What I’ve been reading

1. David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918.  Thorough, readable, never thrilling but consistently satisfying.  It is a good follow-up to Niall Ferguson’s splendid The Pity of War.

2. Daniel Yergin, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.  No surprises, good, perhaps best on the evolution of the natural gas market.

3. Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn. Never bad, it becomes excellent by the end.

4. Roger Ebert, Life Itself: A Memoir.  One-fifth or so of this book is interesting, so some small number of you should wade through it.  I liked the discussion of black and white cinema best, but most of it is rambling and insufferable.

5. Steve Sem-Samberg, The Emperor of Lies, A Novel.  “I don’t want to read any more about the Holocaust” is not good enough reason to neglect this stunning Swedish novel.  A fictionalized account of the Lodz Ghetto, it looks at the lives of the ghetto rulers and whether they were heroes or collaborators.  I found it tough to read more than one hundred pages of this at a time; by focusing on the suicides rather than the murder victims, it is especially brutal.  Definitely recommended, I urge you to get up the gumption.

6. Jo Nesbo, Nemesis: A Novel.  Highly entertaining, indeed gripping, but by the end I was wondering whether I had wasted my time.  It turns out not to be conceptual after all.  A good plane read, which is for me what it was.

I didn’t “get” the new Stephen Greenblatt book; was Poggio so important?  I still find myself unable to enjoy Hollinghurst, though in the abstract I admire the writing.  Bellow’s The Victim is beautifully written but seemed to me dated.


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