Joan Baum

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. Joan has a long career as a critic and reviewer, writing for, among others, WNYC, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, MIT's Technology Review, Hadassah Magazine and writing on subjects in her dissertation field, the major English Romantic poets. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.

With an eye on reviewing fiction and nonfiction that has regional resonance for Connecticut or Long Island – books written by local authors or books set in the area – Joan considers the timeliness and significance of recently published work: what these books have to say to a broad group of readers today and how they say it in a distinctive or unique manner, taking into account style and structure as well as subject matter.

What literary text could seem further from reality these days than Beowulf — that approximately 1,500-year-old Anglo Saxon verse epic about a Scandinavian hero fighting monsters that’s known mainly by English majors and then, mostly in translation! Yet here are two new Beowulfs, different translations and genres, out this past August, that in their separate imaginative ways have something to say to our troubled times.

It’s always challenging to write about a group of short stories: What to mention? In Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s new collection called Truthtelling, “Pickup” deserves notice because, like the last story in the book, about a page turner of musical scores,  it references music, a special love, the author says, that has always informed her writing style.

  Scott Turow’s been called the king of legal thriller writers – with 30 million books in print, many made into memorable movies, but as his latest work shows, The Last Trial, he should be called a “novelist.” In the old-fashioned, big theme sense of the word. His books -- suspenseful, complex, filled with heady content and dramatic exchanges –are always timely, and none more so than The Last Trial, given the race to discover a vaccine against Covid-19. 


Still high on the list of the world’s 100 best novels, Joseph Conrad’s haunting “Heart of Darkness” continues to fascinate, mystify, and attract adaptors. Although Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 award-winning film “Apocalypse Now,” starring Marlon Brando is, arguably, the most imaginative of the lot—moving Conrad’s brooding and inscrutable Congo tale to Vietnam—the 1902 novella inspired earlier films (Boris Karloff as the charismatic Kurtz in 1958, John Malkovich in 1993). “Heart of Darkness” has also been turned into radio dramas, theatre pieces, even an opera.

Book Review: 'Tombstone'

Jun 25, 2020

You know the expression, attributed to Aristotle—the whole being greater than, or different from, the sum of its parts—meaning that the way individual items combine can often affect the overall result. In the case of journalist and best-selling author Tom Clavin’s latest historical exploration of the Wild West called “Tombstone,” readers should pay attention to the parts.