All posts tagged: reviews

Friday Reads: September 2017

Curated by SARAH WHELAN

Folks, it’s September. Time to stow away that summer beach read and pull out the award-winning tome that’s going to get you noticed by the cute grad student in the coffee shop. This month, read about starkly different economic and cultural worlds existing side by side. As the poor and the rich, the colonizer and the native shift uneasily along slippery fault lines, these recommendations offer brutal looks at friction between and within communities. Harrowing and insightful, you’ll be so engrossed you won’t even notice the number written on your to-go cup.

Recommendations: Tales of Two Americas edited by John Freeman, Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, and News of the World by Paulette Jiles.


Tales of Two Americas edited by John Freeman, recommended by Diana Babineau Owen (former Managing Editor)

Tales of Two Americas cracks wide open and lays bare America’s failures: its class divisions, racial oppression, inequality (economic and otherwise), lack of equal opportunities, and its unwillingness to treat all people with respect and dignity. At a glance, the title of this anthology might be a bit misleading—this is not just a simple account of two versions of America. Rather, this collection of work sheds light on a multitude of ways that America finds itself divided: between the haves and the have-nots, white and non-white, rich and poor, homeless and not homeless, empowered and disenfranchised. These essays, poems, and short stories, written by a diverse group of authors, offer us windows into the many different lives being lived in America today, all the while grappling with questions of morality and our human desire for self-fulfillment. In Roxane Gay’s short story “How,” we follow a woman named Hanna who feels trapped by the familial obligations foisted upon her. Weighed down by the burden of her alcoholic father, her unemployed husband, and hard economic circumstances, Hanna struggles to fulfill her desires for true love, higher education, peace and quiet, and space (both physical and mental) to feel like an individual, not just a resource to be expended by those around her. In her essay “Looking for a Home,” Karen Russell moves to Portland and examines the fast-paced gentrification of the city, its spikes in rent and no-cause evictions, and its growing homeless population. She contemplates what it means to feel at home—and to feel happy—in a world where so much despair and suffering abounds. When she finds herself stepping over a homeless man on her way back to her apartment, she worries about how easy it is to become desensitized to this suffering—to feel both like it is too overwhelming a problem to fix and also like it is not our problem at all.

This collection boasts an impressive list of acclaimed authors, and the writing is beautiful, honest, bold. But most of all, I appreciate the way these authors engage with these vitally important issues on a level often lacking in daily media but so badly needed, especially in a time when it has become easier and easier to feel disconnected from our neighbors, to feel like we are worlds apart even as we stand at each other’s doorsteps.

Photo courtesy of Amazon

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, recommended by Sophie Murguia (former Editorial Assistant)

At its most basic level, you could say Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a book about economic inequality in India. It’s a subject that has propelled countless economists, political scientists, and journalists to write abstract treatises making sweeping claims. But Boo has wisely taken a more contained approach in a work of nonfiction that closely follows the lives of several women and children living in a Mumbai slum, not far from the glittering airport hotels of India’s financial hub.

Boo introduces readers to Abdul Husain, a teenager who has made a better life for his family by collecting and reselling garbage. Soon, we also meet Abdul’s friend Kalu, along with aspiring slumlord Asha and her college-educated daughter Manju. Through the lens of these characters, Boo tells a true story that reads like an intimate work of fiction. She reconstructs her subjects’ mental states in painstaking detail—the result of extensive and repeated interviews, according to an author’s note. In doing so, Boo builds a bridge from the particular to the general, asking us to consider the concrete human lives of those struggling to escape the status they’ve been assigned in the new global economy.

Image courtesy of Amazon

News of the World by Paulette Jiles, recommended by Sarah Whelan (Assistant Editor)

Alive with war cries, sizzling bacon, and jingling dimes, News of the World is a perilous wagon ride through Reconstruction Texas. The reader’s guide and protector is the steadfast Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an aging widower who travels the territory reading newspapers to illiterate crowds of villagers. His nomadic lifestyle becomes suddenly saddled with purpose when he agrees to return Johanna, a white girl captured as a small child by Natives, to her relatives in Southern Texas. As the unlikely pair stubbornly push forward, the story’s primary concern is the navigation of distance, from the practical challenges of schlepping a bewildered ten-year-old 200 miles, to bridging a language and cultural gap with a child who believes she’s Kiowa, to calculating how many feet a bullet can fly accurately in shoot-out.

However, the narrative defies the single-mindedness of a traditional adventure story. Almost magically, this gritty reality is suspended whenever the Captain pauses to read the news, opening their world to include the mystic realms of St. Louis, London, the North Pole. Additionally, the lightness of Jiles’s style allows for levity even during moments of cultural misunderstanding, such as when the Captain explains to Johanna that it is “impolite” to scalp her fallen enemies. Ultimately, though News of the World emphasizes the frustrations of cultures clashing, it optimistically suggests that those divides may be overcome through affection and patience.

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: September 2017
Read more...

Friday Reads: July 2017

Ah, July Friday Reads, where the temperatures are high and the stakes are even higher. This month, read alongside Issue 13 contributors and our managing editor as we face devastating epidemics, maternal death, and the eternal angst of feminine adolescence. Though each book finds a uniqueness in its approach to calamity, each work uses the minute details to capture the universal perils of love, loss, and loneliness.

Recommendations: Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante, The Girls by Emma Cline, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Book cover Troubling Love
Troubling Love
by Elena Ferrante, recommended by Megan Fernandes (poetry contributor)

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: July 2017
Read more...

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)

Isabel MeyersFriday Reads: June 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...