What We’re Reading: February 2021

We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every two months as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for February 2021.



The Box Man
By Kobo Abe

“In this eerie and evocative masterpiece, the nameless protagonist gives up his identity and the trappings of a normal life to live in a large cardboard box he wears over his head. Wandering the streets of Tokyo and scribbling madly on the interior walls of his box, he describes the world outside as he sees or perhaps imagines it, a tenuous reality that seems to include a mysterious rifleman determined to shoot him, a seductive young nurse, and a doctor who wants to become a box man himself.”


Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun
By Jeff Chon

“Four days before the 2016 Presidential Election, disgraced teacher Scott Bonneville foils a mass shooting at the Pizza Galley Family Fun Center by shooting the would-be perpetrator. He is hailed as a hero, but what the public doesn’t know is that Bonneville walked into Pizza Galley with violent intentions of his own, nurtured by urban myths, conspiracy theories, and deep-seated delusions. Meanwhile, his former student Blake Mesman, inspired by Catcher in the Rye and a not-so-secret brotherhood of aspiring alpha males, reshapes himself into the man he always felt he should be and embarks on his own journey of destruction.

A black-hearted satire of our new reality, Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun tells a story of the real carnage of Trump’s America: guns, the toxic radicalization of young men, fake news, the endless anger and resentment we feel towards one another, spirits broken by a world we refuse to acknowledge as of our own making, and how we convince ourselves of horrible absurdities, rather than face something even more disturbing: our own essential truth.”


The Association
By Bentley Little

“Barry and Maureen found the house of their dreams in Utah’s beautiful Bonita Vista. It didn’t bother them that they had to join a homeowner’s association. They just never realized the Association would invade every aspect of their lives and that the penalty for bending the rules could be the death of them …”


Fever Dream
By Samanta Schweblin

“A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.”



By Pam Jones

“In Anointed,  we follow an unnamed journalist who, in a conjoined search for God and a good human interest piece, interviews the perpetrators and victims of an imploded religious community. 

It is 1969, 1970, 1971, and the Waldensian Community of Jesus Christ has fallen from its status as a progressive alternative to Christian living to a cult engaged in murder, child labor, and tyranny. 

The narrator, in spite of knowing that many see  only what they want to see, wants to believe.”


Short Stories

Forever, in Pieces
By Kurt Fawver

“In this debut collection of short fiction from Kurt Fawver, one of the horror world’s rising stars, you will find a melange of lost souls, cosmic terrors, wondrous abysses, and even some good old-fashioned murder.

You will be taken to the end of humanity, to dystopian futures and personal hells. You’ll meet conquering gods and unholy messiahs, invisible babies and talking chairs, interdimensional monsters and the monsters we sometimes see all too clearly in the mirrors before our own faces.

The stories in Forever, in Pieces will immerse you in loneliness and loss, life and death, love and obsession, and, above all, the shadowed—and often terrible—veil of eternity.”



Residue is a text/image collaboration of dream-inspired fictions by DD that were prompted by Rorschach-like prints by MM, both subconsciously rendered in response to the anxiety-ridden events of 2020. From the copyleft page:

This book is printed on repsychled paper (100% post-consumer waste). It is a work of art, not a smear campaign. Not for 1 second does this book attempt to speak for the collective unconchus as a hole. Any reassemblance to public figures + places herein is subliminal + coinsidental to reality. Since we were under house arrest for most of 2020, the incidence + events herein are mirror pigments of our imaginations, filtered from food we ate, films we saw + online media sorces (a.k.a. The Daily Noose), wherein the journihilists that fed us such mis/information likely also never left their homes so the true reality of what happend in 2020 will never be none.”


Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales
By Christopher Slatsky

“Slatsky builds dread from page one, and is not shy about amping up the weird.” —The Arkham Digest



By Rae Armantrout

“Rae Armantrout has always taken pleasure in uncertainties and conundrums, the tricky nuances of language and feeling. In Conjure that pleasure is matched by dread; fascination meets fear as the poet considers the emergence of new life (twin granddaughters) into an increasingly toxic world: the Amazon smolders, children are caged or die crossing rivers and oceans, and weddings make convenient targets for drone strikes. These poems explore the restless border between self and non-self and ask us to look with new eyes at what we’re doing.”


