Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on All Things Considered since the 1980s. His challenge is to make each two-minute review as fresh and interesting as possible while focusing on the essence of the book itself.

Formally trained as a literary scholar, Cheuse writes fiction and novels and publishes short stories. He is the author of five novels, five collections of short stories and novellas, and the memoir Fall Out of Heaven. His prize-winning novel To Catch the Lightning is an exploration of the intertwined plights of real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis and the American Indian. His latest work of book-length fiction is the novel Song of Slaves in the Desert, which tells the story of a Jewish rice plantation-owning family in South Carolina and the Africans they enslave. His latest collection of short fiction is An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories. A new version of his 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club will appear in March, 2015 as Prayers for the Living.

With novelist Nicholas Delbanco, Cheuse wrote Literature: Craft & Voice, a major new introduction to literary study. Cheuse's short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. His essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University, spends his summers in Santa Cruz, California, and leads fiction workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University.

The premise of Descent may sound pretty straight-forward: One summer morning while vacationing with her family in the foothills of the Rockies, a young girl, a high-school athlete in her senior year, goes out for a run in the higher altitudes — and disappears.

And Moby-Dick's about the whaling industry.

With great energy and a cold eye for contemporary American race relations, here comes Joyce Carol Oates with a new novel that shows off her muck-raking credentials. The Sacrifice faces squarely an incident that took place in upstate New York nearly thirty years ago in which a young black girl named Tawana Brawley claimed that a group of white males, mostly police officers, kidnapped her and gang-raped her over a number of days.

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We're going to do some last-minute shopping with our book critic Alan Cheuse. Needless to say, his friends and family can guess what they'll get from him. And this year he says he's proud of his selections.

As if the work of Japanese fiction master Haruki Murakami weren't strangely beautiful by itself, his American publisher has just put out a stand-alone edition of his 2008 novella The Strange Library, in a new trade paperback designed by the legendary Chip Kidd.

Ron Rash is a Southern-born novelist and short story writer with a reputation on the rise; you might know him as the author of the novel Serena (a PEN/Faulkner fiction prize nominee a few years back), which is about to become a movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I have just finished reading his newly issued collection: 34 pieces of short fiction, previously published from 1998 to 2014, all of them under the title Something Rich and Strange, and I have to say that "rich" and "strange" are two words that aptly apply to this book.

When Nuruddin Farah was a young writer, he published a satirical novel about Somalia, his native country. On his way home from a trip he called his brother, to ask for a ride from the airport. His brother told him not to come home: His novel had caused a stir, and authorities were looking for him.

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This month sees the publication of posthumous collections of short fiction by two 20th century literary giants, the Italian fantasist Italo Calvino, and the American science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Reading these two books is like partaking in one of those fabled banquets of desserts. I seized the opportunity to read as many of the stories as I could in one sitting.

When I picked up Martin Amis' new novel, The Zone of Interest, it felt as though I had touched a third rail, so powerful and electric is the experience of reading it. After years of playing the snide card and giving his great store of talents to the business of giving other people the business, Amis has turned again to the matter of Nazi horrors (he tried to deal with it in a gimmicky way in his 1991 novel Time's Arrow), and the result is a book that may stand for years as the triumph of his career.

Norman Mailer, one of the most prolific American writers of the 20th century, may have compared himself to some of the heavyweights of modern literature. But Joyce Carol Oates is an entire sports complex, including the Olympic-sized pools and the locker rooms.