PanNPR\"I expected Carr\'s memoir, All That You Leave Behind, to elicit the same level of feeling [as at a live event]. On the page, however, she is much less successful at getting her emotions across ... [Carr] moves rapidly from scene to scene, never lingering on the complex emotions that memoirs are built to investigate. As a result, All That You Leave Behind functions far better as a portrait of David Carr than as one of the writer herself. She consistently lets her father overshadow her on the page ... [Carr] traces her struggle to get sober while processing her father\'s death, but nearly every scene ends with a blackout; she never tries to find out what happened, nor does she give voice to her sister, her best friend, and her boyfriend, all of whom were present throughout. Nor does she fully examine an earlier attempt at sobriety, after her drinking began to threaten her career ... As is, the book provokes both gratitude and empathy. But Carr\'s significant writing, in which she investigates herself with the rigor she brings to her journalistic subjects, is yet to come.\
PositiveThe Atlantic\"As Forché changes, so does her memoir’s language. Her writing becomes quicker, less inclined to linger. Perhaps to replace the poetic writing of the memoir’s early chapters, she begins including notes she took in El Salvador, which function as prose poetry ... [Forché] remembers as much as possible, and the resulting memoir, once read, is difficult to forget.\
PositiveNPRA book with spies in it, not a spy book. Friedman chose the Arab Section to prove a point. My grandfather believed in Israel as a place of refuge for European Jews, but for Jews like Gamliel, Havakuk, Isaac, and Yakuba, it was more complex than that. Yakuba had no other homeland. Gamliel, Havakuk, and Isaac only had homelands outside Israel if they were Arabs, and yet Jewish and Arab identity have always been considered mutually exclusive — which is why they emigrated to Israel. They weren\'t alone. After 1948, Israel filled with Middle Eastern Jews. Today, nearly 53 percent of Israeli Jews have roots in the Arab world. To Friedman, understanding that fact is crucial to understanding Israel ... an important book...Americans are not accustomed to hearing about Israel\'s complexity, or its diversity. We are rarely asked to consider Israel as a country that is, as Friedman says, \'more than one thing.\' Any serious defender or critic of Israeli politics should consider this a serious problem. Meaningful opinions require nuanced understanding, and Spies of No Country offers that.
RaveNPR\"... astonishing ... Despite the beauty of Toews\' prose and the constant, delicate humor of August\'s self-effacing perspective, I resisted [August as the narrator], and by extension the novel, for as long as I could. Why, I kept thinking, is a man telling this story? Why can\'t the women tell it themselves? But soon I understood: Women Talking reverses the patriarchal structure under which these women live. Until this moment, intellectual discourse in Molotschna has been reserved for men. Now, women\'s ideas are the center, and they get to make a man write them down ... though Toews\' writing is simple and often funny, her ideas are difficult in the extreme ... Toews\' emphasis on names and definitions serves to highlight how precise her own writing is, and how smart. The intelligence on display in Women Talking is as ferocious as it is warm. Women Talking is a profoundly intelligent book. It is an indictment of authority and a defense of belief.\
PanNPRBusch, a practiced art and nature writer, dislikes social media and networked culture: that much is clear. What she neglects to explore is why ... When Busch moves in details, she does so strikingly well. Her best essays, \'Invisiphilia\' and \'Across the Natural World,\' are richly allusive and digressive ... But in her society essays, Busch casts detail, and often beauty, aside. In the collection\'s first essay, on imaginary friends as a stage in childhood development, she pivots without warning from her chosen topic to a long digression on the damages of social media. Her writing about imaginary friendship is replete with research, literature, and anecdotal evidence; her writing about social media is full of sweeping we-statements, with only one source cited and no examples or anecdotes at all. Not only does the digression fall flat as a result, it drags the rest of the essay down with it ... This proves to be a pattern. Time and again, Busch condemns online visibility without exploring it ... Busch does not seem open to counterarguments. In general, she refuses to attend to perspectives that don\'t match her own ... fails intellectually because Busch never accesses the bodies of work that don\'t suit her ... Busch set out to create an antidote to visibility culture, but all she does, in the end, is expose herself.
