Category Archives: Reviews – Backlog

Pocket Review: Instead of a Letter: A Memoir by Diana Athill

Instead of a Letter: A Memoir Diana Athill W.W. Norton & Company, 2010 Diana Athill grew up expecting to have a conventional life for a woman of her time: she’d get married, have children, and live happily ever after. That was how things worked when you were a woman born in England in 1917 to […]

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Pocket Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist Mohsin Hamid Harcourt, 2007 In the wake of 9/11, a few thoughtful people, in addition to being angry and sorrowful, wondered why “they” hated us. What had America done to inspire such hatred? Why would anyone wish to kill innocents? Would knowing the answers help prevent future attacks? Mohsin Hamid can’t answer […]

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Summer Reading at Open Letters Monthly

All New York Jews have two sets of genealogy. There are the physical roots, even if they’re only vague coordinates of the original shtetl or shop: Russian, Polish, German, Hungarian. And then there is the cultural identity, which, in the right circumstances, can be just as strong an identifier. Is your family Woody Allen Jewish, […]

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Pocket Review: Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

Atmospheric Disturbances Rivka Galchen Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008 This first novel starts out irresistibly: Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife. This woman casually closed the door behind her. In an oversized pale blue purse—Rema’s purse—she was carrying a russet puppy. I did not know the puppy. And […]

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Pocket Review: A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert

A Short History of Women Kate Walbert Scribner, 2009 Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women was one of the ten best books of 2009, according to the New York Times. It’s easy to see how this story of women, all dealing with quintessential “women’s issues” through five generations of the same family, might impress […]

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The Language of Flowers 2012: “Hot Summer” Limited Edition

Wandering lonely as a cloud through London’s dusty bookshops back in the spring of ’88, I came across a lovely edition with a rose-strewn cover, full of cross-references to flowers and feelings, with verses to boot. Topics included Energy in Adversity, Immortality, and Secret Love. A keeper! For the Romantic that stubbornly persists in me, […]

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The Short Shelf: Wolves

Wolves haunt those woods Mr. Frost, whether they’re those in the mind’s recesses, or the canine predators roaming the nearest wilderness. Even though they have largely been erased throughout the world where people live, packs of wolves populate our individual and collective memories. And which of us doesn’t wonder how far removed is that canine […]

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Summer Reading at Open Letters Monthly

The Fourth of July falls square in midweek this year, which means people either get more time off than usual or less, depending on who’s doing the giving. Either way, it’s a good idea to have some good reading material lined up—whether you’re kicking back while you’re waiting for the grill to be ready or […]

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Lynne Barrett’s (Bad) Girls

When I’m ready for a break from Emerson and Thoreau—currently the only titles beyond a guide to Greek mythology loaded on a gifted Kindle—I gravitate toward points on the literary number line that aren’t controlled by fampires and other figures of the character undead. (And yes, I hope I just coined a word; may famous […]

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Able-Bodied Praise

OK, so what’s the opposite of faint praise? We’ve all read the reviews that are stretching for something—anything—positive to say about a book: it’s un-put-downability, how faithful the translation is, how nice the binding, how sumptuous the cover stock. But what about the really meaty compliment, the one that sends a reader immediately clicking, or […]

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