Brian Edwards’ Best Reads of 2016

edwards
Photo by Lynn Trautmann

My name is Brian Edwards, and I’m the Crown Professor in Middle East Studies and a professor of English and comparative literature at Northwestern. I am also the founding director of the Program in Middle East and North African Studies (MENA), which partners with EPL in a monthly lecture series on the region.

My wife Kate Baldwin, also a Northwestern professor and author, and I moved here originally because of work. We were both born in New York City, but I grew up mostly in Connecticut, she in California (we met in graduate school at Yale). After more than a decade in Evanston, and raising four children ranging from a high school senior to a pre-kindergartner, we have deep ties in the community and love it here.

I’m constantly reading both for work and pleasure. These five books, which come from my reading this fall, are the ones I’m most excited to share right now. Four of them are relatively new: three of them works of fiction and one a work of social history. I also included an overlooked novel from the 1980s that I finally read last month and now cherish. And please also take a look at my own new book, After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East, which is also available at EPL.

1)  The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)

The 2016 Pulitzer Prize in fiction went to a first novel by an American studies professor at USC. Set in Vietnam and Los Angeles during the late 1960s and 1970s, Nguyen’s novel is structured as the confession of an unnamed south Vietnamese narrator who is secretly a mole for the communist north. What makes the novel an instant classic is the narrator’s voice: wry, critical, and ruthless as he dissects himself, the Vietnamese refugee community in SoCal, and the excesses of American anti-Communism and violence in the war. The chapters on the making of a fictional Hollywood film called The Hamlet, which closely resembles Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, are devastating. Beyond the sheer pleasure it generates, The Sympathizer shows what the contemporary novel can do to disrupt and deconstruct America’s sense of global superiority and the follies of military occupation in the name of exporting American principles.

Continue reading “Brian Edwards’ Best Reads of 2016”

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A Scary Good Author You Need to Read…

Horror author Laird Barron (Illustration by Dalton Rose for "Slate.")
Horror author Laird Barron (Illustration by Dalton Rose for Slate.)

With Halloween lurking right around the darkened corner, now is a frighteningly good time to talk about authors who will scare you right out of your reading glasses.  We know you know about horror heavy hitters like Peter Straub, Stephen King, and Ramsey Campbell, but how about Laird Barron?  Already a favorite among horror and dark fantasy aficionados, Barron mixes cosmic horror, supernatural noir, and the occult into terrifying tales that should be topping your Halloween reading list.  Strikingly original and expertly crafted, his novels and story collections have already won three Shirley Jackson Awards, received multiple Bram Stoker and Locus nominations, and been favorably compared to the work of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.  So if you’re in the mood for a good scare, try to be brave and check out one of the following Laird Barron books.  They’re guaranteed to give you the creeps if you give them the chance.  Happy Halloween!

swift-to-chaseSwift to Chase

Barron’s latest story collection was declared an “instant classic” by author John Langan and is sure to make Barron a household name in horror.  Combining “psychological horror, slasher fiction, and earthy weirdness,” these 12 spine-tingling stories are set in far-future dystopias and a hellish Alaskan wilderness where a cyborg war dog, a modern day Jack the Ripper, and a psycho sorority girl all roam wild.  The first book in a planned “Alaska” cycle, this collection is a nightmarish must read.

 

the-beautiful-thing-that-awaits-us-allThe Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us and Other Stories

This cosmic horror gem is the final book of a “loose trilogy” that includes the award-winning story collections The Imago Sequence and Occultation.  Featuring eight interlinking tales and the World Fantasy Award nominated novella Hand of Glory, these chilling stories are so well crafted author Kelly Link insists you’ll forgive Barron for the sleepless nights they cause.

 

 

the-croningThe Croning

Barron’s debut novel tells the story of 80-year-old Donald Miller, a geologist whose sanity is tested as he unearths dark secrets about his wife and their adult twins.  Filled with black magic, weird cults, and unspeakable things looming in the shadows, Barron’s book is a “disturbing imagining of a modern day Rumpelstiltskin” that is by turns touching and terrifying.

 

An Interview with ‘The Loss of All Lost Things’ author Amina Gautier

Amina Gautier
Photo by Jenni Bryant

Amina Gautier writes short stories, and her short story collections win awards.  It’s about that simple.  Back in 2011, for instance, her debut collection At-Risk earned the Flannery O’Connor Award and the First Horizon Award among other honors, and her 2014 follow-up Now We Will Be Happy won the Praire Schooner Book Prize.  This past February Gautier continued the trend with The Loss of All Lost Things – a gripping collection of fifteen stories that explores the unpredictable ways in which characters deal with the loss of their loved ones, careers, reputations, and hometowns.  Not only did her third collection win the Elixir Press Award in Fiction, but Gautier was also included on Newcity’s 2016 Lit 50 list and is set to receive the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award in October.  Back on May 9, Gautier visited EPL to read from The Loss of All Lost Things as part of the 2016 Evanston Literary Festival, but if you missed her that night, have no fear.  You can catch her this Saturday, June 11 at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, and what’s more, we recently spoke with her via email about her love of the short story form, her creative process, and the challenges of writing intimately about loss.