RaveThe Atlantic\"Sea Monsters derives little energy from what happens to Luisa, or from how she changes during her travels. Instead, it works like a poem, gathering steam through image, repetition, and metaphor ... Like a magician, Aridjis is obsessed with elusiveness; like a symbolist, she far prefers imagination and metaphor to plain sight ... the novel’s satisfactions come not from character growth or plot resolution, but from the evoking of emotion through symbols ... Few novels operate this way, but many poems do. I found that Sea Monsters frequently conjured Elizabeth Bishop’s \'The Fish,\' with its rapt attention to the fish’s real and imagined body. The victory at the poem’s end comes not from catching or keeping the fish, but from having beheld it. Observation and beauty create meaning ... The novel’s strength lies in its ability to turn to the next magic trick, the next detail, the next sight. Those sights are all the more impressive when conjured solely from language. By opting out of fiction’s conventional prioritization of plot or character development, Aridjis foregrounds her ability to develop images and metaphors. The result is seductive in its multiplicity.\
PositiveNPR\"Guestbook is not exactly a book of ghost stories, though its subtitle disagrees. It behaves more like a short story collection than any other literary form, but reading it feels akin to walking through an art exhibit, each piece linked in ways that are ineffable but clear ... Without fail, [the book is] unexpected, subtle and moving. Shapton excels at evoking emotion through absence, which is, perhaps, a skill borrowed from more traditional ghost stories ... Guestbook is a profoundly sympathetic work, and one filled with yearning. That yearning, like a ghost, lingers long after the stories are done.\
RaveNPR\"In his two previous books... Abdurraqib demonstrated his expertise at compressing massive emotions into minimal space. Here, he takes that skill up yet another notch. He has a seemingly limitless capacity to share what moves him, which means that to read Go Ahead in the Rain, you don\'t need to be a Tribe Called Quest fan: Abdurraqib will make you one. His love for the group is infectious, even when it breaks his heart ... Abdurraqib does not shy from his sadness over the group\'s breakup or Phife Dawg\'s death, but Go Ahead in the Rain is not a sad book. Instead, it\'s steeped in gratitude and joy ... Without fail or hesitation, [Abdurraqib] invites the reader into the text. Even his deepest dives into history and technique have a come-with-me spirit ... I have been listening to A Tribe Called Quest my whole musically conscious life, and yet Go Ahead in the Rain made their records sound new ... This comes from deepened knowledge and understanding, but it also comes from absorbing Abdurraqib\'s love, which reinvigorated my own. This, too, is a way of reaching for the future: to write about music so beautifully and intelligently that readers are moved to love it, or reminded to love it more.\
Maria Gainza, trans. by Thomas Bunstead
PositiveNPR\"... Gainza, in a gorgeous translation by Thomas Bunstead, mines María\'s elusiveness — and allusiveness; she\'s great with a well-placed quotation — to create a highly compelling life story told almost entirely through art ... María\'s descriptions of art are one of Optic Nerve\'s great pleasures. Without fail, they are lyric but unpretentious, imaginative and compelling ... [The descriptions of art] might seem a bit over-intellectualized, but thanks to Gainza\'s dry wit and realism, it\'s the reverse ... Gainza\'s own artistic tactic, it seems, is to keep her narrator\'s sense of discovery alive throughout the novel. With each chapter, María finds a new artist to love, and, in doing so, accesses a new part of herself. It\'s a pleasure to watch her do both.\
Michael Muhammad Knight
PositiveNPRAs intellectually diverse as a book can get ... When Knight is in professor mode, Muhammad is perfect. He is scholarly but never dry, learned but never a show-off. He\'s superb at providing frameworks to fit new ideas in, and at helping readers reassess old ones ... problems arise when Knight can\'t pick a persona. When he fails to settle into personal writing but opts not to go academic, he flounders ... chapters can seem disorganized, and Knight\'s tonal switches can be disorienting ... a highly personal project. It\'s valuable — and aggravating — for precisely that reason, which Knight knows ... a book designed to seduce, educate, and irritate its audience into curiosity about Islam and Muhammad, and on all three fronts it succeeds. By the end, it\'s clear that 40 introductions are nowhere near enough. Knight\'s readers will want many more.
