“When a Woman Rises” by Christine Eber

The cover of Christine Eber’s debut novel tells a tale in itself. A young woman, beautiful and strong, gazes unflinchingly at the onlooker (us). She is dressed in traditional indigenous clothes, but three strands of hair blow loose as if to tell us this woman cannot be tamed; her spirit will run free forever. Behind…

“Bestiary” – by Donika Kelly

A bestiary is a compendium of creatures – an illustrated book from the Middle Ages – with each animal symbolizing some abstract moral principle. They are there to show us foolish humans how to live by the divine code written by Nature/God. In Donika Kelly’s debut poetry collection, there are beasts large and small –…

Shakespeare in the Age of the Tyrant

Stephen Greenblatt’s new book, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, is a timely tome. As Greenblatt well knows, we’re living in an age of ruthless strongmen. The world’s recent and lamentable swing to the right is embodied by all-powerful authoritarians. Here’s the cast list: Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela) – presiding over an avoidable domestic catastrophe, a post-apocalyptic hellscape…

Gray Pans Pinker

In a recent review in The New Statesman, John Gray dismissed Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress in one of the more colorful putdowns of recent times (excuse the pun – grey, pinker and all that). The title of the piece reads “The limits of reason: Steven…

“The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

This debut collection sings. Forged in the fires of Columbus, Ohio, the poems are about childhood memories and community. If much of the work feels autobiographical, the collection transcends individual experience and speaks to anyone who’s ever watched friends fall apart, or got nostalgic over a piece of music, or been cheek to cheek with…

“In the Wake: On Blackness and Being” by Christina Sharpe

Part memoir, part thesis, and part lyrical examination of what it means to be black in the 21st century, In The Wake is simply a great, great book. It bridges so many fields – social justice, poetry, fiction, Critical Race Theory, semiotics, semantics – yet retains complete coherence. It is beautiful, ingenious and tragic. In…

“Feeling the Unthinkable: Essays on Social Justice” by Donald Gutierrez

If Donald Gutierrez were alive today, what would he think of the USA now? He’d be horrified. And disgusted. Gutierrez, who died in 2013, shortly after this collection was published, was a social conscience. He passionately confronted inequity and government abuses, particularly that of his own country, the United States of America. Here, 48 of…

“Unreal City” – by Michael Smith

This novel has no plot to speak of: man of indeterminate age wanders around London, visits his sister in Paris, and contemplates his louche, faux-bohemian, penniless lifestyle, past and present. It has no plot twists, no action, little dialogue, no character development, and in fact no memorable characters. And it’s a cracker of a novel….

“Fire.” by Elizabeth Hand

Read this slim book in one sitting and you’ll get a perfect overview of the career of Elizabeth Hand. There’s the witty, subversive fiction. There’s an autobiographical piece – “Beyond Belief: On Becoming a Writer.” There are two biographical portraits of fine writers who are in danger of slipping out of public consciousness. And there’s…