Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 23, Issue 6, 1 June 2021



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Hello readers.  Here is the latest batch of reviews and interviews:

A review of Journey to Tatev by Lillian Avedian

Journey to Tatev is a love poem to the self and to the other, written along the trajectory of a single journey. These airy, deeply rhythmic poems encompass the multi-lingual voice of a migrant, coming-of-age, coming out, coming to terms with the past and future simultaneously. Words and notes dance across the page, engaging all of the senses in this vibrant and deeply moving collection. Read more:

An interview with Sherra Aguirre

The author of Joyful, Delicious, Vegan talks about her self and her childhood, her new book, her route to becoming a writer, how she deals with writers’ block, the inspiration for her book, her favourite authors, support network and more. Read more:

A review of Chronicity by Michael J Leach

Leach manages the visual in particularly powerful ways in Chronicity. The concrete poems in the collection take on many forms, weaving and working through, around, between and besides their subject matter, playing with font, space, shape, and design to stretch out time, slow the reader, twist back on themselves, emphasise and create sound paths in the ear.  Read more:

A review of Popular Longing by Natalie Shapero

At the center of the collection is the breathtaking tour de force entitled “Don’t Spend It All in One Place,” a series of fourteen fourteen-line poems (though not exactly “sonnets” in a metrical sense), whose themes of violence and art and time, coming “unstuck” in time, make one think of Billy Pilgrim, Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-hero in Slaughterhouse Five. There’s a similar dark humor at work in Shapero’s poems. Read more:

An interview with Felix Holzapfel

The author of Catch-42 talks about the main elements that inspired his book, his themes, on travelling the world, how everyone can participate in future decision making, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Fireworks by Oliver Smuhar

The book is beautifully presented, with hand drawn illustrations, photographs, quotations, and facts about the different animals in the book and the events that inspired them, particularly the 2019/20 Australian bushfires, which were particularly devastating in Smuhar’s Blue Mountains hometown and which had some an intense impact on Australian flora and fauna (for example, some 60,000 koalas were negatively impacted by the fires). Smuhar’s goal with this book is not only to raise funds, but to entertain and educate. Read more:

A review of Closer to Fine by Jodi S. Rosenfeld

Dr. Rosenfeld’s novel is informative and interesting on the subjects of Judaism, Psychology, and same sex relationships. I was charmed by Rachel’s envisioning of God as a woman angel whose patchwork wings are made up of one’s glimpses of the divine.  Another excellent idea is presented in the novel – that after a break-up, a woman should buy herself a ring to symbolize her commitment to herself as her own best friend. Read more:

An interview with Paolina Milana

The author of Committed talks about she was has been able to write about such heartbreaking and often frightening moments from her past in her two memoirs, on writing about mental illness, on the epistolary memoir, differences in the writing of her two books, on writing in different genres, advice for aspiring writers, and lots more. Read more:

A review of The Truth about Our American Births by Judith Skillman 

Skillman employs many references to transportation – trains, mostly, but other kinds too. In the introductory poem we get our first train reference, when the grandmother is counting beats for her own personal waltz: “Always the counting beneath the whistles of trains/ running westward from the town of no money.” (from My Grandmother’s Waltz, p. 18). The train here is ghost-like. It brings a nagging fear of having to escape poverty. Read more:

A review of One Hundred Letters Home by Adam Aitken

Between the images, the recollections, the references, the correspondences and the longing, a new kind of story emerges – one that allows the the gaps in the narrative to remain unknown. Aitken doesn’t find the “key to a past the will grant…a thousand and one narratives” (“Stolen Valour”). Instead he finds questions that become Koans, a pathway to a greater truth. 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 2,793), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, poet John Murillo has won the 2021 Four Quartets Prize, which is administered by the T. S. Eliot Foundation and the Poetry Society of America, for his poem “A Refusal to Mourn the Deaths, by Gunfire, of Three Men in Brooklyn” from his collection Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry (Four Way Books, 2020). The poem was selected by judges Carolyn Forché, Donika Kelly, and Arthur Sze. Finalists for this year’s award were Don Mee Choi, for her book DMZ Colony, and Srikanth Reddy, for his book Underworld Lit, both published by Wave Books in 2020. Murillo will receive an award of $21,000, and each finalist will receive an award of $1,000.

The Writers’ Union of Canada has released a shortlist for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, which recognizes the best first collection of short fiction by a Canadian author published in 2020 in English. The award consists of a C$10,000 (about US$8,065) first prize and two additional C$1,000 (about US$805) prizes. The winners will be named May 27 on TWUC’s Facebook page. This year’s shortlisted titles are: Seeking Shade by Frances Boyle, Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough, You Are Not What We Expected by Sidura Ludwig, How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa, We Two Alone by Jack Wang. 

Julian Barnes is the recipient of the $10,000 Jerusalem Prize, recognizing a writer whose work best expresses and promotes the idea of “freedom of the individual in society.” He accepted the award during the opening session of the Jerusalem International Book Forum (held virtually this year) and expressed his thanks to the prize jury, as well as his hope to travel to Jerusalem for the 2022 Book Forum, to receive the prize in person.

Loveless by Alice Oseman won the £2,000 (about $2,775) YA Book Prize, which is run by the Bookseller in partnership with the Hay Festival “to celebrate great books for teenagers and young adults from the U.K. and Ireland.”  In addition, the YA Book Prize also granted a Special Achievement Award to Malorie Blackman, to mark 20 years since the publication of the first novel in her bestselling YA series, Noughts & Crosses.

Ruth Gilligan won the £10,000 (about $13,890) Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, which honors an outstanding work of fiction, nonfiction or poetry that best evokes the spirit of a place, for her novel The Butchers. Previous winners of the Ondaatje prize include Roger Robinson for his poetry collection A Portable Paradise; Alan Johnson for his memoir of his childhood in the slums of west London, This Boy; and Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam for her account of her grandmother’s life story, The Wife’s Tale.

Winners of the 2021 Triangle Awards, honoring the best LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and trans literature published in 2020 and sponsored by the Publishing Triangle, are: The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction: Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera (Feminist Press), The Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction: 99 Erics: A Kat Cataclysm Faux Novel by Julia Serano (Switch Hitter Press), The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry: 13th Balloon by Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon Press), The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry: Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf Press), The Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature: Trans Care by Hil Malatino (University of Minnesota Press), The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction: My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland (Tin House), and The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction: The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America by Eric Cervini (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Cheryl Clarke is the 2021 recipient of the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, Robert Fieseler is the winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award, its prize for an LGBTQ writer who has published at least one book but not more than two, and William Johnson is the winner of the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award.

Raven Leilani has won the £20,000 Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize for her debut novel, Luster, published in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Awarded for the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under, the prize celebrates the international world of fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories, and drama. 

Perpetual, the trustee of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, has announced the 2021 longlist which includes Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty, Robbie Arnott’s The Rain Heron, Daniel Davis Wood’s At the Edge of the Solid World, Gail Jones’ Our Shadows, Sofie Laguna’s Infinite Splendours, Amanda Lohrey’s The Labyrinth, Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in that Country, Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s, Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain, Philip Salom’s The Fifth Season, Nardi Simpson’s Song of the Crocodile, and Madeleine Watts’ The Inland Sea. One of the 12 authors will win arguably one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Australia, along with receiving $60,000. The Miles Franklin Literary Award was established by feminist and author of My Brilliant Career, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. First presented in 1957, the Award celebrates novels of the highest literary merit that tell stories about Australian life, shining a light on some of Australia’s most talented writers.

Winners of the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards were recently announced. Airini Beautrais took the A$57,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction for Bug Week & Other Stories. Guest international co-judge Tommy Orange commented: “I was consistently surprised by sentences, the beauty and singular language. If the book were a bug, it would be a big one, with teeth and venom, with wings and a surprising heart, possibly several, beating on every page with life.” Check out the complete list of NZ Book Awards winner here:

Mexican author Valeria Luiselli has won the 2021 Dublin Literary Award for her novel Lost Children Archive (Vintage). The prize comes with €100,000 in winnings, and is the world’s wealthiest prize for a single novel published in English. Luiselli is the first writer from Mexico, and the fifth woman, to win the award in its 26-year history. The award is sponsored by Dublin City Council, and contenders are nominated by public libraries from around the world; both writers and translators are eligible. 

Carl Phillips is the recipient of the 2021 Jackson Poetry Prize. The prize is awarded annually by Poets & Writers to an American poet of exceptional talent. Endowed by John and Susan Jackson, the prize carries a monetary award, which this year was increased to $75,000. Judges Jericho Brown, Carolyn Forché, and Juan Felipe Herrera selected Phillips from a group of nineteen nominees.

Jackie Smith has won the $10,000 2021 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for her translation of An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky (New Directions). Sponsored by the Goethe-Institut New York, the prize, celebrating its 25th year, honors “an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the U.S. the previous year.”

Jordanian poet and novelist Jalal Barjas won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel Notebooks of the Bookseller, published by the Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing. The prize comes with a $50,000 cash award as well as guaranteed translation into English.

Caoilinn Hughes won the £10,000 (about $13,890) Royal Society of Literature Encore Award, celebrating outstanding achievements in second novels, for The Wild. 

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi won the Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Color for her novel The First Woman, while Patrice Lawrence took the inaugural Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize for Eight Pieces of Silva. The winning authors each receive £1,000 (about $1,390).

Notebooks of the Bookseller by Jalal Barjas (The Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing) has won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Barjas, a Jordanian poet and novelist, will receive $50,000 and funding will be provided for the English translation of Notebooks of the Bookseller, which “tells the story of a book lover’s experience with schizophrenia and a crime spree he commits using the names of characters from fiction.”

Have a good month. 



Congratulations to Audrey Larson, who won a copy of Committed: A Memoir of Madness in the Family by Paolina Milana.  

Congratulations to Joan Woods, who won a copy of Catch-42 by Felix Holzapfel. 

Congratulations to Kathleen Gardiner, who won a copy of Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life without Heart Disease by Sherra Aguirre.  

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of What a Wonderful World This Could Be by Lee Zacharias to give away. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Wonderful World” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

We also have a copy of A Cage Full of Monkeys by Richard Souza. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Cage Full of Monkeys” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

We also have a copy of Nancy Business by R.W.R McDonald to giveaway. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Nancy Business” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

Good luck, everyone!



We will shortly be featuring a review of Fil and Harry by Jenny Blackford, Fog and Light edited by Diane Frank,  You Don’t Have To Go To Mars For Love by Yona Harvey, Ash Wedding by Clarinda Harriss/Peter Bruun, 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 with Michael J Leach, who reads from and talks about his poetry book Chronicity.  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) 2021 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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