Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop My rating: 5 of 5 stars Elizabeth Bishop went to Brazil in 1951 and stayed for 15 years, living with her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares. The first half of this 1965 volume of poetry, her third, variously documents this extended sojourn: titled "Brazil," it includes not only lyrics… Continue reading Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell My rating: 3 of 5 stars The tag next to Robert Lowell's corpus in the museum of literary history designates him the most influential American poet of the 20th century's second half—less the founder of a school (Confessional Poetry) than an author the gravity of whose work legitimated… Continue reading Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany My rating: 4 of 5 stars In a coruscating epistolary critique of The Bluest Eye, innocuously titled "Letter to Q——" in the 2005 collection About Writing, Samuel R. Delany tabulates what he sees as the many flaws of Toni Morrison's classic first novel. The gravamen of his indictment is that Morrison… Continue reading Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17

Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Du Bois's Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment by Juliana Spahr The first thing to be said about this book is that it is brave. Poet and critic Juliana Spahr does not make her startling argument in general, nor does she make it in unreadably dense jargon that could only be followed by academic insiders.… Continue reading Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett My rating: 4 of 5 stars Like Arthur Conan Doyle, who begins The Sign of Four with Sherlock Holmes in a drug trance, Dashiell Hammett can't get his detective novel started without an infusion of aestheticism. The Maltese Falcon, named as it is for an objet d'art, opens with two descriptions… Continue reading Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Machado de Assis, The Alienist

The Alienist by Machado de Assis My rating: 4 of 5 stars We could learn a lot, both about life and literature, from this 1882 novella by the Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. Machado is only now becoming prominent in the Anglophone world with Liveright's publication last year of his collected short stories… Continue reading Machado de Assis, The Alienist

Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain

Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy My rating: 3 of 5 stars Cities of the Plain began life as a screenplay, and it shows. For most of its length, it is bare description and dialogue. While its scene-setting is often concisely vivid and its cowboy conversations laconically witty, it lacks either the lived-in quality… Continue reading Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain

Nick Drnaso, Sabrina

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso My rating: 2 of 5 stars Around the time this acclaimed graphic novel was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, I read it and wrote a somewhat glib, very short review. The review briefly restated my distaste for the artistic tradition within comics to which Drnaso adheres—not because I think this… Continue reading Nick Drnaso, Sabrina

José Revueltas, The Hole

The Hole by José Revueltas My rating: 3 of 5 stars The Hole was written in Mexico City's Lecumberri Penitentiary in 1969 and published the same year; a classic of Latin American literature, one that Valeria Luiselli claims on the back cover has informed the works of Bolaño and Aira, the novella appears for the… Continue reading José Revueltas, The Hole

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler My rating: 5 of 5 stars This 1979 classic novel of time travel and slavery could not be published today. Imagine it, imagine Octavia Butler temporally jumped to the present and trying to put out Kindred in the current media climate. Assume, because it's so good, that the novel even finds… Continue reading Octavia E. Butler, Kindred