(Free Press, $35)
Stephen Mitchell’s “very idiosyncratic” translation of Homer’s epic is “by far the most swift-footed in recent memory,” said Daniel Mendelsohn in The New Yorker. Inspired by recent scholarship suggesting that an ur-version of the text preceded the longer version we know, Mitchell eliminates both minor hiccups in the poem and whole chapters. The result is a clean read, but his “insistence on speed” robs Homer’s verse of some of the nobility of its rhythms.
Why Read Moby-Dick?
by Nathaniel Philbrick
The popular historian Nathaniel Philbrick is “bullish” about Moby-Dick, and he wants you to be, too, said Jim Higgins in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Philbrick fills his book with “short, lucid, intelligent chapters” that brim with infectious enthusiasm. Obviously, “this is not the type of guide a student uses to take apart a novel.” Philbrick is more “literary color analyst” than English professor, and he succeeds in building a reader’s excitement about tackling Melville’s whale of a novel.
The Shadow of a Great Rock
by Harold Bloom
“The years have not slowed” Harold Bloom, said Philip Marchand in the Toronto National Post. In his ninth decade, and having worked his way through Shakespeare and much of the rest of the Western canon, the prolific critic has set about climbing what he calls “the sublime summit of literature in English”—the King James Bible. “In place of careful scholarship or theory Bloom substitutes a sheer blast of opinion and assertion,” and yet he’s as crankily interesting when exploring the Bible as he’s ever been.
by David Guterson
“As the punning title suggests,” this comic novel from the author of Snow Falling on Cedars “wears its relationship to Oedipus Rex on its sleeve,” said Sam Leith in the Financial Times. Left on a Seattle doorstep as an infant, Ed King grows up to found a Google-like company. When he encounters his biological parents as strangers, he, of course, “hooks up” with his mom. Guterson’s plot-mapping bores, but he’s created a contemporary commentary on fate that’s both “prankish” and intriguing.