When I was in Iowa City a couple of weekends ago to pick up my daughter Laura for Thanksgiving break, we visited Prairie Lights Bookstore. After looking at books and drinking hot chocolate, as we started to leave, I noticed a tall stack of the December/January 2009 issues of Bookforum. I think I might have heard of the publication before, but I am not sure - there are so many "Book Something" publications. Whatever, it looked interesting, so I bought a copy.
Nine days late, I can report that I have enjoyed Bookforum and its reviews, featuring a lot of books for readers who like something a bit more challenging and deeper than bestsellers. Of particular interest to me was a full page (large page) article reviewing Hitler's Private Library by Timothy W. Rybeck. The review writer Trevor Butterworth quotes Rybeck's depiction of of Hitler as an insecure man who defended his positions with books and used his vast knowledge of books to intimidate. Rybeck asserts, however, that while Hitler remembered much of what he read, he was unable to think critically and distinguish truth from lies. Hitler was an admirer of American automaker Henry Ford and required all his staff to read Ford's books.
Allen Barra wrote a two-page review of The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul by Patrick French. "Authorized" is the interesting word here, as French was given free access to all of Naipaul's papers and is very critical of the novelist. According to the agreement, Naipaul could have required changes to the text but did not. The reviewer tries to make sense of a man full of jealousies and contradictions who would so easily agree to such a portrayal.
In "Grave Doubts: Reckoning with Mass Mortality after the Civil War," T. J. Jackson Lears discusses two books about the extreme amount of violence and death during the American Civil War. He asserts that most accounts of the war gloss over the horror, hiding it behind stories of gallantry and honorable purpose. He thinks the rhetoric of the glory of war that arose as a coping defense has made us too willing to fight in subsequent wars.
In the short reviews, the book that look most interesting to me is Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People by William L. Iggiagruk Hensley. Hensley tells about growing up in the far north and his career as an advocate for his native people.
Throughout the book review are ads for art books, which seems odd until you discover that the review is a sister publication of Artforum.
Bookforum will appeal to readers who enjoy The New York Review of Books. Larger public libraries and those with literary readers should consider adding a subscription.