A Review of Amy Ferris’s Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue is a book about depression, the blues, and suicide, yet it manages not to be depressing because of its humor, hope, and courage. This anthology of thirty-four personal stories, edited by Amy Ferris, concerns what’s locked up inside us. Ferris is open about her own struggles, her young girl attempt to kill...

A Review of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, An American Lyric

Sometimes a book comes along and I take it in like breath, filling my lungs, then letting it go, slowly, dispersing and touching every cell in my body. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was one of those books, as was Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born and James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son....
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Watch our book review section for regular updates on the best new nonfiction titles. We now publish reviews year-round, not only when new issues arrive.

A Review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me

On July 3 of this year, “dream” held an array of rich connotations for me. From open imagination to the urgent longing toward social justice, the word was evocative, engaging, comfortably owned. On July 4, I read the excerpt in the Atlantic of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and through his beautiful...

A Review of Joey Franklin’s My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married

As I type this review on the Sunday before Christmas, I realize it’s probably unlikely that it will be published on The Brevity Blog before Friday. That’s too bad—Joey Franklin’s My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married would make a perfect gift for just about any literate person on your Christmas list. In...

A Review of Joni Tevis’ The World is On Fire

Maybe it’s coincidence that apocalypse keeps surfacing in so much of the recent work I’ve read as a grad student, begging me to reconsider how the word might apply to much more than typical end-of-days visions. Several of the books stacked around my apartment tap into apocalypses far more real and immediate, something more like...

A Review of Debra Monroe’s My Unsentimental Education

Like Debra Monroe, I grew up in the ’70s with a scrapbook called My School Years. Each grade ended with a section called “When I Grow Up I Want to Be…” with occupations divided by gender. Boys had choices such as astronaut or basketball player; girls could choose between secretary or model. I remember feeling...

Review of Clifford Thompson’s Twin of Blackness

Clifford Thompson grew up in the post-civil rights era in a black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., raised by an extended, loving church-going family who made sure he made it to college. I grew up in the post-civil rights era too, but in a white Kansas City suburb. My parents were loving church-going people who also...

A Review of R. Claire Stephens’ Lady in Ink

Several years ago, Ira Sukrungruang emailed me to ask me to contribute an essay for an anthology he wanted to put together about essayists writing about their tattoos. I really, really dig Ira’s work, and I really admire the magazine and chapbook publisher Sweet, which he co-created, so I was honored to be asked and...

A Review of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass

Summer mornings, I often walk along the two-track unpaved driveway that leads from my family’s secluded cottage on Lake Superior to the paved road. I pass under mature birches and weedy Manitoba maples, my flip-flops treading an old dirt-and-stone path. In the 1920s, my grandfather carved it through the forest with a handsaw and built...

A Review of Timothy Kenny’s Far Country: Stories from Abroad and Other Places

Early in Far Country: Stories from Abroad and Other Places, Timothy Kenny’s collection of essays about his time as a journalist in conflict zones, he recalls a conversation with an Afghan colleague in which a seemingly benign comment on Kenny’s part brings the conversation to an abrupt halt. “It is not the first time I...

A Review of After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays

I’ve long harbored the suspicion that what’s best in Montaigne is untranslatable. His essence seems to me embodied in a diction, orthography, and syntax as unsubstitutable as any individual. To borrow Emerson’s praise for Montaigne: “Cut these words, and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive.” My prejudice dates to a summer when my...

A Review of Lori Jakiela’s Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

Bear with me. Grief is difficult to explain, difficult to experience. The first time I saw death was in the porcelain face of a 3-year-old boy, on the day I turned twelve. He lay in his small casket at the head of a stuffy room filled with moanings and whisperings—his own high-pitched laughter so clearly...

A Review of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams: Essays

The only seat left on the bus was half-occupied by a guy who was man-spreading. One thin thigh spilled over two seats, and I squeezed myself onto the last bit of real estate, cursing him. He said, “Watch out” and pointed to his elbow, where the skin was scraped to expose red road rash. He...

A Review of Riley Hanick’s Three Kinds of Motion: Kerouac, Pollock, and the Making of the American Highways

“Nothing behind me, everything in front of me, as is ever so on the road,” wrote Jack Kerouac in his 1957 novel On the Road giving us a metaphor of postwar America that we would live and die with for decades. I felt it myself some years ago. Having just moved to Chicago’s South Side,...

A Review of Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover

The sun seared skin, turned limbs pink, and I underlined: “This is what we hope for, to lose ourselves in stream and look up some hours later and note that the world has moved: the cat’s crept closer, following the sun.” Except that today it was so hot, the neighbor’s cat crept closer to my...

A Review of Robert A. Rubin’s Going to Hell in a Hen Basket

In his new book Going to Hell in a Hen Basket, Robert Alden Rubin, a diehearted defender of grammar and true believer in the inherit goodness of proper usage, runs the gambit to perform do diligence and give us a load down on how common words and phrases are so often horribly mangled, offering readers...

Review of Sonja Livingston’s Queen of the Fall

“The assignment is to write what we’d like to be someday. One of the most regular questions of childhood, yet it seems I’ve never been asked it. Maybe because I’m one of seven children in a family headed by a woman without a husband or a career and we live in a neighborhood brimming with...