What are you reading now?
We had some nice suggestions the last time I asked this question, so I think I’ll just keep checking in with you every couple of months to find out what you’ve been reading, to let you know if there’s a book I liked, and to tell you about titles I hope to get to soon (“soon” being open to very loose interpretation).
I rarely read books when they’re first published. I leave that to my reading list call in co-hosts John Ernst and Chris Robinson. They are much more current than I am. (By the way, we’ll be doing our next edition of the show in early March when we’ll be asking you for suggestions for the Cabin Fever Reading List.)
So, right now, I’m in the middle of several books. Finally got around to David McCullough’s Truman (just cracked it open this week). I like reading books about people who are kind of left out of the historical spotlight. Truman, bookmarked between the larger-than-life-saved-us-from-the-Depression Roosevelt and the general-turned-President-saved-us-from-the-Nazis-and-communists Eisenhower, is nonetheless the President who was faced with some of the most important decision-making of the 20th century.
Jim Harrison, best known for Legends of the Fall, should be known for so much more. He’s one of my favorites. I just started a collection of three novellas, The Beast God Forgot to Invent.
Another favorite, Pat Barker, whose Booker Prize-winning The Regeneration Trilogy about WWI I know I’ve recommended to you in the past. Thanks, I think, to Connie Meng, I’m reading her latest novel about WWI, Another World.
I spend a fair amount of time browsing through lists of recommendations from critics, bookstores, and various bibliophiles. I keep tabs on nominees for key awards and ideas from the Independent Booksellers. I want to refer you to an interesting list of favorites from the three regular NY Times reviewers, Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin and Dwight Garner. A few of their favorites show up on all the lists of recent “best books,” but many of their recommended titles are new to me and piqued my interest enough to put them on my “must read” list.
Kakutani got me with these two mini-reviews from the list:
THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers (Little, Brown & Company). The author of this beautifully observed first novel joined the Army when he was 17 and served as a machine-gunner in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. In chronicling the friendship of two young soldiers struggling to stay alive on the battlefield there he has written a deeply affecting book that conveys the horrors of combat with harrowing poetry. At once a freshly imagined bildungsroman and a metaphysical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory, it’s a novel that will stand with Tim O’Brien’s enduring Vietnam book, “The Things They Carried,” as a classic of contemporary war fiction.
THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE by Ayana Mathis (Alfred A. Knopf). This extraordinarily powerful debut novel chronicles the many sorrows visited upon one Hattie Shepherd, a woman who left the Jim Crow South in the 1920s to start a new life in Philadelphia, and who at 16 lost her twin babies to pneumonia. That loss hardens Hattie’s heart, and she raises nine more children with stoic determination and not a whole lot of warmth — an emotional legacy that will shape the remainder of their lives. Writing with authority and psychological precision, Ms. Mathis endows Hattie’s life with an epic dimension — much as Toni Morrison has done with so many of her characters — while at the same time making her daily life thoroughly palpable and real.
And, Maslin with these:
TRUTH LIKE THE SUN by Jim Lynch (Alfred A. Knopf). Gimmick-free and uncategorizable, this is just a flat-out great read with the spirit of a propulsive, character-driven 1970s movie. Drawing on the history of the 1962 World’s Fair and its Space Needle, Mr. Lynch pairs unlikely antagonists: an old-school political fixer blessed with immense charm, and an overeager newspaperwoman whose research, done in 2001, has the power to destroy him. They never behave predictably, and their showdown lingers long after Mr. Lynch’s story is over.
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain (Ecco). Mr. Fountain found inspiration for this debut novel in a surreal spectacle he witnessed on television. At a Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game in 2004, a group of soldiers found themselves celebrated as heroes of the war in Iraq, though real wartime experience has nothing to do with the notions of manhood and victory that are part of football hoopla. Billy Lynn, the book’s wide-eyed main character, finds himself shellshocked by sights he would never see on a battlefield. Mr. Fountain devastatingly juxtaposes the complacency of America’s home game with the reality facing troops headed back to war.
THE ONE: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF JAMES BROWN by R J Smith (Gotham Books). This James Brown biography is as showstopping as the screaming, moaning, kinetically blessed performer it describes, capturing both the toughness of Brown and the racially polarized America in which he fought to become a crossover star.
Garner’s picks just didn’t grab me.
I promise to let you know which of these turns out to be a real favorite…but don’t hold your breath, it could take me months (years?) to get to them.
Okay, your turn: what are you reading and loving–or hating? (Stick around, John Ernst promises me he’ll send me a list of critics’ favorites he hated.)