Category: Book Reviews

Check out book reviews of titles from independent publishers and university presses on the NewPages Blog.

  • Why Book Reviewing Isn’t Going Anywhere

    Inside-the-Critics-Circle.jpgA researcher explores the future of a changing practice By Scott Nover, The American Scholar.

    Now an assistant professor of sociology at McMaster University in Ontario, Chong researches how fiction book reviews come to fruition, trying to solve the puzzle of why some books get reviewed and why so many more are ignored. Her new book, Inside the Critics’ Circle: Book Reviewing in Uncertain Times makes the case for the persistence of old-guard professional criticism even in the Internet age.

    …It’s a really good question. No one said they were giving good reviews to really bad books, or bad reviews to really good books. It’s more a matter of degree: how much am I going to gush about a book I loved before I worry about sounding stupid and pull back, or how much am I really going to tear into a book before I worry about potential fallout and pull back. And those aren’t just questions about honesty or authenticity, it’s also about what’s the right professional tone to strike when producing cultural journalism.

  • ‘We Are Meant to Carry Water’ by Carlson, Reed, and Dibella Seluja

    We Are Meant to Carry Water

    Guest Post by Kimberly Ann Priest

    “Are we only bone, skin, and urge?” asks the speaker in The Great Square That Has No Corners. I am beginning to wonder if the answer to that question is affirmative. Yes. As I write this, I am sitting in my living room on a Tuesday afternoon in October, mid-way through another semester teaching, and realizing that, this autumn, I have over-committed myself . . . again.

    As projects begin to pile up and my network grows, while responsibilities increase and my own poetry demands that I give it more of my attention, I have to let some things go. After four years reading and writing about new works by various authors and publishers, this will be my last review for NewPages. It’s time, once again, to listen to my body and check my urges. And, how fitting that I should end my review history with a review of a collaborative manuscript by three clearly very talented women who have written an elegant collection of poems on assaulted womanhood—a topic that continually shows up in my own work. Drawing from mythology, Tina Carlson, Stella Reed, and Katherine Dibella Seluja have woven a modern (though not modernized) conversation between Helen, Leda, and Lilith, and they have done so with such precision, such tastefulness, such raw beauty. (more…)

  • ‘Night Sky with Exit Wounds’ by Ocean Vuong

    Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean VuongGuest Post by Andrew Romriell

    Ocean Vuong’s collection of poetry, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, is a masterpiece that illustrates the most vital and sincere hardships of humanity in astonishingly few words. Leaping from free-verse to prose poetry, from stringent format to broken syntax, Vuong fashions here a collection of inclusion.

    We open on “Threshold,” a poem where Vuong introduces his themes of body, parenthood, sexuality, and history. He warns us from the very beginning that “the cost of entering a song—was to lose your way back.” Vuong asks us to enter into his words and lose ourselves there. And we do, poem after poem, until we close on Vuong’s book with the penultimate piece, “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong.” In this poem, we read an assumed message from Vuong to Vuong where he tells himself “don’t be afraid,” and to “get up,” and that the most beautiful part of his body “is where it’s headed.” Before this, we’ve read pages of poetry full of pain, fear, and shattering, but here, Vuong embraces himself—and us alongside him.

    “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” like all the poems in Night Sky with Exit Wounds, rings with pain, wonder, regret, and history. Yet, there is also hope here, and I would say this is the theme of Vuong’s work: hope, inclusion, and change. Vuong takes us through a journey, shatters our expectations, holds our hearts, tells us to get up, and that, like him, we can survive the voyage.


    Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. Copper Canyon Press, April 2016.

    About the reviewer: Andrew Romriell is a creative writing student at Utah State University.

  • ‘Out of Speech’ by Adam Vines

    Out of Speech by Adam VinesGuest Post by Adrian Thomson

    Adam Vines’s Out of Speech, a poetry collection comprised of ekphrastic poetry based upon famous paintings as well as personal experience, draws on Vines’s travels from southernmost Argentina to the Louvre. Each poem begins by naming the art piece it takes as a subject, then moves toward unpacking their visual elements often through fascinating uses of enjambment.

    More than just describing the artwork, Vines peels away surfaces to encounter shavings of shocking humanity lying beneath. In “My View From Here,” a poem responding to Yves Tanguy’s Les Vues, Vines sees an abstract red vista of segmented alien pillars the cancer polyps hidden in a barstool acquaintance he meets by chance outside the gallery. “Holes and Folds,” based on the group portrait The Swing by Jean Honoré Fragonard, finds a narrator focused on the most innocent of the lounging young men in order to question his objectives as a hand slides up a woman’s dress.

    Vines’s visual inspection of minutiae leaves his reader questioning the subjects presented in the paintings. Will the awoken businessman in Hopper’s Excursion Into Philosophy leave before his lover stirs? What has made his countenance so dour? What of the open book forgotten on the bed? Is his shoe slipping into, or out of the light? The reader feels unsure even after turning away, and Vines leaves them contemplating in silence.


    Out of Speech by Adam Vines. LSU Press, March 2018.

    About the reviewer: Adrian Thomson is a creative writing student at Utah State University.

  • Divine Medicine: A Natural History of Beer

    Natural-History-of-Beer.jpgIn the beginning was beer. Well, not quite at the beginning: there was no beer at the Big Bang. Curiously, though, as Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall point out in A Natural History of Beer, the main components of beer—ethanol and water—are found in the vast clouds swirling around the center of the Milky Way in sufficient quantity to produce 100 octillion liters of the stuff…

    In America, where there was no such tradition, the movement was more heterogenous. It has found its public, though: by now there are 5,000 craft brewers in the United States producing 20,000 brands of beer. It is one of the bright spots in America’s otherwise dismal recent history.

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