• Helen Macdonald. Photo: Bill Johnston Jr.
    October 27, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Helen Macdonald about Vesper Flights

    In the introduction to Helen Macdonald’s new collection of nature essays, Vesper Flights, she describes a trend in sixteenth-century European palaces and halls—Wunderkammer. These were ornamental display cabinets, similar to Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, filled with “natural and artificial things together on shelves in close conjunction,” like coral, fossils, miniature paintings, tiny instruments. Macdonald’s aim was to replicate the experience of Wunderkammer in her book. She so successfully achieves her goal, we wander around Vesper Flights amazed by flocks of songbirds migrating over the

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  • Legacy Russell. Photo: Mina Alyeshmerni
    September 29, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Legacy Russell about Glitch Feminism

    In her first book, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto, writer and curator Legacy Russell argues that our online identities can be tools for emancipation. Glitch Feminism portrays the online avatar as a laboratory where Black, queer, and gender-nonconforming artists have explored, experimented, and ultimately expanded notions of the self.

    By creating online identities that do not conform to society’s expectation of the body, the book asserts, Black, queer, and gender-nonconforming people can introduce glitches into the binary software of gender. “We will be not ‘single beings,’” Russell writes, “but

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  • Stephanie LaCava
    September 10, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Stephanie LaCava

    Stephanie LaCava’s new novel The Superrationals is a destabilizing read—like coming across a sudden anagram in a sentence. The book’s strikingly true-to-life characters are similarly jarring: constantly misunderstood and misunderstanding and fiercely protective of fortresses of self-delusion (though LaCava resists moralization at every turn). The story is told from the point-of-view of three main characters: Mathilde, a young art-world initiate who is haunted by trauma and the death of her mother, a legendary editor; Gretchen, Mathilde’s best friend, who travels alongside the protagonist in

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  • James Baldwin, Kensington Gardens, London, 1969.

    The Disasters We’ve Become

    DAVID O’NEILL: In Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own (Crown, $27) you write about your student days at Princeton, when you first encountered Baldwin. Can you talk about the initial resistance you felt to his work?

    EDDIE S. GLAUDE JR.: There was initial resistance on two levels, but they’re connected. One was that Baldwin just asked too much of me. I had to deal with my own pain as a precondition to saying anything about the world. He believes firmly in the Socratic dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living, and he grounds his social criticism in

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  • Stephanie Danler. Photo: Emily Knecht
    August 27, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Stephanie Danler

    Stephanie Danler’s new memoir, Stray, begins with the author’s return to her native California after the publication of Sweetbitter (2016), her best-selling debut novel. Danler interweaves the mythology of the storied, volatile land she comes from with that of the three complicated people who shaped her most: her mercurial, alcoholic mother; her estranged, charismatic, meth-addicted father; and “the Monster,” a sadistically charming married man with whom she’s having a toxic affair. Stray sees Danler fight for independence and survival—an apt theme for a book released during the third month of

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  • Moyra Davey. Photo: New Directions
    August 24, 2020

    A conversation with Moyra Davey about her recent essay collection

    Moyra Davey began her career in photography and filmmaking. Her experimental, cross-media artworks incorporate elements of fiction, documentary, and journals. Writing has long been an important aspect of Davey’s visual work. In her recent collection, Index Cards, she lingers on the page, creating an associative personal canon through close readings of literature, theory, film, her own journals, and more. Throughout, Davey returns to the same themes and vignettes: Walter Benjamin’s epistolary account of a clock seen from his study, for example, or the unconventional lives of eighteenth-century

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  • Genevieve Hudson. Photo: Thomas Teal
    August 18, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Genevieve Hudson

    Genevieve Hudson’s debut novel, Boys of Alabama, tells the story of Max, a shy German teenager with a rare magical power, who emigrates with his parents to Alabama (Hudson’s own native state). There, Max finds a place rife with wonders and terrors beyond anything he’s ever known. It’s a slow-burning exploration of queerness and magic and toxic masculinity—of otherness and the yearning to belong—set against the landscape of the Deep South.

    During the early days of the lockdown, Hudson and I talked about obsession, sentences that are more than mere load-bearing devices, and the innumerable

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  • Algiers, Third World Capital by Elaine Mokhtefi
    August 10, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Elaine Mokhtefi

    Born in New York, journalist and artist Elaine Mokhtefi became active in the youth movement for peace and justice in the early ’50s. In 1951, she went to Paris, where she first became aware of France’s colonial involvement in Algeria, and in 1962 she moved to Algiers to work in the newly independent Algerian government. Algiers, Third World Capital captures the author’s experiences in Algeria after its liberation from French colonial rule; her interactions with figures there such as Frantz Fanon, Stokely Carmichael, Timothy Leary, Ahmed Ben Bella, Jomo Kenyatta, and Eldridge Cleaver; and the

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  • Adam Levin. Photo: © Renaud Monfourny
    August 03, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Adam Levin about his recent novel

    One thing I like about Adam Levin’s novels is that they take over your life for a time. They’re very large, but their immersive nature is mostly due to Levin’s idiosyncratic weirdness. His 2010 debut, The Instructions—a thousand-plus-page novel told from the perspective of a precocious ten-year-old Jewish boy with messianic tendencies—was followed by a short story collection in 2012, Hot Pink. Now there is Bubblegum, a nearly eight-hundred-page novel narrated by a thirty-eight-year-old man named Belt Magnet, an amateur memoirist who has long, private conversations with inanimate objects. Set

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  • Laura van den Berg. Photo: © Paul Yoon
    July 27, 2020

    Bookforum talks to Laura van den Berg about her new story collection

    Laura van den Berg writes ghost stories: In her new book, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, absences assume a life of their own, demanding to be acknowledged. The dead, the forgotten, and the lost have a shimmering vibrancy, becoming more present than the real. Like her ghostly figures, van den Berg comes home in this collection. Short stories were her first literary love, and I Hold a Wolf by the Ears is her return to the form after two successful novels.

    The book also represents a more literal homecoming. Van den Berg’s stories traverse the world, but almost always weave their way back to Florida,

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  • Interior view in lantern of lighthouse of Fresnel lens - Split Rock Lighthouse, Off Highway 61, 38 miles northeast of Duluth, Two Harbors, Lake County, MN. Photo: Lowe, Jet/Library of Congress
    July 16, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Christina MacSweeney about translating Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses

    A longtime translator, Christina MacSweeney is responsible for bringing the writing of authors like Valeria Luiselli, Daniel Saldaña París, Verónica Gerber Bicecci, and Eduardo Rabasa to English-language readers. She is drawn to works that exists outside the confines of a single genre, especially those that merge the visual and literary. The latest addition to this impressive ensemble is Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses, a delightful, pocket-sized book chronicling Barrera’s obsession with the coastal structures of the title—from detailed descriptions of their architecture to their representations

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  • Alexandra Chang. Photo: Alana Davis
    July 09, 2020

    Bookforum talks to Alexandra Chang about writing a novel in snippets

    In Alexandra Chang’s debut novel, Days of Distraction, the twenty-five-year-old narrator escapes her unfulfilling job as a tech reporter by moving from her native San Francisco to upstate New York with her longtime boyfriend. On their road trip across the country, she begins to question her relationship with J., who is white. Once they settle in Ithaca, the narrator finds herself feeling increasingly distant from her boyfriend, and spends her time collecting forgotten pieces of Asian American history and working in the archives of a historical museum. Dissatisfied with Ithaca, she heads to

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