A Review of Allison Coffelt’s Maps Are Lines We Draw

It’s a rare person who doesn’t like to travel. I know, because I am one, and when new acquaintances discover this about me, they often look as if I’ve pushed aside my bangs to reveal a third ear. But even though I don’t enjoy travel, I have immense curiosity about the world outside my living...

A Review of Lee Martin’s Telling Stories

Popular Mechanics was the only magazine my father ever read. In it were clever plans, such as turning a metal lunchbox into a radio, a VW Beetle into a travel trailer, and a coffee can into an electric doghouse heater. Actually, Dad made the latter, complete with a switch for turning the heater on and...

A Review of Scott Freeman’s Saving Tarboo Creek

When Scott and Susan Freeman purchased an eighteen-acre parcel of land in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in 2004, they could see that decades of logging and unsuccessful farming had taken their toll. The landscape was riddled with noxious, invasive plants––thorny stands of Himalayan and Eurasian blackberry, mats of reed canary grass, and tall swaths of horsetail...

A Review of Peter Gajdics’ The Inheritance of Shame

Near the end of the fall semester, I facilitated a campus discussion on shame, vulnerability, and storytelling. To begin, I introduced community college students to the work of Brené Brown, who has called shame our “most powerful master emotion.” Brown maintains a two-part antidote for disrupting shame’s ability to silence and inflict harm: We must...

A Review of Bill Hayes’ Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me

One mid-winter day, as I am walking around a frozen lake with my husband, a lifelong insomniac, we spot a muskrat. The small mammal is glassy-eyed and shuddering in deep snow with his pathetic hairless tail looped over bare toes. He should be sleeping in a cozy burrow, but like some misguided groundhog he’s awake,...

A Review of Natalie Singer’s California Calling

When I volunteered to write a review of Natalie Singer’s debut book, California Calling: A Self-Interrogation, I had one fear. What if I feel like the sad local girl California dumped in favor of this smarter, prettier, Canadian import? I wanted to be bigger than this. Sure, I did, but I still marked my territory by...

A Review of Brian Doyle’s Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace

There are moments in my small rural life that make everything else fall away. These moments make for a good life—sitting around the dining room table with my children and friends, drinking wine or cider, telling stories about Edward Abbey or anarchy or the dissent of the western environmental activist, all while the fire burns...

A Review of Girl Behind the Door: A Memoir of Delirium and Dementia

Ideally, a memoir’s title suggests the author’s tone as well as his or her overall vision for the work. Stephanie Dickinson’s Girl Behind the Door: A Memoir of Delirium and Dementia brings to mind Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. As with Stein, who isn’t Toklas, Dickinson isn’t Girl. But whereas Stein actively...

A Review of Lia Purpura’s Scream: or Never Minding

In the midst of the recent #MeToo campaign, I turned to Facebook to ask the women in my life a question that burns in my bones every time another story of power abuse or systemic injustice violence bursts open on social media: what do you do with unfettered rage? I was soon inundated with a...

A Review of Gayle Brandeis’s The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide

Diagnosis—and its constant cousin, misdiagnosis—form the intertwining narrative strands of The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide, which explores the storytelling and guesswork that often surround mental and physical illness. It’s a memoir about Gayle Brandeis coming to terms with her mother’s suicide, as well as a detective narrative that follows her as she...

A Review of John Hodgman’s Vacationland

At some point as I was dancing to 50 Cent on top of a red vinyl booth at Angel’s Rock Bar, Thursday night slid into Friday morning, and someone shouted “Happy birthday, Kevin! How’s it feel to be twenty-five?” “Shit,” I thought. “Twenty-five.” It’d never crossed my mind. By that age Mary Shelley had written...

A Review of Morten Strøksnes’ Shark Drunk

The subject of Morten Strøksnes’ Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean is a 1,300-pound fish that lives 4,000 feet below the freezing surface of the North Pole. The shark remains off-stage most of the book, but the premise is entirely dependent on the...

A Review of Chelsea Martin’s, Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life

“What was I doing!?” I shrieked, shielding my face with my hands. I was flipping through old photo albums with my mom and stumbled upon a particularly embarrassing photo of my preteen self. In the photo, I was wearing a sweatshirt that said Genuine Girl, only I put masking tape over Girl and wrote Alien...

A Review of Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of the Body

I’m writing a book about someone who made some bad decisions. She bought a gun, kidnapped a woman, held up a bank, and on the very last day of her life shot at SWAT officers. Camilla Hall’s protest of injustice in America in the 1970s—as a member of the violent Symbionese Liberation Army—took a violent...

A Review of Alice Anderson’s Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away

Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away, by Alice Anderson, is not only a telling of a battered woman’s storm-ravaged life, it’s also a story of redemption, resilience, survival, and a reclamation of one’s true self in face of one trauma after another. The cascade of events begins with her father, whose sexual abuse of his...

Review of Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability

As many essayists and memoirists know, poets often stroll into nonfiction and bowl a perfect strike, knocking us all over like so many bowling pins. Kelly Davio’s skill as a poet is in full effect in the pages of her new essay collection, It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability. She’s underselling with that word...

A Review of Eileen Myles’s Afterglow

When I read Eileen Myles’s most famous book, Chelsea Girls, I found myself regretting my mild little life. It’s a book wrought from the chaos of New York City in the 1970s: sex, crime, booze and drugs, poverty, and poetry. None of that had ever been in my life. My experience with Chelsea Girls was...

A Review of Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses

One day I noticed a dead cedar waxwing outside my front door. There it lay in the dirt with its black-rimmed eyes, red-tipped wings, and yellow-dipped tail, every detail whole and perfect and distinct. It was so unlike other dead birds I’ve seen, like the mangled leftovers of my cat’s dinner or some battered, city-stained...