Christmas Critics

What They're Reading

Dan Barry

The books beside my bed, stacked like bricks laid by an addled mason, suggest that I possess either a broad curiosity or an inability to focus. Where were we? Oh yes. The books on my nightstand. Here is a Wallace Stegner, a Colum McCann, a history of the National Lampoon. The Iliad, an Alice McDermott, and a love letter to the old New York Knicks. An Edith Wharton, a Thomas Merton, and a mug-shot collection of nineteenth-century New York City pickpockets, con artists, and thieves that I peruse like a family album, with good reason.

This lack of focus, coupled with a dislike for “best” lists, makes it impossible for me to choose three favorite books published over the past decade. Instead, I am citing books that are utterly different, yet united by a kind of New York grace. You might have heard of these books or you might have missed them entirely; either way, in my storm-tossed mind, they have provided anchored moments of pleasure, challenge, and recognition.

First, there is Branch Rickey: A Life (Penguin, $14, 160 pp.), a slim but provocative biography of...

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About the Author

Rachel M. Brownstein is professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Her most recent book is Why Jane Austen? (Columbia University Press).