Author: Nicole Charbonnet

2017 National Book Awards for Fiction

Here are the finalists for the NBA fiction: “Dark at the Crossing” by Elliot Ackerman, “The Leavers” by Lisa Ko, “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado, and “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn …Read More


“Americana” by Bhu Srinivasan is a fun and thorough review of capitalism in America. Who knew the Mayflower was backed by English financiers? I thought the Puritans were fleeing religious prosecution and had no idea they were borrowing from their …Read More

The Golden House

Perhaps it takes the US becoming as dysfunctional, confusing, chaotic and in crisis as India or Pakistan to inspire Rushdie do deliver his best. Although I am a huge Rushdie fan, and adored “Satanic Verses,” “Midnight’s Children” and “The Moor’s …Read More

Leonardo da Vinci

One thing I really liked about Walter Isaacson’s “Leonardo da Vinci” is that Isaacson explains why there are not more finished paintings. There are only 15 works, fully or mainly attributed to Leonardo, comprising a smaller body of work than …Read More


David Daley’s “Ratfucked” is a frightening review of how the GOP’s gerrymandering has redrawn the American political map. Gerrymandering has been around since the early 1800s when Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts, redrew a state map, redistricting to favor …Read More

Democracy in Chains

A few months ago, Donna suggested I read “Democracy in Chains” by Nancy MacLean, which turned out to be the best nonfiction I read all summer and a wonderful recommendation. It is an important and timely book to read especially …Read More

The End of the Asian Century

In “The End of the Asian Century,” Michael Auslin makes a good point that worrying about Asia taking over the world was less frightening than the more plausible present concern of instability in the region or an Asia in decline. …Read More

NOLA French Film Festival and “Things to Come”

A great event every year in NOLA is the French Film Festival. This year has been no exception. I did not see all the films, but went to about half and all were wonderful. My favorite was “Things to Come” …Read More

The Door

Far from new, “The Door” by Magda Szabó is the most exciting fiction I’ve read in months. It was reissued in 2015 (originally published in Hungary in 1987). If Szabó had not died in 2007, she would be on my …Read More

Homo Deus

Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” is an entertaining account of human evolution. In “Sapiens,” Hariari highlights the use of fiction and collective myths, like money and religion, to conquer the world. “The ability to speak about fictions is the unique feature …Read More

Prisoners of Geography

In “Prisoners of Geography,” Tim Marshall explores ten different regions around the globe to reveal how geography explains global politics. Political realities are shaped by physical strengths and vulnerabilities and Marshall provides numerous examples of how geography dictates needs. The …Read More

Exit West

What I loved most about Moshin Hamid’s novel “Exit West” was the limning of humanity, by which I mean that even under dire circumstances Hamid describes how people are people and act on impulses, feelings, thoughts and emotions. In Hamid’s …Read More

Testosterone Rex

Cordelia Fine’s “Testosterone Rex” is a book about the role testosterone plays in gender development. It’s an interesting investigation of how the mythology surrounding huge differences between the sexes greatly contributes to inequality but has little basis in science. She …Read More

South and West

Short but deep, light but profound, Joan Didion’s “South and West” is mainly comprised of notes Didion made on a a trip through the South in 1970 and on the Patty Hearst trial. In the introduction Nathaniel Rich says, “Didion …Read More


We all know this stuff, and unless you are Paul Ryan, his Tea Party friends or a Koch brother, weep. The US has the lowest minimum wage (as a proportion of its average wage) of any advanced economy. The soulless …Read More

Lincoln in the Bardo

I greatly respect George Saunders even if he is not in my contemporary writer pantheon. Like with all his work, his first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is wonderfully crafted and contains some amazing passages. This is a work of …Read More

Age of Anger

I absolutely love historical face-offs, such as Delacroix vs. Ingres, Corbu vs. Frank Lloyd Wright, Keynes vs. Hayek. Over time, historians oscillate on crowning the winners. Recently, it is apparent that Hamilton has an edge over TJ (“Hamilton”) and, Burke …Read More


I always thought Paul Auster wanted to be Don Delillo or Thomas Pynchon, but reading “4321,” his latest novel, I’m thinking maybe he has wanted to be Philip Roth all along. There is an epic quality to “4321” and this …Read More

The Warburgs

“Tsundoku” is the Japanese word for buying books and subsequently allowing piles to form, instead of immediately reading them. I like to think of it as a necessary step in the reading process, similar to fermentation in wine production. Thus …Read More

American Rust

“American Rust” by Philipp Meyer is a novel version of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Meyer writes with compassion and insight about the disappearing and desperate Rust Belt blue-collar life. “American Rust” came out in 2008, so here are a few lines to …Read More

A World in Disarray

Richard Haass presents a pessimistic view of the world order in his new book “A World in Disarray.” Just as power is shifting from West to East, American leadership is breaking down and historic alliances are weakening. Kissinger can’t be …Read More


“13th” is a great documentary by Ava DuVernay about the criminal justice system. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” DuVernay makes the point that in the US, mass incarceration is a continuation of slavery and …Read More

An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy

In “An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy,” Mark Levinson argues that the post WWII boom ended in 1973 and will not return. This is an interesting book, although I disagree …Read More


I love watching Huppert, even when she is making really horrible choices, which she seems to do often in the films she stars in (“The Piano Teacher” and “The Abuse of Weakness” come to mind). In “Elle” she plays a …Read More

Mickalene Thomas

For anyone in New Orleans, there is a gorgeous Mickalene Thomas show at Newcomb Art Museum. The show has it all: her photos, sculpture, a working set where she stages her photos, collages and huge paintings. It’s all wonderful, and …Read More

Unforbidden Pleasures

“Unforbidden Pleasures” was one of my favorite nonfiction books from ’16, which I did not have time to review. Adam Phillips is a great writer and is definitely my favorite psychoanalyst writer. Although this is far from his best (“On …Read More

Kerry James Marshall show at the Met Breuer

The Kerry James Marshall show at the Met Breuer was the best show I’ve seen in a while. I’ve always liked his work, but seeing the paintings exhibited chronologically and shown all together cemented my respect. It was a sum-is-greater-than-the-parts …Read More

Best Non-Fiction ’16

Amazingly Wonderful Nonfiction: “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis – Review posted earlier “The Hidden Life …Read More

Strangers in Their Own Land

Add “Strangers in Their Own Land” to the list of great books that document our current political divide, such as Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” Isenberg’s “White Trash,” Anderson’s “White Rage” and Packer’s “The Unwinding.” Arlie Russell Hochschild, a Berkley sociologist, spent …Read More

At the Existentialist Cafe

“At the Existentialist Cafe” by Sarah Bakewell is a wonderful biography-focused book about existentialism. “Ideas are interesting,” Bakewell writes, “but people are vastly more so.” She presents an entertaining cast of characters such as Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Heidegger, Husserl, …Read More

Best Fiction ’16

It makes me sad that most of the “best of” lists are so awful, because I imagine a potential fiction lover taking the NYT 10 best list, for example, and reading all five novels only to ask is that all …Read More

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

How do we make decisions? Michael Lewis explores the process in “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.” Two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, spent their careers examining how the human mind works. We all make …Read More

Swing Time

Zadie Smith amazes me. Her most recent novel “Swing Time” reminds me a lot of its predecessor. Like “NW,” “Swing Time” is set in northwest London where the narrator meets Tracey at young age at a dance class. This story …Read More

Hot Milk

“Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy is probably the best novel I’ve read this year after “Hystopia” by David Means. The language is poetic and hypnotic. The plot centers around a mother-daughter relationship. Sophia has spent her life caring for her …Read More

Thank You for Being Late

This is the usual amazingly astute but corny Friedmanesque analysis of the world right now. How can one man have such a brilliant, yet simultaneously annoying, penchant for putting his finger on the global pulse and simplifying complexity? The premise …Read More