Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 23, Issue 7, 1 July 2021



New Reviews at Compulsive Reader
Literary News
Competition News
Sponsored By
Coming soon


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

An interview with RWR McDonald

The author of Nancy Business talks about the premise of his new book and where the idea came from, on being adopted into the Crime genre community, his twelve-year-old narrator, his New Zealand setting, books he’s recently read and loved, and more. Read more:

A review of Chimera by Jane Skelton

Chimera says a lot in so few pages, Skelton makes the reader enter moments, fragments of time, the land, life: imagined and real. In this book, Skelton once more has demonstrated her skills as a writer. Read more:

A review of Ash Wedding by Clarinda Harriss/Peter Bruun

Just as her previous collaboration with Peter Bruun, Innumerable Moons, deals with love, loss and grief in later life, so too does Clarinda Harriss’ new collection, Ash Wedding, amounts to an extended elegy for Harriss’ friend, Steve Davitt, whom she’d known for more than three decades and with whom she spent the final two years of his life. Davitt suffered a massive heart attack while walking their dog on the streets of Baltimore in April of that already devastating year, 2020. The dominant theme in these poems is grief, raw, unassuageable grief. Read more:

A review of Avoid the Day: A New Nonfiction in Two Movements by Jay Kirk

Slivers of Kirk’s sometimes funny, sometimes traumatic personal history overlap and complement and reflect one another throughout the book. He spends a good part of the book searching in Transylvania for a lost manuscript, purportedly the work of none other than the great Béla Bartók, and spends another large chunk of it organizing strange activities on the deck of a cruise ship navigating some of the world’s remotest waters. Interwoven with these threads are passages in which Kirk frets over his seriously ill father, who, in one video call, strikes him as looking, in Kirk’s words, about a million years old.  Read more:

A review of You Don’t Have To Go To Mars For Love by Yona Harvey

Reading through You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love, I experienced a litany of emotion that found me racking through memories, hopes, and losses. The work is astoundingly raw and explorative. Harvey dances between forms and visual presentation with the precision and coherency of a professor, the care of a mother, and the creative wield of a comic book artist. Read more:

Interview with Richard Souza

The author of A Cage Full of Monkeys talks about his new book, the word “Saudade” and the role it plays in his life, his early sexual experiences, memory imagined and reconfigured, his literary references, why he wrote the book, and lots more. Read more:

A review of Fil and Harry by Jenny Blackford

As with all of Blackford’s work, Fil and Harry manages the perfect balance between fast moving suspense, engaging characterisation, and gentle accessible humour. The work is never too sweet nor too dark, and the tone works for all ages, including adults, who will find Fil and Harry a surprisingly pleasurable read, whether read alone or aloud to a willing young listener (something I highly recommend!).   Read more:

A review of Fog and Light edited by Diane Frank

Fog and Light: San Francisco through the Eyes of the Poets Who Live Here is a real smorgasbord of San Franciscan scenery, energy and art. Harvey Milk, Castro Street, the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Giants Stadium and Candlestick Park – Orlando Cepeda and Willie Mays! – all appear in these pages. It’s been almost fifty years since I was in San Francisco, but it all comes back vividly in these poems. Read more:

A review of Henry David Thoreau : A Life by Laura Dassow Walls

I reveled in this book because, unlike others before it, it is not fragmented, incongruent, or just a compilation of interesting facts. But rather, it reads as though Thoreau lived much more recently and the author had interviewed in-person, first-hand witnesses to his life simply because it flows from birth to death without a sense of missing information or lapses in time. On any given page you may learn about the weather that day or how late Thoreau stayed up as if it were all recorded and timestamped on videotape for the author to view and re-view.  Read more:

Interview with Lee Zacharias

The author of What a Wonderful World This Could Be talks about her new novel and its timeliness, her research, on writing about difficult and painful subjects, how she managed the many paths and threads of the book, the book’s long path to publication, and lots more. 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 2,794), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young (Ecco) has won the $5,000 2020 Thurber Prize for American Humor. The two runners up were Lessons from Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog by Dave Barry (Simon & Schuster) and Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (Grand Central).

The shortlists for the 2021 Orwell Prizes have been announced. These are the titles shortlisted for the two book prizes, for Political Writing Book Prize: African Europeans: An Untold History by Olivette Otele, Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition and Compromise in Putin’s Russia by Joshua Yaffe, Eat the Buddha: The Story of Modern Tibet through the People of One Town by Barbara Demick, English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks, Labours of Love: The Crisis of Care by Madeleine Bunting, Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women by Christina Lamb, and The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery by Michael Taylor.  For Political Fiction Book: After Lives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, Apeirogon, A Novel by Colum McCann, Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, Summer by Ali Smith, The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. 

Lambda Literary announced the winners of the 33rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards, known as the “Lammys,” on June 1 at a ceremony hosted by Rakesh Satyal, who won a Lambda Literary Award for his debut novel, Blue Boy. The event was held virtually, on Zoom and doubled as a fundraiser to help support Lambda Literary’s programs. Last night’s ceremony was also the debut of the Randall Kenan Prize for Black LGBTQ Fiction, named for the Lammy-winning author of Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, who died in August of 2020. The prize bearing his name honors “writers whose work explores themes of Black LGBTQ life, culture, and history,” and comes with a $3,000 cash prize. Ana-Maurine Lara is the inaugural recipient of the prize. Other special prize winners announced last night include: Brontez Purnell and Sarah Gerard, who won the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize, a $5,000 prize. Nancy Agabian won the $2,500 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, and T Kira Madden and Taylor Johnson won the $1,000 Judith Markowitz Award, which “recognizes two writers whose work demonstrates exceptional potential.” The full list of awards and the ceremony replay can be found here:

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop, translated from French by Anna Moschovakis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) won the 2021 International Booker Prize, which “aims to encourage more publishing and reading of quality fiction from all over the world and to promote the work of translators.” The £50,000 (about $70,970) award is split between author and translator.  

Pete Paphides won the £10,000 (about $14,195) RSL Christopher Bland Prize, which honors a debut novelist or nonfiction writer first published at age 50 or over, for Broken Greek. Chair of judges Mary Beard said: “Broken Greek is an original, wry and radical memoir, tracing Pete Paphides’s life against the music that formed its backing track, from ABBA to Dexys Midnight Runners. It takes the reader to the complicated heart of popular music and its paradoxes–it’s a book about sound that starts from the silence of Paphides himself, who as a child refused to speak for almost four years.”

Zimbabwean novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga won the PEN Pinter Prize, which is awarded annually to “a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the U.K., the Republic of Ireland, the Commonwealth or former Commonwealth, who, in the words of 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.’ “The prize will be shared with an International Writer of Courage, “a writer who is active in defense of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty.” The co-winner, selected by Dangarembga from a shortlist of international cases supported by English PEN, will be announced at a ceremony hosted by British Library and English PEN on October 11, where Dangarembga will also deliver her keynote address. 

Finalists have been named for the £10,000 (about $14,195) Forward Prize for Poetry and the £5,000 (about $7,100) Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection, which were established to celebrate “new poetry in the U.K. and Ireland, honoring fresh voices alongside internationally established names.” Winners will be announced in October. This year’s shortlisted books are: Best collection: A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi, A God at the Door by Tishani Doshi, Men Who Feed Pigeons by Selima Hill, Notes on the Sonnets by Luke Kennard, Cheryl’s Destinies by Stephen Sexton and First collection: Poor by Caleb Femi, Bird of Winter by Alice Hiller, Honorifics by Cynthia Miller, Comic Timing by Holly Pester, and Rotten Days in Late Summer by Ralf Webb. 

Emma van Straaten’s novel-in-progress Heartstring won the inaugural Women’s Prize Trust Discoveries writing award, which was launched this year in collaboration with NatWest and Curtis Brown with the goal of finding “untapped female writing talent from across the U.K. and Ireland,” the Bookseller reported. The book has been signed by Lucy Morris at Curtis Brown. Van Straaten receives £5,000 (about $7,100) and a desk to write at in her local NatWest Accelerator Hub. The runner-up to the 2021 Discoveries program was Lucy Keefe, whose urban fantasy story Pantheon Lucy won a place on Curtis Brown’s flagship three-month Writing Your Novel course, worth £1,800 (about $2,555).

This year’s virtual Pulitzer Prize ceremony, held on June 11, honored five books spotlighting the lived experiences of people of color in the United States from multiple perspectives.

Louise Erdrich won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for The Night Watchman (Harper). Natalie Diaz won the Poetry prize for Postcolonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press). The Pulitzers award three books in nonfiction categories yearly. The winner of in General Nonfiction is Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino (Atlantic Monthly Press). The late Les Payne and Tamara Payne won the Pulitzer Prize in Biography for The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X (Liveright). The winner in History is Marcia Chatelain for Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America (Liveright), giving Liveright, a Norton imprint, two of the five wins this year.

Hilary Mantel has won the £25,000 (about $34,485) Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for The Mirror and the Light, the final novel in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. The honor comes 11 years after Wolf Hall won the inaugural Walter Scott Prize in 2010. Mantel will take part in a Borders Book Festival event later in the year to celebrate her win and mark Walter Scott’s 250th anniversary.

Souvankham Thammavongsa’s How to Pronounce Knife won the C$20,000 (about US$16,560) English-language fiction Trillium Book Award, which is given to “recognize excellence, support marketing and foster increased public awareness of the quality and diversity of Ontario writers and writing.” Jody Chan took the C$10,000 (US$8,280) prize in the poetry category for sick.

The winner of the C$20,000 French-language Trillium Book Award was Danièle Vallée for Sept nuits dans la vie de Chérie and the C$10,000 French-language children’s literature prize went to and Éric Mathieu for Capitaine Boudu et les enfants de la Cédill.

Catherine Lacey won the $10,000 New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award for her book Pew (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The award is given to ” an American writer age 35 or younger for either a novel or a collection of short stories.” The finalists were: Meng Jin for Little Gods (Custom House), Hilary Leichter for Temporary (Coffee House Press), Brandon Taylor for Real Life (Riverhead Books), and C Pam Zhang for How Much of These Hills Is Gold (Riverhead Books)

The 2021 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction has been awarded to Summer by Ali Smith, the fourth and final book in her Seasonal Quartet (published in the U.S. by Pantheon and Anchor). Organizers said, “Written and published at great speed last year, Summer captures our time with great acuity, and is hopeful and furious in equal measure. Winter and Spring were previously shortlisted and longlisted for the prize, in 2018 and 2020 respectively.” The winner of the 2021 Orwell Prize for Political Writing is Between Two Fires:  Truth, Ambition and Compromise in Putin’s Russia by Joshua Yaffa (published in the U.S. by Tim Duggan Books and Crown).

Finally, finalists have been announced for the $50,000 2022 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, sponsored by World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma’s magazine of international literature and culture, and recognizing “significant contributions to world literature.” The winner will be chosen in October. See the finalists here:

Have a good month. 



Congratulations to T C Houghtby who won a copy of What a Wonderful World This Could be by Lee Zacharias. 

Congratulations to Mary Preston, who won a copy of Nancy Business  by RWR McDonald.  

We’ve moved the giveaway for A Cage Full of Monkeys by Richard Souza to July so if you’ve already emailed me to win, you’re already in.  If not, send me an email at with the subject line “Cage Full of Monkeys” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of Blooming in Winter by Pamela Valois to give away. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Blooming in Winter” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

We also have a copy of Cheyenne Summer – The Battle of Beecher Island: A History by Terry Mort to give away. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Beecher Island” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

Finally, phew, we have a copy of Your Next Level Life: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity for Black Women in America by Karen Arrington. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Next Level Life” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

Good luck, everyone!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound by Yvonne Zipter, The Firebird by Saikat Majumdar, The Way of the Saints by Elizabeth Engelman, an interview with Emanuel Xavier, 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 Adam Aitken, who reads from and talks about his book 100 Letters From Home.  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.

Is this email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser

unsubscribe from this list