Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

All Stories Are Love Stories


Max strode out of his apartment on Filbert and was down the block in seconds, glad for the wind tunnel around the corner at Taylor. He let the air take his breath away as he leaned into it, trudging uphill. Around him swirled the sounds of foghorns from the bay and early-morning children shouting from a passing school bus, the calling tones popping up like flowers as they passed. Every morning in San Francisco was a bit like waking up on the edge of the earth: beautiful and damp and wild, full of the strange music people make, open-armed, into the wind.

-Elizabeth Percer, All Stories Are Love Stories: A Novel

Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil


First off, I don’t tell lies because I can’t keep up with them. My grandmother always said, “Don’t lie. Tell the truth and shame the devil.” She considered a lie a curse word and would be like, “Believe what you see and none of what you heard.” Your word is what you still got when you don’t have any money. That’s why if I give you my word, say I’m going do something, or tell you I got you, then I’m ten toes down. Anybody who knows me for real knows that. Feel me?”

-Lezley McSpadden, Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown

In the Country


She called the strike on a Monday, the busiest day of the week. As strikes go, hers was poetry. Eighty nurses, their brown hands clasped around the Self-Sacrifice statue on the lawn outside of City Hospital. The chairman of the board’s white face, turning even whiter when he came out of his car and saw them. Milagros could have lived on that rush forever.

-Mia Alvar, “In the Country,” in In the Country: Stories

The Point Is


Some of my best friends are stories. Just the other night at a dinner party, I glanced around the table and realized I was in the company of a soap opera, a farce, a chick flick, and an incessantly chatty shaggy dog story with no clue as to where it was going. The farce and the chick flick drank too much, the soap opera sobbed a little, the shaggy dog went on and on. But it turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant evening–though between you and me there were times I thought it would be better to be home in bed with a good book.

-Lee Eisenberg, The Point Is: Making Sense of Birth, Death, and Everything in Between

Half Wild


My father’s a logger, my brother a builder of houses, my husband a real estate man. Our lives are tied to the fate of trees the way some people’s are tied to money, others religion.

-Robin MacArthur, “The Heart of the Woods,” in Half Wild: Stories

Cousin Joseph & More


“Master cartoonist [Jules] Feiffer has crafted a worthy noir thriller prequel [in Cousin Joseph] to the critically acclaimed Kill My Mother. The year is 1931. Det. Sam Hannigan is a proud American and a member of fictional Bay City’s finest. When he and his partner aren’t fighting crime or getting their ‘Red Squad’ to suppress the local trade unions, he’s off to do the bidding of the mysterious Cousin Joseph, an unidentified bigwig who wants to rid Hollywood of what he considers anti-American propaganda films.”

It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done, and I mean that in the best possible way,”says Roxane Gay (World of Wakanda). “But the opportunity to write black women and queer black women into the Marvel universe – there’s no saying no to that.”

“The rehabilitation of evil is the subject of Kate Summerscale’s new book,The Wicked Boy, in which she describes Victorian England as a world on the brink of darkness.”

The Fever, like Dare Me, is high school reimagined as a distinctly American dog-eat-dog world, set among feral puppies who’ve only just discovered their fangs. You want your literature to hold a mirror up to the world? [Megan] Abbott’s novels remind us that sometimes the world is too dark for a mirror; that you need a flashlight, or better yet, a headlamp, and, of course, an expert guide, because you never know when you’re going to trip over a corpse in the darkness—and start to wonder who among your trusted group might have hidden the body to rot.”



American Rhapsody


Silence was always at the edge of [Dashiell] Hammett’s style. The white space on many of his pages nearly equals the quantity of print, the short lines of dialogue snapping off as soon as the necessary thing is said, if not before. He made inarticulateness into a method and a heroic mode of being; few writers–not even Gertrude Stein–came so close to the radical purity of words stripped down to their far-from-routine nakedness.

-Claudia Roth Pierpont, American Rhapsody: Writers, Musicians, Movie Stars, and One Great Building

Kill ‘Em and Leave


Here’s how music history in America works: a trumpet player blows a solo in a Philly nightclub in 1945. Somebody slaps it on a record, and fifty years later that same solo is a final is a college jazz department, and your kid pays $60,000 a year to take the final, while the guy who blew the solo out of his guts in the first place is deader than yesterday’s rice and beans, his family is suffering from the same social illness that created his great solo, and nobody gave two hoots about the guy when he died and nobody gives two hoots about his family now.

-James McBride, Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul


Surrender, New York


The case did not so much burst upon as much as creep over Burgoyne County, New York, just as the sickness that underlay it only took root in the region slowly, insidiously, and long before the first body was found.

-Caleb Carr, Surrender, New York: A Novel


Eyes on the Street & More


“A significant, comprehensive biography of an irrepressible urbanist, author, and pioneering community activist…the extraordinary life of Jane Jacobs (1916-2006).” Here’s a review of Eyes on the Street.

“Touching on virtual families, climate change, implanted memories, and more, [Alexander] Weinstein’s debut collection of digital-age sci-fi stories is scary, recognizable, heartbreaking, witty, and absolutely human.” Here’s a review of Children of the New World.

“A terrifically detailed recounting of the [Patty] Hearst case and its aftermath. But American Heiress is more than that. In telling this story, [Jeffrey] Toobin also opens a window on the surrealism of the ’70s in a way that makes it all of a piece — and, in some instances, a harbinger of the future.”

I still feel like teenage girls are not taken seriously by the culture at large, especially not their darker or more complicated feelings—of aggression, desire, ambition,” says novelist Megan Abbott (You Will Know Me).