Friday, December 8, 2023

5 Books Everyone Should Read, by Josh Stallings

Regardless of your holiday traditions - beliefs - or complete lack thereof, there is NEVER a bad time to gift someone with a book. Here are five books that moved me deeply over the last year. We each fall in love with books for particular and personal reasons. A book I love today, I may not in years to come. We all bring where we are at that very moment to our opinions of books. Any “best of” list is merely a snap-shot of where I’m at right this moment.

Margret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000)

Over the last year or two I have fallen in love with Margret Atwood. My brother Larkin turned me on to the MaddAddam Trilogy, an amazing speculative apocalypse tale told from multiple points of view. The Blind Assassin is entirely different, but equally brilliant. Critical acclaim, it won both the Booker Prize and the Hammett Prize. Knowing Atwood's work, no one should be surprised that The Blind Assassin also deals with the high price women pay for living under the patriarchy. It is structurally a wonderfully odd multi-thread novel. One thread follows the lives of two aristocratic sisters from early 1900’s up until the 1980s. A second thread is the novel within the novel, a pulp sci-fi book called The Blind Assassin. In that novel is a love story between the people writing the pulp novel. It is a Matryoshka doll of meta storytelling. It is also about the craft of writing, not instructional but about the nature of the beast that is crafting words into ideas and emotions.

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

— The Blind Assassin: A Novel by Margaret Atwood 

Jonathan Lethem’s Brooklyn Crime Novel, (2023)

Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude are two of finest books I’ve read. Now with Brooklyn Crime Novel he delivers a masterpiece of a very modern novel. The main character is Brooklyn itself. Over fifty years we watch as it changes, and is assaulted by criminals, yuppies, gentrifiers, grifters. Wait, I’m making it sound cold, and it is anything but. Lethem’s voice sings through it all. It is a memoir but one where the writer continually points out it is both true and fictional. He steps out of the narrative to rant about “show don’t tell,” and explains what the blank spaces between sections mean to him. He is a writer’s writer and this is a writer’s book. It might not be every reader’s cup-a-joe, but it should be.

Lou Berney’s Dark Ride (2023)

This is an action filled thriller who’s hero isn’t a person of action. Children are in danger, lives will be ruined, our only hope lays in the hands of a stoner slacker, who's main accomplishment so far is working as a ghost cowboy in a small time amusement park. It reads like The Big Lebowski but with real stakes. Berney always delivers complicated fully realized characters, who are both flawed and worth rooting for. He continues to be one of my favorite crime writers. 

James McBride's Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, (2023)

Deacon King Kong made me a fan of James McBride, Heaven & Earth Grocery Store made me an acolyte. A book so damn good I wish I had the skill to write with this much passion and depth. I have gushed about it in earlier posts. So today I’ll just say - READ THE DAMN BOOK. 

Adrian McKinty’s The Detective Up Late, (2023) 

I was up too late last night reading this one. The latest Sean Duffy novel, set in Belfast 1990. It is hard and brilliant, if you haven't read the earlier six Sean Duffy books, you’re in for a real treat. McKinty has written a flawed protagonist, but one who knows he is and is working to be a better person. He nails the period and place without ever resorting to trite references.    

BONUS - Audio Production:

Brokedown Prophets by S. A. Cosby

Full cast includes Kevin Hart, Charlamagne Tha God and more.

I’ve always felt S.A. Cosby’s dialogue sings with authenticity and wit. This original audio play proves me correct about just how good he is. The entire story is told through dialogue, no narration, expositional newscaster or nothing. And it really works. What’s it about? A group of small time crooks rip off the wrong evil bastard. Mayhem ensues. Hearts and vows are broken.  

BONUS - Children's book:

Zilot & Other Important Rhymes by Bob Odenkirk, Erin Odenkirk 

Here is a child's book of poetry, written by Bob Odenkirk with art by his daughter. It is both fully original and reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s poetry. Every night Bob Odenkirk made up poems to tell his kids. He wanted to be sure they understood anybody can create a book and a story. We gifted our grand niece, Georgia Jane with a copy. You are never too young to enjoy poetry. I don't think the holidays are the only time of year to give children books. Erika and I give them whenever they cross our minds. Our kids had a huge library of books before they could read. Books that they could pick up and drool on. A good book should always be in easy reach regardless of your age. 

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Interesting list with a couple I'd never heard about, like that Atwood novel. I think James McBride is a brilliant storyteller and writer. I still treasure the characters in DEACON KING KONG, which is one of the few books I look forward to re-reading even as I'm drowning in new books. Happy holidays to you, the amazing Erica, and your sons!