Compulsive Reader

The Compulsive Reader News
Volume 18, Issue 3, 1 March 2017

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Hello readers. Before I get to this month’s reviews, I just want to invite all of you to the Newcastle Writers Festival being held from 7-9 April, where I am convening a number of very exciting sessions and participating in several poetry readings. Everything I’m involved in this year is free (yay – over half the sessions are free this year!) and I’ll also be launching my new poetry book Unmaking Atoms, so it should be a big exciting weekend. If you can make it, please come – the Festival looks like being the best so far, and I have to say that the NWF is my favourite literary festival of all the festivals I attend – not just because I’ve been participating heavily since its start, but because it manages the perfect balance between attracting big exciting writers, and intimacy/accessibility. I’d love to meet some of you there. Grab a copy of the full program here:

Here is the latest batch of reviews and interviews this month:

A review of Ota Benga by Elvis Alves

The poems in Elvis Alves’ new chapbook Ota Benga have a rhythm that is almost performative. Most of the poems have a subtle rhyme scheme that, when enriched by a modern undercurrent of political anger, comes across with a slam aesthetic. They work particularly well when spoken aloud, with the rhythms of a New York vernacular. Throughout the collection there is a common theme of enslavement versus freedom. Read more:

A review of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

This is an important subject treated with seriousness by the author, who is a journalist of some standing and the author of three other books. The title is somewhat misleading, however, as the librarians are not so much ‘bad-ass’ as courageous and dedicated to their quest to save centuries-old Islamic and secular manuscripts on a range of topics from destruction by militants of Al Qaeda. For the full review visit:

A review of Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole

Known and Strange Things, the title coming from Seamus Heaney, is structured by division into four sections: Reading Things; Seeing Things; Being There; and Epilogue. Cole notes that the book contains ‘some of my most vital enthusiasms’ as well as pieces on the new, and that he was testing his knowledge and its limits. He left as much out as he included, and could have produced a second book with the excluded. Read more:

A review of Laurinda by Alice Pung

It would be a rare reader that didn’t feel an affinity for the protagonist in Alice Pung’s charming coming-of-age story, Laurinda. The is something universal about fifteen year old Lucy Lam’s dislocation as she tries to navigate the clique-iness, the odd social mores, and the subtle bullying that takes place at Laurinda, a prestigious private school to which Lucy has received the first equity scholarship. For the full review visit:

A review of Metaphor Issue 5 edited by April Mae M. Berza

The editor of Metaphor Issue 5 has succeeded in assembling a group of fine poets. Poets representing a volume of diverse voices. Poems in this volume are varied. Some are philosophical, addressing social justice and others speak to our daily lives and myriad experiences. The writing is esthetically rich in content and well crafted. Read more:

A review of Time Was by Howard Waldman

Time Was is not your usual birth to death autobiography. Waldman’s haphazard style is unique and somehow manages to be both lighthearted and dark at the same time, but these vignettes have an otherworldly quality about them. The subtitle is appropriate as the disconnected voice of the narrator is not only out of time and out of place, it is one that invites the reader to that liminal space. For the full review visit:

A review of the Play with Knives trilogy by Jennifer Maiden

All three novels explore guilt and innocence, good and evil, and the individual versus the state or government, using changing tense and viewpoints. The grand conception is fairly ambitious, but Maiden handles it all smoothly and the stories read like ordinary thrillers. The binaries that charge these books are played with in all sorts of interesting ways as the characters swap positions, power matrices, emotional landscapes, and unravel the structures in which they work. Read more:

A review of Figuring in the Figure by Ben Berman

Ben Berman’s Figuring in the Figure offers a window into his personal life. In reading the poems, we learn that Berman is a young father and that he is a wizard at word play, among other things. The poems are written in the terza rima form, a rhyme scheme of Italian origins and used by Dante Alighieri. This form allows Berman to showcase is proficiency as a poet. For the full review visit:

A review of Beginning French by Les Américains

The writing is so descriptive and uncomplicated that is easy to imagine accompanying the family as they go from one lesson to the next. We go with them to buy furniture, buy food at the hypermarket, get the boiler fixed and tag along on their trips to the Dordogne and some wonderful French towns and villages. We experience the history, the culture and the environment through Marty and Eileen’s exquisite travelogues and memories. And if you think I have forgotten to mention the French food then you are in for a huge surprise. Read more:

A review of The Chaos of Mokii by Geoff Nelder

At a deeper level, there are questions raised about the nature of reality that are chillingly relevant considering the fact that last year Elon Musk stated publically that there is a billion to one chance that we’re living in “base reality” (that is, a non-virtual world), and even Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that there is a high probability that we’re living a computer simulation. 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 2,055 reviews!), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Barnes & Noble has announced the six finalists for the 2016 Discover Great New Writers Awards. Winners in each category will receive a $30,000 prize and a full year of promotion from B&N. Runner-up authors get $15,000, and third-place $7,500. Winners will be announced March 1 in New York City. For fiction, the finalists are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf), The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni (Counterpoint), and Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador).

Sebastian Barry became the first novelist to win the £30,000 (about $38,020) Costa Book of the Year award twice when he picked up this year’s prize for Days Without End, eight years after his first win for The Secret Scripture. Chair of the judges Kate Williams said: “We all loved this magnificent, searing, thrilling book–brutal, terrifying yet with moments of light and beauty. Brilliant writing that takes you to the depths and the heights of humanity, and a voice you simply can’t forget.” Jess Kidd won the £3,500 (about $4,435) Costa Short Story Award for “Dirty Little Fishes.”

A 12-book longlist has been announced for the £30,000 (about $37,530) International Dylan Thomas Prize, which is sponsored by Swansea University and recognizes the “best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under.” This year’s list features six novels, four short story collections and two volumes of poetry. A shortlist will be released in March, and a winner unveiled May 10. The longlisted titles are: The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasm, Pigeon by Alys Conran, Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale, Cain by Luke Kennard, The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler, The High Places by Fiona McFarlane, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, Dog Run Moon: Stories by Callan Wink

A shortlist has been released for the inaugural £1,000 (about $1,245) Jhalak Prize Book of the Year by a Writer of Color, which celebrates works by British/British resident BAME authors. Chair of judges Sunny Singh said the shortlist “showcases the variety, scope, depth, and literary excellence to be found amongst writers of color in Britain today. The diversity of backgrounds, themes, forms and genres are testament to the wide spectrum of great writing being produced in the country.” The winner will be announced during Bare Lit Festival 2017. The Jhalak Prize shortlisted titles are: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee, Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie, Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga, The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross, and Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge.

Jean Valentine became the 50th winner of the $165,000 Bollingen Prize for Poetry, which is awarded by the Yale University Library through the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years or for lifetime achievement in poetry. The prize honors her most recent book, Shirt in Heaven (Copper Canyon Press).

Vievee Francis won Claremont Graduate University’s $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, given annually “to a single book of poetry by a mid-career poet,” for Forest Primeval (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press). POETRY magazine editor Don Share, who chaired this year’s finalist judges committee, described the collection as “an intense work, dark… Dantean… dreamlike in its visions.” In addition, Phillip B. Williams won the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, given for a first book by a “promising poetic talent,” for Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books). Both writers will be honored at an awards ceremony April 20 in Los Angeles.

The six novels to make the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) shortlist were named today. They include the latest novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, an author best known for his Gate of the Sun and sometimes mentioned as being in contention for the Nobel Prize for Literature; eminent and multi-prize-winning Kuwaiti writer Ismail Fahd Ismail’s Al-Sabiliat; the novel A Small Death by Saudi writer Mohamed Hassan Alwan, whose The Beaver was previously IPAF-shortlisted and winner of the Prix de la Littérature Arabe; Egyptian writer Mohamed Abdelnaby, also previously longlisted for the IPAF, for his much-discussed In the Spider’s Room; acclaimed Libyan writer Najwa Binshatwan for The Slaves’ Pens; and Iraqi writer Saad Mohammed Rahim for The Bookseller’s Murder. The winner will be announced on April 25, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America announced nominees for the 2016 Nebula Awards, the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book. The awards will be presented during the annual Nebula Conference in May. See the full lists here:

Wayne Miller won the $10,000 University of North Texas Rilke Prize for Post- (Milkweed Editions). The prize “recognizes a book written by a mid-career poet and published in the preceding year that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision.” The judges also selected three finalists for this year’s Rilke Prize: Christopher Bakken’s Eternity & Oranges (University of Pittsburgh Press), Ruth Ellen Kocher’s Third Voice (Tupelo Press), and Dana Levin’s Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press).

Finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes have been announced in 11 categories, including the new Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose. Novelist Thomas McGuane will be given the 2016 Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, which recognizes a writer whose work focuses on the American West. Winners will be celebrated April 21 at the University of Southern California on the eve of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The full list of finalists can be found here:

Finally, the PEN American Center announced winners of the 2017 PEN Literary Awards. They will be honored March 27 in New York City at the annual awards ceremony, along with the winners of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, PEN/Nabokov Award, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, and PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award. This year’s PEN Literary Award honorees include: PEN Open Book Award ($5,000): What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead), the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry ($5,000): The Verging Cities by Natalie Scenters-Zapico (Center For Literary Publishing/Colorado State University). There are quite a few more categories. For the full list visit:

Have a great month!



Congratulations to Sinead Reilly, who won a copy of Get Lean, Stay Lean by Joanna McMillan.

Congratulations also to Anita Yancey, who won a personally autographed copy of Unmaking Atoms in our Goodreads giveaway.

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of The Origins of Benjamin Hackett by Gerald M. O’Connor. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Hackett” and your postal address.

Good luck everybody!



Unmaking Atoms

‘Compassionate, poignant, otherworldly and profound: this thought-provoking, sometimes raw, collection is accessible contemporary poetry at its zenith of achievement.’ – Mark Logie


If you pick up a hard copy and want a customised autograph, just drop me a line at and I’ll post a lovely little bookplate out to you anywhere in the world free.



We will shortly be featuring reviews of Goodwood by Holly Throsby, Wild Gestures by Lucy Durneen, an interview with JAnn Bowers, Wild Gestures by Lucy Durneen, Miriam’s Book: A Poem by Harold Schweizer, and lots more reviews, news, interviews, and giveaways.

Don’t forget to drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) or at to listen to the latest interview with Jennifer Maiden, who reads from and talks about her Playing With Knives trilogy (available online free – the link is in the show notes and in the review above). 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. Just find us under podcasts by searching for Compulsive Reader. Then just click subscribe.


(c) 2017 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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