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27 july 2014

The most memorable title in Andrea Camilleri's collection Gli arancini di Montalbano belongs to one of its most memorable stories: "Pezzetti di spago assolutamente inutilizzabili" ["Completely useless pieces of string"]. In the story, it's a throwaway line: the central objects of the plot are apparently useless bottlecaps.     read more

26 july 2014

At the heart of Harlan Coben's ditzy and infuriatingly readable Stay Close is a veritable "Gift of the Magi" of the New Jersey Noir. Seventeen years before the novel opens, down the shore, a heart-of-gold hooker and a gonzo photojournalist had been so very much in love. When somebody cut the throat of a john who'd been pushing her around, both young lovers found the corpse independently. Both assumed their lover had done the deed. Both resolved to flee Atlantic City and start their lives over, so that the other wouldn't be blamed for the murder. Their disappearance throws the cops off the track, and they live free, but sundered, for the next 17 years.     read more

22 july 2014

A few years ago, Robert Baird asked in Slate "Why doesn't anyone read Dante's Paradiso?" Baird agrees with T.S. Eliot that "we have … a prejudice against beatitude as material for poetry." We assume that Heaven is boring. Trapped in our assumptions, we can't perceive the drama and the urgency of Dante's vision of salvation. Eliot and Baird make a good point, and Dante understood it, too. Again and again in the Comedy he slaps his forehead over people who prefer far lesser goals and pleasures to the beatific vision.     read more

18 july 2014

Olive's Ocean, a 2004 Newbery Honor novel by Kevin Henkes, takes familiar motifs and blends them in offbeat, astringent, satisfying ways.     read more