All the Names They Used for God: Stories, by Anjali Sachdeva

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

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(Spiegel & Grau, 2018)

This debut short story collection is hypnotizing, lovely, and a relief. As a reader, I found myself exhaling slowly, sucking in air comfortably, trusting in Sachdeva’s authorial control.

The stories are original, unusual (Kelly Link is oft mentioned in comparison). There’s weird stuff: women alone on the range or the prairie or wherever that is, struggling with winter and food and underground crystalline worlds; explorers of ancient ruins—part Indiana Jones and part Old Maid Daughter; girls kidnapped from their African villages and made into sex slaves in the name of Allah; a fisherman mesmerized by a shark-loving mermaid; snot glob-like aliens who replace human limbs with forks. Each one is beautifully written.

Here’s a lovely quote in a book of many lovely quotes: “The shark was a solid whip of muscle, carelessly lethal, and his presence transformed the drab green of the northern sea into a place she longed for even though she could not properly recall it. He dove deeper; the water changed from green to gray to nearly black, and eventually the mermaid left him and spiraled away on her own.”

Sachdeva’s imagery was the big draw for me, though her originality is also notable. Anthony Doerr, who wrote his own super beautiful book (All The Light We Cannot See) blurbs that he looks forward to reading her future stuff. I’d definitely second that.

Jennifer Spiegel is the author of three books, The Freak Chronicles (stories),  Love Slave (a novel), and And So We Die, Having First Slept (forthcoming from Five Oaks Press). She’s also half of the book-reviewing gig, Snotty Literati.

 

Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

Simon & Schuster, 2016


Bruce likes to write.

Actually, Bruce loves to write.

Over 500 pages, this memoir covers a lot. From his Italian/Irish/Working Class/Catholic/Crazy Dad/Longsuffering Mom/Freehold, New Jersey childhood to his happily-married/empty nest/post-Clarence Clemons/horseback-riding sixties. Bruce is headed into old age, my friends.

The Word on the Street: Springsteen wrote the whole thing himself, by longhand, over the course of seven years. I believe it. Typically, I’m mildly cynical about “celebrity memoirs”—but the book is so wonderfully Springsteen-esque, which is to say it’s rambling, poetic, repetitive, heartbreaking, a little longish, sometimes profound, and totally engaging. A ghostwriter wouldn’t have lingered so long over every single album. Every. Single. Album. (I highly recommend the audiobook because Bruce narrates it; however, I’d be listening and he’d say, “Chapter Fifty-three . . . Chapter Sixty-seven . . . Chapter Nine Thousand.”)

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Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

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Back Bay Books, 2016

I waited till the very end of 2016 to read it, though I picked up the paperback in January (it came out in hardback in 2015). I don’t know why. Nestled on my shelf between must-reads and supposed-to-reads, Delicious Foods remained unread throughout the year: missing the havoc of the election, skipping the annual list-making season in which readers formulate their Top Ten Books of 2016. My own book-reviewing gig, Snotty Literati, made its list. And, well, Delicious Foods is not on it.

It should’ve been. While not necessarily as large in its philosophy or cultural commentary as my 2016 pick for Best Book (which remains my first pick)—Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad—this one was among my favorite novels of the year. Delicious Foods is a great book. It’s an original story with a—dare I say?—suspenseful plot, soulful characters, and amazing language.

Start with the cover. Such a lovely cover. I love that cover.

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The Girls by Emma Cline

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

When was the Summer of Love again?

Sixty-seven.

I don’t really know what’s going on with me, but I seem to be hovering in my bookish ways around a certain era. I found myself listening to Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. West Coast hippie-splendor. Some Joan Baez, a little Haight-Ashbury. Right now, I’m into Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is but one step ahead, but on the East Coast. Andy Warhol, the Chelsea Hotel, punk rock.

I took a fictional reprieve with Emma Cline’s The Girls (published this year), which takes place mostly in Northern California in 1969. After the Summer of Love, we had Charles Manson. Irony, yes? What’s going on there? This debut—Cline’s first novel!—imagines the girls in a Manson-like cult, moving towards murder. Though the cult, with its creepy/sexy leader, is fascinating, Cline’s girls are the real focus. An exploration of girlhood, of females on the brink of being women. Vulnerability on the brink. Continue reading