The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt just wrote the dumbest piece of book criticism in the history of ever


Originally posted on The Stake:

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: I love love LOVE the yearly Tournament of Books at The Morning News. The March-madness conceit of pitting the best books of the year in a bracket-style tournament is brilliant. In its championship round, it has consistently steered me toward some of the best books I’ve read in recent years.

But the major weakness of the tournament is that the whole thing can be completely undone by one judge—and that is exactly what appears to have happened in today’s round of the Tournament, in which Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields judged Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State vs. Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. In fact, though it’s still early in the year, I’m calling it: Merritt has written the most boneheaded, tone-deaf, willfully offensive piece of book criticism that I or anyone else will read this year, in which…

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Jonathan Littell’s Syrian Notebooks (Book acquired, 3.23.2015)


Originally posted on Biblioklept:

Jonathan Littell’s Syrian Notebooks is new in English translation (by Charlotte Mandell) from indie Verso. This one seems like a big departure from The Kindly Ones (which, uh, it should be), which I loved hating that I loved. Verso’s blurb:

A blistering firsthand account of the conflict in Homs by the internationally acclaimed author of The Kindly Ones
“We fight for our religion, for our women, for our land, and lastly to save our skin. As for them, they’re only fighting to save their skin.”

In 2012, Jonathan Littell traveled to the heart of the Syrian uprising, smuggled in by the Free Syrian Army to the historic city of Homs. For three weeks, he watched as neighborhoods were bombed and innocent civilians murdered. His notes on what he saw on the ground speak directly of horrors that continue today in the ongoing civil war.

Amid the chaos, Littell bears witness…

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Why We Need Queer Escapist Lit


Originally posted on The Lesbrary:

When asking a reader why they spend so much time reading, the most common response seem to be some version of “to escape”: to entertain themselves, to distract themselves, and to immerse themselves in a life that isn’t their own. And although that’s not the primary reason that I would give for reading, it seems to be the most popular one, which got me to thinking… If most people read to escape, why do queer readers so desperately seek queer books?

After all, escapism should just require reading about a life that’s unlike your own, so shouldn’t queer people be able to escape into straight/cis literature? Are these queer readers not reading for escapism? That seems unlikely, given the demand for more queer sci fi and fantasy, the genres most identifies with the “escapist” label.

Or is it that escapism requires a protagonist that is relatable? Do we need to…

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Bad or Boring: Doing Without Ethics in Poetry


Originally posted on WEIRD SISTER:

Hi guys. I’ve noticed something about the word boring.

I noticed it most recently in discussions about Kenneth Goldsmith’s performance of his version of the St. Louis County autopsy report for Michael Brown. Many people responded with outrage to Goldsmith’s appropriation and objectification of Brown’s body (see the above link to Rin Johnson’s piece and Amy King’s piece asking “Is Colonialist Poetry Easy?”, among others); many of them saw his performance as symptomatic not only of an individual poet’s bad taste or careless sense of entitlement, but of the inherently white supremacist values of avant-garde poetry specifically and the American literary world in general (values that Cathy Park Hong brilliantly exposes in “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde,” and that the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo continues to critique and rage against and lampoon). Goldsmith’s performance, many of these critiques point out, is a logical extension of a position he outlined in…

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All The Amazing Women We’ve Never Heard Of


Originally posted on clarepollard:

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(Photo of Elsa Lasker-Schüler)

Mentoring in the English Lit department of a girl’s school this week, I noticed there were a great many pictures of men looking down at me. Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Tennyson, Eliot, Burns… In a border that surrounded the whole room, there were only three women, Austen, Woolf and Plath, and only one of them was a poet. It’s easy to assume that, although things have now changed, in the past women simply didn’t get the chance to write poetry. That we should just be glad for one or two exceptions. But as I get older I’m constantly surprised by how many female poets from the past I discover who were AMAZING and I just simply haven’t been told about. It’s easy for young feminists to think that the work of rediscovering female writers has already been done by trailblazers like Virago in the 70s, but actually…

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Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close Is a Tranquil Visual Poem


Originally posted on Biblioklept:

A few weekends ago, I spent several days primitive camping on a tiny, rocky island off Cape Canaveral. The weather was miserable and the fishing was poor, but the company and bourbon offered cheer. Still, by the time I got home I was terribly sore, thoroughly damp, and inhabited by one of those hangovers that sets up shop inside one’s soul as a kind of second-consciousness, coloring the world a dreadful surreal blue. I wanted to see my family, but they were out playing tennis. There was a small stack of packages waiting for me though—review copies for this blog—with Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close neatly nestled atop. After showering, I lay on my soft soft bed in the afternoon, read through the brief poem-novel-comic, and drifted into a gentle warm hazy nap. It was the most marvelous medicine. Sublime.

I read Birchfield Close again later that night and then every night for a…

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There’s an Equation to Explain This: An Interview with Sarah Gerard


Originally posted on WEIRD SISTER:

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Not even five years ago, I went through a compulsive addiction to taking up less space. I wanted to inhabit less of the world, to see my bones show through the skin and be pared down to my skeletal size, maybe less. My eating disorder had so much less to do with eating than with a desire to be less. It wasn’t about vanity, even. On some level I knew I looked terrible all angled, washed out, and cold. Anorexia is supposed to be such a common disease, yet, deep in the throes, I never found a book that understood me and my disease, that didn’t paint me as a cheerleader or the desperate Queen Bee of high school. Nobody saw me as more than a cliché.

Enter Sarah Gerard’s parse new novel, Binary Star. The tale of addiction as told through two lovers, an unnamed girl struggling with…

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