Book Reviews

Alan's haunting novel of the AIDS epidemic, As If Death Summoned, was released on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2020, and has won the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards. Watch the book trailer here. Read the reviews here.

Robert Michael Pyle



…hundreds of readers have written or cornered me and put it to me: “So—do you believe, or not?” I never give them satisfaction, because the fact is, I still don’t know. The best of the evidence is not easily dismissed and is sometimes compelling. But proof—in the form of big artifacts like bone or tiny molecules of DNA—continues to be maddeningly elusive.

                from Where Bigfoot Walks




David Grann


All efforts to solve the mystery had faltered. Because of anonymous threats, the justice of the peace was forced to stop convening inquests into the latest murders. He was so terrified that merely to discuss the cases, he would retreat into a back room and bolt the door.

…In early March, the dogs in the neighborhood began to die, one after the other; their bodies slumped on doorsteps and on the streets. Bill was certain that they’d been poisoned. He and Rita found themselves in the grip of tense silence. He confided in a friend that he didn’t “expect to live very long.”

                from Killers of the Flower Moon


David Bellos

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Valjean does not represent directly any particular political or religious position. What he models is the potential that the poorest and most wretched have to become worthy citizens. His repeated victories over physical, moral and emotional obstacles make him a hero, of course, but they also assert, against the attitudes prevalent at the time, that moral progress is possible for all…It is not a reassuring tale of the triumph of good over evil, but a demonstration of how hard it is to be good.

                        from The Novel of the Century


Cory Doctorow


Zottas (the rich) cooked the process so they get all the money and own the political process, pay as much or as little tax as they want. Sure, they pay most of the tax, because they’ve built a set of rules that gives them most of the money. Talking about “taxpayers” means that the state’s debt is to rich dudes, and anything it gives to kids or old people or sick people or disabled people is charity we should be grateful for, since none of those people are paying tax that justifies their rewards from Government, Inc.

                        from Walkaway


Elizabeth Strout

Random House

When Dottie saw couples like Mr. and Mrs. Small, she was sometimes comforted that her painful divorce years earlier had at least prevented her from becoming a Mrs. Small—in other words, a nervous, slightly whiny woman whose husband ignored her and so naturally made her more anxious. This you saw all the time. And when Dottie saw it, she was reminded that almost always—oddly, she thought it was odd—she seemed a stronger person without her husband, even though she missed him every day.

                        from Anything Is Possible


James Gleick


Why do we need time travel? All the answers come down to one. To elude death. Time is a killer. Everyone knows that. Time will bury us. “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Time makes dust of all things. Time’s winged chariot isn’t taking us anywhere good…The past, in which we did not exist, is bearable, but the future, in which we will not exist, troubles us more.

                          from  Time Travel: A History


George Saunders

Random House

We embraced the boy at the door of his white stone home.

He gave us a shy smile, not untouched by trepidation at what was to come.

Go on, Mr. Bevins said gently. It is for the best.

Off you go, Mr. Vollman said. Nothing left for you here.

Goodbye then, said the lad.

Nothing scary about it, Mr. Bevins said. Perfectly natural.

Then it happened. An extraordinary occurrence.

Unprecedented, really.

The boy’s gaze moved past us.

He seemed to catch sight of something beyond.

His face lit up with joy.

Father, he said.

                         from  Lincoln in the Bardo


Graeme Macrae Burnet

Skyhorse Publishing

“It is one of these things God sends to try us,” she said in a sing-song voice.

I looked at her sideways. It was an oft-expressed sentiment in our parts.

“I cannot imagine that God has no greater concerns than trying us,” I said.

Flora looked at me quite earnestly.

“Then why do such things happen?” she said.

“What things?” I said.

“Bad things.”

“The minister would say that it is to punish us for wickedness,” I said.

“And what would you say?” she asked.

I hesitated a moment and then said, “I would say that they happen for no reason.”

                                  from  His Bloody Project


Colson Whitehead


Fear drove these people, even more than cotton money. The shadow of the black hand that will return what has been given. It occurred to her one night that she was one of the vengeful monsters they were scared of: She had killed a white boy. She might kill one of them next. And because of that fear, they erected a new scaffolding of oppression on the cruel foundation laid hundreds of years before. That was Sea Island cotton the slaver had ordered for his rows, but scattered among the seeds were those of violence and death, and the crop grew fast. The whites were right to be afraid. One day the system would collapse in blood.

                     from  The Underground Railroad


Mary Karr


You can count on a memoirist being passionate about the subject.                       …

I once heard Don DeLillo quip that a fiction writer starts with meaning and then manufactures events to represent it; a memoirist starts with events, then derives meaning from them.                          …

Everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.   …

For the more haunted among us, only looking back at the past can permit it finally to become past.

                            from  The Art of Memoir