Roberto Bolano, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
PositiveNPR\"The Spirit of Science Fiction lacks the gemlike precision of Bolaño\'s other short novels, and replaces the latent doom that fills his later work with a sense of possibility ... The Spirit of Science Fiction is not the right place to start reading Bolaño. It doesn\'t have the astonishing force of 2666 and Distant Star, the momentum and humor of The Savage Detectives, or the formal perfection of By Night in Chile and Last Evenings on Earth. But once you\'ve read those books, come back to this one. It\'s a joy to watch such a brilliant stylist practice his moves, and to see such a brilliant mind expand on the page.\
PanNPR\"The premise of Sharma Shields\' second novel, The Cassandra, is excellent ... Unfortunately, Shields strays far too frequently into neatness and cuteness, and so The Cassandra leaves no questions in its wake ... as a novel, The Cassandra leaves much to be desired. Because Mildred never truly reckons with the philosophical and emotional problems that her premonitions create, the reader never has to. Because she never truly fights to be heard, the reader never has to listen. By the end of The Cassandra, Mildred is literally and figuratively mute, and we have no reason to be sorry.\
PositiveNPR\"Roupenian\'s debut collection, You Know You Want This, demonstrates that her work is special. You Know You Want This is very good. For many readers, it may prove deceptive as well ... Roupenian\'s stories are extremely easy to read. She\'s worked out a way to write short stories that have no stopping points. They build steadily and discursively, and even the stories that jump years or decades seem to happen all in one breath ... [Roupenian] took risks on every level. There are genre switches, shock endings, even a fairy tale. There\'s plenty of superficially risky sexual content: submission, humiliation, knives. The collection\'s truest risk, though, is its directness ... This is blunt, fun, evocative writing.\
Wendy Guerra Trans. by Achy Obejas
RaveNPR\"Revolution Sunday is a complicated book, and a challenging one. It mixes poetry and prose, autofiction and hyperrealism, intense sensory detail and complete logistical vagueness. It has a plot, but not one that provides much momentum, or even meaning ... Achy Obejas does an exceptional job translating Revolution Sunday, especially as the novel turns inward. Her English prose is as intense and reckless as Cleo\'s Havana. In a less confident translator\'s hands, Cleo would lie flat on the page. Thanks to Obejas, she shimmers with life ... Revolutionary Sunday is a dirty novel, full of corruption, deception and betrayal. Guerra is a fearless writer, and she\'s lucky to have a fearless translator. Together, they make Revolution Sunday more vivid than life.\
Monica Muñoz Martinez
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksMuñoz Martinez does not promise that her work can fix the present. Her final thought is this: \'At best, learning from crimes of the past will help inform current debate about immigration, policing, and national belonging.\' At best. She makes no claims that history will necessarily repeat, or that it can be prevented from repeating. Instead, she writes to help Americans understand our present and share our past. History, she knows, weighs a lot more than myth. It’s harder to carry. No one should have to bear it alone.
