Category Archives: Books I’ve Read (and Thought About)

Book Review: We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson

Note: I received a copy of this book from Scribner (via Netgalley) for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review in any way.

Reasons to stay alive

Reality and fiction shade into one another in We Eat Our Own—but not in the way you expect. Told through rotating viewpoints and interspersed with court testimony, Kea Wilson’s debut novel is the story of a kitschy Italian horror movie being shot in the Amazon rainforest. The story within a story? A news crew bent on tracking down a pair of anthropologists and their daughter, who have not-so-mysteriously vanished while studying a cannibalistic tribe. This kitschy movie has two twists, though: a found footage framing device, and a disappeared trio of lead actors whose on-screen murders might have been a little too realistic. Surrounding all this is a real-life backdrop equally saturated with violence, this time in the form of drug cartels and political instability. Continue reading

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Book Review(ish): Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons to stay alive

This isn’t a book review in the usual sense. It can’t be—the subject matter is just too personal. I’m an emotional reader anyway—the kind who projects herself into books and uses books to understand herself—but I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything where the identification was so immediate. This wasn’t reading a story I could empathize with; this was reading my own story. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Glittering World by Robert Levy

The Glittering World‘s promotional blurb pitches author Robert Levy’s debut novel as a kind of Lovecraftian In the Woods—a story of trauma and origins that ratchets up to eleven the blink-and-miss-it, ambivalent uncanniness of Tana French’s novel. Forty pages in, it seems as if something even better is in store. A series of bizarre and kaleidoscopic murals—”frolicking manticores, a nude woman with a red star on her back, the flowering roots of swollen tubers”—grace the walls of an abandoned mill, with only one sentence written in explanation: “Borealis the Mother was sent up from the Heavens of the Faraway World to bring comfort to the children of the Screaming Places.”

Purple prose, definitely—but effective in its weird blend of heavenly and hellish imagery. There’s something primal about it. Continue reading

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Book Review: Euphoria by Lily King

Love triangles just don’t seem to have the literary currency they once did. It’s tempting to attribute their decline to one too many bloated and overwrought YA romances, but the fall off likely has more to do with the fact that adultery just isn’t as taboo—or, inevitably, as titillating—as it once was. It’s a shame, though. The best literary love triangles were never really about illicit love affairs. They were about the explosive combination of three personalities—not just two. They verged on ménage à trois territory without veering wholesale into domesticity; they still retained an edge of dangerousness. Think Sophie’s Choice, or perhaps some iterations of the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle. Or, simply think of Lily King’s fourth and latest novel: Euphoria. Continue reading

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Characters Who Self-Destruct

Since I recently wrote a post on tragedy, and am currently in the middle of writing another lesson on tragedy (Things Fall Apart), I felt it was high time to compile a list of my favorite characters who self-destruct. And this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, gave me the perfect excuse to do so. I ran out of time and didn’t quite make it to ten, but that just gives me more room to play in the future. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Plover by Brian Doyle

“That could be. That could most certainly be.”

This is the constant refrain—and perhaps the core philosophy—of Brian Doyle’s latest novel The Plover, a loose sequel to his debut Mink River. No doubt it’s reductive to mine such a freewheeling novel for a single “message,” but in this case, at least, the message readers arrive at will likely be one of expansive possibility.

The Plover picks up where Mink River left off: with Declan O Donnell casting off from Oregon in his beloved boat, heading “west and then west” on the “Impacific” Ocean. Continue reading

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Rowan Williams on The Chronicles of Narnia

Given that I’ll be talking about The Lion’s World—a book by a former Archbishop of Canterbury that discusses The Chronicles of Narnia from a Christian perspective—I feel it is only fair that I say at the outset that I am sympathetic and receptive to theistic arguments and apologetics. In particular, I am sympathetic to the sensitive accounts of religious experience provided by people like Francis Spufford (and, yes, C. S. Lewis), as well as to Terry Eagleton’s contention that the particular brand (and I say “brand” for a reason) of atheism popular at the moment tends to be philosophically vacuous and socially complacent. Those are fighting words, I know, but I’m not trying to start an argument; in fact, I have absolutely zero interest in discussing this, since it’s the kind of thing that tends to generate ill will all around. I simply want to lay all my cards on the table so readers know where I’m coming from.

Onwards. Continue reading

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Book Review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Dear Committee Members is a book for anyone who has ever taught at, studied at, or been within five miles of a university. The latest novel by writer (and University of Minnesota faculty member) Julie Schumacher, it chronicles a year in the life of Jay Fitger, a professor of creative writing at a (fictional) small research college. Like their real-life counterparts, Payne University’s administrators are seeking to cut costs in some areas in order to spend lavishly in others. Unfortunately for Prof. Fitger, the posh digs provided to lucrative programs, the extravagant amenities designed to lure in unsuspecting undergraduates, and the (one assumes) well-padded pockets of the administrators themselves come at the expense of the English Department, which has had its budget repeatedly slashed and is currently being chaired by a sociologist. To add insult to injury, the building that houses the department is currently undergoing renovations for the benefit of the economics faculty, who have been evacuated until the restoration is finished. Not so the English faculty, and the warning about “particulate matter” leads Fitger to playfully hypothesize that “the deanery is annoyed with [the English faculty’s] request for parity and, weary of waiting for [them] to retire, has decided to kill [them].” Continue reading

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Book Review: A Slant of Light by Jeffrey Lent

Note: I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury USA (via Netgalley) for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review in any way.

A Slant of Light is a novel about the aftershocks of violence—but not, perhaps, the violence that you’d expect, given that it’s set in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War. The gruesome double killing that opens Jeffrey Lent’s latest novel is an act of domestic violence. It is also the tragic explosion of resentments (and injustices) that have been festering for years. So perhaps, in that respect, Lent’s novel is as apt a depiction as any of the wreckage left behind in the wake of a cataclysmic civil war. Continue reading

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My Gripe with Stephanie Meyer (Besides the Obvious)

If there’s one thing I’ll never forgive Stephanie Meyer for (besides general misogynistic grossness), it’s ruining the Brontës for me.

Let me tell you a little story, in belated honor of Valentine’s Day. I did not read Jane Eyre until my sophomore year of college. I read it because I was required to read it for a course, and if I hadn’t been forced to read it then, it probably would have been years before I got around to it. I had read (and adored) Wuthering Heights, but the things I liked about Wuthering Heights were not things I expected to find in Jane Eyre. I thought at the time that I only enjoyed love stories with a twist. Star-crossed love, obsessive love, unrequited love—they all fascinate me; what I didn’t like (and still, for the most part, don’t like) in a story is happily-ever-ever love. I knew Jane Eyre was more or less a happily-ever-after kind of romance, and as a 19 year old with pretensions of academic seriousness, I didn’t expect to like it. Continue reading

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