Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 13, 2018
From My Shelf
The Writer's Life
Reading with... David Bell
|photo: Glen Rose Photography|
David Bell is the author of Bring Her Home and Since She Went Away. He's an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., where he directs the MFA program. He received an M.A. in creative writing from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a Ph.D. in American literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. Somebody's Daughter (Berkley, July 10, 2018) is his eighth novel.
On your nightstand now:
Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser. Not only is Jessica a talented writer, but she's also become a friend. (I overlook the fact that she roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers.) Her first novel, Almost Missed You, was excellent, and her second promises more of the same. Who could resist a story about a night of wine drinking around a fire pit going wrong?
Favorite book when you were a child:
King Arthur and His Knights by Mabel Louise Robinson
I read and re-read this book in grade school. What more could you ask for as a 10-year-old? Knights, swords, friendship, betrayal, wizards, magic, love. It has everything!
Your top five authors:
Stephen King because he's Stephen King. And because when I first started reading grown-up books, he showed me how important characters are to a great story. We remember the killer clowns and haunted cars, but none of it would have mattered if King didn't make us all care deeply about the characters.
Octavia Butler because she combined big, important ideas with rich, fantastic storytelling. Her books and stories are the perfect marriage between the compelling and the thoughtful. I also heard her speak once, and her journey as a writer inspires as well. Every beginning writer should listen to her.
Elmore Leonard because I read his books over and over again, and they taught me about plot and character and language and voice. And to this day I could re-read any one of them and learn something new. One of the biggest influences on my progress as a suspense writer.
Tom Clancy because his books are big and compelling and they mix politics, war and spycraft like nobody else. He created a distinctive world and wrote with an idiosyncratic voice. I wish he'd stuck around to write more, but what we have will be read for a long, long time.
Ursula Le Guin because "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is one of the greatest short stories ever written. Because everything she wrote was literary and compelling and bursting with wisdom and ideas. A master of science fiction and fantasy.
Book you've faked reading:
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.
Let's just say I (ahem) faked reading a number of books in graduate school, but this is the one I faked the most. Because it's the longest and the densest and the least coherent. Don't tell my exam committee.
Book you're an evangelist for:
South of the Big Four by Don Kurtz.
A brilliant, compelling book about a guy who returns to his hometown and farms the land that used to belong to his family. Great characters, loads of plot and a stunning ending. If there were any justice in the world, this book would be considered a modern classic. Because it is.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner.
The cover shows a giant man in a loincloth holding a sword and flying in front of the moon. What young man wouldn't want to read about such a hero? And, by the way, the writing is excellent. Wagner is a master of both fantasy and horror.
Book you hid from your parents:
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins.
I don't know why I picked this up in the public library when I was about 14. Maybe because the cover showed a nearly naked woman with giant thumbs? But inside I found lively writing, hilarious social commentary and a bizarre cast of characters. This was a book that showed me a very different world than the one I was living in. I'll never forget it because of that. And, no, Mom and Dad wouldn't have understood. That was the point.
Book that changed your life:
Looking for Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker.
When I first started contemplating writing suspense novels, I read a number of Parker's books. They're all tightly plotted and concisely written. And they're also all about something more than just the resolution of the mystery. Parker's books say something. For my money, Rachel Wallace is the best of the bunch. I read it again and again, using it as a textbook for my own writing.
Favorite line from a book:
"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." --from The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
Not only is The Last Good Kiss a great mystery novel that also subverts and comments on mystery novels, it opens with what has to be the greatest first line of any book I've ever read. How could you read that sentence and not keep going?
Five books you'll never part with:
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Is it the greatest vampire novel ever written? The greatest zombie novel ever written? The greatest post-apocalyptic story ever told? Yes, yes and yes. Much imitated but never equaled. A true classic that's as fresh today as it was 60 years ago.
Indian Country by Dorothy M. Johnson
A couple of these stories became classic movies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and A Man Called Horse. All of these stories are excellent glimpses into our frontier past. Clear, sharp writing and heartbreaking characters. Johnson deserves a wider audience.
Hondo by Louis L'Amour
My dad loved Louis L'Amour, and I think this is L'Amour's best book. The tough and sentimental story of a man befriending a young boy and then falling in love with the boy's mother. The basis for a really good movie starring John Wayne, but always an amazing book to be read again and again.
