Horn! — Kevin Thomas’s Collected Reviews (Book Acquired, 6.14.2014)


Kevin Thomas has been doing illustrated reviews of contemporary books for The Rumpus for a few years now. Now, the good people of OR Books have published the reviews in one volume—HORN! The Collected Reviews.

I’d read a few of Thomas’s reviews in the past and always been a bit jealous at his control of his medium—of his ability to go past or through or beyond the language under discussion to provoke with a sequence of images. Reviews is maybe not the right term—commentaries seems more fitting. Take his review of George Saunders’s Tenth of December for example, which manages to condense an overview of the collection’s themes along with a viewpoint on those themes into nine small panels. (I needed over 2000 words for my own review of the Saunders book).

Thomas’s technique works especially well with novels that are very difficult to write about/after, like one of my favorite recent titles, Jason Schwartz’s John the Posthumous. I stammered and hiccuped through my essay; Thomas explicates, illustrates, and piques reader interest—again, in just nine panels.


I’ve been trying to limit myself to just a few strips a day from the collection, but more often than not I’ve failed, curious to see Thomas’s takes on Levin’s The Instructions (a novel I couldn’t finish), Peter Hook’s memoir, Renata Adler’s Speedboat (yes!) and more. Great stuff.

The Book Lover – Ali Smith


Let’s start with a confession–I haven’t finished reading all of Ali Smith’s anthology The Book Lover yet. Like most collections I own, there’s a fair chance that I won’t read every story, essay, or poem collected here, but chalk that up to the nature of anthologies. With any compilation, there are always going to be those great, transcendental moments where you’re suddenly hipped to a new voice, a new sound, a new vision, or re-introduced to an old friend you hadn’t thought about in quite some time. There will also be those texts that fail to grab you at the first sentence (or, rather, you fail to put the work in), and those texts that are simply a bit too long for the gap you’re presently trying to fill. So far, The Book Lover has been mostly filled with bits of shining revelation, startling wit, and plain old great writing, and I’m not going to spoil the meal by forcing it all down at once.

In collecting some of her favorite voices, Scottish author Ali Smith displays a keen understanding that the literary omnibus is peculiarly open to discontinuous and scattered readings. She prefaces The Book Lover with a quote from Virginia Woolf: “Any method is right, every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express, if we are writers; that brings us closer to the novelist’s intentions if we are readers.” Woolf’s words invite us to read the collection in any manner we wish, and I followed suit, picking it up in spare moments, usually at work, where I rarely get the time to concentrate on anything like a novel for a sustained amount of time. Still, Smith has put a great deal of thought into the arrangement of her sources, grouping them into six sections, GIRLS, DIALOGUES, JOURNEYS, THE WORLD, HISTORIES, and BELIEFS. The pieces in the section sometimes speak to each other directly (Hilda Doolittle’s “The Cinema and the Classics: Beauty” followed by Colette on “Mae West” followed by Lee Miller on “Colette”), but more often than not the pieces respond to each other in an oblique, layering fashion. It’s left to the reader to link William Blake’s “Infant Joy” to a section from Anne Frank’s diary, or connect the dots between Tom Leonard’s hilarious poem “baa baa black sheep” and the strange journalism of Lorna Sage’s “Our Lady of the Accident.” These connections were most interesting to me when re-encountering a text I was utterly familiar with, like the “pear tree” passage from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, re-contextualized with something I’d never read, like the selection from Billie Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (note to self: go get Lady Sings the Blues).

Ultimately, The Book Lover is successful in that it doesn’t attempt to be a “greatest hits” collection; instead, we’re treated to a wide selection of diverse and often dazzling writers. Smith’s project will not only introduce you to writers you haven’t yet read, it will make you want to read their works as well. I will, however, admit to being a little bit jealous: I think I’d love to put my own anthology together. After all, I’m a book lover too. In this sense, The Book Lover inspires its readers to think about the value of their own libraries, the way that the authors that they love speak to each other across time and space. Recommended.

The Book Lover is now available in the US from Anchor Books.

Summer Reading List: Anthologies to Know and Love

No summer reading is complete without imbibing the variegated prose of an anthology. The following are the literary equivalents of skillfully-detailed mixtapes, made by a friend who wishes to communicate only that he or she has your best interest at heart.

The 2008 O. Henry Prize Stories anthology is a great way to play catch up on all of the reading you missed last year. Culled from publications like Zoetrope, Harper’s, Granta, and Tin House, this anthology features established masters like William Gass and Alice Munro along with newer voices. There are plenty of highlights and no duds. Sharon Cain’s “The Necessities of Certain Behaviors” explores an amorphous world of gender-bending, while Stephen Millhauser’s “A Change in Fashion” imagines a new mode where women cover every inch of their flesh from the gaze of men. Lore Segal’s “Other People’s Deaths” perfectly captures the painful awkwardness and shame we experience when encountering, um, other people’s deaths. Similarly, the title of Tony Tulathimutte’s “Scenes from the Life of the Only Girl in Water Shield, Alaska” is spot-on, and Gass’s contribution, “A Little History of Modern Music,” is the funniest monologue we’ve read all year. But our favorite in the collection has to be Edward P. Jones’s “Bad Neighbors,” which examines the changing fortunes of an African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. A great collection, and if a story disappoints you, there’ll be three to make up for it.

In the ultimate in lazy reviewing, we will let the title of McSweeney’s kids anthology Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out stand as its own summary. However, this is a beautiful book with lots of lovely pictures, and the collection is worth it for Nick Hornby’s story alone. Good stuff.

Edited by superstar Chris Ware, The Best American Comics 2007 serves as a delicious tasting menu of some of the best comix published in the past few years. Although hardcore comix fans will no doubt have already read the selections from Charles Burns’s Black Hole and Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, there’s plenty here for aficionados and newbies alike.

Chances are you’ve read a number of the canonical texts in 50 Great Short Stories, but it’s also likely you haven’t read them in years. We’ve had this book for years, and have revisited often to indulge in old favorites for new inspiration. Classics like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Hemingway’s “The Three-Day Blow” nestle up against lesser-reads like Edmund Wilson’s “The Man Who Shot Snapping Turtles” and Francis Steegmuller’s “The Foreigner.” And have you read Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” since high school? No? Shame on you! What about Carson McCuller’s “The Jockey”? Dorothy Parker? Kipling? Consider it a light crash course in great literature.