Bruce Jacobs reading archive

February 2018

Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani

A new novel from a Kenyan who is a stalwart of "shithole" lit.

The Ancient Rain by Bob Kaufman

Collected poems of one of the Beat School originals. His poems perhaps are a good example of why much of this stuff disappeared.

Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin

Another dynamic debut novel from another Whiting Award-winner.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Rooney's debut novel digs into what makes young women tick, but labors to do so.

A Theory of Love by Margaret Bradham Thornton

In her second novel, Thornton writes well of the globe-trotting young and wealthy who fall in love but then...what?

The Balcony by Jane Delury

Another first novel with style and panache. Where do all these good writers come from?

Berenice Abbott by Julia Van Haaften

A heavily and helpfully illustrated biography of this notable photographer and pioneer feminist. 

Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch by David Bottoms

Award-winning Bottoms writes colloquial thoughtful poems in the James Dickey southern tradition.

Night School by Carl Dennis

This new poetry collection shows off Buffalo poet Dennis's remarkable talent.

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

A sensitive debut story collection about young black males growing up in New York City.

The Transition by Luke Kennard

A funny first novel about a sinister organization remaking the human race by feeding on those who get into debt and can't get out.

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

This tale of a weird crime and weird fly-tying cults is great stuff. The best quirky nonfiction history since Devil in the White City.

The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin

A debut novel of two families in Cleveland from opposite sides of the tracks. Frumkin can really write, and I'm anxious to see what she does next.

The Road Not Taken by Max Boot

Another Southeast Asia/Vietnam War tome, but irresistible to those of us who were young at the time and consumed by America's war folly.

Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn

A family financial fortune goes south in St Aubyn's retelling of King Lear in the age of Wall Street wealth.

China's Great Wall of  Debt by Dinny McMahon

A personal analysis of China's debt economy by an Australian journalist who's been there and seen things.

January 2018

Bring Out the Dog by Will Mackin

A terrific debut story collection about soldiers and modern warfare by a writer to watch.

Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe

The spunky narrator of Sharpe's first novel of northern California feuding backwoods crime families is a young woman with attitude and a violent streak to back it up.

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

Messud's wide-ranging fiction is always a welcome way to spend a few hours.

Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Surreal, imagist poems about immigration, sexuality, and other ambiguities.

Green Sun by Kent Anderson

A strong Oakland crime novel featuring a Vietnam War Vet cop.

American Witness by RJ Smith

A fascinating biography of this fascinating and reclusive iconic photographer.

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

The latest short comic novel of life in the Congo by one of the foremost contemporary writers setting his fiction in sub-Saharan Africa.

Chicago by David Mamet

Award-winning playwright, screenwriter, novelist, film director, etc. etc, Mamet knows how to make characters tell a story by just talking. This historical novel about Chicago in the mobster 1920s does for Mamet's hometown what George V. Higgins did for his Boston.

Sociable by Rebecca Harrington

An amusing novel of Millennial angst among bottom-crawling young New Yorkers trying to find their way in a city and digital milieu that they can't afford...kind of a long episode of "Girls."

Dressed Up for a Riot by Michael Idov

A young hipster journalist immigrant from Latvia goes to Moscow to juice up GQ Russia and learns the ins and outs of politics and culture...then amusingly tells of his "misadventures."

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton

A quirky, clever first novel about a Brooklyn mom who goes on the lam after embezzling big bucks from her kids' private school.

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles

Miles exceptional third novel is a sharp, very funny, satirical look at the chaos that ensues when a disabled war vet suddenly can walk, and he and his Biloxi town are besieged by those who revel in miracles - for religious justification and commercial gain.

Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin

Helprin's new novel captures the ambiance of Paris as a suitable setting for a man in his seventies coming to grips with his life...although the telling of this tale is a little boring.

The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

Another taut novel of Southern noir set in the Mississippi Delta around Clarksdale by the very talented Smith

Young China by Zak Dychtwald

The future of a country is written in the ideas and focus of its young people. China will be no exception. Look at the kids, not at the entrenched politicians.

December 2017

The Spoils by Casey Pycior

A not bad first collection of stories by this graduate of WSU's MFA program

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Another strong debut novel. There are young talented fiction writers everywhere these days. Who says the novel is so over?

Crossing the Border by Daniel Olivas

New poems by the SoCal lawyer and activist who is also one helluva writer.

Sticky Fingers by Joe Hagan

Hagan's first book is a thorough history of Rolling Stone magazine and biography of its founder Jann Wenner--who comes off as an egotistic short-guy with a lust for drugs, sex, power, wealth, and fame.

The Source by Martin Doyle

An interesting history of the management of navigable rivers in making the United States an immigration and economic powerhouse.

November 2017

The Gambler by William Rempel

Rempel's biography of the bootstrap billionaire Kerkorian is not only a pretty interesting tale of a man with a high tolerance for risk and "my word is bond" integrity, but also a striking contrast to that other self-proclaimed, self-promoting "billionaire" over whom the media obsesses. 

The Pope of Palm Beach by Tim Dorsey

One would think Dorsey would have run out of goofball Serge and Coleman plots by now, but apparently the Florida experience has no end of diversions for our intrepid doper and savant.

The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens

A pretty good first crime novel about random murders of the elderly in South Florida -- where there are more than enough targets.

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

Nice to have Connelly return to his Bosch noir in this latest installment about the crusty old jazz-loving, brooding, now-retired cop.

Vivian Maier by Pamela Bannos

Maier's photographs are amazingly good. Her life, as researched and described in this first biography was also pretty amazing.

Ali by Jonathan Eig

The definitive biography of a man wholly self-made (and self-promoted).

Pray Me Stay Eager by Ellen Watson

A great collection of poems about aging, romance, and the vicissitudes of life by a poet of some renown who is nevertheless new to me.

Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

A snappy novel about certain wealthy married women of New York City...and the men who bring home their bacon.

Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

This Whiting Award-winner's second novel is ambitious but disappointingly slow out of the gate. Patience, however, is rewarded.

The Driver by Hart Hanson

From the creator of TV's Bones, a smart and smart-alecky debut thriller.

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke

Burke is Robicheaux: out to save the world and rant and long as he can save himself and his family. Hard to believe how many Robicheaux novels he's written.

Reckless Daughter by David Yaffe

Her songs are often sad, haunting, romantic...her life had a little of that too.

New People by Danzy  Senna

Two light-skinned mixed-race cool people plan to marry, but she's not comfortable with it all. Will the world ever reach the point where black and white become brown?

Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan

This my first Hallinan crime novel. Shame on me for taking so long. He's good: funny, street-wise, easy-reading.

The Accomplished Guest by Ann Beattie

Beattie owns the short story. This new collection's characters age cleverly into our contemporary her characters always do--aging along with her.

Gene Smith's Sink by Sam Stephenson

Longtime obsessive Gene Smith biographer Stephenson briefly chronicles the life story of the photographer, from his Wichita childhood as an altar boy at St Mary's to his final years in Tucson where "he died of everything."

When Montezuma Met Cortes by Matthew Restall

Mesoamerican academic specialist Restall tackles the dubious "accepted" history of Montezuma and Cortes in this revisionist history of perhaps the quintessential meeting of European imperialism and indigenous American civilization.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

A new thriller writer on the scene. Always room for one...if it's a good one like Cleveland.

October 2017

Bones, Brothers, Horses, Cartels, and the Borderland Dream by Joe Tone

A great narrative nonfiction debut about the life of two brothers caught in the crime and money world of the Tex-Mex border.

The Forgetting Tree by Rae Paris

Paris is an earnest advocate and academic who has put together a collage of pictures, poems, and essays to try to understand her personal and racial past. 

Lullaby Road by James Anderson

The excellent follow-up to his almost as good debut The Never-Open Desert Diner, this crime novel set on Utah's high desert features the well-intentioned but headstrong delivery truck driver Ben Jones and a cast of desert oddballs. Anderson plans for a trilogy of Ben Jones novels, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the conclusion.

Ultraluminous by Katherine Faw

High-end prostitution, NYC, and the dangerous edges of both underlie this crisply written second novel.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Everybody seems to love this first novel. It starts slowly, continues slowly, and eventually bogs down in an avalanche of Northern California flora and fauna, the elliptical mind of a feral fourteen-year-old girl, and the danger of her weird-ass, abusive father. Oh well.

The Smack by Richard Lange

A lifetime con man finds danger, family, and love when he uncovers a huge Los Angeles score.

Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

Osborne's moody novel of the idle rich on a Greek island captures the intersection of wealth and refugee migration.

The Ways of Wolfe by James Carlos Blake

More Tex-Mex border noir featuring the slightly crazy Wolfe family. Blake gets better with each book.

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey

Sealey's poems are all about race in the way that a black woman's life may often seem all about race.

Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block

In Block's fine novel, a West Texas family is broken apart by a high school shooting that puts their oldest son in a coma. Some heavy literary sledding now and then, but worth it.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

A highly touted first novel of a sensual affair that smolders.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

Heiny is very funny, and this novel of divorce and remarriage and perhaps remarriage again to one's original spouse is sharp and poignant.


September 2017

A Little More Human by Fiona Maazel

Maazel's fiction is funny and ambitious...and well worth the ride. This latest novel is as weirdly unweird as all of them.

Green by Sam Graham-Felsen

A coming-of-age first novel told by the only white middle school kid in a Boston public school in the 90s where being a Larry Bird fan or using the word "awesome" marks one as not-cool from the git-go.

Equipment for Living by Michael Robbins

Rose Hill, KS born poet Robbins takes on movies, rock music, and poetry in this eclectic collection of essays and musings. For example, here's Robbins on Neil Young's memoir Waging Heavy Peace: "It's depressing to learn that one of your heroes writes like a composition student aiming for the earnest tone of a public service announcement." Good stuff.

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

Some of Goodman's fiction is a bit slow. This novel is one of the good ones.

Beeronomics by Swinnen and Briski

The rise of civilization as seen through the history of beer...and why not!

The Bughouse by Daniel Swift

Literary criticism meets biography meets poetry gossip in Swift's absorbing history of Ezra Pound's twelve-year incarceration in a famous Wash DC nuthouse.

The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff

A first-rate literary biography of the man whose novels captured the dilemma of modern man in a rapidly changing world of global trade, colonization, and distrust.

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

Set in the cold no-man's land of Antarctica, Shelby's first novel is a funny but smart Lord of the Flies sort of take on scientists and oddballs thrown together to escape from whatever needs escaping back in civilization. 

One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson

A top executive at a large NYC publisher, Olafsson continues to write his own top-flight fiction. This is a thoughtful, tight novel featuring a neuroscientist who recognizes that between two people the brain is more than chemistry and synapses.

The Great Nadar by Adam Begley

A great little biography of this 19th century Paris photographer, caricaturist, and bon vivant who hung with Baudelaire, Verne, and Hugo.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Gin Phillips (with that knock out first name) tells a great story about a mother and her 4-year-old trapped in a zoo under siege.hillips

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

One of those family Thanksgiving novels that tells of chaos, regret, anger, jealousy, etc. and still finds some sort of satisfactory ending.

Texas Blood by Roger Hodge

Magazine editor and journalist (and Texas native) Hodge takes a road trip into his family past and Texas history.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

A fine first novel about an adult daughter dealing with her father's growing dementia and her personal disappointments.

Catalina by Liska Jacobs

One of the many young fiction writers on everybody's "hot list" chronicles the wasted and worried young of Los Angeles.

The Phoenix Years by Madeleine O'Dea

A nicely done memoir/history of modern China with a focus on dissident artists and intellectuals. Australian journalist O'Dea knows her stuff after covering the country for three decades.

August 2017

Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Bowden goes way long in this detailed story of one key battle in the Vietnam War, but for those whose lives were defined by this futile war, it is a fascinating history.

Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda

Pochoda's new novel is a gritty SoCal story of drifters and the lost ones looking for something better in the desert or L. A...

Camino Island by John Grisham

I haven't read Grisham in awhile, but this new novel seems like a good place to pick him up again.

The King of Lighting Fixtures by Daniel Olivas

Working in fiction's shadows, Los Angeles attorney Olivas has crafted several books of short stories and novels and anthologies. This latest collection of stories is another interesting mix of realism, magical realism, and meta fiction largely featuring Latino characters in and around L. A.

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery

Peery's new novel tells the story of a Kansas family of adult children with issues and their aging parents with their own issues. An extraordinarily well-written, quiet but startling work.

American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

A prize-winning Texas journalist tells the story of the fate of one famous wolf and her offspring...and in the telling, explores what America is like today.

Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klamm

A novel of infidelity and cartoons...what's not to like?

Silencer by Marcus Wicker

With an undercurrent of hip-hop, Wicker's poems about being a black man in America are both combative and conversational.

How To Get Over by t'ai freedom ford

The voice in t'ai freedom ford's first poetry collection is hot, angry, rhymey and hiphoppy. Sex, race, violence, memory, history,'s all here -- "nothing left but bass line, voice, and dazzle." She doesn't flinch: "although she guitar strapped playing that / rock shit, her ass got Africa tattooed / all over it."

Chasing Phil by David Howard

A true-crime story of two rogue FBI agents after the 1970's biggest white collar con man.

The Force by Don Winslow

Winslow moves his often dark SoCal/border noir to NYC, but he's still plenty dark and still tells a good story.

Liner Notes by Loudon Wainwright III

The singer-songwriter may be more a writer than a singer, so this memoir (with pics and lyrics) is great fun.

July 2017

Wild Horse Country by David Philipps

We have thousands and thousands of wild horses. Why do we have laws protecting them? What are we going to do with them all? Who wins all the money in this complicated government scheme?

The Exile by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark

This long, complicated investigation into the Bin Laden life post-9/11 is an indispensable history surrounding what might be the event which more than any other shaped the 21st Century. Surprisingly engrossing.

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

Habash's engaging first novel is a kind of Catcher in the Rye of wrestling. Move over John Irving.

Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen

Andersen's a funny, clever guy, and this history of American kooks puts today's political circus in perspective. This country was founded by whackos, so what's another one?

Did It! From Yippie to Yuppie by Pat Thomas

Does the world need an oversized, $50 book about Yippie founder Jerry Rubin? Based on this comprehensive dip into his life and work, the answer is definitely yes!

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy by Tim Harford

Financial Times columnist Harford picks his top fifty big dogs of world-changing inventions. Funny, clever, quixotic...he is never boring.

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

A sharp, short novel about an older couple who learn how to stay a couple and be older successfully--together maybe.

The Man From the Train by Bill James

Bill James, the baseball statistics guy, writes a true crime history of a Midwest serial ax murderer..for a change-up.

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

A straight arrow Army Ranger joins an armed robbery with a couple of his fellow soldiers before his first deployment. His writer cousin tries to figure out why in this memoir/biography.

Testimony by Scott Turow

Turow goes longer than usual in this latest novel of courtroom drama that takes place mostly in The Hague and Bosnia. He's a pro at this stuff and always a pleasure.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

After a slow start, Krauss gets her mojo working in this new novel about an older rabbinical man and a younger woman in Tel Aviv.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Buntin's debut coming-of-age novel is set in Michigan, so it can't hardly be bad. In fact, it's quite good.

One More Cup of Coffee by Tom Pappalardo

Funny, observant essays on our coffee culture playing on the Dylan song and complete with cool sketches. This is a neat little publishing gem.

My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman

This Kalman is a couple years old, but it is another of her quirky, sensible prose/poetry/sketch masterpieces.

Faster, Higher, Farther by Jack Ewing

Volkswagen screwed up and Ewing covers it all; however, in the bigger picture, not meeting current emission standards merely means newer VW diesel engines had fewer emissions than those made, say, ten years ago...but not as few as the legislators required.

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

NY Times Book Editor Paul's memoir tracking her reading journal is entertaining but kind of a one-trick pony.

Cuz by Danielle Allen

A very successful academic black woman tells the sad and frightening story of how she lost her younger cousin at age fifteen to the adult prison system in California for eleven years...and then lost him forever in a street shooting after he was released. With all her resources, she was unable to beat the system and help him enter the productive community.