The February 2013 issue of Harper’s has long reviews (for Harper’s) of three totally disconnected books. The reviews were written by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996-97). If nothing else the selection of books shows the width and depth of Bissell’s interests and knowledge. The guy is well read.
Tom’s last book was Magic Hours, a collection of essays, published by McSweeny’s, published in 2012 and his name pops up from time to time in articles and reviews for other publications.
The three books he reviews for Harper’s are A Jew Among Romans:The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus written by Frederic Raphael and published by Pantheon; Detroit: An American Autopsy by journalist Charlie LeDuff, published by Penguin Press; and a new collection of stories by George Saunders: Tenth of December (Random House).
You can’t open a magazine today without stumbling over some reference or review of the short stories by George Saunders, a writer that Bissell’s ranks with the likes of Chekhov, Kafka, Borges, Barthelme, Munro.
Not only haven’t I read George Saunders, I never heard of him until the last few months! And while I’ve been to Detroit in its good days and bad, I don’t know journalist Charlie LeDuff or his book on its autopsy. And I had never heard or read about Titus Flavius Josephus, having attended good Catholic schools all my life.
Now those facts have more to say about my education (or lack of) than it does about these historical and literary figures. But after reading Bissell’s brilliant reviews of the three books, I now know I have some serious reading to do, and none of these writers were PCVs!