Articles by John Cotter
“We can pour anything into it – any fear or catastrophe or yearning, any warning” – music both fills our lives and helps to shape them. But what happens if music starts, slowly, haltingly, to go away? A harrowing personal essay.
Rusty Barnes’ debut novel Reckoning is both a hardbitten Appalachia noir and tender coming of age tale, both real art and real fun.
In Valeria Luiselli’s debut novel, a young Mexican woman imagines the real life of a long-dead man whose writings she has forged in the voice of a famous American poet. Then things get complicated.
In his latest novel In Paradise Peter Matthiessen dramatizes a collision between the thoughtful philosophy of Zen and the worst of the 20th Century’s horrors.
John Cotter looks into new mixed-media books of poetry by Bill Knott and John Yau to discover shades of meaning in the interplay of artwork and verse.
Is David Rakoff’s novel-in-verse either worthy verse or a worthy novel? Does he pull off a high-wire act, as so many critics have concluded, or is it all a grand illusion?
Mere words have the power to kill, literally, in Max Barry’s new thriller. Who welds them? And how worthy are Barry’s own words?
The author of We Need New Names has lived a fascinating life. How well does that translate into a novel? And is it a novel at all?
Is close reading disappearing? And is that the most pressing problem facing universities? Terry Eagleton’s latest, How to Read Literature is a plea for a return to what made the humanities worth knowing.
Mark Wallace’s novels won’t be found at a Barnes & Noble, and that may be a shame beyond words: both Dead Carnival and The Quarry and the Lot reveal haunting truths and wrestle language into terrifying attitudes.
Ron Currie Jr. is not only the author of the new novel Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, he is also its protagonist.
Anthony Burgess is famous, but not for his best book. John Cotter sees your A Clockwork Orange and raises you the new Europa edition of Earthly Powers.
Burgess gave himself room to stretch his arms (and facts) in the two volumes of his Confessions. That space to digress, opine, sing songs, is what makes both books so memorable — even indispensable.
Can a famously cold and impersonal writer like Paul Auster make a memoir of aging that works against his strengths? And are they strengths after all?
The worlds of fine art, porno, hollywood, meth addiction, and quality lit cross and recombine in Bruce Wagner’s latest Dead Stars. We made this culture, now what do we make of it?
In the wake of today’s news from Connecticut, we are reposting a note written by our Executive Editor following the shootings in Aurora earlier this year.
Book reviewers are split on whether Toni Morrison’s new novel is a further triumph or a falling off. Or have these critics only found what they anticipated? We review the reviews, then we review the book.
Of his 60+ books, one in particular, The United States, is best representative of his work as a whole and, by readers, best loved. On the Collected Essays of Gore Vidal.
Eli Gottlieb’s novels are built on dissimulation: lies to be cruel, lies to be kind … how does this formula hold in The Face Thief, and what is Gottlieb getting at?
If anything’s taboo in our society it’s a thoughtful, humanistic portrait of a terrorist, which is why more established writers failed where Jarett Kobek delivers something new.
“You’ve got to learn the language of art to be able to appreciate it. And then, where you go with it, what you see with it, is only limited to your own imagination.”– A conversation with cover artist John Bonath
What good are reproductions and what do we lose in keeping them? Our writer returns to a famous painting after a dozen years and finds more than he’d imagined
A witty young woman meets a devastating man — literally, he devastates her. From the wreck of her life she tells her tale, and it is a tale well told. Sex meets death in Deborah Kay Davies’ brilliant True Things About Me
A conversation with cover artist Elizabeth Alexander
Scott Sparling’s first novel Wire to Wire has rushed up at the reading world full of glue-sniffers, freight-hoppers, wedgeheads, and knives midair — so what’s it really about?
Semiotext(e) is famous for theory and provocation. So what happens when its co-founder takes on the art world in the latest installment of their manifesto series? To begin with, she doesn’t write a manifesto…
Death-in-a-Box meditates on sameness, doubling, and identity’s dissolve. So who is this Alta Ifland? And what sets her apart?
Lance Olsen’s page-turning experimental novel-in-stories mugs, flirts, ends the world, and dares the reader to make a rondel of intuitive leaps.
The Big Short
By Michael Lewis
W.W. Norton, 2010
I used to know a pair of aspiring plutocrats who’d occasionally trade books about rich investors managing, through their cunning, to get even richer. “He’s a very interesting guy,” …
The Poetry and Life
of Allen Ginsberg:
a narrative poem
by Edward Sanders
Overlook, 2000, 2009
Ed Sanders was a follower of Allen Ginsberg, and later a close friend, and he’s in a nice position to sketch what amounts to …
Foreclosure isn’t the homeowner’s only enemy. No one’s safe in their home when big money sniffs around; so the Supreme Court famously ruled in Kelo v. New London: John Cotter reviews muckraker Jeff Benedict’s Little Pink House.
