by Didier Erebon

Very valuable source of anecdotes of Lévi-Strauss, especially for his war years in New York when he taught under the name “Claude L. Strauss” to avoid confusion with blue jeans. One striking thing about the book is how relaxed Lévi-Strauss is about old rivalries, old slights, ideologies, ecological disaster, the War that was past, the War that was ongoing, and the War that was (and is) to come.

When critics of Structualism said (in May 1968) that, “Structures do not go out into the street,” they were not wrong. I don’t think anyone on the left today — anyone in academe — is half as calm as Lévi-Strauss seems to be in 1988.

Aug 23 21 2023

Little Monsters

by Adrienne Brodeur

Adam Gardner, a biologist, lives in Wellfleet on Cape Cod. He is about to be 70, he has always been bipolar, and he’s secretly adjusting his meds to take one last shot at a Nobel-sized discovery. His son, Ken, is making a fortune in real estate and running for Congress as a Republican. His daughter Abby is making a name for herself in the art world. It’s going to be one hell of a birthday party.

This is a quietly accomplished book, not least because it borrows some old-fashioned tools (a psychoanalyst for buckets of elliptical exposition, a regrettable will to foul things up, and an off-duty copy to unsettle everyone) for very contemporary ends.

by Helen DeWitt

A luminous, tiny little novel about an extraordinary young woman and her extraordinary mother. Maman has raised us to be resourceful and self-reliant. Now, we’re on our own.

Aug 23 12 2023

Tabula Rasa

by John McPhee

Over many years, John McPhee has written well about an extraordinary range of topics. Oranges, museums, shipping, geology, conservation, and basketball are among them. This volume collects lovely, and often hilarious, notes about subject that got away. Some were profiles whose subject died, or turned out to be busy. Some, like a profile of every other Princeton in the U.S. never quite gelled. “Nothing goes well in a piece of writing,” McPhee reminds us “until it is in its final stages or done.”

by Jessica Fellowes

If you’re in the mood for a solid, golden-age mystery, this is the ticket. It’s got upstairs and downstairs, crime on the railroad train, the niece of the creator of Downton Abbey, and a denouement at a ball. And it’s got Mitfords, ranging in age from debutante (Nancy) to infant (Deebo).

There are problems. The book is designed to culminate at Nancy’s first ball, which is fun but which leaves the other sisters mostly in the shadows. Nancy herself keeps shading into Nancy Drew; this is a hazard because, in a way, she’s our Basic Mitford. Muv and Favre are actually pretty good. But we don’t really get much out of her being The Nancy Mitford. To be fair, I think Fellowes does a nice job of little Unity, stewing by herself in a corner. A decade and change later, we know she will shoot herself out of love for Hitler, but getting there is, really, the point of historical fiction.

There are virtues, too. The book is filled with down-market characters who are drawn and are not picaresque, and that’s something even Sayers seldom could manage.