By Adrienne Fontaine, Senior Publicist
I’m in a lull. The last book that I read in its entirety was Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, which I highly recommend. Since then, I’ve been stuck on page 384 of Remembrance of Things Past, page 80 of Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Lee Fermor, and page 112 of Look Homeward Angel.
It’s not a good sign when I’m reading more than one book at a time. It typically means that I’ve not been able to concentrate long enough to finish the books or that they just aren’t grabbing my attention. Proust is obviously time-consuming and verbose, but I can’t explain why the biography of a world traveler or a classic like Look Homeward Angel haven’t been able to drawn me in.
It could be that my daily news diet is making my brain too full or that TV and movies have won me over. But now I’m at an impasse.
I’ve digested all the news I can stomach and I’m suffering from sensory overload thanks to Mad Men and House of Cards. When I get in this state, I like to read literary criticism and listen to podcasts. Book reviews can keep me from wasting my time and help me discover the next book that I’ll actually sit down and read from cover to cover. Podcasts are great when I no longer want to stare at a screen and are also useful when I’m having trouble sleeping.
When you just can’t finish that book, or watch one more episode, check out some of these book reviewers and podcasts:
Heather Havrilesky from Bookforum. Havrilesky always takes a wide lens view of the world or a specific landscape before jumping into her review or criticism, giving the book and its story a larger context than the one it provides itself. She is just-the-right-amount of cynical, extremely biting when it’s called for, and very funny. It’s also comforting to know that she is herself an author — her memoir Disaster Preparedness was published by Riverhead in 2010 — adhering to the adage: “don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.” Read her pieces “Mansplanation Nation”, “Humble Pie”, and “Gunning for the Zeitgeist” for a taste. Her takedown of Fifty Shades of Grey at The Baffler is the funniest I’ve read, and who wouldn’t want to read a comparison/contrast of Nora Ephron to Joan Didion or Mariah Carey to Nicki Minaj?
Zadie Smith from The New York Review of Books. Smith, author of the shockingly good White Teeth, doesn’t just review books; she writes about movies, societal trends, literary figures, her own life, and much more. Here she writes about the “finding your beach” in New York City.
Publishers Weekly reviews. I follow the publication’s starred reviews. They are usually accurate and ahead of the curve. They also spread their stars among various genres, whether it be Scandinavian noir, a celebrity memoir, or the latest political non-fiction. Here’s their list of the best books of 2014.
Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. Kakutani is a notoriously tough reviewer. According to a 2008 piece in The Guardian, Norman Mailer called her “a one-woman kamikaze”; Salman Rushdie described her as “a weird woman’; and Nicholson Baker said that one of her reviews “was like having my liver taken out without anaesthesia.” Those opinions just prove to me that she’s doing her job. I’d rather read one of Kakutani’s sharp-penned critiques than a flowery love letter from a fan any day. I like how she alludes to the author’s entire body of work when discussing his/her latest, how she oftentimes ranks books, and how she can talk about style and structure. She is very specific in what she likes and doesn’t like and she’s not afraid to bruise a publicly inflated ego. I don’t always agree with her, but her writing is always entertaining. Here’s her recent review of T. Coraghessan Boyle’s The Harder They Come.
Longform. “A weekly discussion with a non-fiction writer about how they got their start and how they tell stories, co-produced by Longform and The Atavist.” This podcast is for those in journalism and for those who love non-fiction. Each interview lasts about an hour and the questions are aimed toward the writer’s work, their background, and their methods of storytelling. Recent interviews include: Erik Larson (author of Dead Wake, The Devil in White City, among others), Scott Anderson, and New York Magazine food critic Adam Platt (who I just learned is actor Oliver Platt’s brother!).
Marketplace (American Public Media). The “premier business news show on public radio. Host Kai Ryssdal delivers news from your wallet to Wall Street.” Marketplace keeps me up-to-date with the business headlines, from recent mergers and IPOs to news about economies abroad and financial fiascos. If you don’t want to spend time combing through the business sections of the WSJ and NYT, this is a quick, fun, and informative listen.
The NewYork Times Book Review podcast. Hosted by editor Pamela Paul, this is just an overview of the Sunday section, but with author interviews and larger discussions of featured books. It also goes “inside the bestseller lists.” I like to listen to this when I want just the highlights from the printed version. Warning: the theme song at the beginning is hard to get out of your head.
Once you’ve taken a little break with these inspiring columnists and shows, you’ll be ready to get right back to finishing your book!
Related: 10 “Spring Cleaning” Must-reads