Speaking In Code
a film by Amy Grill
sQuare Productions, 2009
What drives, obsesses, and eventually breaks impresario David Day in the new documentary Speaking In Code is that most elusive of quarries: getting something started in Boston.
The something …
Black Maze Books, 2009
Survey Says is a short book of white margins and large type, considering solely of answers provided on The Family Feud (in 2005 and 2008):
I soak my dishes. Bambi. Hamburger. …
In our second annual Fiction Bestseller List feature, our writers temporarily put aside their dogeared copies of Hume and Mann, roll up their sleeves, and dig into the ten bestselling novels in the land as of September 6, 2009 – in the tranquil days before a certain Dan Brown novel began tromping all over that list like Godzilla in downtown Tokyo. Before you spend your hard-earned money at the bookstore, join us in a tour of the way we read now.
From the forbidding North to the torrid South, the poetry debuts of Joshua Harmon and Farrah Field explore the geography of words. John Cotter gives centrality to locality.
Poet’s poet Lyn Hejinian has turned poet’s novelist in Lola, half of her new collection Saga/Circus. John Cotter circles its sagacity.
In John Cotter’s review of Brian Evenson’s Last Days, he states, “I came to it looking for a quick and disturbing shocker. And it satisfied. That’s something real.”
Coming out of Bowery rain into downtown New York’s New Museum last Friday, I didn’t expect more than to spend an an hour or so with some installations and some video art, — I’d just …
C.D. Wright collects her poems from scraps of overheard conversation, wandering memories, newspaper headlines. In his review of Rising, Falling, Hovering, John Cotter surveys the damage suspended in that scaffolding.
It’s been over 30 years since Gore Vidal wrote his penetrating and acerbic essay on the bestseller list, and we thought it was time to give that infamous mainstay of the literary world another look. Open Letters has cracked into the bestseller list and invites you to join us in discovering what’s really there…
For sixty years, the great and shapeshifting American author Evan S. Connell has woven strands of short stories through the fabric of his ongoing larger works. These beguiling stories have changed (and often deepened) with time while many of their ardors and tensions have remained the same, creating an irresistible dialectic. The three founding editors of Open Letters, united in their appreciation for this living legend of the American literary scene, pay tribute by writing a piece apiece on Connell’s life, career, and latest short story collection, Lost in Uttar Pradesh.
Dharma Bums: 50th Anniversary Edition
by Jack Kerouac
Louis Menand wrote an excellent piece in the New Yorker last year about On the Road, reminding us of the huge loneliness and nostalgia in and around the …
There can be no more obvious target in the literary landscape than a popularly selling book-length poem. With Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow has dared to write such a thing, and John Cotter has responded accordingly.
Analfabeto / An Alphabet
Dictionary lists intersperse the fragmentary text of Analfabeto / An Alphabet, but they are always incomplete. We have the English, but we don’t have all the Portuguese. So, for the …
August Kleinzahler is not an old man, yet Sleeping It Off in Rapid City is his fourth Selected Poems. John Cotter explores why you’ll need the old ones too and why you may find yourself with a use for the word “Kleinzahleresque.”
The New Oxford World History:
The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE
Focusing on early humans to the exclusion of non-human biology or world geology, this lean book may have been more accurately titled …
The Waitress Was New
By Dominique Fabre, translated by Jordan Stump
Archipelago Books, 2008
Pierre, a bartender, is a gentle man—tactful, considerate. He may not always have been so, but life has worn him smooth. Even in the …
In this regular feature, John Cotter examines two brutal, disturbing pieces of 20th-Century German art—and they come disturbingly close to examining him in return.
John Cotter champions one of the most promising debuts in years, Joshua Harmon’s bold, symphonic novel Quinnehtukqut.
John Cotter leads us to the interior of two extremely different books of poetry, Charles Wright’s reflective and naturalist Littlefoot and Frederick Seidel’s garish and weird Ooga-Booga.
Annie Dillard’s distilled, introspective voice described marvels in
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but can it power a novel? John Cotter
tacks down The Maytrees.
John Cotter guides us through Clayton Eshleman’s translations of the startling, invigorating poetry of César Vallejo, one of the earliest and most underrepresented of the modernists.
Newspaper book pages are under threat. In our monthly feature, John Cotter assesses the reviews of Jonathan Lethem’s novel You Don’t Love Me Yet to learn what (if anything) in our print reviews is worth saving.
Can a writer be objective about poverty? John Cotter thinks William T. Vollmann’s striking approach in Poor People is both beautiful and frustratingly distant.
In this monthly feature, John Cotter reviews the reviewers of Martin Amis’s House of Meetings, from the gossip-slingers to the fellow fiction writers.