Author Archives: Joseph Barbato

Paradise Now

The dream of utopia is eternal. We walk through this world imagining another, better existence. Sometimes that perfected life is thought to be waiting on the far side of death, or on a remote island, or in the green shade of prehistory. Sometimes we imagine a flawless society right here, just a few years hence. Occasionally, people set their vision in brick and mortar–they frame the buildings of utopia, write out its customs, furnish its rooms, and try to move in.

-Chris Jennings, Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism


Between the World and Me & More


“I would be the last one to spit in the soup, my heart’s desire to but praise that which should be praised, only disparaging that which should be disparaged. Still, I find myself in a distinct minority. My problem was that the book brings up ancient conceits and complaints. The prose is workaday, but the message been a given for decades. I am befuddled as to why there is such an overwhelming flood of encomiums for Coates.” Here‘s a review of Between the World and Me.

A flawless 1953 heist novel.” Here.

“The great thing about America is I always come back with more books and more tip-offs of who to read. It’s a country in love with crime fiction.” Here‘s Ian Rankin (Even Dogs in the Wild).

In Cold Blood at 50. “Its first sentence sits near ‘Call me Ishmael’ among American literature’s most famous opening lines: ‘The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.”‘” Here.

“You know you’re reading an exceptional book when, approximately two sentences into it, you start panicking at the thought of its ending.” Here‘s a review of The Narrow Door.


Splinter the Silence

Weekends were best. It was easy to avoid working then. So it was easier to watch the women he was interested in. Mostly they didn’t go to work then either, so he had a chance to observe their routines and work out the best way to kill them.

-Val McDermid, Splinter the Silence: A Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Novel


Fox Tooth Heart

The story of the creation of my elephant vampire songs begins on the December morning when I killed Aisling, heroine of our last album and and my fiancee, in one Jaguar and fled Texas in another.

-John McManus, “Elephant Sanctuary,” in Fox Tooth Heart: Stories


The Case Against Satan


Perhaps because God has become a nodding Santa Claus with twinkling eyes and a spun glass beard; or because television spot announcements coo us into worship; or because posters painted by airbrush smoothies and written by slogansmiths assure us that the family that prays together stays together; or because religion has become an unnatural thing of all light and no shadow, a pious bonbon so nice, so sweet, so soporifically bland that a Karl Marx can call it the opium of the people not without justice; or because dread, blood, awe, the sense of primal forces and the element of terror–without which there can be no great love, great art, great faith–have been slowly and systematically subtracted from religion; perhaps for all or some of these reasons but, more likely, for reasons we are not equipped to understand, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church was put on trial one harrowing weekend in the second half of the twentieth century.

-Ray Russell, The Case Against Satan (Penguin Classics)

Gangster Warlords & More


“Ioan Grillo’s exploration of the drug trade in the Caribbean, Central and South America, a follow-up to El Narco (2011), charts the rise of new-look drug barons such as Dudus, who see themselves partly as combatants in a war zone, partly as an alternative state-within-a-state.” Here‘s a review of Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America.

Says Sandra Cisneros (A House of My Own): “When I think about my book I think about the world we’re living in. We’re living in a post-9/11 era. This is a world of surveillance and screening, security and panic. This is the age of fear and so many of us feel afraid to speak out about what has happened to our lives in the wake of 9/11.” Here.

Says Anthony Marra (The Tsar of Love and Techno): “A decent number of the one-liners in the title story originally came up in conversations with my girlfriend or my neighbor. Anytime I can get either of them really laughing, I immediately pull out a pad of paper write the joke down, regardless of where we are or what we’re doing. I must be absolutely insufferable.” Here.

“I was amazed to discover the role that slavery plays in CO2 emissions and in the simple and basic fact of how global warming takes place.” Here‘s Kevin Bales (Blood and Earth).


Hardcore Zen

Nothing is sacred. Doubt–in everything–is absolutely essential. Everything, no matter how great, how fundamental, how beautiful, or important it is, must be questioned.

-Brad Warner, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality.


Dark Money & More


One of the more startling revelations in [Jane] Mayer’s book concerns the number of billionaires in the Koch network who have had “serious past or ongoing legal problems” and whose companies have been fined for violations of the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts. Koch Industries, she reports, has been perhaps the most flagrant and willful polluter and scofflaw. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s database, it was the No. 1 producer of toxic waste in the country in 2012.” Here‘s a review of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

“[Garth] Greenwell’s debut relays the story of an unnamed American college professor, living and teaching in Bulgaria, who develops a sexual relationship with a nomadic male prostitute named Mitko.” Here‘s a review of What Belongs to You.

Christopher Hitchens was the ultimate champagne socialist, though as his career progressed the champagne gradually took over from the socialism. Known in his student days as Hypocritchens for his habit of marching for the poor and dining with the rich, he was a public school renegade in a long English tradition of well-bred bohemians and upper-class dissenters. Had he been born a little earlier, he might well have been a raffish spy propping up the bar of a Pall Mall club.” Here.

“A shape-shifting chimera stuffed between book covers; a comic that explains the nuances of emphysema and elder care, a meta-meditation on death, loss and coping mechanisms, a tale of father-and-son reconciliation in which the father is a curmudgeonly rhino and the son a headstrong — and totally ripped — spectacle-wearing Minotaur. It’s all at once heart-breakingly sad, visually arresting and, for anyone who has helped a parent navigate the end-of-life process, strangely comforting.” Here‘s a review of Aneurin Wright’s debut graphic novel, Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park … When You’re 29 and Unemployed.

Dark Money

Oddly enough, the fiercely libertarian Koch family owed part of its fortune to two of history’s most infamous dictators, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The family patriarch, Fred Chase Koch, founder of the family oil business, developed lucrative business relationships with both of their regimes in the 1930s.

-Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

The Price of Salt

The lunch hour in the coworkers’ cafeteria at Frankenberg’s had reached its peak.

-Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt