Compulsive Reader

The Compulsive Reader News
Volume 17, Issue 4, 1 April 2016

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Hello readers. Welcome to April. I’ll be at the Newcastle Writers Festival all day tomorrow and Sunday (heading up several panels with many authors whose work is featured this month including Kate Holden, Rebecca Starford, Michael Sala, James Fry and Brigid Delaney). The festival is amazing – I love Sydney’s and hope one day to get to Adelaide’s, Melbourne’s (maybe this year!), and a few others, but the Newcastle festival is my favourite for many reasons which I outline in my blog post here:  If you can make it to the festival, please come and say hello!  I’d love to see you there.

Here is the latest batch of reviews this month:

A review of Strange Theater by John Amen

John Amen’s Strange Theater lives up to its name in that it is a strange book. Most of the poems are written to people we do not know. It appears that they are friends or acquaintances of the author but we are not sure about this. It also appears that he haphazardly throws words together to make sentences that do not make sense but somehow are able to tell a story. In this way, Amen reminds me of Federico Garcia Lorca. Read more:

A review of What’s Yours is Mine by Tom Slee

In a world where the so-called sharing economy seems to be the wave of the future, Slee’s look at the downside is much needed. He might have written more about the rise of the sharing economy from widespread unemployment, underemployment, and the weakening of the social safety net; however, his clear style, knowledge of his subject, and comprehensive bibliography make What’s Yours is Mine a must-read. For the full review visit:

A review of In My Skin and The Romantic by Kate Holden

Reading Kate Holden’s In My Skin and The Romantic together is a little unsettling. It almost feels as though a third part in the trilogy is missing: the story where the protagonist finds peace. The character arc from one book to another is quite powerful, taking Holden through a series of major changes – some terrifying and some quite wonderful Both books are confronting in very different ways. Read more:

A review of The Fugue by Gint Aras

The Fugue is thus a novel of paradoxes. Inspired by a notion of the harmonious and contrapuntal progression of musical voices through time, it is equally a story about being stuck in someone else’s nightmare. An epic saga of family lives and losses, it is also a chamber piece with surprisingly few characters. Located squarely in Cicero, its moral implications ripple outwards to cover the entire world. I could not help remembering that faire fugue, in French, means to run away. For the full review visit:

A review of Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

With this new novel, the cosmopolitan Tidhar turns away from the noir that drove his award-winning Osama, The Violent Century, and A Man Lies Dreaming. Those who appreciated the Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler scrubbed into a pulpy Po-Mo alternative reality resembling a lighthearted Phillip K. Dick will still find that in Central Station through Achimwene—a bookseller in an age when books are antiquated commodities—whose life “had been a Romance, perhaps, of sorts. But now it became a Mystery” when he meets and falls in love with the data/memory vampire (alternately called “strigoi” and “shambleau”) Carmel. Read more:

A review of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Watchman is a coming-of-age story about 26-year-old Jean Louise who is racially tolerant and non-apologetic towards Maycomb’s prevalent bigotry. Upon discovering that her closest friends and family have adopted the very social standards that Atticus fought against in Mockingbird, Jean Louise must find her own moral code and identity. “Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.” For the full review visit:

A review of That Fry Boy by James Fry

It’s hard to read about how this happy and well-cared for boy could have gone so far off the rails, sliding repeatedly back into addiction and violence. Overall, however, That Fry Boy is an affirmative and powerful read, with a strong character arc that is transformative. Fry’s recovery through Twelve Step, and the way he turns his bad experiences into a toolkit for helping others, is inspirational, and will provide solace for anyone who thinks their own case is hopeless. Read more:

A review of We’re Going to Run this City by Stefan Epp-Koop

“There is something about the audacity, length and size of the General Strike”, writes author Stefan Epp-Koop, “that continues to capture public and scholarly attentions.” The Strike, he says, was not the end of radical politics in Winnipeg, but was “near the beginning.” While focusing on one city’s municipal politics, his work is relevant to the larger history of the left in the 20th century. For the full review visit:

A review of Apostate Englishman by Albert Braz

Archie Belaney “went native”, in an era when “the cowboys always won.” In the early 20th century, American First Nations people were still regarded as savages with a lust for killing wild animals. On one occasion, in an upscale Toronto hotel while on a lecture tour, Grey Owl was taunted for being Indian. He harmed no one with his deception. Did writing about his own experiences in the forest with animals constitute cultural appropriation? Braz says no. Read more:

A review of Wild Things by Brigid Delaney

Though it is an intense and sometimes brutal read, Wild Things reveals its truths slowly, showing rather than telling, in the spaces between the story. The mystery of what exactly happened to Alfred is what drives the narrative forward, almost with a detective story pace,but in terms of its themes and the development of the characters, the story cuts deeply. The multi-layered narrative structure with its reversing arcs between Ben and Toby is particularly effective. For the full review visit:

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 1,905 reviews!), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, PEN America has announced the winners for the 2016 PEN Literary Awards. Toni Morrison, whose prolific literary career spans more than four decades, was selected for the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction by a panel of judges including previous recipient Louise Erdrich. Other 2016 PEN Literary Award recipients include Scott Ellsworth, who will receive the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing for his account of a historic 1944 basketball game that presaged the burgeoning Civil Rights movement; Nancy Princenthal, winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for her distinguished biography Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art; Lynn Nottage, who, after receiving the 2004 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for an American Playwright in Mid-Career, will be elevated in 2016 to Master Dramatist; and Ed Roberson for his 45 years of contribution to American poetry.The complete list of winners is available at

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, author of more than two dozen books including most recently Not in God’s Name, is the 2016 Templeton Prize winner, the Templeton Foundation announced on March 2 at a news conference at the British Academy in London. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, author of more than two dozen books including most recently Not in God’s Name, is the 2016 Templeton Prize winner, the Templeton Foundation announced on March 2 at a news conference at the British Academy in London. The Templeton Prize, named after British entrepreneur John Templeton, recognizes living individuals for their contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, either through insight, discovery, or practical works. Valued at £1.1 million (about $1.6 million), it is one of the world’s largest annual monetary awards given to an individual. Previous Templeton winners include the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Billy Graham.

Winners were announced for the Windham-Campbell Prizes, administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library to honor writers “for their literary achievements or their potential” in fiction, nonfiction and drama. The awards are worth $150,000 to each of the nine winners. Next year, the prizes will expand to include poetry. This year’s recipients will gather at Yale in September for an international literary festival celebrating their work. The Windham-Campbell winners are: Fiction: Tessa Hadley (U.K.), C. E. Morgan (U.S.) & Jerry Pinto (India), for nonfiction: Hilton Als (U.S.), Stanley Crouch (U.S.) & Helen Garner (Australia), for drama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (U.S.), Hannah Moscovitch (Canada) & Abbie Spallen (Ireland).

At an awards ceremony held at the New School in New York City, Adam Johnson won the Story Prize for his short story collection Fortune Smiles. Published last August by Random House, Fortune Smiles also won last year’s National Book Award for fiction; according to Story Prize director Larry Dark, Johnson is the first author to win the Story Prize and National Book Award for the same book (Johnson also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son). The Story Prize comes with a $20,000 award.

