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  • 'The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica' doesn't quite deliver on the glitter of its premise

    'The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica' doesn't quite deliver on the glitter of its premise

    Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s “The Stowaway” has the makings of a high-concept true story for the ages: Teen upstart from Queens becomes the toast of Jazz Age America by finagling a coveted spot on a storied explorer’s bid to helm the first flight over the South Pole. The Stowaway revolves around the converging...

  • 'Red Clocks' imagines a dystopia that feels eerily close to home

    'Red Clocks' imagines a dystopia that feels eerily close to home

    How many of us made it through the chaotic past year without occasionally wishing to wake up in an alternative universe? Novelists have the tools to rearrange our reality, testing the limits of things we take for granted — politics, technology, gender, nature — and twisting them into new shapes....

  • 'The Transition' plumbs every poet's worst nightmare: corporate hell

    'The Transition' plumbs every poet's worst nightmare: corporate hell

    Before writing some of the most groundbreaking novels of her generation, Margaret Atwood published several excellent volumes of poetry. Cervantes wrote a considerable number of sonnets before starting on the unprecedented marvels of “Don Quixote.” Likewise for Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce and...

  • New Orleans comes alive in Nathaniel Rich's 'King Zeno'

    New Orleans comes alive in Nathaniel Rich's 'King Zeno'

    ‘What do we want out of a historical novel? History, sure. But history is complicated, and American novelists have handled it in different ways over the last century. In his “U.S.A. Trilogy,” John Dos Passos shaped three decades of American history into a kind of cubist portrait. At midcentury,...

  • 'The Complete Poems' of A.R. Ammons amount to a profound experience of empathy

    'The Complete Poems' of A.R. Ammons amount to a profound experience of empathy

    A.R. Ammons (1926-2001) was one of the great curmudgeons in poetry — he actually made an aesthetic out of a kind of reticent fuddy-duddiness spiked with a whole bunch of other moods and modes, from mischief to randiness. But it’s as if his willful resistance to some things makes sure there’s room...

  • Reading irresponsibly with Jack Kirby

    Reading irresponsibly with Jack Kirby

    Probably what I miss most in our perilous, terrifying and end-of-times-like historical era is the ability to read irresponsibly. There’s just too much responsible reading around; it can drive you to drink. Everything we’re supposed to read keeps looming up out of the darkness, bristling with portents,...

  • Sam Shepard's dual-voiced farewell

    Sam Shepard's dual-voiced farewell

    The difficulty of reckoning with Sam Shepard’s artistic legacy is primarily a problem of cartography. Indeed, negotiating the terrain of such an uncommonly broad, richly contoured oeuvre is no easy feat for the would-be elegist. Perhaps best known as a playwright (he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979...

  • An American wolf in Yellowstone

    An American wolf in Yellowstone

    A matriarch overthrown in what seems fairly described as a “putsch,” marauding gangs running attacks into neighboring territory, an hours-long standoff with a grizzly, a discarded water bottle — a rarity in the wilderness of a national park — tossed around and protected like a prized new toy. The...

  • Michelle Dean loves Ursula K. Le Guin's cat stories. Which is a good start.

    Michelle Dean loves Ursula K. Le Guin's cat stories. Which is a good start.

    Is it an insult to Ursula K. Le Guin’s voluminous and varied body of work, or does it malign her stature as a public intellectual, if I admit that among my favorite things she has written are her stories about cats? Currently, she has just one, a black and white specimen she called Pard. This is...

  • Chronicling the ascent and downfall of N.W.A — iconic, contradictory — in 'Parental Discretion Is Advised'

    Chronicling the ascent and downfall of N.W.A — iconic, contradictory — in 'Parental Discretion Is Advised'

    Flipping through Gerrick D. Kennedy's reprisal of the late 20th century gangsta movement, I had a loud guffaw when brotha quips, “the N.W.A were to hip-hop what the Sex Pistols were to rock.” The hip-hop to punk analog is well rehearsed because, as the story goes, they come from a similar place...

  • Galway Kinnell's poetry transformed the world, but the world has changed

    Galway Kinnell's poetry transformed the world, but the world has changed

    Galway Kinnell was often compared to his favorite poet, Walt Whitman, whose “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Kinnell movingly read aloud every year on the far side of the Brooklyn Bridge at a benefit for the New York poetry library Poets House. Like Whitman, Kinnell — who died in 2014 having won the Pulitzer,...

  • 'Insidious Intent' shows Val McDermid deserves her Queen of Crime crown

    'Insidious Intent' shows Val McDermid deserves her Queen of Crime crown

    Val McDermid’s first crime novel, “Report for Murder,” was published in 1987 while the Scottish native worked in as Northern bureau chief for a Sunday tabloid. In the three decades that followed, McDermid penned more than thirty other novels spanning four crime series as well as half a dozen stand-alone...

  • The beautiful Airstream myth and painful RV reality of life on the road

    The beautiful Airstream myth and painful RV reality of life on the road

    “You have taken over the job of creating desire, and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to economic progress.” So said the secretary of commerce and next president, Herbert Hoover, to a group of PR men in 1928, after America’s decade...

  • A lost-and-found surrealist treasure: 'Mrs. Caliban' by Rachel Ingalls

    A lost-and-found surrealist treasure: 'Mrs. Caliban' by Rachel Ingalls

    “Mrs. Caliban” by Rachel Ingalls is an unusual book with an unusual publication history. First published in 1982, the slim surrealist masterpiece is the story of a romance between a lonely housewife and (stick with me here) an amphibious humanoid named Larry. It was Ingalls’ third book of fiction...

  • When the robots take over; 4 new sci-fi reads

    When the robots take over; 4 new sci-fi reads

    One major theme that’s been running through science fiction recently is the rise of artificial intelligence and the impact that might have on humanity. As we continue to improve upon and refine machine learning, it seems inevitable that the development of a true AI will occur at some point. And...

  • Whereforeart thou, rock gods? 'Uncommon People' has the answer

    Whereforeart thou, rock gods? 'Uncommon People' has the answer

    It’s probably safe to assume that most of us have wanted to be a rock star at some point in our lives. The impulse is usually fleeting, however, and instead, we embrace the ritual of vicariously basking in the glory of the genuine article, the sort of glory that borders on rapture. It’s been said...

  • 'The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation' illustrates the grim reality of CIA interrogation techniques post 9/11

    'The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation' illustrates the grim reality of CIA interrogation techniques post 9/11

    “Deplorable,” “disturbing” and “embarrassing” are adjectives some members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence used almost three years ago in response to a report investigating the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques after 9/11. The declassified portion of the report is available...

  • 'Wonder Valley' is an L.A. thriller that refuses to let readers look away

    'Wonder Valley' is an L.A. thriller that refuses to let readers look away

    “Wonder Valley,” the third novel from author Ivy Pochoda, begins with a classic Los Angeles tableau: a chase on the 101, complete with a police helicopter, camera-toting news crews and spectators recording the spectacle on their smartphones. But this chase is different. For one thing, it’s not...

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