5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: September 2014

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew will review or preview books they’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.

By Daniel Ford

High as the Horses’ Bridles by Scott Cheshire

I’m not including Cheshire’s book just because he was a great interview. His book had me jonesing for Queens, N.Y. something awful. He included so many New York City landmarks that meant something special to me while I was living there, including Forest Park and the 59th Street Bridge (which he brilliantly described as a “shipwreck hull”).

Anyone who picks up this novel (unbelievably his first) will notice right away it’s beautifully written in a style that perfectly fits its characters and settings. Relationships and religion are explored in honest and intriguing ways, and your heart will ache throughout the novel without ever completely losing hope (or faith for that matter).

My favorite line comes half way through, when the main character describes meeting his future wife after one of her workouts. “And my God,” Cheshire writes. “is there anything in the world as intoxicating as that pink rise of hip skin all crimped from the elastic band on a pair of running shorts—has to be shorts—and peeking out from where you shouldn’t see, like a rosy and puckered sun; I wanted to press my face against the skin of her hip.”

That is the kind of author I want to follow religiously (bad puns are for free) for years to come.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow

I’ve been a devoted reader of Blow’s column in The New York Times for years now. His voice is distinct in an increasingly angry and divided media because of the care and consideration it gives to those less fortunate in our society. He blends pertinent statistics and illuminating narrative to shine journalistic light in dark places.

Unlike some columnists, one can feel the heart that pumps out each word. Blow believes firmly in everything he writes. Most importantly, he allows himself to debate issues that he’s not entirely sure about (his Twitter handle @CharlesMBlow is a must follow). The world needs much more of the candor and integrity found in Blow’s style.

I’ve been excited to read his memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, for some time now. I was able to obtain an advanced copy (the book comes out September 23, 2014) and it lives up to every expectation I had. I can add “ferocious” to the words to describe Blow’s prose. His harrowing story of poverty, sexual abuse and confusion, and finding his writing voice will leave a lasting impression on every reader that picks up this book. In an interview in Upscale Magazine, Blow says that one of the reasons he wanted to set his story to paper was the need to “write and write well” and that he had to “write it because it demanded to be written, to be exhaled, to be brought into creation.” There’s no greater urge for a writer than to write his or her own story, and Blow accomplishes that feat with heartbreaking beauty.

I also suggest reading Alice Walker’s book jacket quote. That woman writes her own name better than most people write novels.

Hollywood Animal by Joe Eszterhas

I lived vicariously through Sean Tuohy as he was reading screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’ gonzo memoir.

Here are some of the emails I received from my brother in podcast:

“Picked up Hollywood Animal. Holy shit, it is amazing. His story about Mick Jagger is awesome. Pick it up.”
“You need to read this book. It is amazing. He is talking about how Sharon Stone thanked him for writing such a good movie, about writing a movie script in which he bashes Elliot Ness, and how he made fun of Bob Dylan for having a smaller house without a view.”
“There are moments of huge truth in that book that break the soul. Then there are moments were I can't tell if the truth is fully there or if bullshit has started to slip in.”

I’m pretty sure Sean had to towel himself off after reading this book, which means it is well worth your time.

Dear Life by Alice Munro

I have a feeling Alice Munro is going to end up on our Badass Writers of the Week list sooner rather than later. You don’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 82 (becoming only the 13th woman to do so) without having some serious skills.

I haven’t read Dear Life in its entirety as of yet, but I’ve been sneaking passages in between other novels. The Canadian writer makes keen observations about human relationships in a short story that most authors can’t investigate in a full novel.

One day soon I’m going to have the time to sit down and devour all of Munroe’s short story collections. In the meantime, I’ll be happy visiting her world in bits and pieces, savoring her concise style, and pondering her prose long after the words leave my eyeballs.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I saw this book on a table in Barnes & Noble recently, and just seeing the cover reminded me how much I adored this novel. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It featured multiple story lines from different eras, but the book never made your head spin and wish for a more streamlined narrative. Every word, every paragraph, every deep, affecting character moment propels you to keep reading long after your bed time. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo, who will find himself on this list sooner or later, called this book “an absolute masterpiece.”

Pasquale is one of those main characters that stays with you long after you’ve foolishly lent your copy to a friend you know isn’t going to return it. I rooted for the Italian innkeeper the way some men root for sports heroes. Never have I wanted to own a small hotel on the Italian shore more than when I was reading this novel.

The pages will fly by and you’ll beg them to stop by the end. Savor every morsel of this indeed “beautiful” story and hope that Walter keeps giving as more in the very near future (He did publish a collection of short stories, We Live in Water, in 2013, which I need to check out before I can officially recommend it).

Other books worth taking a look at: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright, The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, The Runner by Patrick Lee, Pretty in Ink by Lindsey Palmer.