August, 2015

Roundup: Ta-Nehisi Coates, WikiLeaks, Ivan Doig, Lucia Berlin, and More

by Mark Athitakis | Aug-24-2015

Anjali Enjeti reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Anne Payne reviews Neal Stephenson’s novel Seveneves, Kate Atkinson’s novel A God in Ruins, and Julia Pierpont’s novel Among the Ten Thousand Things for the Florida Times-Union.

Cynthia-Marie Marmo O’Brien reviews Maggie Messitt’s The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa for the Literary Review.

David Nilsen reviews Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic for Fourth & Sycamore.

Ellen Akins reviews Helen Phillips’ novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

George de Stefano reviews The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to U.S. Empire for Popmatters.

Gregory J. Wilkin reviews Jill Morrow’s novel Newport for the New York Journal of Books.

Jane Ciabattari rounds up reviews of recent books by Ann Beattie, Amitav Ghosh, Gary Rivlin, and more at Lit Hub.

Jim Carmin reviews Ivan Doig’s final novel, Last Bus to Wisdom, for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Jim Ewing reviews new books by Jeff Shaara, Kent Haruf, Marja Mills, Harper Lee, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald, and Ernest Cline for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Joanna Scutts reviews Kathleen Alcott’s novel Infinite Home for the Guardian and Miya Tokumitsu’s Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success & Happiness for In These Times.

Julia M. Klein reviews Wolfgang Hilbig’s posthumous novel, I, and Bella DePaulo’s How We Live Now for the Boston Globe.

Karl Wolff reviews Andrew Wackerfuss’ Stormtrooper Families: Homosexuality and Community in the Early Nazi Movement for the New York Journal of Books and Kenji Yoshino’s Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial for the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

Katherine A. Powers reviews Alaa Al Aswany’s novel The Automobile Club of Egypt for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Linda Simon reviews Susan Barker’s novel The Incarnations for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Lori Feathers reviews Octave Mirbau’s novel Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic for Three Percent and revisits Shirley Ann Grau’s novel The Keepers of the House for Bookslut.

Marion Winik reviews Lucia Berlin’s posthumous story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women for Newsday.

Mark Athitakis reviews Eli Gottlieb’s novel Best Boy  for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Matthew Jakubowski reviews Tove Jansson’s story collection The Woman Who Borrowed Memories in the Kenyon Review.

Maureen Corrigan reviews new thrillers by Linda Fairstein, Lisa Scottoline, and Sara Paretsky for the Washington Post.

Michael Berry revisits Frank Herbert’s Dune for Salon.

Michael Leong reviews Nathaniel Mackey’s poetry collection Blue Fasa for the Boston Review and Bernar Venet’s Apoétiques 1967-1998 for Hyperallergic.

Michael Lindgren reviews Lists of Note: An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience for the Washington Post.

Michael Magras reviews Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s memoir Undocumented for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Michael Upchurch reviews Naomi J. Williams’ novel Landfalls and Christian Kracht’s novel Imperium for the Seattle Times; he also reviews Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and Adam Johnson’s story collection Fortune Smiles for the Oregonian.

Michelle Newby reviews Nayomi Munaweera’s novel Island of a Thousand Mirrors for Pank.

Morris Dickstein reviews Selected Letters of Langston Hughes for the Times Literary Supplement.

Piali Roy reviews Hasan Ali Toptas’ novel Reckless for the Toronto Star and Meg Waite Clayton’s novel The Race for Paris for Maclean’s.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews Julia Pierpont’s novel Among the Ten Thousand Things for the Miami Herald, Alaa Al Aswany’s novel The Automobile Club of Egypt for the Boston Globe, and Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times for the Boston Globe.

Your reviews and recommendations help seed these roundups: If you’re an NBCC member with a review you’d like considered for inclusion, please email

Second Call for New “Second Thoughts” Series

by Daniel Akst | Aug-14-2015

Second call for “Second Thoughts!” There’s still time to contribute to our upcoming series of reappraisals. To recap: we’re inviting members, as well as NBCC award winners and finalists, to write us about books they’ve had reason to reassess over the years. And we hope you'll take the request personally.
We’d love to hear from you about a work that had a big impact on you long ago, and how it seemed when you re-encountered it later in life. You, no doubt, had changed. Had the book changed too? What was it like to revisit such a book after all you'd lived through since your first impressions?
We also want to hear about significant reconsiderations of books you’ve reviewed, and then had reason to change your opinion about. Did an author pull the wool over your eyes? Or did the scales later fall away, for some reason or another, to reveal a masterpiece you’d earlier missed?
We’re looking for responses of almost any length, but especially from 300 to 1,000 words, and we’ll post them here at Critical Mass in the months ahead. Everybody has second thoughts. Please tell us yours. Respond to, where I will gather them up, dust them off, and send them out into the world.

NBCC member Daniel Akst has written about books for the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, the Boston Globe, the Wilson Quarterly, the LA Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Smithsonian and many other publications. He’s also published two novels and two nonfiction books. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Fictional Florida, Voting Rights Act, Amitov Ghosh and Dragonfish

by Elizabeth Taylor | Aug-10-2015

Florida might be regarded as Hemingway country, but in the Tampa Bay Times,  NBCC board member Colette Bancroft comes up with a look at the more than 80 writers from The Sunshine State who root their stories there, and is a reminder that before there Edna Buchanan and Carl Hiaasen, there was Marjorie Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston.

The Voting Rights Act was enacted 50 years ago this past week, and NBCC board member and criticism committee chair Walton Muyumba considers that historic moment and its legacy in his Dallas Morning News review. He writes: “Ari Berman’s Give Us the Ballot measures the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s effect on American democracy. Though major political figures populate the book, its protagonists are Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the strongest defenses of the franchise in American law. Berman details how these powerful measures have functioned over the past half-century and how conservative politicians and jurists have stanched their effects.”

