Unsure what new book to read next? Sit back: We read the book reviews in case you missed them. Below are the collected reviews of two new books being discussed in leading journals and magazines. Today we look at "The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows" by Brian Castner and "James Joyce: A New Biography" by Gordon Bowker.
“The Long Walk” by Brian Castner
Brian Castner served two tours of duty in Iraq as Commander of two Explosive Ordnance Disposal units before returning to the U.S. emotionally and mentally fractured. Self-described as “Crazy” with a capital C, Castner says on his blog that his raw, unflinching debut is “the intertwined story of two journeys: an outward struggle of surviving the urban combat of modern war in order to return home at all costs, and the inward journey to find the new person that emerges after undertaking such a task.”
“He gives equal, if not more, weight to the time and effort that goes into readjusting to his family life, and his straightforward, unself-conscious writing paints an absorbing picture of war in the twenty-first century -- the first century in which post-traumatic stress disorder has been both diagnosed and treated as a medical condition,” writes Chloe Fox for The New Yorker. Katie Bacon of The Boston Globe echoes this somewhat, noting that “the book jumps and loops around incessantly, mirroring Castner’s disordered mind.” Though Bacon thought this disjointedness took some power away from the overall narrative, she later writes, “Still, this is an important book to read for anyone who wants to get some sense of the long-term human toll of the Iraq war.” Kirkus’ Review concludes that The Long Walk is “scarifying stuff without any mawkishness or dumb machismo.”
“James Joyce” by Gordon Bowker
James Joyce’s remarkable talent as a writer was influenced greatly by the machinations of his personal life -- a well from which he drew early and often in becoming a giant of twentieth century literature. Bowker’s new assessment of the author of classics "Finnegan’s Wake" and "Ulysses" has inevitably been compared to Richard Ellmann’s definitive 1959 biography, "James Joyce," but Bowker, who has also written biographies of Malcolm Lowry and George Orwell, assertively steps out of the shadow of that earlier book to offer more insight into Joyce’s inner life.
“The distance between Joyce the man suffering and Joyce magisterial at his desk seems large and mysterious,” writes Colm Toibin in The New York Times. “The story of his life, told here with verve and pace, nonetheless remains a fascinating version of making it new under the most severe pressures.” The Economist notes that, “the first significant volume for more than 50 years since Richard Ellmann's version, is a masterly example of how to trace the life of a writer, particularly one as difficult as Joyce.” Michael Dirda of The Washington Post agrees and credits Bowker with writing “clearly and forcefully” with a focus “almost strictly on Joyce the human being,” concluding that the new biography is “well worth reading, even if Joyce comes across as brilliant but exploitative, admirable as an artist but often mortifying as a man. It’s not always a pretty picture, but it seems like a true one.”