Category Archives: What Are You Reading

Power to the People

Jessamine Chan -- February 10th, 2014

pussy riotLately I’ve been thinking about life in Russian penal colonies and how strange it must be to go from the unspeakably bleak conditions of said penal colony to appearing on The Colbert Report in the course of a few months. (Not to mention being introduced by Madonna at an Amnesty International benefit concert at the Barclays Center). As readers of most liberal media know, newly freed Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina made media appearances in New York last week as part of their visit to the U.S. to promote Russian prison reform.

For readers who have been following Pussy Riot’s story and anyone interested in contemporary Russian politics and society, I heartily recommend the incredibly vivid, engaging, and compassionate new book, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen (The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin), which we also talked up here. Published last month by Riverhead, the book chronicles the budding activism and legal ordeals of Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and bandmate Kat Samutsevich. Gessen recently appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and NBC’s Brian Williams Show to promote the book, and will be speaking and signing copies at Brooklyn’s Bookcourt on Monday, March 3, and McNally Jackson on Tuesday, March 4. Both events start at 7pm.


A Personal Top 10 List

Jessamine Chan -- January 24th, 2014

Back in December, there was a Facebook prompt going around that asked users to: “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be ‘right’ or ‘great’ books, just the ones that have touched you.” This flurry of tagging and posting meant that my news feed happily contained book recommendations for a solid week. Here’s my list, an inspiration for all you PWxyz readers to post your chosen titles in the comments below, or at the very least, find some great winter reads.

w heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I like my love stories filled with foundling children, stormy weather, ghosts, late-night head-banging against trees, and yearning. No one does yearning better than the Brontës.


wide sargassoWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: A “pre-quel” to Jane Eyre, this is the story of Bertha Mason and her marriage to Mr. Rochester. Add to my above preferences: fire.



Continue reading

Touchy Subjects: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Jessamine Chan -- January 6th, 2014

tampa 2I saw the Facebook chatter about Alissa Nutting’s first novel, Tampa, when it was published last summer. Though friends insisted that it was a “must read,” I was turned off by the marketing campaign: emphasis on “graphic sexual content” in the ads and a lurid fuzzy black dust jacket. I don’t want to read anything that comes in a fuzzy black dust jacket. However, a friend lent me a copy with the dust jacket removed, and the denuded book plus being house-bound because of the snow and a sinus infection resulted in finishing the book in 1.5 days.

Tampa concerns a monomaniacal, super-hot 26-year-old married blonde middle school teacher, Celeste Price, who seduces 14-year-old boys. I was impressed by Nutting’s refusal to make the protagonist “likeable.” The book’s crescendos of pathological behavior spiral higher and higher, and the momentum of the narrative’s craziness is part of what kept me reading. Continue reading

TBR: 2014

Jessamine Chan -- December 27th, 2013

In 2014, I want to promise that I’ll become the sort of reader who always finishes one book before starting another, but honestly, I’m usually reading four books at a time and a more reasonable goal might be to finish the following titles by the summer. Here are some selections from my personal To-Be-Read pile: four titles forthcoming in the new year, plus one children’s classic.

barkBark: Stories – Lorrie Moore (Knopf, Feb.) : Though the rest of the world was clued into Lorrie Moore’s genius years, nay decades, earlier, I was introduced to her stories by my teacher, Rebecca Curtis, in 2009. How I survived my twenties without her fiction, I do not know, but I’ve made up for lost time by becoming a loyal, intense fan.


on such a full sea

On Such a Full Sea – Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead, Jan.) This author plus this spooky cover plus a dystopian plot means that I will make time for this book.



the giverThe Giver – Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993) A friend lent me this children’s book just last week, with the short explanation that it’s super dark, also dystopian, and has a perfect ending.



blood will outBlood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, A Mystery, and A Masquerade – Walter Kirn (Norton/Liveright, Mar.): In the new year, I will read more true crime. Kirn tells the story of his 15-year friendship with “Clark Rockefeller,” who turns out to be a serial imposter and double-murderer.



in the course of human eventsIn the Course of Human Events – Mike Harvkey (Soft Skull, Apr.): It pleases me to no end that my former PW colleague Mike Harvkey’s debut novel publishes in the spring. All I know about it is that it’s dark, violent, set in the Midwest, and the result of many years of Mike’s hard work.