In her new weekly "review of the reviews" for the Lit Hub, former NBCC president, current vice president/online Jane Ciabattari notes the "Five Books Making News This Week," which includes the fifth volume in NBCC award finalist William Vollmann’s massive “Seven Dreams” cycle. She also recognized a renaissance of interest in the work of the legendary Clarice Lispector in the form of a series of newly translated Lispector works edited by NBCC Biography finalist and former board member Benjamin Moser,  and spotlights a novelist on the newly-released Man Booker longlist as well as several new books exploring the darker side of our digital lives.

And for her Between the Lines column, Jane selects 10 Books to Read in August, which includes a collection from  NBCC fiction finalist Adam Johnson, as well as Dinty Moore’s Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy and Otessa Moshfegh’s Eileen.

One debut novel received a great deal of critical attention  recently. On NPR, NBCC member Maureen Corrigan reviewed Dragonfish, a debut novel by Vu Tran. The headline promised a “Noir Vision of an American Dream Gone Rancid” and Corrigan called it a "haunting literary novel."NBCC member Gerald Bartell praises Dragonfish in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle

NBCC member Terry Hong Interviews Vu Tran about Dragonfish for Bloom. 

For Library Journal, Hong reviewed Haruki Mukami’s Wind/Pinball and, in the same issue, J.M. Lee's The Investigation, and for Bookslut, Hong interviews Stacey Lee about her debut Under a Painted Sky.

Amitav Ghosh’s novel Flood of Fire, the last book in his trilogy, was considered by multiple NBCC members.   Terry Hong reviews the novel for  Christian Science Monitor. Past Balakian winner and current board member Katherine Powers reviews the Ghosh novel in the Chicago Tribune and writes: “Flood of Fire’ is, for my money, the best of the three volumes: It adds colorful threads to the plot, weaving them into the existing story and tying them off in a most satisfactory way. Further, the novel provides highly dramatic depictions of key land and sea battles of the First Opium War. Beyond that, it presents a savvy account of the influence of the opium lobby on British foreign policy and the mental contortions of the 'Apostles of Liberty' who identified the diabolical trade, so destructive of the people of both India and China, with freedom, commercial righteousness and religious enlightenment — all virtuously bestowed with guns and gunboats.”

NBCC member Natalie Bakopolous reviewed Annie Liontas's Let Me Explain You for the San Francisco Chronicle. She concludes her review with a punch: “As such, the stakes are urgent, emotionally and dramatically, and I often felt my heart rising into my throat or my stomach lurching as though I’d been kicked by a goat. Let me explain you something: This is what I want from fiction, a story that is, and makes me feel, very much alive."

NBCC member Erika Dreifus offers a Q&A with poet Major Jackson on the occasion of the publication of his fourth collection, Roll Deep.  Erika also dove deeply into what appealed to her--and what concerned her -- in the content of World Literature Today's "New Hebrew Writing" feature.

NBCC member David Cooper reviews The Sound of Our Steps by Ronit Matalon in the New York Journal of Books.

NBCC member Mike Lindgren reviews Michael Dirda’s book Browsings in the Washington Post.

NBCC member Cifford Garstang reviews Red Dirt by Joe Samuel Starnes in BestNewFiction.

NBCC member Gregory J. Wilkin reviews The Prank: The Best of Young Chekhov for the New York Journal of Books and notes: "This slender volume of early Chekhov translations by Maria Bloshteyn...could as easily have been titled Go Steal A Watchfob."

NBCC member Julia M. Klein reviews Caroline Heller's Reading Claudius for the Boston Globe and  Alex Kershaw's House of Spies for the Chicago Tribune: “Were it not for love, much of the story that Alex Kershaw relates so powerfully in Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family's Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris would not have transpired.”

This week NBCC member Karl Wolff writes about California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture by Jim Heimann, for his ongoing essay series, "American Odd" for the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography and also" On Being Human: Critical looks at books and movies that examine the question of humanity," for the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

For the Cleveland Plain Dealer, NBCC member Daniel Dyer begins his review of Matthew Battles new book, Palimpsest: A History of the Written Word this way: “Penmanship class met daily during my upper elementary school years. My classmates and I were suffering our rough passage from printing to cursive writing aboard the good ship Zaner-Bloser, the publisher that supplied our workbooks as well of certificates for achievement. (I got one!)”

In her review for the San Jose Mercury News,  NBCC member Roberta Alexander looks into recent mysteries with strong male sleuths.

For the National Catholic Reporter, NBCC member Diane Scharper reviews Jon Krakauer’s Missoula. She regards the book unpolished but still a must read. She writes: "One wonders how today's college students will react to Krakauer's brutal account of sexual assault and, more importantly, whether it will inspire any change."

Former Balakian winner and past board member and long-time Sandrof committee chair, Steven G. Kellman reviews Shirley Jackson’s Let Me Tell You for the Dallas Morning News

Your reviews, news and recommendations help seed these roundups: If you’re an NBCC member with a review you’d like considered for inclusion, please email Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

What Are You Reading This Summer?

by Carmela Ciuraru | Aug-04-2015

Recently, we asked authors, editors, and booksellers: "What are you reading (or hoping to read) this summer?" 

I always keep an eye out for international fiction. With that in mind, this summer I am looking forward to reading Kamel Daoud's novel, The Mersault Investigation, which I have heard great things about. As well, this summer I also hope to read Works, by the late Édouard Levé, an inventive but tragic figure in French letters.--Jeffery Renard Allen, Song of the Shank


I'm reading Kuwento: Lost Things, an anthology of Philippine myths as reimagined by contemporary Filipino-American poets, fiction writers, and essayists; and Julia Fierro's Cutting Teeth—just out in paperback, so perfect for carrying along on my next trip. I'm also rereading Nabokov's Speak, Memory for the umpteenth time and savoring Cities I've Never Lived In, a short story collection forthcoming from debut author Sara Majka.--Mia Alvar, In the Country


I'm currently reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. I admire his writing on any subject, but especially on racism in America, and I appreciate this intimate look at a father writing to his son while also writing to a wider audience. Speaking of sons, I'm also reading Masterminds and Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman. I read her bestseller on raising daughters, Queen Bees and Wannabes, and she has even less patience for our wimpy parental excuses than ever. As a writer, Leslie Epstein's King of the Jews is on the top of my desk at present. I dip in and out of this novel for Epstein's vivid writing.  --Julianna Baggott, Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders


- Kitchens of the Great Midwest  - foodie culture, humor, wit, warmth, culture clash, brilliant!
- Let Me Explain You - Greek American family drama, hilarious and moving
- Love and Other Ways of Dying - essay collection by Michael Paterniti, far-ranging and toothsome
- The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far - experimental fiction and photography by former human rights worker, which I was surprised to fall in love with
- The Beautiful Bureaucrat - fantastic, an urban fable
If I get some vacation time, I'm hoping to dive into Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire, which comes out this October--it's a hefty one at almost a thousand pages, but I've heard amazing things.--Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner, Greenlight Bookstore


I am reading again the wonderful novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist, a remarkable and much-plundered work that repairs the heart and mends the spirit. Highly recommended. –Frederick Barthelme, There Must Be Some Mistake


I've been thinking about money, class, and capitalism. So I read Modern Politics, the collection of lectures by CLR James. Also John Keene's collection of fiction, Counternarratives, which is exquisite, and unlike anything I've ever read. I just finished Sarah Schulman's riveting book, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. That was the fun stuff. Now I have to complete my summer mission to re-read the first volume of Marx's Capital. I read it twenty years ago, in college, and I remember being surprised by the poetry I found there.--Eula Biss, On Immunity


I brought a few novels along with me this summer to an island in Greece—the ones you sort of skirt around in the darker, busier months and assume you’ll eventually get to on vacation. Only none of them were really inspiring me in that wonderful way of being torn between a compelling fictional universe, and the holiday beach universe right in front of you and your swim trunks. A friend on the island scaled his bookshelves, brought down André Aciman’s 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name, and told me I had to read it instantly. I haven’t looked back since. It’s the perfect summer book—time and sex and longing under the slow Italian sun. Utter brilliance. I’ve now rejiggered my summer reading list to include: Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity; Patricia Highsmith’s Edith’s Diary; a rereading of Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky; and Don Winslow’s The Cartel.--Christopher Bollen, Orient


I can’t wait to sit down with the galley of Paul Murray’s new book The Mark and the Void, coming from FSG in October. I published Paul’s amazingly lovely and heartbreaking and hilarious debut An Evening of Long Goodbyes (which is the name of a dog…do you need to know any more about the wonderful oddness of this author than that?), when I was a young editor back at Random House. His second novel, Skippy Dies, is an absolute cult favorite. And I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve next!--Lee Boudreaux, editorial director, Lee Boudreaux Books


Reading now: Langdon Hammer's biography of James Merrill (FSG); The Devil’s Chessboard (Harper, coming in October), David Talbot’s gripping account of Allen Dulles and his years at the CIA; Hanya Yanagihara’s amazing novel, A Little Life (Doubleday),  and dipping into Jeff Nunokawa’s Note Book (Princeton). Lined up for what’s left of the summer are Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (coming in Sept, FSG), Sally Mann’s Still Life (Little, Brown) and Eudora Welty’s stories, in the handsome Library of America edition. --Jonathan Burnham, publisher, SVP, HarperCollins


I usually like to take at least two weeks off in August to just go somewhere and read, but it's not clear I can. If I do: I'll be finishing three very fine, very different novels all already underway: Garth Greenwell's What Belongs To You, Dean Bakopolous's Summerlong, and Jennine Capo Crucet's Make Your Home Among Strangers. On deck: Mia Alvar's In The Country, and Beatriz Preciado's Testo Junkie.--Alexander Chee, The Queen of the Night, forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in February 2016


H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (though I think I’m going to download the audio because someone just told me it's read by the author)
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray (Skippy Dies was weird and wonderful and I’m curious to see what the author does next)
Barefoot to Avalon by David Payne (more than a few people have recommended this memoir to me about Payne’s relationship to his brother whose death he witnessed in a terrible driving accident while helping him move … I’m an infrequent and therefore hideous crier and so I will be reading this when I’m alone upstate for a few days)
Purity by Jonathan Franzen (Actually, I’m reading this now and underlining the bejesus out of it.  For example on Page 5: “No phone call was complete before each had made the other wretched.”  Or page 213:  “Fighting was like vomiting.  The prospect grew more dreadful with each year that passed without her doing it.” Or page 504, “The woods were unfathomably complex, but they didn’t know it.”)--Bill Clegg, The Clegg Agency; author, Did You Ever Have a Family?


