Suspend Your Disbelief

Charlotte Boulay

Editor at Large

Charlotte Boulay is a poet who adores fiction. She has an MFA from the University of Michigan, and now lives in Philadelphia. Her poems have appeared in SlateField, and the Boston Review, the Massachusetts ReviewCrazyhorse and other journals. She recommends reading anything by Kelly Link, and, not just for poets, Dan Chiasson’s latest collection Where’s the Moon, There’s the Moon. She is also eagerly awaiting the sequels to many novels, among them Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies.


Shop Talk |

Is the Times giving up on fiction?

Image credit: Literary Kicks Every week for the past two months, I’ve played a game where, on Sunday mornings, before I open the New York Times Book Review, I try to guess how many more books of nonfiction than fiction it will review. Fiction is consistently outnumbered, and don’t even get me started on the Book Review’s nearly nonexistent poetry coverage. But the past week surprised even this pessimistic grouch—only TWO fictional works are reviewed in the January 8, 2012 edition, plus Marilyn Stasio’s excellent crime reviewlets, in contrast to ELEVEN nonfiction works. The two fiction reviews are both skimpy […]

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The Amazon Rants

You’ve probably read about Amazon’s most recent promotion–they encouraged customers to use their price-check app in stores, scan an item, and then get an extra 5% discount for buying that item on Amazon instead. This promotion occasioned much ranting, including a piece by Richard Russo in the Times, and then a rant from an opposing perspective by Farhad Manjoo in Slate. It won’t surprise regular readers of this site, which routinely suggests buying from independent bookstores and which links to Powell’s most often, rather than Amazon (though we get no kickback from Powell’s, we just like them), to learn that […]

Reviews |

The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje

In The Cat’s Table, Ondaatje returns to Sri Lanka as the story follows three boys who, along with a cast of eccentrics, make their way from Colombo to England. By turns adventurous, mysterious, and wistful, the novel traces the search for belonging amidst strangers and strange lands. Charlotte Boulay considers Ondaatje’s latest beautiful offering in the context of his larger body of work.

Shop Talk |

Get Writing: Scene and Summary, Minimalist and Maximalist

I have a problem telling stories. Sometimes in my excitement it’s difficult to gauge how much detail a friend, or a reader, actually needs to know. Because while not all details are important to understanding the events, to me, often the details are the most interesting part. So, if I’m trying to describe how late the train was, so late that it made me miss my doctor’s appointment, instead I might end up talking more about the argument I eavesdropped on while waiting for that train, and the maroon, bedazzled pumps of the woman who was hissing at her partner. […]

Essays |

[Contrasts & Charms] Bishop and Lowell Read Everything

What does our reading have to do with our writing, exactly? In this first installment of a new column, Contrasts and Charms, Charlotte Boulay departs from traditional talk about fiction, reflects on her own reading list, and finds comfort and enthusiasm in reading Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell’s letters to each other, in which they discuss everything they read—and the fact that they read all the time.

Interviews |

Fundamentalism and Compassion: An Interview with Jess Row

Jess Row’s second collection of stories, Nobody Ever Gets Lost, is an examination of some of our most intense impulses, and the debates, quandaries, and mysteries in these seven stories will stay with you. Charlotte Boulay talks to Jess Row about the intersection between compassion and extremism.

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Stories We Love: Impossible Things

A short story collection I re-read at least once a year is Connie Willis’s Impossible Things. It begins with the obligatory Lewis Carroll epigraph, but then adds another from Auden: “Nothing can save us that is possible.” One of Connie Willis’s overarching themes is communication: what do we say to each other and, of those conversations, what do we actually understand? One story follows a NASA negotiator and a woman renting him a few square feet in a Japanese apartment as they try to figure out if the friendly aliens who’ve just arrived at Earth are trying to set up […]

Shop Talk |

Get Writing: Beautiful Sentences

Whether I’m reading poetry or fiction, I’m always looking for beautiful sentences, the kinds that make the hair on my arms stand up at their deftness, their grace. Take these three examples: For a moment she stared at the darkness as though it were the surface of a pond into which someone she loved had disappeared, head to heels. — Elizabeth Knox, The Vintner’s Luck The simile in this sentence is apt enough: darkness figured as the surface of a pond, but it’s the last three little words that make it beautiful. How else would someone dive? And diving is […]

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Can Online Book Clubs Work?

A couple of months ago there was an online kerfuffle after Bitch Magazine posted a list of 100 feminist YA books, and then removed three books from that list after a few commenters complained about them, for various reasons. Then other commenters cried censorship, including some other authors on the list who asked to be removed. You can read our original post about the melee here, and, should you dare, the 432 original comments here. To soothe and engage, Bitch decided to let readers vote on five books that would become an online YA book club. On the first Friday […]

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Don't just Bitch, join the conversation

Recently Bitch Magazine published a list, “100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader,” and it includes a lot of great titles I was happy to be reminded of, including classics like A Wrinkle in Time, Harriet the Spy, and The Golden Compass, as well as novels by Ursula LeGuin, Judy Blume, Cynthia Voigt, and other very contemporary selections like The Hunger Games and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies. I was surprised by the number of books on the list I hadn’t read, including three titles (Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth […]

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