Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 22, Issue 4, 1 April 2020



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Literary News
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Hello readers.  So much has happened since the last newsletter – 2020 has been an intense year and with Covid-19 and our worldwide isolation, I hope you are all okay, surrounded with good books, supportive family, and working internet.  Please reach out if there’s anything I can do to help. We’re all in this together.  

Although like most literary and music festivals, the Newcastle Writers Festival was cancelled this year, a virtual version is going ahead and I’m very excited to still be part of it.  Events take place online through this weekend (Sat 4th and Sunday 5th of April).  You can access the program here:  I’ll be chatting with literary powerhouses Maria Tumarkin, Sophie Hardcastle and Nicola Redhouse about writing through trauma (and writing through a pandemic) and would love for you to join us.  It’s not quite the same as being there in person, but the upside is no parking fees, no need to dress, and you can attend from anywhere.  Following is the latest batch of reviews.

A review of Two Californias by Robert Glick

In the midst of narratives preoccupied with decay and disease, Glick’s language is vibrant, even magical, and often humorous in its treatment of youthful yearning and cynicism. The author flexes a talent for poetic prose especially in “Mermaid Anatomy,” which is narrated by a young man on vacation from Holland who plays hide-and-seek with a girl he meets at his hostel. Read more:

A review of The House the Spirit Builds by Lorna Crozier, Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy

Crozier sometimes finds nature in surprising things. She says, of “Key I”, “perhaps it is not a key but a long-thoraxed praying mantis about to grow legs and walk away.” Of Key II, she writes: “Is it called skeleton because it unlocks the mystery of bones?” Here “nature” is human nature, the human mind’s ability to free associate and make connections. Read more:

A review of What Shines from It by Sara Rauch

The theme of wounds in this collection relates principally to issues and disappointments regarding reproduction. Seven of the eleven stories in the collection have to do with infertility, wanted and unwanted pregnancies, life with small children and the hard decisions parents must make. Readers who have these concerns will find What Shines from It particularly meaningful. Read more:

A review of Urban Reflections, Photography and Poetry in Dialogue by Willfried Rausert and Ketaki Datta

The photographs presented here also portray the multiple dimensions and complexity of life. Every photo has a unique message to convey which is picked up on by the poet as she explores the sensations, feelings, hopes and struggles reflected in the images. Urban Reflections is a unique collaboration – beautifully presented and deeply meaningful. Read more:

A review of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate You Give is a story of both justice and injustice, love and family. This book will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. An exquisite novel, I would recommend to not only YA but adults as well. This novel has a powerful message which needs to be spread. Read more:

A review of Crossing the Threshold by Katalin Kennedy

To write a novel so replete with historical and geographic information requires both research ability and personal experience. Author Katalin Kennedy, a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa, is a Canadian of Hungarian background who took many coach tours with her husband over a forty year period, seeing much of Britain and continental Europe. Read more:

A review of That Strapless Bra in Heaven by Sarah Sarai

Many of Sarai’s lines have the declarative emphasis of aphorisms. “Easier to make an enemy than beef Wellington” begins the poem, “Call Me Sheena.” “Tenderness isn’t necessary but there it is / like a chemical we write to Congress about,” she writes in “Not Simple Is Joy nor Cosmology.” “Wedding planners are a food group,” she writes in “A Scarlet Moss,” “So is roast beef.” Read more:

A review of Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

Axiomatic is a gorgeous, difficult and extraordinary book that demands deep engagement from the reader. Tumarkin’s humility, dark humour, scholarship, and above all, the empathy with which she connects her own experience to that of her subjects and ultimately to that of the reader creates a tapestry that is moving, powerful, and important. This is a book that seeps under the skin, changing perception.  It’s vital reading. Read more:

An Interview with Carole Mertz

The author of Toward a Peeping Sunrise talks about her new poetry chapbook, how and why she began writing poetry, her publisher Prolific Press and why she chose them, on poetic forms, poetry challenges, her studies at the Mozart Academy in Salzberg, using images in her work, some of the themes of her essay, what’s on her shelf, and lots more. Read more:

A review of The Grace of Distance by Matthew Thorburn

The Grace of Distance  has an immediate appeal with a parabola of terse phrases and expressions turning into maxims. The poems of the first section have a wider spectrum of portraying the human emotions, drawing upon the spiritual wanderings through the labyrinths of one’s mind or hint of rebirth or reincarnation of human souls, as propounded by Lord Buddha. 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 2,588), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Leonardo Da Vinci Rediscovered by Carmen C. Bambach (Yale University Press) has won the R.R. Hawkins Award, the top prize of the 2020 PROSE Awards, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers and honoring the best of scholarly publishing. Noting that the winning titles was 23 years in the making, has more than a million words and 1,500 illustrations over 2,300 pages in several volumes, Yale University Press director John Donatich called Leonardo Da Vinci Rediscovered “a once in a lifetime book in the career of an author as well as her publisher.”