I'm in the midst of reading Outline by Rachel Cusk, which I started when news of the Greek debt crisis broke, so it become oddly topical. It's so wonderful. As in full of wonders. I keep flagging phrases and moments. She has such a profound command of human personality that "in the midst of" is probably not the right phrase. More like, "I've got 40 pages left and wish I could slow it down."--Sloane Crosley, The Clasp, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux in October 2015


At the moment, I'm savoring Jan Morris' The World, which is a career's worth of her superb travel writing. I'm looking forward to reading Ruth Ozeki's The Face, a meditation on her own face, and to re-reading Elizabeth Hardwick's collection of essays, Seduction and Betrayal. Also on my luscious summer stack is Michelle Huneven's Blame. --Stacey D'Erasmo, Wonderland
Somehow I never got round to reading C. L. R. James’s book on Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian revolution, The Black Jacobins, so I'll be doing that, a full 77 years after it was first published. And looking forward--also a little belatedly--to the brilliant Laura Kipnis’s Against Love.--Geoff Dyer, Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going, forthcoming from Pantheon in May 2016


My list for the second half of the summer includes: Mia Alvar’s In the Country. A writer I edit, Sara Novic, has appeared on a couple of panels with Mia this summer, and I keep hearing about her stories. After that, The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman, because I love secret agents. Then, if I can get a galley, Anthony Marra's The Tsar of Love and Techno. And if anyone's book group is discussing Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, please invite me.  I need to discuss what is certainly one of the best novels of the year.--David Ebershoff, vice president, executive editor, Random House; author, The 19th Wife


I am reading, or looking forward to reading, Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition, Paul Auster’s Sunset Park, Knausgaard’s My Struggle (Vol. One), Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, Don Winslow’s The Cartel, and Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.--Morgan Entrekin, president, publisher, Grove/Atlantic Books


I'm currently reading Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson. Terrific short story collection--chilling and yet darkly comedic at times. I'm having a hard time putting it down; the stories are that good.--Christin Evans, co-owner, Booksmith and Kepler's Books


Some favorites that I've read: 
- The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus (the literary beach read of the summer)
- A Window Open by Liz Egan (the warmest, bookstore-lovingest book I've read in ages. Usually, I don't like books that are about the busy working mom life--too close to home--but this one was LOVELY)
On my To Be Read pile:
- Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
- The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips 
--Rebecca Fitting, co-owner, Greenlight Bookstore


I’m looking forward to reading  E. M. Forster, Graham Greene, Jane Austen, and James Baldwin. --Jonathan Galassi, president, publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; author, The Muse


I’m reading Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, which is Mary at her teaching best -- glorious. I just finished (listening to the audio, read by the author) H is for Hawk. It’s a fabulous audio book. I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic and trying to be braver. I’m reading The Ambassadors, because what’s a summer without Henry James. I just finished Elisabeth Robinson’s The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, which I had never read, and I loved it.--Nan Graham, senior VP, publisher, Scribner


I keep hearing the most terrific things about Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott, so that one is near the top of my list. In my own writing I deal a lot with houses and physical spaces, and I'm eager to see Alcott's take. Elizabeth McCracken has been trumpeting A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, and my rule is pretty much that if Elizabeth McCracken loves a book, it's something I want to read. Not to mention that I'm always in the mood for a good short story collection. I've somehow become the sort of person who reads a lot of books at once, and right now, like almost everyone I know, I'm reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I'm also reading Project Fatherhood by Jorja Leap, and I'm finally catching up on Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I've been rereading Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones, and A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, too. --Cristina Henriquez, The Book of Unknown Americans


Summer began with Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth via John Szeed. I'm approaching the end of War and Peace (you know the author), Heroines (Kate Zambreno), and Every Day Is For The Thief (Teju Cole). Coming up next: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me and Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism.--Margo Jefferson, On Michael Jackson


The Elena Ferrante series. Or, at least, the first one. So I can have lunch or drinks with people without saying “No, I haven’t.” Also, Absalom, Absalom (because it’s the grandfather of a boldly jaunty riposte of a novel called Absalom’s Daughters that we’re publishing next summer, and I haven’t read the Faulkner in 100 years). Also, "Fates and Furies" by Lauren Groff (already read the mss, but want to read it again!). And The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips.--Barbara Jones, executive editor, Henry Holt


I am reading and rereading Susan Howe -- who has two books forthcoming from New Directions: The Birth-mark, which originally appeared in the early 80s, and The Quarry, a selection of previously uncollected essays. I want to say The Birth-mark is a "classic" exploration of early American literature, but it's too weird and unsettled and fresh for that designation. And The Quarry contains equally compelling essays that make me look at figures such as Wallace Stevens and Chris Marker with fresh eyes. I don't have a word for what Howe does or an account of how she does it, but I am increasingly grateful for her work and her example. --Ben Lerner, 10:04


My summer reading at the moment: Stefan Themerson's The Mystery of the Sardine, Garth Risk Hallberg's City On Fire, and Olivia Manning's Levant Trilogy.--Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens


I went back to Earl Lovelace's Salt this summer, as well as Mary Karr's Lit. This June, I discovered Naomi Jackson's debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill. I really can't wait to get to Akhil Sharma's Family Life, and Yiyun Li's Kinder Than Solitude, and I'm digging into David Leeming's biography of James Baldwin.--Annie Liontas, Let Me Explain You


After dipping into Ann Hulbert’s wonderful biography of Jean Stafford, Interior Castle, I was led back to Stafford’s collected stories, which are finely wrought, terribly strange, smart, and sustaining. For fun, summer fun, I am also reading a YA novel called Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older. So far I am persuaded by the voice, the story’s momentum and otherworldliness (murals weep and move), and for the kinetic way Older uses Brooklyn in the story. Because I love and keenly miss James Salter, I also mean to read Solo Faces. It's his mountain climbing book, the only work of his I’ve failed to read. Plus, on hot days, a mountain story, however perilous, promises refreshment.--Amy Grace Loyd, The Affairs of Others


