Book Reviews: Critics’ Comments We Can Cogitate On

A bunch of new books are out, fiction and nonfiction, and for writers the critics’  cautionary comments are worth cogitating on. I particularly got a good chuckle from Alex Koppelman’s remark about Nate Silver’s book  and Mary McNamara’s scathing review of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s memoir.

A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven hits sour, sweet notes

Reviewer Carolyn Kellogg writes [emphasis added]: “Among book critics, the question of ambition and execution sometimes crops up: Which is better, a perfect novel or an imperfect one that takes big risks?”

I won’t steal her thunder — read her conclusion (it may surprise you) on the LA Times website.

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Eduardo Halfon’s moving The Polish Boxer

In his book, Halfon says, “. . . a story always tells two stories . . . the visible narrative always hides a secret tale.”

Authors — keep this in the forefront of your mind: What’s the secret tale you’re telling?

David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times book critic, writes: “. . . the power of The Polish Boxer is that it is always rooted in the personal. It is deeply accessible, deeply moving . . .

“ ‘This is exactly what literature is like,’ Halfon tells us. ‘As we write, we know that there is something very important to be said about reality, that we have this something within reach, just there, so close, on the tip of our tongue, and that we mustn’t forget it. But always, without fail, we do.’ ”

Read the entire review at the LA Times website.

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Nate Silver’s insightful The Signal and the Noise

Nate Silver founded the political blog FiveThirtyEight.com, which is now part of the NY Times.

“The numbers man and political expert makes a convincing case for people to stop and smell the data in his new book. “

Reviewer Alex Koppelman writes: “He makes a convincing case as to why we should do so and how things such as the financial crisis might have been alleviated or even avoided if enough people had considered their assumptions more carefully and searched for the ways in which they might be wrong.”

However, Koppelman also says [emphasis added]: “To really come together, it needed a better sense of purpose — and perhaps a stronger editor. In some places, the writing just plods along, thanks to Silver’s tendency toward overexplanation. Does any book really need 45 footnotes in its first 14 pages?”

Editors rule!

Read the entire review at the LA Times website.

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The Writing Life: Straight talk with Susan Straight

The author finds inspiration in her hometown of Riverside, especially in her trilogy about an African American family, including the new Between Heaven and Here, which explores the aftermath of the main character’s death and how it affects her friends and family. It’s the final book in the trilogy.

Reviewer Jessica Gelt says [emphasis added]: “The stories Straight writes are inspired by real-life events and people she just can’t get out of her mind. Like the pregnant black girl who was found dead in a shopping cart in Riverside in the 1990s . . .

“She wrote all three books in the trilogy by hand on legal pads while sitting in her car in various parking lots, orange groves and parks.”

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t do that any more. Mind you, I don’t have three teenage daughters, either.

Read the entire review at the LA Times website.

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Lois Lowry’s Son a gripping end to dystopic The Giver series

Reviewer Susan Carpenter writes:  “For Book 3, Lowry relies on magic and the evil Trademaster from Messenger . . . Although the last page of Son is heartwarming, readers of Book 3 in particular will be all too aware of the plot work required to get there.”

As someone (whose name escapes me) once famously said, the reader should not be conscious of the fact that she (most of the people buying books are women) is reading a novel. (Or words to that effect.)

Read the entire review at the LA Times website.

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In Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, Arnold Schwarzenegger holds back

“The bodybuilder-actor-politician’s purported ‘tell-all’ steers clear of anything remotely salacious . . .”

Mary McNamara, Senior Culture Editor, writes [emphasis added]: “Total Recall is about as far from a ‘tell-all’ memoir as it gets. Although an exhaustive and at times exhausting documentation of Schwarzenegger’s unique and amazing career, it is a book almost completely devoid of self-examination.”

Why am I not surprised? Somehow, I never pictured the Arnold as the self-examining type. But isn’t that what memoir readers expect?

Read the entire review at the LA Times website.

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And, in closing, from the magical kingdom (no, not Disney) . . .

Casual Vacancy fails to conjure Harry Potter’s magic: There are no wizards, no spells and no nuance.

David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times book critic, writes [emphasis added]: “What made Harry Potter popular, among other things, was that it was a classic melodrama, with clear demarcations of good and evil, and a quest (the search for destiny, for identity) that at some point engages everyone.

“In the adult world, however — or, at least, the adult world Rowling portrays in The Casual Vacancy — becoming is no longer part of the equation; everyone has long since become.

“That, in and of itself, is not the novel’s trouble: It’s been a theme of literature from the start. Still, to explore such issues accurately, with depth and compassion, requires nuance, which is what The Casual Vacancy lacks.”

Writers, do you hear that? Nuance — which I often find lacking in the books I edit.

Read the entire review at the LA Times website.

Now, all ye go forth and write that perfectly risky book — with nuance, a secret tale and no plodding plots. And consider engaging a strong editor.

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About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.wigeonpublishing.com
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