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It’s practically taboo these days to say aloud, or even whisper, what we all know to be true: reading is hard. And it’s not just genre enthusiasts or publishers with dollar signs in their eyes who would make the case for fiction as easy entertainment instead. You don’t have to look far at all to find writers, even highbrow authors, who trumpet the cause of fun reading.

Ceci N'est Pas Un Bateau

This is not a book about an aircraft carrier. What is it? That’s not easy to say. In many short chapters amounting to a short book, Geoff Dyer chronicles his two weeks as writer in residence aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, using himself as a not-so-transparent lens on Navy life.

In Conversation

LANCE OLSEN with John Domini

In Theories of Forgetting, Lance Olsen’s 12th novel and 25th book, he may have brought off the boldest departure of a career dedicated to such takeoffs. The formatting allows the text to be read in either direction, each featuring different fonts.

The Second Valerie Solanas Book You Should Read

It’s about damn time there’s a biography of Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM Manifesto and shooter of Andy Warhol. A writer, revolutionary, and icon, a frustrating reality of her life was that, no matter how singular her voice, Solanas consistently found herself surrounded by others who (well-meaning or malicious) endeavored to use her for their own agenda—a life’s work incessantly stolen.

You Are Here

“I stay in a place that people leave.” This single, defiant sentence reveals the tone of David Giffels’s new book of essays, The Hard Way on Purpose. In the book, Giffels writes with equal parts loving pride and critical acumen about Akron, Ohio, the city in which he was born.

Home Fires

There are times when reading a novel is painful. Not because the prose is lacking or the narrative lags, but because the subject matter verges on the unbearable. Roxane Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State, falls under this last category.

A Dorm of One’s Own

When I saw a book titled Growing Up Muslim: Muslim College Students in America Tell Their Life Stories, I thought I would be reading insightful autobiographical essays representative of the range of experiences of growing up Muslim in a society fundamentally ignorant of the breadth of Muslim culture and variety of forms the religion takes.

Why Sebald Matters

The work of W.G. Sebald (1944 – 2001) reminds us that the effects of what Wallace Stevens called “the Supreme Fiction” may be achieved without recourse to the supernatural: consciousness is plenty fantastic, or dreary, without it. As Stevens said, “The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real.”

Demons of the State

Demons can transfer from person to person. Or so Jennifer Percy learns as she sets out to talk to war veterans for her debut nonfiction work, Demon Camp.

Five Not Forgotten

Two years after Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for her novel Salvage the Bones, she’s back with Men We Reaped, a memoir of her upbringing in the ghetto of rural Mississippi.

The Listmaker

When he received a brown belt from his karate coach it was the happiest moment of Kenan Trebincevic’s life. A year later this same coach arrived at his apartment building with an AK-47 to inform his family that they had one hour to leave or be killed.

What, Exactly, Would Lynne Tillman Do?

Lynne Tillman’s new book What Would Lynne Tillman Do? takes its title from a promotional campaign run by Dear Dave, a magazine of photography and writing put out by New York City's School of Visual Arts, which ran a print ad and then glued posters around downtown bearing only those five words.

In Conversation

BIANCA STONE with Matt Bell

Bianca Stone is the author of Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Tin House/Octopus Books, 2014), several poetry and poetry­–comic chapbooks, and is also the illustrator of Antigonick, a collaboration with Anne Carson (New Directions, 2012).

Sadness, An (Inevitable) History

Suppose the human race has been compromised by a debilitating sadness in which getting out of bed in the morning “feels like pulling a sequoia out of the earth with your bare hands.”

A Detour for Odysseus

Edgar G. Ulmer once served as a case study for Sigmund Freud’s childhood analysis. He invented the “unchained camera,” the dolly shot, and German Expressionism. He directed Detour, a film noir B-movie almost lost but now preserved in the Library of Congress.

In Conversation

David Burr Gerrard with Scott Cheshire

I like opening sentences, paragraphs, and pages, especially those that seem to contain inexplicably all things that follow. Whole novels lying dormant on a single page that, with a turn, spring forth like a minor Big Bang, or one of those giant sequoia trees from an incredible tiny seed.

In Conversation

PAMELA ERENS with Elizabeth Trundle

Though our hearts may break for lonely characters in fiction, we still don’t have to invite them to dinner. A once-glittering socialite like Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart ends up penniless, friendless, and doomed, and we settle back with a weepy cocktail of pity and anger. After all, she’s not our responsibility.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2014

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