[John Jeremiah Sullivan] seems to have in abundance the storyteller’s gifts: he is a fierce noticer, is undauntedly curious, is porous to gossip, and has a memory of childlike tenacity. Anecdotes fly off the wheels of his larger narratives. In a touching piece about the near-death of his brother (who electrocuted himself with a microphone while playing with his band, the Moviegoers, in a garage in Lexington, Kentucky), Sullivan mentions, in passing, “Captain Clarence Jones, the fireman and paramedic who brought Worth back to life, strangely with two hundred joules of pure electric shock (and who later responded to my grandmother’s effusive thanks by giving all the credit to the Lord).” Any reporter can be specific about the two hundred joules. But the detail about Captain Jones giving all the credit to the Lord, while a small thing, suggests a writer interested in human stories, watching, remembering, and sticking around long enough to be generally hospitable to otherness.

James Wood. Reading a passage like this, I am reminded that, for all the faults he has legitimately and illegitimately been accused of, Wood does as much as anyone ever has to make the humble book review a form of art.