Bill Clegg

18 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: February 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.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Daniel Ford: On the surface, knowing that you’re going to live for a couple hundred years (or more) sounds pretty awesome. However, as you march through time, you’ll likely be faced with some of the same questions Tom Hazard grapples with in Matt Haig’s new novel How to Stop Time. Sure, you may be lucky enough to have drinks with William Shakespeare or F. Scott Fitzgerald, but how many people can you stand to lose? How are you going to live with decisions that set the course of decades, or even centuries, of your life? As Tom discovers, his “gift” is much more a curse than anything else. While Haig does infuse his main character, and much of his narrative, with a sweet melancholy, he also builds time and time again to a hopeful crescendo. Haig beautifully balances an in-depth character study with a thrilling plot that weaves in and out of history and time.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Daniel: Believe the hypeTayari Jones’ An American Marriage is exceptional. This novel was on our radar even before Oprah picked it for her book club earlier this month! Appearing as though they are the embodiment of the American Dream, Celestial and Roy’s marriage is already showing signs of strain when Roy is wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t admit. The nuanced and layered narrative that follows Roy’s incarceration and beyond speaks to Jones’ extraordinary gifts as a storyteller. She explores all of the characters that populate this book from every angle in an empathetic, honest way, while also subtly and poignantly commenting on marriage, friendship, and black life in America.

Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin

Daniel: Short stories, when done right, leave you wanting more. I demand novels featuring all of the women found in Danielle Lazarin’s incredible debut collection Back Talk. There’s not a bad note in any of these stories.

Adam Vitcavage: Across nine exquisitely surreal stories (out Feb. 20 from Spiegel & Grau), Sachdeva covers a wide array of characters and settings. The opening story is about a pioneer woman longing for her husband who is away. The title piece is set in modern day war-torn Africa. A later story takes you to the future. Like all good collections, her stories are thematically cohesive. They explore large-scale influences like nature and religion and how they influence us on an everyday basis. Reading the book reminded me of the sci-fi anthology television series “Black Mirror.” Everything is always seemingly normal, but just a little off kilter.

Daniel: Talking Pictures by Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday is essential reading for film buffs. Hornaday dissects filmmaking into its distinct characteristics and explores what critics think about when watching and reviewing a movie. What choices did a director make that paid off (or didn’t)? How much does star power matter when it comes to casting? How do sound, cinematography, and colors work together? Hornaday also includes plenty of examples of both good and bad films, and each chapter will likely make you think about classic movies (or guilty pleasures) in a fresh way.

Eat the Apple by Matt Young

Daniel: Judging by Matt Young’s writing prowess in Eat the Apple (out Feb. 27 from Bloomsbury USA), he could have easily written a more linear, and perhaps more tongue-in-cheek, war memoir that would have fit in nicely with some of the other veteran literature we’ve read the past couple of years. However, owing to his literary chops, Young played with form, structure, point-of-view, and, I’m assuming, his own memories to produce a searing, brutal look into American men at war. I couldn’t help but think of Joshua Mohr’s memoir Sirens while reading Eat the Apple because of how much honesty and thoughtfulness Young brings to moments that read more like Bukowski fiction rather than real life.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Daniel: I don’t know what took me so long to read Lisa Ko’s National Book Award-nominated debut The Leavers, but it was well worth the wait. The novel starts with Deming Guo’s undocumented immigrant mother, Polly, leaving for work at a nail salon and never coming home. Ko switches perspectives between Daniel, the name a foster family bestows on Deming, and Polly, whose disappearance is more layered than you can possibly imagine. Needless to say, both characters lives are upended and shaped by this initial act, and their paths are infused with longing, disappointment, anger, regret, and resentment. Ko, of course, offers timely commentary on immigrant life in today’s United States, but also astutely discusses how those themes collide with family, friendship, and finding your true self.

Thief in the Interior by Phillip B. Williams

Daniel: I thought poet Phillip B. Williams’ was a powerful read before I heard him read “Bound” aloud on a recent podcast episode (see below). That’s what I love about poetry; whatever is on the page isn’t static. There’s not only a symbiotic, and constantly changing, relationship with the author and his words, but also a completely independent one that exists between the finished poem and the reader. Williams’ collection Thief in the Interior has a chameleon-like skin, seemingly changing colors and styles line by line, poem by poem. Williams, during our chat, said that poems are never finishedthey’re just eventually “abandoned.” That’s certainly not the case for the reader. You’re going to want to keep the poems in this collection around for a good long while. 

All the Castles Burned by Michael Nye

Adam: Male adolescent friendship is very rarely portrayed in fiction. Well, it is. But usually their friendship has to be tied to the extraordinary. It’s about finding a kinetically gifted stranger or battling Pennywise the Clown. That’s not so much the case for Nye, who uses basketball and distant fathers to link his main characters together. We follow them in high school during the 1990s and then again decades later. The two bounce from brother-like friends to violent adversaries and back in this quick, yet challenging, read.

Read Adam’s interview with Michael Nye in Electric Lit.

Daniel: I started reading Danielle L. McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance after Oprah mentioned Recy Taylor in her powerful Golden Globes speech. The book not only sheds light on the sexual violence that black woman faced in the Jim Crow South, but also provides an exploration of Rosa Parks’ life before she changed history on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This isn’t easy reading by any means, and it shouldn’t be. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements exist for a reason, and both organizations (as well as the NAACP) have roots that go back farther than you might imagine. As Oprah said, Recy Taylor died at 98 without receiving any kind of justice for the horrendous, inhuman crime inflicted on her. Maybe if we look back for at least a few minutes before setting our sights on the future, we can institute positive change for all minorities going forward. (We’ll also need a government that has actually read a book, but that’s a different story).

Daniel: Yes, David Litt’s memoir about his time as one of President Barack Obama’s speechwriter is cheeky, informative, and a much-needed dose of hope (there’s that word again!) for today’s bleak political times. However, more importantly, Litt answers one of the most important questions of any age: where are the best bathrooms in the White House and the West Wing?

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Adam: Set in 1990s Brooklyn, Lyon’s main character accidentally takes a photograph of a boy falling to his death. The rest of this debut novel shows what decisions an artist has to make when someone else’s tragedy will be shown to the world. The book allows readers to question what they would do when art and tragedy collide. It had me reminiscing about the Falling Man photograph from 9/11. It’s an interesting book for any writer who may or may not be inspired by someone they know.

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Daniel: Even if the essays in Zadie Smith’s new collection Feel Free weren’t thoughtful and brilliantly written (they are), Smith’s forward would be worth the cost of the book and then some. “Reading involves all the same liberties and exigencies as writing,” Smith writes. She also warns against being ambivalent “in the face of what we now confront.” Hear, hear!

Bookstore Corner

By Kew and Willow, a Queens, N.Y., bookshop

Holly Nikodem

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz is one of the most engaging middle grade books I've ever picked up. The sheer amount of research Gidwitz did to tell this story of three saintly children and one holy greyhound in medieval France is astounding. On top of that, though, the writing is incredibly clever, the story is funny, moving, and fast paced and it never feels bogged down or heavy because of the subject. The pages are also illuminated like a medieval manuscript, so the book is beautiful as well as entertaining.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui is a graphic novel memoir in which the author tries to understand her place as a new mother, and in the world at large, by exploring her family's escape from South Vietnam in the 1970s. It is incredibly insightful and beautifully drawn. It captures the unsettling creep of war very well, how the family observed small changes, and sometimes large ones, over time that finally culminated in the realization that they would need to leave their homeland. I wound up crying on a bus as I finished this book the first time I read it, and I only had the advanced reader's copy at the time, with pencil sketches in place of actual art.

Vina Castillo

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg is beautiful yet devastating novel. Almost immediately, I found myself completely immersed and connected to each character as they try to overcome a tragic loss. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, it was so engaging and, in a sense, enjoyable to put the pieces together and see how they interconnected in the end.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is an 814-page book that’s tough emotionally but completely worth the heartache. Ninety percent of the time I read a passage/page and had to close the book because I was blown away by the amazing writing; Hanya is phenomenal. I advise having a box of tissues next to you at all times!

Natalie Noboa

Having read Every Day by David Levithan a few years back, I’m not surprised to say that it still sometimes finds its way back to me. I love it (and you should too) for a few different reasons. The romantic storyline feels typical of any young adult novel but asks us a difficult question: what do we fall in love with, the body or the mind that lives there? Can we even separate the two? The writing is unpretentious and easy to fall into (which is probably one of my favorite things about reading YA—it almost never seems like they’re trying too hard to impress). Finally, there’s the fantastical aspect of it. I know usually we’re looking for an explanation of what’s happening and how it works, but Levithan doesn’t give that to us; it’s left to the reader to think about the mechanics of it. While for some it might be frustrating not to know, for me it’s always been a treat to flex my imagination muscle.

To learn more about Kew and Willow, visit its official website or read Lindsey Wojcik’s feature on the store!


NovelClass is now its own podcast! Listen to Dave Pezza’s introduction and all of Season 1 on iTunes and Spotify! Also stay tuned for information for the live Season 2 premiere in Providence, R.I., later this month (where Dave and a panel of experts will be discussing Stephen King’s The Shining).

