More, more, more: ‘All Things Are Too Small,’ by Becca Rothfeld

by Marius Sosnowski

Hunger is a need. Desire is a need stylized, like hunger filtered through the imagination. But where hunger feeds function, desire seeks expression. Ever since Montaigne invented the form, great essays revel in their attempt to express desires and their ability to articulate the revelatory. Accordingly, great essays become food for the imagination. And a well-fed imagination, it follows, is good for all.   Full of verve, wit, and no shortage of voluble passion, Becca Rothfeld’s debut collection of essays, All Things Are Too Small (Metropolitan Books; $27.99), investigates today’s conditions of love and desire and suggests what it might take […]

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Literary treat: ‘Bite By Bite,’ by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

by Jonah Raskin

There couldn’t be a better title for the latest book by Aimee Nezhukumatathil: Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees (Ecco; $26.99). This account by the author of the popular essay collection World of Wonders serves vivid, heartfelt vignettes about food and four generations of family—from her grandparents and parents to her children who devour the often distinct and wonderful fruits that their mother puts on the table with panache. Nezhukumatathil’s children may not know or remember that “jamborees” are defined as boisterous celebrations; aptly, the word has no known origin. She writes that her favorite fruit is the jackfruit, which […]

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Naked truths: ‘Tits Up,’ by Sarah Thornton

by Mieke Marple

Tits are back, baby. “Breasts,” a show of tits throughout the ages, just opened at the ACP Palazzo Franchetti in Venice for the Biennale. This comes on the heels of “Darker, Lighter, Puffy, Flat” at the Kunsthalle Wein, which examined the significance of breasts, from the maternal to the sexual to the biological. Last year, there was also “Boobs in Art” at Berlin’s DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, a comprehensive exhibition of 100 artists grappling with mammary glands that included a painting by Paula Modersohn-Becker from 1906, considered the first self-depicted nude by a woman. Sarah Thornton’s new book, Tits Up: What […]

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‘Limitarianism,’ by Ingrid Robeyns

by Jonah Raskin

Not that long ago, it would have been dangerous to denounce “extreme wealth,” as the Dutch scholar Ingrid Robeyns calls it in her new book, Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth (Astra House; $28). But then along came the financial crisis of 2008, and the global Occupy movement that surfaced in 2011 and popularized the notion that one percent of the U.S. population controls most of the wealth—and that the 99 percent have been excluded from the American Dream. Soon, dozens of books, flooded the marketplace. Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality (2012), T.M. Scanlon’s Why Does Inequality Matter? (2008), […]

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‘Nefando,’ by Mónica Ojeda

by Lillian Burnes Heath

Mónica Ojeda’s latest novel speaks in many different tongues, including Catalan slang and plain nonsense, and both its triumphs and challenges come from that. Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker, Nefando (Coffee House Press; $17.95) details the creation of a darkly twisted video game, the titular Nefando, by three siblings with satellite help from their trio of roommates in Barcelona: Kiki is the writer, her friend Iván is a master’s student with violent gender dysmorphia, and El Cuco Martinez, the most popular and chatty roomie, is a video game designer moonlighting as Robin Hood. Then there are the Teráns—Irene, […]

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‘The Hammer,’ by Hamilton Nolan

by Jonah Raskin

According to a spate of recent articles in The New York Times and elsewhere, American workers and their trade unions are “flexing their muscles.” Indeed, a survey conducted by Margaret Poydock and Jennifer Sherer that was published by the Economic Policy Institute says “major strike activity” in the U.S. increased by 280 percent in 2023. Headlines amplify the data. In September 2023, more than 12,000 workers went on strike at General Motors and Ford. In October 2023, more than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente health care workers staged the largest recorded health care strike in U.S. history. A month later, roughly 5,000 […]

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Locked down: ‘The Vulnerables,’ by Sigrid Nunez 

by Pia Bhatia 

Sketched from memory by a first-person narrator, The Vulnerables (Riverhead; 242 pages) appears at first to be a kind of memoir, the remains of an aging writer’s observations during her time in pandemic-stricken New York. Considering the volume of novels that have emerged from this period, it’s unsurprising that Sigrid Nunez’s most recent book portrays the city as though it were a still-life object, that the narrator ponders her relationships with the gifts of retrospect and distance. Of course the lockdown demanded self-reflection. Of course it resulted in unusual living arrangements with unlikely groups of people. Even the plot is […]

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Ginsberg in America: ‘Material Wealth,’ by Pat Thomas

by Paul Wilner

“Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!’’ So prophesized Allen Ginsberg long ago, channeling Walt Whitman in the epigraph to “Howl,’’ a literary debut that with time seems ever more distant, yet still completely present. Over the course of his remarkable career, Ginsberg resurrected distinguished predecessors from Whitman to William Blake from the tyranny of schoolbooks. He famously served as guiding light, mentor, and press agent to Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and too many others to mention, bringing the spoken word back into public discourse while remaining at the vital center […]

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Into the Abyss: ‘Ripe,’ by Sarah Rose Etter

by Jessica Lobaccaro

In Sarah Rose Etter’s Ripe (Scribner; 276 pages), we follow Cassie, a 33-year-old San Franciscan working at a tech company. Her life is seemingly secure; she makes a comfortable six-figure salary and can afford her $3,000 monthly rent. However, we quickly find that Cassie is unstable and depressed—she regularly snorts cocaine (especially before work), she is dating a chef who has a girlfriend, and she finds herself in the midst of an unwanted pregnancy, all while suffering from a strained relationship with her mother. But most disturbing of all: ever since Cassie can remember, she has had a literal black […]

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Desert solitaire: ‘Death Valley,’ by Melissa Broder

by Lily Burnes Heath

Melissa Broder’s new novel, Death Valley (Scribner; 240 pages), begins with its unnamed protagonist peeing—and trying to meditate—in a Circle K bathroom during a getaway to Joshua Tree. This bodily moment will pair resoundingly well with another sort of release at the close of this short book of blood and guts. Broder’s protagonist, we learn, is a novelist working on a book about a young-to-middled-aged woman, a pseudo-hippie, struggling with her husband’s chronic, undiagnosable illness. The writer is sober after years of alcoholism, depression, and suffering from the long-term hospitalization of her dying father. She’s seeking spiritual solace on a […]

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‘Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine’

by Paul Wilner

“It’s not a good idea and it’s bad luck to look for life’s guidance to popular entertainers.’’ — Bob Dylan, to music journalist Paul Zollo Indeed. But as the late great Professor Irwin Corey (who once famously doubled as a stand-in for Thomas Pynchon at the National Book Awards) might say, “However.’’ Despite his relenteless, if unconvincing, attempts to dodge the limelight—including dodging the Nobel Prize he was awarded in 2016—the Minnesota bard’s career has invited explication from obsessed fans, academics, and fellow musicians, all asking different versions of the same question: “How does it feel, to be on your […]

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High Plains Drifter: ‘Pastures of the Empty Page’

by Paul Wilner

“Literature, as I saw it then, was a vast open range, my equivalent of a cowboy’s dream.’’ So wrote Larry McMurtry about how life at his father’s Idiot Ridge cattle ranch changed forever when a World War II-bound cousin dropped off a farewell gift of a box of books. Riding that range for decades since, McMurtry has been condescended to, by the usual contingent of Eastern critics, and overpraised, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning epic, Lonesome Dove, which he self-mockingly described as the “Gone With the Wind of the West.’’ But the bulk of his work, including the Thalia trilogy (Horseman, […]

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