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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Monday, March 5, 2007 11:44 am
Three Good Ones
Posted by: Keir Graff

After meeting a bunch of deadlines on Thursday, I was looking forward to a low-key day in the office on Friday, maybe even a slightly-longer-than-usual lunch. Instead I spent the day at home with my feverish 11-month-old. His criteria for good books are radically different from mine — texture and taste – as are his methods for evaluating them. For the former, he likes good, stiff paper, the kind that produces a crisp, ripping sound. For the latter, I have no idea what makes one book taste better than another. Organic glue?

Anyway, on Thursday I filed my reviews for Shakespeare’s Kitchen, by Lore Depths, by Henning MankellSegal; Depths, by Henning Mankell; and Writing in an Age of Silence, by Sara Paretsky. No stars this time – but all three are extremely strong works. Sometimes the difference between a starred review and an unstarred review is awfully slight, just a nagging doubt or reservation that keeps me from recommending something unreservedly. And while stars are definitely a mark of quality, they’re nothing like a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I’ve withheld stars from some very strong books. It’s the words in the review that are your best guide to quality and affinity.

I did reject one book for review, an Italian crime novel that was gunning for a hyperkinetic effect but instead left me feeling disoriented. I couldn’t imagine many readers giving it more of a shot than I did. (I give all books at least 50 pages before I give up on them, often more. Once I read an entire book before deciding that, yes, I really did hate it, and no, I really couldn’t recommend it to anyone.) I’d say “there goes my streak,” but given the amazing run of great books I’ve had lately, it’s almost a relief to not like something.



4 Responses to “Three Good Ones”
  1. Roger Sutton Says:

    Keir, can you recommend a good Henning Mankell book to start with? The one, my first, I’m reading is set mostly in South Africa, and I’m kind of bored, but I don’t know if that’s just because I wanted something more Nordic and, well, cold.

  2. Keir Says:

    Roger, I’m going to relay your question to Bill Ott, Booklist’s Mankell expert. Stay tuned….

  3. Bill Ott Says:

    You’re right, Roger, that South African novel is definitely not one of Mankell’s best. You want to stick with the Kurt Wallander series. The first to appear in the U.S., and still possibly the best, is Faceless Killers. The Fifth Woman is nearly as good. What I like best about the Wallander novels is the sense of a brow-beaten, old world cop on the edge of being overwhelmed by new world crime. Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti novels play on the same theme with an Italian setting.

  4. Roger Sutton Says:

    Thanks, Bill and Keir. I love the Brunetti books–especially since they taught me I could put a sugar in my espresso! Kept me going at ALA/Seattle.

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