Phone Bells Keep Ringing for Me
By Choi Seungja (Translated by Won-Chung Kim & Cathy Park Hong)

“This volume selects poems of many decades by one of the most startling, distinctive, and influential feminist voices in contemporary Korean poetry. Against the limits society would erect around her, Choi Seungja’s poetry trains a keen attention on everyday objects and situations until loneliness, time, emptiness, love, death and even brief-lived delight glow with uncanny luster. Won-Chung Kim and Cathy Park Hong’s translations accentuate the simplicity and boldness of Choi’s vision, her perfect aim.”


Where I Hang My Hat
By Dick Gallup


Voyage of the Sable Venus
By Robin Coste Lewis

“Robin Coste Lewis’s electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems meditating on the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. 

In the center of the collection is the title poem, ‘Voyage of the Sable Venus,’ an amazing narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s own autobiographical poems, “Voyage” is a tender and shocking meditation on the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, juxtaposing our names for things with what we actually see and know.

A new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin—five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role did art play in this ancient, often heinous story? Here we meet a poet who adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire—how they define us all, including her own sometimes painful history.”


Home Movie, Nowhere
By Julia Madsen

“In this work, the Heartland is not an inert pastoral surface. It’s a worn-out VHS tape you find under the bed. It’s the scratching sound of a rat in the wall. Somewhere between C.D. Wright and James Agee, this book wields the tools of documentary and reduces them to their barest elements with a clarity both beautiful and terrifying. Her Iowa is filled with spider sacs, cataracts, pornographic theaters, bottomless mystery, cruel bosses who piss into Mountain Dew bottles. Like any good country poet, Madsen knows that writing pulls you closer to the root while simultaneously dragging you adrift.” —Marty Cain


The Old Philosopher
By Vi Khi Nao

The Old Philosopher is enigmatic, sexual, biblical, anachronistic, political, and personal all at once. These quiet, implosive poems inhabit a nonlinear temporality in which Vi Khi Nao brings biblical time and political time together in the same poetic space, allowing current affairs to converse with a more ancient and historical reality.”


By N.H. Pritchard

“American poet N.H. Pritchard’s second and final book, EECCHHOOEESS was originally published in 1971 by New York University Press. Pritchard’s writing is visually and typographically unconventional. His methodical arrangements of letters and words disrupt optical flows and lexical cohesion, modulating the speeds of reading and looking by splitting, spacing and splicing linguistic objects. His manipulation of text and codex resembles that of concrete poetry and conceptual writing, traditions from which literary history has mostly excluded him. Pritchard also worked with sound, and his dynamic readings―documented, among few other places, on the album New Jazz Poets (Folkways Records, 1967)―make themselves heard on the page.”


By Henk Rossouw

Xamissa is a book-length poem that sounds out the city of Cape Town in a joyful elegy for the city of alternate takes. Xamissa adapts the mythical name for the springs and streams running from Table Mountain to the sea, under the city itself, since before the colonial Dutch ships came—the X of the title standing in for the multiple ways in the languages of the Cape, past and present, the reader may pronounce the first consonant.”



The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb
By Gar Alperovitz

“Controversial in nature, this book demonstrates that the United States did not need to use the atomic bomb against Japan. Alperovitz criticizes one of the most hotly debated precursory events to the Cold War, an event that was largely responsible for the evolution of post-World War II American politics and culture.”


Defacing the Monument
By Susan Briante

Defacing the Monument opens with the narration of an Operation Streamline hearing, a proceeding during which as many as 70 undocumented migrants are criminally prosecuted and sentenced en masse to serve jail time prior to deportation. It’s an attempt to bear witness to what happens to those who do not hold the ‘correct’ documents as a way to show texts always bear the marks of power.

Documentary poetics offers a tradition and a form through which a writer can situate events or experiences within broad social and historical contexts. It can provide a space to record, to unearth, to witness, and to contextualize. But we can’t fetishize the document. And we must use it with an eye toward our own complicity and participation in the systems we wish to investigate. Part documentary act, part lyric essay, part criticism, Defacing the Monument enacts the possibilities and limits of documentary impulses.”


