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The Book Review

The Book Review

Our Critics' Year in Reading

Fri, 08 Dec 2023

The Times’s staff book critics — Dwight Garner, Jennifer Szalai and Alexandra Jacobs — do a lot of reading over the course of any given year, but not everything they read stays with them equally. On this week’s podcast, Gilbert Cruz chats with the critics about the books that did: the novels and story collections and works of nonfiction that made an impression in 2023 and defined their year in reading, including one that Garner says caught him by surprise.

“Eleanor Catton’s ‘Birnam Wood’ is in some ways my novel of the year,” Garner says. “And it’s not really my kind of book. This is going to sound stupid or snobby, but I’m not the biggest plot reader. I’m just not. I like sort of thorny, funny, earthy fiction, and if there’s no plot I’m fine with that. But this has a plot like a dream. It just takes right off. And she’s such a funny, generous writer that I was just happy from the first time I picked it up.”

Here are the books discussed on this week’s episode:

“Be Mine,” by Richard Ford

“Onlookers,” by Ann Beattie

“I Am Homeless if This Ia Not My Home,” by Lorrie Moore

“People Collide,” by Isle McElroy

“Birnam Wood,” by Eleanor Catton

“Biography of X,” by Catherine Lacey

“Madonna: A Rebel Life,” by Mary Gabriel

“The Sullivanians: Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune,” by Alexander Stille

“The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions,” by Jonathan Rosen

“Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs: A Journey Through the Deep State,” by Kerry Howley

“The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight,” by Andrew Leland

“Fatherland: A Memoir of War, Conscience, and Family Secrets,” by Burkhard Bilger

“King: A Life,” Jonathan Eig

“Larry McMurtry: A Life,” Tracy Daugherty

“Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey,” by Robert “Mack” McCormick

“Roald Dahl, Teller of the Unexpected: A Biography,” by Matthew Dennison

“The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality,” by William Egginton

“Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World,” by Naomi Klein

“The Notebooks and Diaries of Edmund Wilson”

“Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair,” by Christian Wiman

“Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals,” by Oliver Burkeman

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to

10 Best Books of 2023

Tue, 28 Nov 2023

It’s that time of year: After months of reading, arguing and (sometimes) happily agreeing, the Book Review’s editors have come up with their picks for the 10 Best Books of 2023. On this week’s podcast, Gilbert Cruz reveals the chosen titles — five fiction, five nonfiction — and talks with some of the editors who participated in the process.

Here are the books discussed on this week’s episode:

“The Bee Sting,” by Paul Murray

“Chain-Gang All-Stars,” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

“Eastbound,” by Maylis de Kerangal

“The Fraud,” by Zadie Smith

“North Woods,” by Daniel Mason

“The Best Minds,” by Jonathan Rosen

“Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs,” by Kerry Howley

“Fire Weather,” by John Vaillant

“Master Slave Husband Wife,” by Ilyon Woo

“Some People Need Killing,” by Patricia Evangelista

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to

Talking Barbra Streisand and Rebecca Yarros

Fri, 10 Nov 2023

Book Review reporter Alexandra Alter discusses two of her recent pieces. The first is about Georgette Heyer, the "queen of Regency romance," and recent attempts to posthumously revise one of her most famous works in order to remove stereotypical language. The second looks at Rebecca Yarros, author of one of this year's most surprising and persistent bestsellers: the "romantasy" novel "Fourth Wing."


Then, staff critic Alexandra Jacobs joins Book Review editor Gilbert Cruz to discuss her review of Barbra Streisand's epic memoir, "My Name is Barbra."

Why is Shakespeare's First Folio So Important?

Fri, 03 Nov 2023

In 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare died, two of his friends and fellow actors led an effort to publish a single volume containing 36 of the plays he had written, half of which had never been officially published before. Now known as the First Folio, that volume has become a lodestone of Shakespeare scholarship over the centuries, offering the most definitive versions of his work along with clues to his process and plenty of disputes about authorship and intention.

In honor of its 400th anniversary, the British Library recently released a facsimile version of the First Folio. On this week’s episode, The Times’s critic at large Sarah Lyall talks with Adrian Edwards, head of the library’s Printed Heritage Collections, about Shakespeare’s work, the library’s holdings and the cultural significance of that original volume.

Happy Halloween: Scary Book Recommendations

Fri, 27 Oct 2023

You don’t need Halloween to justify reading scary books, any more than you need sand to justify reading a beach novel. But the holiday does give editors here a handy excuse to talk about some of their favorite spooky reads. On this week’s episode, the host Gilbert Cruz talks with his colleagues Tina Jordan and Sadie Stein about the enduring appeal of ghost stories, Gothic novels and other scary books.

Titles discussed:

“Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death,” by Deborah Blum

“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” by Ray Bradbury

“Rebecca,” by Daphne du Maurier

“Don’t Look Now: And Other Stories,” by Daphne du Maurier

“The Exorcist,” by William Peter Blatty

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” by Alvin Schwartz

“Ghosts,” by Edith Wharton

“Eight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of Ghost Stories,” by various

“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” by M.R. James

“The Hunger,” by Alma Katsu

“The Terror,” by Dan Simmons

“The Little Stranger,” by Sarah Waters

“Affinity,” by Sarah Waters

“The Paying Guests,” by Sarah Waters

“The Haunting of Hill House,” by Shirley Jackson

“Hell House,” by Richard Matheson

“House of Leaves,” by Mark Z. Danielewski

“A Haunting on the Hill,” by Elizabeth Hand

“The Virago Book of Ghost Stories,” edited by Richard Dalby

“The Turn of the Screw,” by Henry James

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