RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... luminous and achingly honest ... The memoir’s evocative style is riveting, layering images of the natural places where the author finds solace with the urban spaces where she lives most of her life ... Still, while Thin Places provides enormous insight into the Troubles and human nature, it left me with more questions than answers. While this was frustrating, I know polemics and easy solutions would’ve rung hollow. Uncertainty is far more honest — and more fun to wrestle with on the page. Perhaps, then, what Thin Places ultimately leaves us with is the courage to speak the unspeakable, even if our voices shake.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a meditation on what it means to be a woman in this country and a master class in the power of brutally honest writing ... Butcher\'s other experiences with dangerous men haunt the memoir to impressive effect ... The author\'s descriptions of the violence are as gutsy and compelling as they are unsettling, and her frank exactness pays off on the page ... All of this God talk made me — a member of the growing Millennial horde allergic to anything even close to evangelizing — queasy. But despite my discomfort, the choice to explore religion so openly did create narrative tension, and the parallels between Dave\'s Christianity and Joy\'s offered a complex dissonance that was a pleasure to parse.
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksFocused primarily on the passenger seats of airplanes, it luxuriates in the experience of vast flights to far-flung places, its language as soaring as the clouds casting shadows on the oceans below ... Of course, The Window Seat was clearly written before covid-19. As the rest of The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion unfolds, the initial essay stops feeling like a piece of travel porn and becomes a framework that holds together a collection that defies convention. It may just be the perfect post-pandemic read, and Forna the ideal post-pandemic writer ... Like human memory, the story of Forna’s father doesn’t unfold linearly. It is masterfully woven into both the lives of other people and the changing world around Mohamed himself ... As we grapple to make sense of a world that’s both been brought closer together and separated further by a global pandemic, maybe it’s writers like her who can help us decide what comes next — and how to better understand each other along the way.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksA memoir about hauling snow, shoveling manure, and living in a mud hut in one of the harshest environments on earth may not sound like a pleasure read. Yet, miraculously, Li Juan’s Winter Pasture is somehow just that. Part travelogue and part cultural exchange, the book luxuriates in wide-open spaces and the simple wonder of the everyday ... Initially, there are some lazy colloquialisms to get past, but it’s hard to know whether they’re the fault of the author or the translators. Soon enough, the book finds its stride and balances both beauty and accessibility on every page ... Not much happens...Yet it is packed with charm and the same kind of lyrical nature prose found in Henry Beston’s The Outermost House, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and the work of Tang poet Li Po ... I could feel the whisper of that dissent rippling between the lines. It was as subtle as it was undeniable ... With the intelligent, witty Li Juan as our guide, Winter Pasture becomes more than just a trip to an otherwise unknowable, far-off place full of people we’ll never meet. It’s a life-affirming declaration that the world would be terribly boring — and seem achingly small — if we all looked, worked, dressed, spoke, and dreamed the same way.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksWhile Ash feels a deep connection with the men who spend their days at sea, she doesn’t shy away from the complicated truth of their lives ... Alcohol also plays a significant role in both the book and the lives of the fishermen ... While she writes with a precision beyond her years, this was one area where the author could have used a bit more self-reflection ... I couldn’t help but wonder if Ash would’ve had such intimate access to the villagers if she didn’t drink ... a meditation on place, class, and generational identity ... Ash grapples with this self-understanding through her discussions with Newlyn residents young and old and her research into the village’s deceased.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksEula Biss is a master of vivid imagery ... One of the troubles with taboos is they’re often so uncomfortable that our avoidance of them makes them invisible. Yet Biss is not only unafraid of taboo, she leans into it. She uses the form of the essay to interrogate, break apart, and complicate something in order to make it fully known and understood ... makes the invisible visible ... Sometimes, these titles repeat in other sections, creating a strange, whirling effect that feels as inescapable as American capitalism\'s grinding wheel. Each vignette takes a lived experience from either Biss\' own life or the lives of authors she reads and uses it to question a unique aspect of privilege and power ... The style is deceptively simple and often declarative. The arguments are also impressively concrete compared to the cliché- and abstraction-filled ways most people talk about money ... One of the most delicious facets of the book is how it weaves into the discussion of art (including writing) the socioeconomic class and status of those who get to make it ... While talking this openly about money can make a reader squirm, the transparency is disarming and effective ... These sections about Woolf and other writers are a juicy pleasure to read, but they also show us that time, as much as money, is a marker of privilege and power ... While the discrepancies explored in Having and Being Had are not as vast or as maddening as this one, Biss\' ability to note their madness and inequity might be just what we need right now.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksSonia Shah’s scientific and literary prowess can be felt in the way she dissects xenophobia as a crude immune response ... This style is what makes Shah’s new book so compelling. Readers initially drawn to her in-depth and meditative look at the nature of migration will stay for her storytelling ... While it has a few blind spots, The Next Great Migration convincingly argues that the constant movement of plants, animals, and people from one place to another is natural and signals health. Chapter by chapter, the author debunks the centuries-old ethos that most living things come from one stagnant habitat, and that moving to a new place is a rare and often extreme change brought about by dire circumstances ... Shah, for her part, argues that the concepts of \'invasive\' and \'native\' and a \'population explosion\' have deep roots in anti-migration sentiments. As a reader deeply moved by Leopold’s essay collection A Sand County Almanac, I was disturbed by her analysis. While the author’s explanation makes sense, it also glosses over the mass eradication of predators and indigenous people by European settlers in the United States, which brought about drastic alterations in the landscape. Leopold doesn’t address eradication perfectly, but he does address it ... Another issue is that Shah does not discuss indigenous communities and the destructive impact of some invasive species. She also fails to consider how the impact of invasive species has drastically deepened due to the speed at which we move around the world in the modern era ... Shah’s ability to make me question the notions I once viewed as gospel is useful in 2020, when coronavirus and the systemic inequality it exposed has sent the world into a spiral.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksGaffney pulls off the impressive feat of translating horses and humans. She creates lyricism through experience, landscape, and empathy. Not only does she avoid the often cringe-worthy tropes we see regarding horses, but she also swerves away from stereotyping the incarcerated population in the United States ... As a trainer, Gaffney brings some hard-knock knowledge to her writing. There is a raw physicality in each scene featuring a horse ... each character is portrayed with humanity and a deep complexity ... Her disclosure and the quietness of her writing are a refreshing change from the dominant narrative that American horse culture is loud, deeply conservative, and heteronormative ... also a book steeped in place. Even though it loves the West, it refuses to look away from the region’s hard bits. The high desert landscape is never center stage, yet it is always present. The dust and extreme sun seep through the scenes in a way unique to those who write well about that part of the country ... The healing here is hard-won, subtle, and small. And that makes it all the more miraculous.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a book about grief, yet within that grief lies beauty, wonder, and love. It is also a book about nature and family, and it is self-conscious enough to understand that the wild world and the domestic one exist in a braided ecosystem that hums with meaning. It’s Renkl’s ability to lean in and name the heartbreak that makes Late Migrations worth the read ... Each chapter, written as a short vignette rich in imagery and the language of place, creates an immersive experience for the reader ... What is striking is how a powerful yet wonderfully understated love comes through in each of Renkl’s images and family members ... There is a feeling of literary impressionism in these pages, one where the emotional sensation becomes as elemental as the narrative itself ... Strangely, there is minimal mention of the climate catastrophe that waits just beyond the next thunderhead ... self-aware, researched, and thoughtful. There are sure to be dog-eared copies of Late Migrations on the shelves of nature lovers everywhere.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksMany authors would crumble under the massive amount of information found in the rocky layers of Underland’s pages, but not Macfarlane ... The terrains in the book are complicated and beautiful. Each space exists in a complexity often looked over by a humanity that wishes to fence off and categorize ... The way he chooses to contextualize his different \'underlands\' is also so inclusive, it’s juicy. In one paragraph, he could be quoting ancient Arab lore, then a significant theorist in the next, and David Bowie after that ... The presence of other thinkers’ work gives Underland a bit of humility and makes it more readable ... What we decide next could change the fate of the planet. Underland may help us choose more wisely.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksReyna Grande’s new memoir, A Dream Called Home, begins like many tales of immigration—with an escape ... the true virtue of A Dream Called Home is the author’s clear-sightedness. She calls abuse by its name, and her ability to see family patterns and the impact of the cycle of poverty has a maturity that makes her a narrator you want to believe in. She also has deep empathy as a character in her own story. Her older self is able to examine how her mother’s abuse at the hand of her grandmother led to her mother’s behavior later ... Still, this is a story with a happy ending. It serves as a testament to the true power of diverse books ... Thanks to Grande’s honesty, thoughtfulness, and gift for storytelling, it, too, can serve as a trail of breadcrumbs for young readers and writers seeking books that reflect their lives.