Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 21, Issue 6, 1 June 2019



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Literary News
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Hello readers and happy June.  Following is the latest batch of reviews on site:

An interview with Dr. Aysha Akhtar

The author of Our Symphony with Animals talks about her book, her biggest writing inspiration, some of her most interesting interactions, key themes in the book, the story behind the title, the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing the book, key lessons, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Boats for Women by Sandra Yannone

Sandra Yannone’s brave poems contribute to popular history of the time, flooding us with the arc, the ache, of family and lesbian relationships in her first full-length collection. Some poems live in heartbreak, some, in ecstatic joy. They are worthy of many rereads.  Read more:

Robert McDowell’s Narratives in Quiet Money and The Diviners

To understand the poetry of Robert McDowell, it is important to see him through the lens of the late, great poet Philip Levine, whom Robert McDowell recalls proclaiming, “Robert, he’s his own cat!” In a way that is prophetic and unique, Robert McDowell enters the circus of human stories, and tells them wryly, reminding us that humor exists even in some of our darkest and bleakest moments. Read more:

A review of Wonder By R. J. Palacio

The main character in Wonder is August Pullman: Auggie. He is a funny and sensitive ten-year-old boy from New York who was born with a facial deformity. The story follows his first year at school, after having been home schooled. Auggie wants to feel normal but this is hard when people stare at him and avoid him.  Read more:

A review of brookings: the noun by Jennifer Maiden

As with all of Maiden’s books, brookings: a noun is powerfully astute and thought-provoking, pulling together disparate ideas, deep emotion, and critical thinking and empathy in places where they’re often not found. Above all though, Maiden is a poet’s poet, with a rich lyrical ear. Read more:

A review of Writers on Writing: Conversations with Allen Mendenhall

Each included author has something important to say and Mendenhall has a talent for finding just the right way to allow the authors to express themselves. Mendenhall has a knack at getting to what is significant, and revealing truths both about the writers and about their books. Nor do the interviews shy away from topical issues or cultural conflicts. Read more:

Interview with Tim Smith

Tim Smith, author of The Other Woman talks about his latest novel, his other work, how he began writing, his biggest challenges, inspirations, advice for other writers, and lots more. Read more:

A review of The Age of Fibs by Beth Spencer

However true to fact and corroborated by photos and drawings, memoir is always subject to recreation, to one-sided perception, rewriting, and recasting. It is always both true and fictive, and like dreams, pieced together from a grab-bag of images and turned into stories that reflect the themes being explored.  The Age of Fibs picks up on this uncertainty beautifully and works with it, allowing for openness, complexity, and fragmentation, while still keeping the coherency of the story intact. Read more:

A review of Known by Salt by Tina Mozelle Braziel

Braziel’s lyrical, captivating voice will no doubt only get richer and stronger as she continues to write. Yet, the young voice she has now is so fine, lovely, true, and strong. Readers can only begin to imagine what might come next from this rising star of modern poetry. Read more:

A review of The Book of Dirt by Bram Presser

So much of what makes the present tense of the novel possible comes down to luck, small acts of kindness, and the often random connections that take place. The book is beautifully written, poetic throughout and very moving. There is a lyrical richness and cadence which creates immediacy. Read more:

All of the reviews listed above available at The Compulsive Reader on the front page. Older reviews are kept indefinitely in our extensive (and growing) categorized archives (currently at 2,461), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) has won the $15,000 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The judges commented, in part: “Once in a while a singular, adventurous, and intellectually humorous voice appears that takes us on an inescapable journey. Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra is a library within a library, a Borges-esque labyrinth of references from all cultures and all walks of life. In today’s visual Netflix world, Ms. Van der Vliet Oloomi’s novel performs at the highest of levels in accomplishing only what the written novel can show us.” Call Me Zebra was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award. Van der Vliet Oloomi is also the author of Fra Keeler, which received a Whiting Writers’ Award. She was a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and has received a Fulbright Fellowship and a fellowship from the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes in Barcelona. Van der Vliet Oloomi is an Assistant Professor in the English Department’s MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Notre Dame.

The shortlist of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction consists of: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Milkman by Anna Burns, Ordinary People by Diana Evans, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and Circe by Madeline Miller. The organisers pointed out that this year’s list features “one debut author (Oyinkan Braithwaite), as well as a previous winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction (Madeline Miller, for The Song of Achilles), a winner of Orange Award for New Writers (Diana Evans, for 26a) and one previously shortlisted author (Anna Burns, for No Bones). The winner will be announced June 5.

Circus by Dante Micheaux (Indolent Books) has won the $20,000 Four Quartets Prize, sponsored by the T.S. Eliot Foundation and the Poetry Society of America and honoring “a unified and complete sequence of poems published in America in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book.” The judges commented: “How right that this poet’s first name should be Dante. For his Circus is a Comedy: a savage comedy, lacerating dialects, fingering wounds, looking for loves right and wrong in the crevices of history and of humiliated bodes. And yet, and yet. His language exults, triumphs, and freely rummages in the treasuries of the Bible, Baudelaire, Whitman, Eliot, Baraka, and Mahalia Jackson, taking what it needs, making it his sovereign own, a wrested blessing. Congratulations, Dante Micheaux, on your astonishing Circus.” Finalists were Catherine Barnett for ‘Accursed Questions’ from Human Hours (Graywolf Press) and Meredith Stricker for anemochore (Newfound Press).

