Q&A with Daniel Handler: ‘Bottle Grove’ and a Changing San Francisco

by Oscar Villalon

In Daniel Handler’s seventh novel, Bottle Grove (227 pages; Bloomsbury), which was published in the fall, San Francisco gets both a kiss on the cheek and a flick to the ear. For those who have lived in the city for two or more decades, the novel has a magnetism perhaps unfelt by others who’ve only known the place in its most recent incarnation—as that of a giant Lego set, one pulled apart and restacked according to the heedless whims of the tech industry. Handler, a longtime San Franciscan, evokes the city in its beloved pre-boom familiarity, but because he’s telling […]

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Q&A with Heather Christle: ‘The Crying Book’ and a Nourishment from Sharing

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Over the course of The Crying Book (208 pages; Catapult Press), Heather Christle examines the phenomenon of crying from every possible angle: social, cultural, biological, and historical. She asks the tough questions, ones that science still can’t answer: Why do we cry? And what does it mean to cry? Christle’s inquiry is rigorously researched, but it is also deeply personal. While she was writing The Crying Book, she was doing a lot of crying herself, grappling with depression, mourning the passing of a dear friend, and preparing to become a mother. The scope of The Crying Book is surprisingly vast—we […]

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Q&A with Seth Borgen: ‘If I Die in Ohio’ and Some Extraordinarily Unremarkable True Thing

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The stories in Seth Borgen’s collection If I Die in Ohio (160 pages; New American Press), winner of the New American Fiction Prize, are like bars where I have learned more about people and about writing than anywhere else, except perhaps from books. And like those bars, they are places where people who would never have crossed paths come together—a retired, well-known architect and a young high school dropout, for example; a slacker, stoner, atheist and a Mormon. The characters do not seek each other out, but once they do, something happens. Nothing huge or life-changing but something that helps […]

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Meron Hadero

by ZYZZYVA Staff

Meron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American born in Addis Ababa who came to the U.S. in her childhood via East and West Germany. Her short stories appear in Best American Short Stories, Selected Shorts on NPR/PRI, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, ZYZZYVA, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, and other journals. Her writing has also been published in The New York Times Book Review, the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, and others. Her work has been supported by the International Institute at the University of Michigan, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Artist Trust. Hadero has held fellowships at the World […]

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Q&A with Brandon Shimoda: ‘The Grave on the Wall’ and Writing with Ghosts

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How to capture a life, how to represent it, is a difficult if necessary question to address in writing. Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall (222 pages; City Lights Books) relentlessly contends with this concern as it recounts the story of Midori Shimoda, the author’s grandfather, within the entangled histories of immigration, Japanese incarceration during World War II, mourning, and memory. The book is also an examination of writing itself, the mechanism available for, and sometimes burdened with, conveying these stories; with relaying and reimagining them, opening them to visitation. A chronicle of the living and the dead and the places […]

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Q&A with Homeless: ‘This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far’ and a Vague Reality

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This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far (257 pages; Expat Press) is a difficult novel to categorize. It isn’t often that a crushing romantic tragedy unfurls in a universe so absurd. The book’s biting dialogue, irrational laws of physics, and buddy-comedy dynamic recall Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Beneath the story’s self-deprecating charm, however, lies a relationship that, in both its gentle initiation and passionate conclusion, raises questions about caring for one another and caring for oneself at the crossroads of love and mental illness. This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far is the […]

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Q&A with Ross Gay: ‘The Book of Delights’ and an Essay a Day for a Year

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Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights (288 pages; Algonquin Books) is a collection of over 100 short essays. The project began as a type of writing exercise: Gay would write one essay about something delightful every day for a year. While the collection doesn’t contain an essay for every single day of that year, and some of the essays might be called more thought-provoking than purely delightful, the book couldn’t be more aptly named. The pieces read at times like prose poetry or journal entries, and they cover a variety of topics, such as a single flower growing out of […]

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Q&A with Namwali Serpell: Recipe for Revolution—Brief and Contingent Solidarity in ‘The Old Drift’

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Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift (566 pages; Hogarth/Penguin Random House) is nothing short of a feat. The novel, which unfolds over several generations, is an alchemy of Zambian history, Afrofuturism, science, and fantasy. It is a triumphant and tragic retelling of the country’s birth and a sage forecast of what the future might hold for Zambia. Featuring a cast of memorable characters, Serpell’s narrative follows the lives of several generations of indigenous Africans, as well as Brits, Italians, and Indians—some colonists, some immigrants—who eventually become citizens of Zambia. Wittingly and unwittingly, many of Serpell’s characters contribute to Zambia’s technological and […]

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Q&A with Andrew Ridker: The Absurdity of the Facts of Things

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It’s hard not to see Andrew Ridker’s acerbic, cerebral first novel, The Altruists (319 pages; Viking)—which has attracted attention from NPR and The Times, among others—as an answer to the question of how to think about, let alone write about, a major strain of American life in 2019. The plot centers around a family at once archetypal and painfully real: Arthur, a pedantic, regret-filled professor who finds tenure elusive; his psychotherapist wife, Francine, whose premature death from breast cancer was worsened by Arthur’s cheating on her in the terminal stages of her illness; their daughter, Maggie, a sanctimonious, kleptomaniac tutor; […]

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Carolyn Burke

by Oscar Villalon

Carolyn Burke was born in Sydney, spent many years in Paris, and now lives in California. Her 2011 No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, published by Knopf and Bloomsbury, has been translated into several languages, including French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Burke’s Lee Miller: A Life, published by Knopf and Bloomsbury in 2006, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award. Burke spent time with Lee Miller while working on her first book, Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. The definitive biography of the expatriate artist/poet, it sparked a […]

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Getting Out of The Way of the Light: Q&A with ‘Son of Amity’ author Peter Nathaniel Malae

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We live in a strange, weird country (obviously). We don’t see, or want to see, what’s directly in front of us. Why bother when we have phones? Oregon author Peter Nathaniel Malae has been chronicling the untold stories of class and race, and familiar, timeless tales of family and heartache, since the publication of his first novel in 2010, What We Are, which depicts a young Samoan-American drifting through conflicts about immigration, identity and meaning. (As his protagonist muses, “I can find beauty in the gutter, as long as it’s empty of another heartbeat.’’) The former Steinbeck and MacDowell Colony fellow made […]

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Flight Patterns: Q&A with ‘Amelia Earhart’ Author Larry Beckett

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Polymath poet Larry Beckett is flying high in Amelia Earhart (72 pages; Finishing Line Press), his latest addition to a cycle of epic tributes to the likes of P.T. Barnum, Paul Bunyan, and now Earhart, and with an upcoming volume on Wyatt Earp to round off a rubric on the “American Cycle.’’ The Portland writer is still best known for his collaborations with the late Tim Buckley, including the oft-covered classic “Song to the Siren,’’ but the long-ago death of his boyhood friend has not stopped him from cultivating his muse with fresh imaginings of seemingly unlikely subjects. Here, he […]

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