Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 22, Issue 12, 1 Dec 2020



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Literary News
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Hello readers and happy December.  Following is the latest batch of reviews:

A review of Give a Girl Chaos by Heidi Seaborn

The book is called “Give a Girl a Chaos,” but the sub-title is “and see what she can do.” As I was reading this book, I started to hear in my mind Holly Near’s song “Fight Back,” an anthem I used to sing at rallies. Like Near, Seaborn is triumphant and resounding about women surviving chaos. She shows us that the girl who has been through chaos can catch the joy in every moment and overflow with love. Read more:

A review of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Paolini has successfully crossed-over into the sci fi realm and it’s obvious he’s done his physics homework, utilising existing science and scientific theories in a way that would make Arthur C Clark proud. The work displays a great deal of creative ingenuity, with well-developed and interesting aliens (who are neither like ET nor like super-humans), witty spacecraft banter, all sorts of fun technologies, a super fast-paced plot line that is deeply engaging—this is an easy-read— and description that is often poetic, charged by an obvious love of astronomy. Read more:

A review of Lord of the Senses by Vikram Kolmannskog

Having been a person who grew up as Kannadiga in suburban Atlanta, I felt like I not only relived some of my own experiences of being Western and yet outside of the West, I also felt like I lived a lifetime with Vikram. This is one of the most potent powers of writing; to make the writer, and reader, through the imprint of a page, feel as if they were one. Read more:

A review of The Best of Brevity edited by Zoë Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore

I have to restrain myself from simply summarizing some these marvelous 84 essays culled from over two decades of publishing, but as with all flash, fiction as well as nonfiction, it’s the gem-like brilliance of the individual pieces that stands out. Read more:

An interview with Leslie Klein

Poet and artist Leslie Klein talks about her new book Driving Through Paintings, the influence of living in the northeast US, her sculpture, libraries, birds, the relationship between visual art and writing, her work-in-progress, and more. Read more:

A review of Poems of bay, beach & harbour By Margaret Owen Ruckert

The reader will encounter in Ruckert’s poems rich imagery and profound reflexions. The musicality of the tanka awaken the reader’s imagination. Going through the pages is like visiting Sydney beaches from Botany Bay to Manly, we get a glimpse of the beauty that surrounds this town. Read more:

A review of Arsenal / Sin Documentos by Francesco Levato

Levato declutters (and de-bullshits) the pages with margin-to-margin mark-outs with a thick-ass Sharpie. His omissions reveal the national publications’ foundational intentions—to legally dehumanize and inflict harm on Latin American bodies in the name of the American state. This book is going to piss you off. Read more:

A review of Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures by Carol Smallwood

It is a collection to be read again and again, as each reading offers new ways of seeing and thinking, threads, forms, and other the enclosures appearing before us,  evolving, changing shape and ultimately presenting us with new insights. Read more:

An interview with Gail Godwin

A three-time nominee for the National Book Award and a former Guggenheim Fellow, Godwin is the author of two short story collections, three nonfiction books, and fifteen novels. The latest one, Old Lovegood Girls, was published this year. In this interview, conducted just prior to publication, Godwin talks about her upcoming novel, her writing process, thought on the mystical and her experiences with Scientology, ghosts, grief, autobiography and fiction, and much more. Read more:

A review of The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun

The Disaster Tourist, the first novel of the South Korean author Yun Ko-Eun to be translated into English, is a sharp, intricate, and too realistic story on how capitalism’s ravenousness can turn almost every person into a disposable mannequin and almost every land into waste disposal. 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 2,706), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, the winners of the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards, honouring the best in New Zealand crime, mystery and thriller writing, are: Best Novel: Auē by Becky Manawatu, and Best First Novel: The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald. 

The shortlist has been unveiled for the 2020 Waterstones Book of the Year. Nominated by booksellers, the finalists now go before a Waterstones panel, headed by managing director James Daunt, to choose a winner, who will be announced December 3. The winning title receives the full support of Waterstones. This year’s shortlisted titles are: Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani, Island Dreams by Gavin Francis, The Ratline by Philippe Sands, One, Two, Three, Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown, Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola, Black and British: A Short, Essential History by David Olusoga, Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, and The Book of Hopes, edited by Katherine Rundell.

A shortlist has been released for the C$10,000 (about US$7,590) Toronto Book Awards, which celebrates books of literary merit that are evocative of the Canadian city. The winner will be named November 30 in a livestream hosted by the Toronto Public Library. This year’s shortlisted titles are: Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta, Dancing After TEN by Vivian Chong & Georgia Webber, project management and access support by Kathleen Rea, In the Beggarly Style of Imitation by Jean Marc Ah-Sen, The Missing Millionaire by Katie Daubs, and The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole.

Dr. Camilla Pang won the £25,000 (about $32,715) Royal Society Science Book Prize, which is intended to “promote the accessibility and joy of popular science books to the public,” for Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships. The Guardian reported that Pang is both the youngest writer ever and the first writer of color to win the award. Chair of judges Anne Osbourn called the winning book “an intelligent and charming investigation into how we understand human behavior, drawing on the author’s superpower of neurodivergence…. Pang may have written this book as a manual to understand a world that sometimes feels alien to her, but it also allows neurotypicals to see the world from an entirely new perspective.”

The winners of the 2020 Kirkus Prizes, sponsored by Kirkus Reviews, were announced during a virtual ceremony hosted by the Austin Central Library in Texas. The winners, each of whom received a cash prize of $50,000, are: Fiction: Luster by Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Nonfiction: Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream by Mychal Denzel Smith (Bold Type Books), and Young Readers’ Literature: I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (Nancy Paulsen Books)

Souvankham Thammavongsa won the C$100,000 (about US$75,920) Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short story collection, How to Pronounce Knife. Finalists each receive C$10,000 (about US$7,590). 

The $10k Dayton Literary Peace Prize has been awarded for books that “foster peace, social justice, and global understanding.” The prize for fiction went to Alice Hoffman for her novel, The World That We Knew (S&S), set in 1941 Berlin, about three young women’s struggles to resist fascism. The nonfiction is Chanel Miller for her memoir, Know My Name (Viking), about her trauma and recovery after being brutally raped in 2015 by Stanford University student Brock Turner. Runners-up were The Beekeeper of Aleppo (Ballantine), a novel about a beekeeper and his wife escaping war in Syria by Christy Lefteri (fiction), and Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do (Penguin) by Jennifer Eberhardt (nonfiction). Margaret Atwood will receive the 2020 Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.

Aisling Smith won the 2020 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers, which aims “to unearth, support and nurture new Australian writing talent,” for Petrichor. Smith receives A$10,000, to be donated by Hachette Australia, along with a 12-month mentorship with one of Hachette Australia’s publishers. Hachette Australia will work with the winning writer to develop the manuscript with first option to consider the finished work and shortlisted entries for publication. 

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison has won the £10,000 (about $13,200) 2020 Goldsmiths Prize, which rewards “fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form.” Chair of judges Frances Wilson said, “M. John Harrison has produced a literary masterpiece that will continue to be read in 100 years time, if the planet survives that long.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her novel Half of a Yellow Sun was voted the Women’s Prize for Fiction’s Winner of Winners, a one-off award marking the culmination of a year-long 25th anniversary celebration, including the #ReadingWomen campaign. Her novel originally won the Women’s Prize for Fiction (then the Orange Prize) in 2007.

The American Library Association revealed the shortlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. The two medal winners, who each receive $5,000, will be named February 4 and honored along with the other finalists at the Reference and User Services Association’s Book and Media Awards event, which will take place online. This year’s shortlisted titles are: Fiction: A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Knopf), Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead), and Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown). For Nonfiction Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (S&S) – check out our review of Fathoms here:, Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press), and Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (Ecco). 

The winners of the National Book Award have been announced in its first all-virtual ceremony live streamed and free. Charles Yu, one of the National Book Foundation’s Five Under 35 most promising writers in America in 2007, was the fiction winner for his satire, “Interior Chinatown,” a sendup of Hollywood and Asian-American stereotypes. The nonfiction award went to “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” a biography by Les Payne and his daughter Tamara Payne.  The award for young people’s literature went to Kacen Callender for “King and the Dragonflies,” which features a Black boy who is struggling in the wake of his brother’s death. The prize for translated literature went to Yu Miri’s novel “Tokyo Ueno Station,” which was translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles, and is narrated by a ghost who visits a park where he lived when he was homeless. The award for poetry went to the poet and translator Don Mee Choi’s collection “DMZ Colony,” a collage of survivor accounts, prose, and quotations with photographs and drawings that takes its name from Korea’s Demilitarized Zone. The Literarian Award, which recognizes the recipient’s contributions to the American literary community, was awarded posthumously to Carolyn Reidy, the Simon & Schuster chief executive who died in May. The novelist Walter Mosley received the foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a lifetime achievement award that previously has gone to Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo and Ursula K. Le Guin. 

Congratulations to Douglas Stewart who won the 2020 Booker Prize for his novel Shuggie Bain. The Booker, which is over 50 years old now, is awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland. You can watch the whole ceremony online (front row seat!) here: 

Shortlists in five categories have been announced for the 2020 Costa Book Awards celebrating books published by writers in the UK and Ireland. The shortlist for fiction includes Pirenasi by Susanna Clarke, Peace Talks by Tim Finch, The Less Dead by Denise Mina, The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey, .  The full list in all categories can be found here: Category winners, who each receive £5,000 (about $6,620), will be announced January 4, and the £30,000 ($39,715) overall winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be named January 26 at a virtual ceremony.

Have a good month!



Congratulations to Joan Woods, who won a copy of The Parisian Professor by Joseph Sciuto.

Congratulations to Erica Hughes who won a copy of Delia Meade by Martin Keaveney.  

Congratulations to Francesca Neville, who won a copy of  The Reconception of Marie by Teresa Carmody.

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of Talking to the Sky by Aimee Mayo. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Talking to the Sky” and your postal address in the body of the message. 

We also have an autographed copy of Poppy in the Wild by Teresa J. Rhyne (sorry – advertised that last month but it’s actually this month!  All November entries are still eligible so you don’t need to enter again if you already have, but if you haven’t already entered, just send me an email at with the subject line “Poppy in the Wild” and your postal address in the body of the message.  

Finally, we also have a copy of Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures by Carol Smallwood. To enter, send me an email at with the subject line “Thread” and your postal address in the body of the message.  

Good luck, everyone!



Starting Block by L C Graham

Emily’s mother is in jail, and her best friend’s father is the prosecuting attorney. A story about friendship, healing, and learning how to thrive in the face of horrible truths. Quarter-finalist in the 2020 Publishers Weekly Booklife Prize for Fiction contest! .



The Parisian Professor

A New Spy Novel by Joseph Sciuto

The Story of a CIA Operative: A powerful political novel ripped from the headlines and wrapped in a love story.  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 What the Living Remember by Nancy Gerber, Square Haunting by Francesca Wade, Letters in Language by Harold Legaspi, an interview with Jim Flynn, author of Be Sincere Even When You don’t Mean It: The Memoirs of Jimmy Sizemore 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 Angus Gaunt who reads from and talks about his book Black Rabbit. 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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