Nonfiction Reviews

33 DAYS by Léon Werth reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin

33 DAYS by Léon Werth reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin

33 DAYS by Léon Werth, with an introduction by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [translated by Austin Denis Johnston] Melville House Publishing, 116 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin There are occasions when a phrase or a paragraph or a book hits the main line and after the dose everything is different. 33 Days arrived in the mail ten days ago, on a Friday. Guests were coming for the weekend. Already, the city was filling with people. The weather was warm, finally; pink and purple and white flowers garlanded the city. Fragrance smothered street corners. Whole neighborhoods were ripe for seduction. The book, ...
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UNDOING THE DEMOS: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution by Wendy Brown reviewed by Irami Osei-Frimpong

UNDOING THE DEMOS: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution by Wendy Brown reviewed by Irami Osei-Frimpong

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UNDOING THE DEMOS: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution by Wendy Brown Zone Books/MIT Press, 296 Pages reviewed by Irami Osei-Frimpong “SEN. KIRK: RE-ELECT RAHM OR CHICAGO COULD END UP LIKE DETROIT,” reads the Chicago Sun-Times headline. In the ensuing article, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk argues that the bond market supporting Chicago's debt would be a better fit with current mayor Rahm Emanuel leading the city, rather than challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Those of us who care about democracy wonder if democratic self-determination—whether defined minimally as self-rule, or, more robustly, as participating in popular sovereignty—is extinguished when one's vote is determined by the ...
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THE GREAT FLOODGATES OF THE WONDERWORLD by Justin Hocking reviewed by Ana Schwartz

THE GREAT FLOODGATES OF THE WONDERWORLD by Justin Hocking reviewed by Ana Schwartz

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THE GREAT FLOODGATES OF THE WONDERWORLD by Justin Hocking Graywolf Press, 266 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz “Grand Programmes of Providence” Boys can be so mysterious, so closed off with their feelings. Surely they must feel things. But what are they feeling? And what are they thinking about those feelings? Why don’t they talk about those feelings? What do they expect women to do, simply divine those feelings like a barometer at sea—blind to the gathering clouds, deaf to the sound of the gulls and the waves, unable to smell the saltiness of the air? What is the deep wonderworld ...
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THE UNSPEAKABLE: AND OTHER SUBJECTS OF DISCUSSION by Meghan Daum reviewed by Jamie Fisher

THE UNSPEAKABLE: AND OTHER SUBJECTS OF DISCUSSION by Meghan Daum reviewed by Jamie Fisher

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The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 244 pages reviewed by Jamie Fisher Authenticity is Her Bag So here's the problem with coma stories: not everyone gets a coma story. Life-threatening medical emergencies chased closely by miraculous recoveries are, for most of us, in short supply. People who do find themselves with a coma story shouldn't be surprised when friends, relatives, and neighbors want a piece of it. They want your Ninety Minutes in Heaven, absent the ignominious retraction. They want to know how your near-death experience has changed you, brought you closer ...
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HOW AMERICANS MAKE RACE by Clarissa Rile Hayward reviewed by Irami Osei-Frimpong

HOW AMERICANS MAKE RACE by Clarissa Rile Hayward reviewed by Irami Osei-Frimpong

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HOW AMERICANS MAKE RACE: Stories, Institutions, Spaces by Clarissa Rile Hayward Cambridge University Press, 234 Pages In How Americans Make Race, Clarissa Rile Hayward argues that the persistence of racialized spaces is not merely a matter of the remarkable, particular stories individuals tell themselves about themselves; rather, racism persists because of the way racialized commitments are embedded in the unremarkable narrative context, the physical objects and the mundane habits of thought and action, that serve as the unacknowledged backdrop of White community space. If Jill's identity emerges from stories told against a backdrop of political investment: strong public schools, smooth ...
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THE OPPOSITE OF LONELINESS by Marina Keegan reviewed by Colleen Davis

THE OPPOSITE OF LONELINESS by Marina Keegan reviewed by Colleen Davis

THE OPPOSITE OF LONELINESS by Marina Keegan Scribner, 240 pages reviewed by Colleen Davis There’s a stretch of Philly’s Walnut Street Bridge that makes me tap my brakes. I’m not a slow driver by nature, but that corner with the new streetlight always makes me reduce speed. About a year ago, a young man lost his life right there, when two cars collided. As one of the vehicles spun onto the sidewalk, Zachary Woods climbed the streetlight to avoid the car. Unfortunately the vehicle knocked both man and lamppost over the bridge. If the story isn’t sad enough, consider how ...
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A QUESTION OF TRADITION: WOMEN POETS IN YIDDISH by Kathryn Hellerstein reviewed by Alyssa Quint

