Gently Read Literature, Spring 2014

The new issue of Gently Read Literature is now available. If you’d like to order a copy, send $4.00 via PayPal ( to the email address or mail a check payable to “Daniel Casey” with “Gently Read Literature” in the memo line to

Daniel Casey
816 Indiana St.
Lawrence, KS 66044



Spring 2014 Issue

3—The Hidden Ordinary: Glenda Burgess on Two Poets

7—True Stories from a Mexican Prison: Deborah Clearman on Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree by Mary Ellen Sanger

10—Gazing Upon Broken Mirrors: Wes Bishop on Lee Upton’s The Tao of Humiliation

14—Notions of Beauty and Materiality: Sally Deskins on Yona Harvey’s Hemming the Water

17—Tragic Histories: Ed Davis on Michael Harris’s Romantic History

22—Terse Lyricism: Daniela Gioseffi on Alfredo de Palchi’s Paradigm: New and Selected Poems 1947-2009

25—A Transcaucasian Mind: Mike Walker on Arslan Khasavov’s Sense

34—The Anti-Mayberry: Rebecca Stoebe on Earplugs by Bram Riddlebarger

37—The Delicate and Precarious: Catherine Bailey Kyle on Glenn Shaheen’s Unchecked Savagery

40—Dogs Don’t Fall in Love: Eileen Austen on Jane Vandenburgh’s The Wrong Dog Dream

44—Tangibly Intangible: Kelly Lydick on Brian Mihok’s The Quantum Manual of Style

49—Loss of Distinction: Jordan Wheatley on Sandy Florian’s Boxing the Compass

55—Ambiences: Bonnie ZoBell on Doug Holder’s Eating Grief at 3 AM

59—Thomas Pynchon’s Escape to the Bleeding Edge by Jesse Lambertson

66—The Culmination of a Life’s Close Attention: Karen Craigo on Sydney Lea’s I Was Thinking of Beauty

69—Burnette Saxifrage: Bonnie ZoBell on Jen Michalski’s The Tide King

74—Assembling a Diverse Literary Society: Kayla Rodney on the Anthology Dismantle

79—Nature’s Lens: Karen Craigo on Paula Bohince’s The Children

82—Intimacy and Exposure: C.P. DeSimone on Sean Thomas Dougherty’s All You Ask For Is Longing

Gently Read Literature, Winter 2014

Gently Read Literature’s first issue of 2014 is out now.


The Winter 2014 issue includes fiction reviews of authors such as Peter Cherches, Kirby Gann, Pamela Erens, Bonnie ZoBell, George Guida, Valerie Fioravanti, Adam Berlin, Luanne Rice, Bruce Holbert, Linda Lappin, and Juliet Marillier.

As well as poetry reviews of collections by Caryl Pagel, Emma Bolden, Elizabeth Robinson, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Bill Yarrow, Frances Hatfield, John Gosslee, Marjorie Maddox, Gerald Fleming, Kristina Marie Darling, Mary Biddinger, Terry Blackhawk, francine j. harris, Jamie Sharpe, Alex Dimitrov, Petrosino, Carrie Olivia Adams, Jeffery Pethybridge, Julie Marie Wade, and Olivia Stiffler.

We’d love for you’ to subscribe to GRL to receive this as well as the Spring issue (released in May) and the Fall issue (released in September). A year subscription is only $10 and will be delivered to your email as a PDF.

You can subscribe via PayPal ( ) by sending to the email address

or mail a check payable to Daniel Casey at

Daniel Casey

816 Indiana St.

Lawrence, KS 66044

Gently Read Literature
Reviews of Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction
Winter 2014


4—Colleen Abel on Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death

6—Christina M. Rau on Emma Bolden’s poetry collection Maleficae

10—Amy Pence on reading On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson

12—Michael Kasper reviews the novel Lift Your Right Arm by Peter Cherches

15—Making Music from the Badlands of Horror Vacui: Virginia Konchan reviews Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Swamp Isthmus

18—Parth Vasa reviews Kirby Gann’s novel Ghosting

21—David Appelbaum on Bill Yarrow’s Pointed Sentences

24—Ed Davis reviews the novel The Virgins by Pamela Erens

27—Robin Martin reviews Bonnie ZoBell’s short stories in The Whack Job Girls

30—Fred Misurella reviews George Guida’s short fictions in The Pope Stories

32—Bonnie ZoBell reviews Valerie Fioravanti’s short story collection Garbage Night at the Opera

