• Dust

    Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

    Image of Dust

    A dense and beautiful novel, Dust is largely focused on one splintered family and how their stories are interwoven with violent events in Kenya’s post-colonial history. Owuor writes with emotional intensity, and while her language feels lush and expansive overall, much of the narrative is peppered with lyrical fragments. The rhythm of these staccato interludes can take some time to...more

  • Things Fall Apart

    Chinua Achebe

    Image of Things Fall Apart: A Novel

    This is the archetypal modern African novel, and funnily enough it wound up on my list partially from Aaron Bady’s list of African novels to read before you die — posted in response to a list he found to be predictable. Of course this book is on the latter list, but I’ll be following it up with one of Bady’s suggestions....more

  • The Unspeakable

    Meghan Daum

    Image of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

    Meghan Daum opens her second book of essays by explaining how she hoped that all together they would “add up to a larger discussion about the way human experiences too often come with preassigned emotional responses.” This examination of the disconnect with how one is “supposed to feel” compared to our actual feelings succeeds best in the opening essay, “Matricide,”...more

  • The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems

    Olena Kalytiak Davis

    Image of The Poem She Didn't Write and Other Poems

    I imagine if I had a more thorough knowledge of poetry, I would gather more from many of the poems in this book, as there are references I’m missing. At the back Davis apologizes for the “stuff stolen from other stuff.” While there is some quieter moments here and there, overall the book feels forceful. Dan Chiasson’s review for The...more

  • Wolf in White Van

    John Darnielle

    Image of Wolf in White Van: A Novel

    Indie rock fans of a certain age might know John Darnielle better as the frontman of (or the solo act known as, depending on the era) The Mountain Goats. Wolf in White Van is his second work of fiction; he previously wrote a YA novel called Master of Reality about the Black Sabbath album...more

  • Bad Feminist

    Roxane Gay

    Image of Bad Feminist

    Roxane Gay is a brilliant writer, and I’m glad to see this book with its hot pink title on the front tables in bookstores, where perhaps people who think they don’t need feminism* might see it. Gay is razor smart and genuine; she has a witty and light-handed writing style, even when digging into complicated issues.

    She writes...more

  • Atlas of Remote Islands

    Judith Schalansky

    Image of Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will

    Subtitled “Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will,” this atlas will usually be shelved in the travel section, but it’s really an art book. Though since Schalansky declares in her preface, “It is high time for cartography to take its place among the arts, and for the atlas to be recognized as literature,” she would reshelve...more

  • Commentary

    Marcelle Sauvageot

    Image of Commentary (Dossier)

    Some ballads begin as your letter does: ‘You, whom I’ve loved so much…’ This past tense, with the present still resounding so close, is as sad as the ends of parties, when the lights are turned off and you remain alone, watching the couples go off into the dark streets. It’s over: nothing else is to be expected, and yet

  • Lunch Poems

    Frank O’Hara

    Image of Lunch Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets Series)

    I thought maybe I had never read anything by Frank O’Hara, but while reading this I recognized a few, in particular the one about Lana Turner…. O’Hara writes with an utter lack of nostalgia; these poems are situated clearly in a the now, even though various references clearly date them to an earlier era — somewhere I heard this described as the “eternal present.”more

  • Winter in the Blood

    James Welch

    Image of Winter in the Blood (Penguin Classics)

    In some ways a bleak novella, Welch’s writing is so elegant that I found this hard to put down, even when the sadness felt very deep. Since it’s a largely interior story from the perspective of a self-destructive guy, it rambles and dips into the past in ways that only heighten a sense of being lost. It takes a while...more

  • Dandarians

    Lee Ann Roripaugh

    Image of Dandarians: Poems

    I like the elements of color and light throughout these. And especially the insomnial “Sleepless Graffiti” (#2 below) and “Ten Nights’ Dreams.”

    Way past closing time, and you want to walk in the dark with disheveled hair, moonlight juke-boxing its twangy lobotomy through your head. Stroll through the empty small-town downtown — where traffic lights blink their metronomical yellow. Past the historic

  • The Spectator Bird

    Wallace Stegner

    Image of The Spectator Bird (Penguin Classics)

    I can’t say I was at all familiar with Stegner when I found this book on a giveaway pile with two books that I loved. This could be a rather melancholy book to some as it’s written by a retired literary agent supposedly cajoled into penning his memoirs at his wife’s behest, despite feeling this “implies an arrogance, or confidence,...more

  • The Descent of Alette

    Alice Notley

    Image of The Descent of Alette (Penguin Poets)

    I’ve tried and failed to get into two other Alice Notley books but was handed this one and told to “ignore the quotes,” in reference to how the rhythm is delineated by quotation marks. On my first try, I just couldn’t ignore them, and reading felt like listening to someone talking anxiously and hyperventilating. But on my second try I...more

  • Lila

    Marilynne Robinson

    Image of Lila: A Novel

    The only other Marilynne Robinson book I’ve read is the only one that doesn’t involve this same group of characters in Gilead, Iowa. Though the third in that series, Lila definitely can stand alone. From what I’ve read, this is somewhat of a retelling of at least parts of the same stories found in the other two, just from a...more

  • Inferno

    Eileen Myles

    Image of Inferno: A Poet's Novel

    Sometimes I’m surprised when it’s hard to write about books I really like, not being able to pinpoint what it is that I appreciate about them. It seems it should be easy when you’ve enjoyed something. Inferno is subtitled “a poet’s novel,” but also is kind of a memoir; it defies that straightforward categorization that makes it easy to synopsize....more

  • Speedboat

    Renata Adler

    Image of Speedboat (NYRB Classics)

    Over the past year, Speedboat kept coming up over and over, referenced in essays and other books, recommended by friends. While it’s called a novel, it’s so fragmented that any disconnected arcs are hard to link in any meaningful way. I found it pleasurable to read, despite the challenge of it. By the end I found some sense of cohesiveness,...more

  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

    Haruki Murakami

    Image of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel

    I might have skipped this Murakami novel, underwhelmed by the past few, but then Patti Smith reviewed it for The New York Times, sparking some interest with this description:

    This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a

  • A Book of Common Prayer

    Joan Didion

    Image of A Book of Common Prayer

    In the realm of novels by Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays seems to be the crowd favorite, but after reading that one I didn’t feel incredibly compelled to read another of hers. I suppose I needed one to appear at the right time, and so it did when I was buying some books for vacation and found...more

  • Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

    Claudia Rankine

    Image of Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric

    Life is a form of hope?
    If you are hopeful.
    Maybe hope is the same as breath — part of
    What it means to be human and alive.
    Or maybe hoping is the same as waiting.
    It can be futile.
    Waiting for what?
    For a life to begin.
    I am here.
    And I am still lonely.


  • The Empathy Exams

    Leslie Jamison

    Image of The Empathy Exams: Essays

    The essays in the book range widely in scope, from very personal to more critical to more journalistic, though a theme of understanding others’ pain loosely lassos them together. Often this manifests as her own attempt to understand, like her profile of people with Morgellons Disease, who believe that fibers are expelled from their skin and become so obsessed with...more