Will Eaves won the £30,000 (about $39,075) Wellcome Book Prize, which “celebrates exceptional works of fiction and nonfiction that illuminate the many ways that health and medicine touch our lives,” for his novel Murmur, inspired by the life and legacy of Alan Turing.

Guy Gunaratne won the the £1,000 (about $1,300) Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Color for his Man Booker prize-nominated debut In Our Mad and Furious City, the Guardian reported. The prize was established in 2016 to recognize the best book by a British or British-resident black, Asian and minority ethnic author.

Imprisoned Egyptian publisher and bookseller Khaled Lutfi won the £7,500 (about $9,770) International Publishers Association’s Prix Voltaire, which supports defenders of freedom to publish. The Bookseller reported that on February 4, Lutfi, “founder of Cairo’s Tanmia Bookshop and Publishing, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of divulging military secrets and spreading rumours for having distributed an Arabic translation of the book The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Uri Bar-Joseph.”

The shortlist has been unveiled for the 2019 Arthur C. Clarke Award, given to the best science fiction novel whose U.K. edition was published in the previous year. The winning author, who will be announced July 17 at the Foyles flagship bookshop in London, receives £2,019 (about $2,625) and a commemorative engraved bookend. This year’s shortlisted titles are: Semiosis by  Sue Burke, Revenant Gun  by Yoon Ha Lee, Frankenstein in Baghdad by  Ahmed Saadawi, The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag, Rosewater by Tade Thompson, and The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley.

A shortlist has been announced for the £10,000 (about $13,010) Desmond Elliott Prize, which honors a debut novel written in English and published in the U.K. The winner will be revealed June 19. This year’s Desmond Elliott shortlisted titles are: Golden Child by Claire Adam, Hold by Michael Donkor, and Devoured by Anna Mackmin. Find out more about each title here:

The Poetry Foundation announced three significant honors: Marilyn Nelson won the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which annually honors a living U.S. poet for outstanding lifetime achievement. Naomi Shihab Nye was named the 2019-2021 Young People’s Poet Laureate (and received the $25,000 prize), which celebrates a living writer in recognition of their devotion to writing exceptional poetry for young readers. The two-year-term laureateship promotes poetry to children and their families, teachers, and librarians. Terrance Hayes won the $7,500 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, which honors the best book-length works of criticism published in the prior calendar year, for his book To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight.

Aida Edemariam has won the £10,000 (about $12,945) 2019 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize for The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History (4th Estate; published in the U.S. in March by Harper Perennial). The prize is given to “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.”

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne has won the the £30,000 (International Dylan Thomas Prize, which is sponsored by Swansea University and recognizes the “best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under.” Organizers said that the novel “burst into our consciousness in 2018 providing an urgent, timely and compelling fictional account of 48 hours in an East London housing estate after the murder of a British soldier, as told through three narrators. Risky and inventive, Gunaratne has been lauded for providing an authentic voice to marginalised sectors of society and for shining a spotlight on the very real experiences of youths from minority ethnic backgrounds.”

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth from Arabic, won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, which “celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world.” The £50,000 (about $63,515) award is divided equally between author and translator. In addition, each shortlisted author and translator receives £1,000 (about $1,270). Alharthi is the first female Omani novelist to be translated into English and the first author from the Arabian Gulf to win the prize.

Finalists have been named for the £10,000 (about $12,665) Forward Prize for Poetry and the £5,000 (about $6,335) Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection. Winners will be announced October 20 in London. This year’s shortlisted books are: City of Departures by Helen Tookey, Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here by Vidyan Ravinthiran, Noctuary by Niall Campbell, and Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson.  For first collection, If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton, The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus, Significant Other by Isabel Galleymore, Surge by Jay Bernard, and Truth Street by David Cain.

Finally, the longlist for the 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award, honoring “novels of the highest literary merit that tell stories about Australian life,” has been announced and includes:  The Lebs by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Flames by Robbie Arnott, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, A Sand Archive by Gregory Day, Inappropriation by Lexi Freiman, A Stolen Season by Rodney Hall, The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones, Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko, Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills, and The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen. The winner of Australia’s most prestigious literary award receives A$60,000 (about US$41,335). The shortlist will be revealed on July 2 and the winner on July 30.

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Mary Preston, who won an autographed copy of brookings: the noun by Jennifer Maiden.

Congratulations also to Zoltan R. Almasi and Constance Norwood who each won a copy of Patterns: Moment in Time by Carol Smallwood.

Our new giveaway is for a copy of Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel. To enter the giveaway, send me an email at with the subject line “Allegra” and your postal address.

We also have a copy of Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies by Aysha Akhtar. To enter the giveaway, send me an email at with the subject line “Our Symphony with Animals” and your postal address.

Good luck everybody!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of The Short Story of You and I by Richard James Allen, Made by Mary by Laura Catherine Brown, The Man Who Can’t Die by Jon Frankel,The Collected Schizophrenias, by Esmé Weijun Wang, interviews with Sarah Kornfeld, and lots more.

Don’t forget to drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) or at to listen to our latest interview with Bram Presser, who reads from and talks about The Book of Dirt.  To listen, visit the show page or you can listen directly from the site widget (right hand side of the site).

You can also subscribe to the show via iTunes and get updates automatically. Just find us under podcasts by searching for Compulsive Reader. Then just click subscribe.


(c) 2019 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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