Category Archives: Features & Reviews

This Close to Happy & Much More


Says Daphne Merkin (This Close to Happy): “I wanted to write a readable, hopefully not too depressing book about depression, and in that way make it a seductive book in spite of the subject. That was my hope. I think of writing as yet another way in which I threw my wits and my charm, ostensible charm, at this subject of depression. And writing not ingratiatingly but seductively, compellingly so that you’d want to read about it.”

Craziness is a bit of a leitmotif in Word by Word. The book…mixes memoiristic meditations on the lexicographic life along with a detailed description of the brain-twisting work of writing dictionaries.” Here’s an article about author Kory Stamper.

Says Catherine Burns (All These Wonders): “One of the fun things about a book like this is that people might buy it because they want to read John Turturro’s story or Louis C.K.’s story, but I hope that they’ll fall in love with someone that they haven’t heard from, too. I hope that readers will come into the book with an open heart, because they’re going to meet a lot of people they might not otherwise get a chance to.”

The landscape of Michigan speaks to me, and the humility and humor of the people here makes sense,” says Bonnie Jo Campbell (Mothers, Tell Your Daughters). “It just feels right to live here, in a place where I don’t dare put on airs. When I tell my family and local friends I’m a National Book Award finalist, they say, fine, sounds okay to us.”

Here’s Michael Tolkin’s NK3: “An original and absorbing novel — written in clear, rich prose — that imagines a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where dystopia is fine-tuned to our present turmoil. His novel takes place in a near future where memories have been wiped out and basic technical skills are the best currency for survival. As Tolkin imagines it, the shattering of our mighty society comes not through nuclear winter, but through the whimper of a sudden viral attack from North Korea.”


Super Sizing Urban America & More


“[Chin Jou's] fascinating book, Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food With Government Help, published in March…[enables] us to evaluate the prospect of bringing healthy food to neighborhoods that don’t have access to it.” Here’s a pieced on a troubling issue.

“If someone published an anthology called Hellscape: Thirty Writers on Why Penn Station Sucks, I would buy that thing in hardcover and pay list price for it. I would buy a whole carton and stand at Penn Station’s Amtrak gates, forcing them on beleaguered travelers. Because: everyone hates Penn Station—I’m talking about the New York one—but good writing on the hatred of Penn Station is hard to find.”

Forthcoming spring books! Note especially James Forman Jr.’s Locking Up Our Own, which explains why so many blacks wind up in prison.

“[Cottom worked as an enrollment officer at two different for-profit colleges, but quit because she felt uncomfortable selling students an education they couldn’t afford. Her new book, Lower Ed, argues that for-profit colleges exploit racial, gender and economic inequality.

New York 2140 & More


[Kim Stanley Robinson's] New York 2140 is a towering novel about a genuinely grave threat to civilisation. Impressively ambitious, it bears comparison with other visionaries’ attempts to squeeze the sprawl and energy of the US between two covers: John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy and Don DeLillo’s Underworld.”

What we want from hermits—why we’re endlessly fascinated by them, and why we’re just as often frustrated by them.” Here’s a review of The Stranger in the Woods.

“El Akkad’s debut novel transports us to a terrifyingly plausible future in which the clash between red states and blue has become deadly and the president has been murdered over a contentious fossil fuels bill.” Here’s a review of American War.

Says Joe Ide (IQ): “I think entertaining novels can deal with serious issues as part of the story. John Sanford’s latest, Escape Clause, happens in the illicit world of trading endangered species. Tana French’s main character in The Trespasser, a woman detective, deals with discrimination by her male colleagues. And there are other ways an entertaining novel can contribute to the common good. Violence can be portrayed but not glorified. Vicious characters don’t have to be cool. Kindness and ethical behavior can be virtues instead of vulnerabilities. Intelligence can triumph over guns. Cruelty, misogyny, drug use, violence, sociopathic tendencies don’t have to be celebrated.”

The Night Ocean & Much More


“Was H.P. Lovecraft, the great American horror writer, gay? That’s the question at the start of this ingenious, provocative work of alternative history from [novelist] Paul La Farge.” Here’s a review of The Night Ocean.

