What We’re Reading: January 2020

We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every month as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for the month.



By Renata Adler

“When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ’70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind. Above all, there was its voice, ambivalent, curious, wry, the voice of Jen Fain, a journalist negotiating the fraught landscape of contemporary urban America. Party guests, taxi drivers, brownstone dwellers, professors, journalists, presidents, and debutantes fill these dispatches from the world as Jen finds it.”


By Pablo D’Stair

“This 20th Anniversary Edition offers the first fully revised version of Pablo D’Stair’s cult thriller, unavailable for 15 years.

From his secure building, in his respectable neighborhood, awaiting his wedding day, Timothy Spell has no need to be aware of or concerned by the crimes of a killer dubbed The Cleaver-Murderer. But beyond his locked doors, there lurks a fate which will control him, consume him, and leave the lives of all who encounter him irrevocably and gruesomely altered.

Written to be ‘A real shilling shocker, like a 70s-era Dario Argento giallo if one was co-authored by Andre Gide’ (from the Author’s Preface), Confidant is an inimitable entry in the canon of existential noir.”


Letters to Kevin
By Stephen Dixon

”Rudy, a goodhearted fellow in New York, has been trying to phone Kevin Wafer, a kid he knows in Palo Alto, California. Only trouble is, one thing or another keeps getting in the way. For starters, Rudy doesn’t have a phone in his apartment, and he can’t manage to get a dial tone on his pillow or his alarm clock. When he tries to use a pay phone, the phone booth gets carried off by a crane, deposited in a warehouse, and left with Rudy trapped inside. What’s worse, the only repairman who shows up can’t help because he‘s due to leave on his vacation and won’t be back for a month. Rudy tries to call for help, but all he can get on the line are other people locked inside other phone booths located other in warehouses all over the world. The only sensible thing for Rudy to do is to sit down with his trusty portable typewriter and write Kevin a letter, telling him what’s happened.”



Ravenna Gets
By Tony Burgess

“From the author of Pontypool Changes EverythingRavenna Gets is a new collection of ‘wheeled’ stories that continue the author’s exploration of ‘apocalypse fiction.’ In a single convulsion of homicide, the population of Ravenna tries to erase the population of Collingwood. The innocent, standing in their living rooms, cooking in their kitchens, and playing in their yards, are simply checked off by hunting rifles or crossed out by farmers’ tools. There is one thing missing, however, as the bodies fall from what might have been better stories, better novels, and it’s this: everything.”


Short Stories

The Loss of All Lost Things
By Amina Gautier

“Amina Gautier’s The Loss of All Lost Things won the Elixir Press 2014 Fiction Award. It is a short story collection that illuminates the beauty that can be found in inconsolable loss. Gautier leads us through terrible reality but leaves us with the promise of hope and redemption. Contest judge, Phong Nguyen had this to say about it: ‘Literary fiction that grips us and won’t let us go is notoriously rare. To offer us complex emotional experience and riveting narrative momentum, and then to leave the reader in contemplation of its sophisticated themes and subtle weave of objective correlatives… that is the stuff of literary greatness, of art that demands to be read in conversation with the canon…Gautier’s stories have you by the throat, and they surprise you with their mercy.'”


Blood Lake
By Jim Krusoe

“Jim Krusoe’s beset and bemused narrators are awash in a solution of Donald Barthelme’s worthy absurdities and Kafka’s mutating humor. In these surreal, dystopian tales, characters find their way into and out of Plato’s cave, mental hospitals, interspecies love affairs, plane crashes, and Gypsy kidnappings. These narratives, which shapeshift and interpenetrate, contain everything form the rhapsodies of a night nurse, to a lyrical meditation on the egg, to lists of wryly named sexual positions.”


The Best American Short Stories 2019
Edited by Anthony Doerr

“‘As soon as you complete a description of what a good story must be, a new example flutters through an open window, lands on your sleeve, and proves your description wrong,’ writes Anthony Doerr about the task of selecting The Best American Short Stories 2019. The year’s best stories are a diverse, addictive group exploring everything from America’s rich rural culture to its online teen culture to the fragile nature of the therapist-client relationship. This astonishing collection brings together the realistic and dystopic, humor and terror. For Doerr, ‘with every new artist, we simultaneously refine and expand our understanding of what the form can be.'”



The Galleons
By Rick Barot

“For almost twenty years, Rick Barot has been writing some of the most stunningly crafted lyric poems in America, paying careful, Rilkean attention to the layered world that surrounds us. In The Galleons, he widens his scope, contextualizing the immigrant journey of his Filipino-American family in the larger history and aftermath of colonialism.”


Soft Science
By Franny Choi

Soft Science explores queer, Asian American femininity. A series of Turing Test-inspired poems grounds its exploration of questions not just of identity, but of consciousness―how to be tender and feeling and still survive a violent world filled with artificial intelligence and automation. We are dropped straight into the tangled intersections of technology, violence, erasure, agency, gender, and loneliness.”


So I Looked Down to Camelot
By Rosamund Stanhope

“First published in 1962, So I Looked Down to Camelot is the striking debut collection by the English poet Rosamund Stanhope (1919-2005). As Graham Foust suggests in his afterword to this edition, these poems offer ‘seemingly endless satisfactions and surprises,’ at once lyrical, vivid, and mercurial.”



The Ribbon at Olympia’s Throat
By Michel Leiris

“Written in 1981, toward the end of Leiris’s life, The Ribbon at Olympia’s Throat serves as a coda to his autobiographical masterwork, The Rules of the Game, taking the form of both shorter fragments (poems, memory scraps, notes) that are as formally disarming as the fetishistic experiences they describe, and longer essays, more exhaustive critical meditations on writing, apprehension, and the nature of the modern. Rooted in remembrance, devoted to the kaleidoscopic intricacies of wordplay, Leiris draws from his own aesthetic experiences as writer and spectator to explore the fetish that ‘exposes and disarms the sinister passage of time,’ conferring ‘an undeniable realness upon the whole by essentially causing it to crystallize in a reality it would never have possessed if that sturdy fragment hadn’t acted as bait.'”




Image: wskg.org

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