Thanks to colleagues and a few specific poems, I knew of Rich’s skill, but I’ve finally taken the time to make a deep dive. The title poem ( is amazing. It’s a perfect picture of our times.

There are other highlights in this collection, including “This Evening Let’s,” “Usonian Journals,” (“Keeping my back against unimportant walls I moved out of / range of the confusion” “White people doing and seeing no evil.” “Imagine written language that walks away from human conversation.”) “Transparencies” (“the power to hurl words is a weapon”), “Collaborations,” “Slashes,” “Dislocations: Seven Scenarios” (“look at the stars / reality’s autographs”) and “Screen Door” are all incredible. Consider this, from “Screen Door” —

A long phone call with many pauses. /
It was gesture’s code
we were used to using, we were
awkward without it

As that example demonstrates, Rich is wonderful with line breaks and caesura (the latter of which is a technique I don’t think I really appreciated until now). Here’s another example, from “Alternating Current” —

but I was there saw what you didn’t
take the care

Astonishing stuff.

Explore more:

[Wordpress seems to be resisting my efforts to match Rich's formatting. Trust me; it's magnificent.]

The recent appearance of this novel on a Facebook friend’s Top 10 prompted me to finally take it off the shelf. Years ago, I saw a stage adaptation of the novel by the Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago and I remember thinking that it was. . . strange (

And so it took me a while to get up the courage to read the book. And I finally did and it was. . .


But strange in a good way, in an ahead-of-its-time funny kind of way. I mean this was Magical Realism before Marquez et al came on the scene, no?

With a limited understanding of context, I think I ended up with a limited understanding of the method behind Bulgakov’s madness. Still, the closing images of Pontius Pilate were profound, even for me.

I’d like to see the play again.

[Fill disclosure: Mr. Matejka has graciously agreed to visit my classroom this week. He'll be in town to accept his Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.]

When I first heard of the concept, a book about the boxer Jack Johnson, I was intrigued. But when I learned it was a book of poems, I was doubly so. It seemed like such an interesting concept, and Matejka makes it work – a(n) (auto)biography in poems.

The most remarkable thing here is the creation of the voice, not only of Johnson, but of his shadow (really) and several of the women in his life. He effectively brings Johnson alive, warts and all.

With sections headed by boxing terminology – “Hurt Business,” “Weigh-In,” “Knee Off Canvas,” “Bet Your Last Copper” and “No Decision” – Matejka tells the story of a powerful boxer, dealing both with racism and his own demons.

For all of Johnson’s flaws, Matejka’s final poem, “Hubert’s Museum & Flea Circus (1937),” is absolutely heartbreaking ( He deserved better.

A fairly mediocre story about a young African-American girl with a new baby living in the “projects” with a mother who had her and her sister at a young age. The older sister, Dell, has, by some definitions, made it. Will Raven, our heroine, escape her situation or will she succumb to the oft-criticized ‘recipient’ mentality?

This is a clumsy, well-meaning book that could pose a few interesting questions, but it doesn’t seem like any of the possibly rich moments are deliberate. I appreciate the way McDonald stayed away from a completely storybook ending. The numerous references to Woody Allen films were as unlikely as they were odd.

I don’t know why Millhauser doesn’t get more attention. He’s a remarkable writer, and this collection of short stories is still more proof. Though many of the pieces seem like writing exercises – What was Alice thinking as she fell down the rabbit hole? – they are generally successful. The first, “A Game of Clue,” is an absolute masterpiece. “The Sepia Postcard” is haunting, and “Rain” is spot on. Both “The Invention of Robert Herendeen” and “Eisenheim the Illusionist” (the latter, the source for the movie The Illusionist) really made me think that this is a collection of stories about writing, about creativity. Herendeen is no Victor Frankenstein; he is, instead, a writer. So is Eisenheim.

Millhauser, with what I’m now beginning to see as his trademarks of attention to architecture and use of lists, deserves more acclaim. These are imaginative and vivid stories that will stay with me for a long, long time.

There’s a reason this book – available for the first time in the U.S. – seems more like a sketch of a book than an actual book. Mankell explains in his notes that he was asked to write a story for a giveaway for those who purchased a crime novel in a particular month in Holland. Still, even Mankell’s sketches make for compelling reading. Both the author and his character have aging and death on their minds (it is their autumn, I think), and the result is a sad story of the way both a people and a place change. Mankell is, reliably, interested in the way crime has changed because the world has changed.

As a bonus, Mankell has written a brief, insightful essay on the origins and evolution of his Wallender novels. That itself makes this book worth the read.

This one will be hard to describe. Something major happens, but not a lot actually happens. Much of this book is internal. Motives are always a question and the details – and the possibilities they present – matter a great deal. And Marias, writing in sentences reminiscent of Saramago (long and therefore sometimes hard to track, though with much less dialogue), wants us to consider stories and memories and truth and how they intersect and avoid each other. He’s also given us a narrator who is compelling and who most definitely has a conscience; what’s intriguing here is how she chooses to act in response to it. Throw in some Balzac, Dumas, and Shakespeare (his nuanced reading of “She should have died hereafter” is thorough and provocative), and you’ve got one of the finest, most delicately tense, language-rich novels I’ve ever read. Marias is a writer to savor. I’m not going to rush to my next one, but there will most definitely be a next one. (In the mean time, I would like to ask him a question about this one. There was one moment, a connection, left unexplored, and I want to know more about it and whether that choice was deliberate.)


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