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.

Gigi Little, editor

Forest Avenue Press

Over the last few days I’d amassed a pile of library books on (the mind-body problem), looking for an answer. Instead, I had begun to suspect that I didn’t even really understand the question…This was for Metaphysics, a class I’d taken because I was then, as I am now, prone to mysticism—though the only reason Reed allows freshmen to take this course, as far as I can tell, is to cure them of such afflictions quickly.

from  Susan DeFreitas’s story, “The Mind-Body Problem,” in City of Weird

 

 

Joby Warrick

Doubleday

Though some would cast his movement as an al-Qaeda offshoot, Zarqawi was no one’s acolyte. His brand of jihadism was utterly, brutally original. Osama bin Laden had sought to liberate Muslim nations gradually from corrupting Western influences so they could someday unify as a single Islamic theocracy, or caliphate. Zarqawi, by contrast, insisted that he would create his caliphate immediately—right now. He would seek to usher in God’s kingdom on Earth through acts of unthinkable savagery, believing, correctly, that theatrical displays of extreme violence would attract the most hardened jihadists to his cause and frighten everyone else into submission.

                                          from  Black Flags

 

 Edna O'Brien

Little, Brown and Company

One thousand, three hundred and fifty-nine days of [the siege of Sarajevo.] The human spirit is indomitable. Such were the sentiments of outsiders who nevertheless could not imagine the carnage…Since then they had a celebration, a way of remembering, red chairs erected in our beloved city, your jewel as you called it. Yes, eleven thousand, five hundred and forty-one red chairs in commemoration of the fallen. It is said that tourists only begin to cry when they come upon the six hundred and forty-three little red chairs of dead children…

                                    from  The Little Red Chairs

 

 Nancy Isenberg

Viking

  

The power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences wherever possible…Poor whites are still taught to hate—but not to hate those who are keeping them in line. Lyndon Johnson knew this when he quipped, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

                                       from  White Trash

 

 Jacob Needleman

North Atlantic Books

You will see that your mind is a ragtag collection of opinions, beliefs, fragmentary, imaginary certainties about anything and everything—things you have been told, or heard, or which are constantly absorbed into your mind in the atmosphere of your circle of friends, chance acquaintances, your schools, your entertainments—the fashionable worldviews and habits of explanations that are really no more than fossilized mental habits…You will realize that what you need is not new beliefs, new information, new theories, but an entirely new mind.

                                          from  I Am Not I

 

Suzanne Kelman

Lake Union Publishing

 

I’d always had this kind of idyllic 1950s vision of going on a road trip. I had conjured up images of good-looking middle-aged women in lipstick and headscarves laughing and joking along an open highway. A bit like Thelma & Louise, without the attempted rape, killing and suicide leap. However, the notion of the suicide leap seemed almost appealing now.

      from  The Rejected Writers’ Book Club

 

Sarah Bakewell

Other Press

Just after the Nazi takeover, in spring 1933, (Hannah Arendt) had been arrested…Her apartment was searched; both she and her mother were locked up briefly, then released. They fled, without stopping to arrange travel documents. They crossed to Czechoslovakia (then still safe) by a method that sounds almost too fabulous to be true: a sympathetic German family on the border had a house with its front door in Germany and its back door in Czechoslovakia. The family would invite people for dinner, then let them leave through the back door at night.

                       from  At the Existentialist Cafe

 

Richard Flanagan

Alfred A Knopf

 

He was not unaware of his critics. Mostly he found himself in agreement with them. His fame seemed to him a failure of perception on the part of others. He had avoided what he regarded as some obvious errors of life, such as politics and golf…He understood that he shared certain features, habits and history with the war hero. But he was not him. He’d just had more success at living than at dying….

    from  The Narrow Road to the Deep North

 

 

Elizabeth Gilbert

Riverhead Books

 

If you choose to enter into a contract of creative suffering, you should try to identify yourself as much as possible with the stereotype of the Tormented Artist. You will find no shortage of role models. To honor their example, follow these fundamental rules: Drink as much as you possibly can; sabotage all your relationships…jealously compete against your peers; begrudge anybody else's victories; proclaim yourself cursed (not blessed) by your talents; attach your sense of self-worth to external rewards; be arrogant when you are successful and self-pitying when you fail; honor darkness above light; die young; blame creativity for having killed you.

                                     from  Big Magic

 

 

Stacy Schiff

Little, Brown and Company

 

To cast aspersions on a bewitched girl, to visit one’s imprisoned spouse too regularly, was to risk accusation. Questioning the validity of witchcraft, the legitimacy of the evidence, or the wisdom of the court bordered on the heretical; the more you resisted, the deeper you dug yourself in. Imputations proved impossible to outrun. The word of two ministers could not save an accused parishioner. Neither age, fortune, gender, nor church membership offered immunity. Prominent men stood accused alongside homeless five-year-old girls. Many braced for the knock at the door.

                  from  The Witches, Salem, 1692