William Maxwell found depth in humble places


AO Scott, co-chief reviewer of The Times, returns to the Book Review podcast this week to discuss the work of William Maxwell, the latest topic in Scott’s essay series The Americans, on Writers Who Give Some Insight to the complex identity of the country. In his novels and stories, Maxwell frequently returned to small town Illinois and, as Scott describes, “the particular civilization, culture, and society he knew growing up.”

“In so many of these books,” Scott says, “he was in a way trying to understand himself by wondering where he was coming from. It was inexhaustible. What is truly remarkable about him revisiting his family, his family history and the city they lived in is the number of layers. In what appears to be a simple, small, and provincial place, how depth, complexity, comedy and pathos live there. “

Eyal Press visits the podcast to discuss their new book, “Dirty Work,” on the lives of workers in slaughterhouses, correctional facilities and other morally difficult places. Press says that the people doing this work make inequality one of the main themes of the book.

“One of the messages from the book is that it is very seldom about the privileged and powerful,” Press says. “They are more likely to be people at the lower end of the social ladder, people with fewer choices and opportunities, who are pushed into these ethically troubling roles that they in a sense fulfill on behalf of society and on our behalf. “

Also in this week’s episode, Tina Jordan reflects on the history of book review as she celebrates her 125th birthday; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai discuss the books they recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed by Times critics this week:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode and the Book Review podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].


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