Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 26, Issue 4, 1 April 2024



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Hello readers. Here is the latest batch of reviews and interviews:

A review of Prétend by Arielle Burgdorf

I love this book. It is located at the crossroads (if not terminus) of cultural appropriation, mistranslation, gender and identity fluidity. Carrère’s fake identity novel, the brilliantly glib aspersions of Nightwood — all this and more are revivified in Arielle Burgdorf’s masterful take on identity in an increasingly amorphous world. Read more: 

A review of Father Verses Sons: A Correspondence in Poems by Herbert Gold

The family obviously draws on a wealth of literary references, there are e. e. cummings inspired parenthesis that litter the pages as well as nods to Shakespeare (I sleep, I dream) and Keats (ode to a cam girl). Spending time with the other denizens of the Cafe Trieste during the 80s surely rubbed off on him. But Herbert wears his influences on his sleeve, not for him the stream of consciousness of Ginsberg or the surrealness of Kerouac, instead we get the Sysyphean verses. Read more: 

A review of The Dinner Party by Colleen Keating

In The Dinner Party Keating brings to light what for centuries has been ignored: the power and strength of women. Keating resuscitates the experience of women in this book. Her poetry traces the lives of women who demonstrated their influence, broke barriers, gave their lives for others, were oppressed or defied patriarchy.  Read more: 

A review of Red Milk by Sjón

Though I can understand, and perhaps even entertain, Sjón’s intentions regarding his latest work, I think that both the writing style and characterization seem a bit too simplistic, falling flat in the end and leaving the reader feeling that this could be much more intriguing if the Icelandic wordsmith followed his traditional recipe, creating sentences that urge you to read them aloud in order to bask in their brilliance. Read more:

Invasion Without Malice: A Review of Lanternfly August by Robin Gow

These poems are rich in nature-language like thorax, legs, forest, ribs, and peach pits. So it’s fitting that this book reminds me of a tree with roots ensnared in the earth. Yet, there is also an edge of brisk oddity that brings to mind the uppermost branches of a tree, swung wildly about by a strong wind. Examples of this oddity include, what kind of metal sleep you take? and I used to want to be a dinner plate so badly. Read more:

Life’s Battle Sites: On Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s Incantations: Love Poems for Battle Sites

The San Gabriel Mission is just one of the many battle sites that make up Bermejo’s new poetry collection Incantation: Love Poems for Battle Sites, exploring the internal and external concerns about the current state of fear and chaos in America and how past unresolved fear and chaos can still haunt us. Read more:

A review of Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Chekhov, however, is writing about class changes in the Russia of his day, so Our Town, an American work, seems more likely to be an influence on Patchett than The Cherry Orchard” is. Like Thornton Wilder, Ann Patchett shows the value of rural life, family and community, but, by presenting Lara’s earlier life, she acknowledges the significance of the wider world in making her knowledgeable and open-minded.  Tom Lake is not as parochial as Our Town. Read more:

A review of Boat Girl by Melanie Neale

From the day she was born Melanie was certain how fell about the boat. Melanie knew she “fell in love with the 47’ fiberglass sailboat the day I came aboard from the hospital” (Neale 1).  She continued to share a deep connection with the boat as she aged, she spent most of her life on it, the bond and memories that came from those experiences stayed with her till the end of the memoir. Read more:

Fierce Love: A Review of If Some God Shakes Your House by Jennifer Franklin

There is so much pain in this collection that it is hard to bear. What makes the reader continue is the poet’s ability to encompass so much in each poem. Whether it’s the varied content, as illustrated in the poems described above, or the raw emotion she conveys as she stares directly at life and its inevitable end, her work must be read. Read more:

A Review of The Only Living Girl on Earth by Charles Yu

Piece by piece, the stories unfold to reveal the reasons Earth was left behind in the first place. The artificial intelligence (AI) system in charge of geoengineering disrupted the planet’s food sources, and humans, persevering as they are, took off to pursue life on other planets. Meanwhile, Jane is not as preoccupied as others are about the meaning of life; instead, she’s spending hours at The Earth Gift Shop pondering her life. Read more:

Eat, Pray, Love: Panic, Stress, Parent: A review of For You I Would Make an Exception by Steven Belletto

The result is a weird but enjoyable romp that contains a (perhaps unintentional) commentary on American capitalism, neoimperialism, and how the wants of a white girl self-possessed are somehow paramount everywhere while simultaneously highlighting the simple joy that comes from sharing life with others. Read more:

An Interview with Author David Dvorkin

“I’m more invigorated artistically now than I have been for decades,” says author David Dvorkin in his soft, lilting English accent.  We’re sitting in a quaint coffee shop discussing his new novel, Cage of Bone. The novel, he explains, is a crime thriller with telepathy, psychological components and a science fiction twist.  Read more:

A review of Helens: Not Necessarily About Sex by by Matthew Louis Kalash

This is writing, literary fiction, at its most realized potential. In the title story, ‘Helens,’ an academic (no doubt a même of the author himself), who is a college history instructor, sets the stage by discussing, at fascinating length, the Trojan War. Paris and Menelaus and Helen. Read more:

A review of Slack Tide by Sarah Day

Day observes the world, finds connections between things, explores invisible currents that influence life like environmental issues, the social, and the geo-political. Many of her poems highlight the incongruences that we face each day like observing the beauty of our planet and at the same time its destruction. Read more:

A review of Good Housekeeping by Bruce E. Whitacre

The “message” in these urgently tangible sensations – touch, sound, sight, smell – is conveyed in the titles of several of Whitacre’s concluding poems, “At the End of the Day,” Just Be,” and “Remember to Live.” It’s the same insistence Mary Oliver memorably emphasizes when she writes about this “one wild and precious life” that we live.  Read more:

All of the reviews and interviews listed above are available at The Compulsive Reader on the front page. Older reviews and interviews are kept indefinitely in our extensive categorised archives (currently at 3,325) which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, The nominees have been announced for 2024 European Union Prize for Literature, which recognises emerging fiction writers from the European Union and beyond and is organised by a consortium of associations comprising the Federation of European Publishers and the European & International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), with the support of the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union. The 13 authors and their novels were nominated by national entities knowledgeable about the literary scene in their countries and used to promoting their own literature abroad. The winner and five special mentions will be revealed on April 4 during the Brussels Book Fair’s Place de l’Europe. To see the nominees, click here.

Surrender, written and narrated by Bono (Penguin Random House Audio) won the Audiobook of the Year Award at the 2024 Audie Awards, organised by the Audio Publishers Association. In two new categories, replacing the Best Male Narrator and Best Female Narrator categories, Billie Fulford-Brown was awarded the Best Fiction Narrator Award for Hazel Gaynor’s The Last Lifeboat (Penguin Random House Audio), and Dion Graham won Best Non-Fiction Narrator Award for Jonathan Eig’s King: A Life (Macmillan Audio). To see the winners in all 26 categories, click here:

A shortlist has been released for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses (fewer than 12 books per year). Each of the shortlisted titles gets an additional £1,000 to the £500 the longlisted books received. The winner will be announced at Foyles Charing Cross Road on April 17. This year’s shortlisted publishers are: Boiler House Press for Out of Earth by Sheyla Smanioto, translated by Laura Garmeson & Sophie Lewis, Cassava Republic for Avenues by Train by Farai Mudzingwa, Charco Press for Of Cattle and Men by Ana Paula Maia, translated by Zoë Perry, Scotland Street Press for The Zekameron by Maxim Znak, translated by Jim & Ella Dingley, and Tilted Axis Press for The End of August by Yu Miri, translated by Morgan Giles.

The shortlists for the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards have been announced. Chosen from longlists announced earlier this year, the shortlisted titles for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction (NZ$65,000) are Audition (Pip Adam, Te Herenga Waka University Press), A Better Place (Stephen Daisley, Text), Birnam Wood (Eleanor Catton, Te Herenga Waka University Press), and Lioness (Emily Perkins, Bloomsbury). For the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry (NZ$12,000), At the Point of Seeing (Megan Kitching, Otago University Press), Chinese Fish (Grace Yee, Giramondo), Root Leaf Flower Fruit (Bill Nelson, Te Herenga Waka University Press), and Talia (Isla Huia [Te Āti Haunui a-Pāpārangi, Uenuku], Dead Bird Books).  For the full set of shortlisted books, visit: The winners will be announced on 15 May, during the 2024 Auckland Writers Festival.

The 2024 Woman’s Prize for fiction has been announced. I won’t listen them all as it’s a long list but will call out Kate Grenville’s Restless Dolly Maunder which I reviewed here: Full list is available here:

Finalists have been selected for the 2024 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The winner, who will be named in early April, receives $15,000, while the remaining four finalists each get $5,000. All five authors–along with this year’s PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion–will be honoured on May 2 at the PEN/Faulkner Award Celebration in Washington, D.C. This year’s finalists are: Witness by Jamel Brinkley (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Open Throat by Henry Hoke (MCD) (check out our review here:, What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jiménez (Grand Central), Absolution by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Users by Colin Winnette (Soft Skull). 

