• 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...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...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...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…

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  • Brown Girl Dreaming

    Jacqueline Woodson

    Memoir in verse, telling the stories of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood. The poems impart an impressionistic narrative, focused more on the small moments amidst the larger transitions — like the end of her parents’ relationship, moving with her mother and siblings to her grandparents’ home in Greenville, SC, then...more

  • By Blood

    Ellen Ullman

    A disgraced college professor moves to San Francisco in the late summer of 1974 while his school investigates him for an inappropriate relationship with a student. Hoping to work on a series lectures during his exile, he rents the cheapest office he can find and describes a dreary building with “begrimed gargoyles crouched beneath...more

  • Southland

    Nina Revoyr

    Stretching across the 1940s, 1960s, and 1990s, Southland encompasses an impressive breadth of cultural history without overreaching. After the death of Jackie Ishida’s grandfather in 1994, her aunt finds a box of old papers that cracks open a door to long-hidden family secrets and tasks Jackie with sorting them out. Almost...more

  • Ishmael

    Daniel Quinn

    While technically fiction, this novel is almost entirely a conversation between a man and the gorilla Ishmael (who communicates telepathically), and it pretty much reads like a lecture on philosophies of ecology. The ideas are interesting, focused on Ishmael’s division of humans into two groups he calls Takers and Leavers — the...more

  • Hope in the Dark

    Rebecca Solnit

    Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and knowable…

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  • The Selfishness of Others

    Kristin Dombek

    My friend Athena wrote a review of this essay on “the fear of narcissism” that suggested the writing fell a bit flat to her at the end. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I wound up feeling almost exactly the same way. A brief history of clinical and cultural...more

  • Grief is the Thing with Feathers

    Max Porter

    After the sudden death of a wife and mother, a father and two sons struggle in their mourning. To their rescue comes an oversized Crow, apparently a manifestation of Ted Hughes’s poetic creation, acting as a kind of counselor. (The dad is a Hughes scholar; the author Max Porter is a casual scholar himself.) The book rotates between the...more

  • Another Brooklyn

    Jacqueline Woodson

    I watched my brother watch the world, his sharp, too-serious brow furrowing down in both angst and wonder. Everywhere we looked, we saw the people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn.

    Beautiful, poetic novel built around...more

  • The Underground Railroad

    Colson Whitehead

    While Colson Whitehead’s novel is a fictional account of slavery that bends historical details, the cruelties and heartbreak are undeniably accurate. Cora is the center of the story, a woman who is an outcast in her plantation life, her mother having left her behind to escape North. Her own chance to take off comes in the form...more

  • Are You My Mother?

    Alison Bechdel

    Reviews were so mixed on this graphic novel that I had decided not to read it, until recently when I started reading a borrowed copy and couldn’t put it down. A follow-up to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which focused on her relationship with her father, this one turns to her relationship with her...more

  • The Book Thief

    Markus Zusak

    Set during WWII in Germany, The Book Thief starts by following Liesel Meminger traveling with her mother and brother traveling by train to Munich. Her mother is a communist and has found a foster home for them to protection as political tensions rise under the Nazis. Along the way her brother dies, and Liesel...more

  • L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    Elisa Gabbert

    I loved Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable, and this new book has similar cadences, even though these are true poems rather than lyric aphorisms. The Judy of the title is a character in Wallace Shawn’s play “The Designated Mourner,” which is set “in an unnamed, fictitious country...more

  • Airless Spaces

    Shulamith Firestone

    Passable, Not Presentable
    She remembered the time before she had gotten sick. When it was a challenge to dress, how good it felt to look just right and be certain of one’s appearance. Then came losing her looks in the hospital, and the ghastly difference it made in the way she was received; the way people

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  • Witches of America

    Alex Mar

    Alex Mar first met the witch Morpheus while making her documentary American Mystic, about three people on the fringes of organized religion. After finishing the film, she felt a personal curiosity about witchcraft and paganism and continued speaking with Morpheus; through...more

  • The Half-Known World

    Robert Boswell

    While mainly written for writers of fiction, The Half-Known World is almost like a literature class in a book, as each chapter references certain novels or stories, indicated at the beginning, though reading them is also not necessary to understand the concepts presented in the essays. I hadn’t read most of the referenced...more

  • The Fire Next Time

    James Baldwin

    Still powerfully resonant today, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time was one of the most influential books about race in America in the 1960s. It is tough to read this now and note how little has changed and easy to understand why this book inspired Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ...more

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