nonfiction

Immersive Reading for Our Year of the Plague

Lee Polevoi

If the global coronavirus pandemic is good for anything, it’s how we may rediscover the experience of immersive reading. With millions in the United States and around world who are confined to their homes, finding a short story collection, novel, or nonfiction tome that transports us to new, vibrant worlds can provide us with a blissful way to while away the hours. “Immersive” can mean books of great length or short stories you can read in an afternoon.

Desperately Seeking Sasquatch in John Zada’s ‘Valleys of the Noble Beyond’

Lee Polevoi

John Zada went on multiple journeys to the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia for his new book, In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond. In small towns and villages, Zada meets many people who claim to have seen the Sasquatch, “the alleged race of half-man, half-ape giants” on the loose in the wild. Like its distant counterpart, the Yeti, a rumored denizen of the Himalayans, the Sasquatch, aka Bigfoot, has purportedly left behind footprints and engaged in random encounters with hunters, fishermen, and members of the Kitasoo, Heiltsuk, and other First Nation peoples.

 

The Best Books of 2019

Lee Polevoi

For me, The Volunteer is the most accomplished work of fiction published in 2019. The story of Vollie Frade (the “Volunteer”) spans numerous generations, zigzagging from the American Midwest to the war in Vietnam, from the borough of Queens, New York, to New Mexico and Latvia. The intriguing opening chapters don’t prepare the reader for Vollie’s brutal ordeal as a POW in Vietnam, which he barely survives. That’s when the novel becomes something genuinely special.

Movies and Politics Collide in Jim Shepard’s ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’

Lee Polevoi

In The Tunnel at the End of the Light, Jim Shepard, a professor at Williams College, exercises a different set of muscles. These essays, written for The Believer during the George W. Bush administration, closely explore a handful of iconic American films for insights they can shed on American ideas of individuality, power and imperialism. Shepard isn’t shy about naming the wrongdoers and political leaders who led the US into unwanted wars and a pernicious global recession.

Literary Flashback: ‘20,000 Years in Sing Sing’ by Lewis Lawes

Adam Gravano

While many Americas can tell you the name of a famous criminal, and some may even mention a famous law officer or prosecutor of some renown, conspicuous by their absence from the public imagination in any positive light are the men and women whom we've charged with reforming the felon, the social workers and all too often the corrections officers. Due to this state of affairs, it seems unlikely the average American would be able to name more than the most local institution in America's penal archipelago. 

Slouching Towards Joan Didion in Tracy Daugherty’s ‘Last Love Song’

Lee Polevoi

Joan Didion has written at least one iconic novel, Play It As It Lays, and several groundbreaking works of nonfiction, including the essay collections, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and The White Album. As definitive impressionistic works of the 1960s, they should endure well into the future. Probably Didion is best known for her late-career memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. In this book (later adapted for, of all things, the Broadway stage), she recounts the harrowing experience of losing her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, and their beloved adopted daughter, Quintana Roo.

Taming 30 Ounces of Death in Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’

Lee Polevoi

When her father died unexpectedly several years ago, the British naturalist, historian and academic Helen Macdonald was devastated. Unhinged by grief, she sought relief in an unusual activity--training a captive-bred goshawk from infancy to maturity. The result is H is for Hawk, one of the most striking memoirs to appear in recent years. Macdonald, an experienced falconer, had never before taken on training a goshawk. 

 

Gruesome Murders Haunt ‘Quiet Dell’

Lee Polevoi

In 1931, after an exchange of love letters, a man calling himself Cornelius Pierson first relocated a middle-aged widow named Asta Eicher and later her three children, from their home in Park Ridge, Illinois, to the small town of Quiet Dell, West Virginia. Weeks later, the bodies of the Eicher family were discovered beneath the garage of a home owned by Harry Powers, who turned out to be a psychopathic killer. Powers was convicted of their murders (and others) and executed in 1932.

Between the Covers with Wendy Lesser’s ‘Why I Read’

Lee Polevoi

As the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, a prominent American literary magazine, Wendy Lesser is uniquely positioned to explore the pleasures and strategies of reading. In Why I Read, she embarks on a free-ranging and broad analysis of certain novels, stories, plays, poems and essays that have resonated with her over a lifetime of reading. “ … When I ask myself why I read literature, I am not really asking about motivation,” Lesser writes. “I am asking what I get from it: what delights I have received over the years, what rewards I can expect to glean.” 

Chuck Klosterman Offers No Sympathy for the Devil

Lee Polevoi

A book about villainy by the pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman would seem (on paper, as it were) like a terrific idea. Klosterman is a smart, funny writer who has expanded his beat beyond sports and popular culture to serving as The Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine. The resulting effort, however, is a strangely abstracted work that isn’t so much about evil as about our popular conception of evil—not necessarily the same thing.

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