Compulsive Reader

Compulsive Reader News
Volume 26, Issue 5, 1 May 2024



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

A review of Small Altars by Justin Gardiner

While the reader gets a sense of the arc of Aaron Gardiner’s life, Small Altars is written in short, episodic passages, jumping back and forth in time, some describing family scenes, others expository discussions of medical conditions, from schizophrenia to various cancers, the elements of comic book composition (both “on the page” and in conception as character and plot), biographical descriptions of various historical personalities – Claude Debussy, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Georges Remi among them – and more. Read more:

A review of Farhang Book One by Patrick Woodcock

Each poem is a work of art to be read and revisited time and again. Like a painting, the line length and shape of the poem can be continuously analysed and when we look at Woodcock’s work this way, we notice that even the most thematically brutal of poems can contain exquisitely beautiful images, full of nuance, subtlety and shade. Read more:

A review of A Fire at the Center by Karen Van Fossan

What Van Fossan delivers is life—a progress report on a directed but unfinished life, painfully acquainted with ambiguity and exquisitely cast in vibrant minimalist prose. Ultimately, the shadow of the book left in the reader’s mind is neither bound wrists nor angry fist but palms, unchastened, reverently touching. Read more:

A review of Flatback Sally Country by Rachel Custer

Using simple language, in a variety of poetic forms, Custer has created a powerful work that called out to me for compassion. I’ve heard Custer read from this collection and now, reading the entire book, I must say there is only one thing that could add to the beauty and impact of the work: performing the complete collection on stage as a choreographed play. Read more:

A review of Review of Pigeon House by Shilo Niziolek

Niziolek does not play safe with any of her stories; ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’, for example, at first appears like a folkloric tale told many times before, but Niziolek’s vengeful twist provides this tale with a squeeze of lemon. There is something gloriously satisfying and almost palate cleansing in the way Niziolek seeks to subvert her reader’s expectations. Read more:

A review of The Elk in the Glade and Good Housekeeping by Bruce E. Whitacre

Storytelling itself is also a kind of good housekeeping, an ordering of the random elements of life into story, to assert our place in the world. Whitacre is a storyteller, someone who sees the narrative threads that connect us, binding our lives not only to our immediate family, but our farthest neighbors and the planet we all have in common. Both these collections bask in those connections and in the subtleties of a good poetic ear. Read more:

A review of Fat Chance by Kent MacCarter

The mingling of an unlikely, extraordinary outcome with ordinary beginnings forces our assumptions into a stark light. This doesn’t only happen semantically. It is also in the conjunction between different types of media, textual, rhythmic and visual – with source texts like newspaper clippings, medical case studies, and historical cast-off images woven into a story that melds chance, proximity, and banality into a cohesive poetics that is unsettling and oddly moving.  Read more:

A review of The Galloping Horse by Petra White

The Galloping Horse encourages an exploration of complex emotions and experiences, offering a way to process the more challenging aspects of life with a deep authenticity combined with skilful use of language and the ability to resonate with the reader on a deep level especially with melancholic subject matter.  Read more:

A review of Turn Up The Heat by Ruth Danon

Her writing appears to be straight forward. The language can be ordinary. It is simple in the best possible meaning of that word. Then, one reads more slowly or reads a lot in one sitting and finds one’s self looking for that other poem, Read more:

An interview with Ruth Danon

The author of Turn Up The Heat talks about her latest book, about becoming a poet and the nature of poetry, the relationship between form and content, her style, the subject-object relationship, rhythm and musicality, voice, on doing readings, and lots more. Read more:

The Hand of Fate: A review of Unbound by Sinead McGuigan

A place of oceans and mountains, rivers and dreams, myths and a reality that references the nightmare of history and celebrates the wonder of being. Unbound takes readers on a journey. A journey of the self affirms the value of all selves—this journey, going from one place to another. The poems wander; they look in, they reach out. Read more:

A review of Indecent Hours by James Fujinami Moore

Indecent Hours, James Fujinami Moore’s inaugural volume of verse, makes me glad I occasionally have the decency to break bad habits. What provides Indecent Hours its thematic coherence are the specters of cruelty that haunt its pages, the major and minor traumas Moore documents with an economy of words as refined as it is brutal.  Read more:

A review of What Start a Bad Mornin’ by Carol Mitchell

Ms Mitchell can take the lives of her characters forward, but to solve the mystery of Amaya’s past, Amaya must go into the past. That is why she recounts what happened as though it is happening. Again. Time is the biggest mystery. The stories are about Amaya Lin in particular, but Time and memory include everything. Even when you think you have forgotten, that lost time is still alive in you. I have already read it twice.  Read more:

