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Recent Reviews

The Gap of Time Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2017

This is a solid retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The characters are modern but every bit as much is at stake. It's a cautionary tale about the danger of jealousy that never loses its relevance. Recommended by Kelly

Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, from Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the Ameri Cover Image
Posted on Saturday, January 28, 2017

This book explores the relationship between the West and the Middle East in a way that can be easily and quickly digested. Polk recreates and explains the US occupation and places an emphasis on the role that oil has played. The author's experience of over 50 years studying the country provides the reader with a hands-on sense of what is going on in Iraq and within the United States. Recommended by Jenna.

In the Darkroom Cover Image
Posted on Saturday, January 28, 2017

In The Darkroom by Susan Faludi is an incredibly smart, probing act of memoir/biography. After a 27-year estrangement, Faludi gets an email from her father. The email says that he, formerly a toxic force of masculine energy, has undergone gender correction surgery and is now living as a woman in her native Budapest. The story of the evolving father/daughter relationship is worth the price of admission alone. But Faludi isn’t content to simply recount contemporary family events. In The Darkroom is a staggering investigation into identity politics, both on the personal and national level. How has the history Hungary tells about itself led to her father’s identity struggles? What is this thing called “identity,” anyway, and what are the surprising ways it can be wielded for violence and danger? I finished this book with a changed mind in many ways. Recommended by Danny

Black Wave Cover Image
Posted on Saturday, January 28, 2017

Michelle Tea’s Black Wave is like no other apocalyptic novel you’ve seen. Its first half is a shaggy, charming, queer coming-of-age story set in 1990s San Francisco that feels (appealingly) like Elieen Myles. Think Chelsea Girls goes west. After slash-and-burning her bridges with friends and lovers, though, protagonist Michelle moves to Los Angeles. Upon arrival, Michelle promptly finds out the world will end in a year. What follows is a lyrical meditation on the environment, dreams, and love anchored by a feminist, ecological sensibility. The book is by turns hilarious (Michelle has a tryst with Matt Dillon, a love scene for the ages) and heartfelt (her relationship with her brother is achingly lovely). Black Wave starts as an intimate story and ends as a memorably distorted mirror held up to our world. Recommended by Danny Caine.

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature Cover Image
Posted on Saturday, January 28, 2017

In a series of linked essays about his childhood in rural Edgefield, South Carolina, Lanham reclaims an environmental love and ethos for people of color. He is a self-described "eco-addict," who loves nature because "I've yet to have a wild creature question my identity. Not a single cardinal or ovenbird has ever paused in dawnsong declaration to ask the reason for my being." And that is the beauty in these essays–they offer a reminder of the intraspecies prejudice still to be resolved and the colorblind belonging available to us all among the "wild beings and [in] the wild places that should matter to us all." Recommended by Kelly

Swing Time Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016

Zadie Smith’s funny and energetic new novel Swing Time tells the story of childhood friends Tracey and the book’s unnamed narrator; Tracey is a talented dancer, the narrator loves dance but is not gifted at it. They both live in a northwest London housing estate that the narrator eventually leaves and Tracey doesn’t. This deceptively simple story is the root of a layered, clever, and thought-provoking mediation on, well, lots of things. Smith’s primary concern is how identities can blend and mix. But Swing Time also touches on pop stardom, the perils of postcolonial charity, slavery tourism, sexy disco music, blackface in Hollywood musicals, and more. The amazing thing about Zadie Smith is how sharp and funny she is, even when the book has such a wide range of interests. Plus, Swing Time features Smith’s first first-person narrator, which leads to a complicated yet limited perspective that ties it all together while leaving open some intriguing questions. The end result, much like White Teeth, On Beauty, and NW before it, is funny, compulsively readable, and cleverly critical of today’s world.
Recommended by Danny

Tru & Nelle Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tru and Nelle by Neri G. is a terrific young adult book about the friendship between Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. Based on real events in the lives of these two literary figures, the book in many ways mirrors To Kill a Mockingbird, hinting at the real characters and events in Monroeville, Alabama that gave birth to their parallels in the novel. It's beautifully written and has both the adventure and moral peril present in To Kill a Mockingbird. Highly recommended by Kelly.

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2016

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady by Susan Quinn. Though it's no secret that Eleanor Roosevelt had a long-term affair with journalist Lorena Hickok, Quinn's careful examination of their decades-long correspondence reveals the depth of both their love and fear during a time when such relationships were strictly verboten. The narrative views the tumultuous days of Depression, world war, and social change through the window of cultural trespass, which offers interesting insights into both a much-studied era and political icon. Recommended by Kelly.

Anybody: Poems Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2016

Identity is a slippery thing in Ari Banias's excellent debut collection Anybody. Late in the collection, for instance, a speaker says, "Mostly a name feels like the crappy overhang I huddle under/while rain skims the front of me." The declaration serves to embody Anybody's​ pre-occupation and exploration of identity, its limits, and its grey areas. The pronoun, that gram-matical home of cisgendered thinking, is of particular worry and curiosity to these voices in these poems. Banias's thoughtful deconstruction of gender and desire is made only more meaningful by his vivid settings, filled with details both precise and indicative of late capitalism's junk. In the first poem, for instance, we see that, "in this country, in houses,/apartments, there somewhere is a cabinet or drawer/where it's stashed/the large plastic bag/with slightly smaller mashed-together/plastic bags inside; it is overflowing, and we keep adding." It's a stunning poem, and like many in this collection, it skill-fully balances humor and grief, with both personal and political implications. Ari Banias most reminded me of a Frank O'Hara for this generation. This is a really promising debut collection. Recommended by Danny.

The Little Stranger Cover Image
Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is a ghost story for everyone. By everyone, I mean those who love ghost stories and also those who resist them. The writing is so spot-on and the hauntings so psychologically resonant, that they give even the skeptical reader pause. The Ayres' family estate is crumbling. Its remaining residents, Emily, her shell-shocked son Roderick, and sturdy, unmarried daughter Caroline, make an ill-fated decision to host a party to re-establish themselves in the social scene of Warwickshire, England. The evening's tragedy and reconnection with country doctor Faraday, once a child of a servant in the house, sets in motion a series of tragedies that bring to life long-buried secrets and poltergeists. Gothically good to its final chilling page. Recommended by Kelly