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Wednesday, April 21st


Collected Poems by Philip Larkin

A review by Daniel Torday

Robert Lowell was dragged out of a Buenos Aires hotel in a straitjacket. Then there was stark-raving-mad old Ezra Pound in Italy, spewing anti-Semitism for Mussolini. But no poet's bad behavior has more blatantly influenced his work than Philip Larkin's.

When he was 22, Larkin was so piss drunk at a literary reading that he mistakenly decided he was layered up enough to pee himself without anyone noticing. In his 30s, he gained notoriety around Britain's Hull University for his extensive porn collection. And his reputation was sealed when his collected letters revealed a lifelong litany of curse-strewn rants.

All this while serving his entire adult life as a college librarian. Yes, one who wrote novels about lesbians and poems about casual sex, and could never really commit to a woman, lying and cheating even after he'd gone deaf and become his country's most famous poet. But a librarian, nonetheless.

Twenty years after his death, a newly revised Collected Poems has...

Zeno's Conscience (Everyman's Library) by Italo Svevo

A review by Elizabeth Judd

Italo Svevo's La coscienza di Zeno, first published in 1923, seems so effortlessly inventive and eerily prescient that one wonders why the novel isn't more widely appreciated. Championed by James Joyce and then largely ignored in the United States, Zeno's Conscience is a hilarious chronicle of a neurotic schemer whose desire to cure his various pathologies is exceeded only by his ability to rationalize them away.

Writing an autobiography at the behest of his despised psychoanalyst, Zeno Cosini loosely organizes his memories around such themes as "My Father's Death," "Wife and Mistress...

Dancer by Colum McCann

A Performance Worthy of its Subject

A review by Adrienne Miller

Only a novelist as deep, intelligent, and intuitive as Colum McCann could have written such a book. His tour de force about the Russian ballet star/international celebrity Rudolf Nureyev is so good, in fact, that it's guaranteed to send multitudes of lesser writers into fits of hand-wringing "I Can't Do That!" despair. The Nureyev who emerges from this many-voiced narrative is a willful, impossible, generous, mad, and lonely man, whom we first meet when he's a child in the grim (to say the least) Soviet town of Ufa during the war. The trajectory of Nureyev's incredible life and career should...

The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation by Stephen Flynn

Open Target

A review by John McQuaid

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina -- two distinct, epochal disasters in the space of four years -- shook America's swaggering, historical sense of invulnerability. Each also exposed alarming weaknesses in the elaborate systems designed to protect us, including airline security, intelligence-gathering and flood defenses. It was logical to expect that political leaders from President Bush on down would make fortifying America against future disasters job one. Unaccountably, they didn't. The Department of Homeland Security, with its erratic terror alerts and its habit...

Making Americans : Jews and the Broadway Musical (04 Edition) by Andrea Most

Tin Pan Academy

A review by Jenna Weissman Joselit

On September 6, 1909, Israel Zangwill's four-act play The Melting Pot came to town. It opened at the Comedy Theater on West Forty-first Street in the heart of Broadway, and forever changed the way Americans thought and spoke about the immigrant experience. Fresh from its success in Washington, D.C., where it had been seen and applauded by no less a fan than the president of the United States, the play told of a budding romance between a hot-blooded immigrant Jewish violinist named David Quixano and a seething and exquisitely sensitive social settlement worker named Vera Revendal, in whose...

The Castle in the Forest: A Novel by Norman Mailer

The Prisoner of Sex

A review by Ruth Franklin

The reader strong-stomached enough to make it to the end of Norman Mailer's new novel, which comprises nearly five hundred of the most revolting pages in recent American fiction, will discover a refreshing oasis of reason. This oasis is a bibliography of more than a hundred assiduously chosen books, many of them mainstays of the scholarship and literature of Nazi Germany: Ian Kershaw's two-volume biography of Hitler; the works of Hugh Trevor-Roper, Joachim Fest, Ernst Nolte, and George Mosse; even Dr. Faustus. A note from Mailer solemnly informs us that certain titles, marked with an asterisk,...

No Ordinary Matter by Jenny McPhee

Beyond Bridget Jones

A review by Barbara O'Dair

Jenny McPhee's modern young women struggle to find their footing with or without men or children. In No Ordinary Matter, two sisters, Lillian, a beautiful neurosurgeon, and Veronica, a soap opera and musical comedy writer, hire a private investigator to probe the circumstances of their father's death 25 years earlier, ultimately unearthing startling family facts. Along the way, a series of coincidences occur: For one, Alex Drake, the handsome new actor on Veronica's show, has unknowingly impregnated Lillian in a one-night stand, which Lillian orchestrated to conceive a child.


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