Literary culture is in good hands in this top-shelf collection.

THE BEST AMERICAN NONREQUIRED READING 2018

A decade and a half after its inception, the annual “nonrequired reading” continues along its quirky path—so quirky at times, in fact, that the editors want us to know that “no one was on drugs when we put it together.”

Founded by novelist Dave Eggers in 2002, the Nonrequired Reading has a delightful twist baked right into it: It’s judged by high school students, and the proceeds go to 826 National, a cluster of writing and tutoring centers around the country. By guest editor Heti’s account, the process of working with those young people was as important as the product; says one student judge, “we’re not worried about analyzing the pieces—we’re not worried about picking apart every motif because we’ll have to write an essay on it.” It should be said, on that note, that the product doesn’t suffer by comparison to older kin such as the Pushcart annual; in addition, the BANR volumes, drawing from a wide pool of reading, have tended to emphasize a welcome diversity along all lines as something more than a polite nod. The themes are often quite grown-up, too. A story early on, for instance, by the Chinese writer Qiu Miaojin, features alcohol, albeit alcohol ejected from the body in ways teenagers will understand, and same-sex lovemaking, accompanied by lashings of angst. From the late journalist Alex Tizon comes an essay that ignited a storm of controversy when it appeared in the Atlantic, recounting a dark family secret: “I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs—the American dream. And then I had a slave.” Other stories and poems tend to less fraught but still engaging topics. A standout among many high points is Annie Baker’s decidedly centrifugal play, “The Antipodes,” which goes from family drama to horror as a character realizes that the fence of a neighbor’s house “is actually made out of bones and on the top of every post is a human skull.”

Literary culture is in good hands in this top-shelf collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-46581-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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