5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: September 2015

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.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Daniel Ford: Lauren Groff’s novel Fates and Furies was published on Sept. 15 and promptly longlisted for the National Book Award. Considering the novel’s beautifully crafted sentences, its dual narrative structure, and its multi-faceted look at a marriage between two young creative spirits, it’s not hard to figure out why critics and readers alike have made Fates and Furies a hit. The marriage of Lotto and Mathilde begins innocently enough—we’re told from Lotto’s point of view—but like all marriages, it falls prey to doubt, confusion, lies, and tragedy. Because of its narrative structure—the first half focuses on Lotto, an aspiring, out-of-work actor, the second half on Mathilde, a wife dedicated to making their lives a success—Fates and Furies has drawn comparisons to Gone Girl with some justification. However, what separates this novel from Gillian Flynn’s megahit is the presence of actual love and hope. I was much more invested and intrigued by the characters in Fates and Furies than I ever was reading Gone Girl. Without giving too much away, there’s a twist when the perspectives change, however, it fits with the character in such a way that I didn’t completely question everything I had read before. There’s a true love story in Fates and Furies that is as messy, complicated, and passionate as any in real life. The novel compels you to keep reading, so you’ll have this one done in just a couple days, but Lotto and Mathilde will stick with you long after you finish.

Make Me by Lee Child

Sean Tuohy: In Make Me, Lee Child takes readers on a thrill ride that goes from the cornfields of the Midwest to the sun-soaked shores of Los Angeles and everywhere in between. Child's itinerant hero Jack Reacher steps off a speeding train in an oddly named sleepy town in the middle of nowhere and right onto the playing field with a bang, like always. Reacher wants to explore the town’s origins, but he’s suddenly finds himself racing down a dark path searching for a missing investigator and trying to out run hitmen. Child always delivers with solid action, well-paced plots, and hardboiled dialogue that pops out of Reacher’s mouth and socks you in the face.

Daniel: I haven’t read a Jack Reacher yarn in quite some time. I cracked open Make Me after being inspired by Sean’s recommendation and our field trip to Harvard to see Child interviewed by Stephen King. After reading some heavier literature and non-fiction earlier this month, the book was the perfect brain candy. Make Me is wildly entertaining and featured snappy dialogue and Reacher doing Reacher things (like expertly planning out a shootout with a trio of thugs well before the action happens). Reacher also gets a lot more beat up in this book than in some of the others I’ve read. He’s not 100 percent during the novel’s climatic events, which made me think about how the “Justified” writers portrayed Raylan Givens after they realized it wouldn’t be realistic if he shot and killed everyone every episode. Twenty books into the series, Child wisely reminded readers that Reacher isn’t a superhero. He’s just a guy trying to stay off the grid, which is getting increasing more difficult in an increasingly connected world (Reacher even has a debit card now!). Make Me made me (see what I did there?) even more excited for the next 20 Reacher adventures.  

For more insights into Make Me, watch the Stephen King and Lee Child event Writer’s Bone attended at Harvard:

Gary Almeter: Say the title of this book aloud. Just do it. The six words put together are so discordant, so cacophonous that you almost don’t know how to feel when you say them. The rest of the book, on the heels of its title, is no less jarring for all the best reasons. Clegg’s debut novel is a story of profound loss and a meditation on grief, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness. Then it adds a layer of suspense as those affected search for the truth behind the accident at the center of the novel. All of this takes place in a small town where the visiting haves comingle with the native have-nots. The resultant anger and resentment from each are beautifully and authentically realized.

This narrative is told from many different points of view. Clegg navigates through a number of characters’ consciousnesses in an elegant and commanding way. He jumps back and forth between first and third person, back and forth in time, from coast to coast, and from the protagonist to an ancillary character who also sheds insight on the loss.   

Clegg’s story is all about what happens in those serendipitous settings where people who wouldn’t ordinarily meet actually do. And how that meeting propels them forward. It is often beautiful; often adversarial; always interesting. One of the ancillary voices in this novel says, “It’s a relief to finally find where you’re meant to be.” It’s equally rewarding seeing Clegg get them there.

For more insights on Bill Clegg, listen to Gary’s recent podcast with the author:

Daniel: There are two statistics that struck me in Aziz Ansari’s excellent sociological study, Modern Romance. First, in a 2013 study about Japanese dating habit, “a whopping 45 percent of women aged sixteen to twenty-four ‘were not interested in or despised sexual contact,’ and more than a quarter of the men felt the same way.” Wow, that’s a lot of people who are not only not getting any, but don’t want any at all! And this from a country that has a serious population problem! Come on, Japan, get on that. Literally.

Secondly, “in nonmarried but ‘committed’ couples there is a 70 percent chance of cheating.” Damn. That’s a high percentage. And, as Ansari point outs throughout the book, it’s easier than ever to connect and communicate with people, so that number might even get higher in the future.

Some of the findings in the book might lead some to despair over the changing nature of relationships, marriages, and friendships. However, Ansari’s wit and charm ooze from every page and sort of make you optimistic about where we’re headed as a civilization. I’m just thankful that I found the headline to my article in Stephanie Schaefer, and that we got to discuss the book while enjoying a healthy, committed relationship.     

Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill

Sean: There is a disappointing film out right now based on this stellar true-life crime tale. Spanning 30 years, the book, written by two award-winning Boston reporters, covers the unholy marriage between the FBI and Boston crime lord James "Whitey" Burgler. The prose has an odd, almost playful, tone. It’s much better than the film and has the added bonus of being a quick read.