Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 22, Issue 10, 1 Oct 2020



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Hello readers.  Following is the latest batch of reviews:

A review of Black Rabbit by Angus Gaunt

It’s possible, I think, to read Black Rabbit as social commentary. There is a hint of that in Maurice’s trajectory, and in the way Sandford attempts to educate Maurice, who begins to perceive the flow of humanity around him, and his connection to it that he had not seen before, with a measure of empathy, wondering about his aunt and how her life must have been. However, I think it would be a mistake to assign a morality to Black Rabbit. Read more:

A review of Catastroika by Charles Rammelkamp

If you, my reader, like history and poetry you will love Catastroika, a fascinating book in which the poet, in narrative form, covers a century on Russian history from the point of view of two characters: Maria Rasputin, the daughter of the much maligned Russian spiritualist Rasputin and Alexander Federmesser, a Jewish man who goes by the name of Sasha.  Read more:

A review of Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin

Expertly, Godwin dropped hints that another story lay beneath the surface one. Similarly, the secrets in Old Lovegood Girls, revealed in enticing dribs and drabs, keep the reader intrigued. What actually transpired between Feron and the passenger on the bus when she ran away in 1958? Was it really seasonal depression that caused Merry’s mother to withdraw to her attic room in winter? Read more:

A review of The Shaman of Turtle Valley by Clifford Garstang

Reading Garstang’s The Shaman of Turtle Valley brought to mind two very different novels. Ill Will by Dan Chaon for the way it dissects American violence DNA. And The Border of Paradise by Esme Weijun Wang for exploring the cost of when a decent but oblivious American man brings back an Asian wife and settles down in a non-Urban environment. But Garstang’s net is cast wider with an eye to tie domestic issues with foreign policy. Read more:

An interview with Debra Thomas

The author of Luz talks about her new book, the process of writing it, the story behind it and her work in Amnesty International, her target reader, her work-in-progress, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Stories from Bondi by Libby Sommer

Sommer has the ability to create believable characters and place them in real life situations, whether these situations are arranged or occur by chance. The ‘unusual’ sometimes is found in this writer’s narrative, like when she describes different types of Glutei Maximi, for those unacquainted with Latin this mean simply ‘bums’. Read more:

An interview with Richard Thomas

Author, editor, and teacher Richard Thomas talks about writing through difficult situations, about the value of MFA programs and teaching writing, about accurately representing diversity in his work as an editor, about writing across genres, and elevating genres like horror, advise to writers who might be afraid to show others their work, and lots more. Read more:

A review of The Beating Heart by Denise O’Hagan

O’Hagan does a beautiful job of describing the Italy of her childhood—the buildings, fountains, news items, a walk with her parents, conversations, cobblestones, the loss of a friend, or a roadside drive. There’s a sense that every detail is both intensely private, and absolutely important—a universal artefact that must be shared with the reader. Read more:

A review of The Minor Virtues by Lynn Levin

I don’t usually consider virtue amusing, but Lynn Levin’s new book of poetry The Minor Virtues had me laughing out loud. In a reading I attended, she called it her most cheerful book yet. She said she wanted to focus on not the big virtues like patience and temperance, but what she called the minor virtues that she elicited from paying attention to small moments and looking in deeply. Read more:

A review of Sea Glass Catastrophe by Quinn Rennerfeldt

There is music in Sea Glass Catastrophe words flow sometimes in a precipitous way, others with measured and a toned-down cadence with a sprinkle of sharp notes. In this chest of surprises we read poems that tell us of pain and hunger, joy and search, sinning and redemption. Some of the poems are mirrors with many faces, crystals that are coloured by Quinn’s creativity. Read more:

All of the reviews and interviews listed above available at The Compulsive Reader on the front page. Older reviews and interviews are kept indefinitely in our extensive (and growing) categorized archives (currently at 2,675), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Marilyn Chin is this year’s recipient of the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which honors “a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant singular recognition.” Saskia Hamilton was named winner of the $7,500 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. The awards are sponsored and administered by the Poetry Foundation, which publishes Poetry magazine, and will be presented at a virtual ceremony in September. In addition, the Poetry Foundation is extending the tenure of current Young People’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye, to 2022. The foundation noted that Nye “was awarded the honor and two-year term in 2019, but has had to cancel a number of her readings and programs due to the Covid-19 pandemic; the extension of her tenure allows for new initiatives to take the place of those that were cancelled and for Nye to maintain her commitment to celebrating poetry in geographically underserved and rural communities.”