Collected Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Nearly every story in the book--and it's a thick book--is memorable and can be considered a classic. O'Connor's characters are so human and so flawed and so heartbreakingly, darkly funny. These are stories I return to again and again, both as a writer and as a teacher.
Imaro by Charles Saunders
Charles Saunders deserves a wider audience as well. His hero, Imaro, came along in the '70s and showed us all something very different--fantasy set in Africa featuring a Conan-like hero and inspired by both history, myth and legend. If you loved The Black Panther, then you should really read anything by Saunders.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.
I read this book as soon as it came out, and it blew my mind. Amazing characters that seemed to jump off the page, a rich story about the closing of the west and powerful, vivid writing. I've read the book a few times since then, but nothing can replicate that first time when I was about 15, devouring all 800 pages during an Ohio summer. A great book.
Are you up for a literary challenge? "The hardest guess-the-writer quiz" was featured by the Paris Review.
CBC Books collected "85 facts about master short story writer Alice Munro."
Tim Parks picked "the smartest books about the brain" for the Guardian.
Gastro Obscura explored the "harsh reality of food" for Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie pioneers.
The original map of Winnie-the-Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood by artist E.H. Shepard sold at auction for £430,000 (about $567,725).
Rediscover: The English Patient
Earlier this month, author Michael Ondaatje won the Golden Man Booker for his 1992 novel, The English Patient. The award honors the best work of fiction from the last five decades of the Man Booker Prize, Britain's most prestigious literary award, and was selected by five judges from among the previous 51 prize winners. Judge Kamila Shamsie called The English Patient "that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate--one moment you're in looking at the vast sweep of the desert and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient's mouth."
Ondaatje's novel unites disparate characters during the Italian Campaign of World War II--the eponymous patient burned beyond recognition, his Canadian nurse, a Canadian thief and a Sikh British Army sapper--then weaves in their previous experiences during the African Campaign. In 1996, The English Patient was adapted by Anthony Minghella into a film starring Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Willem Dafoe and Colin Firth. It won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Ondaatje's latest novel, Warlight, was published by Knopf on May 8, 2018. The English Patient was last published as part of Penguin Random House's Everyman Library series in 2011 ($24.95, 9780307700872). --Tobias Mutter
Fight No More
by Lydia Millet
Discover: Lydia Millet offers a dark and witty story collection about contemporary home life in Los Angeles.
We Begin Our Ascent
by Joe Mungo Reed
Discover: This fast-moving sports novel features a professional cyclist and his team's push to win the Tour de France.
The Myth of Perpetual Summer
by Susan Crandall
Discover: Susan Crandall's latest novel is a heartbreaking Southern family saga and a sensitive portrait of mental illness.
The Perfect Couple
by Elin Hilderbrand
Discover: Turmoil erupts at a posh Nantucket beachfront estate when a member of a wedding party is found dead on the morning of the nuptials.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by C.L. Polk
Discover: A debut fantasy novel introduces a gas-lit world where most witches are banished to asylums--unless they are of the wealthy ruling class.
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin DiAngelo
Discover: An antiracist educator illuminates society's role in the modern adaptation of racism, showing how even well-meaning white people contribute to it.
Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer
by Margalit Fox
Discover: Sherlock Holmes may be fictional, but in real life, author Arthur Conan Doyle used Holmesian logic to free a German Jew wrongly convicted of a crime in Scotland.
Health & Medicine
Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World's Strangest Brains
by Helen Thomson
Discover: Unthinkable presents a series of fascinating case studies in the tradition of Oliver Sacks, pairing anecdotes with scientific explanations.
Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America's Forgotten Border
by Porter Fox
Discover: In an enlightening travel memoir, journalist Porter Fox takes us on a trek along the often remote, often loosely marked border between the United States and Canada.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
by Terrance Hayes
Discover: Terrance Hayes crafts a visceral and evocative look at black America through verse.
Children's & Young Adult
My Year in the Middle
by Lila Quintero Weaver
Discover: 1970s Alabama is a tough place to develop a mixed-race friendship in this beautifully written novel about real-life events in the painful era of school segregation.
by Kim Liggett
Discover: In this psychological thriller, a guilt-ridden teen tries to redeem himself by helping a group of friends escape a cave collapse.
I'm Not Missing
by Carrie Fountain
Discover: High school senior Miranda's best friend suddenly runs away, leaving her alone to deal with life and love.