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.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Daniel Ford: Short stories provide authors a narrow window in which to build a world. Themes, characters, and plot need to grab the reader quicker, and exploration into each of those elements has to be as succinct and poignant as humanly possible. Kelly Link makes the art of a short story look easy in her recent collection Get in Trouble. Every tale Link spawns is cheeky, innovative, and downright fun. She brilliantly balances laugh-out-loud moments and genuine human experiences (even if those involved aren’t exactly human). In my opinion, the most chilling story is “Two Houses,” which features a team of astronauts hurtling through deep space. Reality and illusion are blurred during a celebration that takes a dark turn after a slew of haunting ghost stories. Link’s other stories feature everything from demon lovers to superheroes and temperamental magical houses to iBoyfriends, so there’s plenty of trouble to get yourself into.
Cold In July By Joe R. Lansdale
Sean Tuohy: It's not easy to define this novel. Is it crime fiction? Is it a revenge story? Is it a story about family bonds? Well...yeah, it’s all of those things and so much more. The book begins as a simple story about a family man who kills an intruder and then must deal with the victim’s revenge-seeking father. Lansdale, however, also explores complex themes and develops a very human story. Characters deliver snappy dialogue and feel so real you'll think you're sitting at the kitchen table with them. This novel is just stellar.
Perfect Days by Raphael Montes
Daniel: Author Raphael Montes wastes no time in entangling readers in his dark, twisted web. In the first chapter, Teo, a medical student, describes the only person he likes in the world. Readers can tell instantly that he’s a loner, however, it’s not until one realizes he’s waxing poetic about a corpse does one understand that he’s a sociopath. Teo, of course, eventually finds a living, breathing female to torture. Once Clarice enters the picture, Montes’ plot makes novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train read like Sunday school lessons. To his credit, Montes never loses sight of the characters on both sides of what he calls “shocking scenes,” which is why each new level of Teo’s depravity hits your gut with a sledgehammer. You don’t come to like or root for Teo, but you can’t help but smirk as he stuffs a drugged Clarice into a pink suitcase or chains her to the hotel bed. His inner voice…okay, voices…convince him he’s great with families, he treats women right, and his new belle should appreciate all he’s given her! You’ll want to read Perfect Days with the lights on, perhaps while holding on to a meat cleaver, but you’ll be glad you dropped into Montes’ malevolent world.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Daniel: I suppose I don’t have to tell you to put a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel originally published in 2000 on your radar. For whatever reason (gross negligence most likely), Michael Chabon’s masterpiece eluded my nightstand for too many years. During our “Best Books of 2015” discussion, Gary Almeter not only judged me for having not read this book, but he also ordered me to rectify the situation by the end of 2016. Turns out, I delivered well before deadline, and I’m happy to report that the novel lived up to all the hype. Chabon’s language is beautiful and exquisitely chosen, his characters are earthy and tortured, and New York City has never looked so good in print. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay follows two Jewish cousins as they develop a nose for comic books and struggle to make sense of a world torn apart by war, genocide, and uncertainty. Starting in the 1930s and traveling into the 1950s, this tale grabs a hold of you so hard that you won’t be ready for it to let go. When I finished the last page, I felt the same way Kavalier and Clay did after watching “Citizen Kane” for the first time. I didn’t only want to grab my notebook and write; I wanted to make great art with my words. This book is a treasure and should be read by aspiring artists of all kinds.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Daniel: Considering I'm typing this on a MacBook, with my iPhone and iPad close by, you'd assume that I was in the tank for Steve Jobs well before reading Walter Isaacson’s engrossing biography. To a certain extent, that's true. I remember buying the first iPod in college and marveling at the fact I didn't have to lug around my Sony Discman and assorted CDs around campus. More Apple products landed in my life, however, my adoration for Jobs was tempered by his bruising personality. Did such an undeniable genius have to be such a prick?
That question is returned to again and again in Isaacson’s narrative. The unveiling of each innovation—the Apple II, the first Macintosh, the NeXT computer, the iPhone—is the culmination of Jobs' unrelenting and bullying management style. Rather than repulsing me, his behavior, told through the eyes of people above and below him, made me smirk in disbelief and, on occasion, awe. Creative types who needed someone to light a fire under them might feel the same. He might not have always been right, but his probing questions and relentless pursuit of perfection ended up revolutionizing the way we read, create, and listen. Plus, Jobs never betrayed his essential Steve Jobsness. You've got to begrudgingly admire someone who’s that consistent throughout one lifetime.
Like all good biographies, this one provided me with not only a deeper understanding of the subject, but also a panorama of our currently "tuned in" world. I also enjoyed Jobs’ Bob Dylan fanaticism (and my jealousy over Dylan playing one of Jobs’ favorite songs in concert with the Apple CEO in attendance knows no bounds).
Finally, anyone with a day job will appreciate Jobs' thoughts about PowerPoint presentations:
“I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint."