• Bad Feminist

    Roxane Gay

    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 some simple...

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  • Atlas of Remote Islands

    Judith Schalansky

    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 than just her own book. She wrote, illustrated, and...

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  • Commentary

    Marcelle Sauvageot

    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 you stay there indefinitely, knowing that nothing more will...

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  • Lunch Poems

    Frank O’Hara

    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.”


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  • Winter in the Blood

    James Welch

    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 to find out what factors from the past are actually playing out in the wayward...

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  • Dandarians

    Lee Ann Roripaugh

    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...

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  • The Spectator Bird

    Wallace Stegner

    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, or compulsion to justify oneself” that he doesn’t claim. But I...

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  • The Descent of Alette

    Alice Notley

    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 was able to focus and follow Alette into the depths of...

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  • Lila

    Marilynne Robinson

    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 different character’s perspective — instead of sewing...

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  • Inferno

    Eileen Myles

    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. Other people have described it as “messy...

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  • Speedboat

    Renata Adler

    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, though not in any traditional sense; it might...

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  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

    Haruki Murakami

    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:

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  • A Book of Common Prayer

    Joan Didion

    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 a remaindered import of this one. It’s a cleanly...

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  • Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

    Claudia Rankine

    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.


    Much of this book of prose poetry (or lyric...

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  • The Empathy Exams

    Leslie Jamison

    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 the delusion they end up...

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  • Ordinary Affects

    Kathleen Stewart

    Everyday life is a life lived on the level of surging affects, impacts suffered or barely avoided. It takes everything we have. But it also spawns a series of little somethings dreamed up in the course of things.


    I’ve been revisiting an active appreciation of the ordinary of the everyday, mostly in swapping moments of banal profundity in emails and texts. This...

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  • Regarding the Pain of Others

    Susan Sontag

    I’m on a laid-back mission to make my way through Susan Sontag’s oeuvre, and this in particular has been on my active reading list since I finished On Photography several years ago. It turned out to be a rather prescient selection, as shortly after I finished reading, tensions broke open again across Israel and Palestine, making the ideas here...

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  • Too Much Happiness

    Alice Munro

    I’ve read so many of Alice Munro’s stories, some of which were pre-booklog and some that I didn’t bother to write up at the time. This collection feels like a particularly strong batch of stories, if a bit more vicious overall, compared to other collections — so much death and injury!


    The highlight is definitely the story that won the title, “Too Much Happiness,” which is about the...

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  • The Sound of Things Falling

    Juan Gabriel Vásquez

    Jolted by memories triggered by an escaped hippopotamus from the abandoned zoo that was once owned by the drug lord Pablo Escobar, a man recollects on a series of events that altered his life to such a traumatic degree that he struggled to cope years later. Though the story is focused on this law professor named Antonio who unwittingly started a friendship with an older man while playing...

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  • White Girls

    Hilton Als

    Just after I started reading this book, I had a conversation in which someone said that inaccessible art can’t possibly be good art, with a side note about how some people may appreciate art solely because they can’t immediately understand it as they assume it’s smarter than they are. The discussion partially came from me describing my struggle through The...

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