Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of October 15th, 2007

Manhattan declared war on Brooklyn on Sept. 16, and the first casualties are Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss. Writing in The American Scholar (www.theamericanscholar.org), Melvin Jules Bukiet gives the recipe for “Brooklyn Books of Wonder”: “Take mawkish self-indulgence, add a heavy dollop of creamy nostalgia, season with magic realism, stir in a complacency of faith, and you’ve got wondrousness.” Or kitsch. Mr. Bukiet isn’t satisfied with pouring scorn on the “illusory Eden” the latest crop of Brooklyn writers have dreamed up in “the low-rise borough across the water from corrupt Manhattan”—he attacks “Brooklyn principles” wherever they’re found. As a result, Dave Eggers, Alice Sebold, Benjamin Kunkel and Michael Chabon all suffer collateral damage. Mr. Bukiet is right on target in his attack on the feel-good sentimentality of Foer, Kraus & Co., but I fear that the geographical peg is just a journalistic stunt. There’s nothing in the water in Park Slope and Boerum Hill that turns a writer’s brains to mush. As Mr. Bukiet concedes, Jonathan Lethem’s faculties remain happily intact, as do Emily Barton’s.

Ever wondered about the link between bogomilists and buggerers? Arthur Goldwag provides the answer in his surprisingly useful ’Isms & ’Ologies: All the Movements, Ideologies, and Doctrines That Have Shaped Our World (Vintage, $14.95). It seems that bogomilism is the creed of an heretical cult that flourished in 10th-century Bulgaria—“the Latin name for the movement was Bulgaris, or Bulgarian. In French, Bulgaris became bougre, which spawned the Italian word buggero, the Spanish word bujarrón, and the English word buggerer.” Bigots of the world rejoice: With that one word you can diss a homosexual and a heretic.

Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Albert Camus—those are the three sages who chalk up the most citations in The Impossible Takes Longer (Walker, $19.95), David Pratt’s compilation of the 1,000 wisest sayings by Nobel laureates. The best of their oracular nuggets have a painful relevance (Churchill: “Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace, and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war”); articulate a plain truth (Camus: “Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators”); or simply make us smile (Einstein: “When I was young, I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock. So I stopped wearing socks”). Genius in action.