Nobody's Looking at You

The journalist Janet Malcolm has weathered--or should that be courted?--her share of controversy throughout her storied career, but readers won't find much to get their dander truly up in her third essay collection, Nobody's Looking at You. Rest assured, this is no kinder, gentler Malcolm. (On the poet Ted Hughes's biographer: "That it was [Jonathan] Bate of all people who was chosen to write Hughes's biography only heightens our sense of Hughes's preternatural unluckiness.") But the feather-ruffling potential is restricted to unassuming moments, as when the liberal Malcolm calls for sympathy for a certain former governor of Alaska.

Nobody's Looking at You offers 18 essays culled from the holy trinity of literary periodicals: the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review. The pieces are bundled into three unnamed sections that might have been labeled New York's Finest (subjects include Eileen Fisher and Rachel Maddow), What Technology Has Wrought (the docuseries Sarah Palin's Alaska, e-mail etiquette) and Literary Criticism (Anna Karenina, Quentin Bell's Bloomsbury Recalled, Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series). Malcolm's genius lies in seizing on subjects that the reader might not have realized badly needed examination. In "The Art of Testifying," she's like an ace commentator for the sporting event that is the confirmation hearings of three U.S. Supreme Court justices. And in "Three Sisters," through observing the daily ministrations of the sisters who own and run Manhattan's Argosy Bookshop, Malcolm tells nothing less than the story of American industry. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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