35—Grace Curtis reviews Frances Hatfield’s poetry collection Rudiments of Flight

37—Robin Martin reviews Adam Berlin’s novel The Number of Missing

40—Christina M. Rau reviews John Gosslee’s Blitzkrieg

43—David Berridge reviews the anthology Homage to Etal Adnan

51—Brief Alphabet of Grief: Carolyn Perry Reviews Local News from Someplace Else by Marjorie Maddox

56—Deborah Bogen reviews Gerald Fleming’s prose poetry collection The Choreographer

59—Sally Deskins on Kristina Marie Darling’s VOW

61—An Insurgency of Language: Stacia M. Fleegal’s review of Mary Biddinger’s poetry collection O Holy Insurgency

63—Suzanne Hard on Luanne Rice’s novel The Lemon Orchard

65—Margaret Rozga reviews Terry Blackhawk’s poetry collection The Light Between

68—Jonterri Gadson reviews allegiance by francine j. harris

71—Emilie Esther-Ann Schnabel reviews Animal Husbandry Today by Jamie Sharpe

73—Samantha Duncan reviews Alex Dimitrov’s poetry collection Begging for It

75—Sing a Song of Darkness: Katherine Yets on Hymn for the Black Terrific by Kiki Petrosino

78—Help Me Solve a Mystery, Who is Who and Where are We?: Katherine Yets on Carrie Olivia Adams’ Forty-One Jane Doe’s

82—The Poem is a Ritual that Conceals: C. Kubasta reviews Jeffrey Pethybridge’s Striven, the Bright Treatise

85—Acceptance Inside an Envelope: Katherine Yets reviews of Julie Marie Wade’s poetry collection Postage Due

88—Olivia Stiffler’s poetry collection Otherwise, We Are Safe reviewed by Margaret Rozga

92—Twenty Poets Talking: Robert Archambeau reviews the anthology Password Primeval

95—Channeling the Prose Poem’s Ancestry: Steven Wingate reviews the anthology Family Portrait: American Prose Poetry

98—James Wharton reviews Bruce Holbert’s novel Lonesome Animals

101—Shaina Mugan reviews Linda Lappin’s Signatures in Stone

103—Things Redefined: Ayesha Ali Reviews Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Gently Read Literature can now be purchased for download to your Nook or Kindle!


Gently Read Literature can now be purchased for download to your Nook or Kindle!

Not only will Gently Read Literature be sent free to our list of subscribers every month but also we will offer digital download to you e-reader, tablet, or hand-held device.


Barnes & Noble Nook

Gently Read Literature, November 2011

Gently Read Literature, October 2011


Amazon Kindle

Gently Read Literature, October 2011

Gently Read Literature, November 2011

Literary & Romantic Ambitions, Amos Lassen on Keith Gessen’s novel All the Sad Young Literary Men


Amos Lassen was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. After getting his M.A., he went on aliyah and lived in Israel for many years as a member of a kibbutz near Degania Bet. He served as supervisor of secondary English education for the State of Israel and taught at several universities there.  He returned to the U.S. and New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina hit and was evacuated by the National Guard to Little Rock, Arkansas, which he calls home until he returns to Israel. He is on the faculty of the University of Central Arkansas where he teaches English and Biblical Hebrew. Amos is the founder of Literary Pride—a gay reading group and Cinema Pride—a gay movie group. He is extremely proud of two accomplishments—getting the Arkansas Literary Festival to recognize gay literature and for organizing the first GLBT film festival in the state.




Keith Gessen

All the Sad Young Literary Men

Viking, 2008


Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men is a jewel of a novel that tears asunder the romantic and literary ambitions of three well-educated men. All the Sad Young Literary Men is even more of a prize because it is Gessen’s debut. Not a novel that makes you laugh consciously, Gessen has written a black comedy in the form of stories that alternate between the three heroes of the book.

First, there is Mark, a doctoral candidate in Russian history, disappointed to discover what he has learned about the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks do nothing for his sex life. When his marriage fails and he becomes distracted by on-line porn and Internet dating it becomes clear his attempt at a successful literary career, satisfying relationships, and a PhD in history are certainly doomed. This character’s major struggle is to find and identify what exactly is required of a man who is afraid to miss a phone call from a woman who will probably never call:

“Celeste was not calling. The afternoon, the Friday afternoon, moved and

waned, but Celeste did not call. Mark was in his apartment, staring at the

phone that had become—after eight weeks  of Celeste’s streaky calling

practices—a kind of techno-death trap for the phone calls of Celeste…”

Then there is Sam who gets a contract (while he is still in his twenties) to write the great Zionist epic even though he speaks no Hebrew and has never been to Israel. While visiting Israel to research his book, Sam comes to realize the trip was not so much done in the quest for information but rather to get out of a one-sided romance back in Cambridge. His days are consumed by worrying about his girlfriends and checking emails. The advance money he wastes and as the contract expires he takes on temp jobs to return the advance. As he balances spreadsheets, he has less and less time to spend on the Internet and his identity (i.e. his profile) begins to fade away. When he discovers the number of times his name is mentioned on Google drops from 300 to 22, he falls apart.

Keith, our third “musketeer,” is a cultural critic and a Russian immigrant who seems to be Gessen’s persona (being born in Russia and the editor of the cultural review N+1). Keith is a liberal writer who has problems separating the personal from the political illustrated by his two “weaknesses” of alcohol and the philosophy of Hegel. Although he considers himself a failure, he is really the only one of the three that has any success. He is also the only one of the three that relates his story in the first person—perhaps allowing us to be drawn to him.

These three are Gessen’s clever young men of our generation—would-be intellectuals that are self-pitying, self-obsessed, and eager to be recognized. They yearn for love and fall in and out of it. When they realize who they are, they cast off their outsized ambitions and find new goals. Although the three are educated, they have trouble deciding what they really want out of life and as they fail they become a little wiser and a lot more cynical. Easily distracted and with poor communication skills they are defeated effortlessly by their grandiose ideas.

The three men share ages and desires to arrive on the literary scene and as we watch these three go about trying to reach their goals we see both savageness and tenderness. I hesitate to call the book a proper novel because it reads as a series of vignettes connected by disconnection. Each character is only broadly connected by achieving both literary and romantic failure. And all three have yet to develop into full manhood. In fact, do not think these characters have a concept of what manhood truly is. The men have ambitions to change the world and even though the three never meet, their lives come together as each tries to find his way to manhood. They realize that none of them will change the world and the only thing that they seem to have in common is the ability not to succeed. They are afraid to know themselves and success, many times, depends on one’s having a positive self-image.

            Gessen takes on serious political issues while having a good time poking fun at his characters. He looks at love and history as it applies to his three characters. The writing is subtle yet biting and the humor is caustic:

“What are you doing?” she asked sharply…

“I’m—nothing, Nothing much, Sushok.

She accepted this. “Mufka,” she said. “I’m sad.”

“I know, Sushok.” I’m sad too.”

“Mufka, listen.” She could always turn, so quickly. “Today I learned that Canadians think John Irving is a great American novelist. Isn’t that funny?”

“Don’t be a snob, Sushok.”

“Oh, all right. I really like Canadians actually, they’re very polite.”

The erudition of the characters is interlaced with both affection and cruelty creating a portrait of young adults that is scathing. As Mark, Sam and Keith attempt to find maturity, responsibility, and fame, they trip over themselves and each step they take is filled with humor and a biting honesty.

All three are readers, writers, and thinkers but they seem only to really care about women. They want women on their terms, but more than this they yearn for success feeling being successful is tantamount to acceptance. They want the girls they cannot have and do not want the girls that they can. The three seem to have no concept as to how to treat women and, therefore, do not succeed with them. The idea that the grass is always greener somewhere else also plays a part in their conception of women. The three know that they are smart but they are also aware of their pathos, and I think that Gessen is using this technique to get us to like the guys more. I am not sure that I do like them anymore, but I certainly find myself thinking about being a “sad, young literary” man. It’s easy for literary men to see some of themselves in Mark, Keith, and Sam. However, even taken together we still do not have a complete man.

            The three men know overconfidence and self-disgust. What they want is to be told that they have some worth. They want “normal” lives in an abnormal world. These young men desperately want to fit into society but have no practical concept of how. Although they are overly career-minded, they are afraid of being seen as such. They are used to being non-mainstream but know, deep down inside, that in order to succeed they must be accepted. The three men embody the positive and negative attributes all of us who work in the field of contemporary literature possess. Beneath the satire, there is honesty here that many critics have not seen. Yet, I am unsure as to how this book fits into the larger literary canon, if it fits at all. Is All the Sad Young Literary Men a homage to the sentimental educational novel? Of that, it is hard to say. Some may find Gessen’s novel disjointed and smug, but this is probably an outgrowth of expecting too much. Gessen is no “infant terrible” in the literary world, and I thoroughly enjoyed his debut novel and hope that we will hear more from him.