Salon recommends

Ursula Le Guin's witches take charge, new fiction picks and other recent books we've loved.

Published December 10, 2001 9:38PM (EST)

What we're reading, what we're liking

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
It's interesting to see how Le Guin's focus has changed over the years: The first three books in this series appeared in the '70s, and were about an all-male cast of Mages and Wizards who drew their magical powers from, aside from ancient lore, celibacy. In her 1993 book "Tehanu" -- Part 4 in what had been know as the Earthsea Trilogy -- Le Guin introduces female characters (witches, priestesses) who are in some ways equal to the great Mages, but not really in the same league. "The Other Wind," published earlier this year and true to its title, is a whole different story. Faced with a great evil, the men, kings and wizards alike take a back seat to women of extraordinary powers. And while taking matters into their own hands, these women find the time to deconstruct the behavior of their male companions. Two-thirds of the way into the book, after we've traveled far and wide through Earthsea with the characters, it seems obvious who is going to save the world this time, but it's an exciting and rewarding journey nonetheless.

-- Ewald Christians

Recent books praised by Salon's critics

Salon's Sept. 11 book list
Our updated selection of recommended reading for those hungry to learn more about the crisis facing the U.S.
By Salon's staff

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
In an epic of malignant machismo, the Peruvian novelist presents the Dominican dictator Trujillo as the chief cocksman of state.
Reviewed by Laura Miller

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey
Two spirits guide a motherless girl through her life. Are they a blessing or a curse?
Reviewed by Laura Miller

The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer
A white South African woman finds unexpected fulfillment living in her Muslim husband's homeland.
Reviewed by Anthony York

Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul
The Nobel Prize-winner delivers a sharply observed story of the hypocrisies of sex, class and race in England and beyond.
Reviewed by Chris Colin

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
An English village struck by the plague heroically quarantines itself and braces for the worst.
Reviewed by Suzy Hansen

He Sleeps by Reginald McKnight
A black American researcher in Africa is tormented by mysterious, erotic dreams about another man's wife.
Reviewed by Suzy Hansen

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
Restless girls and adulterous wives contemplate the bargains they've made with life in these masterly stories by a modern-day Chekhov.
Reviewed by Laura Miller

Gabriel's Gift by Hanif Kureishi
Growing up is hard to do when you're the ambisexual son of a pair of washed-up bohemian rock 'n' rollers in contemporary London.
Reviewed by Stephanie Zacharek

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
A man steps into a deserted room in a railway station and suddenly confronts the riddle of his own past.
Reviewed by Laura Miller

A Woman Soldier's Own Story by Xie Bingying
An autobiography of a rebellious Chinese girl who kicked off her footbindings and an arranged marriage to join the army is available in English for the first time.
Reviewed by Janelle Brown

Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens by Patricia Lynne Duffy
For people with synesthesia, letters, words and numbers have their own colors, and you can smell the shape of milk.
Reviewed by Alison Motluk

Holy War, Inc. by Peter Bergen
The most entertaining of current books on Osama bin Laden paints him as a devout, charismatic CEO of worldwide terror.
Reviewed by Laura Miller [11/21/01]

Trials of the Monkey by Matthew Chapman
Charles Darwin's boozy, girl-crazy great-great-grandson goes to Tennessee to sneer at the Bible-quoting locals -- and stays to learn a lesson in faith.
Reviewed by Damien Cave

Look at Me by Jennifer Egan
In this novel about the modern tyranny of image over substance, a fashion model's face is destroyed, then remade.
Reviewed by Amy Reiter

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
In these dazzling, uncanny stories, myth becomes part of everyday life and Nancy Drew visits the underworld in search of her long-lost mother.
Reviewed by Laura Miller

Political Fictions by Joan Didion
This cool, devastating look at America's empty political spectacles takes apart everything from Reagan's delusions to Clinton's impeachment.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor

Our Monica, Ourselves by Lauren Berlant and Lisa Duggan, editors
Eggheads probe some seldom-explored aspects of Clinton's impeachment -- class-hatred, anti-Semitism, fake prudery -- with insightful results.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor

"The Other Wind" and "Tales From Earthsea" by Ursula LeGuin
At 72, Ursula Le Guin returns to Earthsea to mend the wounds that have long divided her fantasy world.
Reviewed by Donna Minkowitz

Dancing With Demons by Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham
She drank, took drugs and walloped her (female) lover with a skillet, but Dusty Springfield was the pure, true voice of British R&B.
Reviewed by Stephanie Zacharek

The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan by Artyom Borovik
Like Vietnam chronicler Michael Herr, Russian journalist Artyom Borovik captured the hallucinatory hell of war -- but these days it's Borovik's account of Afghanistan that seems the most relevant.
Reviewed by Douglas Cruickshank

Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford
She bedded countless men (and women) and became the most celebrated woman of her day. She wasn't a rock star -- she was poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Reviewed by Laura Miller

The Forgetting by David Shenk
A brilliant and quirky new book on Alzheimer's offers food for thought on the unthinkable and a new, deeper understanding of the coming epidemic.
Reviewed by Pam Rosenthal

Beauty and the Beasts by Carole Jahme
Women primatologists braved death threats, rapist orangutans and the twisted mentoring of Louis Leakey to bring us the truth about apes.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor

Rock 'Til You Drop by John Strausbaugh
A baby boomer rock critic condemns his generation's insistence on lionizing the burned-out bands of their long-lost youth.
Reviewed by Paul McLeary

The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes
From Wales to the South Pacific, we're all descended from seven prehistoric women, according to revolutionary new genetic discoveries.
Reviewed by Andrew O'Hehir

Human Trials: Scientists, Investors and Patients in the Quest for a Cure by Susan Quinn
When people put their bodies on the line in medical trials, can they be sure that scientists aren't cutting corners or preoccupied with stock prices?
Reviewed by Ivan Oransky

The Sappho Companion by Margaret Reynolds
Genius? Pervert? Seducer and murderer? Homely bluestocking? Nymphomaniac? Every age has its own version of the woman whose 2,600-year-old verses invented the poetry of love.
Reviewed by Laura Miller

Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride
New biographies tell of the director who loved Katharine Hepburn, drove John Wayne to tears and made Stalin applaud.
Reviewed by Allen Barra

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
An Angry Guy morphs into a do-gooder in the latest from the author of "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy."
Reviewed by Laura Miller

A Cold Case by Philip Gourevitch
From the author of "We Wish to Inform You" comes the true story of a detective who, almost 30 years later, hunted down a murderer the police never caught.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor

Summer Reading
Our critics spotlight the season's cheap (and not so cheap) thrills and single out a few bestselling stinkers (paging Jackie Collins!).
By Salon's critics

The Fourth Hand by John Irving
In the novelist's latest, a studly newscaster loses a limb but gains a deeper understanding of sex.
Reviewed by Emily Jenkins

"Supreme Injustice" and "The Vote"
Two new books make it clear that the Supreme Court's notorious Bush vs. Gore ruling wasn't as bad as it seemed at the time. It was worse.
Reviewed by Gary Kamiya

The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
A cultural cottage industry has sprung up around depression, the most isolating of illnesses.
Reviewed by Maria Russo

I Only Say This Because I Love You by Deborah Tannen
The author of "You Just Don't Understand" turns her eagle eye on the stinging, maddening, sneaky ways that family members communicate.
Reviewed by Maria Russo

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A hard-boiled fantasia by the author of "The Sandman" sends a cast of burned-out mythological deities on a cross-country attempt at a comeback tour.
Reviewed by Laura Miller

Thinks by David Lodge
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Reviewed by Maria Russo

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
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Reviewed by Laura Miller

Doghouse Roses by Steve Earle
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In the City of Shy Hunters by Tom Spanbauer
The early days of the AIDS epidemic, seen through the eyes of a beautiful, enigmatic hero who's not gay, not straight, not bisexual.
Reviewed by Peter Kurth

All the Finest Girls by Alexandra Styron
The daughter of two egotistical white artists faces some ugly truths when she seeks out the kin of the Caribbean housekeeper who raised her.
Reviewed by Suzy Hansen

The Collected Stories of Richard Yates The bard of disintegrating marriages and deluded artists is enjoying a posthumous boom with a masterly story collection.
Reviewed by Maria Russo

The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy
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Reviewed by Allen Barra

Not in Front of the Children by Marjorie Heins
Our hysterical attempts to shield kids from images of sex and violence are stunting young lives -- and trapping us all in a Big Lie.
Reviewed by Charles Taylor

Hooked by Lonny Shavelson
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Reviewed by Laura Miller

Ghosts of Manila by Mark Kram
A devastating book overturns the boxer's saintly image and redeems one victim of his racial stereotyping -- Joe Frazier.
Reviewed by Larry Platt

Fraud by David Rakoff
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Reviewed by Amy Reiter

Comic Book Nation by Bradford W. Wright
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Reviewed by Damien Cave

"Killing Pablo" by Mark Bowden and "Shooting the Moon" by David Harris
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Reviewed by Laura Miller

Passage by Connie Willis
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Reviewed by Laura Miller

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
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Reviewed by Maria Russo

Glue by Irvine Welsh
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Reviewed by Amy Benfer

Endangered Species by Louis Bayard
A gay government worker hit with the urge to reproduce braves personal ads, surrogate moms and a showdown with the male biological imperative.
Reviewed by Kerry Lauerman

My Little Blue Dress by Bruno Maddox
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Reviewed by Maria Russo

Carry Me Across the Water by Ethan Canin
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Reviewed by Amy Reiter

In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd by Ana Menindez
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Reviewed by Ruth Henrich

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler
A mysterious black woman is running the show in a comic novel of strivers, do-gooders and racial fear in Gilded Age San Francisco.
Reviewed by Suzy Hansen

American Son by Brian Ascalon Roley
In a searing look at the immigrant experience, two half-Filipino brothers navigate a California of small-time thieves, Mexican gangsters and attack dogs trained using Nazi techniques.
Reviewed by Suzy Hansen

Strange Fire by Melvin Jules Bukiet
An Israeli speechwriter blinded by torturers smells his way through a wise and satisfying novel of international intrigue.
Reviewed by Amy Benfer

By Salon Staff

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