7 Most Favorable Reviews in December 2022

  • January 4, 2023

We came, we read, we gushed. Here’s a recap of the titles that left us especially warm and swoony last month.

7 Most Favorable Reviews in December 2022

Hollywood: The Oral History by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson (Harper). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “‘HOO-ray for HOLLY-wood’ rings out like cathedral bells in the familiar Johnny Mercer tune. Now make way for Hollywood: The Oral History, which lumbers in like a heavy-duty print encore to that musical chestnut, ushering in a cavalcade of filmland’s dream-makers celebrating the lineage and artistry of American popular film. And it’s all thanks to the voluminous archives of the American Film Institute (AFI).”

The Village Idiot: A Novel by Steve Stern (Melville House). Reviewed by Anne Carrica. “Despite having relatively few biographical details about the actual Chaim Soutine to go on, author Steve Stern ably brings the artist’s hilarious, heart-wrenching, wild story to life. In many ways, Soutine was the village idiot — never learning from his mistakes and constantly needing to be saved. Like his wealthy, ever-patient benefactors, readers, too, will find themselves feeling responsible for Soutine and rooting for the madman to prevail. He may be his own worst enemy, but his questionable choices and maddening nihilism are endearing and often lead to moments of hilarity.”

The Other Side of Prospect: A Story of Violence, Injustice, and the American City by Nicholas Dawidoff (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Larry Matthews. “The Other Side of Prospect is a meticulously researched book about a Black section of New Haven, Connecticut, a bastion for East Coast Brahmins who matriculate at Yale, a launching pad for ‘those who matter’ since 1701. Yale, with its $40 billion endowment, is one side of New Haven. A neighborhood across town called Newhallville is the other. Newhallville is mostly Black, poor, and bears no resemblance to the university and its well-heeled, well-educated patrons.”

Cursed Bunny: Stories by Bora Chung; translated by Anton Hur (Algonquin). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “Fairytales come from the preliterate traditions of our forebears, repeated around the tribal hearth for generations, exposing the deepest fears, fissures, and moral convictions of a culture. South Korean author Bora Chung’s U.S. debut, the short-story collection Cursed Bunny, presents vivid, bizarre, and often gruesome fractured fairytales that reflect a broken society.”

Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami; translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen (Knopf). Reviewed by Chris Rutledge. “That welcoming tone is mirrored in the man. He holds himself up as an example of a writer who tries to be encouraging of others. When aspiring scribes try their hand at the craft, ‘Do novelists make a sour face?’ he asks rhetorically. ‘From my experience, no. To the contrary, we tend to look upon the results positively, and even encourage their authors.’ Perhaps this is because he recognizes the ease with which he plies his trade. ‘It’s not difficult to write a single novel,’ he claims. ‘Even a very good novel, depending on who you are.’ Fellow writers may beg to differ, however. Murakami’s deceptively easy style is tough to replicate.”

They’re Going to Love You: A Novel by Meg Howrey (Doubleday). Reviewed by Terri Lewis. “Readers expecting performances or costumes or the pageantry of ballet will be disappointed with They’re Going to Love You. Others will be rewarded by the deep dive into the forming of a dancer and by the reminder of how, even in failure, the lessons learned illuminate a life. This is a beautiful book.”

Last Night in Brighton by Massoud Hayoun (Darf Publishers). Reviewed by Colin Asher. “Brighton’s themes are weighty fare, but it’s not a joyless text. There are bits that read like satire: jeremiads against psychotherapy and overwrought proclamations (‘I was paying…for involving myself too deeply in humanity’). And there’s a playful feel to the book, beginning with its title. The story is set partly in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. But should the reader expect to learn about the prior night or a final night? When a character named Brighton appears and a flirtation commences, a third possibility seems likely. Which will it be? Hayoun allows the question to linger.”

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