Books & Fiction

Straddling the Wilderness Between Russia and China in Colin Thubron’s ‘Amur River’

Lee Polevoi

During his travels, Thubron crosses more than 1,100 miles along this vast waterway—not only on horseback, but by train, car, and boat. His trek encompasses visits to desolate villages and decaying monasteries, with encounters that range from friendly and well-meaning, to more sinister interactions with local police. Who says no one is intrepid anymore? Colin Thubron is intrepid.

In Praise of Life in the Last Frontier in ‘Nobody Gets Out Alive’

Lee Polevoi

What emerges most strongly in Nobody Gets Out Alive is Newman’s love of and appreciation for this last frontier—its wildlife, topography, and the skewed, rugged psyches of those who choose life in such a remote and challenging environment. The author of a memoir set in Alaska called Still Points North, she demonstrates a keen understanding of what it takes to survive in this state.

Chronicling the Inner Workings of Guillermo del Toro’s Brilliant Mind and Career

Ulises Duenas

Guillermo del Toro was never shy about being upfront about his interests, and he has shown that he wants to make dumb, trashy, popcorn-chomping movies on top of his more thought-out, artistic pieces. Saving the Pan’s Labyrinth section of the book for later ended up being a smart move as it’s given more context from the previous parts. I wouldn’t say Nathan’s style of writing is perfect, but it’s an ideal fit this kind of book.

Paying Homage to a Literary Master and His Garden in ‘Orwell’s Roses’

Lee Polevoi

Orwell wrote not one, but two century-defining works, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four—novels that speak directly to readers today, more than 50 years later. He dedicated his life to writing about and warning of the dangers of totalitarian politics and, most presciently, the breakdown of language when it comes to previously clear distinctions between truth and falsehood. The life story of this brilliant writer underpins the free-flowing structure of Rebecca Solnit’s new book, Orwell’s Roses.

A Father’s Quest to Save His Son in Trevor J. Houser’s New Book

Trevor J. Houser

Later my father put on a gray sweater. We ate chili by a fire. We talked about baseball. My father smiled. He was growing a beard. One day he would be smiling in the Denver Airport of Death, but today he was smiling under normal non-death conditions; breathing without making fearful choking faces, with his bowl of chili, and his facial hair, that together signified peerless health and stability or something like stability.

New Graphic Novel Pays Homage to a Kurt Vonnegut Classic

Garrett Hartman

The adaptation translates this perfectly, instead of treating us to panels showing the things Vonnegut describes, the authors instead do what Vonnegut did and tell us a bit about the creation of the original work. Part of what makes the execution of this graphic novel so brilliant is that the authors do not pretend to write as Vonnegut, but narrate this portion as themselves, similarly to how Vonnegut narrates Billy Pilgrim’s story.

Snakes, Arm Wrestling, and Childhood Adventures in Padgett Powell’s ‘Indigo’

Lee Polevoi

And now Powell’s fans get a different view of the stubbornly individualistic author. The essays in Indigo encompass, among other things, a profile of Cleve Dean, a one-time arm-wrestling champion who has “ballooned to nearly seven hundred pounds”; memories of an eventful childhood in Florida; a quirky tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans; and insightful (though frustratingly brief) assessments of writers like Flannery O’Connor, Donald Barthelme, and William Trevor.

The Best Books of 2021

Lee Polevoi

. In Harlem Shuffle, Colson Whitehead makes the creation of uptown Manhattan in the late 1950s and early 1960s—as well as a series of heists in which Carney becomes enmeshed—look easy to do, when of course it’s not. Whitehead’s prose is smart, jumpy, and pleasingly digressive. The storytelling seems effortless, and yet I can’t recall another work of fiction in 2021 that offered such high entertainment value.  

Murder Comes to the Holler in Chris Offutt’s ‘Killing Hills’

Lee Polevoi

Mick Hardin, a military homicide investigator on leave from government service, has come home to try and salvage a failing marriage. He agrees to take part in the murder investigation led by his sister Linda, recently promoted to sheriff of Rocksalt. From there, the body count quickly escalates. Is the killer Curtis Tanner, arrested by an FBI agent on a tip called in by a local politician?

A Chronicle of the Never-Ending Virus in Lawrence Wright’s ‘Plague Year’

Lee Polevoi

As months passed, that reading grew more problematic. Too many people were still becoming infected and far too many were still dying. Cynical, opportunistic politicians jumped on an anti-vaccine bandwagon, while the voters they claimed to represent were succumbing to the terrible disease. People were (and still are) inexplicably rejecting science, clinging to a demagogue-inspired belief that somehow, in some way, vaccines against this deadly disease threaten their “individual freedom.”

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