For the sake of levity, I will also (finally) finish Anna Karenina, and hopefully tackle The Portrait of a Lady.

Buying Habits of a Reviews Editor

Jessamine Chan -- October 18th, 2013

We’re in best books season here, and in the spirit of list-making, I offer another: books I purchased with my own cash-money. At PW, I have access to more free books than I can cart home, let alone read in this lifetime, but I still want to support independent bookstores and read older titles. During recent browsing trips to two excellent indie bookstores in Brooklyn—Greenlight Bookstore  and Unnameable Books—I found such unusual and delightful selections that I spent more than intended. Here are some of the titles I purchased this year and why: Continue reading

Book Spine Poetry, or Moving with Lots of Books is a Pain

Alex Crowley -- October 10th, 2013

I just moved to a new apartment, and probably like many of you, I don’t own a lot of things, but the thing I own a lot of is books. Boxes, crates, shelves—you name it and it has books in or on it. So to keep from going nutty while I unpacked and (re)organized, I decided to make some book spine poems. Of course there’s always some measure of narcissism in a little project like this (“ooh, look at all the cool books I have!“), but I also think seeing someone else’s personal library is a window into their head (however small the window or head). So in that spirit, I’m posting my poems below, and you all should make some and send them our way! Take pics and tweet them to us @pwreviews and we’ll retweet them to all our followers.

better off without ‘em

I am a strange loop

louder than hell

beyond good and evil

you will die

civilization and its discontents

leaning against the rain

against architecture

the damned

in baltic circles

near to the wild heart

you are not dead

from the observatory

on the spectrum of possible deaths

to keep love blurry


down the rabbit hole

on the tracks of game


either way I’m celebrating

consciousness explained

modern music and after

a brief history of time

blood, class, and empire

coming of age as a poet

making your own days

laughable loves

by word of mouth

seven american deaths and disasters

Tough Questions about Families and Technology

Jessamine Chan -- October 4th, 2013

TheBigDisconnect hc c2

In the past week, I’ve told every friend I’ve seen about this book. Some have toddlers and found the scary anecdotes to be too much. A friend who is 6 months pregnant was intrigued. While reading about how texting has replaced normal conversation or even email for today’s kids, I felt so guilty that I phoned my parents and best friend 90’s style and left voicemails and played phone tag. Remember phone tag? (My mom pointed out that she only texts with her daughters because we never pick up the phone.) One friend whose children are grown worries that maybe it’s too late—maybe technology is so much a part of children’s lives, the damage can’t be undone.

But it’s not too late, and you, blog readers who are parents or soon-to-be parents, should all read this book. The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, Aug.) by clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, writing with Teresa H. Barker, charts the negative impact of the digital revolution on parents and children. Continue reading

What the Heck Makes a Book “Best”-worthy?

Alex Crowley -- September 26th, 2013

Right now, in a massive collective effort to determine the best books of 2013, PW’s staff of certified, unassailable geniuses are poring over stacks of books already vetted and approved over the course of the year by our stable of reviewers (they literally all live in a comically oversized stable in Ulster County, NY). It’s a fun but arduous process that will lead to us editors gathering in a pub nearby and arguing about the merits of such-and-such’s book versus that other one that’s clearly unfit for the honor of a spot on the top-10 list (and thus must be content with a place in the bottom 90 *boos* *hisses* or, horror of horrors, not on the long list at all *gasps* *widespread fainting*).

