The first thing that I noticed about P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn is the way it opens. There’s an immediate hook to the narrative, as Clark opens in an archetypal way for the mystery its pages are contained. We’re introduced to a secret society and the mysterious outsider who arrives in their midst — and then goes about murdering them all. Thus the mystery that protagonist Fatma el-Sha’arawi must solve.
Tom Gauld loves books and reading so much. His new collection of comic strips Revenge of the Librarians is replete with love letters to books as physical objects and to all the people involved in producing and preserving them. Librarians, editors, bookshop clerks, and writers are each dealt with in multiple strips. The remarkable thing is how little rancor and bitterness is to be found within these pages. There’s sometimes weariness and, on odd occasion, despair. But neither are indulged in and both are dealt with with gentle irony rather than caustic wit. Gauld doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body.
Teddy Wayne’s fifth novel jumps headlong into our current culture wars, while adding a new chapter to a growing list of adjunct lit. We meet Paul, a recently demoted full instructor who must now accept an adjunct position (“More work for less money…Sign me up!”) He’s in the process of writing his magnum opus, The Luddite Manifesto, which aims to collect and catalogue his critiques of modern technological life
I came to Ari M. Brostoff’s essay collection Missing Time in a circuitous manner — but given the subtly all-encompassing manner in which Brostoff writes about various subjects, that seems fitting. I’m a regular listener of the podcast Know Your Enemy, and Brostoff was the guest a few months ago for an episode that included discussion of some conservative thinkers who’d come of age on the Left — and in which Brostoff showcased their knowledge of Vivian Gornick’s work. I was impressed with Brostoff’s breadth of knowledge and ordered Missing Time later that night.
Damian Gutierrez Barnes’ Melton and the Hereafter is a novel that explores the afterlife through the eyes of a man who never fully reckoned with his trauma as a victim of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. As we move deeper into contemporary discourse acknowledging the ubiquity of masculine fragility, and the blind rage that stifles spirituality with abuse of power, a novel like this one serves as a frank examination of the conditions that keep patriarchal norms in place. Melton and the Hereafter is a hopeful tale about reconciliation where it matters most; at the heart of universal consciousness.
Here’s a story about reading Paul Tremblay. Some years ago, I was set to fly home from Edinburgh when my flight was canceled and rescheduled for the next day. By the time lodging had been sorted out, I probably could have ventured back into Edinburgh for one last dinner, one last pin of beer. But at that point, I was fully immersed in Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World, and there was no separating me from my hotel room. Tremblay’s very good at that — that slow build of quotidian details that seems innocuous until it turns out to have you wholly entangled.
Robert Vaughan’s latest is meant to unsettle. The book is broken down into three subsections of poems and microfictions: Cacophony, Aviary, and Demented. A key for my reading comes from “Tilted” from Christine & the Queens: “I start the books at the end/ I got my chin up for nothing/ My crying eye is because of the wind/ My absences are a feeling/ I can’t stand…I pretend to have understood everything.” So much of Askew is about atmosphere, of feeling unable to stand because of circumstance, of not understanding fully what has transpired and why it happened. I got my critic’s chin up, only to feel like interpretation and categorization isn’t the game here.
that was it
was that it
Maybe it’s my age that made me start singing Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box. Or maybe I just can’t stop thinking about vaginas. Regardless, it was the first thought I had when looking down at the black and pink cover of Ursula Andkjaer Olsen’s My Jewel Box, translated by Katrine Ogaard Jensen. The title, the colors, the image of something like a large urn or oven opening to the viewer in front of a framed image of what looks like an eclipse, holes upon holes—it read to me as vagina, as female, as the core of feminine power.