M Train by Patti Smith

Patti wanders equally and easily through dreams, memories, as well as through what we call everyday life. The immediacy of her lovely thoughts, annotations, and reflections pull us so strongly into her consciousness that we feel blessedly wrapped in a magical fabric part dream, part memory and part real life – with no thread more or less significant than others.

This book will remain a well of inspiration for me for years to come. It tells me not be afraid to be passionate. Do not be afraid to honor the grandeur (or the simplicity) of your intentions, your loves, your losses.

Who would have thought that it takes so much strength to believe in what you love; such work to remember? Perhaps quiet devotion to your own experience as a human being is the sole requirement for being an artist.

Read M Train.

Let the light of poetry shine on you.









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The Door by Magda Szabó

Magda Szabó by Bodo Gabor
Magda Szabó by Bodo Gabor
The Door by Magda Szabó
The Door by Magda Szabó

What is behind the door?

Do not come to this book expecting to find easy answers to any of your tired questions about relationships, faith, poverty, love, or the meaning of life. Check your preconceptions at the door.

This is the real thing; it’s full of blood and sweat, ugliness and beauty; of simple truths set amidst racking inconsistencies, ambition, knowledge, accomplishment, growth, honesty.

Like life, the stories we tell to explain the things that happen barely graze whatever it is that we call the concrete reality of our lives. Our stories skim and skip from toehold to toehold, and out of a few, sometimes contradictory particles of perception, we create illusions of solidity, the cracked fictions in which we live, and, most importantly and ultimately, from which we touch one another.

The door is about touching another human being; connections built on alienations, mistaken beliefs, weakness and poor judgment.  Real connections. Tragedy, toil, and real love.


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A Time of Gifts

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, NYRB Classics
A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, NYRB Classics
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Patrick Leigh Fermor
One of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s designs for Mitchinson’s House 1979; his own house, The Grange, is on the right
One of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s designs for Mitchinson’s House 1979; his own house, The Grange, is on the right.

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

One of the finest prose stylists I’ve ever read, although it is very rich stuff. Best to pack all twenty volumes of the OED in your knapsack if you want to read this on the subway and fully appreciate the breadth and zest.

One of my favorite parts was the description of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague beginning as he enters the building: “The last of the congregation were emerging to a fickle momentary sunlight. Indoors, the aftermath of incense, as one might say with a lisp, still floated among the clustered piers. Ensconced in their distant stalls, an antiphonal rearguard of canons was intoning Nones.” It goes on for five or six pages of sentences and phrases of playful exuberance that narrowly and sharply abut equally many of solemn elegance and poetry. In all, Fermor’s joyful linguistic lubricity rises but never disturbs his soaring genius for aphoristic and sensual description. It’s technicolor prose, really. There’s a lot in this book.

Another favorite line, reported from his soon-to-be-saccharine-smuggling friend Konrad upon returning to their hostel in Vienna late at night after a short day of cold-call nobility portrait sketching and a long evening involving a few too many tulip-shaped glasses of Himbeergeist, which led to their tiptoeing trippingly and noisily down a long row of beds of sleeping wayfarers until one woke up and started shouting and cursing. ‘Konrad sat down on the edge of his cot, murmuring as he unlaced his boots: “He was chafed by mishap, and choler unsealed their lips.”‘
Konrad spoke English with eccentric and archaic flare. I love that line.

Thanks, NYRB Classics for bringing us back another glorious tome.


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Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest

Querelle de Brest Illustration by Jean Cocteau
Querelle de Brest Illustration by Jean Cocteau

This simply astonishing tour de force performance of theatre and poetry twisted into an incredibly tightly knotted/plotted novel unfolds like an extended wild, mesmerizing erotic dream.

In one sense a simple murder/crime novel, Genet’s saturation of every sentence be it thought or action with sex generates intense power, and with what will be for some readers still in this day and age the most violent and heinous obscenities you’ve ever seen in pages of august literary classics of the 20th century.

But it’s not merely sordid. Genet’s highly stylized evocations of psychosexual dynamics, along with the shit and blood and sweat, joy, elation, obsession, affection, and need, which achieve both a specific particularity/realness and a level of myth/dream at the same time, reveal a vibrant and generous humanity underlying and redeeming (or sanctifying) this grossly amoral tale.

It must truly be one of the great works of art of the twentieth century.

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The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene

The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene
The Captain and the Enemy by Graham Greene

I enjoyed this book quite a lot, but it also felt in some way like a young adult novel; it seems like a brilliant book written by a boy. And yet there are deep honest truths about love and youth contained within the pages that resonated strongly with me.

