Reviews

Friday Reads: June 2017

We love any excuse to hear from our contributors! This month, our Issue 13 authors and poets tap into their literary communities as they recommend works by colleagues, friends, and Pulitzer Prize winners. United in their affection, the authors are nonetheless divided by their selections, as their choices shed light upon nowhereness, colonization, and Florida oranges.

Recommendations: Notes on the Inner City by George Szirtes, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen,  The Quiet American by Graham Greene, and Chinatown Sonnets by Dorothy Chan.

 

Notes on the Inner City book titleNotes on the Inner City by George Szirtes, recommended by U. S. Dhuga (poetry contributor)

“Jeux d’esprit from the inner city, with best wishes, George — June 2017”. So George Szirtes signed one of the two books he gave me. He was in Toronto a week ago, as one of the judges for the Griffin Poetry Prize. We met at Zaza’s for coffee on Thursday 8 June. While I brought our coffees to the patio, I saw that he was signing for me two of his books: Reel (Bloodaxe, 2004), which won the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize, and Notes on the Inner City (Eyewear Publishing, 2015).

I read Notes on the streetcar home. “Politicians praise the cook but close the restaurant” (from “New Proverbs of Hell: Twenty Congregations”, p. 9). Every restaurant I love seems to go out of business, whilst every restaurant whose gimmickry I deplore seems to find televisional fame. I have never owned a television; and the word “television”, I have always felt, is an offensive kedgeree of Greek and Latin. I’m getting old.

I’ve a habit of reading books of poetry backwards. I mean that I begin with the last page and make my way to the first. I arrived at, and read, before “New Proverbs”, George’s sequence “A Conversation with Thunder”. George: “Arriving was the problem. Anticipation was natural. Being here was natural. She was nowhere in particular. Nothing could arrive” (p. 29).

By the time I had arrived back at my flat, George would have arrived at the airport for his flight to London—where he and I first met at my own recent book launch three months ago. A book he so generously praised. Young, I thought arrival was all. Old, arrival seems something of a “nowhere in particular”.

 

The Sympathizer and The Quiet American book coversThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and The Quiet American by Graham Greene, recommended by Rachel Pastan (essay contributor)

Nguyen’s powerful 2016 novel is written in the form of a confession by a half-Vietnamese half-French Communist spy during and after what the Vietnamese call “the American War.” It puts the Vietnamese experience in the center of a narrative we in the West mostly know from movies and books in which Vietnamese people barely have speaking roles. My favorite part is when the narrator serves as a consultant on an Apocalypse Now-like movie, trying to give the film more authenticity: a fool’s errand, but an interesting one. After finishing The Sympathizer, rereading Graham Greene’s 1955 classic about how dangerous “innocent” Americans are is newly fascinating. Greene is certainly guilty of barely giving Vietnamese people speaking roles—except of course for the beautiful vacuous girl whose body is colonized first by the British narrator and then by the well-meaning American spy. But his searing indictment of American “innocence” is as relevant today as ever. And his prose sings.

Chinatown Sonnets book cover

Chinatown Sonnets by Dorothy Chan, recommended by Zack Strait (poetry contributor)

Since coming to Florida State University I’ve had the joy of getting to know Dorothy Chan, who is not only a phenomenal poet, but a wonderful friend as well.

Her first chapbook was recently selected by Douglas Kearney for the 2016-17 New Delta Review Chapbook Series, and I just finished devouring it this past weekend.

I say devoured because it is a delicious book. The poems boil over with passion and leave you with a kick in the throat. Here’s a bite from “At the Seafood Market”:

He’s King of Dead Fish, but Mom finds him perfect:

put him in soup, we’ll use his head for broth.

Chan has not only a gift of imagination, but an eye for surprising, delightful imagery. Here’s another taste, from the gorgeous “Grandfather’s Oranges”:

but this is beauty, the oranges all neat,

Florida’s Best still stuck on them.

Ted Kooser, in The Poetry Home Repair Manual, writes “. . . one of the definitions of poetry might be that a poem freshens the world,” and that is what each of these poem accomplishes.

 

Isabel MeyersFriday Reads: June 2017
Read more...

Friday Reads: May 2017

For May’s Friday Reads, we tapped a few Issue 13 contributors to find out what they’re reading. Their recommendations are diverse and complicated, dealing with hefty subjects—from mourning and the fear of death to geological history. If you haven’t read their works in Issue 13, it’s time to get started.

White Noise

Emily EverettFriday Reads: May 2017
Read more...

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

 

Book by GEORGE SAUNDERS

Reviewed by SUSAN TACENT

Lincoln in the BardoOn February 20, 1862, Abraham and Mary Lincoln lost their eleven-year-old son Willie to what was probably typhoid fever. Some twenty years ago, George Saunders learned about a rumor that had circulated at the time—that Lincoln several times visited the crypt where Willie was temporarily interred, removed the body from its coffin and, in his great grief, cradled his dead child in his arms.

Julia PikeReview: Lincoln in the Bardo
Read more...

Friday Reads: April 2017

Our Friday Reads for April travel the world—from cricket practice in a Mumbai slum to a flower stall in New York City, and from the Balkans after the breakup of Yugoslavia to Algiers after the war of independence. Meet the men and women who bring these places to life through their struggles, aspirations, and survival.

Recommended: Selection Day by Aravind Adiga, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment by Assia Diebar, and Heritage of Smoke by Josip Novakovich

 

Selection Day Cover

Julia PikeFriday Reads: April 2017
Read more...

Friday Reads: February 2017

This February, we’re busily reading new novels by three award-winning authors who will be visiting us next month for LitFest at Amherst College. If there’s a common thread for this month’s Friday Reads, it’s memory: commemorating events, friendships, departures, and failures. But it could just as easily be their outstanding quality, as we contribute to the already effusive praise these books have earned. Get reading, and then join us March 2-4 for LitFest!

Recommended:

Swing Time by Zadie Smith, The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder, and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson.

Sarah WhelanFriday Reads: February 2017
Read more...

Review: The Senility of Vladimir Putin

By MICHAEL HONIG
Reviewed by OLGA ZILBERBOURG

The senility of vladimir p

Nikolai Sheremetev, the protagonist of British novelist’s Michael Honig’s second book, is a Moscow nurse. For six years, he’s been looking after a private patient suffering from dementia. The patient’s condition is deteriorating. Prior to his illness, Vladimir P. had been a president of Russia. After his confusion grew and he could no longer hold his own in public, he was quietly replaced by a member of his team and sent into retirement to a private estate near Moscow. As Vladimir’s mental acuity deteriorated, Sheremetev became the single point of contact between him and the outside world. Sheremetev manages his daily schedule, his medications, his rare outings.

Julia PikeReview: The Senility of Vladimir Putin
Read more...

Friday Reads: December 2016

By EMILY EVERETT, ALICIA LOPEZ, MEGAN TUCKER ORRINGER and SARAH WHELAN
 

To round out 2016, we’re reading novels new and old for December’s Friday Reads. Explore the social dynamics of male friendships, the black experience through generations and continents, the loneliness of a haunted orphan, and the self-consciousness (or self-destructiveness?) of the writer. After all, the dark days of winter are perfect for tackling big questions, and these towering works of fiction are perfect for raising them.

Recommended:

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder, and Despair by Vladimir Nabokov.

Isabel MeyersFriday Reads: December 2016
Read more...

Review: Home Field

Book by HANNAH GERSEN
Reviewed by KELLY FORDON

Home field

The publisher of Hannah Gersen’s first novel, Home Field, is marketing the book as a cross between two TV shows about teens, Friday Night Lights and My So-Called Life.  My So-Called Life, an angst-ridden and artsy TV show about teenagers in the 90s, is a better comparison than Friday Night Lights,  which is about a high school football-crazy small town. But the teen-pop culture comparisons don’t do justice to this empathic literary novel’s reach into emotional depths that will resonate with seasoned readers, who appreciate how complicated even an ordinary life can get.

Yes, Home Field is set in an isolated town, Willowboro in western Maryland,  that’s reminiscent of FNL’s Dillon, Texas. And yes, Dean, the main character of Gersen’s novel is a football coach, but he quits coaching football in the fourth chapter because his wife, Nicole, has committed suicide, and his family is unraveling. Gersen chips away at her characters’ façades like a miner removing layers of rock. The novel alternates between Dean’s perspective and that of his stepdaughter, Stephanie, but also follows Dean’s two young son’s Robbie, eleven, and Bry, eight, as they attempt to understand what happened to their mother.

Olivia ZhengReview: Home Field
Read more...