Artist's rendering of our Reviewer Stable

Artist’s rendering of our Reviewers’ Stable

This whole process of making a list of “best” things is, of course, terrifyingly subjective. Frankly, we the editors don’t even necessarily agree on what “best” signifies. We each have our own vague idea(s); some abstract platonic concept existing for itself in the void. But is that even helpful? Probably not, since that entails defining a bunch of other slippery concepts that should be working in perfect symbiosis. So maybe the best we can do for now is run the rule over some of those characteristics that will eventually take their Voltron form (and I speak here from a non-fiction perspective only, the concerns of fiction or poetry differ in both obvious and subtle ways). Anyway, welcome to the sausage factory! Continue reading

August 28 is Read A Comic in Public Day!

Calvin Reid -- August 26th, 2010

For those of you who may not know, this coming Saturday, August 28, is the first annual celebration of International Read A Comic in Public Day. So grab your favorite comic book or graphic novel—whatever nomenclature suits you—find a public spot; sit down where everybody can see you and read. IRCIPD was created by Brian Heater and Sarah Morean, editor-in-chief and mini-comics editor respectively, at the Daily Cross Hatch, an excellent blog focused on alternative and independent comics and contemporary comics culture.

The two decided to organize a day for the public display of comic book reading after acknowledging an anomalous dark secret among the comics intelligentsia—a lingering and much suppressed embarrassment at being seen reading comics in public! Yes, it’s true, despite our love for this medium, many of us are still secretly worried that if we’re seen reading a comic book, people will think we’re stupid or the hot chick will notice and move to the other side of the subway car. So they proposed a day to encourage all comic book lovers to come out of the closet and show some comic book reading pride.

They seem to have a struck a nerve. Comic book folks—artists, writers, retailers, librarians, publishers, editors and fans of all kinds—are organizing public meetups and planning events to read their comics in parks, bars or wherever and document the public reading event with a photograph. To help the organizing, Heater and Morean have set up a IRCIPD blog, there’s a Twitter Account (@comicsinpublic), Read A Comic in Public Facebook page, a Flickr page and there are posters for bookstores and for libraries. You can even send the organizers a Read A Comic In Public Day question at So come out on August 28, there’s no need to hide anymore. Happy Read A Comic In Public day!

What Are You Reading: Jane Ciabattari, NBCC President

Craig Morgan Teicher -- July 28th, 2010

National Book Critics Circle President Jane Ciabattari inaugurates a new series at PWxyz in which we ask book people–and a few non-book people–to tell us what they’re reading right now.

On my fiction stack: Bernice L. McFadden’s novel Glorious, which starts with a bang-up prologue, and has a strong main character (based in part on Zora Neale Hurston), hard-driving prose, and historic sweep of several decades, including the years of the Harlem Renaissance, which has always fascinated me. (I grew up in Kansas, not far from where Langston Hughes was raised; he wrote a poem under a tree at a Sag Harbor friend’s house. And Hurston is a writer/hero of mine.) Also Rick Moody’s provocative and hilarious The Four Fingers of Death (I’m reviewing that one), Mona Simpson’s My Hollywood (ditto), Frederic Tuten’s Self-Portraits, and Eric Gansworth’s Extra Indians.

I just finished Dorothy Allison’s exquisite memoir, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, and Debra Monroe’s On the Outskirts of Normal. Both strong in voice, which makes memoir work. I’m reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is a revelation. I relished poet Jim Galvin’s autobiographical prose piece The Meadow, which traces the inhabitants of a piece of land high in the Rockies on the Colorado/Wyoming border not far from Laramie. I picked it up at Prairie Lights in Iowa City and read it aloud to my husband on our trip across the U.S on I-80 earlier this summer.

Finally, Joyce Carol Oates’s collection of first-rate critical essays, Rough Country. She won the National Book Critics Circle Sandrof award for lifetime achievement this year, partly for her work as a critic. Here she’s focused on some of my favorites–Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx, Shirley Jackson. And I’m also learning a lot from Kenneth Lincoln’s critical book, Cormac McCarthy. (I was just in Taos, and reminded how different the arid and sometimes violent Southwest is from the Upper West Side.)