2017

13 books
  • Transit

    Rachel Cusk

    Rachel Cusk’s previous novel Outline was an unexpected pleasure, so it was also a nice surprise to find out the book was the first in a trilogy — Transit is the second installment. This book follows a similar structure, where each chapter is centered around a conversation between Faye, the heart of the story, and people she meets. Whereas in the last book, she was traveling and the conversations were focused more on the other people, this one has her at home, albeit a new home after divorcing her husband. (A home that needs to be renovated extensively, while the tenants in the downstairs flat protest at even moderate sound.)

    In some ways perhaps I love this book less than Outline,...more

  • White Tears

    Hari Kunzru

    Hari Kunzru is a British-born writer and has only lived in the US since 2008, yet he weaves a tale about the roots of appropriation in our culture in this stunning literary thriller. Two college friends, both white, bond over a shared obsession with old blues music. Carter is from a rich, well-connected family with the money to set up a recording studio full of “authentic” analog equipment, and Seth is an introspective nerd with a habit of wandering the city recording ambient noise. By chance Seth picks up audio of a man singing a haunting tune on the street, which the duo mixes to sound like a genuine blues tune digitized from an old 78 record. Carter shares...more

  • 4 3 2 1

    Paul Auster

    After establishing the parental background and birth of Archie Ferguson, 4 3 2 1 promptly splits off into four directions, four possible paths of this one person. While certain aspects of each life are constant — all four Archies have an interest in writing and most are attracted to same woman — there’s a fair amount of variance in each version and how the constants are played out. Rooted in the banalities of each life, the concept is compelling but sometimes bogged down in too much detail. Archie #1’s experience working on Columbia’s newspaper during the 1968 Vietnam War protests, and to a lesser extent Archie #4’s exposure to the Newark race riots, bordered on a slog-level amount of detail, and I’m not sure for what purpose...more

  • If Not, Winter

    Sappho, translated by Anne Carson

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  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle

    Angela Y Davis

    This slim collection of interviews and speeches covers some similar ideas in different contexts, and while I had a little wish that these had been reworked into one super essay, it’s also no big deal to revisit comparable concepts a few times when they are so significant. Plus it’s fascinating to get a sense of how Angela Davis structures a talk. A preeminent scholar, activist, and general bad-ass person, the connections she makes between the protests in Ferguson in 2014 (and on) with the ongoing fight of the Palestinian people are crucial. It’s not just that the systems of oppression are alike, but that the militarism of the police forces in the US overall is directly tied to the...more

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing

    Madeleine Thien

    What was a zero anyway? A zero signified nothing, all it did was tell you nothing about nothing. Still, wasn’t zero also something meaningful, a number in and of itself? In jianpu notation, zero indicated a caesura, a pause or rest of indeterminate length. Did time that went uncounted, unrecorded, still qualify as time? If zero was both everything and nothing, did an empty life have exactly the same weight as a full life? Was zero like the desert, both finite and infinite?

    A sprawling novel centered around two generations of an extended family — two closely connected families, really — from the oppression of China’s Cultural Revolution through the violence of the student protests in 1989 into the modern day where some characters...more

  • Things We Lost in the Fire

    Mariana Enríquez

    Beautifully eerie stories set across Argentina pairing the darkness of modern life, with its extreme poverty, violence, and crime, to the murkiness of otherworldly terrors. It’s been almost two months since I read this collection, and it has stuck with me in a way that I know I will want to read this again. Strangely the only story that didn’t grab me is the eponymous “Things We Lost in the Fire,” in which women self-immolate to protect themselves from domestic violence. But having loved the rest of the book, maybe I read it in an off moment and will see it differently on a re-read.

    This is the first book of Enríquez’s to be translated to English, and I hope...more

  • 300 Arguments

    Sarah Manguso

    The premise of this slim offering is contained in one of the 300 snippets: “Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” While I definitely found some quotable moments in the quotable passages (which is kind of funny!), it didn’t really work for me as a book; it just didn’t feel crafted. Some of the “arguments” are funny or sardonic, some feel rather profound, while others strike me as throwaways. The trouble is the ones that do sound like a long book’s quotable passages just beg for the rest of the book, and the rest are fragments for the sake of the premise.

    This one suggests it...more

  • Amiable with Big Teeth

    Claude McKay

    The back story of how this novel came to be published is fascinating: originally written and edited in 1941, it was never published and was essentially lost in the archives until a graduate student at Columbia University found a copy of an essentially finished manuscript among the papers of another writer in 2009. The New York Times reported on this discovery and the process to authenticate the manuscript in 2012. Now finally the book has made it into print.

    Amiable with Big Teeth captures a later point in Harlem’s Renaissance, at the time when Ethiopia was invaded by Italian fascists. It’s a satirical look at the political maneuverings of activist groups and differing perspectives of race and class relations,...more

  • Fugitive Pieces

    Anne Michaels

    The shadow past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible, it melts the present like rain through karst. A biography of longing. It steers us like magnetism, a spirit torque. This is how one becomes undone by a smell, a word, a place, the photo of a mountain of shoes. By love that closes its mouth before calling a name.
             I did not witness the most important events of my life. My deepest story must be told by a blind man, a prisoner of sound. From behind a wall, from underground. From the corner of a small house on a small island that juts like a bone from the skin of the sea.

    While I was reading...more

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