Ross Gay won Claremont Graduate University’s $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, given annually to a mid-career poet, for Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press). Danez Smith won the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, given for a first book by a “poet of genuine promise,” for [insert] boy (YesYes Books). Both writers will be honored at an awards ceremony April 7. For a ful list of finalists visit:

A Wellington writer’s first novel is a finalist in the country’s most prestigious book awards, rubbing shoulders with literary heavyweights, all contenders to win the new $50,000 Acorn Foundation Literary Award. David Coventry, whose debut book The Invisible Mile, about a New Zealander who in 1928 rode with the first English-speaking Tour de France team, is one of four Fiction category finalists in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, as are the distinguished novelist Patricia Grace (Chappy), Emeritus Professor Patrick Evans (The Back of His Head) and Stephen Daisley (Coming Rain). The fiction titles are four of the 16 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalists announced today, after a year-long hiatus that sees the awards return with new sponsorship, increased prize money, and a winners’ ceremony open to the public as part of the Auckland Writers Festival. The full list can be found here:

Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan is the winner of the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction. The $25,000 award was announced on Monday afternoon. Sullivan beat out finalists Camilla Gibb for This is Happy, David Halton for Dispatches from the Front: Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice at War, Wab Kinew for The Reason You Walk and Ian Brown for Sixty: The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning? Eleven first-time novelists appear on the 20-strong list, alongside four previously shortlisted authors. Among the seven nationalities on the list is Petina Gappah, the first Zimbabwean author to be longlisted in the prize’s 21-year history. Formerly known as the Orange Prize, the book award was set up in 1996 and is awarded for the best full-length novel of the year written by a woman and published in the UK.

The winner will receive a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a Bessie. Last year’s winner was Ali Smith for How to be Both (2015). The full list of shortlisted authors can be found here:

Novels by the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante, Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk and a political novel banned in mainland China have all been longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International prize, celebrating the finest in global fiction translated to English. The 13-book longlist was whittled down from 155 and consists of authors from 12 countries, in nine different languages. Two Nobel prize-winners – Pamuk and Japan’s Kenzaburō Ōe sit alongside two debut authors: Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila for Tram 83 and Finnish author Aki Ollikainen for White Hunger. Full list of titles here:

The Stella prize has announced six books by Australian women, including Elizabeth Harrower, Charlotte Wood and Fiona Wright, for their 2016 shortlist. The shortlisted books are Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight, Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories by Elizabeth Harrower, The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood and Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright (read my review here: . The winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced on 19 April. However, each of the six writers has already won $2,000 for being shortlisted, along with a three-week writing retreat at a house in Point Addis, Victoria.

Jackie Kay, whose complex relationship with her Scottish identity provides inspiration for much of her work, has been named as Scotland’s new makar, or national poet. Accepting the appointment at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh on Tuesday, Kay said: “As Robert Burns demonstrated, poetry holds up a unique mirror to a nation’s heart, mind and soul. It is the pure language that tells us who we are. I hope to open up the conversations, the blethers, the arguments and celebrations that Scotland has with itself and with the rest of the world, using the voice of poetry in its fine Scottish delivery.”

Four literary giants shortlisted in the 2016 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals are in for a chance of winning a hat trick. Patrick Ness is up for a third Carnegie medal while Anthony Browne, Helen Oxenbury and Chris Riddell are in the running for their third Greenaway gongs. For the full list visit:

Ottessa Moshfegh won the $25,000 2016 PEN/Hemingway Award for her novel ‘Eileen’ (Penguin). Patrick Hemingway, the son of Ernest Hemingway, will present the prestigious literary award to Moshfegh on Sunday, April 10, at a ceremony in Boston. PEN New England also celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the PEN/Hemingway Award this year. Founded in 1976 by Mary Hemingway, the wife of Ernest Hemingway, the award honors her late husband. Moshfegh joins other notable PEN/Hemingway winners and honorees of the past, including Marilynne Robinson, Edward P. Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Colson Whitehead, Lily King, Jennifer Haigh, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Ha Jin, Sherman Alexie, Junot Díaz, Yiyun Li, Ben Fountain, Joshua Ferris, and Teju Cole.

A biography of a musical hall act has beaten an academic treatise on the human posterior in the closest race ever for The Bookseller’s Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.   Alan Stafford’s Too Naked for the Nazis (Fantom Films)—a title looking into the career of vaudevillian troupe Wilson, Keppel & Betty—garnered 24.8% of the public vote, while Dr Jonathan Allan’s Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus (Zed Books) took home 24.3%. Too Naked for the Nazis’ margin of victory is by far the narrowest since the annual Diagram Prize judging switched to public voting via The Bookseller’s website in 2000. Coming in a strong third place was Mark Kirwan-Hayhoe’s Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space: A Consideration of Cult Film (MKH) with 20.7% of the vote. Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops (Fuel) came in fourth at 14.9%.

Paul Beatty’s satirical novel on race, The Sellout (FSG), was awarded the prize for fiction at the National Book Critics Circle awards ceremony held at the New School in New York City on Thursday night. Sam Quinones’ bracing examination of addiction, Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Bloomsbury), was awarded the prize for nonfiction. Negroland (Pantheon), Margo Jefferson’s memoir of growing up in an elite African American family won the autobiography award, and the biography prize went to Charlotte Gordon for Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley (Random House). Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (Graywolf), a personal story of queer family-life with meditations on gender politics, won the prize for criticism, and Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude was awarded the NBCC award for poetry.

The John Leonard Prize, which honors an outstanding first book in any genre, went to Kristin Valdez Quade for her short story collection, Night at the Fiestas (W.W. Norton). Carlos Lozada, associate editor and nonfiction book critic at the Washington Post, was awarded the 2015 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. The citation comes with a $1,000 cash prize. The winner of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award is poet, novelist, critic, farmer and environmentalist, Wendell Berry. The 81 year-old Berry is the author of more than 50 books including his most recent essay collection, 2015’s Our Only World.

The shortlist for the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize, for “the best published literary work of fiction in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under,” consists of: Claire-Louise Bennett for Pond, Tania James for The Tusk that Did the Damage. Frances Leviston for Disinformation, Andrew McMillan for Physical, Max Porter for Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, and Sunjeev Sahota for The Year of the Runaways. The winner of the £30,000 (about $42,880) prize will be announced on May 14.

Three men and three women from five countries have been named to the shortlist for the £30,000 (about $43,350) Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, which is open to any novelist or short story writer from around the world who is published in the U.K. On April 21 and 22, the Foyles Charing Cross Road store will host readings by actors Tom Hollander, Juliet Stevenson, David Soul, Gina Bellman, Selina Lo and Chippa Chung. The winner will be announced April 22. This year’s shortlisted authors and stories are: “The Dacha” by Alix Christie, “The News of Her Death” by Petina Gappah, “What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?” by Colum McCann, “Unbeschert” by Edith Pearlman, “The Phosphoresence” by Nicholas Ruddock, “The Human Phonograph” by Jonathan Tel.

Andrew McMillan’s poetry collection Physical is competing with Sunjeev Sahota’s Booker-shortlisted novel The Year of the Runaways for the £30,000 International Dylan Thomas prize. Awarded for the best work of English-language fiction – poetry, novels, short stories or drama – by an author aged 39 or under, the prize is named after the Welsh poet who died at the age of 39 in 1953. Chair of judges professor Dai Smith from Swansea University said this year’s shortlist showed “an astounding array of form, genre and achievement from such young writers”. The full shortlist can be found here:

Have a great month!

================================================= is the place to go for all your reading needs. We have book reviews, book giveaways, and many other interesting places to visit. Visit:


Congratulations to Mary Stone, who won a copy of Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack.

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of Getting Right by Gary D Wilson. To win, send me an email at with your postal address and the subject line “Getting Right”.

We also have an autographed copy of American Female by Emily Carpenter. To win, send me an email at with your postal address and the subject line “American Female”.

Finally, we have a Kindle copy of Jadwa’s Story by Aabra to giveaway. To win, send me an email, with the subject line “Jadwa’s Story”. No postal address needed for that one.

Good luck everybody!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Cure by Jo Merchant, Vikings by Mary J Dougherty, an interview with Getting Right’s Gary D Wilson (see our giveaway this month), and lots more reviews, news, interviews, and giveaways.

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(c) 2016 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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