Book Reviews

Featured Book Review

Title: On the Bookshelf
Author: Josh Lambert

A midsummer day’s nightmare: shlepping all your worldly possessions to a new apartment. Everybody wants to settle in before the High Holidays and the school year starts, making June, July, and August the busiest season for moving companies. This also explains why the sections of Brooke Berman’s No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments (Harmony, June) typically run from one summer to another. A prize-winning playwright who had already auditioned under a stage name (“Brooke Alison—it sounds less Jewish”) by the time she began her peripatetic New York City sojourn at the age of 18, Berman manages somehow to make relocating almost 40 times in half as many years sound more like an ongoing adventure than like a godforsaken, perpetual exile.

Berman’s bohemian-ish wanderings may seem inevitably less stultifying than life in the suburbs, but as readers of John Cheever and Richard Yates know, subdivisions harbor roiling inner lives all their own. Soon to be available in paperback, David Kushner’s account of harsh real-estate politics, Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb (Walker & Company, August) describes the attempt integrate one of the famed model communities planned by Abraham Levitt and his sons. While the Levitts were self-conscious of themselves as Jews and claimed to have “no room … for racial prejudice,” they sold homes only to whites. In late summer 1957, a Communist-leaning Jewish family in the Pennsylvania Levittown subverted the developers’ policy by arranging a private sale to an African-American couple. Riots and harassment followed, with visits from the Ku Klux Klan, all of which provides a reminder of the complex and often distasteful history of American suburban living.

But then again, the city has its fair share of problems. Adam Langer’s The Thieves of Manhattan (Spiegel & Grau, July) romps its way through a borough so thoroughly saturated with literary pretension that it would be insufferable to visit, let alone reside there. (Sort of like the real one is, some might say.) Telling a tall tale of publishing aspiration and fraud, Langer packs the novel with inside jokes and goes so far as to invent a slang based on the names of contemporary and classic authors, in which, for example, a “chabon” is “a wavy mane” and a “ginsberg” “a somewhat unruly beard.” The author knows whereof he satirizes, having toiled as a literary journalist before publishing his own fiction: “I’ve been blown off by E.L. Doctorow,” he reports, “condescended to by Harold Bloom … treated to lousy herring by Gary Shteyngart, [and] regaled with unprintable, really yucky stories by Jonathan Safran Foer.”

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Reprinted with permission from Tablet Magazine.