Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 18, Issue 7, 1 July 2017

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Hello readers. Here is the latest batch of reviews:

A review of An Accidental Profession by Daniel S. Jones

Undoubtedly, it’s rather nice to think that others are toiling away while we read about them, and the similarities and differences with our own working lives emerge with unusual clarity: occupations do not have to be exotic or abstruse for us to find them fascinating. An Accidental Profession is all about work: its organization and administration, what it does to people, the power of the corporation, our ambivalent relationships with our co-workers. Read more:

Common Denominators: A review of If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face by Alan Alda

The title to his newest and third book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? and its subtitle, “My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating” reflects an intellectual sensibility conveyed clearly and directly. It underscores the very points he is trying to make in this book. Alda has a gift for speaking about lofty ideas in layman’s terms, and his fervor for his subject matter shines through. This passion is at the heart of what engages us. Read more:

A review of Muir Woods or Bust by Ian Woollen

There’s never been a more welcoming time in America than now for irreverent social satire, such as embraced by Ian Woollen’s latest called Muir Woods Or Bust. It winks and grins slyly as you determine to pick it up, a premonition of what you’ll soon be engaged in doing. I certainly welcome Woollen’s earthy, ground-shaking wit on display in its pages and you likely will also. Read more:

A review of Devil’s Spring by Aaron Paul Lazar

Lazar is the master of the extended series, building his characters over years, slowly and richly so they become real to the reader. Little by little the characters backstories are revealed, even as we move forward in time and meet children and grandchildren. For readers coming back to the stories, there are plenty of ‘easter eggs’ or references to pick up on. Read more:

A review of She Receives the Night by Robert Earle

As described by the publisher, that is an ambitious undertaking for any writer – especially perhaps for a male writer – and one that requires immense artistry and intelligence. Earle has these things in abundance, and he uses them to compelling effect. Many of these stories are gems of the form; they feel inevitable, surprising, effortless. Read more:

A review of Goodbye, Cruel by Melinda Smith

Signs speak, horror rises through the floorboards, Hedge-Triffids surround the houses, and children poke sticks at dead possums. There is everywhere a clash between life and death; decay and renewal. Though Goodbye, Cruel explores painful places in a way that cuts deeply, ultimately the work is affirmative, moving back and forth into the particular and outwards into the universal. Smith does an exceptional job of bridging the gap between the absurd, the tragic and the domestic, turning it all into something tender and sublime. Read more:

A review of Life in Suspension by Hélène Cardona

There is something instinctual here, with freedom at the base. Perhaps this is why Cardona features animals in her poetry. They remind us that we too are instinctual and that this part of us can be in motion more often if less constrained by the mind. But we must not move away too quickly from the mind. Imagination lives there. This lesson, too, is in Cardona’s work, as the poet is “gardener of memories” (Ouranoupolis Pantoum 45). Read more:

A review of Waiting by Philip Salom

This is the human condition: oddly shapen, oddly matched, solitary, inter-dependent, vulnerable, and always waiting for something to change. It’s repulsive and loveable all at once. Waiting is critically important – a novel that tells little and shows much, leaving its readers full of fresh insight. Read more:

A review of All I Want To Do Is Live by Trace Ramsey

It seems to me that Ramsey describes the timeless effects of our breaths mingling with the air, our trembling embrace of the universe. How could these not stretch beyond our present reality? His compulsion to bring forth life, in children as well as words, marks him as one of us, his frustrating circumstances as another layer of humanity’s story. Read more:

A review of How To Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

Some readers may claim that the memoir is about a privileged girl getting high all the time. But her brutal honesty and writing style about her not-so-glamorous experiences – going to rehab, struggling with bulimia, her reliance on stimulants – shows that there’s merit to this memoir. She’s not a bad writer, she’s just creative in expressing herself and conveying it to me. It doesn’t matter to me that she’s not following conventional grammar and syntax – she’s found a medium that works for her. Read more:

All of the reviews listed above are available at The Compulsive Reader on the front page. Older reviews are kept indefinitely in our extensive (and growing) categorized archives (currently at 2,119 reviews!), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, poet and academic Michael Longley won the 2017 PEN Pinter Prize, which is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit from Britain, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world and shows a “fierce intellectual determination… to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.” Longley will receive his award October 10 in a public ceremony at the British Library, where he will deliver an address. He will also announce his co-winner, the International Writer of Courage 2017, selected from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN.

Kai Cheng Thom won the CA$4,000 (about $2,975) Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers, administered by the Writers’ Trust of Canada to recognize “literary promise from an emerging writer who is part of Canada’s LGBTQ community.”

