Posts tagged ‘non-fiction’

December 25, 2010

Don’t Read These Books: Our Least Favorites of 2010

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“Best Of” and “Favorites” lists have been coming out all month long (we published our own yesterday), but what about the worst books of the year? For a cheat sheet on which books to avoid, check out our least favorites of 2010.


Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
A good attempt at a fresh Holocaust story, but the book’s hefty devotion to an inner-story play turns it into a train wreck. Martel should have done like his character and written an essay on revitalising Holocaust representation instead of attempting to depict it.

C by Tom McCarthy
McCarthy needs to get out of the Victorian era if he wants the new generation to read his books.

In addition, John’s “on the fence” about David Bergen’s The Matter with Morris : A relevant and needed look at the lives of war parents. Although not as drab as Martel's 2010 offering, there are times when Morris whines about his life in excess. If you don't want to read about male menopause, don't read Morris.


Sweetman’s 2010 Hit List – because some books are just so much fun to hate!

The Entire Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
Dreadful with dull teeth. I never thought I’d get tired of seeing the word sparkling. I reviewed them on my blog but don’t feel you have to read the ranting – just believe me, I loathed it to the point that Stephanie Meyers really, really, really, really hates me – oh, sorry, I start to write like her when I think about the books!

The Help by Katherine Stockett
A young white woman in the 1960’s in Mississippi is the only person on the planet who strives for racial equality in really annoying Suthun’ patois. Took the book clubs by storm and took every ounce of Sweetman’s will to not throw it against the wall because she was reading a friend’s copy.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Cursed with Jane Austen praise, Ms. Goodman fell far short of any Austen comparison. A long, overwrought, drivel about…well there were a few cookbooks in there somewhere.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I was disappointed in this quick read due to the lack of depth. It read like a condensed version of a more substantial novel.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult
I can’t honestly comment on this because I didn’t finish it. Ms. Picoult appears to have a burning desire to write about the wrenching societal dilemma of the moment with as much engaging flair as the list of ingredients on a cereal box.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I was confused, disappointed and felt stupid because I just could not get into this book! Was it the translation? The violence? The irrelevant details? The boringness? What did I miss? See the movie.

The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar
Boy did I struggle with this biography of writer Patricia Highsmith! Call me rigid and inflexible but I find it easier to read a biography in chronological order and found myself wanting to call up Ms. Schenkar to ask her if that would have been so difficult given the maniacally rigid order that Miss Highsmith reportedly kept of her life and writing.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Ugh Ugh Ugh.


One of the biggest waste of trees that I’ve ever read was This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson.

Want to know why? Read Ursula’s review, forthcoming in our blog.


The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
All the hipsters and Brooklynites will hate me for this one but I found Auster way overrrated, especially after I considered the superb meta-fiction of Mark Z. Danielewski and read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas about a month after I finished The New York Trilogy.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
A sort-of sequel to Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero, which so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the ’80s, Imperial Bedrooms attempts a Raymond Chandler-esque noir and fails to hit anywhere near the mark. While the prose keeps very much to Ellis’s typical style, he can’t seem to successfully merge the type of provocative writing from which he’s largely built his fame and the type of genre writing perfected by others.

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
Shriver’s novel, shaped by the issue of health care in the U.S., was released shortly before the eventual passage of actual health care reform (or Obamacare, depending on your politics). In a novel so carefully wrought, so precisely personal, it’s too bad So Much For That’s stiff prose and exhausting machinations of plot lacks the muckraking ululations for change.

In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch
Welch’s undercover foray (as a writer, not a journalist) into the world of Evangelism at the Thomas Road Baptist Church (founded by Jerry Falwell) offers strong writing but lacks new insights into the life and beliefs of Evangelical Christians and certainly doesn’t add much to the conversation between Evangelicals and non-believers. Walking a fine line of respect for her subjects, Welch eventually comes clean to her friends at Thomas Road that she’s an atheist who doesn’t need Jesus to save her soul, but only after her book contract is wrapped up and her editor gives the green light.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
So little action occurs in the first two-thirds of Kostova’s novel that even the overarching sweep of a mysterious woman inching the narrative forward is too minuscule to make me care about what is, ostensibly, the real story that happens in the last hundred or so pages. Even when the mystery is resolved, there is no satisfaction in the predictable ending, nothing that makes the long wait through six hundred pages pay off. Without any real definition to her characters, a lackluster plot, and an ending the fizzles rather than bangs, Kostova delivers a wholly forgettable book.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Ugh, this was awful. I mean, seriously, terrible. It reads fast and still I couldn’t get through it. Yet, it seems to be popular among book clubs, which is why I don’t belong to any book clubs.

August 4, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

by thiszine

August is the time of summer when the sun, heat, and humidity (for some of us at least) crescendos to the maddening point. What to do on those 100 degree days when your air conditioner is broken and the city pool fails to charm? We suggest pouring yourself a glass of iced tea and sitting back with a good book. After reviewing several recommendations in summer reading, we at this give you the best of the best recommendations, including some of our own.

Alan Cheuse at NPR lists Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad as one of his summer reading picks. Structured like a music album, including an “A” side and a “B” side, Egan’s prose and talent shine on every page in what Cheuse calls an “episodic safari” that “stands as a brilliant, all-absorbing novel for the beach, the woods, or the air-conditioned apartment or city stoop while wearing your iPod.”

The folks at O Magazine (the magazine by Oprah) recommend The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, a novel about Rose Edelstein and her discovery, at age 8, that she can taste feelings in food. Rose’s gift brings her both pain and a special connection with a science whiz kid, George as Rose unwinds her family’s secrets in this unique coming-of-age novel.

Oprah’s gang also recommends Justin Cronin’s The Passage, the apocalyptic vampire sensation of the summer. In her review for the magazine, Bethanne Patrick says “Let others quibble over whether The Passage is thriller or literature; we see it as vital, tender, and compelling.”

Lucia Silvia, the book buyer for Portrait of a Bookstore, an indie bookstore in Studio City, California, recommends Karen Valby’s Welcome to Utopia: Notes from a Small Town. What begin as an assignment for Entertainment Weekly magazine ended up as Valby’s obsession for the curious magnetism of a town almost entirely divorced from pop culture: no fast food joints, no movie theaters or video rental stores, no bookstores. Silvia notes that “Valby’s account [of the small town] reads like a book-length New Yorker article — compulsively readable and deeply affecting.” Perfect for those of you who’ve plowed through every back issue The New Yorker has to offer.

Over at Flavorwire’s “grown-up summer reading list,” Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD (an indie bookstore in Brooklyn), recommends China Mieville’s “fantastic and mindblowing” novel Kraken. Anderson also recommends John Water’s recent memoir Role Models, “a fantastic collection of hero worship” from the demented mind that brought us the film “Pink Flamingos” and, oddly, the family-friendly “Hairspray.”

The Southern Indie Booksellers Association has selected a basket full of books they call Summer Okra Picks, “great southern books, fresh off the vine” including the novels Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Graphic novel fans have something to love during those long summer days, too. Graphic Novel Reporter has a long list of recommendations for kids, teens, and adults. Try reading The Playwright by Eddie Campbell and Daren White, “a dark comedy about the sex life of a celibate middle-aged man.” Or the 15th anniversary edition of Howard Cruse’s semi-autobiographical Stuck Rubber Baby, a graphic novel about “a close-knit group of young locals yearning to break from the conformity of their hometown through civil rights activism, folk music, and an upstart communality of race-mixing, gay-friendly nightclubs” that “is both deeply personal and epic in scope” with “an unforgettable supporting cast.”

this contributing writers had a few favorites to recommend for the summer, too.

Jordon Chiarelli recommends Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Jordon says, “Toole committed suicide more than 10 years before his manuscript even saw the eyes of a publisher in 1980. Chronicling the memorable slacker, Ignatius Reilly, around the rich city of New Orleans, the novel’s authour posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981.”

Jordon also recommends Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut: “When Vonnegut died a few years ago, we expected representatives of his estate to ransack his rough and personal work. They did. A collection of his unpublished fiction is the best of his worst, however it reminds us of how undeniably gifted and talented Vonnegut was.”

John Coleman said: “I always try to read The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson every summer. It’s a good beach book, full of adventure, and is easily taken without too much seriousness. Its island party story makes summer in the city bearable.”

Ursula K. Raphael recommends summer non-fiction reading with The Portable Patriot: Documents, Speeches, and Sermons That Compose the American Soul, edited by Joel Miller and Kristen Parrish. Ursula notes, “Not only does the book fits nicely into my purse for something to read, but it contains the a majority of documents that were (and, in some cases, still are) very influential in the shaping of the United States. This is an excellent reference book, packed with important information about the history of America. It has less to do with politics, and more to do with people believing & striving for something greater than themselves.”

Lacey N. Dunham writes: “I always enjoy reading short stories during the summer because they’re the perfect length for sitting in the sun while eating ice cream. Greg Hrbek‘s heartbreaking family story “Sagittarius,” reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 2009 and Danielle Evan‘s story about adolescent sexuality, “Virgins,” forthcoming in her book Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self were two of the most memorable I read this summer. I also enjoyed Brando Skyhorse’s novel-in-stories The Madonnas of Echo Park, a sweeping collection narrated by various Mexican immigrants and first generation Mexican-Americans living in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park.”

June 23, 2010

Teaser: Our July/August Issue

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The submissions are rolling in non-stop for our July/August issue (forthcoming) but don’t worry, there’s still time to get yours in before our July 1 deadline. Just be sure to read our submission guidelines first.

Our forthcoming issue will feature a book review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Tell-All by resident Canadian literature contributor, John Coleman and music reviews by our head music contributor, Jordon Chiarelli, as well as fiction, poetry, visual poetry, and photography.

If you can’t make our July deadline, I encourage you to submit your work for our September/October issue or our November/December issue. Our team is always looking for talented writers whose work is fresh, creative, polished, and astounding. For new writers, those who have never published before, and emerging writers who have published but are looking to expand their readership to ever wider audiences, I look forward to reading your work.

Get jazzed for July/August ’cause it’s gonna blow yer mind.

March 14, 2010

National Book Critics Circle Awards

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The honorees for National Book Critics Circle Awards for 2010 are:

General Nonfiction: The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
Autobiography: Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill
Biography: Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey
Criticism: Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss
Poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout
Fiction: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel