Michael Schaub

Michael Schaub is a writer, book critic and regular contributor to NPR Books. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Portland Mercury and The Austin Chronicle, among other publications. A native of Texas, he now lives in Portland, Ore.

Book Reviews
6:03 am
Tue March 10, 2015

From The Gathering Of Juggalos To Farthest Australia In 'Timid Son'

Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 11:41 am

"I am homesick most for the place I've never known," writes Kent Russell in his debut essay collection. He's referring specifically to Martins Ferry, Ohio, his father's childhood hometown — but it could be anywhere. The essays in I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son find the young author miles away from his native Florida, at a music festival in Illinois, on a small island near Australia, and other out-of-the-way locales. He never seems to feel quite at home, or maybe he hasn't yet decided what home really is to him.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Mon March 2, 2015

'The Sellout' Is A Scorchingly Funny Satire On 'Post-Racial' America

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

It's difficult to pin down the exact day when post-racial America was born. Maybe it was when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, or when Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first African American member of the Supreme Court. Maybe it was when Barack Obama was elected president, or the first time a white person claimed to be "colorblind." It's honestly hard to tell, because as we keep seeing proved again and again, "post-racial America" is completely indistinguishable from what came before.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Tue February 24, 2015

'Lucky Alan' Thumbs Its Nose At Convention

A handful of purist holdouts aside, most readers these days realize that "genre fiction" and "literary fiction" aren't mutually exclusive. That's not to say that every paperback on the supermarket shelf is high art, but the list of respected literary genre writers — Poe, Verne, Chandler, Le Guin, to name just a few — is a long one, and it's growing every year.

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Book Reviews
9:03 am
Wed February 18, 2015

A Writer Expresses His 'Discontent' With Civilization

"The first requisite of civilization ... is that of justice," wrote Sigmund Freud in his 1930 book Civilization and Its Discontents. Ideally, this is true, but it often seems like some civilizations never got the message. Though maybe it depends on what you mean by justice, and how you define "civilization" — if you can at all. In his new book, novelist and essayist Mohsin Hamid expresses some doubts: "Civilizations are illusions, but these illusions are pervasive, dangerous, and powerful. They contribute to globalization's brutality. ...

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Book Reviews
9:03 am
Thu February 5, 2015

This 'Future Lover' Is A Library

"The more I visit libraries the more I find myself opening up to them," writes Ander Monson in his essay collection Letter to a Future Lover. It's not surprising that an author would be attracted to libraries; they are, after all, some of the last places in the world dedicated to the preservation and celebration of literature. They're also at risk of becoming endangered, casualties of budget cuts, increased Internet availability, and apathy.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Wed January 28, 2015

'How To Grow Up' Needs To Grow Up

Michelle Tea's previous books include Rent Girl and Mermaid in Chelsea Creek.
Lydia Daniller

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 2:05 pm

Michelle Tea has been many things: poet, novelist, memoirist, columnist, editor, drummer, film producer and darling of the queercore scene. She captured the hearts of punk-literature fans with her 1998 debut, the novel The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, and drew praise from critics with her memoirs Rent Girl and The Chelsea Whistle.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Thu January 22, 2015

The Vastness Of Violent Loss In 'See How Small'

Author Scott Blackwood based See How Small on a real incident, a multiple murder at an Austin, Texas, frozen yogurt shop in 1991.
Brian Cox

Originally published on Thu January 22, 2015 12:57 pm

On a chilly autumn night in Austin, Texas, three teenage girls are finishing up their shift at an ice cream shop. Two men walk in, and when they leave, the store is on fire, the three girls still in there, naked, bound with their own underwear, murdered. The slayings and the arson take just minutes, but the families and friends of the girls take years to get over it — or to try to get over it; of course, they never do.

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Book Reviews
9:03 am
Tue January 13, 2015

'Girl On The Train' Pays Homage To Hitchcock

Originally published on Tue January 13, 2015 1:58 pm

"They are a perfect, golden couple," Rachel Watson thinks, regarding handsome Jason and his striking wife, Jess. "He is dark-haired and well built, strong, protective, kind. He has a great laugh. She is one of those tiny bird-women, a beauty, pale-skinned with blond hair cropped short." Rachel, the main narrator of Paula Hawkins' novel The Girl on the Train, is obsessed with the pair; they represent to her the perfect relationship that she once had, or seemed to, before it imploded spectacularly.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Wed January 7, 2015

Confident Tales Of 'Small Mammals,' Funny Videos And Childhood Ghosts

Originally published on Wed January 7, 2015 10:40 am

The first small mammal in Thomas Pierce's short story collection is Shirley Temple Three, "waist-high, with a pelt of dirty-blond fur that hangs in tangled draggles to the dirt." Shirley is a dwarf mammoth, a member of a species that hasn't been around for millennia, cloned for the sake of a television show called Back from Extinction.

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Book Reviews
9:03 am
Thu November 6, 2014

Frankly, Bascombe's Return Has Some Problems

cover crop
Ecco Publishing

"Most things that don't kill us right off, kill us later." Welcome back, Frank Bascombe, failed novelist turned real estate agent turned retiree, and Richard Ford's most famous character. Through three previous novels (The Sportswriter, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land), readers have seen Frank lose a child, deal with divorce, and even get shot. Frank is cynical. You would be, too.

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This Week's Must Read
5:00 pm
Fri October 24, 2014

For The Midterm Elections, A Book On 'What It Takes' To Win

Originally published on Fri October 24, 2014 5:59 pm

In less than two weeks, Americans will go to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. At least, some of them will — about 40% of eligible voters, if past elections are any indication. This year's races have already made stars — some rising, some falling — out of Americans hoping to represent their states and districts.

