The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
A review by John McWhorter
But for the fact that he has written a novel, Stephen L. Carter is not a novelist. He is a professor of law at Yale who made his debut in 1991 with a lively and candid book called Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, a sober exploration of affirmative action and its effect on his life. He could have ridden this book to talking-head fame as a professional contrarian in the media; but he is a restrained man, and he has resisted the temptation to become an "alternative black voice" on Fox News or in The Wall Street Journal. Instead he followed up with six treatises on the nature of our...
Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World by John Szwed
'Alan Lomax,' The Man Who Preserved America's Folk Music
A review by Curt Schleier
Most people who know American music probably have heard of Alan Lomax. He's the guy who visited rural areas of the country around the time of the Great Depression, recording -- and thereby preserving -- American folk music (including jazz, the blues, prison songs, etc.). Now, thanks to John Szwed's comprehensive biography, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World, we learn that he achieved much more.
Lomax's efforts were not limited to the U.S. He recorded the folk music of several European and Caribbean countries as well. More than just recording music, he taped singers' oral histories. ...
A Thousand Threads (The Hollyridge Press Chapbook Series) by Steve Orlen
Between the Mouth and the Stinger
A review by Linwood Rumney
American poet Steve Orlen's A Thousand Threads, the last collection published before his unfortunate passing last year, challenges readers' assumptions about the kind of writer Orlen is. Most people familiar with his work are likely to think of him as a narrative poet, and, in his life, he often seems to have fully embraced that label. On the other hand, his poetry here is so robust and carefully textured that it is difficult to separate the lyric from the narrative qualities. It is easy to feel the rhythm in his work, as in the poem "In Spring" excerpted above. This rhythm generates a kind...
State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration by James Risen
A Second Draft of History
A review by Anna Godbersen
In December of last year, James Risen was one of two New York Times reporters to break the story of the National Security Agency's vast, unprecedented, and, depending on your political point of view, illegal domestic spying program. His new book State of War fills in the back story and future prospects of the Bush administration's fraught (to understate the situation) relationship with intelligence. Risen places the NSA's warrant-less espionage (the agency is now "eavesdropping on as many as five hundred people in the United States at any given time," he writes) within the larger story of a...
The Savage Detectives: A Novel by Roberto Bolano
Dust and Literature
A review by ChloÃ« Schama
According to the formula commonly used to introduce foreign writers, it would be accurate to call the late Roberto Bolaño a Chilean writer. But since he lived most of his life outside Chile, in Mexico and in Spain, the description is not quite accurate. Bolaño objected to attempts to attach him to a homeland: Chilean writers thought of him as a Mexican writer, Mexican writers thought of him as a Chilean writer, his Spanish colleagues thought of him as something else entirely. "My only homeland," he said in the last interview before his death in 2003 at age fifty, "is my children."
For some ...
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
A review by Chris A. Bolton
Before she made her name with the acclaimed graphic novel memoir Fun Home, Alison Bechdel spent two decades writing and drawing the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which appears in several alt-weekly and gay newspapers.
Dykes works on multiple levels. Like Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, it functions as both a time capsule and a chronicle of a community under siege. Bechdel writes in her introduction to the collection:
Being an out dyke [in the '80s] was not an easy row to hoe. We had no L Word. We had no lesbian daytime TV hosts. We had no openly lesbian daughters ...