Short Takes on Books That Don’t Exist


Short Takes on Books That Don’t Exist

Steve Hely
Facebook icon Share via Facebook Twitter icon Share via Twitter


Fibre Strands of Luxurious Abrasion
by Simon Gaspeth
Surfaces—cheap carpet, a linoleum countertop after bread has been sliced, wet Astroturf—are what interest Gaspeth, an essayist and lecturer in material culture at King’s College London. His deceptively simple argument, that every day our sense of touch is the most constantly challenged of the senses, is supported by pristine prose aimed at describing a sample of the tactile experiences felt on a single day. Through his BBC appearances, Gaspeth is well known to British readers, but for Americans unfamiliar with his work, a spoiler alert: he is blind.

by Arthur Overchkek
Among military historians of eighteenth-century Europe, Overchkek is a sort of Bill James figure—an amateur debunker constantly challenging the established wisdom of the old pros. Through his self-published newsletter, he’s taken up unlikely causes and faded reputations: sticking up for the duc du Noailles, debunking the myth of Cyrus Trapaud, and generally upsetting academic applecarts. In this first of a projected three books for Yander Press, Overchkek offers a delightfully contrarian take on the Battle of Fontenoy, which he asserts was a messy, ill-conceived disaster for both sides. Partisans of “Flanders Billy” may not be able to read past page ten unless mildly sedated.

Rhode Island in the ’70s
by Jason Okes
Some historians paint in swaths on a huge canvas; others work in miniature. Count Okes—an assistant professor at SUNY Stonington—among the latter. In this probing work, he argues that a distinct culture, based around the Newport Creamery, an “I-95 aesthetic,” and a transformed Providence, contributed to the emergence of a new, unrestrained Rhode Island that made itself felt musically, socially, politically, and sexually.

Fire Fire You’re a Liar
by Nick Dubbin
Dubbin’s book reads like a terrifying fable told by a cruel teacher. At age seven, barely able to read, the author took a friend’s dare too far and burned down his elementary school. His efforts since then to make amends—and to understand the boy he was thirty years ago—are the subject of this haunting memoir.

Whole Hog
by Arthur Allens
Allens, a self-proclaimed “unrepentant carnivore,” shows his willingness to stare his meat in the face as he follows a single Iowa pig from his first day’s suckling, through his corn-dosed adolescence, to his ultimate fate: divvied up among Korean wholesalers, makers of artisanal bacon, and an agribusiness conglomerate that serves what’s left of him back to his brethren. Sections on industrial slaughterhouses might turn the stomachs of the squeamish, but Allens is an amiable guide, and his jolly enthusiasm for the machinations of meat becomes contagious.

Rocky Top Saturday: Race, Politics, and the Photograph That Changed College Football
by Tim Gawkins
Gawkins tells the story of a single image: a black receiver being pummeled by a white linebacker, snapped by a stringer at a Tennessee-Alabama game in October 1974. The picture caused a stir when it appeared the next day in the Tennessean, but Gawkins’s argument—that the photograph’s reverberations led the embattled culture of college football to reinvent itself—isn’t strong enough to sustain his often meandering narrative, which touches on everything from the history of barbecue sauce to the role of television in Tennessee gubernatorial contests.



The Men Who Pour Cement
by Kimball MacAleese
MacAleese is the great also-ran of twentieth-century American letters, behind his contemporaries Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway—whom he once challenged to “write about your own g-damn country, and let the matadors and the spaghetti-eaters write about theirs.” That same frenzied nationalism is evident in MacAleese’s fiction, like this epic novel, lovingly reissued after nearly seventy years, which focuses on the daily lives of builders working on the Grand Coulee Dam.

The Empty Staircase
by Omar Perus (translated by Richard Milner)
The late Ottoman Empire is the setting for this comedy of manners that follows the ever-failing efforts of a lecherous piano teacher to seduce his students. Perus, long-renowned in his native country, makes a riotous first entry into English through the deft hands of Milner, a scholar in residence at the Canadian Institute for Asia-Minor Studies.

by Nick Lowey
MFA students writing—and failing to write—form the subject of Lowey’s debut, a collection of linked stories that mines the liminal space between earnest frustration and the grinding tedium of endless failure. Other writers have trod this turf with less success, but Lowey displays an enviable judiciousness and a keen eye: a box of cheap wine is described as “a store-brand Lethe, a vermillion river of solace and forgetting.”

Maple Street
by Karen Deerwit
Deerwit has won a small, fanatical following by virtue of sentences like this one, which opens her book: “For my father, fishing was joyless, as all activities are for a master who has attained his highest level of accomplishment and still found himself unsatisfied.” If that doesn’t hook you, keep moving; if it does, you’ll join the cadre clamoring for more recognition of this undiscovered chronicler of the strange and minute.

Blister’s Oak
by Amelia Trebitt
The division between North Dakota and Saskatchewan may be little more than an invisible line across a dry stretch of prairie. But in her richly textured detective novels, Trebitt transforms the border into a shady netherworld of shifting alliances, dangerous characters, and long-buried secrets. Blister’s Oak, her fourteenth, sees border patrol agent Becky Blister dealing with crises both internal and external: as her search for a missing surveying team takes a baffling turn, she finds that the labyrinths of her own mind prove harsh territory as well. The clipped, wintry prose will be a recognizable pleasure to longtime fans of Trebitt—and it’s a fitting introduction to newbies, who might be sent scrounging for the rest of the Blister canon.

More Reads

Take It

Daniel Handler

The Way Through Doors

Blake Butler


Jascha Hoffman