“If this is how [Joan] Didion’s notebooks read, let’s have them all.”

The Outsiders at 50.

“I want it to be a legacy biography, and a literary biography that shows how the artist can’t ever be separate from the art. The life is reflected in the art. I want it to show him as a human being and an artist.” Here’s Patti Hartigan on her forthcoming biography of playwright August Wilson.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale returns to bestseller lists.


Adapt & Much More


“Snakes that fly; geckos that walk on walls; blindfolded seals that track swimming objects by following their invisible wakes. These are among the ‘weird and wonderful’ discoveries in nature that are helping scientists find ways to improve human technology, writes the author of this meticulous, well-written book.” Here’s a review of science writer Amina Kahn’s Adapt: How Humans Are Tapping into Nature’s Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future.

[Dan] Chaon is no stranger to humanity’s darker side. It’s almost as if he writes in blood rather than ink, creating a body of work featuring malicious intent.” Here’s the author of Ill Will.

“Yes, there is a revival underway, and I’m so glad to see it happening, because I’ve worked hard for [Albert] Murray’s legacy for several years, alongside Murray’s literary executor, Lewis P. Jones.” The centennial year for a singular writer.

“Is it possible to write a coming of age novel when your main character is 39 years old? Jami Attenberg attempts just that in her new novel All Grown Up.”

Some two million Americans are enrolled in for-profit colleges, up from 400,000 in 2000. Those students, most of them working adults getting short-term certificates, are disproportionately nonwhite and female. They graduate with more debt than students who have attended public and nonprofit institutions, and are more likely to default on their loans. It is taxpayers who are financing the expensive and often academically inferior education that for-profit colleges provide. Ninety-four percent of for-profit students pay tuition with federal student loans.” Here’s a review of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.


Angry White Men & Much More


Says Michael Kimmel (Angry White Men): “What we do know to be true is that our military exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan have left veterans coming home with serious PTSD. I mean, think of the types of terror that they’ve lived with – that any time you get into a car could be your last time on earth. That can’t help but shake you up. Couple that with racism towards your enemy – one of the ways you convince yourself to kill an enemy is to hate them; think about what we used to say about the Vietnamese, or what my father’s generation used to say about the Japanese. I think that is an equation that might make some people susceptible to far-right ideology.”

On The Complacent Class: “Americans used to be so can-do, but they’ve lost some of that. [Tyler] Cowen’s book discusses the reasons behind and the consequences for that decline, starting with ways to measure the loss of restlessness: Americans are moving less between states; they’re starting new businesses at lower rates; and they’re marrying and living amongst people too much like themselves.”

Hardcover reprints of some very special SF classics!

I think the biggest thing that people aren’t seeing at all is the huge attack on Medicaid that’s coming,” says Richard Kirsch (Fighting for Our Health). “The press hasn’t covered it, it’s not on anybody’s radar. It’s 33 million children and 77 million people. It’s the way that people with disabilities get their health care paid for, it’s the way that families can afford to send their elderly parents to a nursing home or get home care. That’s a huge, huge attack that Republicans are going to try to force through really quickly.”

The remarkable Rebecca Solnit.

Arthur and Sherlock & More


“[Sherlock] Holmes is arguably the most famous fictional character of the past two centuries, rivaled only by Dracula and James Bond, with perhaps, as the decades wear on, Batman and Harry Potter nipping at their heels.” Here’s a review of Michael Sims’s Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes.

“‘Policing in the United States—from the overzealous beat cop all the way to the NSA—is out of control,’ writes [NYU law professor Barry] Friedman, and the fault lies not with the police but with us.” Here’s a review of Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission.

On Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World: “”When we look back on [cultural changes in society] we tend to talk about it in terms of money and markets or the vanity of a ruling elite driving new ideas,’ [Steven] Johnson argues. ‘But money has its own masters and in many cases the dominant one is the human appetite for surprise and novelty and beauty.’”

On the morning after the election disbelief prevailed, especially among the pollsters.” Here’s a review of Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America.

