16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: December 2018

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Winter Loon by Susan Bernhard

Daniel Ford: The opening chapter of Susan Bernhard’s Winter Loon will leave you breathless. Fifteen-year-old Wes Ballot is essentially orphaned after his mother falls through an icy lake and his father abandons him. Wes is forced to live with his grandparents, a pair of old cusses with a dark backstory. Wes grapples with the horrors of regular teenage life (his first girlfriend, his first true love, trying not to embarrass himself at school), but also has to untangle all manner of family history in order to reckon with his current station in life. Bernhard plays with your emotions right up until the final paragraphs. If you like tough and twisty familial dramas, Winter Loon should be on your nightstand ASAP. Stay tuned for Caitlin Malcuit’s interview with the author on next week’s Friday Morning Coffee!

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong: In a time when we are re-examining the ways society has mistreated women, Alice Bolin offers a critical piece of evidence: a long-running obsession with "dead girl stories"—with women who are abused, tortured, maimed, and killed. These stories are offered up for our entertainment, often in service to men's narratives, whether they're real or fictional, “Twin Peaks” or Britney Spears or “Serial.” Bolin explores these phenomena with a fresh, new—female!—perspective, with enlightening results.

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

Daniel: Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. There is not a wrong note in any of these stories. I fell in love with every character and every plot. Every piece could have been extrapolated into a novel. Writing to aspire to for sure.

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

Sean Tuohy: Between running a crowd-pleasing television show and kicking off his own podcast, Michael Connelly still has time to author an incredible novel. He pairs his two investigators—Harry Bosch and Rene Ballard—in a twisting, dark mystery that carries a heavy heart. Connelly never phones it in; each book is crafted by a man driven to explore human nature.

Daniel: Paula Finn’s Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy is essential reading for anyone obsessed with TV shows (especially the “classics”). Added bonus: Film Freaks Forever! co-host Phoef Sutton is one of the interviewees!

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Daniel: Author Edwin Hill mentioned the general badassery of Roxane Gay on a recent episode, which prompted me to steal this short story collection away from my wife’s nightstand. Difficult Women earns all of the praise it’s garnered the past year or so and, in my opinion, far surpasses it. I love the way Gay writes and I very much admire the way she crafts characters and dialogue.

Anna Kramer: What better way to end 2018 than by remembering one of the literary greats we lost this year? In this collection of personal essays originally written for her blog—a new format for the 80-something author, but one she adapts to with ease—Le Guin reflects on aging, writing, gender, and nature in her usual thoughtful and poetic style. Although her passing in January adds a poignancy to many of the essays, No Time to Spare never feels grim or resigned. Instead, Le Guin reminds us to notice the flawed beauty in everyday things, like a child’s misspelled letter or a cat’s quirky friendship. Though I’ll miss reading new work by one of my longtime favorite authors, I’m grateful for all the wise words she left to guide us.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

Daniel: I’m a sucker for any book that features an oversized dog in a small setting. I’m also a sucker for books about writing and writers. Sigrid Nunez’s National Book Award winner features both! A stirring, honest depiction of grief, a writer at work, and friendship. Many thanks to author T. Jefferson Parker for recommending this one to me!

Listen to the Marriage by John Jay Osborn Jr.

Daniel: Gary Almeter not only reminded me recently about how much I love this novel by author John Jay Osborn Jr., but also that I never included it among any of this year’s book recommendations. I read this book in one afternoon at the beach, and thoroughly enjoyed the tight confines Osborn put his characters in. The whole narrative takes place in a marriage counselor’s office and switches between the perspectives of the husband, the wife, and the therapist. Listen to the Marriage is an engrossing human drama that would be lovely to see performed on stage.

The Caregiver by Samuel Park

Taylor Krajewski: The Caregiver is a beautiful piece about a Brazilian immigrant living in the United States. The story toggles between Mara's childhood in Brazil and what led her to America. The prose is so lovely, and I found myself saving so many lines to read over and over again. What truly broke me, though, was learning that the author passed away—from the same cancer as one of the book's characters—shortly after the book's publication.

Come with Me by Helen Schulman

Taylor: Helen Schulman’s Come with Me is my current read. I wasn't sure how much I would like it since it has a sci-fi edge to it, but I'm hooked. The book follows a group of tightly/loosely connected characters of a series of nonconsecutive days. It looks into "multiverses," or having the ability to know how your life would be different had you made different minor or major life choices. I'm about halfway done, but plan on not sleeping tonight to finish it!

One Day in December by Josie Silver

Stephanie Ford: Craving a winter love story to curl up with? Skip Netflix’s lineup of subpar holiday rom-coms (ahem, “The Princess Switch”) and get your hands on a copy of Josie Silver’s charming One Day in December instead. Focusing on friendship, fate, and love at first sight, this heartfelt read can warm up even the chilliest December nights, especially when accompanied by a fuzzy blanket and hot beverage.

Daniel: The first chapter of Jeffrey C. Stewart’s excellent biography of writer, arts advocate, and philosopher Alain Locke is top-notch historical writing. There’s one passage in particular that struck me early on and something I continued to think about as I read the book:

“His really radical notion was that the Negroes had to transform their vision of themselves, to become New Negroes, and see the world with a new vision of creative possibility, if others were going to treat them differently, with more dignity and respect that the race so richly desired. Justice, he believed, would follow upon seeing, for the first time, that the Negro was beautiful. He would re-create politics by teaching a new generation of Black artists that they had a lofty mission—to march the Negro race out of the Plato’s cave of American racism and allow them to see themselves through art as a great people. By subjectivizing the Negro, Locke believed the New Negro artists would change the calculus of American life and make Negroes the initiators of progressive change, not the recipients or dependents of it.”

Based on that alone, it’s not hard to see why The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke won 2018’s National Book Award for Nonfiction.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Daniel: Author Peter Swanson is a bad, bad man. And readers are all the better for it. What a twisted tale of infatuation, revenge, and dark human tendencies. As Sean correctly mentioned to me this week, every word of this novel is movie ready.

Author’s Corner

We can’t thank all of our guest book meteorologists enough. Stay tuned for more author recommendations in 2019!


Episode 2.13: Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room

Episode 2.14: Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine