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Review-a-Day

Tuesday, January 1st


 

American Notes for General Circulation (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens

Dickens's American Notes: A Classic Review

A review by Edwin P. Whipple

[Ed. note: This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, April 1877.]

Dickens sailed, or rather steamed, for the United States early in January, 1842. During the previous six months he had been one of the most radical of the English Liberals, dreading a Tory reaction and contributing many a squib and song to the journals for the purpose of aiding those writers who were bent on covering the reviving Tory party with ridicule, contempt, and obloquy. One of his versified invectives, called The Fine Old English Gentleman, to be Said or Sung at all Conservative Dinners, is given by Forster; and it breathes a spirit of wrath and scorn against the Tory gentry and nobility which would not misbecome a Chartist in his wildest rage at the pretensions put forward by the privileged classes. Nothing in his criticism of the United States equals it in bitterness. Indeed, in indignantly surveying the political outlook in his own country, he talked to his friends "of carrying off himself and his...



Azorno by Inger Christensen

Pictures Remembering Creatures

A review by Douglas Messerli

The death of Inger Christensen in January of this year has left us without one of our greatest celebrants of living and life. For that reason it is bittersweet to have her poetic 1967 fiction Azorno finally translated into English. As with most of Christensen's writings, Azorno is a highly structured work. In this case, seven characters -- two men and five pregnant women -- are in the process of writing fictions. Each of their narratives contains similar actions, phrases, and events, although one would be hard placed to describe any of them as having a plot.

Various of these figures write...



The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview by Elizabeth Fox-genovese

Divine Rights

A review by Steven Hahn

For all the ink that has been spilled, for all the quarrels and the debates that have erupted over the past century and a half, popular and scholarly understandings of the Civil War almost universally share one view in common: that the war was a great tragedy in American history and American life. Not a lecture is delivered, not a review penned, not a book published -- however much they may differ as to the causes, the objectives, or the outcome of the war -- in which this view is not embedded or made explicit.

There is, of course, good reason for this. For all the grisly wars in which...



Nocturnal Conspiracies: Nineteen Dreams, from December 1979 to September 1994 by David B.

Dangerous Dreams

A review by John Pistelli

In his celebrated graphic memoir Epileptic, French cartoonist David B. gave a personal account his older brother's forty-year struggle with a severe and degenerative case of the titular seizure disorder. Epileptic records how the cartoonist's family, in search of a refuge from the havoc wrought by the illness, sought order in various spiritual disciplines, occult practices and communal lifestyles that were often derived from or reminiscent of totalitarian political ideologies. Our protagonist, young Pierre-Francois Beauchard eventually changes his name after learning that his parents did not...



Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008 by Clive James

A Lively, Engaging Volume Marred by A Tendency to Trade Poetic Insights for "Sayableness"

A review by Benjamin Lytal

Clive James has been a fish out of water, a television personality and a poet, a memoirist who befriended Princess Diana . . . and an erudite critic, a regular in England's most important literary journals. Yet his own fame, as what the English call a TV presenter, ruined his reputation: "As a show business name, I was crossed off the list of the serious."

But American audiences have hardly heard of him. Presented now with Opal Sunset: Selected Poems 1958-2008, we should be able to read his poetry on its own merits, free from visions of "Saturday Night Clive."

Yet the poetry, more than...



The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings (Bantam Classics) by Edgar Allan Poe

Where Stephen King and Arthur Conan Doyle Found Their Inspiration

A review by Doug Brown

As part of my classics year project last year, I couldn't resist the opportunity to delve into some Poe. I had only ever read a couple of the stories, and of course "The Raven." I recommend the dive; most of the stories are only a few pages long and can be sipped in a short period. As would be expected, there are tales of the macabre, but more than that there are tales of psychology. Poe understood that the human mind imagining the supernatural is much scarier than the banality of actual supernatural events. What makes "The Tell-Tale Heart" such a great story is that the dead man's heart isn...



Lost City (NUMA Files) by Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos

Blunt Weapon

A review by Sacha Zimmerman

Certain required elements keep a pulp thriller tethered to a necessary amount of predictability and hackneyed plot. There will be close calls, and there will be a man and a woman thrown into a life-threatening (perhaps world-threatening) situation, and there will be elaborate chases, and there will be the unraveling of some kind of conspiracy. Given these parameters, it becomes incumbent upon the author to twist the requisites into unique, tantalizing animals. Stephen King marries horror with thrill, creating a chase that is intertwined with the monsters under your bed. Carl Hiaasen and Helen ...



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