heaney. Heaney is in obvious ways unlike Mann's Apollonian aesthete, but he too has managed to win the love of the many and the esteem of the few, in a way that no American poet since Frost has managed. As...



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