For some reason, I’ve decided to organize my book recommendations around the season in which I read them:
Fortune by Joseph Millar: Heaven knows I’m not the type to go around recommending poetry to people, but I feel a little evangelical when it comes to the work of poet Joseph Millar. I read his first collection, Overtime, a few years ago, and was duly floored, but for some reason didn’t get around to his second collection, Fortune, until early this year. Like Philip Levine, Millar writes poems about the American working class, whose concerns have gone largely unaddressed in contemporary literature. Millar’s poetry is full of gritty detail, alcoholic fathers, bad choices and grim compromise, and it couldn’t be more lovely.
Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish: How refreshing to read a memoir that rises above the whining, rationalizing and self-indulgence that characterizes most memoirs these days. Kalish, a sassy octogenarian with a sharp eye and even sharper tongue, charmingly details how to domesticate raccoons, shock oats, and draw boils with a sugar beet. It’s like listening to your grandma recount the good ol’ days, only a lot more interesting.
The Terror by Dan Simmons: I read this one, a historical horror story about the doomed Franklin expedition to the Arctic, while sitting on a beach in Mexico. The Terror is harrowing, relentless and, yes, terrifying in all the right ways. And, hey, there’s nothing quite like reading about blizzards, cannibalism, frostbite and giant murderous snow-beasts while sipping iced drinks and cooling your tootsies in the Pacific ocean.
Stiches by David Small: While I haven’t read a whole lot of graphic novels, I can say unequivocally that this is the best one I’ve ever read. It’s baldly honest, sad and somehow redemptive. It’s been in my head for weeks.
Award season is hitting its stride, and this year’s National Book Award finalists have been announced. The big name among the fiction finalists is Column McCann. He is joined by an intriguing mix of newcomers and lesser known writers. Overall, it looks like the National Book Award is trying to push the envelope a bit this year, unsurprising with the likes of Junot Díaz and Lydia Millet on the judging panel. Not making the fiction cut are notable writers like Thomas Pynchon, Richard Russo, and Lorrie Moore. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available:
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (excerpt, review, Most Anticipated)
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (excerpt)
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips (excerpt)
Far North by Marcel Theroux (excerpt)
Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook by David M. Carroll (excerpt)
Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species by Sean B. Carroll (excerpt)
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin (excerpt)
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy by Adrienne Mayor (excerpt [pdf])
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles (excerpt)
Versed by Rae Armantrout (excerpt)
Or to Begin Again by Ann Lauterbach (poem)
Speak Low by Carl Phillips (poem)
Open Interval by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon (poem [pdf])
Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy by Keith Waldrop (excerpt [pdf])
Young People’s Literature:
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
Stitches by David Small
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia