Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 23, Issue 5, 1 May 2021



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

A review of Letters in Language by Harold Legaspi

Letters in Language is a powerful collection: vibrant, sexy, sad, and very smart. The poems are dense, but also full of play, open space for reader interpretation, and steeped in cultural and literary references. As with all memoir, it is the exploration of a life, but is also an exploration of poetry, the way in which language itself creates reality and history, and very nature of the literary form. Read more:

A review of The Eggplant Curse and the Warp Zone by Shawn Rubenfeld

Despite being a novel that deals with serious issues plaguing American society, it gives the impression that one is reading a lighter text because the author uses humor so well. That’s partly because the humor embedded within the title The Eggplant Curse and the Warp Zone anchors the text. The characters the narrator seems to make fun of are never turned into buffoons, dehumanized but respected for their humanity. This allows the reader to have unwavering empathy with the central character.  Read more:

A review of Flares by Christopher Merrill

In many of these poems, what begins as a hyper-local calamity–in an alley, a travel lodge, a club–transmogrifies in Mr. Merrill’s hands into sentences where what comes next is determined to flush the subject straight out of its just-tamped-down bed in the tall grass. The reader is shocked into vigilance, which gradually becomes a kind of acute reciprocity, an attention that is not easily achieved in our daily lives. Read more:

A review of Love’s Garden by Nandini Bhattacharya

The author’s style is simple and straightforward, and her use of highly descriptive prose generates excellent dialog and tantalizingly paints her characters as well as the tumultuous events in which they participate. I particularly enjoyed the alliterative flourishes: (“tawny tangy dancing woman”; “she senses sin and shame standing sentry”; “maggoty men”); the challenging vocabulary: (“termagants”; “tumescently proud”);  and plastic descriptions: (“fish belly pale inner forearm”; “moon whipped water”; “soda bottle eye glasses”; “ the barbed wires of consolation”). Read more:

A review of The Part That Burns by Jeannine Ouellette

While this memoir chronicles what the author refers to as her “brokenness” as a result of what she endured, it really is a story of healing. Writing this book was a very big part of that process for Ouellette. “Maybe healing, when it happens, is the result of a quantum entanglement, the swirling of a thousand winds. Maybe it comes when you give your daughter your own heart like another stuffed toy she will drag with her everywhere…” Read more:

An Interview with Seth Mullins

Seth Mullins talks about his new book The Authors of this Dream and the series it fits into, his characters, Shamanism and the metaphysical elements of his book, on writing music (and his own experiences as a musician), the relationship between violence and powerlessness, and lots more. Read more:

A review of The Archer by Paulo Coelho

I bought The Archer at a brick and mortar store and flipped through the pages in the aisle. So the length didn’t bother me. But browsing online comments makes it clear that not all readers were aware of the length before buying. Put concretely, I read the book in forty minutes while sipping tea—which slows reading speed.  Read more: 

A review of Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel by Rachel Holmes

Throughout the book, Holmes gives readers fascinating tidbits of information that bring Sylvia and her associates to life. We learn, for instance, that when she and the  East London Federation of Socialists established a day care centre during World War I in a renovated former pub, they named this creche “The Mothers’ Arms”.  Read more:

Metamorphic Imaginaries: A Conversation Between H. L. Hix and Dante Di Stefano

In this wide-reaching conversation, Dante Di Stefano author of Ill Angels chats with H. L. Hix about his new poetry book The Gospel. The two talk about many things including themes, modality of engagement, audience, references, deep engagement, beauty, feminism, and much more. Read more: 

A review of Second Story by Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel can be serious and playful in the very same sentence, solemn and satiric in a single stanza. At the heart of this marvelous new collection is the thirty-five page mock epic, “Terza Irma,” a poem written in terza rima – an arrangement of succeeding tercets that rhyme aba bcb cdc ded, etc. Notably, it’s the rhyme scheme Dante uses in The Divine Comedy, which is appropriate because Duhamel describes a sort of Inferno of her own, her experience of the 2017 hurricane that devasted Florida. She is by turns serious and comic. 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 2,780), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Algerian writer Ahmed Taibaoui has won the 2021 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his novel The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody (Ikhtifa’ al-Sayyid La Ahad). Sponsored by the American University in Cairo Press, the award honors “the best contemporary novel published in Arabic in the previous two years.” The winner receives $5,000, translation into English and publication by the Press’s fiction imprint, Hoopoe. The judges said in part that “Ahmed Taibaoui’s novel reverberates with echoes of Algeria’s violent past, from the struggle against colonialism to the civil war and all that has followed… Out of the [novel’s] somber and intense style, vivid characters emerge. This is a novel of unpleasant truths… All of this within a framework that imbues the novel with the feel of exciting and suspenseful detective fiction, and using a deft narrative style that does not conceal its writer’s intelligence and creativity.”

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (West Virginia University Press), a debut short story collection, has won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Philyaw’s book, which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction last year, was selected from among 419 eligible novels and story collections by American authors published in the U.S. during 2020 and submitted by 170 publishing houses. Philyaw is also the co-author, with her ex-husband, Michael D. Thomas, of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce (New Harbinger).

