Steven Barnes

White Magic by Lothar Müller

White Magic by Lothar Müller

As digital media increasingly impinge on the status, and even the very existence, of paper-based communications, one could easily expect a story about the history of paper to take on a somber, almost elegiac tone. But the tale that Lothar Müller spins in White Magic: The Age of Paper is one that brings paper—as both physical material and a playing field on which the human imagination can run wild—to vivid life. Incorporating a wealth of historical detail, technical information and critical analysis, Müller makes his account lively and compelling, giving paper a personality and substance that is on par with any words that may appear on it. In his book, paper is not just the silent partner of the printing press. Instead, it is an extremely versatile substance—one whose uses and forms shape human thought and behavior in many ways.

Read More

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

“She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.” If you’re looking for a one-sentence synopsis of All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews’ latest novel, you could do far worse than that brief excerpt from the book. Shortlisted for the 2015 Folio Prize, which is to be awarded on March 23, this story of those two enemies—sisters caught in a struggle with death, life and each other—takes on a daunting list of weighty issues: love, mental illness, the damage done as well as the support offered by family, and, ultimately, the dark attractions of suicide. But what really gives this book its sense of life and its emotional power is the way in which Toews leavens those heavy issues with an oddball quirkiness and sense of humor that makes its sometimes-grim events bearable and pulls the reader inexorably into her story.

Read More

My Documents by Alejandro Zambra

My Documents by Alejandro Zambra

Alejandro Zambra has been called a major successor to Roberto Bolaño, and it’s easy to see why. The Chilean compatriots share a gnomic bookishness, a kaleidoscopic storytelling style, and an ability to leaven the seriousness of their themes with an impish sense of humor. Plumbing the fault lines of Chile’s landscape and society, both authors capture the shifting emotional valence of a country gone slightly out of whack, and bring a strong sense of moralism to a world in which morals seem to be in short supply.

Read More