Annalisa Quinn

Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.

Quinn studied English and Classics at Georgetown University and holds an M.Phil in Classical Greek from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Cambridge Trust scholar.

The Water Cure, a tart, uncanny debut novel by Sophie Mackintosh, is an unlikely thought experiment that asks: What if men were literally as well as figuratively toxic?

"These were knife-edge times, primal times, with everybody suspicious of everybody," says middle sister, the narrator of Anna Burns's brutally intelligent novel Milkman, set amid the Troubles in 1970's Northern Ireland.

There were the general Troubles, of course, but middle sister's specific troubles begin when a powerful paramilitary figure called the milkman (he's not a milkman) starts offering her rides home. She says no, but he begins trailing her, insinuating himself, making oblique threats.

Bernie Sanders will not say he is running for president. Instead, he employs a familiar dodge: "The year 2020 remains a long way off."

But Where We Go From Here is unmistakably a campaign book, which means that, like almost all campaign books, it is boring.

Many campaign books are ghostwritten and scraped free of controversy and doubts; these are not books in any meaningful sense of the word, but tools to generate publicity and "Is he or isn't he running?" speculation in the press.

"I am not angry. If anything, I am tired," Korede says, faced with yet another bloody crime scene to scour, yet another body to dump. The first few times, her beautiful sister Ayoola's self-defense claims seemed plausible, but the bodies have added up. And Korede Googled it: Three murders makes you a serial killer.

"If you could see every bird in the world, you'd see the whole world," writes Jonathan Franzen in The End of the End of the Earth. In the new collection of previously published essays — spanning art, nature and autobiography — he travels the world finding hope in things with feathers.

Sarah Perry's new novel, Melmoth, opens with an imperative: "Look!" The object of our gazes is Helen Franklin, 42, "small, insignificant, having about her an air ... of self-punishment, of self-hatred, carried out quietly and diligently and with a minimum of fuss."

Donald Trump "personally directed" efforts to silence Stormy Daniels, The Wall Street Journal reported for the first time Tuesday morning.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, will be unsurprised.

"Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles ... How the epithets pile up," begins The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker's tart retelling of the Iliad from the perspective of Achilles' concubine, Briseis.

"We never called him any of those things," she continues, "we called him 'the butcher.'"

Editor's note: This review includes some graphic language about sex and other adult themes.

"Today marks my sixteenth year on this hot, horrible earth," begins Ponti, the debut novel by Singapore-born writer Sharlene Teo. From there, everything just gets hotter and more horrible.

"I used to hope that puberty would morph me," the book's primary narrator, Szu, continues, "that one day I'd uncurl from my chrysalis, bloom out beautiful. No luck! Acne instead. Disgusting hair. Blood."

The word "nice" is a persistent problem for journalists Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisner in their new, hostile biography of Mike Pence, The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.

The truth about Pence, according to them, is that he is a sinister zealot, an opportunist, and a "Christian supremacist" biding his time until he can take over the presidency from Donald Trump.

But here's the problem: Sources keep calling Pence things like "nice." Luckily, D'Antonio and Eisner have a strategy — they just pretend that "nice" means its opposite.

First, Nell Stevens wrote Bleaker House, a memoir about failing to write a novel. Now, in The Victorian and the Romantic, she has written a memoir about struggling to write her doctoral dissertation.

Writing about how writing is hard tends to be solipsistic and dreary, but these procrastination-born books have, instead, a kind of truant charm — like they know they should really be the other, more serious thing, the great work, but we're all here now so we may as well go get a drink.

Sean Spicer — testy, stumbling, and visibly unhappy — was not a very good press secretary. He seemed to dislike lying; the strain of it was evident.

Sarah Sanders, with her unembarrassed and bullish ability to just keep going, no matter how implausible the message, is much more convincing. Spicer just looked like the avatar of the Republican Party's moral crisis, sweating in a suit.

It was, he writes in The Briefing, his new memoir of his time in the Trump White house, "a lonely job."

Editor's note: This piece contains some graphic language about sex.

Last year, the singer Harry Styles, formerly of the boy band One Direction, gave an interview to Rolling Stone about the launch of his solo career. The journalist asked him whether he was worried about proving his "credibility" as a solo artist to "an older crowd" — as in, people who are not teenage girls.

Helen DeWitt's Some Trick seems less like a story collection and more like a series of notes from some vast, alien intelligence, not quite human itself, but capable of picking apart human habits with startling precision. DeWitt's characters are savants, weirdos, and artists, often trying to achieve their ends against the best efforts of the well-meaning and conventional people around them.

In Curtis Sittenfeld's short story "Show Don't Tell" — not, sadly, included in her new collection, You Think it, I'll Say It — a young woman at a prestigious writing workshop competes for funding with an annoying guy in her program. Nearly 20 years later, they have both achieved a kind of literary success, but he is the kind of writer "about whom current students in the program have heated opinions; I'm the kind of writer their mothers read while recovering from knee surgery."

Childbirth is sometimes treated like a specialty interest for women, like ceramics or cross country skiing. You know the contours, vaguely, but you wouldn't seek out information unless you were thinking about doing the thing yourself. Obviously, when it comes to motherhood, this is deeply dumb: Someone gave birth to each of us, probably while in a lot of pain.

"Later, years later, I would hear a song made of our meeting," says the hero of Madeleine Miller's Circe, of her romance with the mortal Odysseus. Circe is referring to Homer's version of the story, in which Odysseus arrives on her island sea-battered and mourning for his men killed by the cruel Laestrygonians. Circe entraps his remaining men and turns them into pigs. But Odysseus, with the help of the god Hermes, tricks Circe and makes her beg for mercy before becoming her lover.

"With a good feeling, it was always: More. Again. Forever." Leslie Jamison's memoir The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath follows the story of her alcoholism in lush, almost caressing detail. "I mashed the lime in my vodka tonic and glimpsed — in the sweet spot between two drinks and three, then three and four, then four and five — my life as something illuminated from the inside."

At the beginning of Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion, shy, bookish Greer Kadetsky is groped at a frat party. Her best friend, "innately, bracingly political" Zee, urges her to report it, but Greer feels sick at the thought. "The idea that something had been done to you seemed to implicate you, even though no one said it did, making your body — which usually lived in darkness beneath your clothing — suddenly live in light."

"I am authorized to perform acts of justice, power, and retribution, to deliver messages of comfort and healing," begins the angel that wrestled with Jacob in Mallory Ortberg's adaptation of the Biblical story, "Fear Not: An Incident Log."

At first, Asymmetry seems like a story we've heard before: Young, pretty would-be writer Alice launches an affair with Ezra, a literary celebrity several decades her senior. He gets a stent, she gets an abortion, he teaches her to pronounce Camus ("It's CA-MOO, sweetheart"), she picks up his meds, he calls her a "good girl," she calls him "cradle robber."

For the first few chapters, it seemed too tired and too insular a story to hear again all for the meagre reward of watching a lightly disguised Philip Roth ejaculate "like a weak water bubbler."

Editor's note: This review contains spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

This review contains language that some may find offensive.

Henry James, Mary Beard tells us in her new book Women & Power, liked to complain about women's voices — American ones in particular. Under their influence, he believed, language risked devolving into a "tongueless slobber or snarl or whine," like "the moo of the cow, the bray of the ass, and the bark of the dog."

In the 17th century, the poet John Dryden satirized the deep anxiety around letting women learn the Classics:

But of all Plagues, the greatest is untold;

The Book-Learn'd Wife in Greek and Latin bold.

The Critick-Dame, who at her Table sits:

Homer and Virgil quotes, and weighs their Wits;

Hoaxes work when we want them to. These longings can be benign: think of Herman Rosenblat's beautiful, fake story about a girl who kept him alive by throwing apples over the fence of a concentration camp, and meeting her years later on a blind date. Who wouldn't want to believe a love story like that?

Sometimes, when Philip Pullman is tired or anxious, a floating speck appears in his field of vision. "I first saw it when I was playing the piano and I couldn't read the music because there was a damn dot in the way," he says, as we sit in the pleasantly jumbled living room of his farmhouse in Oxfordshire.

The floating dot will expand into a flickering ring of light, like a miniature, personal aurora. It can happen when he's driving, and he'll pull over to wait it out, or sleep it off when he's at home.

"What's worse, writing a trope or being one?" the narrator of Carmen Maria Machado's story "The Resident," asks. She is at an artists' colony, and one of the other residents — a "poet-composer" named Lydia — has snidely announced that the narrator's autobiographical writing plays into the madwoman in the attic stereotype, not to mention the crazy lesbian stereotype. "It's sort of tiresome and regressive and, well, done," says Lydia.

Later, the narrator, whose initials are also CM, carves the words "Madwoman in her own attic" into the wood of her writing cabin.

King Lear, done right, verges on unbearable. A portrait of cruelty, betrayal, male power become impotent male rage, the disintegration of the mind, all delivered one after another like steel boots to the spine. "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods: They kill us for their sport," says one character.

So unbearable did audiences find it that for nearly 200 years it was performed with an altered ending, where Lear and his daughter live happily ever after.

In the fictional county of Cotton, Georgia, a pair of twins is born, one white and one black. "They looked like a pair of baby chicks ... Only if you looked closely — and people did — could you see that the girl is pink as a piglet, and the boy was brown." In the summer of 1930, in segregated Georgia, they become a sensation, nicknamed the Gemini twins by the press for Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Leda by different fathers.

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