A Review of B.J. Hollars’ Flock Together: A Love Affair with Extinct Birds

A “spark bird,” I learned from B.J. Hollars’ Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds, is the bird that gets one interested in birding. Presumably, it takes you beyond casual observation and into impassioned enthusiasm. In Hollars’ case, his spark bird leads him into an exploration of extinct birds, which leads him to investigating the...

A Review of Phillip Lopate’s A Mother’s Tale

In the fall of 2005, my thirteen-year-old son tried to hang himself by using a leather belt that held up the pants of his Easter suit. By some miracle, the belt ripped in two, throwing my son to the floor, leaving him breathless but alive. Since then, I’ve come to see death and life separated...

A Review of Sonya Huber’s Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System

This is a book about pain. Chronic, searing, never-ending pain—a pain that’s shaped Sonya Huber’s life for years. It’s also a book about the language of pain, the discourse of pain, and her gradual movement toward being able to talk and write about her experience with this mysterious thing that dominates her life. As someone...

Review of Lisa Knopp’s Bread: A Memoir of Hunger

Bread: A Memoir of Hunger, with its yeast-bubble cover art, screams anorexia memoir from all surfaces. In fact, when I found myself carrying it around one evening with a to-go slice of chocolate cake in my other hand, I realized I might have looked a bit troubled, or, oppositely, totally recovered and beyond reproach. This...

A Review of Ariel Leve’s An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir

When my brother and I acted out as children, my mother threatened us with exile. If we fought, she said she’d drop us on our father’s doorstep. And if we were really bad, say, if we refused to eat our cheeseburger-flavored Hamburger Helper, she’d leave us with our maternal grandmother, Barb. She said she loved...

A Review of J. Drew Lanham’s The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature

“There are still priceless places,” J. Drew Lanham says, “where nature hangs on by tooth, talon, and tendril.” And there remain rare breeds of humans who fall in love with a land darkened by the blood and sweat of ancestors purchased to work it. Google a list of nature writers and a band of such...

A Review of Mary Cappello’s Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack

All my life I have been a browser of dictionaries, a Sunday-afternoon flipper of phone books, a belly-on-the-carpet peruser of atlases and anthologies. I’ve been a geek for information since I picked up my first children’s illustrated encyclopedia. But I also love a good story, which is probably why I read essays. Who can resist...

A Review of Joel Peckham’s Body Memory

“Without the emotional connection to pain, pain is still experienced, but not as pain.” — Joel Peckham, Body Memory How do I explain what Body Memory, Joel Peckham’s most recent collection of essays, is doing? Do I say that this book is an exploration of the ramifications of physical pain? Do I say that this...

A Review of Barbara Hurd’s Listening to the Savage: River Notes and Half-Heard Melodies

About half-way through Barbara Hurd’s latest essay collection, Listening to the Savage: River Notes and Half-Heard Melodies, I find myself splayed across a granite boulder in the middle of the small river that runs through my backyard in rural Vermont. Obviously, I am listening for crayfish. An avid river watcher, I confess that until reading...

A Review of Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock: A Diary

I came across some of my deceased father’s clothing while getting ready to move last month: a Hawaiian shirt I bought him when I visited Oahu and some old military fatigues. When I was going through his house after he died, about a decade ago, these clothes seemed the perfect objects to hold onto. I...

A Review of Luke Dittrich’s Patient H.M.

Luke Dittrich has a stark inheritance. His grandfather, William Scoville, was the second most accomplished lobotomist in the history of medicine. This prominent neurosurgeon at Hartford Hospital had a career that ran parallel with one of the most scientifically fruitful and morally dubious periods of our medical advancement: the early and mid-century era of American...

A Review of Michelle Tea’s Black Wave

Over the past month I’ve been on a binge of queer nonfiction, devouring Eileen Myles’ Cool for You and Inferno and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, annotating the latter until ink from my pen took up more space per page than printer ink. The attraction isn’t just the quality of the writing—though stunning—or the presence of...

A Review of Christine Hale’s A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice

A few Friday nights ago, I drove to a Burbank-area urgent care center after a week long crying jag left me reeling and in search of help. Call it what you will—emotional break, anxiety attack—but I found myself filling out my patient intake forms and thinking, of all things, of Christine Hale’s new memoir, A...

A Review of Angela Palm’s Riverine

I grew up a river rat, near the banks of the Cahaba. Dad took me down to the river, an eight-year-old made of bones, where I paddled my first Dagger boat. The only rule was that I had to keep my head above the chicken water, what with all the waste dumping. You didn’t want...

A Review of Peter Selgin’s The Inventors

I’m a sucker for literature that pursues an unanswerable question, all the better if that pursuit takes some idiosyncratic course, as with Peter Selgin’s new memoir, The Inventors. Recently published by Hawthorne Books, and a finalist for the Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize, the Graywolf Press Prize for Nonfiction, and the AWP Award Series for Creative...

A Review of Patrick Madden’s Sublime Physick

A 352-word essay took me two years to write. It started with a prompt at a low-residency workshop, then expanded into a long essay (per a professor’s suggestion), then written into a nonfiction manuscript, then removed from said manuscript, and finally rewritten at another low-residency workshop with another prompt, two years after the first. Instead...

A Review of Blair Braverman’s Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube

At 19, I moved to Las Vegas with my boyfriend Scott. Things were fine before the move, but after arriving in Nevada—1,300 miles from home—something seemed off. While Scott and I waited for a cab, other men glanced at me, and Scott locked his eyes on my body to signal ownership. He didn’t like my...

Review of Amye Archer’s Fat Girl, Skinny

I’m working on a memoir about mental illness, and, at times, the process feels like a long, combative, and slightly schizophrenic therapy session. One part of me lies on the couch, reluctant to divulge details. The other part of me sits in the chair, pen poised, grilling my prone self: What did you mean by...