Tough Jews
By Rich Cohen

“In an L.A. delicatessen, a group of Brooklyn natives gets together to discuss basketball, boxing, the weather back east, and the Jewish gangsters of yesteryear. Meyer Lansky. Bugsy Siegel. Louis Lepke, the self-effacing mastermind of Murder, Inc. Red Levine, the Orthodox hit man who refused to kill on the Sabbath. Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles, who looked like a mama’s boy but once buried a rival alive. These are just some of the vibrant, vicious characters Rich Cohen’s father reminisced about and the author evokes so pungently in Tough Jews.

Tracing a generation of Jewish gangsters from the candy stores of Brownsville to the clubhouses of the Lower East Side—and, occasionally, to suites at the Waldorf—Cohen creates a densely anecdotal and gruesomely funny history of muscle, moxie, and money. Filled with fixers and schlammers, the squeal of tires and the rattle of gunfire, his book shatters stereotypes as deftly as its subjects once shattered kneecaps.”


The Story of Contemporary Art
By Tony Godfrey

“Encountering a work of contemporary art, a viewer might ask, ‘What does it mean?’ ‘Is it really art?’ and ‘Why does it cost so much?’ These are not the questions that E. H. Gombrich set out to answer in his magisterial The Story of Art. Contemporary art seems totally unlike what came before it, departing from the road map supplied by Raphael, Dürer, Rembrandt, and other European masters. In The Story of Contemporary Art, Tony Godfrey picks up where Gombrich left off, offering a lively introduction to contemporary art that stretches from Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes to Marina Abramović’s performance art to today’s biennale circuit and million-dollar auctions. Godfrey, a curator and writer on contemporary art, chronicles important developments in pop art, minimalism, conceptualism, installation art, performance art, and beyond.

Godfrey’s narrative, lavishly illustrated, traces a series of debates over what art is or should be: object versus sculpture, painting versus conceptual, local versus global, gallery versus wider world. He presents multiple voices—not only critics, theorists, curators, and collectors but also artists and audiences. Key to Godfrey’s account is the upending of the once widespread perception that art is made almost exclusively by white men from North America and Europe. The Story of Contemporary Art is an essential guide to this radical transformation.”


Spontaneous Particulars: Telepathy of Archives
By Susan Howe

“Great American writers―William Carlos Williams, Jonathan Edwards, Emily Dickinson, Noah Webster, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Henry James―all in the physicality of their archival manuscripts (reproduced in beautiful facsimiles here)―are the presiding spirits of Spontaneous Particulars: Telepathy of Archives. Also woven into Susan Howe’s long essay are beautiful photographs of embroideries and textiles from anonymous craftspeople. All the archived materials are links, discoveries, chance encounters, the visual and acoustic shocks of rooting around amid physical archives. These are the telepathies the bibliomaniacal poet relishes. Rummaging in the archives she finds ‘a deposit of a future yet to come, gathered and guarded … a literal and mythical sense of life hereafter―you permit yourself liberties―in the first place―happiness.’ Digital scholarship may offer much for scholars, but Susan Howe loves the materiality of research in real archives and Spontaneous Particulars ‘is a collaged swan song to the old ways.’“


Night Rooms
By Gina Nutt

Night Rooms is a poetic, intimate collection of personal essays that weaves together fragmented images from horror films and cultural tropes to meditate on anxiety and depression, suicide, body image, identity, grief, and survival.

Whether competing in shopping mall beauty pageants, reflecting on childhood monsters and ballet lessons, or recounting dark cultural ephemera while facing grief and authenticity in the digital age, Gina Nutt’s shifting style echoes the sub-genres that Night Rooms highlights―spirit-haunted slow burns, possession tales, slashers, and revenge films with a feminist bent.

Refracting life through the lens of horror films, Night Rooms masterfully leaps between reality and movies, past and present―because the ‘final girl’s’ story is ultimately a survival story told another way.”



Image: uab.edu

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