• Photograph from This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers by Jeff Sharlet. Copyright © 2020 by Jeff Sharlet. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

    How the Light Gets In

    DAVID O’NEILL: Your new volume of photos and writing, This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers (Norton, $25), is bookended by two medical emergencies. It begins with your father having a heart attack—you started taking these pictures shortly afterward—and, two years later, as you were finishing up the project, you had a heart attack, too. You write about this in the first pages. I can’t help but see what follows as being about mortality, solitude, and a reckoning with “darkness.” But the book is not morbid—it’s about that darkness, but also connection, empathy, and the vividness of any

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  • Sarah Bernhardt c. 1860. Photo: Jean Racine
    January 21, 2020

    Fame Game

    Sharon Marcus has made her reputation as a careful and ingenious scholar of historical and literary texts, complicating categories by attending to the world-building that individuals enact in plain sight. With Apartment Stories, her first academic book, she explored the sociohistorical terrain of the apartment building in nineteenth-century Paris and London, a middle ground between the urban landscape of the flâneur and the intimate domesticity of the home; in her next, she examined the relationships of same-sex friendship, desire, and commitment that defined female experience in Victorian

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  • The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery by Mary Cregan
    January 15, 2020

    “How does one not write a depressing book about depression?”

    Mary Cregan’s debut work of nonfiction, The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery, is likely shelved in the bookshop’s memoir section. And The Scar does present—with remarkable clarity, candor and narrative presence—the author’s own history with the illness; in particular, a descent into suicidal depression after the death of her newborn daughter, Anna, and the hospitalization and treatment, including electroshock therapy, medication and talk therapy, that followed. But this book is far more than a memoir: it is the result of decades of research on the medical history of the

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  • Ariana Reines. Photo: Nicolas Amato
    December 03, 2019

    Sasha Frere-Jones talks with poet Ariana Reines

    Ariana Reines’s A Sand Book was published in June of 2019 and longlisted for the National Book Award in September. It’s almost four hundred pages long, generous and radiant and brutal and patient and punishingly good. It pivots to truth, as Alice Notley once defined it: “a working active beingness.” A Sand Book lived in my bag all summer, nothing like an obligation and everything like a friend. The twelve sections could easily be free-standing volumes, but they churn in tandem, smoothly, inducing various states: ecstatic neutrality, detailed refusal, unworried celebration. The narrator studies

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  • James Polchin. Photo: Greg Salvatori; Carley Moore. Photo: Amy Touchette
    November 15, 2019

    Carley Moore and James Polchin in conversation

    James Polchin’s new book, Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, uncovers queer true-crime stories from a time when newspapers often wouldn’t print the word homosexual. Polchin recently met with Carley Moore, the author of The Not Wives, a new novel about queer intimacy set in Occupy-era New York, to talk sex and politics. Not long after the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings, the two authors reflected on narratives that don’t fit the usual categories, nodding to writers who have devised innovative ways to portray how power and pleasure

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  • Benjamin Moser. Photo: Wikicommons
    November 07, 2019

    “She said she needed writing as a weapon”

    JULIA PAGNAMENTA: Was writing Susan Sontag’s biography an exercise in deconstructing the image of “Susan Sontag”?

    BENJAMIN MOSER: I think it became that. I wouldn’t say it started out that way. I didn’t have a set image I wanted to convey of her because I didn’t know enough about her at the beginning to have even that much of a preconceived notion. I’d read a lot of her but definitely not all. Susan’s work is very vast and very extensive, and her world is also vast and extensive. Her political world. Her social world. Her sexual world. There is a lot of it, and it’s hard to have an impression

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  • Fiona Alison Duncan. Photo: Stefan Schwartzman
    November 04, 2019

    “I want a full refund.”

    The first page of Exquisite Mariposa, the debut novel of Canadian-American artist, writer, and organizer Fiona Alison Duncan, finds the narrator, also named Fiona, pitching a reality TV show about her new housemates (“It’s like The Real World meets Instagram.”). But it’s a nonstarter: Fiona respects and admires her fellow subletters, and soon realizes that packaging their image for profit is no way to treat people one respects and admires. At this point, she’s known them all for about a week, but they have a Connection. Reality is, the show never gets made, and Fiona’s impulse to sell out fuels

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  • Cyrus Grace Dunham. Photo: Sam Richardson
    October 24, 2019

    “We’re all pure and we’re all evil.”

    Cyrus Grace Dunham’s memoir, A Year Without a Name, was written in real time over the course of two years, a name change, and what popularly constitutes a gender transition. The book emerged from a compulsive writing practice, an experiment in self-actualization that saw Dunham writing toward the version of himself he’d always fantasised about embodying. In spare language, Dunham writes through changing relationships, everyday setbacks, and resolutions.

    Dunham is acutely aware of what it’s like to be made a character of; one of the primary concerns of his book is how to write from life without

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  • Caleb Crain. Photo: Peter Terzian
    October 22, 2019

    Occupy Territory

    In Caleb Crain’s new novel, Overthrow, a thirty-one-year-old graduate student named Matthew meets a poet who recruits him to volunteer at Occupy Wall Street. The poet and his friends read tarot cards, and some of them even believe they can read minds: with a mixture of irony and earnestness, they refer to themselves as the Working Group for the Refinement of the Perception of Feelings. “It's about admitting that most of the time people are more aware than they'd like to let on of how other people are feeling,” one character explains. “And that it hurts to be aware, if you can't talk about it.”

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  • Natalie Diaz. Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
    October 10, 2019

    Not Just a Game

    What stands out most about the new anthology Bodies Built for Game is how broadly it defines “sports writing.” Edited by former pro basketball player and poet Natalie Diaz and Lambda Literary Award–winning poet Hannah Ensor, the collection moves beyond game recaps and celebrity profiles, opening up the genre to poetry, personal essays, and short stories. The diversity of form, structure, and voice in this anthology broadens the language and narrative around sport and sports writing. (Diaz prefers sport rather than sports “because it connotes a structure of power rather than a pastime.) Whether

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  • Kimberly King Parsons. Photo: Heather Hawksford
    September 24, 2019

    Bookforum talks with Kimberly King Parsons

    The Texan girls and women who populate Black Light, Kimberly King Parsons’s debut story collection, are messy and loud and unapologetic. They fall hard and fast. Parsons gives her characters ample space to make mistakes, and they do—repeatedly—but we love them no less for it. Case in point: in “Glow Hunter,” when the impossibly magnetic Bo gets shards of glass embedded in her hand while doing parking-lot cartwheels, she pours Mountain Dew on the gash, watches it fizz, and goes about her day (which involves hunting for magic mushrooms in roadside cowpats). Such is an ordinary sequence of events

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  • Tupelo Hassman
    September 19, 2019

    Bookforum talks with Tupelo Hassman

    Tupelo Hassman’s gods with a little g is out now, and announces its own universe—a town somewhere in California called Rosary. Like most towns, Rosary has its merits, but it has been overrun by Bible-thumpers. The book’s central character, Helen, nicknamed “Hell,” navigates the margins of the town, and dwells on topics like teen pregnancy, addiction, magic, sexuality. The novel is extremely funny and extremely dark—often both at the same time. Though fundamentalists are threatening to rule Rosary, pockets of freedom remain: There’s a magic shop, run by Helen's Aunt Bev; and there’s the neighboring

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