Have Words–Will Write 'Em

On Books, Writers, Most Things Written, Including My Light Verse.

“MacTrump” Turns Donald Trump’s First Two Years as President into a Shakespearean Satire

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If thou art a fan of the current president, thou wilt not care for this story. The authors insist that “MacTrump” is full of alternate facts and fake characters and “if any of our characters sound smarter, stupider, similar, or dissimilar to any celebrity or public figure, alive or dead, there’s a reason: this book is a parody.”

You can read my review of MacTrump in The Oregonian by clicking the image below.

You can buy MacTrump at Barnes &Noble

Written by Joe Peschel

October 4th, 2019 at 11:59 am

T.C. Boyle’s “Outside Looking In”

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As you might imagine, Boyle’s story is a page-turner. It would take an absolute hack to write a dull a novel about sex and drugs. That’s not to slight Boyle who captures the period perfectly. He’s done his research on drug research, and he doesn’t fill his characters mouths with a lot of the slang of the day. Sure, there’s the occasional taste of the Beat “hepcat,” “squares,” and “downer,” for verisimilitude, but Boyle nearly apologizes for the vernacular by saying it’s “another descriptor he [Charlie] dug out of his Beat dictionary.”

You can read my Brooklyn Rail review of Boyle’s Outside Looking In by clicking the image below.

You can buy Boyle’s Outside Looking In at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 5th, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys”

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You can read my Brooklyn Rail review of Colson Whitehead’s Nickel Boys  by clicking the image below.

Violence, racism, and ways to confront them are the themes of the book, a hot-button topic, considering the current state of the country: a racist president whose words influence, directly or indirectly, violence and mass-murders by domestic terrorists, unnecessary killings by bigoted cops, and national news commentators who insist that white supremacy is a hoax.

You can buy Whitehead’s Nickle Boys at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 5th, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Karen Russell’s “Orange World and Other Stories”

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In Russell’s World stories possess the strangeness that the critic Harold Bloom values as one criterion for inclusion in his Western Canon. Russell’s stories concern love and lost love, friendship, and fear; greed, abandonment, and guilt. Her tales may derive from Shakespeare as Bloom might insist, but they definitely owe a debt to ancient mythology, Americana, and classic European literature.

You can read my Brooklyn Rail review of Karen Russell’s Orange World and Other Stories by clicking the image below.

You can buy Russell’s Orange World at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 5th, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Chuck Klosterman’s New Short Story Collection Ranges from Topical Tidbits to Questionable Gimmicks

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Ranging from a few pages to no more than 10, they’re the sort of fiction that I’d typically call vignettes, a word too highfalutin to describe these pieces. Most of them are light-hearted, zany and crazy bordering on comic-sociopathic, which makes them fun to read, almost like watching squirrels fighting over their walnut treasures. Or not — depending on your temperament.

You can read my review of Chuck Kloststerman’s story collection by clicking on the image below.

You can buy Chuck Kloststerman’s story collection from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 30th, 2019 at 11:41 am

Oscar Cásares’s new novel, “Where We Come From,”

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A former school teacher, Nina is always doing favors for everyone: first checking in on her ailing mother, then taking her to doctor’s appointments, and finally selling her own house, so she could live with and help Mamá Meche. But after doing a favor for a friend, her maid Rumalda, Nina finds herself entangled in human trafficking. Rumalda begs Nina to shelter her daughter and granddaughter after they are smuggled across the border. She lets them stay in the pink house while they wait to be taken farther into the U. S. The woman Nina deals with at first seems innocuous enough, but her associates El Kobe and Rigo are dangerous. After Nina does the favor for Rumalda, El Kobe and Rigo bring more Central American immigrants across the border to the pink house. El Kobe pays Nina $50 a day for the house, the food she makes, and to keep quiet. In a few days, Nina collects more money from El Kobe than Mamá Meche collected for a month’s rent.

You can read my review of Oscar Cásares’s novel Where We Come From, in the June 2019, edition of The Brooklyn Rail by clicking on the image below.

 

You can buy Oscar Cásares’s Where We Come From at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 5th, 2019 at 4:53 pm

Ian Frisch’s “Magic is Dead: My Journey into the World’s Most Secretive Society of Magicians”

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Like a George Plimpton or a Hunter S. Thompson, Frisch becomes so involved in the story that he becomes part of it—in this case, a magician—which is probably less risky than being tackled by a bunch of huge football players or getting beaten up by bikers.

You can read my review of Ian Frisch’s Magic Is Dead in the April 3, 2019,  edition of The Brooklyn Rail by clicking on the image below. <p>

 

You can buy Ian Frisch’s Magic is Dead at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

April 4th, 2019 at 11:59 am

St. Louis Provides Novel’s Setting for Dysfunctional Altruists

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It was practically the Alter family credo, an anti-Hippocratic oath: “First, Do No Good.”

In keeping with that possible credo, Arthur has a girlfriend 30 years his junior whom he was seeing even when Francine was dying. The offspring suspect that Arthur has ulterior motives for inviting them home, but, optimistically, they fly to St. Louis anyway.

You can read my review of Andrew Ridker’s Altruists in March 17, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking on the image below.

You can buy Andrew Ridker’s first novel, The Alchemists, at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

March 16th, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Jonathan Lethem’s Latest, ‘The Feral Detective,’ is More than the Usual Whodunit.

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Like any good detective story, there’s plenty of adventure, violence, some sex, and there’s that opossum, too. Everyone loves opossums, don’t they? But this allegory disguised as a detective story portrays political division in America – between rural and city folk, men and women, old and young.

You can read my review of Jonathan’s Feral Detective, by Jonathan Lethem by clicking the picture below.

 

You can buy The Feral Detective, Jonathan Lethem at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

March 3rd, 2019 at 8:55 pm

Demolition Night, a First Novel by Ross Barkan

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The story jumps to the near-future, near enough that some characters from 1979 still live. In the future, the capitalists, not the workers, have united, and economic prosperity is the be-all and end-all of civilization. America has been led by a president, more of a dictator, named Octavio Velez who’s encouraged maniacal economics so much that “corporatism has run amok.” Intelligence is valued only to the extent that its fruits can be monetized. You could say that our corporations have already run amok and that intellectualism is disdained. But in this future America, the population is even more divisive than it is now and is trifurcated into Ents (entrepreneurs), premiums (the workers), and zeros (anyone without a job). Companies like Velocity Ventures, McKing, and Gaggle, which makes a device also called a Gaggle that keeps everyone physically and mentally connected, run people’s lives.

You can read my review of Ross Barkan’s first novel,  Demolition Night, in the Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

 

You buy Ross Barkan’s Demolition Night at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

February 7th, 2019 at 2:48 pm

At Mere 900 pages, “Reader” is introduction to William Gass

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An adventurous postmodern fiction writer, Gass reveled in the power and magic of the written word. Gass writes of Ben Jonson’s play, “The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.”

You can read my review of The William H. Gass Reader in the November 25, 2018, edition of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

You can buy The William H. Gass Reader at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

November 26th, 2018 at 4:11 pm

Two of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Early Minor Masterpieces Reissued

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Neither book’s appeal depends on stereotypical technological gadgetry or time-travel dilemmas. Instead, Le Guin’s subtly rendered and multilayered stories reflect the age-old problems of a contemporary world.

You can read my review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron online edition in the September 2018, edition of The Oregonian by clicking the image below.

You can buy The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 12th, 2018 at 2:12 pm

Braving Every Storm: Lauren Groff’s Florida

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Most of the stories in Florida, Lauren Groff’s new collection, are as fine and beautifully crafted as any fiction she has written.

You can read my review of Lauren Groff’s Florida in the July 19, 2018, edition of the Los Angeles Review of Books by clicking the image below.

Florida

You can buy Florida at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 19th, 2018 at 3:35 pm

“A Physicist Explains the ‘Greatest Remaining Mystery’: The nature of time.”

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Rovelli talks about time as a complex collection of layers and then strips away those layers, revealing “how the temporal structure of the world is different from our perception of it.” Rovelli is the sort of scientist who compares poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s “eternal current” to the idea of the “intrinsic difference between past and future.”

You can read my review of Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time in the June 24, 2018 edition of the Washington Post by clicking the image below.