A review of Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

In the interest of full disclosure (and how seldom we hear of disclosure that is not full), I didn’t like the authorial voice of The Passenger from the first page. But we’ll come to Alicia and her troubles later. To continue with the discussion of signifiers, here we have an author steeped in Americana: the American story, as understood by America, and the cultural signifiers best known by Americans. Read more:

A review of Bright-Eyed by Sarah Sarai

Sarah Sarai is full of good humor, earned wisdom and sound advice, not just for her nephew and niece but for all of us. But as she wittily cautions at the start of “A Vegas Vegan,” “I never promised you a statistician.” Nor a rose garden either! But you’ll enjoy her poetry nonetheless, no matter how perplexed you remain. Read more:

A review of Tickets to the Fall of Icarus by James Gering

The variety of topics covered in Tickets to the Fall of Icarus is gripping and varied, including such things as family issues, love, political comments and sprinkles of humour. All the places mentioned are well described with vivid images.  In some of the poems the many impacts of the Corona Virus on our lives are explored and readers will recognise themselves in the characters. Read more:

The Hero’s Folly: a Review of Shadow Dance by Martin Ott

The oft-mentioned shadows are less a motif than a thick overlay; they are attached to every chapter title and peppered liberally throughout the prose. Their frequent appearance constitutes not so much a choreographed “dance” than a densely-packed rave where the music is a single chorus on a thumping loop. 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 recipients of the 2024 Windham-Campbell Prizes, worth US$175,000 each, have been announced. For fiction, the prize recognised Irish author Deirdre Madden, and US author Kathryn Scanlan. The nonfiction category celebrates academic Christina Sharpe and Hanif Abdurraqib. In poetry, recipients are Trinidad and Tobago poet, novelist, playwright and essayist m. nourbeSe Philip and UK and Canada poet, bookmaker and visual artist Jen Hadfield. 

These Burning Stars by Bethany Jacobs (Orbit) is the winner of the 2024 Philip K. Dick Award, honouring the best “original science fiction paperback published for the first time during 2023 in the U.S.” and given with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust, sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society. A special citation was given to The Museum of Human History by Rebekah Bergman (Tin House). 

The 82nd World Science Fiction Convention, hosted in Glasgow, Scotland, has announced the finalists for the 2023 Hugo Awards, Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book, and Astounding Award for Best New Writer. Members of the Glasgow Worldcon will vote and winners will be presented on August 11 during the Glasgow Worldcon. See the full list of finalists here:

Claire Jiménez won the 2024 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez (Grand Central). She will receive $15,000, with the other shortlisted writers each getting $5,000. All five will be honoured May 2 at the annual PEN/Faulkner Award Celebration in Washington, D.C., featuring an appearance by 2023 PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion David Baldacci.

Victoria Chang has selected Robin Walter’s upcoming debut Little Mercy as the recipient of the 2024 Academy of American Poets’ First Book Award. Walter’s manuscript will be published by Graywolf Press, a leading nonprofit publisher of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in the United States, in April 2025. She will receive $5,000 plus a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy. The Academy of American Poets will feature Walter’s poetry on and in American Poets, its biannual members’ magazine which goes out to ten thousand readers and serves as a platform for new work by both upcoming and established poets. The Academy will also purchase thousands of copies of Little Mercy to send to its members, making it one of the most widely distributed poetry books of the year.

A shortlist has been released for the A$60,000 Stella Prize, which celebrates Australian women’s writing by choosing an “outstanding book deemed to be original, excellent, and engaging.” The winner will be named May 2. Each of the finalists receives A$4,000. This year’s finalists are: The Swift Dark Tide by Katia Ariel, Body Friend by Katherine Brabon,
Feast by Emily O’Grady, Hospital by Sanya Rushdi, Abandon Every Hope: Essays for the Dead by Hayley Singer, and Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright.

Winners have been announced in seven categories for the 18th annual Sheikh Zayed Book Awards, organized by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre under the auspices of the Department of Culture and Tourism–Abu Dhabi, and recognising the winners’ achievements and supporting their ongoing literary work and academic endeavours. Winners will be celebrated on April 30 during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair; each receives a prize of 750,000 UAE dirhams . The winners in seven categories, including the new “Editing of Arabic Manuscripts” category can be seen here:

Jordisk (Wordly) by Theis Ørntoft (Gyldendal) of Denmark has won the European Union Prize for Literature, which recognises “emerging fiction writers from the European Union and beyond.” The prize is organised by the Federation of European Publishers and the European & International Booksellers Federation, with the support of the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union. There were also five special mentions: From Bulgaria: Хагабула by Todor Todorov (Janet 45), From Germany: Vaters Meer by Deniz Utlu (Suhrkamp), From Iceland: Sápufuglinn by María Elísabet Bragadóttir (Una útgáfuhús), From the Netherlands: Ik ken een berg die op me wacht by Sholeh Rezazadeh (Ambo|Anthos), and From Slovenia: Na klancu by Tina Vrščaj (Cankarjeva založba). 

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) has won the 2024 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA), worth five million Swedish kronor.  The ILF was announced as the winner at a live program from Stockholm and at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair on 9 April. The ALMA is a global award given annually to a person or organisation for their outstanding contribution to children’s and young adult literature, and is the largest award of its kind in the world. The ILF was chosen as the winner from 245 candidates from 68 countries and regions.

The shortlist has been selected for the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, which aims “to celebrate and amplify exceptional writing from women and non-binary authors from the United States and Canada.” The winner receives $150,000 and a residency with Fogo Island Inn; each runner-up receives $12,500. The shortlist: Birnam Wood: A Novel by Eleanor Catton (McClelland & Stewart), Daughter: A Novel by Claudia Dey (Doubleday Canada)
Coleman Hill by Kim Coleman Foote (SJP Lit), Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan (Random House), and A History of Burning: A Novel by Janika Oza (McClelland & Stewart). 

A shortlist has been released for the International Booker Prize, honouring the “best novels and short story collections from around the globe that have been translated into English and published in the U.K. and/or Ireland.” The winning book will be named May 21 in London, with the £50,000 prize money divided equally between the author and translator. In addition, the shortlisted authors and translators each receive £2,500. This year’s shortlisted titles are: Not a River by Selva Almada, translated by Annie McDermott, Mater 2-10 by Hwang Sok-yong, translated by Sora Kim-Russell & Youngjae Josephine Bae, What I’d Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma, translated by Sarah Timmer Harvey, Crooked Plow by Itamar Vieira Junior, translated by Johnny Lorenz, Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Michael Hofmann, and The Details by Ia Genberg, translated by Kira Josefsson.

The 10 winners have been selected for the 39th annual Whiting Awards, sponsored by the Whiting Foundation and recognising “excellence and promise in a spectrum of emerging talent, giving most winners the chance to devote themselves full time to their own writing, or to take bold new risks in their work.” The winners, each of whom receive $50,000, comprise six women and four men, and significant ethnic and geographic diversity. They are: Aaliyah Bilal (fiction), Yoon Choi (fiction), Shayok Misha Chowdhury (drama), Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig (drama), Elisa Gonzalez (poetry), Taylor Johnson (poetry), Gothataone Moeng (fiction), Charif Shanahan (poetry), Javier Zamora (nonfiction and poetry), and Ada Zhang (fiction). 

Finalists have been selected for the $50,000 Gotham Book Prize, created early in the pandemic “to encourage and honor writing about New York City.” The winner will be named June 5 at the Queens Public Library’s annual gala. Finalists include All the Beauty in the World by Patrick Brinkley, Between Two Moons by Aisha Abdel Gawad , Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead , Flores and Miss Paula by Melissa Rivero, Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim by Patricia Park, Rikers: An Oral History by Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau, The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis by Maria Smilios, The Slip: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever by Prudence Peiffer, The Sullivanians: Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune by Alexander Stille, We Are a Haunting by Tyriek White, and Women of the Post by Joshunda Sanders. 

Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict by Oren Kessler (Rowman & Littlefield) has won the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, given in association with the National Library of Israel to “an emerging author writing in or translated into English who demonstrates the potential for continued contribution to the world of Jewish literature.”

Winners were announced last night for the 2024 Publishing Triangle Awards, honouring the best LGBTQ+ books published in 2023. The winners include, The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ+ Fiction, administered in conjunction with the Ferro-Grumley Foundation: Pomegranate by Helen Elaine Lee (Atria Books), The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry: Have You Been Long Enough at Table by Leslie Sainz (Tin House), and The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry: Trace Evidence by Charif Shanahan (Tin House).  For the full list of winners visit:

Fady Joudah has won the $100,000 Jackson Poetry Prize, which recognises “an American poet of exceptional talent” and is sponsored by Poets & Writers and funded by the Liana Foundation. Joudah is the author of six collections of poems, most recently […], published by Milkweed Editions earlier this year. His other collections are The Earth in the Attic (Yale University Press, 2008); Alight (Copper Canyon Press, 2013); Textu (Copper Canyon Press, 2014); Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance (Milkweed Editions, 2018); and Tethered to Stars (Milkweed Editions, 2021). He has translated several collections of poetry from the Arabic and is the coeditor and cofounder of the Etel Adnan Poetry Series and Prize. A winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2007, Joudah has received a PEN USA Literary Award, a Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, the Griffin Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Arab American Book Award. He lives in Houston, Tex., where he practices internal medicine.

