Books & Fiction

Reading Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Underground Railroad’

Hope Wabuke

Previously nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur “genius” grant, Colson Whitehead has now been nominated for a National Book Award for his latest novel, The Underground Railroad, itself already selected as an Oprah’s Book Club pick for 2016. Whitehead is also the author of John Henry Days, The Intuitionist and The Colossus of New York, among others, which explore questions of race, masculinity and identity.

Remembering Charles Brockden Brown, the Father of American Fright

Adam Gravano

While his reputation has diminished, as the first American gothic novelist who wrote about American characters in American settings, he can be considered the father of the tradition. There's much to suggest that America's first professional author might also be one of the more interesting writers of his period, and, as such, has been unjustly relegated to a second tier: he was read on both sides of the Atlantic, with nods and recommendations from the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Keats; he was an early feminist; and his likely influence on the titanic name in 19th century American gothic tales, Edgar Allan Poe. 

Losing the Forest for the Trees in Annie Proulx’s ‘Barkskins’

Lee Polevoi

Well-known for her novel The Shipping News and her masterful short stories (including “Brokeback Mountain”), Proulx has, at age 80, taken a different tack, sailing into the headwinds of a 700-plus-page novel. Barkskins follows the exploits and adventures of multiple generations of the Sel and Duquet (later renamed “Duke”) families. It also charts the progressively more destructive actions taken by the logging and timber industries over the course of the following centuries.

Mark Haddon Displays Compelling Fiction in ‘The Pier Falls’

Lee Polevoi

It's difficult to recall encountering another work of short fiction as well-crafted and emotionally devastating as the title story in Mark Haddon's new collection, The Pier Falls. Read first for shock value (and it is shocking), the story demands an immediate second reading for its sheer mastery of detail and timing. “The Pier Falls”– spoiler alert in the title—recounts the spiraling escalation of events when a crowded pier in an English seaside resort town abruptly loses one key load-bearing rivet and then another, paving the way for catastrophe. 

‘Black Lotus’: One Woman’s Search for Racial Identity in a Racist World

Hope Wabuke

But for Abrams, born to a Chinese immigrant mother and a white American father, passing was a result not of choice but of ignorance. All her life she had been told that the reason her skin was darker than the rest of her family’s was that she was born in Hawaii. And then, when she was 14, the man she thought of as her father told Abrams that her actual biological father was black.

The Crisis in Infrastructure Detailed in Henry Petroski’s ‘The Road Taken’

Lee Polevoi

In his new book, The Road Taken, the distinguished historian and engineer Henry Petroski looks back on the evolution of our core physical and transportation infrastructure – the roads, bridges, interstate highways, everything constructed and maintained in past centuries for the chief purpose of moving human beings and commerce from one location to another. Petroski also declares a state of emergency concerning the dismal state of affairs (a “tipping point”) of our decaying transportation infrastructure.

15 New Books by African-American Authors

Hope Wabuke

One of the nation’s foremost poets, Rita Dove has received numerous honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts. She is also the former poet laureate of the United States. Here, in this collection spanning 30 years of her poems, we have the stunning breadth of Dove’s talent on full display.

Hell is a Cold Place in Ian McGuire’s ‘North Water’

Lee Polevoi

Inevitably, The North Water carries echoes of Melville and Lord Jim, but the sensibility behind Ian McGuire’s engrossing new novel is unmistakably Cormac McCarthy. With its exquisitely detailed acts of violence – each more graphic and disturbing than the next – the author depicts a hellish world that, like much of McCarthy’s work, is both unsparing and utterly convincing. 


Dissecting the Art of the Con in Maria Konnikova’s ‘Confidence Game’

Lee Polevoi

Readers may pause and reflect on whether they have fallen victim to a cunning fraud at some time in their lives. Others, acutely aware of past victimhood and the significant loss of hard-earned funds at the hands of a confidence man (or woman), won’t find any of this hard to believe. Konnikova’s goal in The Confidence Game isn’t to chronicle spectacular examples of the con, but instead, to offer “an exploration of the psychological principles that underlie each and every game … from the moment the endeavor is conceived to the aftermath of its execution.” 

In Search of the Truth About James Brown

Hope Wabuke

On the trail of James Brown, McBride travels from Augusta, Ga., to Barnwell County in South Carolina and a multitude of other places. He becomes a regular at a soul food restaurant in Barnwell County, seeking out Brown. But the locals there are fiercely protective of the man and his legacy. Instead, what McBride is witness to are the layers of history in each interaction between blacks and whites in the South—a kind of low “buzz” of historical tension that permeates everything. 


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