RaveNPR\"... shaggy, conversational, and unabashedly poetic ... It\'s as real a depiction of falling in love as you can read ... Death and Other Holidays brilliantly balances humor and anger, sorrow and beauty. Vogel\'s subjects may be grief and death, but her writing reflects life as we live it, life with its many intricate, unnoticed balances.\
Armonia Somers, Trans. by Kit Maude
RaveNPRA wild, brutal paean to freedom. It\'s a challenging book, one that took nearly 70 years to make its way into English ... like a written Dalí painting ... Somers\' feminism is profound, and complicated. Though she does not shy away from brutality, the assaults she writes are not gratuitous. The Naked Woman is a novel about liberation, with a protagonist committed wholly to freedom ... Not all of the novel is this challenging. Somers\' language is freewheeling and fantastical, and so are her scenes ... Somers didn\'t want to be considered a member of the Generación del 45, and it\'s not hard to see why: No one on Earth could keep up with her.
PositiveNPR\"Why We Dream is a spirited, cogent defense of dreams and dream-telling ... Though Robb delivers a solid crash course on Freud and Jung, she\'s a science writer and her interests tend toward the lab, not the couch. Crucially, she takes no interest in the paranormal, except as entertaining detail.\
Lacy M. Johnson
PositiveNPRIn the first essay, Johnson describes what she wants ... \'I like the idea that justice is anything that makes way for joy, that makes the condition of joy a possibility again.\' This sounds utopian, and it might be, but The Reckonings is not a book about changing the world. It\'s philosophy in disguise, equal parts memoir, criticism, and ethics. It has bits of Eula Biss, Leslie Jamison, and Simone Weil, but its patron saint is Grace Paley, whose essays are much too infrequently read. Like Johnson, Paley was committed to bearing witness and, like Johnson, she believed, stubbornly and eternally, in joy ... The 12 essays in The Reckonings are 12 beginnings. Each one deserves great consideration, while you read it and long after. Each one leaves the work up to you.
Maria Sonia Cristoff, trans. by Katherine Silver
PositiveNPR\"... False Calm is far more closely related to Dorothea Lange\'s photographs from the Dust Bowl [than to Bruce Chatwin or Antoine de Saint-Exúpery\'s work]. It\'s not exploration; it\'s portraiture ... False Calm\'s lightning-rod nature is both the book\'s great strength and great weakness. It makes the narrative feel mobile, episodic, loose. Each town only gets one chapter, and Cristoff never returns to a place or a theme... there\'s sometimes not enough story to satisfy ... But False Calm remains beautiful. It\'s worth reading as a collection of impressions, an act of witness, and a tribute to the lives Cristoff encounters. Where it falters as a book, it still succeeds as a record.\
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
RaveNPR\"No comparison can convey a book\'s intellectual heft, and Friday Black is as intellectually hefty as fiction can get ... Adjei-Brenyah has some serious powers himself. The energy in his fiction is wild, barely controllable yet perfectly controlled ... Adjei-Brenyah fits big emotion, big action, and big thought into each story.\
Frances De Pontes Peebles
RaveNPRFor years, my gold-standard beach read was David Mitchell\'s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet ... But for the first time, I\'ve found a competitor in Brazilian-American novelist Frances de Pontes Peebles\' historical epic The Air You Breathe. It has even more to offer than Jacob de Zoet: murder, extortion, Hollywood glamor, the entire story of samba, and, of course, sexual longing and an exceptional cast of characters ... The writing, often perfect, can get a bit too glittery. Dores is sometimes prone to big pronouncements about human nature ... In other words, The Air You Breathe sometimes gets corny ... The Air You Breathe is genuinely exciting to watch. Even in its imperfections, it grabs your attention.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Trans. by Anne McClean
PositiveNPR\"The Shape of the Ruins might try your patience. The wandering can be a challenge, and its structure takes a long time to cohere. Though each of the novel\'s sub-stories echoes and influences the rest, they still feel sub-. You will still wonder when you get to return to the present day, to Vásquez and his cranky muse, and that wondering sometimes slows the book down. In those moments, you will be thankful for Vásquez\'s faultless prose. Be thankful for his translator, Anne McLean, too. She\'s worked with Vásquez on all his official novels, and is so talented she might be psychic. In her English iteration, The Shape of the Ruins moves forward with gravitational pull. Move with it. The novel\'s many fake-outs, its resets and restarts, are worthwhile.\
RaveNPR\"The character is nominally Kathy Acker, but her life is Olivia Laing\'s. The best way to put this might be that Crudo is a memoir in drag. We get the outer trappings of Kathy Acker — her dead, dysfunctional mother; her breast cancer; her body of work — but Crudo starts in 2017, when Acker has been dead for twenty years, and the character\'s daily life and inner landscape are pure Laing ... You just have to roll with it — consider it a price of admission to a novel so breathless and gripping that it offers no reason for doubt.\
Laura Van Den Berg
RaveNPR\"Richard isn\'t a zombie — that would be too silly, and too neat. Van Den Berg doesn\'t do neatness. She does elegance. She writes with off-kilter beauty and absolute relaxation; the less peaceful a sentence should be, the more peaceful it is ... You could read The Third Hotel as an ode to watching. You could read it as a fever dream, a horror movie, a love letter to film theory or Cuba or women who keep secrets. The Third Hotel is a novel that operates in symbols and layers, which means you can read it however you like. There\'s no one ending, no right answer, and as a result, it will take away your internal compass. It will unmoor you, send you wobbling around your house in a haze. It will slide some eels under your skin. My recommendation? Let it. We can all stand to learn some new truths.\
PositiveNPRThe Cost of Living is filled with the feeling of travel, and yet one of its main preoccupations is home ... Levy would never tell another woman to live the way she does, or to live any one way at all. She\'s too sophisticated a feminist for that ... she\'s thriving in this new, uncharted life. Her work is, too ... For writing this good, the cost of living is plainly the right price to pay.
RaveNPRIs there a writer more profound and less pretentious than Lydia Millet? In her novels and story collections, a dozen in all, Millet deals out existential questions like playing cards, and like any good casino dealer, her hands never shake. Her newest book, Fight No More, could easily be her most philosophically confident and complex work yet ... Even by her own high standard, Millet is exceptional in these moments of possibility. She writes them with equal parts wildness and straightforwardness, certainty and the certainty of impermanence.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe Perfect Mother is a novel about internalized sexism, specifically as it relates to motherhood. And I do mean motherhood, not just privileged, gentrified Brooklyn motherhood, though I wish that weren’t the book’s context. The Perfect Mother could have been set nearly anywhere else in the United States, and should have been. Still, I hope its message will resonate as far past Park Slope as Molloy clearly intends it to. She seamlessly integrates commentary on the wage gap, on unpaid maternity leave, on male abuse of power in the workplace. Each protagonist has a demon of her own to fight, and with it, a new angle on the fundamental question of how a woman can reject the world’s beliefs about who she should be.
PositiveNPRPart of me wishes Feigel had devoted less space to Lessing the woman, and more space to Lessing the writer. How did she learn the intellectual freedom she needed to write? Once learned, how did she sustain it? On freedom as a woman, though, Feigel is exceptional. This is just as true when she writes about Doris Lessing, or her characters, as when she writes about herself. She embodies Lessing\'s \'determination to always be complicated: to question everything — not only what those around her thought, but what she herself thought.\' Critical memoir can do this better than any other form. Free Woman is worth reading as a piece of complicated thought, and one that\'s funny and sexy and frank, to boot. And if you haven\'t read The Golden Notebook, don\'t worry. I promise, you\'ll go buy a copy the moment you\'re done.
RaveNPRUnusually for a literary novelist, Kauffman has no fear of overt feeling. When she explores an emotion, she does it with absolute candor ... the brilliance of The Gunners is that it helps you. Kauffman teaches you the right way to read her prose ... The Gunners is a wide-open novel. It's a statement against stoicism and evasion ... Another thing literary novelists don't often let themselves do is write novels with morals, or messages, but The Gunners has one. It's clear, though not easy: Accept your emotions. Feel them bluntly, plainly. Allow yourself to flinch. There isn't a better way forward. Not in life, and not, I suspect, on the page.
