Perhaps the most definitive rebuke to the idea of trading libraries for Amazon and coffee shops comes from a former Starbucks employee whom Klinenberg met at a branch of the New York Public Library, where he is now an “information specialist”: “At Starbucks, and at most businesses, really, the assumption is that you, the customer, are better for having this thing that you purchase. Right?” he said. “At the library, the assumption is you are better. You have it in you already…. The library assumes the best out of people.” What we learn from The Library Book, Ex Libris, and Palaces for the People is that we are all better off, too, when people assume the best out of libraries.
This has been the central question of Ellis’s career: Is he talented or only provocative? “He’s certainly not boring; and people like to talk about people who aren’t boring,” the novelist Ottessa Moshfegh (an admirer) said. For Ellis, fame and controversy have always gone hand in hand. Yet he swears he’s never intended to offend; he’s just focused on making art for art’s sake, and if it upsets you, so be it. “I never care about riling up anybody,” he said. “That’s a waste of time. It’s always been about purely wanting to express myself, and not really thinking about the audience at all.”
Fifty years have passed since the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s the same age as me. And the older I get, and the more lumps fall off my brain, the more I find that rereading is the thing. Build your own little cockeyed canon and then bear down on it; get to know it, forward and backward; get to know it well. So I don’t know how many times I’ve read Slaughterhouse-Five. Three? Four? It never gets old, is the point. It never wanes in energy. This book is in no way the blossom of a flower. Slaughterhouse-Five is more in the nature of a superpower that the mutant author had to teach himself to master—and then could use, at full strength, only once.
This is a novel that contains multitudes, and the wonder is that Smith folds so much in, from visionary nature writing to Twitter obscenities, in prose that is so deceptively relaxed. Jokes detonate throughout, from the bleak to the whimsical, as surprising and moving connections are revealed between all three novels. As well as Shakespeare and Dean she summons the spirits of “the two great homeless writers, the great outliers”, short-story writer Katherine Mansfield and poet Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as her beloved Charlie Chaplin, who becomes a wandering artistic everyman. For decades Smith has seemed a glorious one-off: her influence is being seen now in younger writers such as Eley Williams and Max Porter, similarly accessible experimentalists with an irrepressible love of language, but as her Seasonal Quartet moves towards completion her own role in British fiction looks ever more vital. The final page proclaims spring “the great connective”. It’s not a bad description of Smith herself.
For despite its physical heft, Sky Without Stars is a fairly brisk read. It zips along from one plot twist to the next, drawing inspiration from Les Mis without being married to its characters, story, or true depth. La Revolution Lite is on tap here, and it's frothy, perhaps quenching the thirst for social justice without actually doing any hydrating. Those seeking substance may be left unsatisfied, but readers looking for inventive entertainment will find themselves well quaffed.
Fashionistas lured to Mizrahi’s memoir hoping it reveals juicy background on the industry may be disappointed by its lack of dish. Yet “I.M.” more than makes up for that with its honest rendering of how the underdog Mizrahi, whose self-image and livelihood are alternately crushed and affirmed, moves through the many creative phases of his life.
Mother powerfully conveys the thrilling, bewildering, and fuzzy-headed atmosphere that surrounds pregnancy and childbirth, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of our mothering predecessors.