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Brief Book Reviews (2019)

Now that I’ve eased away from an official book-reviewing practice, I’m using this space to share brief remarks on my reading. For the most part, this page will reflect what I post about my reading on Goodreads. Books that I receive directly from authors/publishers will be noted as complimentary review copies.

1. The Great Believers: A Novel by Rebecca Makkai (Viking). I should have read it when it was published last June. I should have read it before the end of the 2018, when it appeared on countless “best-of” book lists. At least I made it my first novel for 2019. This book is, simply, a masterpiece. The two narrative threads—one set amid the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 1980s and the second thirty years later in Paris—weave together in a way unlike anything I’ve read before. The characters begin to seem like one’s own friends/family. It’s rare that a book brings me to tears. This one did.

2. The Illusion of Return by Samir El Youssef (Melville House). Since the death of Israeli author Amos Oz at the end of December 2018, I’ve spent a lot of time reading tributes and returning to Oz’s interviews. His remarkable spirit made me wonder, “Who is the Palestinian Amos Oz?” Who is a writer/activist both idealistic and realistic, concerned for both his “own” people’s well-being and the welfare of “the other side”? Who might make as great an impact on Palestinian readers as Oz has among Israeli Jews (and other Jews)? I asked around a bit (quietly). A friend recommended this author/novel (officially, a novella). And I’m grateful.

3. We Begin In Gladness: How Poets Progress (Essays) by Craig Morgan Teicher (Graywolf Press). I feel as though I should be focusing on the smart analyses of the work of so many major poets (Plath, Merwin, etc.) that form the bulk of this book. But I confess that I am even more captivated by the author’s writing about poetry itself–what poetry means to those of us who write it (or try to). Take, for instance: “A poem is something that can’t otherwise be said addressed to someone who can’t otherwise hear it.” (I think that I’ve already found my next “Sunday Sentence.”)

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