A QUESTION OF TRADITION: WOMEN POETS IN YIDDISH by Kathryn Hellerstein reviewed by Alyssa Quint

A QUESTION OF TRADITION: WOMEN POETS IN YIDDISH, 1586-1987 by Kathryn Hellerstein Stanford University Press, 496 pages reviewed by Alyssa Quint Poetry by female Yiddish writers has become the tree that falls in the empty forest of Jewish literature. As a discrete body of work it resonated only faintly with the same Yiddish critics and scholars who gushed over male Yiddish authors. English translations have become an important repository of the dying vernacular of East European Jews but, again, not so much for its female poets. Women's Yiddish poetry finally gets its scholarly due from Kathryn Hellerstein, long-time champion of ...
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THE DEEP ZOO by Rikki Ducornet reviewed by Kim Steele

THE DEEP ZOO by Rikki Ducornet reviewed by Kim Steele

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THE DEEP ZOO by Rikki Ducornet Coffee House Press, 106 pages reviewed by Kim Steele Rikki Ducornet begins her newest book of essays, The Deep Zoo: To write a text is to propose a reading of the world and to reveal its potencies. Writing is reading and reading a way back to the initial impulse. Both are acts of revelation. And, just as a text is unknown until it is written, the deep zoo—the essential potencies at the core of humanity—exist unknown until explored. In this book of essays Ducornet boldly ventures into this essential human core ...
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ON THE ABOLITION OF ALL POLITICAL PARTIES by Simone Weil, translated by Simon Leys reviewed by Ana Schwartz

ON THE ABOLITION OF ALL POLITICAL PARTIES by Simone Weil, translated by Simon Leys reviewed by Ana Schwartz

nonfiction reviews, reviews, translation /
ON THE ABOLITION OF ALL POLITICAL PARTIES by Simone Weil, translated by Simon Leys New York Reviews of Books, 71 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz When Albert Camus heard that he had won the Nobel Prize in 1957, he ran and hid. Averse to the frenzy of the press, he sought refuge in the home of a friend. He landed at the apartment of the family of Simone Weil in Paris’s 6th Arrondissement. Another friend, Czeslaw Milosz, in an essay on Weil, recalls that home fondly. He notes the humble, ink-stain-covered kitchen table, and he recalls the generous hospitality of ...
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Bolaño: A BIOGRAPHY IN CONVERSATIONS by Mónica Maristain reviewed by Ana Schwartz

Bolaño: A BIOGRAPHY IN CONVERSATIONS by Mónica Maristain reviewed by Ana Schwartz

nonfiction reviews, reviews, translation /
Bolaño: A BIOGRAPHY IN CONVERSATIONS by Mónica Maristain Melville House, 288 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz “Companionable Fictions” The first section of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 describes a small but ardent group of academic literary critics who dedicate their lives to the work of an obscure German author, Benno von Archimboldi. Almost five hundred pages later, in the last section, “The Part About Archimboldi” Bolaño finally introduces the author. In between stretch many strange adventures, but most are not directly related to the work of the author. But neither, really, was the first part, “The Part About the Critics.” Instead, Bolaño ...
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MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: A MEMOIR by Brian Turner reviewed by Jamie Fisher

MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: A MEMOIR by Brian Turner reviewed by Jamie Fisher

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My-Life-as-a-Foreign-CountryMY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: A MEMOIR by Brian Turner W.W. Norton & Company, 240 pages reviewed by Jamie Fisher Just a few years into the Iraq invasion, I remember a certain amount of critical hand-wringing over the absence of War Literature, or the absence of an audience willing to receive it. We had the relentless daily body counts, the Iraqi countryside reduced to numbers and the names of cities. We had news. What we were waiting for was a sense of perspective: writers who could walk into the news cycle and persuasively inhabit the numbers. Preferably we wanted ...
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BALTHUS: A BIOGRAPHY by Nicholas Fox Weber reviewed by Gabriel Chazan

