Speed Reading

The Death of the Critic and Headless Body in Topless Bar
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THE DEATH OF THE CRITIC

By Rónán McDonald

Continuum

160 pages

$21.95

Rónán McDonald notes that upon hearing his book's Roland Barthes–inspired title, people assume he is celebrating the death of so-called (and often self-deemed) experts. The Death of the Critic's jacket image mordantly plays off this assumption — one might think the contents were a fictive, rather than nonfiction, whodunit. Those who look beneath the red-and-black color scheme will discover McDonald has penned a passionate four-chapter eulogy for a practice that he believes can be reborn. His reference points are United Kingdom–centric, and in this newspaper critic's opinion, he could go beyond name-dropping certain populist writers with vernacular voices to engage with their ideas as seriously as he does those of scholars. But in a pair of core chapters — about critical value, and science and sensibility — McDonald's phrasing and historical erudition are as sharp as the bloody knife on the cover. (Johnny Ray Huston)

HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR

By the staff of the New York Post

HarperEntertainment

191 pages

$14.95

Probably the greatest headline ever written (outside of The Onion) is the title of this book, a collection of New York Post zingers that prove no news is above mockery ("Al-Qa-ught: Cops catch five London bombers") and that a good pun never gets old ("NO KWAN DO: Michelle threatens to quit Games"). The cover artwork, reproduced with full-page treatments for notable efforts, is worth mentioning, such as the "755: Bonds breaks home-run record" cover, which illustrated the feat by spelling out "755" with syringes. Divided into chapters by subject (politics, celebrities, mafia, etc.) Headless Body is well worth reading through in one sitting before stashing in the john for future, random-page chuckles. (Cheryl Eddy)