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Monday, December 25th


American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Work by Susan Cheever

Scenes from an American Eden

A review by Marjorie Kehe

I don't know why Susan Cheever's publishers changed their minds and released her book a month early but I am grateful that they did. Because what dropped into my lap -- just at the height of the season of holiday excess -- was a trim (223 pages, with notes and bibliography) and pleasing volume that I had not been expecting. It was like having a Christmas present arrive early.

Cheever explains in her preface that sheer serendipity led her to write American Bloomsbury. She was asked -- somewhat offhandedly -- to prepare a preface for a new edition of Little Women. That experience caused her to delve into the life of Louisa May Alcott. Doing so surprised her. "I remembered F.O. Matthiessen's bold statement that all of American literature had been written between 1850 and 1855," she writes. "What I hadn't realized is that most of it was written in the same cluster of three houses."

The place was Concord, Mass. (Henry James called it "the biggest little place in America...

Out of Range: Why the Constitution Can't End the Battle Over Guns (Inalienable Rights #03 by Mark V. Tushnet

The Most Mysterious Right

A review by Cass R. Sunstein

In 1991, Warren E. Burger, the conservative chief justice of the Supreme Court, was interviewed on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour about the meaning of the Second Amendment's "right to keep and bear arms." Burger answered that the Second Amendment "has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud -- I repeat the word 'fraud' -- on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime." In a speech in 1992, Burger declared that "the Second Amendment doesn't guarantee the right to have firearms at all." In his view, the purpose of the Second Amendment was...

As of This Writing: The Essential Essays, 1968-2002 by Clive James

A review by Benjamin Schwarz

James is among the very small number of great critics writing today — a group that includes Martin Amis, Peter Ackroyd, John Updike, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Hitchens. All write with verve and recklessness, which they combine with extraordinary erudition. All are imbued with what James calls "the spirit of Grub Street" — all, that is, write in "the tradition of supplying a supplement and a corrective to ... the dust contractors of the universities." The authors and subjects he examines in this collection of "essays" — really review essays — range from Nabokov to Judith...

Straight Man: A Novel by Richard Russo

A review by Chris Bolton

William Henry Devereaux, Jr., makes his indelible first impression in the prologue of Straight Man, a boyhood episode which takes place decades before the events of the novel. This piece was originally published as "Dog" in The New Yorker. It's not hard to imagine Russo sitting at the counter of his beloved diner after finishing the last words of "Dog," unable to shake this character or the feeling that Hank is far too big to be confined to one short story.

I reread Straight Man last fall when, after a series of unfinished disappointments, I thought about what I really wanted from a novel, ...

The Manhattan Beach Project: A Novel by Peter Lefcourt

A review by Stephanie Zacharek

In the course of his seven novels, Peter Lefcourt has made up some crazy and hilarious stuff: His 1997 Abbreviating Ernie is a hardy meditation on media feeding frenzies that opens with a sordid little scene involving a hungry Rottweiler, a carving knife and a male corpse with a hard-on. In the 1994 Di & I, a depressed English princess finds love, happiness and fulfilling work (as co-owner of a McDonald's franchise) in America. None of these things, you say, could really happen. So why is it that Lefcourt's audacious alternate realities are often more believable than, say, the idea of a...

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.

Earth's Time Is Running Out

A review by Ron Charles

Astronomers at Caltech say the Earth will last 1 billion years longer than previous estimates, which makes me wish I'd chosen the bedroom wallpaper more carefully. But Ron Currie's strange new novel raises the opposite prospect: Everything Matters! begins with an announcement that a comet will destroy our planet on June 15, 2010. That fast-approaching deadline raises "a question which men and women, great and not-so, of every color, creed, and sexual persuasion have asked since they first had the language to do so, and probably before: Does Anything I Do Matter?"

In a sense, every novel is ...

Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living by Doug Fine

It's a Fine Life

A review by Lydia Millet

One day roving journalist Doug Fine decided to change his life. He would move to the Mimbres Valley in southern New Mexico, trade in his trusty 12-year-old Subaru for a biodiesel-fueled monster truck, buy a couple of Nubian goat kids and some chicks, start a garden and set out to live an oil-free life. Farewell, My Subaru is his memoir of that venture.

Known for his first book, Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man, which tells the story of his previous life-changing move, that time to Alaska, Fine is an amiable and self-deprecating storyteller in the mold of, say, Douglas Adams. (The name of ...

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