The shortlist has been released for the €100,000 (about $119,545) International Dublin Literary Award, which is sponsored by Dublin City Council to honor a single work of fiction published in English. The winner will be announced October 22, as part of this year’s “reimagined” International Literature Festival Dublin. The shortlisted titles are: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (British), Milkman by Anna Burns (Irish), Disoriental by Négar Djavadi (Iranian-French), translated from the French by Tina Kover, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Canadian), An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (American), History of Violence by Édouard Louis (French), translated from the French by Lorin Stein, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (American), There There by Tommy Orange (Native American), All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy (Indian), and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Polish), translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

The Academy of American Poets and Words Without Borders have announced the four winners of the 2020 Poems in Translation Contest. More than 900 poems translated from 58 languages were submitted to the contest, which offers $150 to each winner and publication on Poem-a-Day, the daily poetry series produced by the Academy of American Poets, and on Words Without Borders over the next four Saturdays. A virtual celebration of the winners, “World in Verse: A Multilingual Poetry Reading,” will be held on Wednesday, October 7, 2020.  The four winners of the contest are: “Learning Late Letters” by Nguyễn Hoàng Quyên, translated from Vietnamese by the author (to be published in Poem-a-Day on September 12), ”Pegasus Autopsy” by Julio Pazos Barrera, translated from Spanish by Bryan Mendoza  (to be published in Poem-a-Day on September 19), ”Trial Run” by Yau Ching, translated from Chinese by Chenxin Jiang (to be published in Poem-a-Day on September 26), and ”Birds in Flight, 1965″ Enrique Villasis, translated from Filipino by Bernard Capinpin  (to be published in Poem-a-Day on October 3). The winners were selected by the editors of Words Without Borders and contest judge David Tomas Martinez.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell has won the £30,000 (about $39,070) 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, the U.K.’s annual book award “celebrating and honouring fiction written by women.” Hamnet is set in 1596 and inspired by the life and death of Shakespeare’s only son. Chair of judges Martha Lane Fox said that “Hamnet, while set long ago, like all truly great novels expresses something profound about the human experience that seems both extraordinarily current and at the same time, enduring.”

The 14-title longlist for the C$100,000 (about US$76,000) 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, honoring “the finest in Canadian fiction,” including novels, short story collections and graphic novels, has been announced. The shortlist will be unveiled October 5 and the winner November 9.  The full list can be seen here:

The finalists in five categories for the $50,000 2020 Kirkus Prize have been chosen and can be seen here: Winners of the awards will be announced at a virtual ceremony hosted by Kirkus CEO Meg LaBorde Kuehn from the Austin Public Library in Austin, Tex., on November 5.  

The longlist for the 2020 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers has been announced and can be seen here. Founded in honor of the late Hachette Australia CEO Matt Richell, the award is sponsored by Hachette Australia and the Richell family, in partnership with the Guardian Australia and the Emerging Writers’ Festival. The winner receives A$10,000 (about US$7,270), to be donated by Hachette Australia, and a year’s mentoring with one of Hachette Australia’s publishers. Hachette Australia will work with the winning writer to develop their manuscript with first option to consider the finished work, and the shortlisted entries, for publication. As well as promoting the Prize, the Guardian Australia will publish an extract of the first chapter of the winning work on its website.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty won the Wainwright Prize for U.K. Nature Writing, which recognizes a book that “most successfully inspires readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world.” The inaugural Writing on Global Conservation Prize, created to “reflect the growing cry for action to meet climate change targets and halt the destruction of wildlife and natural habitats,” went to Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald. The £5,000 (about $6,715) cash prize will be shared by the winning authors, who also receive framed trophies.

Six titles made the shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize for Fiction, considered one of the most prestigious prizes for books published in English.

This year’s finalists was chosen from a list of 162 books submitted for the award. To qualify, the books must have been published in the U.K. or Ireland between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020. The winner will receive £50,000 and each shortlisted author receives £2,500. The overall winner will be announced on November 14.

Six titles made the shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize for Fiction, considered one of the most prestigious prizes for books published in English. This year’s finalists was chosen from a list of 162 books submitted for the award. To qualify, the books must have been published in the U.K. or Ireland between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020. The winner will receive £50,000 and each shortlisted author receives £2,500. The overall winner will be announced on November 14. The 2020 shortlist includes: The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Oneworld Publications), This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Faber & Faber / Graywolf), Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House / Overlook), The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Canongate Books / Norton), Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador, Pan Macmillan / Grove), and Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing / Riverhead) — (PW’s review). Four of the books are debuts and several of the authors have been in contention for the prize before. This year’s list is also notably diverse, with four women authors on the shortlist — Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi and Maaza Mengiste.– and two men, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor. Four of the shortlisted books come from independent publishers represented by the Independent Alliance: Canongate Books, Daunt Books Publishing, Faber & Faber and Oneworld Publications.

The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards are awarding six women writers in the early stages of their work with $30,000 grants to support them and provide time to write. The 2020 winners are Hannah Bae (nonfiction), Mari Christmas (fiction), Yalitza Ferreras (fiction), Temim Fruchter (fiction), Elisa Gonzalez (poetry), and Charleen McClure (poetry).  The program was created “to identify and support emerging women writers of exceptional promise in recognition of the special contributions women writers make to our culture,” according to the organizers. Writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry are eligible.