The American Academy of Arts and Letters announced the 18 writers who will receive its 2021 awards in literature. The prizes, totaling $600,000, honor both established and emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry. The academy’s 300 members propose candidates, and a rotating committee of writers selects the recipients. Winners will be honored in a virtual presentation on May 19. The winners can be seen here: In addition, the American Academy of Arts and Letters will present essayist and poet Rita Dove and composer Yehudi Wyner with Gold Medals for Poetry and Music, respectively. Given annually in two rotating categories of the arts, the medals recognizes those who have achieved eminence in an entire body of work. Artist and writer Phong Bui is being recognized with the academy’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts for his significant contribution as co-founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn Rail.

Ross Gay’s Be Holding: A Poem (University of Pittsburgh Press) was honoured with the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award at last night’s virtual PEN America Literary Awards ceremony. Accepting the prize, Gay spoke of his desire to put into practice the “understanding that we are made of each other. I mean, the trees. And I mean the microbes. And I mean the breeze. And I mean the light that will go across the wall. I mean that we are made of each other.” The full list of winners can be found here:

Claudia Rankine has selected Kemi Alabi’s manuscript Against Heaven as the recipient of the 2021 Academy of American Poets First Book Award, the Academy’s first-book prize for a poet. Alabi’s manuscript will be published by Graywolf Press in April 2022. In addition to publication, Alabi will receive a six-week all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy, as well as $5,000. The Academy of American Poets will also purchase and send thousands of copies of the book to its members, making it one of the most widely distributed poetry books of the year. Established in 1975, the Academy of American Poets’ First Book Award is designed to encourage the work of emerging poets.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has announced the winners of its annual fellowships, 26 of which went to writers of trade books including Kaitlyn Greenidge, Alexander Chee, and Craig Morgan Teicher. The fellows in the fiction, general nonfiction, and poetry categories can be found here:

Thomas Sowell has won the $50,000  Hayek Book Prize for Charter Schools and Their Enemies (Basic Books). The prize honors political philosopher F.A. Hayek and is sponsored by the Manhattan Institute. Both Sowell and last year’s prize winner–Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn’t by the late Alberto Alesina, with Carlo Favero, and Francesco Giavazzi–were honored at an in-person event in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 30.

The winners of 2021 Whiting Awards, which “recognize excellence and promise in a spectrum of emerging talent, giving most winners their first chance to devote themselves full-time to their own writing, or to take bold new risks in their work,” have been announced. Each recipient receives $50,000. This year’s winners are: Joshua Bennett (poetry and nonfiction), Jordan E. Cooper (drama), Steven Dunn (fiction), Tope Folarin (fiction), Donnetta Lavinia Grays (drama), Marwa Helal (poetry), Sarah Stewart Johnson (nonfiction), Sylvia Khoury (drama), Ladan Osman (poetry), and Xandria Phillips (poetry).

Shortlists have been released for the Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Color as well as the inaugural Children’s & YA Prize. The winning authors, who receive £1,000 (about $1,375) and a specially created work of art, will be named May 25 at a virtual event in partnership with the British Library in London. Sunny Singh, director of the award, commented: “There is much that feels precarious, fragile and all the more precious this spring, including any progress regarding equity in publishing. However, despite the challenges, this year’s Jhalak judges have selected–with much care and affection–two incredible shortlists that exemplify resilience, rebuilding, community and joy in literature. These are books that ask painful questions, are searingly honest in their confrontation with terrible realities, and courageously shine a light on aspects of human experience that often remains hidden. In doing so they offer much needed solace, inspiration and joy for our times and into the future.” This year’s shortlisted titles are Book of the Year: Antiemetic for Homesickness by Romalyn Ante, Inferno by Catherine Cho, My Darling From the Lions by Rachel Long, The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Are We Home Yet? by Katy Massey, and Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez. 

The Sheikh Zayed Book Award, dedicated to celebrating Arab literature and culture, has announced the shortlists in six of its nine categories, and they can be seen here. Winners will receive prize money of $204,181 (750,000 UAE dirhams) at a virtual ceremony in May. The Cultural Personality of the Year will receive a prize of $272,000 (1 million UAE dirhams).

The Goethe-Institut New York announced the shortlist for the 2020 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, which is awarded annually to honor an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the USA the previous year. The translator of the winning translation receives $10,000. It is funded by the German government for the promotion of German literature. Jefferson Chase for his translation Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945 by Volker Ullrich (Knopf), Tess Lewis for Kraft by Jonas Lüscher (FSG), Jackie Smith for An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky (New Directions), and Imogen Taylor for Beside Myself by Sasha 

The New York Public Library released a shortlist for the $10,000 Young Lions Fiction Award, presented annually to an American writer 35 years old or younger for either a novel or a collection of short stories. The winner will be announced during a virtual event on June 17. This year’s finalists are Little Gods by Meng Jin, Pew by Catherine Lacey, Temporary by Hilary Leichter, Real Life by Brandon Taylor, and How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang.

