Category Archives: Uncategorized

I have a substack

Figured I should let people know. $5/month, at least eight posts a month/twice a week (Tues/Sat), and they won’t be, like, wimpy posts.

Also, second book comes out in February!

Happy holidays and whatnot.

New pieces on Rivette and Oyeyemi

Nice coincidence of publishing schedules! Today at Commonweal, I’m reviewing the most recent novel by one of my favorite contemporary writers, Helen Oyeyemi. And then at Mubi Notebook, I’m writing about one of the masterpieces of the French New Wave, Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating–which Oyeyemi has also cited as a favorite.


I forgot to link my most recent books column for Plough. Also, for the moment, you can click here to see me interviewing Marilynne Robinson and Rebecca Makkai on the occasion of their receiving the 2020 and 2019 Mark Twain Awards from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature.

New essay: The Strange Undeath of Middlebrow

Why do we still talk as though there were highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow art? I blame capitalism, quelle surprise, but I tried to do it in a fun way in this Hedgehog Review essay.

New column for Plough

I reviewed a new biography of Toussaint Louverture, a novel by Gina Apostol, and some reissues by William Melvin Kelley for this month’s column!

Updates: Radio appearance, Fisher essay, column, Frank conversation, book order info

Hi, folks! Sorry for not keeping this website updated enough. The other day I had a great conversation with the hosts of Eye 94 on Lumpen Radio, and yesterday my long-in-preparation essay about the work of the cultural critic Mark Fisher went up at Commonweal. The conversation I had with Thomas Frank about his The People, No is up at the Literati web site. Here’s the most recent installment of my new books column for Plough. And finally here’s ordering information for my book Midwest Futures, which makes a great stocking stuffer. (Consider pairing it with other Belt books, such as Raechel’s, which just got onto NPR’s Books of the Year list, or Vivian Gibson’s, which was pronounced Book of the Year by John Wilson. Or any number of other ones. Good people. And most of their books really will fit in a stocking just fine.)

Las Vegas Book Festival appearance/conversation with Thomas Frank

I enjoyed being on this Zoom panel with the writers Vi Khi Nao, José Orduña, and Alyse Burnside, moderated by T.R. Witcher, on the question of “Vegas as heartland.” I knew it was going to be a good panel because one of my co-panelists typed the words “Go GEO!” into the chat as soon as they heard I taught at Michigan.

On Tuesday, I will be asking questions of Thomas Frank during his virtual reading at Literati Bookstore. As it happens, I greatly admire this writer and have done so for a long time. He is probably best known for cofounding The Baffler. I read The People, No!, his new book on the history of populism and, in particular, the polemic against it, last spring and was very taken by it.

It seems that I have a predilection for Midwestern writers who fall in love with intellectual traditions the very names of which have become terms of abuse. With Marilynne Robinson it’s “puritans” and “Calvinists.” With Frank, it’s “populism.” Did you know that the economic program of the 1890s Populists was the big inspiration for the anti-poverty plank of the Civil Rights Movement? Did you know that Populist politicians were making the connection between anti-blackness in the U.S. and our subjugation of brown people abroad from pretty much the birth of our empire? I didn’t. All I ever learned about the Populists is that they were a bunch of embarrassing cranks who didn’t understand sound fiscal policy. The book really is fascinating, one of my favorites of the year. It will make you grind your teeth at the term “right-wing populism,” a thing that doesn’t exist. (Just call it “demagoguery”!)

A lot of updates at once

I have done a poor job maintaining this web site. I pledge to do better in future.

My wife Ashley’s book on prison theatre is out. You can read an excerpt here.

Since the last update to this site, I have written three more installments of my bimonthly Book Tour column for Plough Quarterly, considering new books and reissues by L.M. Sacasas, Caleb Crain, Jane McAlevey, Vivian Gornick, Adrienne Kennedy, Elisa Gabbert, Jill Lepore, Bernadette Mayer, Rick Perlstein, Louise Erdrich, and Erica Hunt, on such subjects as media ecology, disaster, companies that spy on us, Reagan, Native American dispossession, and whether time is one of God’s creatures or not. The next one talks about Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, John M. Harrison’s The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, Marie NDiaye’s That Time of Year, and Jacques Ellul’s commentary on the book of Revelation. I’m also planning a roundup-of-the-year thing that will be a real stemwinder. Next year there are new books on the horizon by Helen Oyeyemi and Gayl Jones and a Penguin Classics version of the Chinese classic The Journey to the West that I’ve got my eye on. Who knows.

For the Christian Century I have also reviewed Marilynne Robinson’s new novel Jack and Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s study of American evangelicalism and masculinity, Jesus and John Wayne.

I wrote about ungrading for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, as part of a larger symposium on higher education during a pandemic.

Have something on Mark Fisher coming soon from Commonweal.

In the spring, I got to be the token unfamous person in a Plough/Breaking Ground panel that also featured Stanley Hauerwas and Edwidge Danticat, moderated by Anne Snyder. They were brilliant and insightful, but the show is stolen by Hauerwas’s cat. (Sadly, I have not gotten better at sewing masks.)

I also talked to Ryan Cooper and Alexi the Greek for an episode of Left Anchor, their excellent podcast on the Left and philosophy. I did a long interview with Aarik Danielsen in Rain Taxi, but they’re so cool you have to buy the print magazine. I appeared on the Cook Memorial Public Library podcast. I tried to say somewhat different things in each interview, but I haven’t listened to find out how I did, because I dislike how my voice sounds. They all asked great questions. Good people.

My book will probably not become the cash cow that, in my lesser moments, I allowed myself to dream it might, but it has gotten reviewed thoughtfully, critically, and appreciatively by people whose minds I respect. Also, I got my first author cartoon drawing out of it, a drawing in which I look a bit plump, perhaps, but distinguished. The artist could have owned me much harder than they did. Look at that lustrous head of hair!

I started a Patreon where people pay me to read/watch through some massive canon and I write about it in installments every Friday (or most Fridays). For now, I’m working through Henry and William James. For future series, I am considering postpunk, the French New Wave filmmakers, Superman, heaven knows what else.

Two “appearances”

I’m gonna be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time from 5:30-6pm on Wednesday if anyone is interested. It will be live, so this could be an opportunity to watch someone embarrass themselves in real time. (I will have to practice not cussing.) I think this link takes you to a feed where the thing can be listened to.

Then immediately after that, my friend Raechel, whose book you can buy here, and I will talk to each other via Zoom while anyone who wants to listens. That event is hosted by Literati, a store that I really miss walking through and hope to soon walk through again.

These spectral presences will constitute my book tour for Midwest Futures for the moment, though one hopes for more.


I’ve been doing a poor job of keeping this site updated. Since the last thing I posted on here, I have published this piece about my weird obsession with Richard Nixon, and the first installment of what I hope will be a continuing bimonthly new books column at Plough, on science fiction. (In this environment, who knows what will and won’t “continue,” but I’m working on the next two installments just in case!) My editor for the Plough piece, Caitrin Keiper, is absolutely brilliant and is available for freelance hire. Any person or organization would do well to hire her.

My book, Midwest Futures, an expansion and reimagining of this essay about the Midwest, is already shipping, and can be bought here. (They won’t be able to ship physical copies till April 6 because of Ohio’s shelter-in-place order, but that’s not that long to wait). You can also buy the ebookMidwest Futures, as of this moment–I won’t look again because it can only get worse–has a 4.67-star rating at Goodreads. I don’t know a single one of the reviewers, so that makes it extra sweet. An excerpt from Midwest Futures has appeared at Vox. I had not worked with Vox before and I want to shout-out both Karen Turner, the editor, who was thoughtful, imaginative, and patient, and also whoever did the illustration that accompanies the article. It’s quite attractive.

Finally, I interviewed the poet Mark Nowak about his new history of community creative writing workshops, Social Poetics.

I hope anyone reading this is as well and safe as possible.