Book Cover

A culture critic roams far and wide.

Veteran music critic Christgau (Is it Still Good to Ya?:
Fifty Years of Rock Criticism
, 2018, etc.) writes that he discovered his
future profession when he read the journalism of Red Smith, Pauline Kael, Tom
Wolfe, and Susan Sontag. This substantial collection of nearly 100 eclectic,
thought-provoking, and idea-laden book reviews were published in a wide range
of publications, many in the Village Voice (where he was a
writer and editor from 1969 to 2006) and the Barnes & Noble Review.
Christgau writes that they “dive deeper” into two broad themes, bohemia and
politics. His range of topics is impressive, and his references are prolific.
Unsurprisingly, many of the books reviewed are music-related, but Christgau is
just as adept delving into capitalism, pornography, and literature. He begins
with three reviews of books by “master stylists,” aka the “Collectibles.” John
Leonard is a “small treasure,” Jonathan Lethem is a “hell of a critic,” and the
“best of all,” Dave Hickey, has “been doing work that leaves your own flopping
around on the deck.” One of the longest and best pieces is an outstanding
overview of the “lumpily indefatigable” Raymond Williams. Christgau calls him a
“socialist intellectual” with an “appetite for knowledge.” Another highlight is
“A Darker Shade of Noir,” an incisive and wide-ranging assessment of Walter
Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels. Christgau makes a good case for why these
“historically evolving books constitute the finest detective oeuvre in American
literature, surpassing even that of card-carrying formalist Hammett and
dwarfing Chandler and Leonard and Macdonald.” Other literary figures Christgau
admires include Robert Coover, Michael Chabon (“language dazzling and deft”),
and Roddy Doyle. There are also savvy assessments of autobiographies by Rod
Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, and Patti Smith, whose M Train, writes
the author, “transported me.”

These sprightly, highly opinionated “adventures of an
autodidact” reveal Christgau to be a highly literate, astute, and discerning
book critic.

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