Books & Fiction

Sleuthing American Landscapes With Suzanne Lessard in ‘The Absent Hand’

Lee Polevoi

Armed with a self-proclaimed mission to “sleuth” American ground (“to understand the change in landscape form and meaning and what it could tell us about ourselves as a society now”), Lessard embarks on numerous journeys, described in the series of essays that make up The Absent Hand. Destinations range from her home village of Rensselaerville, New York, and the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg to King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

The Genius of Author Bahram Sadeqi, Iran’s Answer to Kafka

Tara Taghizadeh

“Gabriel Garcia Marquez said it was Kafka who showed him that it was possible to write in a different way. In the words of Milan Kundera, “a different way” means to put a crack in the barrier of the plausible….That is Sadeqi’s major accomplishment: to seriously analyze the world and, at the same time, to give free reign to his imagination.” And what an imagination it is. Reading Sadeqi’s stories, one gets the sense that a number of his characters inhabit worlds from which most of us are removed – or that simply do not exist.

‘Shoot for the Moon’ Charts Space Race from Sputnik to Apollo 11

Lee Polevoi

James Donovan’s Shoot for the Moon, along with a plethora of other moon-landing-related books during this anniversary year, carries readers back to that more or less distant era. In brisk, workmanlike prose, Donovan details the space race from the USSR’s electrifying launch of the Sputnik satellite and the early days of the Mercury and Gemini space programs, culminating with Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind.

7 Authors Whose Works Will Enrich Your Life

Lee Polevoi

Tessa Hadley has published many books, including a remarkable recent novel, The Past. For me, her talents shine brightest in the arena of short fiction, as in her most recent collection, Bad Dreams and Other Stories. Without resorting to prose that calls attention to itself, she tells stories in precise detail and with considerable narrative economy—often to shattering effect.

Remembering the Genius of Kurt Vonnegut and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’

Adam Gravano

As a young man, few books exerted anything like the formative power held by Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Despite the grim acceptance of a world with conflict and war, Vonnegut still fell into writing an anti-war book, perhaps an anti-war book highly ranked among the best. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its publication, and, accordingly, Modern Library has released a new edition with a foreword by Kevin Powers. And, as the foreword shows in splendid detail, the lessons of Slaughterhouse-Five are just as relevant today as they were in 1969. 

The Future Is Here in John Lanchester's Dystopian 'The Wall'

Lee Polevoi

A decade or two into the future, after a tumultuous global climate event called the Change, an island nation (much like England) has built a Wall to protect itself against marauding outsiders, known as the Others. Those charged with protecting the borders, known as the Defenders, must maintain a 24/7 vigilance against attack and penetration. In many ways, it’s a world not all that different from what we know today, except that—as one example—rising waters around the planet have made beaches extinct.

Haymarket Books Caters to the Literary Tastes of Radicals

Rebecca Stoner

"The holy grail of radical publishing," says Fain, now the press's managing editor, is a book that sparks "conversations . . . in existing movements." Many of Haymarket's books—especially those with a connection to Chicago—focus on the achievements of social justice struggles and on offering a counternarrative to dominant accounts of contentious political issues. 

A Harrowing Tale of the Incarceration System in Shane Bauer’s ‘American Prison’

Lee Polevoi

American Prison aims to be several different things, including a first-person undercover account of what it feels like to guard a general population in a for-profit prison. It’s also  an in-depth history of American convict labor and the rise of private prisons since Colonial times—and how outsourced incarceration has grown over time into a huge business. Bauer’s risky enterprise into life as a corrections officer was partly informed by his experiences as a prisoner in Iran for more than two years. 

The Republic Torn Asunder in Ben Fountain’s ‘Beautiful Country Burn Again’

Lee Polevoi

In Beautiful Country Burn Again, Fountain revisits the tumultuous 2016 presidential campaign. Interspersed with his vivid, on-the-scene reportage are sections he calls “Book of Days,” a more or less objective compilation of world events taking place in the months leading up to Election Day. (It makes for grim reading.) He also theorizes at length about something he calls The Third Reinvention, addressing—with the hopes of reforming or eliminating—wealth inequality, white supremacy, and damage already inflicted on the democratic system.

The Best Books of 2018

Lee Polevoi

Too bad more biographies aren’t like this one, a kaleidoscopic and irreverent look at the life of a now-deceased member of the 20th century British family, a princess determined to go her own way. Craig Brown dispenses with traditional linear narrative (birth, youth, middle age, old age, and death), preferring to draw us in with a series of impressions, anecdotes and speculations about Her Royal Highness (99 in all) that grow out of documented fact and salacious rumors.

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