BALTHUS: A BIOGRAPHY by Nicholas Fox Weber reviewed by Gabriel Chazan

BALTHUS: A BIOGRAPHY by Nicholas Fox Weber Dalkey Archive Press, 656 pages reviewed by Gabriel Chazan When looking at the paintings of Balthus, the viewer can’t help but react. Seeing paintings of young and often pre-pubescent girls and women in poses loaded with a strange sexuality, there is no possibility of cool remove. The viewer is made to consider actively their role in looking at the young women in these sometimes cruel, always compelling, provocative and often beautiful images. Balthus’s images have a strange, almost dreamlike hold, as they look back at us, impenetrable and confrontational. Balthus himself is somewhere ...
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My Struggle Book Three

MY STRUGGLE: BOOK THREE: BOYHOOD by Karl Ove Knausgaard translated by Dan Bartlett reviewed by Ana Schwartz

MY STRUGGLE: BOOK THREE: BOYHOOD by Karl Ove Knausgaard translated by Dan Bartlett Steerforth Press, 432 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz

Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

If all one reads is Proust, it might be easy to forget that some young boys—a lot of young boys—are really fascinated with the body and its messy, abject creations: excrement, urine, semen, saliva. What a relief to see that Karl Ove Knausgaard is, at least in this respect, less Proustian than the great hubbub would have it. You have probably have heard of his six-volume memoir-novel, ...
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OUTSIDE THE BOX: INTERVIEWS WITH CONTEMPORARY CARTOONISTS by Hillary L. Chute reviewed by Seamus O'Malley

OUTSIDE THE BOX: INTERVIEWS WITH CONTEMPORARY CARTOONISTS by Hillary L. Chute reviewed by Seamus O’Malley

OUTSIDE THE BOX: INTERVIEWS WITH CONTEMPORARY CARTOONISTS By Hillary L. Chute University of Chicago Press, 272 Pages reviewed by Seamus O'Malley Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists by Hillary Chute contains interviews with Scott McCloud, Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Phoebe Gloeckner, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, Françoise Mouly, Adrian Tomine, Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware. If you know comics you’ll recognize this as the auteur scene, and if you don’t you’ve just been given your starter syllabus. Many of these interviews appeared before, especially in Believer magazine, but those have been expanded, and several others are ...
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FLYOVER LIVES: A MEMOIR by Diane Johnson reviewed by Colleen Davis

FLYOVER LIVES: A MEMOIR by Diane Johnson reviewed by Colleen Davis

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FLYOVER LIVES: A MEMOIR by Diane Johnson Viking, 265 pages reviewed by Colleen Davis It takes guts to become a writer. Not because it’s a dangerous profession, but a person drawn to serious writing often discovers that there’s no clear employment path. Some people pursue newspaper or magazine jobs, and these positions can offer training and guidance to novice writers. But for those like me, who feel no calling for hard journalism, becoming a writer has meant making a series of strange, often irrational, choices. The careers of beloved authors provided me with my only roadmap. Unfortunately, most of the ...
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The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William Helmreich and Baghdad: The City in Verse edited by Reuven Snir  reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin

The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William Helmreich and Baghdad: The City in Verse edited by Reuven Snir reviewed by Nath...

THE NEW YORK NOBODY KNOWS: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William Helmreich Princeton University Press, 449 pages BAGHDAD: THE CITY IN VERSE edited by Reuven Snir Harvard University Press, 339 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin  Writers, this one included, have long struggled to capture in words the dynamic and multi-layered ways that cities change. Cities themselves are powerful change agents in the wider world, but they are defined and redefined constantly by the evolving tastes and desires of their residents (who themselves are always changing), technology, culture and religion, structural political and economic shifts, and the feedback ...
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Mermaid by Eileen Cronin

MERMAID: A Memoir of Resilience by Eileen Cronin reviewed by Colleen Davis

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MERMAID: A Memoir of Resilience by Eileen Cronin W.W. Norton, 336 pages  reviewed by Colleen Davis When I read a memoir, I feel like I’m climbing into the kitchen of someone I’ve never met to see if their recipes for life trump mine. It’s amusing—and sometimes shocking—to discover the great variety of messes humans can create with similar ingredients. Lives get twisted and re-shaped by crazy family members, creative impulses, and random events. But some people get a truly strange variable thrown into their stew. Eileen Cronin, for example, was born without legs. You might think that if you’ve spent ...
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THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY: A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ALZHEIMER’S by Jeanne Murray Walker Reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY: A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ALZHEIMER’S by Jeanne Murray Walker Reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