Clarice Lispector, Trans. by Benjamin Moser & Magdalena Edwards
RaveNPRIt\'s a shaggy stop-motion masterpiece, plotless and argument-less and obsessed with the nature of thought. Virgínia, the protagonist, floats through the world like Emerson\'s transparent eyeball, taking everything in and trying desperately to put together an idea coherent enough to let back out ... the energy level of The Chandelier is so high it\'s close to unsustainable. Every page vibrates with feeling. It\'s not enough to say that Lispector bends language, or uses words in new ways. Plenty of modernists do that. No one else writes prose this rich ... Reading The Chandelier requires a high level of acceptance, in the way that poetry does. Acceptance, and also humility. You can\'t expect to understand it all, and Lispector warns you not to try.
Luis Alberto Urrea
RaveNPR...when I started reading Urrea's latest novel, my expectations were through the roof. And yet, somehow, he exceeded them ... The setup may sound like a tearjerker, but the book's spirit is irrepressibly high. Even in its saddest moments, The House of Broken Angels hums with joy ... The vulnerability on display in this novel is what makes it exceptional. It radiates from every character on the page, and from the author, who based Big Angel on his own brother Juan. And all that vulnerability, combined with humor and celebration and Urrea's vivid prose, will crack you open. At least while you're reading, this book will make you vulnerable, too.
RaveNPR\"Alarcón is an empathic observer of the isolated human, whether isolated by emigration or ambition, blindness or loneliness, poverty or war. His stories have a reporter\'s mix of kindness and detachment, and perhaps as a result, his endings land like a punch in the gut ... Alarcón is nearly always oblique. Even the title story has no one political point. There\'s a dead dictator, but the story isn\'t about his death, or about the dictatorship. It\'s about a man who wants, on a purely personal level, to be free. That\'s what the whole collection is about: people who want to be free. Alarcón writes about them with a grayscale beauty that few writers can achieve, or try to. His purpose isn\'t to approve or condemn, or to liberate. He\'s writing to show us other people\'s lives, and in every case, it\'s a pleasure to be shown.\
Emma Reyes, trans. Daniel Alarcón
RaveNPRIt's easy to see it as a found document, a work of accidental and miraculous genius ... Her writing is exceptional. Several times while reading, I gasped out loud at the beauty of her prose. It's some of the best writing I've read in years ... total fidelity to her childhood view of the world is what makes The Book of Emma Reyes seem deceptively unlike a memoir. As a narrator, Reyes never tells us what the arc of her story will be. She doesn't analyze, accuse, or defend. She just lets us watch her survive, and then grow. In the final letter, Emma steals the keys of the convent in which she's lived for years. The book ends as she creeps out the door, frightened but determined. 'I realized,' she says, 'it had been a long time since I was a girl.' There's the adult Emma Reyes, addressing the reader directly for the first and only time. It's the perfect ending. And it's a classic memoir ending, too. She might not be her artist self yet, but she's ready. She's all grown.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveNPR\"...an exceptional example of the short-and-creepy form ... This is where Schweblin comes closest to Pedro Páramo. Rulfo\'s novel is half surreal tale of the afterlife and half political critique: Comala, where it\'s set, is a town of the dead because Pedro Páramo, its sole landowner, starved his tenants to death in a prolonged act of cruelty and rage. Fever Dream is an eco-critic\'s version of the same plot ... translated perfectly by Megan McDowell, who for my money is the best Spanish-to-English translator around. Schweblin writes with such restraint that I never questioned a sentence or a statement. This is the power of the short novel: Stripped down to its essentials, her story all but glows. Which makes sense, after all. It\'s toxic.\
PositiveThe MillionsThe writing is equal parts elegant and chatty, with a great sense of humor. It’s full of Big Ideas but never feels like a lecture.