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The Boston Globe

Books

Book review

‘White Girls’ by Hilton Als

Growing up, the writer Hilton Als spent his days “at the big lending library at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, reading books” and listening “to recordings by grand actors reading famous poetry, prose, and plays.” The power of his latest book, “White Girls,” a collection of essays that discusses A VARIETY OF THE FAMOUS AND TALENTED INCLUDING THE LIKES OF Eminem and Louise Brooks, makes it tempting to think of this anecdote as an origin myth, that these afternoons had the same alchemical effect as a radioactive spider bite.

While Als isn’t the kind of superhero who swings between skyscrapers (as far as we know), his writing is imbued with such preternatural insight and charm that it borders on the uncanny. He showcases his gifts in frequent essays in The New York Review of Books and theater reviews in The New Yorker, where he is a staff writer — outlets that first published many of the pieces in “White Girls,” which also features fictional and autobiographical vignettes and longer stories. Taken together, they offer a comprehensive and utterly lovely collection of one of the best writers around.

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