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THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY: A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ALZHEIMER’S  by Jeanne Murray Walker Center Street, 384 pages Reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier “I worry about Mother, mostly,” writes Jeanne Murray Walker in her memoir, The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s (Center Street), “but I also worry about myself, because I am beginning to get myself mixed up with her. What does it mean that, in company with her, I ‘live’ in the past so much?” This question shapes Walker’s story of caring for her mother Erna Kelley, who lost her memory and life to the disease. Seeking answers, Walker offers ...
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THE FARAWAY NEARBY by Rebecca Solnit reviewed by Colleen Davis

THE FARAWAY NEARBY by Rebecca Solnit reviewed by Colleen Davis

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faraway-nearby THE FARAWAY NEARBY by Rebecca Solnit Viking, 272 Pages Reviewed by Colleen Davis  Once a month my Saturday morning yoga class swaps our beloved Iyengar teacher for a visiting Power yoga trainer from Manhattan. Captain Kate is not her real name, but that’s what I call the woman who drives us through 85 minutes of fast, challenging postures which are not all that different from our normal fare. What Kate changes is the pace of our effort and the time we spend holding each pose. Under her direction, my country classmates and I move at the speed she expects ...
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ON GHOSTS by Elizabeth Robinson reviewed by Vanessa Martini

ON GHOSTS by Elizabeth Robinson reviewed by Vanessa Martini

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ON GHOSTS by Elizabeth Robinson Solid Objects, 64 pages

reviewed by Vanessa Martini

Elizabeth Robinson’s On Ghosts is, in her own words, “an essay” that seeks to understand the idea of haunting. As many teachers—perhaps just many of my teachers—like to say, to “essay” means to try, and what Robinson tries to do is to create a haunting so slowly and carefully that at first a reader does not notice. The structure of the text is simple: many small sections compound upon one another in an attempt to understand “the phenomenon of ghosts and haunting.” What seems at first to be ...
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HANDLING THE TRUTH: ON THE WRITING OF MEMOIR by Beth Kephart reviewed by Stephanie Trott

HANDLING THE TRUTH: ON THE WRITING OF MEMOIR by Beth Kephart reviewed by Stephanie Trott

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HANDLING THE TRUTH: ON THE WRITING OF MEMOIR by Beth Kephart Gotham Books, 254 pages reviewed by Stephanie Trott It is a rainy Tuesday in January and I lace up the new cherry-red boots before heading out the door of my warm little warren. Through the stone-laden campus, across the slippery streets of town, and onto the train that will take me into the city. I am in my final semester as an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr College and I still have not learned to buy shoes that fit my feet — I dig into the walk through West ...
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SO LONG, SILVER SCREEN by Blutch reviewed by Gabriel Chazan

SO LONG, SILVER SCREEN by Blutch reviewed by Gabriel Chazan

SO LONG, SILVER SCREEN by Blutch Picturebox, 88 pages reviewed by Gabriel Chazan Every film is a ghost story. When we go to the theater, we see flickering images of things in the eternal past yet present which persistently haunt us. This observation cannot be avoided reading the French cartoonist Blutch’s new graphic essay/novel So Long, Silver Screen. With this book, Blutch summons the ghosts from his own filmgoing past to consider the film form. Death pervades the book from the very first panel in which a woman writes, “Adieu Paul Newman.” When the woman tells her lover Newman is ...
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DAVID LYNCH SWERVES by Martha P. Nochimson reviewed by Chris Ludovici

DAVID LYNCH SWERVES by Martha P. Nochimson reviewed by Chris Ludovici

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DAVID LYNCH SWERVES: UNCERTAINTY THROUGH LOST HIGHWAY TO INLAND EMPIRE by Martha P. Nochimson University of Texas Press, 295 pages reviewed by Chris Ludovici In David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty Through Lost Highway to Inland Empire, Martha P. Nochimson presents a radical interpretation of David Lynch’s last four movies. She rejects the popular critical interpretations of his work, in favor of her own theory: a complicated mix of eastern philosophy and quantum physics. It’s fascinating, challenging, frustrating, and only intermittently persuasive. Her ideas are compelling, especially when she’s addressing Lynch’s philosophy. As a devoted believer in Hinduism and tantric meditation, Lynch creates ...
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