Guestbook: Ghost Stories

Leanne Shapton

I really like this book in theory, as a collection of eerie vignettes that explore different hauntings through photos and ephemera. But while it’s enjoyably creepy, eventually the hints and suggestions of ghosts fell short for me. It makes sense in a way that the specters feel just out of reach, but the sections where the images were paired with text on a different topic just felt annoying rather than deep. Ultimately the promise of Guestbook just didn’t manifest for me.

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  • Magical Negro

    Morgan Parker

    from “A Brief History of the Present”

    … I worry sometimes

    I will only be allowed a death story. No one will say in

    the New Yorker how my mother made her money, who

    I married, how my career began. Your people. The death …

    more
  • The Clothesline Swing

    Ahmad Danny Ramadan

    Beautiful, elegiac. A play on the concept of Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights, Hakawati takes the role of Scheherazade; many years past (close to the reader’s present) he was a Syrian refugee, a gay man who first experienced violence due to his identity and later due to the brutality of war. But he escaped...more

  • Birds of America

    Lorrie Moore

    A classic collection of short stories, I keenly felt while reading this how many stories I’ve read that have emulated the witty absurdity of Lorrie Moore. But while there may be a layer of quirkiness on top of her writing, not far underneath are more complex, melancholy themes: grief, loneliness, anxiety, illness. The last story “...more

  • Blind Spot

    Teju Cole

    I was especially curious about this book after reading Known and Strange Things as the last essay there is also called “Blind Spot.” That one is about Teju Cole’s sudden loss of vision while he was attending an artists’ residency. This book version doesn’t seem directly related...more

  • Essayism

    Brian Dillon

    Imagine a type of writing so hard to define its very name should be something like: an effort, an attempt, a trial. Surmise or hazard, followed likely by failure. Imagine what it might rescue from disaster and achieve at the levels of form, style, texture and therefore (though some might cavil at “therefore”) at the

    ...more
  • Known and Strange Things

    Teju Cole

    This collection of essays is divided into three sections — “Reading Things,” “Seeing Things,” and “Being There” — and for me they progress from the least cohesive to the most cohesive. Many of the literary essays feel more like sketches than fully fleshed out essays, and I slowly worked through these over the summer before lulling out...more

  • Transit

    Cameron Awkward-Rich

    So many amazing poems here around experiences of gender identity and race. Elegant syntax and introspective atmosphere. The series of “Once” poems and “The Child Formerly Known As ____” stand out. And then there’s the sequence of “Theory of Motion” poems, starting with this one: Essay on the Theory of Motionmore

  • There There

    Tommy Orange

    Multilinear novels always take a risk of remaining fragmented, never fully weaving the strands together, and There There struggles with this a bit, its cast of characters all moving toward the Big Oakland Powwow where a violent catastrophe awaits. Starting with a lyrical prologue that briefly encapsulates a progression of Native...more

  • Wolf Hall

    Hilary Mantel

    Whenever I read a historical novel, I make some kind of disclaimer about the genre not being something I’m usually interested in; hence why Wolf Hall sat on my to-read list for many years — on the one hand I felt swayed by all the recognition it received and on the other uncertain, because would I really like a book about Henry...more

  • The Best Kind of People

    Zoe Whittal

    A very engaging story about a stereotypical, seemingly-perfect family in a small Connecticut town suddenly thrown into distress when the father George Woodbury, a science teacher at a private school, is accused of sexual misconduct after a school-related ski trip. Years before he had tackled a gunman in the school, saving students from a...more

  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé

    Morgan Parker

    Morgan Parker is a writer I feel excited about, so I requested her second book from the library almost immediately after finishing the first. Centered around experiences of being black and female, she includes a lot of cultural references in her work — as the presence of Beyoncé in the title reveals from the start. She speaks the...more

  • This Is Not Your City

    Caitlin Horrocks

    You could summarize this collection as: stories of isolation from the perspective of female characters. While I think the collection could have varied a bit more in overall feeling, Caitlin Horrocks creates some pretty exceptional moments and her characters are distinct. She has a very intuitive perspective that makes for rich stories that feel...more

  • Forty-One False Starts

    Janet Malcolm

    As a collection, Forty-One False Starts falls to the side of indiscriminate, especially the several shorter essays at the end that felt like they were included more because they fit the theme of artists and writers than because they had something truly remarkable to say. Maybe they were victims of placement, but they probably stand...more

  • Songs from a Mountain

    Amanda Nadelberg

    These poems feel haphazard and jumbled to me, and I kept waiting to settle in and catch the flow of them. Instead I finished feeling like something logical and grounded had been cut apart and randomized so that there would be moments of insight followed by unexpected zags into something totally different. The experience is not...more

  • Writings

    Agnes Martin

    There is in reality no need for self-sacrifice and no call for it. Do not settle for the experience of others. If you follow others you are in reality at a standstill, because their experience is in the past. That is circling. Even following your own past experience, is circling. Know your own response to your own work

    ...more
  • Long Division

    Kiese Laymon

    There are just enough time periods and stories within stories woven into this novel that in some ways I felt like I had to suspend my disbelief and not examine the technicalities too closely or the shifts and nested turns wouldn’t actually line up. But I read most of the book in one day, so it was not difficult to get lost in the...more

  • Fen

    Daisy Johnson

    Fanciful stories situated in eastern England’s marshy flatlands, populated with creatures from folklore and comprised of odd events only partially explained. The local pub is always the Fox and Hounds, and the narrator is always a woman, and usually she is young. There isn’t much differentiation in the characters and...more

  • Bright Dead Things

    Ada Limón

    Ada Limón writes around the emotions and banal details of life, maintaining a personal, even confessional, tone, which usually draws me right in when it’s genuinely introspective. Capturing memories of her childhood, her parents’ early marriage years, her stepmother’s death, and her own relationship bringing her from New York City...more

  • A Memory of the Future

    Elizabeth Spires

    It was the title that interested me about this book, though it appears there may be hundreds of books with this title or slight variants of it so it’s entirely possible it reminded me of some other work I heard about in the past. Most of the poems here didn’t draw me in very far, but the title poem was worth it for me....more

  • Our daily lives have to be a satisfaction in themselves

    Emily Larned (publisher)

    You may remember how it was in the early ’70s. Feminists were really angry. We thought that we’d suddenly discovered something that we’d explain to men and everything would change. —Selma Miriam

    This beautiful book is handmade by Emily Larned, put...more

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