Naomi Alderman has won the £30,000 (about $38,830) Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for The Power. Chair of judges Tessa Ross said she and the other judges “debated this wonderful shortlist for many hours but kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia–her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.”

Art historian and curator Rosalind Blakesley won the £5,000 (about $6,375) Pushkin House Russian Book Prize, which recognizes the “best nonfiction writing published in English,” for The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881 (Yale University Press). Chair of the judges Simon Franklin called the winning book “a magnificent achievement. It weaves a wonderfully subtle and compelling story of the emergence of a national school of Russian painting.”

Falling Awake by Alice Oswald and Injun by Jordan Abel were the international and Canadian category winners respectively of the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize, which honors “first edition books of poetry written in, or translated into, English and submitted from anywhere in the world.” They each receive C$65,000 (about US$48,260). Frank Bidart was this year’s Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award recipient.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and novelist, poet, and bookstore owner Louise Erdrich have been named the winners of the 2017 Women’s National Book Association Awards. Hayden and Erdrich will be honored at the WNBA’s centennial celebration on October 28 in New York. The award, which was founded in 1940, is presented every other year to, according to the WNBA, “a living American woman who derives part or all of her income from books and allied arts, and who has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation.” This year, in commemoration of the WBNA’s Centennial, the organization decided to honor two women, rather than one, who represent different aspects of the industry—Hayden, for her involvement in the business of books, and Erdrich, for her involvement in the creation of them.

Israeli author David Grossman won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, which recognizes “a single work of fiction, translated into English and published in the U.K.,” for his novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar, translated by Jessica Cohen. Both author and translator receive £25,000 (about $31,885). Nick Barley, chair of the 2017 judging panel, said Grossman “has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly. A Horse Walks into a Bar shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”

Tracy K. Smith has been named the 22nd poet laureate of the United States. Smith’s poetry has won her such top awards in her field as the James Laughlin Award, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and, for her 2011 collection Life on Mars, the Pulitzer Prize. Smith, the first poet laureate appointed by new librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera in the position, and will take up her duties in the fall. Smith is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars, the Laughlin Award–winning Duende, and the Cave Canem Poetry Prize–winning The Body’s Question. Each was published by Graywolf Press. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award. In addition to the aforementioned honors, she has won a Whiting Award, a Robert Creeley Award, a Rona Jaffe Writers Award, and Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence. Smith currently serves as the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University. Her fourth poetry collection, Wade in the Water, is forthcoming in April 2018.

The winners of the 29th annual Lambda Literary Awards, which “celebrate achievement in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer writing for books published in 2016,” were announced this week. Jacqueline Woodson and Jeanette Winterson were honored for their lifetime achievements. See the winners in 24 categories on Lambda Literary’s website here:

The Australian Booksellers Association has announced a shortlist of five first-time nominees for the A$60,000 (about US$45,775) Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary award, given annually “to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.” The winner will be named September 7 at the State Library of New South Wales. This year’s shortlisted titles are: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn, Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill, Waiting by Philip Salom (check out our review above) and Extinctions by Josephine Wilson.

Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa has won the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award for his novel A General Theory of Oblivion, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. The award is organixed and sponsored by Dublin City Council and, at €100,000, is the world’s largest prize for a single novel published in English.

Finally, the Georg Büchner Prize, the most important literary accolade for the German language, goes this year to poet Jan Wagner. The 50,000-euro ($56000) literary prize is awarded annually by the German Academy for Language and Literature to authors “writing in the German language whose work is considered especially meritorious and who have made a significant contribution to contemporary German cultural life.”The 45-year-old is also a translator of poetry in English. Wagner published his first edition of poetry in 2001, entitled “Probebohrung im Himmel” (Trial Drilling in Heaven), and 10 more have come out since then. He has published translations of poetry in English, by poets such as Charles Simic, James Tate, and Matthew Sweeney, since 2000.

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Julie Rupert, who won a copy of Peregrine Island by Diane B Saxton.

Our new site giveaway is for copy of Molly Fish by Jack McMasters. To win, send me an email at maggieballatcompulsivereaderdotcom (please replace at with @ and dot with.) with the subject line “Molly” and your postal address.

Good luck everybody!



Join critically acclaimed and bestselling author Dan Groat’s Reader Group and receive a FREE PDF copy of his Amazon bestselling short-story collection, IMPRESSIONS:



We will shortly be featuring reviews of Writing True Stories by Patti Miller, Propaganda and Persuasion by Jennifer Anderson, Lucky or Not, Here I come by Gerry Orz, Those Wild Rabbits by Bruce Munday, Imperial Plots by Sarah Carter, and lots more reviews, news, interviews, and giveaways.


(c) 2017 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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