-I’m nearly finished with Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind, which is as intelligent and moving as it is funny. And it’s very, very funny. Peter Mendelsund (whose What We See When We Read I loved) raved to me about Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron. I’m looking forward to reading it next. 
-Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, which I’m hoping she'll send to me many months before its published. 
-Things Seen by Annie Ernaux, whose Simple Passion I think is absolutely extraordinary.
-Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey, a new novel by a poet I admire.
-How to be Both by Ali Smith
-Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
-Loving Day by Mat Johnson
-The Red Collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin
-The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
-And finally, I can’t wait to read City of Clowns by Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado.--Alexander Maksik, A Marker to Measure Drift


Working on finishing The Canterbury Tales, the Fisher "bilingual translation" from Norton that has the original and updated English on facing pages. Also finishing up Knausgaard, volume II, and I have a few things I'm excited about that I have in galleys, like Charlie Smith's new novel, which is happening in the fall. Ta-Nehisi Coates, of course. Wayne Koestenbaum has a new book of poems I heard him read from that I'm excited about, The Pink Trance Notebooks. I want to read Amy Hempel and Jill Cement's pseudonymous thriller, The Hand That Feeds You. That's the stuff at the top of the stack, anyway!--Rick Moody, Hotels of North America


I am looking forward to reading that someone is running for president who spoke out against the invasion of Iraq and who believes in saner, more restrictive gun laws. I have advance copies of new novels by Ethan Canin and by Lauren Groff—am looking forward to those.--Lorrie Moore, Bark


My summer reading at the moment includes The Little Edges by Fred Moten, Debt by David Graeber, and The Essential Ellen Willis.--Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts


My goal for the summer is to finish the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan trilogy-turning-quartet, with the last installment (The Story of the Lost Child) coming in September. To do that properly, I should go back and read the one I missed (#2: The Story of a New Name) but I may have to work in reverse order – which people tell me doesn’t mar the pleasures.  And then, if I get all this done, I’m going to go back and reread Ferrante’s  early non-series book, Days of Abandonment, which I still think about every time I hear or read about a  broken romance.--Sara Nelson, editorial director,; former editor-in-chief, Publishers Weekly; author, So Many Books, So Little Time


This summer I sought all the company I could find of the genre-mixing, magnificently disobedient French writer Marie N’Diaye. Her fiction-memoir hybrid, Self-Portrait in Green, left such an impression on me--with its curious cast of real and spectral female figures who appear to the narrator in green and become “disappointing” and “infinitely mutable"--that I recently bought her two other books available in English: the slim collection of stories All My Friends and the novel Three Strong Women. N’Diaye is as candid as Ferrante in her analysis of what women resent and fear about each other, but she is more mischievous in her adherence to realism.  I wish I could spend the rest of the summer in the reverie that is reading Marie N’Diaye, but "Three Strong Women" is all I have left.  I hope her excellent translator, Jordan Stump, ferries more of her prose into English soon.--Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear, forthcoming from Little, Brown in February 2016


I traveled with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch last year to Nigeria, and read half of it on the long journey. I waited one full year to pick it up again on another journey to Nigeria. I’m also reading a comedic book by the Irish comedian Maeve Higgins called We Have A Good Time, Don’t We? As you guessed right, it’s very funny. I'm also reading an older book, The Jewish War, by the first century historian, Flavius Josephus. Intriguing, apt, illuminating, and audacious. --Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen

I'm starting a new job teaching creative writing at Smith College in the fall, so I'm devoting the summer to reading short fiction, including (and in no particular order): Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti; Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, and Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link. I've also just discovered the wonderful literary magazine, "One Story," which, every three weeks or so, sends out just that: one story, by one author. And, finally, for some historical perspective, I'm reading and thoroughly enjoying Meredith McKinney's wonderful translation of Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book.--Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being


I'll be mixing reading the new translations of Primo Levi's work with various books about consciousness and the mind, something I am presently fascinated by.--Tim Parks, Painting Death


I'm making this summer my Summer of Science Reading -- starting off with Bill Bryson's A Short History of (Nearly) Everything and Henry Marsh's Do No Harm. ​--Pamela Paul, editor, The New York Times Book Review


I'm intrigued to read the new book by Bob Morris called Bobby Wonderful, a memoir Morris wrote about taking care of his ailing father. I am always blown away by memoirists who are able to turn the dark and difficult parts of their families and lives into entertaining and even inspirational stories.--Matthew Pearl, The Last Bookaneer


Like everyone, it seems, I can't wait to read Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me. Has a book ever been published that was so spot-on and timely? I'm also looking forward to new books by some of my favorite poets. Kay Ryan's Erratic Facts is a collection of short, quirky, witty, subtle poems. Marilyn Hacker's A Stranger's Mirror gathers new and previously published poems in a dazzling array of forms and subjects.  How does she manage to be at once so conversational and so intense?--Katha Pollitt, columnist, The Nation; author, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights


I’m reading every book I can find (in translation) by Horacio Castellanos Moya. I’d star with Senselessness if you don’t know his work. It’s truly amazing.
--Francine Prose, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932


I am presently reading Ta-nehisi Coates' Between The World And Me. I read it and now am reading it again because I don't want to be caught outside its realm of knowing. It's the book we were missing and I can hardly believe it's here.--Claudia Rankine, Citizen


I’m going to try to reread some favorite books this summer:
The Patrick Melrose Diaries, by Edward St. Aubyn
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Light Years, by James Salter
I’m also going to daily dip into the Letters of Virginia Woolf. --Maria Semple, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?


I'm reading The Seven Good Years the delightful memoir by Etgar Keret!--Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure


I first came across Lauren Holmes when her terrific story “How Am I Supposed To Talk To You” earned her Granta New Voice honors in 2014, and I’ve been eager for more ever since. Her collection Barbara the Slut hits bookshelves on August 4th. As for what I’m reading right now--I’m finally getting into Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk and seriously loving it…what a book!--Matt Sumell, Making Nice


I have William Maxwell’s "The Folded Leaf" waiting on my bedside table.  Earlier in the summer I read Heidi Julavitz’s wonderful "The Folded Clock," which reminded me I have been intending for 20 years to read "The Folded Leaf." Also I’ll catch up on poetry I’ve missed:  David St John’s "The Auroras and The Window," Todd Colby’s "Splash State," Jack Gilbert’s "Collected Poems," and Sharon Olds's "Stag's Leap," which I intended to read last summer but lost in an airport.
— Katherine Taylor, Valley Fever


This summer, my big commitment is to read Stendhal's The Red and the Black with the book club I run for the store. I'll also sneak in the fourth Ferrante book, No Name by Wilkie Collins, and The Fly Trap, by a Swedish entomologist named Fredrick Sjoberg. --Stephanie Valdez, co-owner, Community Bookstore


I’m currently enjoying Mona Simpson’s Case Book. Next up on my list is The Book of Aron, by Jim Shepard. I love books told from the perspectives of children. --Meredith Walters, director of programs and exhibitions, Brooklyn Public Library


Dragonfish by Vu Tran, and In the Country by Mia Alvar, are two debuts I'm really looking forward to. And Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies. I'm in France for the summer with my girlfriend, who is French-Algerian, and I want to read Camus again, especially his journalism. Weirdly, maybe, I've been looking forward to reading and rereading all of Nicholson Baker if that's possible, definitely Vox and The Mezzanine.  And I can't wait for what promises to be one of the funniest books of the year, Lauren Holmes' debut collection, Barbara the Slut.--Sunil Yapa, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, forthcoming from Lee Boudreaux Books, January 2016

July, 2015

Critical Notes: Go Set a Watchman, E.L. Doctorow, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and more

by Michele Filgate | Jul-27-2015

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

E.L. Doctorow, winner of three National Book Critics Circle awards, passed away at the age of 84. David Ulin pays tribute to the writer in the Los Angeles Times. "This quality of looking beyond himself, of seeking stories that were broader than personal testimony, was what set Doctorow apart. Each book was a different experience, with its own set of challenges and expectations." And in the San Francisco Chronicle, Elizabeth Rosner writes: "Although I never studied with him in the classroom, I learned from his books that the words and images and characters I choose as a novelist reveal as much about myself as they do about the world I’m mapping. Doctorow covered vast landscapes of time and place with insight and irreverence, depicting tragedy, greed, poverty, crime, beauty — and all of it, yes, a personal collage of history."

NBCC President Tom Beer reviews Go Set a Watchman for Newsday: "It's the darker, more ill-formed and less compelling book that Harper Lee had to write first before she could produce -- with, by all accounts, an editor's guiding hand -- her masterpiece." For The Quivering Pen, David Abrams wonders "What if Go Set a Watchman was Harper Lee's First and Only Book?" Donna Seaman reviews the novel for Booklist: "Though Lee’s prose is frequently stilted in Go Set a Watchman, her transitions awkward, her descents into exposition bumpy, this is a daring, raw, intimate, and incendiary social exposé." Maureen Corrigan writes for NPR that it "is a troubling confusion of a novel, politically and artistically, beginning with its fishy origin story." David Ulin writes for the Los Angeles Times: "...although Go Set a Watchman comes marketed as an autonomous novel, it is most interesting as a literary artifact." Heller McAlpin writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that the book's "greatest asset may be its role in sparking frank discussion about America’s woeful track record when it comes to racial equality."

For her new weekly Lit Hub "review of the reviews," NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari traces "the evolution of critical consensus re the new Harper Lee novel in slow motion" and follows up with Ten Books Making News This Week: Go Tell a Watchman vs. Between the World and Me. And for her Between the Lines column, 10 books to read in July.

Two other reviews by Heller McAlpin: Patricia Marx's Let's Be Less Stupid for NPR, and Nuala O'Connor's Miss Emily for the Washington Post.

NBCC board member Walton Muyumba reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me for Newsday: "Rife with love, sadness, anger and struggle, Between the World and Me charts a path through the American gauntlet for both the black child who will inevitably walk the world alone and for the black parent who must let that child walk away."

NBCC board member/VP of Awards Michele Filgate interviewed Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children, for Lit Hub.

Rigoberto Gonzalez writes about three poets and their fourth books for the Los Angeles Review of Books: Quan Barry, Kyle Dargan, and Ada Limon. And for NBC Latino, he writes about "9 Great New Books by Latino Authors."

For Publishers Weekly, Grace Bello wrote about cartoonist Jessica Abel and her new book about radio and podcast storytelling, Out on the Wire.

For Newsday, Marion Winik reviews William Finnegan's Barbarian Days.

Harvey Freedenberg reviews Jenny Offill's novel, Dept. of Speculation and Michael Bamberger's biography of eighteen golf legends, Men in Green, for Harrisburg Magazine.

Piali Roy reviews Aatish Taseer's The Way Things Were for the Toronto Star.

Joseph Peschel reviews Elijah Wald's Dylan Goes Electric for the Boston Globe.

Julia M. Klein reviews Lisa Moses Leff's The Archive Thief for The Jewish Daily Forward.

Gregory Wilkin reviews Tracy K. Smith's Ordinary Light for the New York Journal of Books. David Cooper reviews Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers for the same publication.

