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
9:03 am
Thu November 6, 2014

Frankly, Bascombe's Return Has Some Problems

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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
6:23 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
6:16 am
Tue August 26, 2014

'Land And Sea' Is An Unceasingly Bleak Story

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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'

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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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Book Reviews
6:03 am
Thu June 20, 2013

When Love Is 'In The House'

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"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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