Open Letters in October

The new issue of Open Letters Monthly is up and it is full of exciting stuff. First of all, October is the month for the annual Bestseller feature; this month the team takes on the NYT nonfiction bestsellers, and the results are not always pretty. Tuc MacFarland, for instance, is understandably discouraged by the #1 title, Sh*t My Dad Says, which he fears “could give hope to an entire San Fernando Valley of couch-dwelling stoners.” Greg Waldmann is similarly appalled at #2, The Obama Diaries, “a stupendously moronic and transparently racist satire,” and Rita Consalvos thinks # 5, Kendra Wilkinson’s Sliding Into Home, “may be the closest we ever get to a book written by an actual bunny, a petty, petted, fluffy, brainless, ruthlessly self-absorbed gnawing creature accustomed to being kept on display [and] used for pleasure.” There are bright spots, however, including #10, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which Maureen Thorson concludes “makes a poisonous tree a little less poisonous,” and #8, S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, described by Steve Donoghue as “both a superb work of history and a fast-paced, gripping narrative on par with the some of the smartest historical fiction on the market.”

The rest of the issue ranges as broadly as usual. Joanna Scutts writes about “The Daringly Sensible Marjorie Hillis,” author of such useful titles as Live Alone and Like It. Sarah Emsley reviews the new Annotated Pride and Prejudice, “a beautifully produced and informative guide to reading Austen’s brilliant and beloved novel in its historical context.” Anne Fernald reviews Adam Nicolson’s Sissinghurst: A Castle’s Unfinished History, a “story of land not merely owned but loved and understood.” Bartolomeo Piccolomini reports on a new biography of Machiavelli, and David Michael examines a history of English anti-Semitism. Ingrid Norton continues the series ‘A Year with Short Novels’ with Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, while Irma Heldman adds to her ‘It’s a Mystery’ series with a look at S. J. Rozan’s On the Line. Elisa Gabbert appeals to our senses and our memories this time in her monthly perfume column, while Abigail Deutsch engages with Anne Carson’s form-defying Nox. I have an essay there as well, a reconsideration of one of my long-time favorites, Gone with the Wind. This is my first attempt to do book writing that’s also personal writing–my first attempt outside this blog, that is–so I’m a little apprehensive but also excited about it. And that’s not all that’s in the issue, so head on over and check it out for yourself.

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