The shortlist has been selected for the second annual Republic of Consciousness Prize, United States and Canada, which honours “the commitment of independent presses to fiction of exceptional literary merit.” The winner of the prize, which has separate judges and prizes from the U.K. prize of the same name, will be announced March 19. A total of $35,000 will be distributed to the presses, authors, and translators. Each press included in the longlist receives $2,000. The five shortlisted books will be awarded an additional $3,000 each, split equally between the publisher and author, or publisher, author, and translator, where applicable.  The five shortlisted books and their independent presses are: The Long Form by Kate Briggs (Dorothy, a publishing project), Two Sherpas by Sebastián Martínez Daniell, translated by Jennifer Croft (Charco Press), The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated by Daniel Levin Becker (Transit Books), Lojman by Ebru Ojen, translated by Aron Aji and Selin Gökçesu (City Lights Publishers), and The Box by Mandy-Suzanne Wong (Graywolf Press). 

Shortlists have been selected for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, which is organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre under the auspices of the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi, and honors authors and institutions and showcases the breadth and reach of Arab culture around the world. To see the shortlisted titles in seven categories, click here:

Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan (Daunt Boks) has won the £10,000 Gordon Burn Prize, which honours “fiction and non-fiction books that are fearless in their ambition and execution which push boundaries, cross genres and challenge readers’ expectations.”

At this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, several movies based on books or with book connections took home Oscars, including the big winner Oppenheimer, which picked up seven statuettes. This year’s major category bookish Oscar winners are: Oppenheimer, based on American Prometheus by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin, Poor Things, based on the novel by Alasdair Gray, The Zone of Interest, based on the novel by Martin Amis: Best international feature film, American Fiction, based on Percival Everett’s novel Erasure: Writing, adapted screenplay (Cord Jefferson), The Boy and the Heron, inspired by Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 novel How Do You Live?, and Best animated feature film, and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, based on a short story collection by Roald Dahl.

A shortlist has been released for the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.  Booker Prize-winning author Eleanor Catton faces off against critically acclaimed former national award winners Emily Perkins, Pip Adam and Stephen Daisley for the $65,000NZD Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, as finalists in the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards announced today. The four novelists are joined by a further 12 acclaimed and debut finalist authors of memoir, poetry, history, art, and te ao Māori in one of the country’s strongest-ever years for book publishing. The 16 finalists were selected from a longlist of 44 books by panels of specialist judges across four categories: fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction, and general non-fiction.The Ockham NZ Book Awards winners, including the four Mātātuhi Foundation Best First Book Awards recipients, will be named May 15 during the Auckland Writers Festival. Check out the complete NZ Book Awards shortlist here:

The winner of the 2024 Writers’ Prize (formerly the Rathbones Folio Prize) Book of the Year is The Home Child by Liz Berry, who also won in the poetry category. Other category winners are, in fiction, The Wren, The Wren by Anne Enright; and, in nonfiction, Thunderclap by Laura Cumming, the Bookseller reported. The overall winner receives £30,000, and the category winners receive £2,000. Open to all works of literature, regardless of form, this year’s shortlist and winners were decided by the Folio Academy, made up of more than 350 writers.

Finalists have been chosen for the 36th annual Publishing Triangle Awards, honouring the best LGBTQ+ books published in 2023. See the many finalists here: Winners in the nine categories will be announced on Thursday, April 17, at a ceremony at the New School in New York City. In addition, Dorothy Allison will receive the $3,000 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, which celebrates the recipient’s lifetime of work and commitment to fostering queer culture. 

The shortlist has been selected for the £20,000 Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize, which honours “exceptional literary talent” by people under 39 around the world who write fiction in all its forms, including poetry, novels, short stories, and drama. The winner will be announced at a ceremony held in Swansea on May 16, following International Dylan Thomas Day on May 14. The shortlist: A Spell of Good Things by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (novel, Nigeria), Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson (novel, U.K./Ghana), The Glutton by A.K. Blakemore (novel, England, U.K.), Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan (poetry collection, Hong Kong), Local Fires by Joshua Jones (short story collection, Wales, U.K.), Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (novel, U.S.). 

Finalists have been selected for the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, which honors “an emerging writer who demonstrates the potential for continuing contribution to the world of Jewish literature” and is given in association with the National Library of Israel. The awards are made in fiction and nonfiction in alternating years. This year’s focus is nonfiction, and the finalists are: Jeremy Eichler for Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance (Knopf), Michael Frank for One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for the Lost World (Avid Reader Press/S&S), Oren Kessler for Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict (Rowman & Littlefield)
Natalie Livingstone for The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty (St. Martin’s Press).

Winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced and include:Autobiography: How to Say Babylon: A Memoir by Safiya Sinclair (Simon & Schuster), Biography: Winnie and Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage by Jonny Steinberg (Knopf)
Fiction: I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore (Knopf), Nonfiction: Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Poetry: Phantom Pain Wings by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions).  For the full list visit:

The 2024 James Tait Black shortlist has been announced. For Fiction it is Lori & Joe (Amy Arnold, Prototype Publishing), Open Throat (Henry Hoke, Picador), Though the Bodies Fall (Noel O’Regan, Granta), Praiseworthy (Alexis Wright, Giramondo). For Biography This Is Not Miami (Fernanda Melchor, trans by Sophie Hughes, Text), Traces of Enayat (Iman Mersal, trans by Robin Moger, And Other Stories), Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors (Ian Penman, Fitzcarraldo), Ordinary Notes (Christina Sharpe, Daunt Books), Always Reaching: The selected writings of Anne Truitt (Anne Truitt, Yale University Press), and Lifescapes (Ann Wroe, Vintage).. Presented by the University of Edinburgh since 1919, the awards are the only major British book prizes judged by literature scholars and students. The winners of both prizes will be announced in May.

Alexis Wright has been also been shortlisted for the €100,000 International Dublin Literary Award, the world’s most valuable annual prize for a single work of fiction written in or translated into English. Other books shortlisted for the prize are: Old God’s Time (Sebastian Barry, Faber), Solenoid (Mircea Cărtărescu, Deep Vellum Publishing), Haven (Emma Donoghue, Picador), If I Survive You (Jonathan Escoffery, Fourth Estate), and The Sleeping Car Porter (Suzette Mayr, Dialogue Books). The books on this year’s shortlist were chosen by an international panel of judges. The winner will be announced during the International Literature Festival in Dublin on Thursday 23 May.

The Hive and the Honey by Paul Yoon (Marysue Rucci Books) has won the 20th annual Story Prize. Yoon receives $20,000, and the authors of the two finalists–Wednesday’s Child by Yiyun Li (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Other Minds and Other Stories by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio)–each receive $5,000.

The shortlist has been selected for the inaugural Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction. The winner, who receives £30,000, will be announced June 13. The shortlist includes: How to Say Babylon: A Jamaican Memoir by Safiya Sinclair, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles, Code Dependent: Living in the Shadow of AI by Madhumita Murgia, A Flat Place: A Memoir by Noreen Masud,
Thunderclap: A Memoir of Art and Life & Sudden Death by Laura Cumming, and
Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein. 

Finalists for the 2024 Lambda Literary Awards in 26 categories have been announced and can be seen here. Finalists and winners will be celebrated at the Lammy Awards in New York City on June 11. The shortlists have been released for the 2024 James Tait Black Prizes, presented by the University of Edinburgh for the best work of fiction and biography written in or translated into English published in the previous 12 months. The category winners, who each receive £10,000 (about $12,625), will be named in May. This year’s shortlisted titles are: Fiction, Lori and Joe by Amy Arnold, Open Throat by Henry Hoke, Though the Bodies Fall by Noel O’Regan, and Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright. Full list here:

Finally, finalists have been selected for the 2024 Joyce Carol Oates Prize, which honours “emerged and continually emerging authors of major consequence–short stories and/or novels–at the relative midpoint of a burgeoning career,” and is sponsored by the New Literary Project. The winner, who receives $50,000 and will have a brief fall residence at the University of California, Berkeley, will be announced in April. The finalists: Jamel Brinkley whose most recent book is Witness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Patricia Engel, The Faraway World (Avid Reader), Ben Fountain, Devil Makes Three (Flatiron), Idra Novey, Take What You Need (Viking), and Bennett Sims, Other Minds and Other Stories (Two Dollar Radio).

Have a great month. 



Congratulations to Anna Xu, who won a copy of The Waves Take You Home by Maria Alejandra Barrios. 

Congratulations also to Beth Spencer who won a copy of Ghost Poetry by Robbie Coburn. 

Our new site giveaway this month is for a copy of The Deepfake by Joan Cohen. To win, send me an email at with the subject line “The Deepfake” and your postal address in the body of the mail.  

We also have a copy of Pure: The Sexual Revolutions of Marilyn Chambers by Jared Stearns.  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “Pure” and your postal address in the body of the mail.  

Good luck!



Prickly Pears: A Collection of Short Fiction by Isabelle B.L

This collection of short stories and prose poetry blends elements of reality and surrealism to explore the human experience. Diverse thought-provoking themes, such as marriage, mental health and mother-daughter relationships exist alongside the treatment of animals, lookism and religion. Hard-hitting truths are revealed via diverse settings, plot and voices. Hope, love and resilience move these character-driven pieces forward.

For more information click here: Prickly Pears



We will shortly be featuring reviews of Shadow Dance by Martin Ott, Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger, James Fujinami Moore’s Indecent Hours, Tickets to the Fall of Icarus by James Gering, and lots more reviews and interviews. 


Drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see the widget on right-hand side of the site) to listen to our latest episode which features Robbie Coburn reading from and talking about Ghost Poetry:  You can also listen directly on Spotify, iTunes or whatever podcatcher you use.  


(c) 2024 Magdalena Ball. Please feel free to forward and share this newsletter in its entirety.

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