I Am Not Your Negro & So Much More


“The film does several things. First, it makes sure Baldwin will never be forgotten. That is a victory, because people have started to push him aside. The film will circulate, and it will only bring people back to his books.That was the idea: to make sure his legacy will continue.” As both film and book, I Am Not Your Negro will undoubtedly bring many to a great American writer.

Hideo Yokoyama is one of Japan’s most popular crime novelists. Yet he regards the crime as the least interesting part of the stories he tells.” Here’s the author of Six Four.

“I have no illusions about what the impact of my withdrawal will be,” writes crime novelist Linwood Barclay (The Twenty-Three). “I don’t imagine Steve Bannon will say, ‘Whoa, Barclay’s not coming, we better rethink this.’ As one Twitter follower said to me, ‘Your call, but we’ll get along fine without you.’ I’ve no doubt. But this really wasn’t about trying to send a message. I just have to be able to look myself in the mirror.”


The story of the close yet volatile friendship between John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway.” Here’s a review of James McGrath Morris’s The Ambulance Drivers.

Says Paul Auster (4 3 2 1): “We think our institutions are very solid, but not necessarily, and you keep attacking them, then suddenly the foundations are going to collapse, and then we’re in for real trouble. I don’t want to go on and on about Trump and his cabinet appointments, but pretty much everyone he’s picked so far is someone who has made a career out of trying to dismantle the very agency he’s supposed to lead. So, we’re in for a very weird, weird time. The Environmental Protection Agency is there to protect the environment and if the person in charge of it doesn’t believe in it, then how can he be the head of it? This is the absurd impasse we’ve come to now, where somehow it seems legitimate to millions of people in the country to take apart everything we’ve tried to build up all these years. And for what?”

“The insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain sporting makeup and coloured hair.” Salman Rushdie‘s forthcoming novel.

Scoundrel Time & More



“November of last year launched America into one of the most terrifying eras in its history. Take a look around you. See the stark tone shift in journalism, the edginess introduced in the voice of artists, and the genuine fear in immigrant families, gay and lesbian and trans people, and basically anyone non-white. It turns out that it can happen here.” Here’s the story on a new magazine that gives voice to the resistance: Scoundrel Time.

Writes Jonathan Lethem: “It’s my best of the year, but you can’t read it yet: Steve Erickson’s jaw-dropping next novel, Shadowbahn, which concerns the phantasmic reappearance of the Twin Towers in the Badlands of South Dakota, accompanied by the resurrection of Elvis Presley’s twin brother Jesse.”

“The boy crawling directly in front of the 14-year-old [Paul] Auster was under the fence when lightning struck, killing the young adolescent. ‘His shoe was in front of my face,’ Auster remembers. ‘I’ve been haunted by that moment all of my life. The fragility of life was made real to me that day. My work and this novel have been inspired by it. And a writer who creates other selves in his or her work must love them in order to honor them, even when, especially when, they must die. Only through this love can the writer feel the awe and horror of death.’” Here’s the story behind Auster’s 4 3 2 1.

“With rare immediacy, [Timothy B.] Tyson revisits the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi and the acquittal of those responsible in a gripping account of the cultural milieu of a racist environment.” Here’s a review of The Blood of Emmett Till.


Writing to Save a Life & More


“A slim but powerful volume, an account of the brief and terrible life of Louis (Saint) Till, the largely forgotten father of Emmett Till, the Chicago boy whose horrific lynching in Mississippi in 1955 shamed the nation.” Here’s a profile of John Edgar Wideman, author of Writing to Save a Life.

“More than simply a collection of cartoons, The Realist Cartoons is an instruction manual for those wishing to learn how to speak bravely and frankly about race, sex, war, peace, abortion, doomsday, environmentalism, free speech, civil rights, homosexuality, human rights, human wrongs, love, hate and obscenity—to learn, that is, by exquisite example.”

As outlaw tales go, Andrew Hilleman’s debut novel, World, Chase Me Down (Penguin) ranks alongside the likes of Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and Billy the Kid.”

“’I’m just a writer. I don’t have access to magical Negro wisdom that white people don’t have access to. Everything is now political. We have the responsibility to make the political personal.’” Here’s Roxane Gay.