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Author: The New York Times

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The world's top authors and critics join host Pamela Paul and editors at The New York Times Book Review to talk about the week's top books, what we're reading and what's going on in the literary world.
365 Episodes
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Colson Whitehead’s new novel, “Harlem Shuffle,” revolves around Ray Carney, a furniture retailer in Harlem in the 1960s with a sideline in crime. It’s a relatively lighthearted novel, certainly compared to “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” Whitehead’s two previous novels, each of which won the Pulitzer Prize.“I usually do a lighter book, then a heavier book, but I felt compelled to write ‘The Nickel Boys’ at the time that I did,” Whitehead says on this week’s podcast. “I knew that in the crime genre, there’s more room for jokes. There’s just a lot more room for play. So I could exercise my humor muscle again. And then immediately, Carney … I wanted him to win, as soon as he appeared on the page. He was someone who was not as determined by circumstances — slavery, Jim Crow — as the characters in those previous two novels. And he pulls off some capers. And I think we — or at least I was rooting for him. So immediately the tone was different, and I gave myself to it.”Colm Toibin visits the podcast to talk about his new novel, “The Magician,” based on the life of the great German writer Thomas Mann. Toibin says that the book is not an attempt to “inhabit” Mann, or to fully understand him, which is impossible with such a complex person.“It’s not an attempt to pin him down, so that by the end of the book you really know him,” Toibin says. “I’m as interested in his unknowability as I am in attempting to draw a very clear portrait of him. I think it’s an important question. I often hear novelists saying, ‘I felt I really knew my character.’ And I often feel the opposite. I often feel my character has become even more evasive the further attempts I have made to enter their spirit.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“A Time of Gifts” by Patrick Leigh Fermor“Latecomers” by Anita Brookner“The Makioka Sisters” by Junichiro Tanizaki
The novelist Brandon Taylor, who has generated his own buzz with his debut novel, “Real Life,” and a collection of stories, “Filthy Animals,” visits the podcast to discuss the much-discussed work of Sally Rooney. Taylor recently reviewed her third novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You.” On the podcast, he describes Rooney’s writing as an “intense, melancholic tractor beam.”“She has this really great, tactile metaphorical sense, but it’s never overworked,” he says. “Her style is so clean. That is the word I come to most often in describing her style. It is so clean, so pristine.” Like her two previous books, this one is fueled by the vexations of intimate relationships. “Ultimately, if you’re a Sally Rooney fan, I think you’ll love this novel,” Taylor says. “And if you’re a Sally Rooney skeptic, I think she will acknowledge your concerns but maybe not answer them in full.”Another Rooney, David Rooney, visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks.”“There’s something about clocks and watches,” he says.” They have more meaning to many people than other artifacts. I wasn’t quite sure why. I was trying to get behind the faces of clocks and watches, to understand not so much how they work — although that’s fascinating — but what they mean, and what they’ve always meant, through history, across cultures.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Jennifer Szalai and John Williams talk about books that have been recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:“The Failed Promise” by Robert S. Levine“The War for Gloria” by Atticus Lish“The Magician” by Colm Toibin
“Out on a Limb” is a selection of Andrew Sullivan’s essays from the past 32 years of American history. On this week’s podcast, Sullivan talks about the book and his feelings about some of the very contentious public arguments in which he’s been involved.“You’re never at a moment of finality in politics or intellectual life. You’re always just about to be proven wrong again,” Sullivan says. “I have developed a very thick skin. You have to. I was very controversial in the gay rights movement very early on. The case for marriage equality was bitterly opposed by some gay activists, and I was targeted and picketed by gay people sometimes, for my first book. So I’ve always accepted that that’s part of the price. I am a sensitive person and it does hurt my feelings, obviously, but I think my answer is that it doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as it isn’t true. And if it’s true, hear it, take it in, try and figure out what insight they have about you and change. If it isn’t, forget it.”Leila Slimani’s new novel, “In the Country of Others,” is the first installment of a planned trilogy loosely based on the lives of the author’s grandparents. On this episode of the podcast, Slimani talks about why she’s writing the autobiographical material as fiction.“Imagination is a great power that we have,” she says. “Even if my family is interesting in certain ways, it’s not as interesting as I wanted. So I need to add other things, and I need to feel completely free. I don’t really want to tell about reality but about what fascinates me.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Lauren Christensen, Andrew Lavallee and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“Intimacies” by Katie Kitamura“A Visitation of Spirits” by Randall Kenan“Loop” by Brenda Lozano
A.O. Scott, The Times’s co-chief film critic, returns to the Book Review’s podcast this week to discuss the work of William Maxwell, the latest subject in Scott’s essay series The Americans, about writers who give a sense of the country’s complex identity. In his novels and stories, Maxwell frequently returned to small-town Illinois, and to, as Scott describes it, the “particular civilization and culture and society that he knew growing up.”“In so many of these books,” Scott says, “he was trying in a sense to figure out himself by figuring how where he had come from. It was inexhaustible. The thing that’s really remarkable about his revisiting his family, his family’s story and the town where they lived is just how many layers are there. In what seems like a simple, small, provincial place, just how much depth and complexity and comedy and pathos live there.”Eyal Press visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “Dirty Work,” about the lives of workers in slaughterhouses, correctional facilities and other morally fraught places. Press says that the people who do this work make inequality one of the book’s primary themes.“One of the messages of the book is that it’s very rarely the privileged and the powerful,” Press says. “It’s more likely to be people at the bottom of the social ladder, people with fewer choices and opportunities, who are thrust into these ethically troubling roles that they carry out in a sense on society’s behalf and in our name.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai discuss books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:“Reign of Terror” by Spencer Ackerman“Playlist for the Apocalypse” by Rita Dove
In her new book, “The Brilliant Abyss,” Helen Scales writes about the largely unseen realm of the deepest parts of the ocean. On this week’s podcast, she talks about the life down there — and how long it took us to realize there was any at all.“It wasn’t so long ago, maybe 200 years ago, that most people — scientists, the brightest minds we had — assumed that life only went down as far as sunlight reaches, so the first 600 feet or so,” Scales says. “But what’s so fascinating is that life does go all the way to the very, very bottom; down to seven miles, which is the deepest point, just about. And there are ways in which life has found adaptations to all of these crazy, extreme conditions in the deep, and that’s what we’re really doing a lot of the time, as marine biologists working in the deepest, is finding that stuff and asking the question: ‘How are you here?’”Rebecca Donner visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days,” which recounts the story of Mildred Harnack, Donner’s great-great-aunt, an American woman executed in 1943 for being a member of the German resistance to the Nazis during World War II.“She most definitely saw herself as a resistance fighter, and she certainly did not see herself as a spy,” Donner says. “She engaged in acts of espionage in order to undermine the Nazi regime, but she never met with a control officer, she never accepted money. She worked in an unofficial capacity.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gal Beckerman and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman“Ghettoside” by Jill Leovy“Last Best Hope” by George Packer
In Dana Spiotta’s new novel, “Wayward,” a woman named Sam buys a dilapidated house in a neglected neighborhood in Syracuse, leaving her husband and her daughter in order to face down big midlife questions.“She is what we used to call a housewife, a stay-at-home mom,” Spiotta says on this week’s podcast, describing her protagonist. “She has one daughter, she’s married to a lawyer. It’s not an unhappy marriage. I wanted to avoid a lot of clichés with her. I didn’t want it to be an unhappy marriage that was the problem. And I didn’t want him to leave her for a younger woman. I didn’t want her to be worried about her looks. She never thinks about wrinkles or her looks very much in the book. She doesn’t even look in the mirror anymore. She’s not concerned about that.”What she’s concerned about is living a more honest and purposeful life, and the novel follows her efforts to do that.Ash Davidson visits the podcast to discuss her debut novel, “Damnation Spring,” set in a tightknit logging community in Northern California in the late 1970s. Davidson describes how the book was partly inspired by her parents’ memories of living in the area.“I grew up listening to my parents’ stories of this place, and it is the most beautiful place they have ever lived, and that beauty is also the source of its own destruction,” she says. “So those stories became almost like a mythology of my childhood, and I think I always kept a folder of them in my head, where I was filing them away. I used a lot of them as scaffolding for the novel, in the early years of writing it. Gradually, as time went on and the story got strong enough to stand on its own, I was able to strip away that scaffolding of their stories and let the fictional narrative shine through.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Elisabeth Egan and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“Emerson” by Robert D. Richardson Jr.“Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi“The Post-Birthday World” by Lionel Shriver
The slightly directionless, unnamed narrator of Katie Kitamura’s fourth novel, “Intimacies,” takes a job as a translator at an international criminal court. On this week’s podcast, Kitamura talks about the novel, including her realization about the book’s title.“‘Intimacy’ as a word is something that we think of as desirable, and something that we seek out, in our relationships in particular, but also in our friendships and in all the people that we care about,” Kitamura says. “But I think it’s a plural for a reason, which is that there’s a lot of different kinds of intimacies in the novel, and a lot of them are not desired, they’re imposed on the narrator. It was only when I finished writing the novel that I realized that there are multiple incidents of sexual harassment, sexual intimidation in it, sprinkled throughout. Afterward, I understood it, because a novel is really about power, and sexual harassment is of course about power, rather than desire. So it made sense that there would be these little negotiations and these trespasses and these forced forms of intimacy.”The acclaimed writer and director James Lapine visits the podcast to talk about “Putting It Together,” his new mix of memoir and oral history about his first collaboration Stephen Sondheim, creating the musical “Sunday in the Park With George.”“Part of the pleasure in writing the book was rediscovering who I was at the time, because you’re so involved in something — you’re not outside of it — and maybe it takes 35 years to look back at it to realize what was actually going on,” Lapine says. Writing the book was “an excavation of sorts, both of the show and the creative process and what it’s like for someone in my position, as a writer and a director, to do his first Broadway show.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:“Until Proven Safe” by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley“Afterparties” by Anthony Veasna So
Omar El Akkad’s new novel, “What Strange Paradise,” uses some fablelike techniques to comment on the migrant crisis caused by war in the Middle East. El Akkad explains that he thinks of the novel as a reinterpretation of the story of Peter Pan, told as the story of a contemporary child refugee.“There’s this thing Borges once said about how all literature is tricks, and no matter how clever your tricks are, they eventually get discovered,” El Akkad says. “My tricks are not particularly clever. I lean very hard on inversion. I wanted to take a comforting story that Westerners have been telling their kids for the last hundred years, and I wanted to invert it, to tell a different kind of story.” He continues: “At its core, it’s a book about dueling fantasies: the fantasies of people who want to come to the West because they think it’s a cure for all ills, and the fantasies of people who exist in the West and think of those people as barbarians at the gate. The book takes place at the collision of those two fantasies.”Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, two reporters at The Times, visit the podcast this week to discuss their new book, “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination,” including how the company makes many of its strategic decisions.“A lot of people think that a company like this, that’s so sophisticated, that has so many people who have come in with such incredible pedigrees, that they have a plan in mind,” Kang says. “They’re actually, in many cases, doing this on the fly. They’re making a lot of ad hoc decisions.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Emily Eakin and MJ Franklin talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“How the Word Is Passed” by Clint Smith“Red Comet” by Heather Clark“Lenin” by Victor Sebestyen
The latest pick for Group Text, our monthly column for readers and book clubs, is Esther Freud's “I Couldn’t Love You More,” a novel about three generations of women grappling with secrets, shame and an inexorable bond. Elisabeth Egan, an editor at the Book Review and the brains behind Group Text, talks about the novel on this week’s podcast.“It’s this incredibly powerful story about mothers and daughters,” Egan says, “and also an interesting and really heartbreaking look at what was happening in Ireland at the time that really went on for about 100 years, where the Catholic church ran the — they were like prisons — for women who were in trouble in some way. They forced the women to change their names and to give up their babies.”Philip D’Anieri visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “The Appalachian Trail: A Biography,” including what drew him to the sprawling subject.“It’s a place that gives us an opportunity to examine the intersection of the built and the natural,” D’Anieri says. “It’s a place that we think of as natural — it’s the outdoors, you can hike, you can connect with the natural world — but it also had to be built: It needed shelters built, a route had to be determined, the land has to be owned. That tension is something that has always interested me.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and Lauren Christensen talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe“Intimacies” by Katie Kitamura“Razorblade Tears” by S.A. Cosby“The Plot” by Jean Hanff Korelitz
On this week’s podcast, S.A. Cosby says that a writer friend once told him: “I think you’re like the bard of broken men.” In Cosby’s new novel, “Razorblade Tears,” the fathers of two married gay men who have just been murdered team up to track down the killers. Cosby says that the fathers — Ike, who’s Black, and Buddy Lee, who’s white — are familiar to him.“I grew up with men like Ike and Buddy Lee,” he says. “Maybe not necessarily violent men, but men who were emotionally closed off, who were unable to articulate or communicate their frailties, their feelings. I grew up in an environment where masculinity was all about presentation, was about being ‘tough,’ whatever that means. So when I started out writing the book, I started with these two characters, because the people that I think need to read the book the most are the people like that that I know, the people like that who surround me every day. But even more than that, I fell in love with Ike and Buddy Lee because if these two men can change, then change is possible for anyone.”Dean Jobb visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer.” The book recounts the crimes of Thomas Neill Cream, a Canadian obstetrician who killed an unknown number of people between the 1870s and 1892, most of them women from marginalized backgrounds.“There was a lot of madness in what he did, but also some calculating method,” Jobb says. “He never claimed insanity at any of his trials, so there was never any professional assessment of him. He almost seems to have bought into the idea, as one of his medical instructors said, that doctors are godlike; they stand between the living and the dead. And he just seems to have decided that his godlike powers, given to him as a doctor, would be used to decide who would live and who would die.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:“Dear Miss Metropolitan” by Carolyn Ferrell“Democracy Rules” by Jan-Werner Müller
The Lives of Flies

The Lives of Flies

2021-07-0946:071

The subtitle of Jonathan Balcombe’s new book, “Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects” leads to the first question on this week’s podcast. Why “successful”?“Their diversity, for one,” Balcombe says. “There’s over 160,000 described species — and it’s important to add that qualifier, ‘described,’ because it’s estimated there may be about five times that many that are undescribed. Insects make up 80 percent of all animal species on the planet, so that says something right there about how incredibly successful they are, and flies are arguably the most species-rich subset of insects. It’s estimated there’s about 20 million flies on earth at any moment for every human who’s on the earth. And they occupy all seven continents.”Marjorie Ingall visits the podcast this week to discuss her essay about why she finds it troubling that children’s literature focuses so relentlessly on the Holocaust.“Just as Black kids deserve more than books about slavery and suffering — they deserve books about Black joy and Black excellence — so too do Jewish kids deserve books that reflect the incredible diversity and often happiness of their lives,” Ingall says. “And I think sometimes we push the Holocaust because we want to tell kids: ‘Look where you come from; look how important it is to be Jewish; look how people died because they were Jewish.’ When we’re talking about children’s books, that is not a way to make kids feel a connection.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Elisabeth Egan and Joumana Khatib talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki“The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith“My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell
The actress and thriller writer Catherine Steadman visits the podcast this week to talk about “The Disappearing Act,” her new suspense novel about the absurdities of Hollywood. Steadman was drawn to the idea of setting a story during pilot season, when actors from all over the world descend on Los Angeles once a year and compete for lead roles in new TV series.“It’s a sort of competitive world where friendships are made really quickly, and people will find their nemesis — someone who looks just like them who keeps snatching away parts from them,” she says. “It’s a very strange atmosphere but it’s very fun. It’s kind of like the Vegas of the acting world. You go there, you cash your chips and you have a roll on the table and see what happens. There’s all these strangers with the same desires and goals, in the same environment, and they really are up against each other. It’s kind of a ‘Hunger Games’ situation.”Michael Dobbs visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “King Richard,” which finds fresh things to say about President Richard Nixon and Watergate. Dobbs discusses writing about a story that’s been told many times, all in the shadow of perhaps the best-known Watergate book, “All the President’s Men,” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.“That’s the story of two reporters pursing this scandal into the White House and trying to figure out what was going on in the White House,” Dobbs says. “And now 50 years later — because we have access to these extraordinary materials, particularly Nixon’s own tape-recorded conversations — one can tell the story from the inside rather than the outside. We’re never again going to get such an intimate look at a president facing an existential crisis, as it’s possible to get with Richard Nixon.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world, and Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:“Wayward” by Dana Spiotta“Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History” by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta
Clint Smith’s “How the Word Is Passed” is about how places in the United States reckon with — or fail to reckon with — their relationship to the history of slavery. On this week’s podcast, Smith says that one thing that inspired the book was his realization that “there were more homages to enslavers than to enslaved people” in New Orleans, where he grew up.“Symbols and names and iconography aren’t just symbols, they’re reflective of stories that people tell, and those stories shape the narratives that societies carry, and those narratives shape public policy, and public policy shapes the material conditions of people’s lives,” Smith says. “Which isn’t to say that taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee is going to erase the racial wealth gap, but it is to say that it’s part of a larger ecosystem of stories and ideas that shape how we understand what has happened to communities and what communities need or deserve.”Julian Rubinstein visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “The Holly,” an extensively reported look at the social and historical forces that led to a 2013 shooting in Denver.“It’s a multigenerational story, and in many ways I think it’s a story of activism and thwarted activism over the decades,” Rubinstein says, “including the connections between gangs and activism, which goes all the way back to the civil rights movement.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick”“Early Work” by Andrew Martin“The Copenhagen Trilogy” by Tove Ditlevsen“No One Is Talking About This” by Patricia Lockwood
In his new book, “Last Best Hope,” George Packer describes “Four Americas,” and the tensions that exist between these different visions of the country. He calls them “Free America” (essentially libertarian), “Real America” (personified by Sarah Palin), “Smart America” (the professional class) and “Just America” (identity politics). On this week’s podcast, Packer says that though he was raised and lives in “Smart America,” he thinks no one of the four paints the whole picture.“I see the appeal and the persuasiveness of all of them,” he says. “I don’t accept any of them as having the answers. I think they all lead to hierarchy, in some ways to more inequality, to division. We are desperately polarized, and there’s no way around that. I’m not saying if we would all just drop our preconceptions, we could get along. Because we can’t. There are these fundamental clashes of values in this country that are expressed in politics, and that’s not going away. But I think we’ve lost the sense of a common American identity, which I do think still exists, even though it’s been buried.”Suzanne Simard visits the podcast this week to talk about her new book, “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering Wisdom in the Forest,” and the remarkable relationships maintained between trees.“Trees, I call them mother trees, these big old trees, can discern which seedlings are their own and which ones are not, and they actually can favor those seedlings by shuttling them more carbon,” Simard says. “It’s a very sophisticated communication that involves a lot of information going back and forth, below ground, even as you’re walking through the forest.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:“The Great Dissenter” by Peter S. Canellos“Where You Are Is Not Who You Are” by Ursula M. Burns
A More Perfect Union

A More Perfect Union

2021-06-1101:04:24

“The Engagement,” by Sasha Issenberg, recounts the complex and chaotic chain reaction that thrust same-sex marriage from the realm of conservative conjecture to the top of the gay political agenda and, eventually, to the halls of the Supreme Court. On this week’s podcast, Issenberg talks about the deeply researched book, which covers 25 years of legal and cultural history.“What they have done, ultimately,” he says of those who won the victory, “is helped to enshrine, both in the legal process and in American culture, a sense that marriage is a unique institution. And the language they used to talk about it — about love and commitment — is so particular, I think, to the dynamic between two people that in a certain respect marriage is a more central institution in American life now than it was 30 years ago, because we went through this political fight over it.”J. Hoberman visits the podcast to discuss his piece about 10 books that, taken together, tell the story of Hollywood. He talks, among other subjects, about why the only celebrity memoir on his list is “Lulu in Hollywood,” by Louise Brooks, who acted in the 1920s and ’30s and published her memoir much later in life.“She was a remarkably cleareyed observer of what was going on,” Hoberman says, “and embarked on the whole star-making thing with a healthy degree of ambivalence. So she’s able to write about herself and about the conditions under which movies were made and the people she met in Hollywood and so on, in a way that’s both personal and detached. There aren’t too many other memoirs like this.”Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Elisabeth Egan and Andrew LaVallee talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“Libertie” by Kaitlyn Greenidge“Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid“On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed
Francis Spufford’s new novel, “Light Perpetual,” is rooted in a real event: the rocket attack on a Woolworth’s in London, killing 168 people, toward the end of World War II. Spufford fictionalizes the tragedy and invents five children who survive it, trailing them through the ensuing decades to discover all they might have done and seen if they had lived. On this week’s podcast, Spufford says that he settled on this real-life incident for intentionally arbitrary reasons.“The ordinariness is kind of the point,” he says. “I wanted something that was terrible but not exceptional. Something which was one tree in a wartime forest of bad things happening, which I could select out and then follow out the long-term consequences of through time.”Egill Bjarnason visits the podcast to talk about “How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island.”“The title is maybe the opposite of humble,” he says, “but I went into this project wanting to write about the history of Iceland. I have always found that really compelling, because unlike other European nations, we can tell our history almost from the beginning. But I figured that people who don’t have high stakes in that story may not be so interested. So I wanted to tell the history of Iceland through our impact on the outside world, by looking at where we have shaped events in some way or another.”Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; and Dwight Garner and Parul Sehgal talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“A Ghost in the Throat” by Doireann Ni Ghriofa“Languages of Truth” by Salman Rushdie
Jake Bonner, the protagonist of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s “The Plot,” writes a novel based on someone else’s idea. The book becomes a big hit, but Jake has a hard time enjoying it because he’s worried about getting caught. On this week’s podcast, Korelitz says that Jake’s more general anxieties about his career as a writer are relatable, despite her own success (this is her seventh novel).“Jake is all of us,” Korelitz says. “I used to regard other people’s literary careers with great curiosity. I used to have this little private parlor game: Would I want that person’s career? Would I want that person’s career? And those names have changed over the years as careers have faltered, disappeared. I’ve been publishing for a very long time, and my contemporaries in the 1990s were people with massive successes who have not been heard of now for 10, 15 years. So it’s very much a tortoise and hare kind of thing, in my own case.”Elizabeth Hinton visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “America on Fire,” a history of racial protest and police violence that reframes the civil rights struggle between the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and the widespread demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Hinton writes about major uprisings, but also focuses on lesser-known examples of systemic violence against Black communities in places like York, Pa., and Cairo, Ill.“Part of the reason why the violence in both of those cities was so extreme was the deep entanglement between white vigilante groups and white power groups and the police department and political and economic elites in both cities,” Hinton says. “So in many ways, what happened, in Cairo especially, is a warning to all of us about what the consequences are when officials decide to use the police to manage the material consequences of socioeconomic exclusion and poverty.”Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“Dispatches” by Michael Herr“The Emigrants” by W.G. Sebald“Lenin” by Victor Sebestyen
Maggie O’Farrell’s “Hamnet,” one of last year’s most widely acclaimed novels, imagines the life of William Shakespeare, his wife, Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway, and the couple’s son Hamnet, who died at 11 years old in 1596. On this week’s podcast, O’Farrell says she always planned for the novel to have the ensemble cast it does, but that her deepest motivation was the desire to capture a sense of the young boy at its center.“The engine behind the book for me was always the fact that I think Hamnet has been overlooked and underwritten by history,” she says. “I think he’s been consigned to a literary footnote. And I believe, quite strongly, that without him — without his tragically short life — we wouldn’t have the play ‘Hamlet.’ We probably wouldn’t have ‘Twelfth Night.’ As an audience, we are enormously in debt to him.”Judith Shulevitz visits the podcast to discuss Rachel Cusk’s new novel, “Second Place,” and to analyze Cusk’s literary style.“In this review, I quote Isaac Babel: ‘No iron spike can pierce a human heart as icily as a period in the right place.’ There’s this kind of clinical accuracy to her writing,” Shulevitz says, “that she brings to bear on both the physical world and on the emotional world that is almost scary. Which is what I like.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:“The Life She Wished to Live” by Ann McCutchan“Dedicated” by Pete Davis
Louis Menand’s new book, “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War,” covers the interchange of arts and ideas between the United States and Europe in the decades following World War II. On this week’s podcast, Menand talks about the book, including why he chose to frame his telling from the end of the war until 1965.“What I didn’t get right away was the extent to which, what happened in American culture, both at the level of avant-garde art, like John Cage’s music, and at the level of Hollywood movies, was influenced by countries around the world,” Menand says. “When American culture comes into its own — because before 1945, I think, nobody really thought of America as a central player in world culture; that changes in the ’60s — but when that happens, culture becomes global, becomes international.”Phillip Lopate has edited many acclaimed anthologies throughout his career, but his latest project might be his most ambitious: three volumes of American essays from colonial times to the present day. “The Glorious American Essay” was published last year; “The Golden Age of the American Essay” arrived last month; and “The Contemporary American Essay” will be available this summer.“I’m really trying to expand the notion of what an essay is,” Lopate says on the podcast. “So I’ve included essays that are in the form of letters, like Frederick Douglass’s letter to his master; I’ve included essays in the form of sermons, like Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher; I’ve included essays in the form of rants. I’m just trying to get people to see the essay as occurring in many, many different forms.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gal Beckerman and Gregory Cowles talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“The Committed” by Viet Thanh Nguyen“The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler“Beijing Payback” by Daniel Nieh“Yoga” by Emmanuel Carrère
In 2018, Michael Lewis published “The Fifth Risk,” which argued, in short, that the federal government was underprepared for a variety of disaster scenarios. Guess what his new book is about? Lewis visits the podcast this week to discuss “The Premonition,” which recounts the initial response to the coronavirus pandemic.“It wasn’t just Trump,” Lewis says. “Trump made everything worse. But there had ben changes in the American government, and changes in particular at the C.D.C., that made them less and less capable of actually controlling disease and more and more like a fine academic institution that came in after the battle and tried to assess what had happened; but not equipped for actual battlefield command. The book doesn’t get to the pandemic until Page 160. The back story tells you how the story is going to play out.”The historian Annette Gordon-Reed visits the podcast to talk about her new book, “On Juneteenth,” which combines history about slavery in Texas with more personal, essayistic writing about her own family and childhood.“This is a departure for me, but it is actually the kind of writing that I always thought that I would be doing when I was growing up, dreaming about being a writer,” Gordon-Reed says. “I’ve always been a great admirer of James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal’s essays I thought were wonderful, better than the novels, and that’s the kind of thing that I wanted to do. So it was sort of a dream come true for me to be able to take this form and talk about some things that were very important to me.”Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Parul Sehgal and John Williams talk about the latest in literary criticism. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed by the critics this week:“The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel“Jackpot” by Michael Mechanic
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Comments (29)

