For a writer, the Holy Grail of book reviews is a positive notice in The New York Times, the newspaper of record for American literature. In the past month, three Tennessee authors—novelists Lydia Peelle and Kevin Wilson, and nonfiction writer Michael Sims—have found their way into those august pages.
On January 1, the Times called Lydia Peelle’s debut novel, The Midnight Cool, “fully imagined” and “affecting,” writing that “Peelle entertains in the novel in a folksy way that might lapse more frequently into hokey in a less confident writer’s hands. She knows how to spin macho aphorisms in the way of westerns, making them feel both overheated and satisfying.” On January 27, the paper came back to the Nashville novelist when it included The Midnight Cool in its shortlist of debut novels of note, writing that the book “offers a pertinent demonstration of the way homegrown xenophobia can feed off overseas terrors.”
Also in January, Sewanee novelist Kevin Wilson racked up two Times reviews—one in the daily paper and one in the Sunday book-review supplement—for his second novel, Perfect Little World. In a review titled “It Takes a Commune,” novelist John Irving (who knows a thing or two about dysfunctional fictional families) writes that Perfect Little World is “a novel you keep reading for old-fashioned reasons—because it’s a good story, and you need to know what happens. But you also keep reading because you want to know what a good family is. Everyone wants to know that.”
And last week The New York Times Book Review featured Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes, the new nonfiction book by Crossville native Michael Sims, in both its lead story and its podcast. “How did a 26-year-old doctor, with only two unpublished novels and a few ignored short stories under his belt, create, in the span of six weeks, the most enduring literary accomplishment of his generation?” asks Graham Moore in the review. “This is the puzzle Michael Sims sets out to solve, with all the brilliance of Sherlock himself.”
With praise like that, it’s no surprise that Arthur and Sherlock made a return appearance in the Times a week later, this time on the Review‘s recommended list: “Sims, who recently wrote a beguiling book about the origins of ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ proves an ingenious investigator in this magnificent work of scholarship,” the citation notes.
For more updates on Tennessee authors and literary events, please visit Chapter 16’s News & Notes page, here.