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Brief Book Reviews (2018)

Now that I’m easing 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 KITES by Romain Gary (trans. Miranda Richmond Mouillot; New Directions). In two words: C’est magnifique.
  2. GARDENING IN THE TROPICS by Olive Senior (Insomniac Press). I received this poetry collection from a “Secret Santa” (who’s not so secret—I know that she lives in Jamaica). The images from Caribbean life gave me a Sunday Sentence the week I read this book. Poet Olive Senior was new to me, and I’m most grateful for the introduction.
  3. THE SCOTTISH CAFE by Susanna H. Case (Slapering Hol Press). Per the author’s notes at the chapbook’s end: “This series of poems is loosely based upon the experiences of the mathematicians of the Scottish Café, who lived and worked in Lvov, Poland (now L’viv, Ukraine, a center of Eastern European intellectual life before World War II, close to the area from which my own ancestors emigrated to the United States. A book, known as the ‘Scottish Book,’ was kept in the Café and used to write down some of their problems and solutions. Whoever offered a proof was often awarded a prize.” Case adds that she began to work on these poems after 9/11. My thanks to the team from Slapering Hol Press who brought this chapbook along to the New York Society Library so I could purchase it at a Library event.
  4. POETRY MAGAZINE (January 2018). Not a standout issue, imho.
  5. THE WEIGHT OF INK by Rachel Kadish (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Reminiscent of Possession, with a contemporary academic/scholarship narrative running alongside an historical one. Has given me a sense of seventeenth-century Jewish experience in London, and to a lesser extent, in Amsterdam, that I did not have before.
  6. POETRY MAGAZINE (February 2018). Interesting issue featuring New Zealand poets/poetry.
  7. THE STOWAWAY by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (Simon and Schuster). I’m not likely to travel to Antarctica anytime soon, but thanks to this book I feel as though I, too, “stowed away” on a late 1920s expedition there. (Complimentary review copy.)
  8. THE SALT BEFORE IT SHAKES by Yvonne Stephens (Hidden Timber Press). Received this poetry collection as a gift and enjoyed it. Read more about it here.
  9. THE CHÂTEAU by Paul Goldberg (Picador). I’m still feeling a bit guilty that I haven’t read Goldberg’s previous novel (THE YID), but that didn’t impinge on my enjoyment of this one, which made me laugh—in one case, nearly uncontrollably—more than any book I’ve read lately. Come for the humor, stay for the dual Russian/English dialogue and, um, poetry. (Complimentary review copy.)
  10. SHIVA MOON: POEMS by Maxine Silverman (Ben Yehuda Press). Some months ago, I backed a crowd-funding campaign from Ben Yehuda Press. In return, I received several poetry books from their catalog (more are coming). This is the first one that I’ve read. And I’m not at all sorry to have backed the campaign.
  11. THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER by Jane Friedman (The University of Chicago Press). Superb overview. Keep an eye out for the supplemental resources that will be added around publication to the companion website. (Complimentary review copy.)
  12. FROM A SEALED ROOM by Rachel Kadish (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner). Had this novel only provided this magnificent sentence, well, “dayenu,” as our people say. But it offers so much more. I’m glad to have read it, albeit belatedly (it’s Kadish’s debut novel; she has since published two others).
  13. JERUSALEM, DRAWN AND QUARTERED by Sarah Tuttle-Singer (Skyhorse Publishing). The subtitle—”A Year Spent Living in the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem”—gives you the general structure of this beautifully-written memoir. And here’s a sample sentence. (This one also came to me as a complimentary [advance] copy.)
  14. POETRY MAGAZINE (March 2018). Maybe I was tired when I began paging through this issue. Maybe the gray cover infused my reading too much. Whatever the reason, I just didn’t seem to get much from this issue. Hoping for more connection in April.
  15. DECENCY: POEMS by Marcela Sulak (Black Lawrence Press). I became acquainted with Marcela through her work as a translator (and podcaster), but I was not familiar with her original poetry. When a friend recommended one of Marcela’s poems to me, I found it, admired it, and wanted to read more. And I’m glad that I have!
  16. FLUNK. START. RECLAIMING MY DECADE LOST IN SCIENTOLOGY by Sands Hall (Counterpoint ). It wasn’t always easy to read this book, because I know and care about the author (although I knew nothing about this part of her life until she began sharing information about the book). But you needn’t be a Sands fan to read it. An interest in learning about Scientology—and about what can cause any of us to make questionable choices—will suffice.
  17. THE PARIS REVIEW (NUMBER 224). Lots of good stuff here, but if I had to select an issue highlight, it would likely be Cary Goldstein’s “Art of Fiction” interview with Charles Johnson.
  18. POETRY MAGAZINE (April 2018). Engaging approach in this issue, which, as an introductory editor’s note explains, “presents work from three of many…active communities: Split This Rock, a gathering of those who work for social justice; Black Girl Magic—the name is self-explanatory, but these are poets connected to the BreakBeat poets featured in our April 2015 issue; and Snow City Arts, an organization that provides instruction…to children in hospitals. In juxtaposing work from each of these vibrant groups, we hope readers will get a sense of the vivacious energy and talent nourished wherever poets and their readers gather.” Mission accomplished. (More, please!)
  19. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press). Terrific read that meets the high expectations set for those of us who so admired the author’s previous novel, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU (about which you can read more here).
  20. IT JUST SO HAPPENS: POEMS TO READ ALOUD by Greer Gurland (Finishing Line Press). So, I admit that I have not yet read these poems—written by a college classmate—aloud. BUT I have read them, and admired them. Gurland’s work, the cover copy says, “has been described as unusually accessible while offering complexity and a depth that resonates with the reader.” An apt description.
  21. PANGYRUS (issue four): Discovered this journal at the latest Grub Street “The Muse and the Marketplace” conference, and promptly purchased this issue to explore it further.