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David Varno

David Varno's writing has appeared in BOMB, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Electric Literature, Paste, Tin House, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere.

Coney Island Revival

“We don’t oppose change in Coney Island, we just want to be a part of it,” says Coney’s de facto mayor and Coney Island USA (CIUSA) founder Dick Zigun.

Bike Messengers: Beta Still Rules on the Street

Recall the character of Wizard in Taxi Driver, played by Peter Boyle. When DeNiro’s brooding beginner cabbie comes to him for advice, he’s met with a semi-coherent ramble, in which the following remark is stated: “A man takes a job. And the job, it becomes the man.” Such is the way with bike messengers, young and old (who of course find both allies and fierce enemies among taxi drivers).

Main Street’s Whitewashed Windows

Richard Hell doesn’t seem to have had a whole lot happen to him, at least not as a child. The selection he read recently at the Brooklyn Library from his autobiography, untitled and a work in progress, covered happy remembrances such as drive-in movies with his parents and sister, followed by the angst characteristic of a self-aware youth ready to be out from under authority.

Fiction: Oh The Stories They Could Write

Roberto Bolaño is one of those cultural luminaries who is talked and written about extensively and with great excitement, and not only because his work greatly shook up the hegemony of Latin American literature but because he profoundly affects people. This is something that doesn’t happen all the time, especially lately. In Francine Prose’s review of the posthumous collection of short fiction Last Evenings on Earth (New Directions, 2006), she brought out a level of enthusiasm reserved for the books that change our lives. That certainly rang true to my experience; the book was handed to me when I made a delivery as a bike messenger to the New Directions office, at a time when I wasn’t doing much writing nor very excited about the books I was reading, and the stories set me on a complete one-eighty.

Poetry: Peculiar Antennae

Grace Paley’s poems read nicely as first thoughts, as impressions in a journal, a pause on an afternoon stroll.

Fiction: To Come Back Rich, or Die There

Vies minuscles, as it was published originally by Gallimard in 1984, was the first book by the prolific French author Pierre Michon, relatively unknown to American readers but long revered in France and adored by certain American writers such as Guy Davenport and Leonard Michaels. Of his twelve books of narrative, which imagine and track the lives of figures such as Rimbaud, Impressionist painters, the author’s family and his own story, this is Michon’s third to be translated into English.

FICTION: Better Off Without a Wife

According to a recent interview with Jim Harrison published in the New York Times, the author writes more novels than his current publisher knows what to do with. The latest, The English Major, was penned while his last book was under editing.

Poetry Roundup

The Landscapist: Selected Poems; Roberto Bolaño, The Romantic Dogs; Thomas Lux, God Particles; Connie Voisine, Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream; Bob Holman, BOX.

History for the Taking

Tabloid culture has become so prevalent that we hardly notice it, which may be because it’s easier to ignore.  With access to the internet and on-demand television, we only saturate ourselves with celebrity gossip when we want to.


Before we are introduced to the protagonist of Matt Bell’s second novel, Scrapper, it seems in the opening pages that the main character of the book will be the city of Detroit. Not the Detroit of past glory and prosperity, nor the Detroit that is occasionally looked to now as a place for priced-out New Yorkers to start over, but a Detroit in which the specter of decay has finally won out over all hope for renewal.

Juan Villoro's The Reef

Before Malcolm Lowry found himself in Mexico, drunkenly unraveling his life to reshape it, he was an eighteen-year-old kid from England who pursued dreams of becoming a sailor.

Dude, What’s My Age Again? Cheston Knapp’s Up Up, Down Down: Essays

When we realize that the imagined store of potential we have for our lives is always about to be measured in relation to what actually ends up happening, it can be difficult to live in the moment. What do we do when our minds cross the line from the present to an anticipation of what our experiences will mean for the future? The question can be especially thorny for writers, as Cheston Knapp shows in his debut essay collection Up Up, Down Down.

Patrick Chamoiseau's Slave Old Man

Where to begin? Where else but the words. The first chapter of Slave Old Man, a small but richly layered, obsessive, lyrical novel written after the sprawling, Goncourt-winning Texaco, is named “Matter,” and that word comes to encompass a great deal.

In Conversation

Molly Peacock with David Varno

Poet Molly Peacock is back in town, to perform her one-woman poetry show for one week in February at Urban Stages. The Shimmering Verge is about the line between ordinary existence and the heightened state of reality inside a poem.

Fiction: Prose is But a Stage

Polish author Magdalena Tulli has published four award-winning books, three of which have been translated into English and made available to the U.S. market by Archipelago Books.

In Conversation

Rivka Galchen with David Varno

Rivka Galchen uses science in order to pursue the mysteries of love, mortality and spirituality found in literature. It’s an exciting project. In March of this year, the New Yorker published her short story, “The Region of Unlikeliness,” which takes its name from the writings of St. Augustine, draws on time travel theorems and tells of a young engineering student’s rapture with a pair of aging uptown coffee-shop-patronizing, Deleuze-quoting pseudo-philosphers. The story has been well-noted as a departure from the New Yorker’s usual stuffiness, and serves as a perfect introduction to Galchen’s debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). The book follows a middle-aged psychiatrist named Dr. Leo Leibenstein, who after becoming suddenly convinced that his wife is an imposter succumbs to the psychosis of one of his patients. But the book is about way more than a shrink who goes nuts. It’s about the elusiveness of love, and with Deleuze’s Proust and Signs as a guide, Galchen perfectly explicates the tragedy of time and the tendency to fall in love with those who are not from our world. The book is also about meteorology, a field in which the author’s late father, Tzvi Galchen, was eminent.

Memoir: An Outsider's Journey

Lee Stringer’s recent memoir, Sleepaway School (Seven Stories, 2004), is a breakthrough in honesty as well as invention. He thoroughly explores a subject he’d formally left alone: his childhood.

Will the Real T Cooper…

Meta-fiction shows up in different ways; it can run consistently through an entire book, informing every statement the author makes, or it might pop up in sparse, subtle moments.

Fiction: Collective Memory

The Book of Words, first published in German in 2005 and translated into English by Susan Bernofsky, is entirely a work of fiction, and given a veiled, unnamed setting that is most likely Argentina, a place where German immigrants happen to have settled for over 100 years and where Perón’s administration allegedly gave safe haven to war criminals.

Empty Barracks of the Mind

The soldier’s life is one that many never be turned away from, and Ed Salven’s book (his first) demonstrates the enigmas and contradictions an ex-soldier finds while attempting to convey past experience.

Leaps of Faith

When Saint Paul was struck blind on the road to Jerusalem by what he came to believe was a resurrected Jesus Christ, his first response was to hold onto the self he had been before that moment.

In Conversation

Ned Vizzini with David Varno

Recently the Brooklyn Rail met with young-adult author Ned Vizzini in his childhood neighborhood of Park Slope to discuss, among other things, his third book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, a novel that channels an autobiographical story of suicidal depression through a teenaged narrator.

MEMOIR: A Bomb in One Hand, Shelter in the Other

This memoir-infused narrative poem, written over two decades by Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail, provides a unique reading experience. The first part of the book, written between 1991 and 1994, envelopes the Iran and the Gulf wars—“two wars spanned by a suspension bridge”—in dreamscapes, spiritual invocations, scriptural rewriting and myth-telling; devices that veil her commentary on the Hussein administration and the Baath party.

Uncured of Myself: John Edgar Wideman's American Histories

In one of Wideman’s new short stories, a black man tells us what it feels like to binge–watch Downton Abbey while enduring treatments for a disease that could be terminal.

FICTION: The Penitent is Mightier

Ron Hansen’s novels often use historical settings, and have been increasingly concerned with Catholic themes such as faith and unconditional love, and his latest effort is one-third riveting historical drama and, essentially, two-thirds religious meditation. Exiles opens with Hopkins sequestered in a seminary in Wales, where life appears dull and his fellow theologians less quick-witted; nonetheless, he is convincingly grateful to be there in service, having renounced the worldly calling of poetry.

Steel Driving Man

The Competition Bicycle, a recently reissued book of bicycle photography and racing history by Jan Heine and Jean-Pierre Pradéres, suggests that past experiments in bicycle design are part innovation and part novelty, and that a search for linear progression is almost beside the point.

Karl Ove Knausgaard: Autumn and Winter

Like many readers of My Struggle, I came to the series with plenty of doubts that only fueled my curiosity. How could a book that sounded so self-absorbed and boring be described as compulsively readable? I too was taken over by it, and read the first three volumes in the span of a month, astounded by its power.

A Bridge That Will Bring Us Together (Again)

Then, in 2003, they stripped it all down to just the two of them and began performing under the name Shellshag. It’s a special connection, to say the least, and evident in the way they sing into each other’s eyes on stage, sharing a DIY (and patented) Flying V mic stand that allows them to face one another while beating on their instruments. Whether screaming or crooning, they never blink.

An Injury to One Is an Injury to All: Kenny Wollesen and His Marching Band at Zebulon

“Most people, when you talk to them, aren’t really saying what they mean,” says drummer extraordinaire Kenny Wollesen. “ They’ve always got some kind of thing they’re fronting.

Remember Me—But, ah, Forget My Fate

Ryan Lott is a classically trained composer and pianist who has brought the orchestration of minimalism and chant to a new stage: a dingy TriBeCa rock venue’s basement room, where the symphony is formed electronically, and melds seamlessly to hip-hop breakdowns with the backing of a live rock band. This project is Son Lux, and the record recently released under that moniker, titled At War with Walls and Mazes, explores the possibilities of chant and meditation.

Sounds, Paths, Radios: Notes on Stars Like Fleas

“Sometimes it sounds like you’re being attacked by seagulls, sometimes it sounds like a dog that was left out back and wants to come inside, and sometimes it sounds like a stomach that wants food.” Jazz musician Matt Lavelle, on the phone at the Rail office, is talking about the cuica, the Brazilian friction drum first used in Africa to attract and hunt lions. He brought one to Stars Like Fleas, a band to which an instrument like this is no stranger.

The Wild, Wild East

Kitsch, Camp, sexploitation, severed limbs, police brutality; Beatniks young and old, video poems, film diaries; punks, drag queens: all of these and much more, Lower East side film.


I met Vlad through a moving job I took at the beginning of my last summer in Brooklyn. I took the job because I was bored, heartbroken, and broke.


One could describe Sabrina to those who never met her as a J.D Salinger character, a brilliant precocious individual. A true New Yorker who loved the city and its people unequivocally, with an enormous appetite for life, she directed her energy to describing her adopted home.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2023

All Issues