Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

The Three-Body Problem

The Red Union had been attacking the headquarters of the April Twenty-eighth Brigade for two days.

-Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem


A History of New York in 101 Objects

New York could survive–even thrive–without being the nation’s capital; it couldn’t become a burgeoning metropolis without drinking water.

-Sam Roberts, “17. Water Pipe: A Legacy of Liquidity,” in A History of New York in 101 Objects


The Girl on the Train & More

“The train went really close by apartments, so you could see in. I never saw anything shocking, but I wondered, if you saw anything out of the ordinary, an act of violence, who would you tell and would anyone believe you?” Here‘s British author Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train).


All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Here.

“The Goldilocks of short narratives.” Here‘s Edith Pearlman (Honeydew: Stories).

“The city felt like a pinball table, like I might slip between the sewer grates and become lost to the game.” Here‘s Jac Jemc’s new collection A Different Bed Every Time.


The Public Library

A librarian named Miss Truman Richey snatched me from the jaws of ruin, and it’s too late now to thank her.

-Barbara Kingsolver, “How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life,” in The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson, with a foreword by Bill Moyers, an afterword by Ann Patchett, and with reflections by Isaac Asimov, Anne Lamott, Philip Levine, Dr. Seuss, Charles Simic, Amy Tan, E.B. White, and  others

Soul of the Fire & So Much More


“One of the most moving mysteries of the year.” Here‘s Eliot Pattison’s Soul of the Fire.

“When we look back on the mass-market-paperback phenomenon it’s hard to keep the Emily Brontës separate from the Mickey Spillanes.” Here.

“Nora and Gordon continue their quick banter, funny and loving. We like them. They’re good together—and not just when they’re standing up. A minute later the two engage in some terrific, earth-moving sex. It makes us feel great, horny, and envious.” Here.

“Describing William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep as a book about higher education is a bit like calling Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle a story about meat. Yes, Sinclair was writing about meat, but he was also writing about regulation, corruption, poverty and the failures of the state.” Here.

I don’t remember the exact date when I went to live in Doris Lessing’s house in Charrington Street, north of King’s Cross.Here.

“When people ask me if it’s ‘cathartic’ to write this sort of material, I don’t know whether to laugh or to throw something at them. It’s not cathartic in the least.” Here‘s Meghan Daum (The Unspeakable).

“An idiosyncratic, free-associative memoir of cultural consumptionand a fervent ‘thank you’ to a country and culture that haven’t always been welcomed by the world.” Here‘s Peter Conrad’s How the World Was Won: The Americanization of Everything.

“Few working poor have the luxury of indignation. Enervated by swing shifts, cash shortfalls and too little sleep, they are badgered by the American creed that anyone who works hard can prosper, and many internalize the belief that those who don’t prosper are themselves to blame.” Here‘s a review of Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth.

Amnesia & So Much More


The corporation is under our control. The Angel declares you free.” Here‘s Peter Carey’s novel Amnesia.

“The story of Ye Wenjie, a woman who is so disgusted by humanity after witnessing the injustices of the Cultural Revolution that she hijacks a government program meant to make contact with aliens and attempts to encourage extraterrestrials to invade Earth.” Here‘s The Three-Body Problem.

Tsuris ahead.” Here‘s a review of Steve Israel’s The Global War on Morris.

“I’ll never stop wanting to go to Cuba.” Here‘s Julia Cooke (The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba)

“I insist that you open the bag and search it.” Here.

“There was no religion in my upbringing at all but I remember longing for stillness. As a girl I would often go and sit in a church but it wasn’t anything I could get hold of, it didn’t fulfil this need I had for a space in which you could experience reality on a different level or with the body rather than the mind.” Here‘s novelist Emily Wood (The Lightning Tree).

“The underground railroad, instrument and symbol of enslaved African Americans’ determination to achieve freedom, was a major factor in the sectional polarization that led to the Civil War.” Here‘s a review of Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.

Vanishing Grace

As a Christian, I have deep concern about how we represent our faith to others.

-Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?


Bolano & More


“Today, 11 years after his death, [Roberto] Bolaño is surrounded by a halo of adoration. Many of his readers bring a fervour of devotion to the books which, for their fearsome erudition and undertow of the fabulous, invite comparison with the ficciones of the Argentine maestro Jorge Luis Borges.” Here‘s Bolano: A Biography in Conversations.

“Although she has a small cult following, I’ve been struck by the number of friends in Italy—intellectuals, journalists, readers—who had never heard of [Elena] Ferrante until I mentioned her.” Here‘s a review of Those Who Love and Those Who Stay and other Ferrante novels.

“I don’t come from a privileged background, I just happened to write a book that sold a lot. My mother was literally dying. She had nothing. She left her drunk husband. She started a school. I left home at 16, I lived on the streets. I had nothing” Here‘s Arundhati Roy.

Here‘s Miranda July’s debut novel The First Bad Man: “The story of Cheryl, an aggressively polite fortysomething who is entering her third decade in employ at Open Palm, an organization which was once a nonprofit promoting self-defense education for women, and which now produces lucrative exercise videos utilizing the jab-and-kick building blocks of their previous Model Mugging-style simulations.”


American Pulp & So Much More


“For a vivid decade or so, sleaze was, somewhat paradoxically, a force for literacy and empowerment. The pulps brought new readers to serious fiction, making it less intimidating with alluring art and low prices. Isolated lesbians learned that there were other women like them via books whose covers aimed to titillate heterosexual men. Paperback publishers distributed their titles in African-American neighborhoods because it expanded their market base. American Pulp celebrates these unabashedly commercial books as “an expression of democracy” and an affirmation that culture was for everyone.” Here‘s Wendy Smith on American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street.

“What happens when we take our brains to the movies . . . from the politics of propaganda to the physiology of the eye.” Here‘s Jeffrey Zacks’ Flicker: Your Brain on Movies.

“His voice seems geared to the overeducated American college graduate plodding toward adulthood, tired of sarcasm but resorting to it too often, suspicious of belief but desperate for faith, awash in meanings but lacking Meaning.” Here‘s David Foster Wallace.

One third of the world’s poor live in India. Ironically, India is also home to the world’s first billion dollar residence, built by tycoon Mukesh Ambani—net worth, $23.6 billion. Three miles from Ambani’s Mumbai mansion-in-the-sky are the Dharavi slums and the ‘beggar mafia,’ a syndicate known for intentionally blinding and amputating the limbs of children to garner more sympathy from tourists.” Here‘s a review of Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor.

“Two new novels, originally written in [Jack] Kerouac’s native French tongue, are being edited and translated for eventual publication in 2016.” Here.

“Mastering and using skills is one of life’s greatest pleasures, yet it is the very thing that automation works against by distancing us from being actively involved in the world. Not only do we become prone to “stupid” driving mistakes as we blindly follow our satellite navigation systems but we rarely exercise our mental mapping skills and lose the pleasure of wayfaring in the process.” Here‘s Nicholas Carr (The Glass Cage).

“Organized money is going to win unless we change the rules of politics, constitutional law, and the economy.” Here‘s a review of Zephyr Teachout’s Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.


Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

I saw Lila for the last time five years ago, in the winter of 2005.

-Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Book Three of the Neapolitan Novels)