Some, like Kansas Senate hopeful Greg Orman and Georgia governor candidate Jason Carter, may pull off surprising victories. Others, like Wendy Davis in the Texas governor race have seen their once bright lights fade.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Tue September 30, 2014

In A Desolate Montana, 'The Ploughmen' Unearths Dark Truths

Originally published on Tue September 30, 2014 12:43 pm

Valentine Millimaki, a sheriff's deputy in central Montana, is the officer who's called upon whenever someone goes missing. In the past, he has found people either safe or clinging to life, if barely. But for over a year, he's only found corpses, dead of exposure or suicide or murder. "Valentine Millimaki did not bring back angels," writes novelist Kim Zupan in The Ploughmen, "No, I did not, he thought. Souls did not aspire on his watch to safety or heaven but came trestled roughly from the dark woods, trapped in the alabaster statuary of rigid flesh."

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Wed September 17, 2014

'Broken Monsters' Hits Horror Out Of The Park

Originally published on Wed September 17, 2014 1:58 pm

The world has become hard to shock. It's not because evil is a new thing — that's been around since the beginning of time, and it definitely wasn't created by movies, video games and every other popular scapegoat for the decline of society. But it's undeniable that we've all become a little inured to things that might have been considered unspeakably horrifying 50 years ago.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Tue August 26, 2014

'Land And Sea' Is An Unceasingly Bleak Story

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue August 26, 2014 9:37 am

Not long after we're introduced to John, the protagonist of Katy Simpson Smith's The Story of Land and Sea, he's reflecting on the loss of his wife, who died in childbirth several years ago. John is a former sailor on pirate ships who gave up the privateer's life to take care of his daughter, Tabitha. "The grief, besides, has waned to washes of melancholy," Smith writes, "impressions connected to no specific hurt but to the awareness of a constant. He is in no pain but the pain of the living."

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Wed August 20, 2014

The Depths Of Memory And Pain In 'Ancient Oceans'

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed August 20, 2014 11:52 am

Even for those of us who despise the heat and are well past school age, it's always kind of sad when summer vacation comes to a close. It feels like the end of an era, every year — goodbye to the swimming pools and water parks, the long days, the late evenings with friends. Those "back to school" sales are a kind of low-grade torment, even for those of us who kind of liked school.

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Book Reviews
9:03 am
Tue August 5, 2014

The 'Bridge' From Watergate To Reagan, Masterfully Drawn

Originally published on Tue August 5, 2014 9:21 am

News becomes history in a second. That's one of the reasons history stays alive — people will always discuss the past as long as there's something to disagree about, and there's always something to disagree about. "A fog of crosscutting motives and narratives," writes Rick Perlstein, "a complexity that defies storybook simplicity: that is usually the way history happens." Beyond the names and dates, history never offers any easy answers. It doesn't even offer easy questions.

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This Week's Must Read
11:03 am
Sat August 2, 2014

Albert Camus And The Search For Meaning In The Midst Of Ebola

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 10:54 am

For months now the Ebola virus has been wreaking havoc in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. More than 700 people have died, and it seems that doctors are near-powerless to help. With the threat of the disease tearing communities apart, it's hard not to think of a legendary novel from almost 70 years ago.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Thu July 31, 2014

This 'Suitcase' Is Packed With Sharp, Funny, Tragic Tales

Originally published on Thu July 31, 2014 3:36 pm

At some point in the past decade, the word "Brooklyn" became cultural shorthand for a certain type of young, nouveau riche hipster. The borough has a history that goes back centuries, and a huge, notably diverse population, but to many Americans, it's now mainly associated with fixed-gear-bike-riding arrivistes sipping artisanal espresso drinks while they work on their painfully autobiographical novels about escaping suburbia.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Thu June 26, 2014

A Dentist Confronts The Gaping Maw Of Life In 'To Rise Again'

"Pessimism, skepticism, complaint, and outrage," New York dentist Paul O'Rourke explains to his devoutly religious hygienist. "That's why we were put on earth."

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Books
6:03 am
Thu June 19, 2014

A Thousand Stories, Brilliantly Collapsed In 'Bulletproof Vest'

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 10:44 am

Maria Venegas' memoir Bulletproof Vest opens with the story of her father's near death at the hands of would-be assassins in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. He's shot while returning home from a bar, collapses near his house, losing blood, dying, until a neighbor happens upon him during a walk. When Maria's sister calls to tell her the news, the young writer doesn't even look up from her lunch menu. "Oh. So, is he dead?" she asks.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Wed May 28, 2014

'Gottland': A Short Book About Stalin's Long Shadow

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 1:03 pm

It was 50 feet high and 70 feet long, more than 37 million pounds of granite and concrete. It dominated Letná Park in Prague for the seven years it stood. But in 1962, the biggest monument to Josef Stalin in the world was destroyed, after the dictator fell out of ideological favor in Czechoslovakia.

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Book Reviews
4:38 am
Sat May 17, 2014

The 'Wayward And Defiant' Life Of Journalist Rebecca West

Originally published on Sat May 17, 2014 10:38 am

"There is no such thing as conversation," wrote Rebecca West in her story "The Harsh Voice." "It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all." The same could be said for books, as well — even the best histories and biographies are necessarily filtered through the sensibilities of the author and reader, and some of the best literature is the result of those monologues, those stories, intersecting.

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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Thu April 24, 2014

Mitterrand's Taste For 'Intrigue' And Contradiction

It's probably a little too pat to say that all successful political careers are marked by contradiction and compromise, though you're not likely to hear many objections to that characterization. Politics is a game of survival, and with a few sadly notable exceptions, unyielding purists seldom make it to the top.

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