Continue reading “An Interview with ‘The Loss of All Lost Things’ author Amina Gautier”

An Interview with ‘Paris, He Said’ author Christine Sneed

sneedWe last talked with author Christine Sneed back in early 2011 shortly after she published her first short story collection Portraits of A Few of the People I’ve Made Cry.  Already the winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, her stunning debut became a magnet for literary awards and was eventually named a finalist for the LA Times’ Book Prize for First Fiction.  But Sneed was just getting started.  In the years that followed, the NU writing teacher has published two critically-acclaimed novels – Little Known Facts (2013) and Paris, He Said (2015), graced the cover of the NY Times Book Review, and continued to collect writing honors including the Carl Sandburg 21st Century Award and a Booklist nod for a Top Ten Debut Novel.  This Saturday, April 9th, you can hear Sneed read selections from her recent work when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 4 pm along with author and comedienne Julia Sweeney.  In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about the life of a successful novelist, her forthcoming story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, the resurgence of short fiction, and her favorite recent reads.

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National Book Award 2015 Nominees: Fiction

The longlist for the 2015 National Book Award nominees was released today and though there were a lot of familiar faces to be found (Clegg, Pearlman, Hanagihara) we were happy to see some surprises as well.  Who could have predicted the appearance of Karen E. Bender’s Refund?  Or the inclusion of Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson?  Haven’t read them?  Well here’s your chance.  Reserve your own copies by clicking on the links and covers below: Continue reading “National Book Award 2015 Nominees: Fiction”

Rosie Roche’s Best Reads of 2014

rosieMy name is Rosie Roche.  I have lived in Evanston for 8 years and have worked for the city and NU as an educator and teaching artist. I have 2 young boys who love the library and ask to visit at least once a week. I have never seen such an impressive public library and consider it a gem in Evanston’s crown in terms of inviting space, helpfulness of staff and breadth of collection.

1) The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014)

Her mastery is to write short stories that are intriguing and compelling to read and – in a way that is hard to pinpoint – leave the reader unsettled and disturbed. I see images from the stories at the most unexpected times, many months after reading them. She is so cutting in her condemnation that I wince and laugh to read them.

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Christine Sneed’s Best Reads of 2014

CSauth1My name is Christine Sneed.  I am the author of the novel Little Known Facts, the story collection Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, and the forthcoming novel Paris, He Said (May 2015).  I am the recipient of the Grace Paley Prize in short fiction, the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award, and the Society of Midland Authors Prize for best adult fiction.  I live in Evanston and teach for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and for Northwestern University.

1) Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff (2009)

There are nine stories in this book, if I remember correctly, and several are based on the lives of real people; Groff is such a lyrical writer, often slyly funny, always interesting. Some of the stories were published in The Best American Short Stories anthology, and she’s also contributed to the O. Henry Prize Stories anthology. Her third book, the novel Arcadia, was on many best-of lists of 2012, and her first book (and first novel), The Monsters of Templeton, was also well reviewed and was a bestseller.

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Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Better Late Than Never

An F. Scott Fitzgerald story rejected 75 years ago is finally published in The New Yorker.  Recently discovered by Fitzgerald’s grandchildren, “Thank You for the Light” is a short, fable-like vignette turned down in 1936 for being too unlike his other work.  See what you think.

Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated

The predicted demise of the book is tracked through the ages by the NY Times.  Beginning with Theophile Gautier’s 1835 declaration that “the newspaper is killing the book,”  the essay traces how every generation has rewritten the book’s epitaph for nearly 200 years.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Scientologist

A 7-year-old Neil Gaiman talks to BBC Radio about Scientology in this transcript published by the Village Voice.  Discovered in a 1969 church pamphlet, the future sci-fi writer – whose dad was Scientology’s PR chief in the UK – is interviewed to refute Parliament’s objections to the church.

Cross-Pollinating the Arts

Lovers of books and music shouldn’t miss the Literary Jukebox.  Matching a daily book quote with a thematically-related song, this new website shares such unique pairings as Ernest Hemmingway with Mazzy Star, Susan Sontag with Andrew Bird, and many others.

An NU Alumni Sampler

NU alum Charlton Heston

All dressed up in its purple best, Northwestern University celebrated last week as it sent a new graduating class out into the world, and odds are good this won’t be the last you hear of them.  Over the years, you see, NU has become a veritable assembly line of notable alums – a fact comedian Stephen Colbert duly noted during his much-anticipated commencement address. “Northwestern’s alumni list is truly impressive,” said the 1987 NU grad.  “This university has graduated bestselling authors, Olympians, presidential candidates, Grammy winners, Peabody winners, Emmy winners – and that’s just me.”  All kidding aside, though, he’s right.  From Saul Bellow and Cloris Leachman to Steve Albini and Dan Chaon, Wildcat grads are clearly an accomplished bunch.  So to honor their achievements both past and future, we present the following eclectic list of books, movies, and music from some of Northwestern’s talented very own.  Enjoy, and stay tuned.  The list is growing.

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An Interview with Christine Sneed

Author Christine Sneed (Photo by Adam Tinkham)

Christine Sneed is a local author clearly hitting her stride.  This past November the DePaul University professor published her debut short story collection Portraits of A Few of the People I’ve Made Cry to glowing reviews after first claiming the 2009 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction.  Praised by Booklist as “an exceptionally smart” collection written with a “supple mix of wit, frankness, and compassion,” Portraits features ten provocative stories that explore the complexities of romantic love and fame and was recently named a finalist for the 2010 LA Times’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.  On Sunday, March 13th, you can hear Ms. Sneed read from Portraits when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 2 p.m. along with fellow local authors Pamela Ferdinand and Suzanne Clores.  In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about the positive response to Portraits, the nature of celebrity, the state of short fiction, and her work on both a novel and new story collection.   Continue reading “An Interview with Christine Sneed”