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
5:03 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
5:03 am
Thu June 19, 2014

A Thousand Stories, Brilliantly Collapsed In 'Bulletproof Vest'

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 9:44 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
5:03 am
Wed May 28, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 12:03 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
3:38 am
Sat May 17, 2014

The 'Wayward And Defiant' Life Of Journalist Rebecca West

Originally published on Sat May 17, 2014 9:38 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
5:03 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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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu June 20, 2013

When Love Is 'In The House'

Wessel Du Plooy iStockphoto.com

"Love is not all," warned the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. "It is not meat nor drink / Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain." She was right, of course, but if there were ever any advice destined to fall on stubbornly deaf ears, this is it. Love is not all, but it always feels like it is, whether you're happily partnered or bereft.

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Book Reviews
6:31 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Echoes Of Orwell In 'The Office Of Mercy'

It was no less than the master of dystopian fiction, George Orwell, who noted in a 1946 essay that "political language has to consist largely of euphemism. ... Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air ...

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue February 12, 2013

'Vampires' Isn't Sparkly — It's Magnificent

There's a popular misconception that literary fiction is supposed to be staid, boring, realistic to a fault. Like all stereotypes, it's deeply unfair, but it endures, perhaps because readers keep having traumatic flashbacks to novels, like Sister Carrie, that they were forced to read in high school.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed January 23, 2013

Here's To The Pleasures Of 'Drinking With Men'

iStockphoto.com

"More than anywhere else," writes Rosie Schaap, "bars are where I've figured out how to relate to others and how to be myself." It's the same for a lot of us, though many won't admit it. Americans tend to have a weirdly puritanical view of drinking, and a lot of people see bars as nothing more than havens for lowlifes and alcoholics. But as Schaap points out in her new memoir, they're missing out. "You can drink at home. But a good bar? ... It's more like a community center, for people — men and women — who happen to drink."

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue January 8, 2013

From George Saunders, A Dark 'December'

Flickr user Anja Jonsson

Since the publication of George Saunders' 1996 debut story collection, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, journalists and scholars have been trying to figure out how to describe his writing. Nobody has come very close. The short story writer and novelist has been repeatedly called "original," which is true as far as it goes — but it doesn't go nearly far enough. Saunders blends elements of science fiction, horror and humor writing into his trademark brand of literary fiction.

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Best Books Of 2012
5:03 am
Mon December 17, 2012

True Originals: Biographies That Defy Expectations

Nishant Choksi

Originally published on Fri December 28, 2012 4:26 pm

It's probably not true that truth is stranger than fiction, but in the hands of a great biographer, it can be just as compelling. Novelists can create unique and unforgettable characters — there's never been anyone quite like Jane Eyre or Ignatius J. Reilly — but there's no shortage of fascinating literary protagonists who just happened to exist in real life.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed November 14, 2012

'Brain On Fire' Details An Out-Of-Mind Experience

Free Press

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 1:14 pm

It's a cold March night in New York, and journalist Susannah Cahalan is watching PBS with her boyfriend, trying to relax after a difficult day at work. He falls asleep, and wakes up moments later to find her having a seizure straight out of The Exorcist. "My arms suddenly whipped straight out in front of me, like a mummy, as my eyes rolled back and my body stiffened," Cahalan writes. "I inhaled repeatedly, with no exhale. Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth."

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu November 1, 2012

'Elsewhere' Has Beauty, But No Happy Ending

Knopf

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 6:07 pm

Richard Russo sits in his elderly mother's home, holding her hand. She's just been diagnosed with dementia, one more illness to add to the long list of ailments she's been battling for years. She wonders aloud whether she'll ever be able to read again, plainly scared at the prospect of a life without her favorite hobby. She takes a look around her small apartment, and tells her son that she hates it.

"I just wish you could be happy, Mom," he says, heartbroken. "I used to be," she responds. "I know you don't believe that, but I was."

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu October 18, 2012

Assaying The Legacy Of 'The Big Screen'

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 7:56 am

"The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie," admits Binx Bolling, the hero of Walker Percy's 1961 novel The Moviegoer. It's the same for a lot of us — cinema affects us in ways we don't always understand, and even the worst films appeal to our nostalgia and sense memories in manners that defy the normal rules of taste and logic. (Currently, on my DVR: La Dolce Vita, a classic I know I should see at some point, and Gymkata, a truly terrible 1985 martial-arts flick I've watched a dozen times.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed October 3, 2012

Page And Screen Make Peace In 'Mr. Penumbra'

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

It's been five years since the Amazon Kindle started one of the most enduring literary controversies of recent times: the fight between e-books and printed books. If you're a devoted reader, you're probably already sick of the back and forth between the excitable technophiles and the stubborn Luddites. The proponents of e-books rave about the unexplored avenues, the hypertext, the entire world of literature accessible with just one click. The rest of us — well, we like the way books feel and smell, OK? It might seem sentimental, but that's falling in love for you.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu September 27, 2012

'May We Be Forgiven' Blames The Online World

Courtesy of Viking Penguin

"I am guilty," admits Harold Silver, the protagonist of A.M. Homes' new novel, May We Be Forgiven. "I am guilty of even more than I realized I could be guilty of."

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue September 4, 2012

'Wilderness Of Error' Indicts U.S. Justice System

Army doctor Jeffrey McDonald, shown here in a 1995 photo, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters in the 1970s. He maintains that they were killed by a band of hippies.
Shane Young AP

On Feb. 17, 1970, physician Jeffrey MacDonald called the police to his Fort Bragg, N.C., home. He told the responding officers that he had been assaulted by a group of "hippie" intruders, who had also bludgeoned and stabbed his wife and two young daughters — ages 2 and 5 — to death. MacDonald suffered a concussion and collapsed lung but survived.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed August 8, 2012

Divine Beings And Socially Awkward New Yorkers

Meet God, according to Simon Rich. He's a mostly nice dude — compassionate, though he gave up on listening to prayers and intervening in the lives of humans years ago. ("[H]e's really more of an ideas guy, you know?" explains an angel.) He loves golf and the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and he's not averse to enjoying a beer or two during the workday. He's easy to like, except for two things: He's planning to destroy all of humanity so he can focus on opening an Asian fusion restaurant in heaven; and even worse, he's a Yankees fan.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed July 18, 2012

Inside America's 30-Year Conflict with Iran

David Crist's father, George (left), discusses operations against Iranian attack boats with Navy Lt. Paul Hillenbrand. George Crist, a Marine Corps general, was commander of CENTCOM from 1985-1988.
Courtesy of David Crist

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 9:27 am

Iran Says It Has Plan To Close Strait Of Hormuz. Iran Reports Long-Range Missile Launch Exercise. New Sanctions Targeting Iranian Oil. All these headlines appeared on NPR.org over the past month, but if they give you a sense of deja vu, there's a reason.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue June 26, 2012

Aretha, Einstein And Knowing 'Too Much'

Express Newspapers Getty Images

America is a nation of fans. And though you might not know it by whichever forgettable pop singers are currently shooting up the Top 40 chart, we're serious about our music. "You can dispute folks' politics or theology and still drink with them," as Anthony Heilbut writes in his entertaining new essay collection, The Fan Who Knew Too Much. "But [tell me], for example ... that Bob Dylan's music is 'worthless' and, well, you're on your own." This is true.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed June 20, 2012

A Question Unanswered: 'How Should A Person Be?'

Originally published on Wed June 20, 2012 8:36 am

The unexamined life isn't worth living, according to Socrates, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a writer who disagrees. Few, though, have taken it to the extreme that Toronto author Sheila Heti does with How Should a Person Be? The relentlessly introspective "novel from life" earned critical raves when it was released in Canada in 2010. The book chronicles Heti's struggle — sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking — to answer the seemingly simple questions: "What was the right way to react to people? Who was I to talk to at parties? How was I to be?"

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Books
5:03 am
Thu May 24, 2012

Literary Look Ahead: 13 Great Books On The Horizon

Harriet Russell

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 5:56 am

Despite what the book section of your local supermarket would have you believe, publishers don't really expect you to turn off your brain for the summer. Sure, every June brings a stampede of fluffy paperbacks with tired plots and hilariously unfortunate covers, but your summer reading experience doesn't have to be 50 shades of mediocre.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed May 23, 2012

'Bodies': 'Wolf Hall' Sequel Outshines Original

istockphoto.com

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. If you grew up in England, or just had a world history teacher who was weirdly obsessed with Henry VIII, you've probably heard the rhyme explaining the fates of each of the king's wives. For centuries, novelists, playwrights and filmmakers have been mining the Tudor family for dramatic gold, and with good reason: It's hard not to tell an interesting story about the monarch's parade of severely dysfunctional families.

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