Clifford Garstang reviews David Payne's Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story and Curtis Smith's essay collection, Communion, for Prime Number Magazine.

Michael Magras reviews Mia Couto's Confession of the Lioness for Bookreporter.

Joan Silverman reviews Maxine Kumin's memoir, The Pawnbroker's Daughter, for the Portland Press Herald. Laverne Frith reviews the same book for New York Journal of Books.

Roundup: Rachel Cusk, Jon Krakauer, Lidia Yuknavitch, and more

by Mark Athitakis | Jul-13-2015

Check out photos from the NBCC/Zyzzyva event celebrating Bay Area literary institutions and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Balakian Citation recipient Alexandra Schwartz reviews Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline for the Nation.

Anne Payne reviews Martin Edwards’ study of British crime writers, The Golden Age of Murder, for the Florida Times-Union.

Barbara Spindel reviews A. Brad Schwartz’s Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News for the Daily Beast and Rosemarie Ostler’s Founding Grammars: How Early America’s War Over Words Shaped Today’s Language for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Bill Williams reviews Jon Krakauer’s Missoula for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper.

Elizabeth Rosner reviews Janis Cooke Newman’s novel A Master Plan for Rescue for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Fred Volkmer reviews Elena Gorokhova’s memoir Russian Tattoo for the East Hampton Press.

Gerald Bartell reviews S.K. Tremayne’s thriller The Ice Twins for the Washington Post and interviews Fast Shuffle novelist David Black for Kirkus Reviews.

Gina Webb reviews Ann Pancake’s story collection Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley and Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Grace Bello profiles YA graphic novelist Becky Cloonan for Publishers Weekly.

Heller McAlpin reviews Jonathan Kozol’s memoir The Theft of Memory for the Washington Post.

Jim Carmin reviews Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel The Small Backs of Children for the Oregonian.

Julia M. Klein reviews David K. Shipler’s Freedom of Speech for the Columbia Journalism Review and Robin Kirman’s novel Bradstreet Gate for the Boston Globe.

Karl Wolff reviews Nikolas Schreck’s The Manson File for the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

Balakian Citation recipient and NBCC board member Katherine A. Powers rounds up five new audiobooks for the Washington Post; reviews Amanda Coe’s novel The Love She Left Behind, two summer reads, and a pair of baseball books for the Barnes & Noble Review; and reviews Ernst Lothar’s The Vienna Melody for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Lori Feathers reviews Octave Mirbeau’s novel Twenty-One Days of a Neurastenic for Three Percent.

NBCC board member Mark Athitakis explores Willa Cather’s trip to Arizona that inspired her novel The Song of the Lark in Humanities.

NBCC board member Mary Ann Gwinn interviews The Cartel author Don Winslow for the Seattle Times.

Megan Labrise interviews The Star Side of Bird Hill novelist Naomi Jackson and Viral short story writer Emily Mitchell for Kirkus Reviews.

Michael Lindgren reviews story collections by Thomas McGuane, Alberto Urrea, and Graham Swift for the Washington Post.

Michael Upchurch reviews Mark Haskell Smith’s Naked at Lunch for the Oregonian, as well as Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron and Charles Kaiser’s The Cost of Courage for the Seattle Times.

Michael Magras reviews Louisa Hall’s novel Speak for BookPage.

Philip Graham writes about emotional wounds and how they’re revealed in the works of James Baldwin, John Gardner, and Rabih Alameddine in the Millions.

Piali Roy reviews Nadia Hashimi’s When the Moon Is Low for the Toronto Star.

Steven G. Kellman reviews Milan Kundera’s novel The Festival of Insignificance for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Your reviews and recommendations help seed these roundups: If you’re an NBCC member with a review you’d like considered for inclusion, please email

NBCC/Zyzzyva Partygoers Celebrate Bay Area Literary Institutions

by Admin | Jul-09-2015

On the eve of the American Library Association convention in San Francisco, the National Book Critics Circle and Zyzzyva Magazine threw a party to celebrate a raft of bookish anniversaries and a growing contingent of Bay Area writers. The crowd in the Zyzzyva offices in the historic Mechanics Library building on Post Street, one of San Francisco's literary hubs, toasted and talked until long after dark on a long summer day. It was the fifth annual collaboration between the NBCC and Zyzzyva, with co-hosts: Zyzzyva editor Laura Cogan, Zyzzyva managing editor Oscar Villalon, a former NBCC board member, and Jane Ciabattari, NBCC VP/Online, who led the toasting.

Click to view slideshow.

Toasting began with salutes to the Bay Area authors in attendance who had been honored by the National Book Critics Circle over the 40 years of our awards: Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, nonfiction award, 1976; China Men was a 1980 finalist), Terry Castle (The Professor and Other Writings, criticism finalist, 2010), Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son, fiction finalist, 2012), whose new story collection, Fortune Smiles, is due out in August, D.A. Powell (Useless Landscape; or, A Guide for Boys, poetry award, 2012), and Jason Roberts (A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, biography finalist 2006). (See a special salute to Maxine Hong Kingston from Bay Area Asian American women writers Frances Hwang, Yang Huang, Vanessa Hua, Aimee Phan, Bich Minh Nguyen, Kirstin Chen, and Reese Kwon here.)

Toastmaster Ciabattari called out treasured Bay Area literary institutions in order of longevity:

City Lights Publishers was founded by NBCC Sandrof award winner Lawrence Ferlinghetti 60 years ago and remains a Bay Area gem. Publisher Elaine Katzenberger was on hand for the toasts, as were Stacey Lewis, Paul Yamazaki and Peter Maravalis. In celebration of their 60th, City Lights is publishing a commemorative, restored edition of Pictures of the Gone World, the first City Lights book and Ferlinghetti's first book of poetry; the City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, 60th Anniversary Edition, edited by Ferlinghetti and a book of selected correspondence between Allen Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career. This fall Norton/Liveright will published Ferlighetti's Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1950-2013. 

