Published: ‘Elements of Surprise’ and the Pleasures of Being Had (PopMatters)

This is the best non-fiction book I've read this year yet. The writer, Vera Tobin, teaches at Case Western University (Cleveland, Ohio) about the connections between cognition, language, and narrative. Here, she explores how the "well-made surprise" is created by writers and appreciated by readers in books and movies. Fascinating stuff. If you're a writer (of any genre), you should read this. If you're a reader who likes to get under the hood (believe me, it's more fun) with how writers do what they do, you should read this. Beyond fiction, these cognitive and linguistic techniques are also relevant in fields where rhetoric and narrative are critical — e.g. law, academia, etc. I have an interview coming up with her next week too.

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Published: The Private Habits and Private Selves in Curtis Sittenfeld’s Short Stories (PopMatters)

My review of Curtis Sittenfeld's first short story collection (after five novels) is up at PopMatters. Sittenfeld writes primarily about the urban Midwestern girl/woman. Here, they are mothers, wives, middle-aged career professionals — all trying to reconcile their Midwestern values with an evolving realization of their places in the world. Having lived in the Midwest for ten years myself, I know these girls and women well — they were my friends, coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and more. Some of these stories are set around the time of the US presidential election, so they are rather interesting in how they play external politics into private politics. Reese Witherspoon is producing an Apple TV show from these stories. It will star Kristen Wiig.

Published: The Intimate Politics of the Female Self in Danielle Lazarin’s ‘Back Talk’ (PopMatters)

My review of Danielle Lazarin's debut short story collection, Back Talk, is up at PopMatters. The book came out in February this year. The main theme that unifies these stories is female desire (of many kinds.) The girls and women here deal with their desires, and the underlying needs and fears, with vulnerability, suppressed anger, self-awareness, and self-denial. I enjoyed, particularly, Lazarin's precise sentence-level craft.