I want to note new books released by two friends and former colleagues, both of which are just out, neither of which I have yet read, both of which I am fully expecting to delight in.
Readers of Salon and the New York Times Book Review know Laura Miller’s critical writing by its wisdom, range, power and clarity. Her new book, The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, is her first (she also edited Salon’s Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors). It’s an unusual combination of personal memoir and literary criticism that is about, among other things, Narnia, childhood imagination, memory and the power of stories. I was always more of a Tolkien guy than a Narnian; I think by the time I got to Lewis’s books their Christian subtexts did not look “sub” at all to me, and I found the whole thing an exercise in crude allegory. But if anyone can make me understand their power, I imagine it will be Laura. If you read this excerpt from the book recently posted at Salon, you’ll see why. (Here’s Laura’s website for the book.)
My professional path has crossed multiple times with Mike Sragow’s: He’s now the movie critic for the Baltimore Sun. When I met him he was the movie critic and editor for the Boston Phoenix, where he encouraged me to write about movies (I’d limited myself to theater and books). Then we worked together at the SF Examiner, and again at Salon. For me, he has always been the best kind of mentor; for his readers, he has always been an incisive, insightful and deeply knowledgeable critic.
Mike’s new book, his first (he also edited a couple of anthologies for the National Society of Film Critics), is Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master — a biography of the director of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, whose reputation and swashbuckling life story have long been neglected. Here’s a Wall Street Journal review by Peter Bogdanovich, who calls the book “evocative, layered, engaged, graceful and compelling”; here’s another review of it from today’s N.Y. Times.
I can’t wait to read both of these books — soon as I’m done poring over edits on my own…