Shelf Life: Books in Review

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I can’t seem to not read. I find that when I’m lecturing I often make the point that reading is impossible to not do. You read faces, speech, music, images, movies and tv shows, gestures, silence, and not just words. I adore it. I only care to read and think about what I’ve read. 

But that desire, that drive brings with it a certain responsibility. For one who reads must also be one who writes something to be read. The writing needn’t be profound or deft, rather simply thoughtful.

I’ve taken on quite a few books this month as 2016 opens with the intention of writing reviews of various breadth and depth. I thought it would be useful to provide a sketch of just what is coming as well as what it already here.


The Unfinished World & Other Stories, Amber Sparks


A friend reached out to ask if I’d be interested in contributing a book review to a new literary magazine project. Of the works on the list he had to offer was the upcoming book by Amber Sparks. I’ve just recently finished it, so keep you eyes out for a review over the next month over at the nascent Chicago Review of Books.

Reading Sparks aroused an intense desire in me to re-vamp my library and reading habits. After I dissolved Gently Read Literature in September of 2014, I’ve not so much been starved of literature but have felt as though I wasn’t contributing to the discussion as much as I ought. The first step in resolving this is of course taking an inventory.

Any excuse to reorganize bookshelves is a good excuse. I decided to investigate the remnants of my little personal library, one that has been winnowed away from moving and moving and moving between seven states over fifteen years. Turns out I have some rather wonderful texts and have somehow carved out for myself an oddly ontological ethical trove:

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Being and Time, Martin Heidegger
What is Called Thinking?, Martin Heidegger
Basic Writings, Martin Heidegger
An Introduction to Metaphysics, Martin Heidegger
On the Way to Language, Martin Heidegger
Debt, David Graeber
The Therapy of Desire, Martha Nussbaum
Late Marxism, Fredric Jameson
Ignorance, Nicholas Rescher
Error, Nicholas Rescher
The Use of Pessimism, Roger Scruton
Thinking, Adriaan Peperzak
Lying, Sissela Bok
The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Malice, Francois Flahault
Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas
Otherwise than Being, Emmanuel Levinas
Logical Investigations, Vol. 1, Edmund Husserl
The Quest for a Moral Compass, Kenan Malik
Phenomenology of Spirit, GWF Hegel
Principia Ethica, GE Moore
Human Dignity, George Kateb
Forgiveness, Vladimir Jankelevitch
Violence, Randall Collins
Regulating Aversion, Wendy Brown
Stoicism and Emotion, Margaret Graver
The Methods of Ethics, Henry Sidgwick


I’ve read and re-read these at various times over the last fifteen years. The Heidegger is, in fact, still marred by my collegiate notes and marginalia. By far, philosophy is the dominant genre that I can actually lay hands on. It’s buttressed by a seemingly haphazard non-fiction collection:


This particular slurry of narratology (Why Fiction? & On the Origin of Stories), poetic craft (Stephen Dobyns’ Best Words, Best Order still being a favorite), soccer, and world history (The Poison King, Persian Fire, and Empires of the Silk Road were books whose information found their way into my fantasy worldbuilding) in a very odd way gives my fantasy shelf make a lot more sense,


Your standard George RR Martin series, Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Brooks, and Neil Gaiman. Recently, I’ve become enamored of a few comics telling some wonderously involved stories: Saga and Shutter. Of course, like any vain quasi-author, I include my own books in this line-up wedged in there between the Marquis de Sade and Michael Chabon’s tiny gem Gentlemen of the Road

And then, finally, there are the books that I think perhaps say the most about one’s taste and imagination–poetry and fiction.


Over the years of packing up boxes of books I’ve cut away so many titles selling them or giving them away so as to lighten the load. I find it interesting that these are the remains, the books I felt that I couldn’t or wouldn’t part with.

I’ve always loved the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. His work was what made me want to be a poet, though I’ve never been able to write anything even as marginally astute as his worst poem. Following Jeffers is Keats, Andrew Marvel, the songs and sonnets of Donne, Philip Larkin’s collected, the complete Thomas Hardy, and then the other poet who is a personal luminary William Bronk. I suppose this mixture of verse suggests a bizarre romanticism, perhaps a grim idealism.

The next poetry titles are those of my teachers: John Matthias and Daniel Tobin. These poets showed me how to write and how to think through poetic language. I ought to try harder to live up to their quality and commitment. 

I feel that everyone should have and read Cervantes regularly. I’ve been struggling to fully comprehend James Joyce’s Ulysses since I was fifteen. I fail continuously. It tends to send me into the arms of Herman Melville and the difficult joy of Dostoevsky. I need to sprinkle more Atwood throughout my shelves. There have been a few recent novelists that I’ve felt compelled to keep close to hand. Pamela Erens has become one. And I have certain individual works that I simply can’t let go like Paul Harding, Janet Mitchell, Joshua Harmon, and Castle Freeman, Jr.

So that, along with a slew of e-books and some outlying advance reader copies, makes up my current library. 

I’ll be reviewing quiet a few of those ebooks over the next month or so. After the Amber Sparks book, I’ll be going into Toni Williams’ Between Two Fires as a commissioned review.


Look to see reviews of the following:

  • One-in-a-Million Boy, Monica Wood
  • To the Left of Time, Thomas Lux
  • Alice & Oliver, Charles Bock
  • A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age, David Helfand
  • Dark Ecology, Timothy Morton
  • Of Reality, Gianni Vattimo
  • What is a People?, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, Sadri Khiari,Jacques Rancière, Pierre Bourdieu
  • Plots, Robert Belknap
  • Recognition or Disagreement, Axel Honneth, Jacques Rancière
  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave
  • Redskins: Insult and Brand, C. Richard King
  • Just Fall, Nina Sadowsky


This article was made possible thanks to Rachel Racicot.


If you liked this article, then consider supporting me via my Patreon site. Even a small pledge will assist in allowing me to write more & better articles:

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