Jim (Baxter) appears to be incapable of love. He talks about his own attempts at dating as if they were small sporting events, at best, or minor episodes of illness, at worst. Love for Jim is something to be recovered from in order to become stronger and better for the next round. This same lack of understanding of love that stems from his limited emotional capacity also thwarts his attempts to solve the riddle of Liza and the Captain’s relationship. He continuously questions whether he himself even loves Liza or the Captain, who have been the most important figures in his life – and the kindest to him – to date. But then perhaps he couldn’t understand love, given his tragically loveless childhood. And here is that truth: The desire to solve this riddle of love, to explain the strangeness in human relations, and to feel and understand love deeply — these are perhaps more universal among young adults and twenty-somethings than just being found in brilliant boys from broken homes. I remember similar feelings and thoughts in my callow twenties; did I really love my parents, or was it just a quirk of fate and chance that I was born and raised in such a family? Sadly, but perhaps necessarily, the experiences of illness and loss answered these important young adult quandaries. Pain is the answer; there is love and deep emotion.

Despite the young adult tone of this partially autobiographical novel, glimpses of authorial mastery glimmer through the joints in the narrative. In the brief passage that closes the first half of the novel where Jim wonders whether his lack of feeling toward these two major figures in his life is simply because he regards them more, or merely, as characters in a novel that he is writing. Fun! And brilliant. Borgesian, digging exactly at the root of so many questions of modernity.  The ending expands this meta narrative but not as elegantly, tersely, and originally. However, I liked the feeling of being slightly ripped off at the end of the book. Perfectly in keeping with the themes of the novel, it’s all a con anyway, isn’t it, this whole novel thing? Just made up stories…


Additional Resources




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The Unchangeable Spots of the Leopard

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

This books was a nice surprise. Beautifully written, energetic, intelligent, humane, thoughtful.

I’m in a good mood so I’m not going to say anything bad…

But if I were going to say something critical, I would only mention that the author’s/narrator’s relentless quest for his sense of self and his identity feels very late-twenties, thirty-something. And very egocentric.

Despite that tiny, persistent annoyance, the book is entirely enjoyable – a small masterpiece of a first novel. The writing is stupendous, although self-consciously rambunctious. I look forward to future novels by Jansma and hope to be dazzled again, but perhaps less pyrotechnically.

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House Hold: A Memoir of Place by Ann Peters

House Hold
A Memoir of Place by Ann Peters

I first heard Ann Peters read from this book in the summer of 2012 in Wisconsin; it was one of the most compelling and enjoyable book readings I’ve ever attended. I’ve since read the book in its entirety and found powerfully moving its many keen observations and her heartfelt chronicling of her family, the town she grew up in, and the cities and towns she’s moved through on her journey. I love the way she seeks images of family and life in literature and film – don’t we all do that? It’s so thoughtful and rich without being stuffy, even when she quotes Henry James or William Dean Howells, or the opening line of the movie “Rebecca.”

This is a beautiful book – elegant and powerfully moving.


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Lost Horizon

Lost Horizon by James Hilton
Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Amazing book.

Recently I went for a long weekend in an old farmhouse in upstate New York with friends. The group included several authors, a few educators, a literature PhD or two, and a psychotherapist, and although we were all familiar with the novel, or, at least, we knew it was about Shangri-La, not one of us had ever read Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It is, therefore, officially, the most unread classic of twentieth century literature. Or it was last weekend. 

From the first pages of the novel you realize that you are in the hands of a master storyteller. And Hilton does not disappoint after that: the entire book is crafted like a lovely gem carved and split out of crystal into beautiful shape. Although not much happens after the first forty pages, you are, by that point in the novel, pulled forward by the many mysteries that were quickly established in the prologue and the beginning. As some mysteries are resolved, more are uncovered, and ultimately – and satisfyingly – not all are neatly tied up by the end of the tale. 

I don’t want to give anything away, but so many of the themes resonate strongly today – an outside world rife with war, environmental degradation, technological advancements, and moral confusion; and, in contrast, a fragile island – a haven of peace, health, and wisdom. 

Please read!

Shangri-La as depicted in Sky Captain
Shangri-La as depicted in 2003 film Sky Captain


Lost Horizon on Project Gutenberg Australia

LostHorizon.Org – Fan Club of James Hilton

IMDB: Frank Capra’s 1937 Film Version

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Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories

between my father and the kingA new collection of Janet Frame stories, many of them previously unpublished, has been released by Counterpoint. Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s most distinguished writers, is one of my favorite authors.


New York Times Book Review by By ALISON McCULLOCH

Kirkus Review

Janet Frame by Jerry Bauer
Janet Frame by Jerry Bauer




Previous Fictionvictims Review Owls Do Cry

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Are You Somebody?

Nuala O’Faolain

O’Faolain, a journalist for the Irish Times, was asked to collect her columns for publication, but the introduction she sat down to write eventually expanded into this beautifully cadenced and moving memoir, into which many of the columns have been folded.

The second of nine children, O’Faolain lived a bohemian childhood with little money and many books. Her father, a well- known journalist in Ireland, left to her mother the responsibility for their children. O’Faolain’s mother read voraciously and drank with a similar appetite, often neglecting her children.

O’Faolain explores the role of women in Ireland and how gender has affected her life. O’Faolain’s candor made a deep impression when the book was published in Ireland; it quickly landed on the bestseller list, staying at the top for 20 weeks. A testament to a full and passionately lived life–all the more affecting because of that life’s vividly described imperfection and pain.


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