‘Cinema Speculation’ by Quentin Tarantino: Talking Trash

by Paul Wilner

Cinema Speculation (400 pages; Harper), billed as Quentin Tarantino’s “first work of nonfiction,” could easily fall into the category of a quickie volume sold on the basis of the Pulp Fiction auteur’s brand value. So it’s a welcome surprise that this book is entertaining, smart, and vivid. Tarantino hasn’t been making the talk-show circuit as much as the pre-streaming old days (for a while, he was a fixture with the now-discredited Charlie Rose), but he brings the same feisty, movie-mad energy to his prose as he did to his early breakthrough films.             Even his book’s title seems like a […]

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‘Auto/Body’ by Vickie Vértiz: Driving Force

by Gus Berg

The title of Vickie Vértiz’s latest poetry collection, Auto/Body (90 pages; University of Notre Dame Press), suggests the inner workings of cars, but its focus has to do with the harnessing and distribution of power, personally and societally. Sometimes fueled by rage, sometimes by desire, this power serves as the driving force behind this collection. Vértiz is a Mexican American poet who teaches at UC Santa Barbara. She divides her book, which won the Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry, into three sections: Alternator, Distributor, and Transmission. The first section sets the tone with its sense of righteous anger. In an […]

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Carrying On: ‘Afterglow: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors,’ Edited by Grist

by Zoe Binder

The twelve stories in the anthology Afterglow: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors (223 pages; The New Press) take readers into the future and across the globe to witness how humanity has persevered in the face of climate-crisis-induced destruction. Across its pages, readers are treated to exhilarating inventiveness, as the various contributors imagine science-fiction concepts like AI pollinators and plastic-eaters, a program that can translate the thoughts and emotions of animals, and suits that allow humans to wield the distinct strengths of insects like spiders and termites. However, the collection doesn’t simply present imagined solutions to climate change. Many of the […]

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‘An Ordinary Life’ by B.H. Fairchild: The Winding Road of Grief

by Gus Berg

In his latest poetry collection, An Ordinary Life (67 pages; W. W. Norton), B.H. Fairchild, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the author of the collections The Art of the Lathe (1998) and Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (2002) , doesn’t flinch from the foxholes remembered secondhand in “My Father, Fighting the Fascists in WWII” or from images of a Korean War veteran bagging canned goods without fingers in “Groceries.” Fairchild offers succinct commentary with discrete but vivid imagery, honoring the beauty of small-town scenes with artistry and exactitude, transforming even a Walmart on […]

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‘Dr. No’ By Percival Everett: Bond Upended

by Charlie Barton

A black, autistic mathematician, Wala Kitu is not James Bond—but he is the hero of Percival Everett’s anti-Bond, Bond novel, Dr. No (262 pages; Graywolf Press). The book, now a National Book Critics Circle award finalist, is very much a spy thriller—filled with sports cars, hench-people, secret submarines, and hidden shark traps—even though Everett radically subverts the classic 007 formula. Wala’s love interest is another autistic mathematician, Eigen Victor, a specialist in topology with a tendency to state the obvious. And the nefarious super-villain is John Sill, a self-made Black billionaire whose sole purpose is to destroy America, to exact […]

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‘All Your Racial Problems Will Soon End’ By Charles Johnson: The Humor of Politics

by Charlie Barton

Charles Johnson’s collection of comics, All Your Racial Problems Will Soon End: The Cartoons of Charles Johnson (280 pages; New York Review Comics), is an especially provocative yet conscious-raising read in the wake of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests. Spanning his entire career as a cartoonist—starting decades before his novel Middle Passage won the 1991 National Book Award—the collection focuses mainly on his most prolific era during the 1960s and 1970s, when his work explored black radicalism and the racism that birthed it. The comic strip may seem unfit for such weighty matters, but in the hands of Johnson—novelist, philosopher, […]

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‘Folk Music – A Bob Dylan Biography In Seven Songs’ by Greil Marcus: The Holy Grail

by Paul Wilner

“So this is a book of cigarette butts,’’ Greil Marcus writes, without apology, in Folk Music – A Bob Dylan Biography In Seven Songs (Yale University Press; 288 pages), his latest attempt to interweave the complicated legacy of the Nobel Prize-winning hobo from Hibbing with Lincoln’s mystic chords of memory, our unresolved racial divide, and the “wild mercury sound’’ emanating from those trying to stand their ground in an invisible republic far outside the white noise of hot takes and cold comfort. He’s referring, of course, to the unaccountable adulation Dylan (still) draws from armies of obsessed fans, quoting from […]

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‘The Night Shift’ by Natalka Burian: Vibrant Vulnerability

by Megan Luebberman

In author Natalka Burian’s new novel, the exciting and thought-provoking The Night Shift (325 pages; Park Row Books), otherworldly openings called “Shortcuts” allow individuals to teleport through time and space from one location to another. Only certain characters are in-the-know, while others, like Jean Smith, have no idea that it’s possible at all. Jean, a woman struggling just to pay her rent in New York City, has to pick up jobs at a bar and at a bakery.  She soon feels there aren’t enough hours in the day until a newfound acquaintances introduces her to New York’s Shortcuts. Jean is […]

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‘It Must Be a Misunderstanding’ by Coral Bracho: Adding Color and Depth to One of Life’s Hardships

by Meryl Natchez

Anyone who has experienced a loved one’s trajectory through Alzheimer’s might wonder how a book of poetry focused on that harrowing experience could be uplifting. But Coral Bracho’s It Must Be a Misunderstanding (New Directions; 135 pages), translated by Forrest Gander, is not only tender and compassionate, but leaves the reader suffused in the mystery of being. The book is dedicated to Bracho’s mother, who died in 2012 from complications of Alzheimer’s. A short book of fragmentary lyrics, it builds through its sections like a concerto, adding color and depth as it goes. The themes of Intuitions, Observations, and various […]

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‘Tell Me the Truth About Love’ by Erik Tarloff: A Bump in the Road to Romance

by Paul Wilner

Erik Tarloff’s new novel, Tell Me the Truth About Love (Rare Bird Books; 360 pages), is at once a comedy of manners about the not-so-smart set of San Francisco society, a sex farce complete with a mistaken identity subplot that could have come out of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum, and a deeply serious examination of just how rocky the road to romance can be. Toby Lindeman makes an inherently undignified living as fundraiser for the San Francisco Opera, which helps him support his ex-wife and teenage daughter. But a chance meeting with Amy Baldwin, […]

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‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow’ by Gabrielle Zevin: Life as a Game

by Emily Garcia

If ever there were ever a novel that replicates the addictive, multi-level quality of video games, it would be Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (416 pages; Knopf),an endearing and loving portrait of three friends who start their own video game company. When they’re eleven, Sam and Sadie meet at the hospital. Sadie’s sister, Alice, is recovering from leukemia, and Sam is recovering from a terrible car accident that practically destroys one of his feet, an injury that haunts him throughout his life. As they wait around, they begin to play video games together, developing the bridge of play […]

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‘Sleeping Alone’ by Ru Freeman: Snippets of Life

by Megan V. Luebberman

Sleeping Alone (202 pages; Graywolf Press), author Ru Freeman’s newest book, leads readers on a journey into the lives of a variety of unique individuals. In this collection of eleven short stories, Freeman utilizes a different point of view in each to tell of struggles with identity, loss, love, and more. Along the way, she reveals how thinking deeply about our own lives, contemplating our choices, and trying to make meaning of it all is simply a part of being human. The conflict in some stories involves familial relations, such as “The Wake,” which relates how an eccentric mother’s antics […]

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