Songbook by Nick Hornby
A review by Dave Weich
Midway through Songbook, Nick Hornby riffs on the topic of what song should be played at his funeral. The live version of Van Morrison's classic "Caravan" from It's Too Late to Stop Now is the one he chooses, but not without reservations. After all, the string section might give mourners the impression that he'd gone classical in those final, fearful, repentant moments when death stared him in the face. "Will people think I'm making some concession to classical music when they hear it?" he wonders. And what about the bit where Van introduces the band? "Is that too weird?" Hornby asks. "Can...
Cradle Book: Stories and Fables (American Reader #13) by Craig Morgan Teicher
Why We Tell Stories
A review by Peter Grandbois
In a culture glutted on narrative realism, Craig Morgan Teicher's Cradle Book reminds us of why we tell stories in the first place. If the title doesn't tip the hat, then the opening sentence confirms it: "This story is older than the words with which it was written." The gods of Teicher's universe aren't concerned with the careful piling up of details designed to push a character through a narrative arc. They hurl stories at the reader from the abyss of the unconscious. Characters are drawn in a flash of the pen, as in "The Groaning Cows": "She was the weaver's daughter, a quiet girl who...
American Studies by Louis Menand
A review by David Bromwich
Louis Menand has been publishing reviews and essays for about twenty years. He writes on most things a non-specialist could write on: novels, movies, television, magazines, politics, education, manners, celebrity culture. His academic training was in literature, but academically most of what he does would now be classified as cultural history; his book on the American pragmatists, The Metaphysical Club, was an ambitious and rewarding contribution to that genre. He brings to his pieces a large share of general information, prose decorum, and an accent of overwhelming sobriety, sometimes nicely,...
The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam by Tom Bissell
The Unconscionable War
A review by Robert Stone
In 1989, Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie presented a brilliant weaving together of one American soldier's personal history and his country's fateful efforts in Vietnam. With great sensitivity and originality Sheehan demonstrated how the story of Colonel John Paul Vann's life may be read as a succession of events behind which the dragon shape of the Vietnam conflict could be discerned. Vann's influence on American press coverage in the early days of the fighting was extensive and complex. Sheehan, like a good novelist, subtly led readers to the insight at the heart of the tale—that Vann...
A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes
Fran and Ed's Excellent Adventure
A review by Anne Glusker
In this age of adventure travel, the lure of the increasingly exotic holds sway. It's no longer enough for vacationers to take a barge down a French river or browse in an Italian market -- no, one must rappel in Africa, kayak in Nepal. The activities must be rugged, and the locales far from the Western traveler's starting place. Given this, many travel-hounds will eye the mostly European destinations listed in Frances Mayes's table of contents dismissively.
Mayes, author of the best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun plus three more follow-up odes to her adopted home, lives a blessedly split...
The O'Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America's Families by Bill O'Reilly
A review by Gerry Donaghy
Dear Readers, I want you to remember this day. I am pleased to announce that sometime between now and the day I die, I'm going to write a book for tweens and teens called Life Sucks Until You're Old Enough to Buy Beer and Get Laid. It's going to take a while to write, so those of you who are the parents of teenagers might want to seek alternative books to give your kids. If encouraging your kids to be devoid of any compassion, originality, or critical thinking is your goal, you may want to consider The O'Reilly Factor for Kids by Bill O'Reilly.
Yes, folks, that's right: television's...