“How to Pronounce Knife” by Souvankham Thammavongsa

A phoneme is a single sound, the smallest unit of language. But the way a phoneme is pronounced can contain a world of information about a speaker’s race, nationality and social status. The title story of How to Pronounce Knife hinges on the pronunciation of the silent k. It’s an authorial trick that serves as…

“Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall” – by Daniel Chacón

Daniel Chacón begins his latest collection of short stories with a metafictional device. He tells us how to read the book. We can read the stories in order or skip around, following themes. The device is borrowed from Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela (translated as Hopscotch), a masterpiece in 155 chapters, the final 99 of which can…

“All the Dreams We’ve Dreamed” by Rus Bradburd

This superb and harrowing book chronicles the life of Shawn Harrington, a charismatic college basketball star who becomes a victim – albeit a survivor – of Chicago’s gun violence. Harrington was recruited in 1995 from Marshall High School, Chicago, by the author, Rus Bradburd, who at the time was coaching at NMSU. When Harrington got…

The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections by Eliane Brum, translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty

The philosopher Theodor Adorno once stated that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. Brazilian journalist and novelist Eliane Brum does just that in The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections, a compassionate trek through Brazil’s peripheries, where the poor and the marginalized reside. As she mines favelas…

“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…