The winners of the Audie Awards, sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association, were announced at the APA’s 25th annual Audies Gala. The Audiobook of the Year was The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff, narrated by a 45-person cast with Holter Graham (Simon & Schuster Audio). See the full list of winners and finalists here:

Finalists have been named for the £30,000 (about $39,170) Rathbones Folio Prize, which “is borderless and open to all genres… which means it reflects a greater diversity and variety of voices present in our literary culture and society as a whole.” The winner will be announced March 23 in London. This year’s list features an American, Iranian-American, Irish and Mexican authors, along with four British writers; and includes three novels and three works of nonfiction as well as a poetry and a short story collection. The shortlisted titles are: Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni, The Topeka School by Ben Lerner, Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson, Victory by James Lasdun, On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming, Constellations by Sinead Gleeson, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, and Grand Union by Zadie Smith

At this year’s PEN Literary Awards ceremony, held March 2 at Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan, novelist Yiyun Li was awarded the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award for Where Reasons End (Random House), a moving novel about a writer coping with her teenage son’s suicide; Mimi Lok’s short story collection Last of Her Name (Kaya Press) won the $25,000 PEN/Bingham Short Story Prize; and Frans de Waal’s treatise on animal empathy Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What they Tell us about Ourselves (Norton), won the $10,000 PEN/Wilson Science Writing Award. The PEN Literary Awards present more than $330,000 in prize money to the winners. Among other winners announced during the awards ceremony: Deborah Fleming’s Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape (Kent State Univ. Press) won the $10,000 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the essay; Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America (Norton) won the $5,000 PEN/Weld Award for biography; and Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall (City Lights) won the $5,000 PEN Open Book Award for a book by a writer of colour.

The shortlist has been released for the A$50,000 (about US$33,145) Stella Prize, which was created to “recognize and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature.” A winner will be named in Sydney April 8. This year’s shortlisted titles are: See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill, Diving into Glass by Caro Llewellyn, There Was Still Love by Favel Parret, Here Until August by Josephine Rowe, The Yield by Tara June Winch, and The Weekend by Charlotte Wood (see our review here: 

Finalists have been announced in 24 categories for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”), which recognize “the crucial role LGBTQ writers play in shaping the world” and celebrate “the vast range of LGBTQ literature.” Winners will be named June 8 at the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony in New York City. “The Lammys are a testament to the LGBTQ community’s longstanding contribution to literature,” said Sue Landers, executive director of Lambda Literary. “The awards celebrate authentic LGBTQ storytelling in all of its beauty, complexity, and power.” See the complete list of this year’s finalists here:

The shortlists have been announced for the 14th edition of the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards across six key categories.  An independent judging panel chose shortlists for each category out of an impressive 1,900 nominations from 49 countries, in a significant increase from 1,500 entries the previous year. Winners will receive prize money of 750,000 UAE dirhams (204,181 USD), to be awarded in a special ceremony that takes place during the Abu Dhabi Dhabi International Book Fair in April. The winning titles that fall under children’s books or literature will also be eligible for translation funding. View the full list here:

Winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night in New York City. Because of COVID-19, the ceremony originally planned at the New School was canceled. The NBCC Board plans to honor the winners and finalists at a gala on September 12. This year’s NBCC Award recipents are: Fiction: Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf),  Nonfiction: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday), Poetry: Magical Negro: Poems by Morgan Parker (Tin House), Autobiography: Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller (Viking), Biography: The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth by Josh Levin (Little, Brown), Criticism: Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman (Norton). The John Leonard Prize was presented to Sarah M. Broom for The Yellow House: A Memoir (Grove); the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing to Katy Waldman; and the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to Naomi Shihab Nye.

The shortlists for the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards have been announced. Twenty-nine judges considered almost 600 entries, with up to $295,000 in prize money to be awarded. 2020 Senior Judge, Jane McCredie, commented: “This year’s shortlists feature a dazzling array of stories from talented writers delving into Australian and universal themes. How we relate to each other and to a natural world in crisis, our fractured histories, our possible futures: no topic is too big or too challenging.” The Christina Stead prize for fiction includes Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany, The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith, Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar, The Palace of Angels by Mohammed Massoud Morsi, The Yield by Tara June Winch, and  The White Girl by Tony Birch. View the full shortlist here: The winners will be announced on Monday 27 April 2020.

Australian independent booksellers, members of Leading Edge Books, have announced There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia) as their favourite book from last year, and the winner of The Indie Book Awards 2020 Book of the Year. Bookseller judge Callum Macdonald (from Berkelouw Books) commented that: “Parrett’s latest carries the dreamlike subtlety that made readers fall in love with When the Night Comes and Past the Shallows… This novel is a love letter to the stories that Parrett has been shaped by, and the personal history that at once defines and directs us. Melodious and poetic, this book is easy to love.” The Awards recognise and celebrate the indie booksellers as the number one supporters of Australian authors. The individual category winners in Fiction, Debut Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustrated Non-Fiction, Children’s and Young Adult were also announced. From these five category winners, the independent booksellers selected the best of the best – The 2019 Indie Book of the Year.  See all winners here:

Finalists have been chosen for the Publishing Triangle Awards, which celebrate “the best LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction and poetry,” and include the Ferro-Grumley Literary Awards. See the many finalists here. Sadly the awards ceremony scheduled for April 30 in New York City has been cancelled, but winners will be announced that day on the Publishing Triangle’s website. In addition, Eileen Myles will receive the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. Myles is the author of 21 books, including, most recently, evolution, a collection of poems, and Afterglow / a dog memoir, which was a finalist for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction in 2018. Oliver Baez Bendorf will receive the Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award. Bendorf is the author of two collections, Advantages of Being Evergreen (2019), and The Spectral Wilderness (2015), which was a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. The documentary In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction has won the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award.

Valeria Luiselli, the Mexican novelist and essayist who lives in New York City, has won the £30,000 (about $35,190) 2020 Rathbones Folio Prize for Lost Children Archive, her third novel and her first to be written in English and published in the U.S. by Knopf and Vintage. Organizers called the winning title “a fiercely imaginative autobiographical work of fiction. In a breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, it intertwines two journeys–a family road trip and the stories of thousands of children trying to cross the Southern border into the U.S.–to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections. A moving, powerful, and urgent novel, it tells a prescient story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.”

Finaly, winners were announced for the Windham Campbell Prizes, which “highlight literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.” The unrestricted grant of $165,000 comes with virtually no strings attached, except that each writer is expected to attend a literary festival and awards ceremony held at Yale in September each year (might be a bit tricky this year!). This year’s Windham Campbell winners are Yiyun Lee (U.S./China) and Namwali Serpell (Zambia) in fiction; Maria Tumarkin (Australia) – check out my review this month of Maria’s latest book Axiomatic, and Anne Boyer (U.S.) in nonfiction; Bhanu Kapil (U.K./India) and Jonah Mixon-Webster (U.S.) in poetry; and Julia Cho (U.S.) and Aleshea Harris (U.S.) in drama.

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Andrew Beck who won a copy of Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero. 

Congratulations also to Tracy Mackay who won a copy of Good Dogs Don’t Make it to the South Pole by Hans-Olav Thyvold. 

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of Magnus by Mark Carew. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Magnus” and your postal address in the body of the message.

We’ve also got a copy of by Dawson’s Fall by Roxana Robinson.  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Dawsons Fall” and your postal address in the body of the message.

We also have a copy of Tazmamart: 18 Years in Morocco’s Secret Prison by Aziz Binebine. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Tazmamart” and your postal address in the body of the message.

Good luck, everyone!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of Not What You Think by Clark Gormley, Below Deck by Sophie Hardcastle, Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell, Praise Song for my Children by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, an interview with Ketaki Datta, 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 episodes which features Morgan Bell’s virtual book launch for Idiomatic, for the people:–for-the-people-ebocqj/a-a1o5hk2  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, straight to your favourite listening device. Find us under podcasts by searching for Compulsive Reader. Then just click subscribe.  If 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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