Category Archives: Reviews

Why I don’t write negative book reviews

As I’ve written here before, I occasionally write book reviews for the Richmond Times-Dispatch — for instance, most recently, here and here and here. I like to write reviews because

  • it often means I can get a review copy of a book a few weeks before it comes out, and I’m impatient like that;
  • I think it’s good karma for a writer to add to a conversation about his peers’ work (see, for instance, our literary citizenship discussion); and
  • reviews are a way for me to more fully consider a book, by taking notes and thinking about what the author is trying to do and whether the book succeeds.

But I just had to weasel my way out of a book review, because the book was so bad I didn’t finish it (not a book I’ve mentioned on the show, because I had a feeling I wouldn’t like it). I might finish the book and, if forced, I’m sure I could think of something diplomatic to say about it, but I don’t ever want to be bash one of my colleagues’ books, even if it deserves it. Here’s why.  Continue reading

Other Kinds by Dylan Nice

In episode 2 of the podcast we read a story from Dylan Nice’s new fiction collection Other Kinds. The team over at Hobart was nice enough to send us a review copy — the podcast’s first! — and I read it this weekend in a womb of a leather chair at the Owl Shop in New Haven. I’m not sure if it was the embrace of cracked cow hide or the cigar or maybe Mr. Nice is just the real deal, but it was a wonderful experience.

otherkindsThe stories in Other Kinds are connected, and they follow their central character from the coal towns of western Pennsylvania to a corn-locked university in the midwest. This path mirrors what little I know of Dylan Nice’s own biography, and maybe I should have tried harder to resist conflating the author and the main character (occasionally referred to as Tom) in these stories. But in this light it was interesting to note in the author bio that Nice, who I knew had studied at Iowa, graduated from their nonfiction program.

Anyway, the stories. They’re great. The slim book, about a hundred pages long, is split into three sections of three stories each. In the first section, the main character is growing up poor in the Pennsylvania coal country, dating skinny girls from wealthier families, and we see his bonds to his home and his working class father that are at the heart of the book. In the next section he has moved to Iowa for the university but is not grounded there: the longest story in the section takes place on a spring break trip to Australia, and in the next longest he is back in Iowa City but house sitting — the home is not his. There are skinny women who come from money in Part II as well. In the final section, Tom has made Iowa his home — he is able to give newcomers a tour of the corn fields — but it feels impermanent, and the call of the coal hills is always present. We aren’t told that the women in Part III are skinny, but come on — we know what Tom likes. Continue reading