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of Books\"Bhuvaneswar has the mastery of Jhumpa Lahiri and the lyricism of Sandra Cisneros. But the collection also has the bits of quiet joy and mischief reminiscent of Isaac Babel, along with an ability to embrace silent absence, as in Peter Orner’s fiction ... All the people in these pages have a strange, haunting quality that binds the stories into a cohesive collection ... this debut is sure to lead to more great writing from Chaya Bhuvaneswar. Step aside, Hemingway. These white elephants dance.\
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis fantastic work combines morbid curiosity and royal gossip. In it, readers will not only find out about who could’ve poisoned whom, but also why and with what. Lovers of Tudor history, costume dramas, and high fantasy will rejoice. Even with all of this glamour, however, this is not a book for the squeamish. Along with poisons, it covers many of the terrifying things royals once put on—and in—their bodies ... Not to mention the actual living conditions of the Renaissance royals, which were so filthy that even the peasants in a Monty Python film would’ve found them disgusting. Still, if, like me, you love dirty details, this isn’t a book to pass up ... Whereas some historians might hide behind their primary-source documents and academic vocabulary, Eleanor Herman is here to show us the naughty bits with tongue-and-cheek humor. The Royal Art of Poison is sure to make the perfect beach read, poolside pleasure, or bedside treat.
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksHis new How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is one of those rare books that a reader can open up, flip to a page, and pull out sentences that will leave them astounded ... yes, each essay stands alone, but they also hum together, ebbing and flowing back and forth through Chee’s life as a writer, a queer man, a Korean American, a teacher, a waiter, a New Yorker, and a child of Maine ... Chee has this wonderful outsider’s self-awareness. He is a flaneur with a conscience who has a habit of joining the party ... It’s worthy of a spot among other classics of the craft, including Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Stephen King’s On Writing, and Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Its beauty, honesty, and Yankee-esque practicality are treasures.
Paolo Cognetti, Trans. by Simon Carnell
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksPaolo Cognetti’s novel ... is fluent in the language of mountains, and with his understated, crisp prose, the reader can almost breathe in the thin, alpine air ... Cognetti doesn’t hold to the old writing platitude of 'show, don’t tell,' but instead sets the stage for readers to simply feel. The strange ache of growing up — that floating sensation of trying to figure out who we are and who we’re supposed to be — reverberates throughout ... If the mountains in this book are a masterpiece, the underlying commentary about Europe’s present-day economic struggles and class disparities felt a bit underdeveloped ... The ending has a bittersweet mystery to it, yet I couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if Cognetti has banished his romanticism in favor of letting his characters claw their way out of the dangerous crevasse of ruin toward recovery ... Still, The Eight Mountains reminds us of the power of place, the power of friendship, and the myths that shape our lives.
MixedWashington Independent Review of BooksThe plot sluggishly moves from November 1942 to 1945, just after the defeat of the Japanese ... The novel, does, however, find some urgency once the first bomb drops on Japan. After it hits, the characters get at least a scrap of the complexity they had been missing for the previous 300 pages ... Maybe her next work will have the urgency, maturity, and detail that The Atomic City Girls struggles to find.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksWhere the Water Goes is an essential book for everyone along the Colorado River ... Owen’s true gifts to his readers are his clarity and careful reporting. He can take the vertigo-inducing complexities of water use, politics, and hydrology, break them into digestible fragments, and then add human faces ...also a precise journalist; there are so many sources that each sentence feels anchored by a tiny stack of references ... The book should be used as the powerful educational tool it is. However, if I were looking for a book to make people want to protect, understand, and love the Colorado River, this wouldn’t be it ...beautifully written ... Nevertheless, the whisper making me wonder what exactly Owen felt he was bearing witness to kept talking, and it wanted him to speak up.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksMoor’s book is a hiking trail itself, wandering from place to place, stopping like a good trail guide to explain the nuances and ecologies of each place he visits ... but On Trails is not quick or breezy. It requires good pair of hiking shoes and has the hard-earned stink of a through-hiker. It is a book determined to walk from one end of an idea to another ... Each idea is so carefully portrayed and deeply fascinating that I had to stop and catch my breath often ... It’s a beautiful trek through the human and natural landscapes of modern life.