Finalists have been selected for the $10,000 Young Lions Fiction Award, honouring the work of American authors who write novels or short stories and are age 35 or younger. The award is sponsored by the New York Public Library; the winner will be named June 13. The finalists are Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah for Chain-Gang All-Stars, Monica Brashears for House of Cotton, Eskor David Johnson for Pay As You Go, E. J. Koh for The Liberators, and C Pam Zhang for Land of Milk and Honey. 

Shortlists have been selected for the 2024 Jhalak Prize and Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize, celebrating “books by writers of colour in Britain and Ireland.” Winners, each of whom receive £1,000, will be announced May 30. The shortlist for the Jhalak Prize:
A Flat Place by Noreen Masud, Anansi’s Gold: The Man Who Swindled the World by Yepoka Yeebo, Boundary Road by Ami Rao. Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks. Self-Portrait as Othello by Jason Allen-Paisant, and Twelve Words for Moss by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett.  The shortlist for the Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize: Geoffrey Gets the Jitters by Nadia Shireen, How to Die Famous by Benjamin Dean, Safiyyah’s War by Hiba Noor Khan, Steady for This by Nathaneal Lessore, To the Other Side by Erika Meza, and Wild Song by Candy Gourlay. 

The shortlists for the 2024 Age Book of the Year Award have been announced. The shortlisted works in each category are, Fiction: Women & Children (Tony Birch, UQP), Anniversary (Stephanie Bishop, Hachette), One Day We’re All Going to Die (Elise Hearst, HQ Fiction), The Idealist (Nicholas Jose, Giramondo), Stone Yard Devotional (Charlotte Wood, A&U), and But the Girl (Jessica Zhan Mei Yu, Hamish Hamilton). For Nonfiction: Bennelong & Phillip: A history unravelled (Kate Fullagar, Scribner), Home Work: Essays on love and housekeeping (Helen Hayward, Puncher & Wattman), Frank Moorhouse: Strange paths (Matthew Lamb, Knopf), Life So Full of Promise: Further biographies of Australia’s lost generation (Ross McMullin, Scribe), A Brilliant Life (Rachelle Unreich, Hachette), and Personal Score: Sport, culture, identity (Ellen van Neerven, UQP). Winners will be announced by Age editor Patrick Elligett during the Melbourne Writers Festival opening gala on 8 May, with each category winner to receive $10,000.

Charco Press’s Of Cattle and Men by Brazilian author Ana Paula Maia, translated by Zoë Perry, won the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses in the U.K. and Ireland. A special mention was given to Out of Earth by Sheyla Smanioto, translated by Laura Garmeson and Sophie Lewis (Boiler House Press). The longlisted presses received £500 each. The shortlisted presses received an additional £1,000, each to be split up with 75% going to the press and 25% going to the author and translator. The Republic of Consciousness Foundation was set up to support small presses in the U.K. and Ireland. Since it was established eight years ago, it has distributed over £110,000 in prize money to more than 30 small presses.

The shortlist has been selected for the £30,000 2024 Women’s Prize for Fiction, championing “ambitious, inspiring and thought-provoking novels written by women in English.” The winner will be announced on June 13. The shortlist: The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright, Restless Dolly Maunder by Kate Grenville, River East, River West by Aube Rey Lescure
Soldier Sailor by Claire Kilroy, Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad, and Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan. 

Finally, Mask, the Colour of the Sky by Palestinian author Basim Khandaqji has won the $50,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, which is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, under the umbrella of the Department of Culture and Tourism–Abu Dhabi. The announcement was made on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

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 Karen Wadken who won a copy of Pure: The Sexual Revolutions of Marilyn Chambers by Jared Stearns.  

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

We also have a copy of The Alone Time by Elle Marr.  To win, send me an email at with the subject line “The Alone Time” and your postal address in the body of the mail.  

Good luck!



Journey to the Center of the Heart

Robin Gregory’s beguiling writing style transmutes tragedy into bliss. The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman is here to twist your brain! This masterful story must be turned into a movie the world has to see. There has been nothin like it since Pan’s Labyrinth!”—Sophia Tzarvella, author, filmmaker




We will shortly be featuring reviews of Turn Up the Heat by Ruth Danon, Homelight by Lola Haskins, earthwork by Jill Khoury, Days of Grace and Silence by Ann E Wallace, 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 Kent MacCarter reading from and talking about his new book Fat Chance: 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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