Cathleen Schine’s novel The Grammarians was published in September. (January 2020)

Follow Cathleen Schine on Twitter: @cathleenschine.

IN THE REVIEW

It Had to Be Her

Passionate Spirit: The Life of Alma Mahler

by Cate Haste
Like the stories of most notorious women, Alma Mahler’s is one of sex and power. She had a liking and a talent for both. Trailing a legacy of innuendo, anecdotes, and off-color jokes, she steers any biographer, however serious, to the enjoyable, lascivious path of the gossipy celebrity biography—but with better gossip and much better celebrities.

Heaven Can’t Wait

Dana Schutz: God 6, 106 x 72 inches, 2013. For more on Schutz’s work, see Sanford Schwartz’s essay on pages 37–38 of this issue.

I Am God

by Giacomo Sartori, translated from the Italian by Frederika Randall
I Am God is an almost outrageously charming book. In the first of his seven novels to be published in English, Giacomo Sartori takes a simple, playful premise and sets the universe crazily spinning. The Italian writer has conjured up a delicious, comical stream of omniconsciousness: a pensive diary by the original omniscient narrator, God. Sartori’s God, a being of authentic complexity and paradoxical humanity, of both otherworldly dignity and satirical absurdity, is an irresistible character. He is also in love. Imagine how disconcerting this is for God.

Bonfire of the Bathroom Vanities

Gary Shteyngart; illustration by Joanna Neborsky

Lake Success

by Gary Shteyngart
In Lake Success, his new novel, Gary Shteyngart has shifted to recognizably American soil, specifically the United States that rolls beneath the wheels of a Greyhound bus. Barry Cohen is a hedge-fund manager who escapes his obscenely wealthy New York life by running off on a red-state road trip. It is just before the 2016 presidential election. And because of the timing, the geography of the South and the West, the political references, and the poor and middle-class people Barry meets on his travels, Lake Success presents itself as a book about America. But Barry is just a tourist in America. Lake Success is really a New York story, and a good one.

Comic Noir

Miami, 1998; photograph by Martin Parr

The Château

by Paul Goldberg

The Yid

by Paul Goldberg
Paul Goldberg pokes at the politics of the United States with the stick of Russian cynicism, and simultaneously listens at the keyhole of Russian cynicism with the ear of an Americanized cynic. The Château is the perfect summer beach book for those of us too agonized by the world as it is to escape into a summer beach book. He has given us the luxurious pleasure of relaxing into the belly of the beast.

So Funny You Could Plotz

Zero Mostel, Lee Meredith, and Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks’s The Producers, 1967

Jewish Comedy: A Serious History

by Jeremy Dauber

Feeling Jewish (A Book for Just About Anyone)

by Devorah Baum
Many years ago at a literary conference in Key West that focused on humor, I heard Billy Collins speak. Comedy, he said, is the dog that leaves the room when you call its name. Collins’s wistful, loving resignation over the elusive nature of comedy has distinguished antecedents. The list of …

NYR DAILY

In the Dark of the Museum

Alaskan Brown Bear, 1980

The rooms that hold the Museum of Natural History’s famous dioramas are vast and dimly lit. What happens in the darkness of the museum itself is quite different from the stillness of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s new book, Dioramas, a collection of his elegant black and white photographs of dioramas.

The Irresistible Charms of Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman: New York, Grand Central Station, 1999

Last Christmas, I gave my mother a copy of The Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman. Like many other adult Maira Kalmanites, I had discovered the book when it ran as an illustrated blog on The New York Times web site. My mother and I have similar taste in books so I thought she would love it. But a few days later, she called me, quite agitated, irate even, saying “What is this bizarre book you gave me? The letters go all over the page. It’s like a children’s book. What on earth gave you the idea I would want to read this?” An hour later, she called back. “Just forget what I said. I just had to get used to it. What a wonderful book!”

Austenolatry

Miniature portrait of Jane Austen, 19th century

I met a friend for lunch the other day at The Morgan Library. In honor of their Jane Austen exhibit, they are serving a Regency lunch. Whenever I hear the word Regency, I think not of Jane Austen, but of Dickens’s Old Mr. Turveydrop, celebrated everywhere for his Deportment, who named his son Prince. I don’t know if Old Mr. Turveydrop would have approved, but we thought it was a delicious Regency lunch—Poached Atlantic Salmon, Fricassee of Macomber Turnips & Mushrooms, Mustard Greens, Baked Apple Cobbler—though what exactly about the menu qualified as Regency is somewhat obscure. The turnips? I have never eaten more delicious turnips. I happily imagined Jane Austen eating delicate, sweet Macomber turnips, too. But at home, after a little on-line research, I came to realize how unlikely it is that she did—Macomber turnips seem to be a cross breed of radishes and rutabagas developed by the two Macomber brothers in Westport, Massachussetts in 1876.

NYR CALENDAR

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

Musica Angelica, the wonderful Baroque ensemble for which traffic-averse early music lovers on the west side of Los Angeles are eternally grateful because they are so good and because they are not downtown, is performing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.