Mason & Dixon

5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: December 2014

By Daniel Ford

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.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This finalist for the National Book Award is landing on just about every top 10 list for 2014 and with good reason. All the Light We Cannot See, which tells the tale of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France during World War II, contains so many perfect sentences that I constantly question how a lowly human could have produced it. Here are two of my favorites:

Marie-Laurie can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of sunlight.

As if, at every meal, the cadets fill their tin cups not with the cold mineralized water of Schulpforta but with a spirit that leaves them glazed and dazzled, as if they ward off a vast and inevitable tidal wave of anguish only by staying forever drunk on rigor exercise and gleaming boot leather.

Every chapter is a lyrical surprise that raises your spirit right before it breaks your heart. I have less than 150 pages to read and I don’t want it to end. 

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Only my older brother can make fun of me for reading Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David one moment and then recommend this history book the next.

Here’s the overview from Barnes & Noble:

Drawing on the diaries of a midwife and healer in eighteenth-century Maine, this intimate history illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.

Yup, that’ll get the history nerd juices flowing.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

After lusting after this Hemingway Library Edition for months, I now hold it in my hands at this very moment. I must confess I have never read Hemingway’s first novel, but that didn’t stop me from drooling over a $85,000 copy at the 2014 Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.

This copy features early drafts, deleted passages, and other titles Hemingway drew up before setting on The Sun Also Rises. I haven’t been this excited about an extended edition since Peter Jackson’s "Return of the King," which featured the mouth of Sauron.

Pronto by Elmore Leonard

Simply because it has been far too long since we last included Leonard on a list and for the fact it’s my favorite novel featuring Raylan Givens. This needs to be a film (preferably not one based on the 1997 television movie) ASAP.

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

This novel might be incredibly hard to read, but it could be worth it. Writer’s Bone essayist Dave Pezza recommended it to me, and I’m intrigued by the premise. Pynchon tells the story of British surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon as they cause a ruckus on both sides of the line that bears their name. What makes the book a challenge is that Pynchon writes as if he’s living in the 18th century. Fuck me; writing this must have sucked. My hope is that Pychon stayed in character and lived, spoke, and drank like a man from the 1700s.

Bonus: The Best Book I Read in 2014

The more I wrestled with this decision, the clearer my answer became. I loved Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves, Scott Cheshire’s High as the Horses’ Bridle, Charles M. Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed, Peter Sherwood’s The Murdery Delicious Hamwich Gumm Mystery: A Comedy of Terrors, Stephen King’s The Shining, and Jeff Shaara’s Gods and Generals, however, one book floored me more than all the others. And that novel is…

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajama’s by Marie-Helene Bertino! If you haven’t read it yet, make it part of your New Year’s resolution!