A Year of Reading, Week 34/35
Books read (all or part of) this week:
The Valley by John Renehan
The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
Black River by S.M. Hulse
Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade
Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny
Soil by Jamie Kornegay
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin
Etta, Otto, Russell, and James by Emma Hooper
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
So, I know, it’s been a few weeks since I really wrote one of these posts about what sort of things I’ve been reading. I had been steadily plugging away at that stack of titles for the Indies Introduce panel until I received my finished copy of The Bone Clocks in the mail. Yeah, yeah, I’ve already read it – in a pretty rough manuscript form back in May. But I wanted to read through it again – in its polished version – before the big Book Catapult/Warwick’s/David Mitchell event on September 22.
Here’s the thing – if you’re a regular reader of this website and/or a San Diego resident, I strongly encourage you to attend this event. There’s no monetary interest in this thing doing well for me – Warwick’s is selling all the books, but I just want people in seats listening to David Mitchell. That would make me really happy. Yeah, it’s on a Monday night and it costs 30-something bucks, but I guarantee you, it will be worth it. There are some book industry-types out there who don’t believe that San Diego can or will support a literary event like this. I desperately want to prove them wrong. But I need your help. Let’s fill that theater and prove them all wrong together.
Okay, so I’ve read portions of A LOT of books in the last couple of weeks for this Indies Introduce panel. Here’s a quick rundown of all the ones I’ve read but haven’t discussed yet:
The Valley: fairly outstanding. Billed as a war novel about US soldiers in Afghanistan, this thing is anything but straightforward and reads more like a detective novel than Matterhorn or Yellow Birds. It’s not perfect and the prose is a little clunky in parts, but it’s one of my favorites for this panel, for sure – and one of 3 that I’ve read cover to cover so far.
The Sunlit Night: also one of my favorites – and one of the more polarizing titles the panel is considering. It’s a little bit weird, I guess – maybe that’s the part people are having a hard time with. These kids are bringing a little bit strange to the party – and it’s a little hard to pin it all down, which I like. Frances’ family is disintegrating (a divorce and a marriage) before her eyes as she heads for an internship at a Norwegian artist colony. Yasha’s family disintegrates in a different way, through abandonment and untimely death, both of which lead him, bizarrely, from a Brooklyn bakery to the same Norwegian oasis of art. I especially love this because it has two narrative perspectives – Frances in first person, Yasha in third – and when the two intersect, you can see the other narrator through the eyes of the other, but in a strange sort of way due to the differing tense. Plus it makes me laugh – and I want to keep reading it. So there.
Signs Preceding the End of the World: the jury may still be out on this one. It’s a border story, which always interests me, but the style is odd – a bit slippery and strange, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My issue with it may be a translation thing, but certain words keep popping up and I can’t figure them out. “Makina thanked him and versed out of there.” Versed? It’s used like ten times in the first 60 pages – I just found it to be super distracting & maybe enough to keep it off my list. I’m not sure yet.
Church of Marvels: very elegant historical fiction about two sisters from a Coney Island sideshow, a woman shuffled off to an asylum by her nightmarish mother-in-law, and a literal shit-shoveler who finds a live baby in his pile of night soil one evening. How they all come together, I’m not sure yet, but I’m kind of digging the whole thing. (No pun intended.)
Black River: this has a bit of a morose vein running through it, but I’ve read enough of it to believe that the bright, solid prose can conquer all that. Wes is a former prison guard who, after his wife dies, returns to his home town and the scene of his greatest life tragedy to try and make some sense out of his wrecked life. It’s good and earthy and gritty like the best of Ron Carlson, even if there’s a little too much fiddle playing in it for my taste. I’ve putting it in my top ten despite that.
Single, Carefree, Mellow: I only read three stories out of this collection and while I really liked what I read, (and laughed out loud more than once) the stories sort of blurred together. It was a little like run-together episodes of Girls. Not that I watch Girls. But someone in this house does. Anyway, it’s off the list but I will read more of it, just for funs.
Secret Wisdom of the Earth and Etta, Otto, Russell, and James: I haven’t read enough of these to fully weigh in yet, but one is about some kid in Appalachia and the other about an old lady who walks across Canada. That’s all I got.
Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter: definitely the surprise of the list, for me. I am fuckin’ loving this book. The author was a journalist working in Boston throughout her 20’s, then the shift toward young, hip digital content happened and she found herself sitting and clicking and scrolling all day at work. “Mouse in my limp, damp hand, my head raw and frayed, I spent months thinking, I’ve got to get out of here.” So she quit. Wanting to do something “more to do with reality,” she stumbled on a Craigslist posting that read “Carpenter’s Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply.” So she did – and she got the job. This book is about that life-altering experience of building things with her hands – real things, in the real world. Stairs and walls and cabinets for people to walk on, lean against, and store things in. And I’m super jealous. Anyone who knows me knows that as much as I LOVE books and everything to do with them, my current employment situation is… less than stellar. I’m clawing at the walls, desperate to do something with my life. (Hence things like the David Mitchell event, to be honest.) Nina MacLaughlin has given me hope – in the form of her eloquent, wonderfully written memoir – that if I want to do something different with my life, all I have to do is DO IT.