The Griffin Trust has released this year’s international and Canadian shortlists for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Two winners will be named June 23, each receiving C$65,000 (about US$51,920), while the other finalists will each be awarded C$10,000 (about US$7,990). The shortlisted Griffin titles are: International: Obit by Victoria Chang, Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort, Underworld Lit by Srikanth Reddy, My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi, translated from the Chinese written by Yi Lei and Canadian: The East Side of It All by Joseph Dandurand, The Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin, and Pluviophile by Yusuf Saadi. 

The shortlist has been announced for the 2021 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, sponsored by the Goethe-Institut New York and celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The winner, who receives $10,000, will be announced May 20, with a virtual ceremony on June 24 that will feature an appearance by Alexander Wolff, grandson of Kurt Wolff. This year’s shortlist includes Jefferson Chase for his translation of Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945 by Volker Ullrich (Knopf), Tess Lewis for Kraft by Jonas Lüscher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Jackie Smith for An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky (New Directions), and Imogen Taylor for Beside Myself by Sasha Marianna Salzmann (Other Press).

Evie Wyld has won the $50,000 Stella prize for her novel The Bass Rock. The author’s third novel spans three eras to give voice to the ‘collective grief’ of violence against women. Chair of the 2021 Stella prize judging panel, Zoya Patel, dubbed Wyld’s book a “true work of art” that “forces the reader to engage with the unique narrative structure, in a way that feels effortless”. Shortlisted alongside Wyld were Rebecca Giggs for Fathoms: the World in the Whale; SL Lim for Revenge: Murder in Three Parts; Laura Jean McKay for The Animals in That Country; Louise Milligan for Witness; and Mirandi Riwoe for Stone Sky Gold Mountain. 

The shortlist for the International Booker Prize, an award for the best translated work of fiction into English, has been announced. The prize offers £50,000, split evenly between author and translator. The winner will be announced on June 2. The shortlist is as follows: At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop, translated from French by Anna Moschovakis (FSG), The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell (Hogarth), When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West (NYRB), The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken (New Directions), In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale (New Directions), and The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti (Other Press).

The shortlist for the £10,000 (about $13,860) Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, for “a distinguished work of fiction, nonfiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place,” consists of: The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan, This Lovely City by Louise Hare, Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones, Magnolia, 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles, English Pastoral by James Rebanks  English Pastoral, and Square Haunting by Francesca Wade. The winner will be announced on May 11.

Danielle Evans, author of The Office of Historical Corrections (Riverhead) and other works of fiction, has won the $50,000 2021 Joyce Carol Oates Prize, sponsored by the New Literary Project (formerly the Simpson Literary Project) and honoring “a mid-career author of fiction who has earned a distinguished reputation and the widespread approbation and gratitude of readers.”

The shortlist for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction was revealed yesterday during a special online event hosted by chair of the judges Martha Lane Fox. The winner, who receives £30,000 (about $41,730) and a limited edition bronze figurine, will be named July 7. This year’s shortlisted titles are: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones, and No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Finally, the winners of the 2021 NSW Premier’s Awards have been announced. The big winner on the night was Ellen van Neerven who took out the Book of the Year Award, the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and the Multicultural NSW Award for Throat. The other winners were:  Kate Grenville for A Room Made of Leaves which won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, Kate Fullagar for The Warrior, the Voyager and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire which won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction , Laura McPhee-Browne for Cherry Beach which won the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, Amelia Mellor for The Grandest Bookshop in the World which won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature , Davina Bell for The End of the World is Bigger than Love which won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, Dylan Van Den Berg for Milk which won the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting, Laurence Billiet for FREEMAN which won the Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting, N.N. Trakakis for Autumn Manuscripts and Alice Whitmore for Imminence who were the joint winners of the NSW Premier’s Translation Prize, Pip Williams for The Dictionary of Lost Words which won the People’s Choice Award, and Melina Marchetta who was the receipient of the 2021 Special Award.

Have a good month. 



Congratulations to Debra Guyette who won a copy of Kicking and Screaming by Melanie Dobson, and to Catrina Pomerleau and Constance Norwood, who won copies of Raging Waters in the South China Sea by Rachel Winston and Ishika Sachdeva.

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of Committed: A Memoir of Madness in the Family by Paolina Milana.  To win send me an email at with the subject line “Committed” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

We also have a copy of Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life without Heart Disease by Sherra Aguirre. To win send me an email at with the subject line “Joyful, Delicious, Vegan” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

We’re also re-running our Catch-42 by Felix Holzapfel,  If you’ve already entered you’re in.  If not, send me an email at with the subject line “Catch-42” and your postal address in the body of the email.  

Good luck, everyone!



We will shortly be featuring a review of One Hundred Letters Home by Adam Aitken, Woman Drinking Absinthe by Katherine E. Young, The Truth about Our American Births by Judith Skillman, Closer to Fine by Jodi S. Rosenfeld, 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 in which Alison Treat interviews Leslie K Barry about her book Newark Minutemen. You can listen to the latest episode directly from the site widget or go to show directly here:

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(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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