The Order of Time

You can buy The Order of Time at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 23rd, 2018 at 12:09 pm

The Wit and Weight of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Last Book

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There is something mystic yet realistic in her essays, much like her science fiction. And Le Guin showed her pragmatic wit. She believed in the power of positive thinking and its placebo effect, especially when it comes to aging. But the realist in her writes, “If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.”

You can read my review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s last book No Time to Spare:Thinking about What Matters in the January 28, 2018 edition of the Houston Chronicle by clicking the image below.

No Time to Spare

You can buy No Time to Spare at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

January 24th, 2018 at 7:19 pm

Female Code Warriors Fought War of Secret Messages

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After the war, Elizebeth cracked the messages of organized gangsters. Her expert testimony as a cryptanalyst helped convict many bootleggers and rum runners. At that time, the FBI was in its infancy and remarkably inept, but that didn’t keep J. Edgar Hoover from trying to get headlines. For her part, Elizebeth preferred to remain anonymous, a spy of sorts. In July 1931, the Treasury Department cleared her to lead a codebreaking team of her own, which would break codes for all Treasury agencies. She was given a new office, funds to hire staff, and a new title: Cryptanalyst-in-Charge, U.S. Coast Guard, with a pay raise to $3,800 per year. It was the first unit of its kind and the only codebreaking unit in the United States ever to be run by a woman — “another pioneering moment for Elizebeth.”

You can read my piece on about The Woman Who Smashed Codes, by Jason Fagone, and Code Girls, by Liza Mundy, in the Los Angeles Review Books by clicking the image below.

Smash & Code

You can buy The Woman Who Smashed Codes from Barnes and Noble here and Code Girls here.

Written by Joe Peschel

October 29th, 2017 at 1:27 pm

The Women Who Worked Undercover in World War II

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The penalty for breaking a signed secrecy oath was a $10,000 fine or 10 years in prison. So the women usually talked in “airy terms about [doing] clerical work.” One woman told a navy admiral who was covertly checking up on her, “I fill inkwells and sharpen pencils and give people what they need.”

You can read me my review of Code Girls, by Liza Mundy, in the October 15, 2017, edition of the Houston Chronicle by clicking the image below.

Code Girls

You can buy Code Girls at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

October 13th, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Novel Captures Fear, Fellowship – Even Humor – of Soldiers in Baghdad

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The men loved Sgt. Morgan – most of them, anyway. After a suicide bomber kills Morgan, only the lieutenant, the company commander and a few other men in the platoon are allowed to attend the memorial service. But Arrow and his soldiers don’t let a little thing like orders prevent them from attending Morgan’s memorial service. The guys decide to steal a Humvee from the motor pool, so the squad can drive to the service anyway. What could possibly go wrong?

You can read my review of Brave Deeds, by David Abrams, in the July 30, 2017, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

Brave Deeds

You can buy Brave Deeds at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 29th, 2017 at 12:19 pm

“Story of a Boy and Goatherd a Tale of Violence with an Odd Beauty”

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The story is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel “The Road,” where a boy and his father trudge across a vast wasteland. But Carrasco’s central characters are a young boy and an old man who herds goats. They journey across an arid land, destroyed by a terrible drought, not the unnamed disaster of “The Road.” The drought seems to have devastated the entire world, not just the boy’s village. Carrasco’s story is full of violence and religious references like McCarthy’s work, but the archaic or biblical vocabulary and cadence of McCarthy’s prose is absent here. The evil of Carrasco’s bailiff nearly matches McCarthy’s Judge Holden in Blood Meridian.

You can read my review of Out in the Open in the July 23, 2017, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
Out in the Open

You can buy Out in the Open at at Barnes & Noble

Written by Joe Peschel

July 22nd, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Why? “An Inquisitive Physicist Delves into the Psychology and Neuroscience of Human Curiosity”

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Livio has a way of indulging his readers, inviting them to draw parallels between their own inquisitive tendencies and those of history’s geniuses. Who wouldn’t want to compare themselves to Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman, whom Livio believes possessed the most curious minds that ever existed?

You can read my review of Why?: What Makes Us Curious in the July 7, 2017, edition of Science by clicking the image below.

Why

You can buy Why? at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 7th, 2017 at 2:00 pm