5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: August 2014

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew will review or preview books they’ve read or want to read. This new 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.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Daniel Ford: I’ll admit I’m a little late to the party on this book. But I’m swiftly making up for lost time. During my recent trip to New York City, multiple people demanded I read this novel. I made my way to Strand Book Store, bought a cheap copy, and have been devouring it ever since.

John Kennedy Toole won a posthumous Pulitzer for the book after his mother found a publisher for it years after he committed suicide. It’s been said on numerous reviews I’ve read that Toole had more great work in him, which I completely agree with. His dialogue and comedic timing are so good that you won’t want to put this book down.

The best part is that Nick Offerman is reportedly going to play the role of Ignatius J. Reilly in a stage production of the book. I don’t know if he has the obesity to pull it off, but I’m pretty sure he will nail Reilly’s bursts of outrage.

Sean Tuohy: I like history. I like fiction. However, I didn’t like the two mixed together until now. I heard Daniel’s podcast interview with Jeff Shaara and then I was given the novel. I fell in love after the first three pages. Shaara painted a vivid portrait of the early years of the Civil War and gave me a better understanding of the men who fought it. The novel also reminded me of how young our nation was at the time and how close we came to losing it all. It’s a wonderful tale that you will be reading deep into the night.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Daniel: I was a huge fan of Joshua Ferris’ debut novel, And Then We Came to the End, because his writing style was a refreshing change of pace and perfectly blended humor and drama. I read it in a few days and recommended it to everyone I knew.

I didn’t know about his second novel, The Unnamed, until I found a used paperback copy at Raven Used Books in Boston. It’s an expertly crafted tale about a man struggling with a rare disease that forces him to keep walking. His relationship with his wife and daughter falls apart and gets put back together several times during the novel and your heart aches the entire time you’re reading it. The book isn’t devoid of hope, which is why you’ll be glad you powered through the book in a couple days. However long it takes you to read, it’ll stay with you for quite some time and for good reason.

I would read this over his recent work,To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. While I enjoyed spending time reading his style, I wasn’t particularly in love with the story or the main character. Ferris will be hard-pressed to top The Unnamed or And Then We Came to the End, but I’m eager to see him try.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Dave Pezza: Alrighty, this is a quick review for the aforementioned book because Daniel won’t let me borrow any more seasons of the television series “Community” until this review is in his hands. So here we go.

Stephan King is, in short, awesome. Sean and Daniel spent an entire podcast talking about him. He is the master of the macabre and thane of thrills. Let’s put it this way, King is a machine. And this particular machine manufactures creative masterpieces of suspense and weird like no other! King has published GunsJoylandGhost Brothers of Darkland CountryDoctor Sleep (the long awaited sequel to The Shining), and Mr. Mercedes in the last two years alone. Admittedly, I haven’t read much King. I've previously read the first 200 pages or so of The Stand and The Cycle of the Werewolf (a really cool illustrated collection of short stories following werewolf attacks in a snowy New England town). So I approached Mr. Mercedes from a mostly King-ignorant perspective.

Having said that, I highly recommend this book. King does everything right to convert his down-to-earth, blunt, blue-collar style to the detective novel format. His lead detective, retired detective Bill Hodges, is a quintessential King workaholic with a haunted past. He’s supported by the young and black Jerome, who is Ivy League bound and perpetually explaining technology to Hodges, and the curt, but charming and promiscuous Janey, Hodges love interest and overall doll! The gang teams up to stop Brady—a troubled man with mommy issues who floored a V-12 Mercedes into a crowded parking lot and walked away scot-free—from committing a new act of mass destruction.

I flew through this thriller and now I’m hungry for more King quirks, creepiness, and crudities wrapped up in literary stylings of legend.

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever?by David Eggers

Dave: Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is Eggers’ second publication since A Hologram for the King, his 2012 novel named as a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. I’m a fan of Eggers. I read What is the What, his novelization of the story of one of Lost Boys of Sudan, in college. I wasn’t’ particularly taken, but after reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a few years later, I began to admire Eggers’ frank, but hopeful, style of writing. A Heartbreaking Work…, Eggers’ memoir about the death of both of his parents and his raising of his younger brother, is astonishingly bleak and soul regenerating. Your Fathers…is not nearly as cut and dry. Eggers’ latest work got a scathing review in the New York Times Book Review. I felt unfairly so. However, when you publish a book composed entirely in dialogue through your own publishing company, you really don’t have to give a shit about critics. Eggers managed to complete this new work entirely in dialogue between the main character and several of his captives. Thomas, Eggers’ 30-something main character, kidnaps a series of people and chains them up in an abandoned military base in California to converse with them. Thomas believes that he can find the answers to his qualms about the current American culture by talking to these men and women, who include an astronaut, a congressman, and a police officer. The ensuing conversations compose the bulk of the 212-page novel.

These conversations, unfortunately, vary in relevancy and success. Some I found confusing, vague, and trite. Others were gripping, enlightening, and honest glimpses of social progressive dialogue. Overall, I suggest giving it an honest read. Eggers makes an attempt here, with some success, to remind us of how and how not to discuss social issues. We avoid many of the issues Eggers brings about in Your Fathers…, and short of being chloroformed, chained, and threatened with electrocution, many of us would be unwilling to earnestly discuss the issues Thomas poses to his captives.

Your Fathers…is a cry for help. You can hear him yell through the pages, “Get off Facebook, Twitter, and whatever and have a real, honest conversation with someone about real issues, especially with those that disagree with you.” Is the defunding of the space shuttle really low point in our nation’s grandeur? Is police brutality and hyper-aggressiveness a national concern?

Eggers may not have the right answers here, but at least he is asking, and, thankfully, he is doing it in format where clicking “like” isn’t a legitimate response.

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