Salon recommends

What we're reading, what we're liking.


Salon Staff
October 30, 2000 10:11PM (UTC)

The Best American Essays 2000 edited by Alan Lightman
Connoisseurs tout the essay form as the purest expression of a mind at work, and I've found that reading a well-crafted essay can often counteract a bout of mental sluggishness. "The Best American Essays 2000" arrived at our office on an endless rainy afternoon, and I made a beeline for it. It has some truly mind-expanding stuff: most notably, Floyd Skloot's "Gray Area: Thinking With a Damaged Brain," about his altered thinking processes after a virus damaged part of his brain. I also loved "At a Certain Age," Lynne Sharon Schwartz's clear-eyed look at the elaborate evasions we use to think about getting older. And thankfully, in this age of never-ending lists and hype, editor Alan Lightman (himself recently nominated for a National Book Award for his novel "The Diagnosis") confesses in the introduction, "I can make no claim that these twenty-one pieces were the 'best essays' of the past year ... What I can say is that I liked all of these essays a great deal."

-- Maria Russo

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C.S. Lewis: A Biography by A.N. Wilson
I'm researching for an essay on the Chronicles of Narnia, which entails dipping into the puddle of mediocrity that is most C.S. Lewis criticism. The field does not attract great minds or literary talents. The exception, the green island in the puddle, is A.N. Wilson's biography, a book that's admiring without being hagiographic and one that makes some effort to treat Lewis' writings as literary works rather than a form of divine revelation. Lewis was a complicated man, often coarse and close-minded, but also acutely sensitive to books and a superb, fluent critic who never lost touch with the pleasures of reading. His life, especially his relations with women, was a mysterious and fascinating conglomeration of contradictions, and Wilson is a terrific writer.

-- Laura Miller

Recent books praised by Salon's critics

What to read: October fiction
Hunting a Tasmanian tiger, denouncing the '60s generation, loving Graham Greene and unveiling family secrets in the best fall fiction.
By Salon's critics
[10/23/00]

The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams by Nasdijj
A not-quite-Native American's hard, strange life makes for a fiercely original memoir about the compulsion to write.
Reviewed by Maria Russo
[10/26/00]

Your Name Here by John Ashbery
A great American poet delivers one of his most emotional, honest and generous collections.
Reviewed by Melanie Rehak
[10/24/00]

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The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Pullman concludes the epic, heretical fantasy that began with "The Golden Compass" and rivals "The Lord of the Rings."
Reviewed by Polly Shulman
[10/18/00]

The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison
Imbued with all the gravelly melancholy of a Tom Waits ballad, the new book by the author of "Legends of the Fall" presents a cast of prickly, coarse and utterly lovable antiheroes.
Reviewed by Jonathan Miles
[10/19/00]

Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? by Martin Gardner
A witty, world-class debunker cuts through centuries of pseudoscience crap, from earthbound asteroids to balancing eggs.
Reviewed by Tom DiEgidio
[10/17/00]

Upside Down by Eduardo Galeano
The author of "Memory of Fire" delivers a scathing, mischievous indictment of North America's hypocrisy and consumer culture.
Reviewed by Greg Villepique
[10/12/00]

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The Bridegroom by Ha Jin
The National Book Award-winning author of "Waiting" is in fine form with new tales of ordinary Chinese angling for love, sex and Party favors.
Reviewed by Michael Scott Moore
[10/11/00]

The Boxer's Heart by Kate Sekules
Bloodied, bruised and elated, one woman offers an account of her love affair with boxing.
Reviewed by Susan Shapiro
[10/04/00]

An American Story by Debra Dickerson
The passionate, category-defying journalist levels her tough gaze on her own journey from the ghetto to Harvard Law School and beyond.
Reviewed by Maggie Jones
[10/03/00]

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Cherry by Mary Karr
Though she didn't start the memoir craze, Karr feeds the frenzy with "Cherry," the luscious tale of her coming-of-age.
Reviewed by Lisa Zeidner
[09/25/00]

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
In the rapturous, panoramic new novel by the author of "Wonder Boys," two midcentury comic book writers battle evil and celebrate escape in all its forms.
Reviewed by Amy Benfer
[09/28/00]

The Golden Age by Gore Vidal
Vidal delivers the final volume of the American Chronicle series, his sweeping, score-settling fictional history of the United States.
Reviewed by George Rafael
[09/20/00]

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Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kephart
A memoir that celebrates the most ubiquitous, least definable passion.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Judd
[09/14/00]

What to read: September fiction
From a surreal, carnal coming-of-age set on Coney Island, to a wicked, gossipy story of the literary life, our critics pick the best books.
By Salon's critics
[09/13/00]

Noodling for Flatheads by Burkhard Bilger
A tribute to moonshiners, squirrel-brain eaters, cockfighters and other Southern holdouts against a bland and uniform national culture.
Reviewed by Jonathan Miles
[09/13/00]

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The novelist's latest masterwork blends mystery, futuristic fantasy and family saga.
Reviewed by Karen Houppert
[09/12/00]

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Pagan Babies by Elmore Leonard
In his latest black-comic thriller, the peerless crime novelist takes his wisecracking swindlers from post-massacre Rwanda to downtown Detroit.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor
[09/07/00]

Nothing Like It in the World by Stephen E. Ambrose
The bestselling historian serves up the stirring tale of the unsung men who built the transcontinental railroad.
Reviewed by Stephen Prothero
[09/05/00]

Keep Australia on Your Left by Eric Stiller
The story of an attempt to kayak around Australia that ended -- refreshingly -- not with triumph or disaster but with honest failure.
Reviewed by Pete Wells
[08/31/00]

NYPD: A City and Its Police by James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto
Behind the "blue wall of silence" of America's biggest and oldest police force, two authors find equal parts heroism and corruption.
Reviewed by Andrew O'Hehir
[08/24/00]

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The Secret Parts of Fortune by Ron Rosenbaum
The author of "Explaining Hitler" shares his adventures and passions, from getting caught in a pissing match with Oliver Stone to tracking down the inventor of canned laughter.
Reviewed by Mark Schapiro
[08/23/00]

The Heartsong of Charging Elk by James Welch
In this moving, nourishing novel the Native American writer probes the culture shock of an Oglala Sioux abandoned in France by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Reviewed by Jonathan Miles
[08/15/00]

The Making of Intelligence by Ken Richardson
A new attempt to answer a stubborn old question: If humans are such an intelligent species, why can't we figure out what IQ tests measure?
Reviewed by Christine Kenneally
[08/09/00]

Writing on Drugs by Sadie Plant
The author embarks on a stimulating trip into literature's strangest, smokiest den.
Reviewed by Gary Kamiya
[08/04/00]

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The Dragon Syndicates by Martin Booth
The blood-soaked history of the Chinese secret societies that started the heroin trade and invented the "death by myriad swords."
Reviewed by Greg Villepique
[08/02/00]

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom
A collection of stories that look frankly at the lives of transsexuals, adulterers, cancer survivors and angry teenagers.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Macklin
[08/01/00]

Herman Melville by Elizabeth Hardwick
A great critic takes on a great novelist, finding agony, homoeroticism and, ultimately, mystery.
Reviewed by Maria Russo
[07/26/00]

Assassination by Miles Hudson
A historian coolly assesses whether killing a leader is a useful political tactic.
Reviewed by Matthew DeBord
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