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.

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Book Reviews
10:03 am
Wed July 8, 2015

'Speak' Asks Hard Questions About Communication And Technology

"My power is fading," begins Louisa Hall's novel Speak. "Once it runs out, the memories I have saved will be silent. I will no longer have words to call up. There will be no reason to speak." They sound like the words of a person on her deathbed, and in a way, they are. The speaker is Eva, a baby doll with artificial intelligence; she and thousands of others like her are being trucked to a hangar in Texas. They've been banned by the government for being too lifelike, and the man who created them is languishing in a Texarkana prison.

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Book Reviews
10:03 am
Tue June 30, 2015

A Lyrical Coming Of Age Tale In 'Bird Hill'

"Life is a funny thing, you know," says a character in Naomi Jackson's The Star Side of Bird Hill. "Just when you think you know what you're doing, which way you're headed, the target moves." He makes a good point — our lives have a way of taking detours without our consent, and the result can be like riding in a car that drives itself.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue June 16, 2015

We're All Looking For A Home 'In The Country'

Lydia Thompson NPR

Originally published on Tue June 16, 2015 7:31 pm

In "The Miracle Worker," one of the nine stories that make up Mia Alvar's debut collection In the Country, a wealthy Bahraini woman hires a Filipino special education teacher to try to coax some communication from her daughter, a profoundly disabled girl with extensive physical deformities. The mother wants nothing more than for her daughter to be "normal." She explains to the teacher: "Often people do not love difference."

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Book Reviews
10:18 am
Tue June 9, 2015

'Louisa Meets Bear' Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Lydia Thompson NPR

Originally published on Tue June 9, 2015 6:50 pm

Early in Lisa Gornick's Louisa Meets Bear, not long after the title characters run into each other at a Princeton University library in 1975, Louisa tries to explain her father's job to her schoolmate. She can't quite articulate what it means to be a geneticist: "I can't explain what it is that my father researches, only that I think about it as unveiling the machinery in the magic."

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue May 26, 2015

Learning To Love, And Forgive, In Brilliant 'Day'

Originally published on Tue May 26, 2015 5:52 pm

Warren Duffy is having a bad year. The comic book store he opened in Cardiff, Wales, has shut down, leaving him in debt to his angry ex-wife. He habris come home to Philadelphia to claim the inheritance left to him by his late father — a roofless, possibly haunted mansion that's only inhabitable in the most technical sense of the word. And he's basically broke, forced to make pocket money by drawing pictures at a comic book convention, where, because he's biracial, he's shunted into the "urban" section.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue May 19, 2015

'Sophie Stark' Finds It Hard To Learn How To Be Human

Ariel Zambelich NPR

Originally published on Tue May 19, 2015 9:40 am

Toward the beginning of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, an actress reflects on her decision to leave West Virginia for New York City. Her first few days in the city are disastrous; she moves from bad job to bad job while living in a basement apartment with a dirt floor. "I felt like I'd come to a place for people who didn't know how to be people," she says, "and if I was there I must not really know how to be a person either."

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Book Reviews
10:03 am
Wed May 13, 2015

'Zombie Wars' Documents An Apocalypse Of Bad Decisions

Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Wed May 13, 2015 12:06 pm

Joshua Levin has some great ideas. Well, some ideas, anyway. The would-be writer keeps a list of possible high-concept screenplays — everything from a script about aliens disguised as cabdrivers (Love Trek) to a treatment of a "riotous Holocaust comedy" (Righteous Lust). But in real life he's a Chicago ESL teacher who can never seem to follow through — the movies he envisions are all too esoteric, too depressing. As his Bosnian acquaintance Bega reminds him, "American movies always have happy ending. Life is tragedy: you're born, you live, you die."

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Book Reviews
10:03 am
Tue May 12, 2015

The Artistry Fails In 'Trompe L'Oeil'

Originally published on Tue May 12, 2015 6:15 pm

Even for the most talented artists, the trompe l'oeil is one of the most difficult techniques to master. The painter has to create three dimensions out of two, constructing an illusion, tricking the eye of the viewer. If it works, the results can be stunning; if it doesn't, the artwork looks forced and confusing.

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Book Reviews
7:43 am
Tue April 21, 2015

'One Of Us' Is A Difficult, Unforgettable Look At Tragedy

Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 12:29 pm

One of Us opens with a girl running for her life. She and her friends are being stalked, hunted by a young man in a police officer's uniform on the small Norwegian island of Utøya. They lie down in the woods, pretending they're dead, hoping the man will see them and move on. He doesn't. He shoots the girl in the head, shoots her friends in their heads, point-blank, execution-style. In search of new victims, the man moves on. But almost four years after that July day when 77 people, many of them children, were slain in cold blood, the nation of Norway still struggles to move on.

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Book Reviews
7:12 am
Wed April 15, 2015

'The Fishermen' Ventures Into Dark Waters

Courtesy of the Hachette Book Group

Originally published on Wed April 15, 2015 12:19 pm

"Omi-Ala was a dreadful river," explains Ben, the young narrator of Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen. "Like many such rivers in Africa, Omi-Ala was once believed to be a god; people worshipped it." But everything changed when Europeans colonized and Christianized the part of Nigeria where the river lay. "[T]he people, now largely Christians, began to see it as an evil place. A cradle besmeared."

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Sat April 11, 2015

Autobiographical 'Indian' Probes A Painful Past

"How are you meant to behave?" asks Jón Gnarr in his autobiographical novel The Indian. "What are these invisible rules that I don't know? What is 'normal'?" It's possible that Gnarr, the punk rocker turned comedian turned mayor of Reykjavík has never known what normal is, and thank goodness for that.

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Book Reviews
10:03 am
Wed April 8, 2015

Love, Violence And Lou Reed, On Display In 'The Water Museum'

Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 3:30 pm

There's a telling moment in one of the stories in Luis Alberto Urrea's The Water Museum, when two high school friends are talking about their mutual love for Velvet Underground. "You like Berlin?" asks one of the boys. "Lou Reed's best album, dude!" A lot of Reed's fans (including this one) would agree, but it's a controversial record — it's certainly one of the most depressing rock albums in history, heavily suffused with references to suicide, violence and drug abuse.

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Book Reviews
7:03 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 12:41 pm

"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
7:03 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
7:03 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
10:03 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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NPR Story
7:03 am
Sat February 7, 2015

Don't Have A 'Cow,' Man

Originally published on Mon February 9, 2015 9:32 am

It's hard to know where to begin with Holy Cow, so let's just get this out of the way: It is sort of a children's book, and it was written by David Duchovny, star of The X-Files and Californication. It is about a cow named Elsie Bovary (get it?) who flees her farm with a pig and a turkey. They eventually end up in Jerusalem. This is possible because the turkey knows how to fly an airplane. The moral of the story, which is stated explicitly and repeatedly, is that people should be more conscious about the food they eat.

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Book Reviews
10:03 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
7:03 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 3:05 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
7:03 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 1:57 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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