What Do Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov and Nora Ephron Have in Common?

What Do Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov and Nora Ephron Have in Common?

Sometimes they were famous, sometimes they were just starting out, but over the years, many of the biggest names in literature have reviewed books for The New York Times.

“The temptation when reviewing his works, of course, is to imitate him cunningly. Holy animals! Sebaceous sleepers! Oxymorons and serpentae carminael! Tabescent! Infarcted! Stretchpants netherworld! Schlock!”

“It is still, to be sure, not a literary work. But in its own little sub-category of popularly written romans à clef, it shines, like a rhinestone in a trash can.”

“It is hard to imagine (except in a farce) a dentist persistently pulling out the wrong tooth. Publishers and translators, however, seem to get away with something of that sort. … Whether, from the viewpoint of literature, “La Nausée” was worth translating at all is another question.”

[ Read scathing reviews from our archives of “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Lolita,” “Ulysses” and other classics that The Times panned. ]

“It has been a good while since first novels in America have come from men in their middle or late 30s (Paul Bowles is 38). Even in past decades the first novel has usually been written during the writers’ first years out of college. Moreover, because success and public attention operate as a sort of pressure cooker or freezer, there has been a discouraging tendency for the talent to bake or congeal at a premature level of inner development.”

“…the world it portrays is quite extraordinarily repulsive, as one might guess from his title.”

“The most repulsive character is a small fat person called Keith, whose physical characteristics and activities are described in such horrific detail that I, for one, would never have finished the book, save in the course of duty.”

“In short, this is a full novel — rich, slow enough to impress itself upon us like a love affair or a sickness — not the two-hour penny dreadful which is again in vogue nor one of the airless cat’s cradles custom-woven for the delight and job-assistance of graduate students of all ages.”

“Call it anthology, call it magazine history, call it family album, this mighty work is better classified as an architectural wonder along with the Triboro Bridge, the Holland Tunnel, the Thruways.”

“Suppose, then, it were possible, not only to swear love ‘forever,’ but actually to follow through on it — to live a long, full and authentic life based on such a vow, to put one’s alloted stake of precious time where one’s heart is? This is the extraordinary premise of Gabriel García Márquez’s new novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera,’ one on which he delivers, and triumphantly.”

“For anyone who likes the genre to which it belongs, the Heroic Quest, I cannot imagine a more wonderful Christmas present.”

“The writer’s way is rough and lonely, and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say, cleaning out ferryboats?”

“Yet in a very real way the white middle-class Protestant writer in America is in fact homeless — as absent from the world of his fathers as he is ‘different’ within the world of letters — and it is precisely this note of ‘homelessness’ that John Cheever strikes with an almost liturgical intensity in his extraordinary new novel, ‘Falconer.’”

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