The National Book Foundation released longlists for the 2020 National Book Awards. Finalists in all five NBA categories will be revealed October 6, and winners named November 18 at a ceremony that will be held online because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This year’s longlisted titles in these two categories can be seen here:

The shortlist has been selected for the 2020 German Book Prize. The winner, who will be announced in Frankfurt during the book fair on October 12, wins €25,000 (about $29,600); the five finalists will be awarded €2,500 (about $2,960). The shortlist includes Serpentinen by Bov Bjerg, Aus der Zuckerfabrik by Dorothee Elmiger, Herzfaden by Thomas Hettche, Streulicht by Deniz Ohde, Annette, ein Heldinnenepos by Anne Weber, and Die Dame mit der bemalten Hand by Christine Wunnicke

Winners have been named for the 2020 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards, given annually “to identify and support women writers of unusual talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers.” Due to ongoing coronavirus concerns, the foundation’s annual September awards celebration in New York City was cancelled. On September 17, the winners, each of whom receives $30,000, participated in a virtual reading in New York University’s Creative Writing Program Reading Series. This year’s winners are Hannah Bae (nonfiction), Mari Christmas (fiction), Yalitza Ferreras (fiction), Temim Fruchter (fiction), Elisa Gonzalez (poetry) and Charleen McClure (poetry).

The National Book Foundation released the longlist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. Finalists in all five NBA categories will be revealed October 6, and winners named November 18 at a ceremony that will be held online because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This year’s longlisted fiction titles are: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (Ecco), The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha (Tin House Books), The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books), If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan (Norton), A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Knopf), A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet (Norton), The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (West Virginia University Press), Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Grove Press), The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka (Knopf), and Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (Pantheon).

The Academy of American Poets announced the 2020 winners of its annual poetry prizes. Nikky Finney won the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award, which recognizes “outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.” Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Fortune for Your Disaster (Tin House) won the $25,000 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, awarded to “the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States in the previous year.” Chet’la Sebree’s Field Study (FSG Originals) won the $5,000 James Laughlin Award, given to recognize and support a second book of poetry forthcoming in the next calendar year. Mara Pastor’s Deuda Natal / Natal Debt, co-translated by María José Giménez and Anna Rosenwong, won the Ambroggio Prize, a $1,000 publication prize given for a book-length poetry manuscript originally written in Spanish and with an English translation. The winning manuscript is published by the University of Arizona Press,. Rajiv Mohabir’s translation of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara by Lalbihari Sharma (Kaya Press), written about by Gaiutra Bahadur in her monograph Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (University of Chicago Press), won the $1,000 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, which recognizes a published translation of poetry from any language into English that demonstrates literary excellence. Geoffrey Brock’s translation of Last Dream by Giovanni Pascoli (World Poetry Books) won the $10,000 Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize, given to “the outstanding translation into English of a significant work of modern Italian poetry.” Ira Goga has won the $1,000 Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award, which recognizes a student poet.

Finally, Winners have been named for the 2020 Davitt Awards, presented by Sisters in Crime to recognize crime books by Australian women. This year’s Davitt winners by category are:  Adult novel: The Trespassers by Meg Mundell, Debut: Eight Lives by Susan Hurley, YA novel: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, Children’s novel: The Girl in the Mirror by Jenny Blackford (read our review of this wonderful book here:, Nonfiction: Banking Bad: Whistleblowers. Corporate Cover-ups: One Journalist’s Fight for the Truth by Adele Ferguson, Highly commended: See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse by Jess Hill, and Readers choice (joint winners): The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan and Darkness for Light by Emma Viskic

Have a good month!



Congratulations to Mark Flanagan, who won a copy of Anthropica by David Hollander.  

Congratulations also to Vicki Wurgler, who won a copy of The Holy Conspiracy by Kristi Saare Duarte.

Congratulations also to Helen Lane, who won a copy of The Rehabilitation of Thomas Mark by Tom Crites.

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of A Bend in the River by Libby Fischer Hellmann. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Bend in the River” and your postal address in the body of the message.

We also have a copy of Trust by Chris Hammer to give away. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Trust” and your postal address in the body of the message.

Finally, we have a copy of Prospects of a Woman by Wendy Voorsanger. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Prospects of a Woman” and your postal address in the body of the message.

Please note that I choose winners using a random generator from emailed entries and sometimes we get a lot and sometimes not so many (!), so your chances of winning can often be quite high.  Some people have won books many times, so don’t hesitate – get those entries in as I love giving books away and want as many of you to win as possible. 

Good luck, everyone!



The Parisian Professor

The Story of a CIA Operative

A New Spy Novel by Joseph Sciuto


The Parisian Professor explores the roots of state-sanctioned corruption and the scourge of dictatorship in America and beyond.




We will shortly be featuring reviews of Split, edited by Lee Kaufman, River Aria by Joan Schweighardt, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book by Jennifer Stephenson-Steele, interviews with Amanda Jeffery and Matthew Mumber, and lots more reviews and interviews. 

Drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) to listen to our latest episode which features an interview with Denise O’Hagan who reads from and talks about her poetry book The Beating Heart. You can listen to the latest episode directly from the site widget or go to show directly here:

 You can also subscribe to the show via iTunes and get updates automatically, straight to your favourite listening device. Find us under podcasts by searching for Compulsive Reader Talks. Then just click subscribe.  If you listen on iTunes and enjoy it, please leave a review – it will help others find us!  Thank you!


(c) 2020 Magdalena Ball. Nothing in this newsletter may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher, however reprint rights are readily available. Please feel free to forward this newsletter in its entirety.

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