Books by Lee Siegel

Cultural critic Lee Siegel has written for a variety of publications, including the New Yorker and Harper’s. His books include Against the Machine and the recent Are You Serious?, which Kirkus considered “an intriguing examination of the power and precision of words.” Photo credit: Jill Krementz

THE DRAW by Lee Siegel
Released: April 4, 2017

"An unsparing, intimate reflection on the many ways money—or the lack thereof—can tear a family apart."
A frank memoir of money and the man. Read full book review >
GROUCHO MARX by Lee Siegel
Released: Jan. 12, 2016

"A perceptive, though dark, portrait."
An unsparing look at the abrasive performer. Read full book review >
Released: June 28, 2011

"A seriously serious investigation. Seriously."
An intriguing examination of the power and precision of words. Read full book review >
Released: April 25, 2008

"The novel is whimsical, erotic and comic all at the same time, and Ponce de León is revealed as an exuberant, self-indulgent and crusty old guy."
The "incredibly old man" of the title is none other than Juan Ponce de León, who (in Siegel's take) did discover the Fountain of Youth, lived through tumultuous historical times and died in 2006. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2008

"Siegel's snotty, Luddite attitude doesn't make much of a case for 'being human.'"
News flash! The Internet has changed our lives! Read full book review >
Released: July 2, 2007

"Those interested in the modern television landscape should turn to Bill Carter's Desperate Networks (2006), a fine work of straight-up journalism that offers critical insight into today's television scene—and Carter wasn't even trying."
Hit-and-mostly-miss collection of 50-plus New Republic essays over-intellectualizing the boob tube's not particularly intellectual output. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 10, 2003

"Vast and zany."
Raucous adventure tale of a man's journey from the Dead Sea to the top of Mt. Everest, in a hundred vignettes touring early 20th-century pop culture. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1999

Siegel's sixth book (after City of Dreadful Night, 1995, etc.) is a flat chore, defrauding the reader of an engaging story with dense typographical hocus-pocus and the bland tatter of footnotes, appendices, and an ostensibly saucy theme. The novel's structure is distractingly complex. At the core of the text is Professor Leopold Roth's translation of the Indian taxonomy of sex, the Kamasutra. Appended to this translation are Roth's commentaries on each section of the work, and contained in them is the vaguely entertaining story of his seduction of Lalita, a Californian undergraduate of Indian descent who is tricked into taking a trip to India with the professor. This tale is intended to illustrate Roth's understanding and practice of the Kamasutra's precepts—with Lalita as his object. The plot concludes with Roth's murder; after the death, one of Roth's graduate students, Anang Saighal, assumes the thankless task of assembling the uncollected translation into book form, while providing his own footnoted commentary on both the translation and the story already told in the commentaries. A transparently Nabokovian strategy emboldens Siegel throughout. Footnotes and references to the Zemblan language recall Pale Fire, while the seduction theme mimics Lolita: "Once I had seen the beautiful Indian girl in the sari with the red bindi on her forehead in my Comparative Phonology class, I threw out the Mao poster, folded up the Chinese flag, and bought a poster of the Taj Mahal and a print of Krishna playing his flute for love- enraptured, dancing milkmaids . . . ." Nabokov, though, undergirded his complex constructions with brimming plots and full characters. Siegel's counterparts are flat, dull, relentlessly trivial—a cascade of comments, asides, interpretations, and appendices. Textually dense, erotically lukewarm, and narratively inert: an unrewarding novel, with its inverted pages, computer-screen replications, and transcripts, that's too fascinated with how it looks to concern itself with how it reads—poorly, at best. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 31, 1995

Riveting material is given redundant and indifferent treatment in this misshapen first novel ``about horror and the macabre in India,'' by Siegel (Net of Magic, not reviewed, etc.), a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii. Its author-researcher's stay in the city of Varanasi steeps him in images—and evidence—of both fabulistic and factual horrors, beginning with the woman who transforms herself into the ``human bomb'' that assassinates Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, then focusing major attention on a locally famous itinerant storyteller, Brahm Kathuwala, a ghostly figure whom Siegel pursues throughout most of this book's duration. An extended story that Brahm tells listeners who gather about him nightly is juxtaposed, more or less, with Siegel's piecemeal recapitulation of the life of the tale- teller, a lonely and effectively motherless boy whose obsessive fascination with his near-namesake Bram Stoker is reflected in eerie coincidences between Stoker's lurid masterpiece and Brahm's own experiences and relationships. ``I wrote it in a former life,'' the latter Brahm says of Dracula, acknowledging that he may indeed be a reincarnation, if not something even more evanescent (``Sometimes I have to wonder . . . whether I'm a storyteller or a story told,'' he proclaims elsewhere). It's hard to know what this curiously organized fiction aims to say, beyond the obvious implication that horror takes many forms in the roiling chaos of political and religious instability that is India. The reader is kept at a confused distance by the ``novel's'' apparently arbitrary structure, profusion of epigraphs, surfeit of sickeningly visceral detail, and undifferentiated reappearances of lepers, poisonous snakes, flesh-eating corpses, and other stock paraphernalia that have the obviously unintended effect of diverting our attention from the putative central story—of Brahm Kathuwala, whoever, or whatever, he may be. In Dracula, Bram Stoker had the good sense to contain his otherworldly contrivances within a compelling linear narrative. One wishes the author of this unfortunately turgid homage to it had done the same. Read full book review >