New Jawn

Featuring books with such a narrowly specific reader in mind, it's no wonder the podcast is so often unlistenable. I'll continue to subscribe, but now I tend to hear what will be reviewed and those who will talk about what they're reading, then delete.

Aug 6th
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Paula Joyce

Yikes! What was that all about? I'll have to take your word for it that the reading was fabulous. To me it was a babbled word salad. Please consider your audience. Reading 101- slowdown!

Mar 11th
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John Buckner

I wish that the eminent professor at Stanford, who is much too brilliant for Princeton and who has had a long interest in things Chinese and who has visited there several times, and the dean of the NY Times Book Review, also known as She Who Is Most Well Read, would pronounce 'Shenzhen' as 'Shenzhen and not as 'Shenzen.'

Feb 7th
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Mark Saltiel

Hi NYT Book Review. At about 20 minutes or so in, one of your panel declares that of course in England (by which I am guessing they mean the UK) everything is published only in paperback. I can't imagine where this notion arrived from. Not from England (or even the UK). It's completely untrue. Almost every novel is published in hardback only and it can be well over a year before some books come out in paperback. Many non-fiction books also come out in hardback and can be very pricey. This is a source of huge frustration and I want your listeners know that we don't have it easy over here. I could comment on your remarks about British writers but I won't. I am fascinated to hear what you guys think of Brit Lit. Very cool episode otherwise. Some enticing recommendations. Especially the segment about short stories. Thanks.

Jan 4th
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John Buckner

what an awful, snarky, hen party episode.

Dec 25th
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John Buckner

"Tibiten"?

Jul 30th
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Mark Saltiel

The movie 2001 was developed by Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrik from Clarke's short story The Sentinel. Clarke based his novel of 2001 on the film although it has a few differences.

May 31st
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soheil jamshidian

kind of

May 17th
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Amin reza Lakzian

well, I just saw the teaser and not the movie, so maybe the plot is completely irrelevant to the topic or maybe its quality unworthy of your taste, or you might say that I should know my place and I would wait for you to say that again. However I write this quote from an unknown boxing movie: "Life's not about how hard you can beat, it's about how hard you can get beaten and keep up walking"...

Mar 1st
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John Buckner

I really wanted to hear what book by Arendt that Barry Gewen was reading and his thoughts about it, but as is often the case, Pamela has to share her endless thoughts on all subjects.

Feb 22nd
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John Buckner

The constant vocal fry overrode the substance. It's hard to accept that someone so intelligent and insightful would adopt the speech patterns of a 16 year old Valley girl.

Feb 16th
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David Squires

This episode on the manufacturing of generic drugs. It was eye opening. I take quite a few prescribed genetic drugs. I am part of a Medicare Part D insurance and they are my only affordable option.

Jun 29th
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John Buckner

I love Jill Lepore. Read "These Truths" word by word, thinking about what she was saying, and learned so much. Just ordered "This America" and can't wait to start. BUT, for interviews, I wish she would smoke some weed or have a drink or both, because she talks like an auctioneer. Please take a breath and slow down! Still, if I only catch every third word, she's awesomely insightful and always keeps me thinking and questioning. Gotta love Prof. Lepore!

Jun 24th
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John Buckner

Great interviews. I haven't read DFW, and I'll start with the 'Lobster essay. Bazelon's focus on prosecutorial power is very revealing. Definitely on my to-read list.

Apr 15th
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Faranak Javaheri

we don't care!!!!

Apr 14th
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Bill Boyle

sort of, kind of, sort of....

Feb 27th
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Esa Esa

???????

Jan 20th
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Esa Esa

Huh nothing to n dim f8b????

Jan 20th
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Lisa Lawson

10 NEON 20.18. GOD

Jan 18th
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Rosaline Oh

absolutely love this podcast, but noticed that the first episode in this feed doesn't seem like the firstfirst episode of the podcast. where is the rest of the archive?

Jan 17th
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