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, founded 45 years ago by Blair Fuller and Oakley Hall, is still going strong, building community and nurturing writers. Oakley's daughter, author/playwright/musician Sands Hall, who grew up at Squaw Valley and is a popular workshop leader there, represented the community at the celebration. The packed crowd cheered on the concurrent poetry reading at Squaw, featuring Sharon Olds, Forrest Gander, Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, J. Michael Martinez and Evie Shockley.

The Bay Area outpost of Graywolf Press (40 years), named Small Press Publisher at the year by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs this spring, was toasted, with salutes to editorial director Ethan Nosowsky, and Graywolf authors D.A. Powell, Lewis Buzbee and Susan Steinberg.

Cheers also to The Threepenny Review, founded 35 years ago by Wendy Lesser. Threepenny seemed destined to become a literary force when Susan Sontag showed up at an early party. Lesser has maintained the publication while writing ten books, most recently last year's Why I Read. She also found time to serve as an NBCC board member.

Zyzzyva, which has been immersed in a year-long bicoastal celebration of its 30th anniversary. Zyzzyva's Fall issue will feature the art of Jay DeFeo (best known for her mammoth painting "The Rose"), and an essay about a series of art work she did on bones, plus new fiction from NBCC John Leonard award winner Anthony Marra, former NBCC board member David L. Ulin, Patricia Engel, Glen David Gold (who was at the party, as was new contributor Austin Smith) and April Ayers Lawson. Cheers went out to Zyzzyva and co-hosts Cogan and Villalon.

The San Francisco Writers Grotto was a legend not long after its founding 20 years ago by Po Bronson, Ethan Canin and Ethan Watters. Today it's a thriving hive of activity, with 100+ members churning out a steady stream of books, articles, feature films, television series, short stories, poems and essays. In January Noah Hawley won a Golden Globe for Fargo. In February, Shanthi Sekaran sold her book, Lucky Boy, to Putnam/Penguin, Natalie Baszile's novel Queen Sugar was picked up by Oprah's OWN network to be turned into an original drama series, and ABC purchased Rodes Fishburne's 'Boom,' about the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. Two members (Joshua Mohr and Janis Cooke Newman) are publishing new novels July 14.

The Grotto contingent at the party included Angie Chau, Lindsey Crittendon,Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Laurie Ann Doyle, David Ewing Duncan, Anisse Gross, Meron Hadero,">Constance Hale, Yalitza Ferreras,  Vanessa Hua, Lee Daniel Kravetz, Stephanie Losee, who just took a job as POLITICO head of brand content;  Susanne Pari, Sophia Raday, Jason Roberts (NBCC award finalist in biography),  Julia Scott and Shanthi Sekaran.

If anyone has proven the Bay Area is a hotbed of readers and writers, it's Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware, whose nine-day literary spectacular Litquake is now 15 years old. Come October they'll be launching season 16, with book-loving masses gathering throughout the Bay Area, concluding in the ever expanding Litcrawl.

The Bay Area continues to be a fertile ground for start-ups. Three outstanding newcomers were toasted at the party.

Lit Camp, launched out of the Grotto by Janis Cooke Newman as a juried writers' conference at Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, just concluded its third year with forty students selected from some 200 applicants. Year four is in the works. (Newman was in the house, with board members Matthew James DeCoster and Lee Daniel Kravetz.)

The final toasts were to the newcomers launched this year. The Bay Area Book Festival drew 50,000 to the streets of Berkeley for a book-centric weekend under the exuberant leadership of Cherilynn Parsons, who was still beaming from the success, as were  Oakland Book Festival founders (and Laphams Quarterly staffers) Timony and Kira Don. Their carefully curated festival centered around Oakland City Hall, with every event SRO including the keynote by Lewis Lapham, who reminisced about his days as a cub reporter at the San Francisco Examiner, covering the Oakland police.

Also in the crowd:

SF Chronicle book editor John McMurtrie and colleague Mike Berry; Brian Hurley, book editor of The Rumpus, with his wife Michelle Lipinski, acquisitions editor at Stanford University Press, and Emily-Jane Cohen, senior editor at Stanford University Press, who says they will soon be publishing fiction. A contingent from the thriving Bay Area-based Counterpoint Press, including publisher Rolph Blythe, Sharon Wu, Corinne Kalasky, Joe Goodale, Deborah Kenmore and Claire Shalinsky. Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNoWriMo, editor of 100WordStory and author of the new flash collection Fissures.

Lauren Cerand, who did stellar pro bono work for the NBCC, in town from NYC for the ALA. (Other special guests in town for the ALA included librarians Edward Elsner from the North Country Library System in New York state and Deirdre Cerkanowicz from the Berkeley Public Library, and staffers from Library Journal.)

Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally, who noted that this Thursday night was also on the eve of the Dead's farewell performances in the Bay Area before their last concern in Chicago. McNally had just announced a new Jerry Garcia project, due in November from Hachette.

Also spotted: Ralph Lewin, executive director of the Mechanics' Library, Bridget Kinsella, Regan McMahon, Paul Wilner, novelists Elizabeth Rosner (her Electric City is due out in paperback in early fall), Meg Waite Clayton, whose The Race for Paris is out this summer, Naomi Williams, whose first novel, Landfalls, is coming from FSG in August, Karen Bjorneby and Elizabeth Scarboro.

And yes, there were toasts and thanks to to Wine and Spirits Magazine and senior editor Luke Sykora for providing the wine.

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