Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 21, Issue 7, 1 July 2019



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

A review of Eager to Break by Eliana Gray

Eliana Gray’s latest poetry collection, Eager to Break, is assured, quiet, charming, and intense all at the same time. The work engages directly and openly with inherently distressing themes like sexual violence, mental illness, fear, PTSD and its many manifestations and loss, but always, and perhaps uniquely, with a muted joy – as if the opportunity to play with words this way, against such pain, were a gift. Read more:

A review of Belief by Les Wicks

Belief is an elaborate mosaic where the tiles are words; paradoxes, satire and the vernacular adorn the pages of this beautifully crafted book. Belief is divided into seven sections, each section opens a door to two worlds: one the writer’s imagination and psyche and the other opens to the external world. Read more:

A review of Great American Desert by Terese Svoboda

Svoboda’s characters contend with people who came before them: daughters with fathers, grandchildren with grandfathers, high-schoolers with college drop-outs. There is always someone there to blow the seeds into your face. Someone to obscure the vision. There is always something that manages to be not-there: pollution that is not believed in, menace that can be tied in conversation, meanness in the expectations of filial duty. Read more:

An interview with Tara Johnson

The author of Where Dandelions Bloomtalks about her new book and its inspiration, her favourite type of character to write, the themes in the book, the value of fiction and storytelling in today’s society and lots more. Read more:

A review of not a poster child: living well with a disability by Francine Falk-Allen

In her evocative memoir, not a poster child, Francine Falk-Allen achieves her goal of describing life well-lived while handicapped. In so doing, she fulfills another goal: to honor all handicapped individuals. What results is a remarkable story told in an easily accessible and conversational manner with intelligence, wit, and grace. Read more:

A review of The Short Story of You and I by Richard James Allen

There is an exuberance here; a delight in the word, in the construction of the self, the abnegation of the self, and in the sheer pain and joy of living, losing, and loving, that comes through each of the poems. Read more:

Leaning into the “Crazy”: Reflections on The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Wang’s genius partly comes from her ability to write about her illness with seemingly perfect clarity, as the sufferer and the scientist. The book is a testament to her brain—a brain working so well that it can so effectively describe the torment it causes her. Especially since, as Wang reminds us, schizophrenia is a disease of “loosening of associations,” in which the mind is working so hard within the person—against the person—to rid itself of itself. Read more:

A review of The Man Who Can’t Die by Jon Frankel

The story is long, which works well for readers like me who hate to see a good book end; and the story is well-knit, which works well for scholars who want to tease out influences, tangents and themes. Frankel paints spot-on portraits of the male sex symbol, poor kids in privileged schools, Big Science, and environmentalists. Like Proust, he uses smell as a motif and a motivator. Read more:

An interview with Nancy Smiler Levinson

Minnesota born, Nancy Smiler Levinson, after majoring in journalism, worked at newspaper and magazine composition as well as an editing house in New York City; after marriage, she moved to California and had two sons. She has written many books for children and appears in several journals such as: Poetica, Third Wednesday, and Drunk Monkeys. Nancy’s included in Volume 140, Something About the Author: Facts and Pictures About Authors and Illustrators of Books for Young People. Read more:

A review of Made by Mary by Laura Catherine Brown

With depth in relationships that celebrate the chaos and imperfect love of mothers and daughters, lovers with lovers, and between friends, Brown delivers a beautiful and painful reminder that love often includes disappointment and failure, but also redemption and forgiveness. In the end, the human connection no matter how fallible, regardless of trappings of belief, is necessary for our survival. 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 2,473), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Raynor Winn won the inaugural £10,000 (about $12,610) RSL Christopher Bland Prize, which recognizes a debut novelist or nonfiction writer aged 50 or over, forThe Salt Path. Chair of judges Gillian Slovo commented: “The loss of a home and the threat of a mortal illness send Raynor Winn and her husband Moth onto the salt path. What follows is a quest vividly described of how to survive being outcast. The Salt Path is a book about a love that holds strong despite privations, and about the way we judge others. It uses a shifting landscape of feeling that says much about the power of nature, the stigma of homelessness, and the unexpected choices that can change lives.”

A shortlist has been released for the £10,000 (about $12,635) Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize, which “aims to inspire young people to read about science and promotes the writing of excellent, accessible STEM books for under-14s.” The winner, selected by judging panels made up of young people across the U.K., will be announced in November. This year’s finalists are: 100 Things to Know About Numbers, Computers & Coding by Alice James, Eddie Reynolds, Minna Lacey, Rose Hall and Alex Frith, illustrated by Federico Mariani, Parko Polo and Shaw Nielsen, Kid Scientists by David Stabler, illustrated by Anoosha Syed, Planetarium by Raman Prinja, illustrated by Chris Wormell, Science Makers: Making with States of Matter by Anna Claybourne, The Bacteria Book by Steve Mould, and The Element in the Room by Mike Barfield, illustrated by Lauren Humphrey.

Poet, performer playwright, artist and broadcaster Lemn Sissay won the PEN Pinter Prize, which was established in 2009 by English PEN to defend freedom of expression and celebrate literature. The prize is given annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the U.K., 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.”

Winners have been announced for the Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”), which have, for more than 30 years, “identified and honored the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books.” See the complete list of category winners and finalists on Lambda Literary’s website. Along with the 25 book award winners, Alexander Chee received Lambda’s Trustee Award “for his immeasurable contributions to culture as a novelist, essayist, activist, and teacher; Masha Gessen received the Visionary Award “for their work advancing public awareness around the global threat of totalitarianism”; and Barbara Smith received the Publishing Professional Award “for a lifetime of work that has profoundly shaped our collective understanding of the interconnections between race, class and gender.”

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina Kover (Europa Editions) has won the Albertine Prize, announced last night in New York City. In an unusual twist, the Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y., is hosting an event this evening featuring the author, the translator and author and translator Tim Mohr, who is a big fan of the book–but, until last night, the store had to advertise the event only as featuring “the winner of the Albertine Prize.”

Tayari Jones won the £30,000 (about $38,085) 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for An American Marriage, the Guardian reported. Chair of judges Kate Williams, who said the judges deliberated for four hours to make the tough decision, commented: “It’s an incredible examination of America and American life, focusing on the intimacy of a marriage but on a huge political canvas. The prose is luminous, striking and utterly moving. How hard it is even when you’re on the outside and are free, how you’re not really free when you have someone in prison.

Autobiography of Death by Don Mee Choi, translated from the Korean by Kim Hyesoon; and Quarrels by Eve Joseph were the international and Canadian category winners respectively of the 2019 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$49,000). Nicole Brossard was this year’s Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award recipient.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Random House) has won the €100,000 (about $112,890) International Dublin Literary Award, which “aims to promote excellence in world literature” by honoring a novel written in English or translated into English. The prize is sponsored by Dublin City Council and managed by Dublin City Libraries. The winning novel was chosen from a total of 141 titles, nominated by libraries in 115 cities across 41 countries. Ruskovich is only the fourth American to win the award in its 24-year history.

Ailbhe Darcy won the £4,000 (about $5,100) Wales Book of the Year Award for her poetry collection, Insistence. She also won the Roland Mathias Poetry Prize. Judge Sandeep Parmar described Insistence as a “proliferation of uncertain and strange lyric events, invigorating poetry at the level of line and language…. The contours and iterations of this book and the depth of Darcy’s thoroughly human project is operatic, mortal, unforgettable.” Celebrating books across three categories (poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction) in both English and Welsh, the ceremony saw 10 winners claim a total prize fund of £12,000 (about $15,300). Check out the complete list of winners here:

Finally, The State Library of New South Wales has unveiled its shortlist for the AU$25,000 (National Biography Award, which recognizes “a published work of biographical or autobiographical writing aiming to promote public interest in these genres.” The winner will be named August 12. This year’s shortlisted authors, each of whom receives AU$2,000 (about US$1,400), are: Do Oysters Get Bored? A Curious Life by Rozanna Lilley, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia by Sofija Stefanovic, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani, translated by Omid Tofighian, One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton, The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disasterby Sarah Krasnostein, and The Wasp and the Orchid: The Remarkable Life of Australian Naturalist Edith Coleman by Danielle Clode

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Laurie Blum, who won a copy of of Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies by Aysha Akhtar.

Congratulations also to Sally Chandler, who won a copy of Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel.

Our new giveaway is for a beautiful swag box containing Ania’s Balance of the 12 plus lots of other lovely booty including a necklace, satin pouch and more! To enter the giveaway, send me an email at with the subject line “Balance of the 12” and your postal address.

We also have a copy of Spinster Kang by Zoe S Roy.  To enter the giveaway, send me an email at with the subject line “Spinster Kang” and your postal address.

Happy bumper month!  We also have a copy of Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman to giveaway. To enter the giveaway, send me an email at with the subject line “Trails in the Dust” and your postal address.

If you want to enter more than one comp, you could just send one email with whatever subject line you want and write in the email which comps you want to enter. We only get about 1/5th of you entering the comp each month so the odds are pretty good – get those entries in, and good luck!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of The Accusation by Wendy James, We Will Tell you Otherwise by Beth Mayer, Stopgap Grace by Neil McCarthy, White Horses by Linda Blaskey, an interview with T. I. Lowe, an essay on James Baldwin, and lots more.

Don’t forget to drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) or at listen to our latest interview with Richard James Allen, who reads from and talks about The Short Story of You and I.  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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