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This Sunday: Mark Salzman, Geoff Dyer, Stephen Fry and more

February 24, 2012 |  1:54 pm


Writer's block: It is the bane of anyone who makes a living putting words together. There you are, poised in front of a computer, and nothing comes and nothing comes and nothing comes. Mark Salzman felt that in the spring of 2009 when he was overdue to deliver a novel to his publisher. The project wasn’t going well: Then, with the sudden death of his sister, full-fledged panic set in. How he got through this ordeal and returned to work is the focus of David L. Ulin’s conversation with Salzman, who has published an e-book memoir on the subject.  Ulin's is the lead piece in our Sunday Arts & Books section.

Also Sunday is Geoff Dyer’s latest work, “Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room," reviewed by Chris Barton. In "Zona," Dyer attempts to summarize Andrei Tarkavsky’s 1979 film “Stalker” from its opening sequence to the end. The Russian art film is probably little known to American audiences and Barton writes “that undertaking an expansive, linear summation of a Russian art film, scene by scene by scene, flirts with madness.” But, Barton adds, “testifying to the greatness of an underappreciated work of art is the core purpose of criticism, and Dyer has delivered a loving example that is executed with as much care and craft as he finds in his subject.”

British humorist Stephen Fry, writes Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty, “would like you to know that he picks his nose and pees in the shower. He also can’t stand the sight of his naked body.” And that’s just for starters. His self-deprecating wit and humor enliven his new memoir of his school days and beyond when his pals were Hugh Laurie (“House”), Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane, among others. His book is "The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography."

Carolyn Kellogg calls Ellen Ullman’s novel “By Blood” “a literary inquiry into identity and legacy" that is "a gripping mystery — remarkable, considering that little more happens than a man eavesdrops on  a woman’s therapy sessions.”  Kellogg notes that “Ullman is a careful stylist” and that "the storytelling here is compelling and propulsive.”

More after the jump

Blame or thank Suzanne Collins for another one, writes Susan Carpenter of the novel “Partials,” by Dan Wells, for ages 14 and older. This title, which kicks off a new series, concerns the 40,000 or so humans who survived an apocalyptic event known as “The Break” in which semi-humans, known as Partials, unleashed a virus that killed most of the human population. To repopulate the species, teen pregnancy is the law but there is a problem: Survivors are only able to give birth to children who die within 56 hours of birth. Sixteen-year-old Kira Walker enters the picture looking for an answer to this fatal problem.

In “Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World,” economic scholar Kwasi Kwarteng sets out to explain the empire’s dissolution and its legacy today. An excerpt from the book appears Sunday.

And, of course, we have our weekly best-sellers list with Walter Issacson’s biography “Steve Jobs” hitting its 16th week on the nonfiction list at No. 1.  Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” which we wrote about last week, enters the list at No. 4.

The past week in daily reviews: Tim Weiner’s new book on the FBI, “Enemies: A History of the FBI,” was reviewed during the week by Bob Drogin, the deputy chief of the Times Washington Bureau. Weiner’s last book, “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA,”  was a national best-seller. Drogin writes that this new book “is a scathing indictment of the FBI as a secret intelligence service that has  broken the law for decades in the pursuit of Communists, terrorist and spies.” Don’t miss this fascinating review.

As always, thanks for reading.

-- Jon Thurber, Book Editor

Photo: Author Mark Salzman  Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times