Richard Russo

20 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: June 2017

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.

The Force by Don Winslow

Daniel Ford: Don Winslow is generally regarded as the current king of crime fiction, and his new novel The Force (out June 20) adds another bauble to his crown. What happens when the people sworn to protect us are just as nefarious and organizational corrupt as those destined for prison or death? Winslow’s portrait of Denny Malone, a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant called “the King of Manhattan North," provides answers to that perilous question while also crafting an entertaining thrill ride. Malone’s crew, called “Da Force,” would be more at home in a Martin Scorsese mobster movie rather than cleaning up the streets of New York City. A drug bust gone bad (or good if you’re the dirty cops hoping to pad their retirement nest egg with the purloined narcotics) sets the plot in motion and leads to Malone’s crisis of conscience. Is that enough to protect Malone’s way of life and the group of men he values above everything else in his life (including his estranged wife, his girlfriend, and his kids)? You’ll lose plenty of sleep finding out the answer to that one.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Sean Tuohy: Author of the highly acclaimed The Lost City Of Z, David Grann comes back with a fantastic new book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. During the 1920s, the Osage tribe of Oklahoma was one of the wealthiest groups on the planet because of the oil on its land. The tribe soon found itself in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy. With mounting bodies, the newly formed FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, stepped in to solve the case.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Stephanie Schaefer: Every now and then I come across a love story that I can’t put down. Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost was one of them. The novel focuses on Lucy and Gabe, two star-crossed lovers who first meet as students at Columbia University on September 11, 2001. The haunting day sets the stage for what will become a deep, yet turbulent relationship through adulthood. When Gabe’s passion for photojournalism takes him to the Middle East, Lucy embarks on a more conventional path in New York City—although she can never truly shake her past, and first true love. Within a series of flashbacks written in a second person narrative, Santopolo touches on the classic theme of fate vs. free will, giving it a modern spin. Although there were times where it seemed like Lucy’s character hadn’t matured in the 13 years since her college graduation, I was thoroughly intrigued by the plot of novel. Toward its conclusion I anxiously turned each heart-wrenching page to see if my predictions came true.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

Daniel: I hadn’t read Maya Angelou’s work in quite a long time, so it was refreshing to hear her voice again. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit Emma Watson and her Books on the Subway/Underground book fairy adventure for putting Mom & Me & Mom on my radar.)

This short memoir about her relationship with her mother featured Angelou’s stripped down, but still emotional and evocative, sentences, and a subtle storytelling style that more authors should employ (especially when writing about their own lives). Angelou’s mother was fond of telling her children, “Sit down, I have something to say.” I’d carve out some time in your reading schedule and listen.

Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton

Daniel: Steve Hamilton’s new Nick Mason yarn is an absolutely perfect thriller from start to finish. The Second Life of Nick Mason may have set the bar high, but Hamilton clears it with room to spare in Exit Strategy. The stakes are raised, the action is more heart pounding, and never has Nick Mason’s tenuous hold on freedom…excuse me...mobility seemed so fragile. As Hamilton is fond of saying, Mason’s situation could take him anywhere in the world and that the possibilities are endless. After reading the first two books into the series, we’re convinced. Exit Strategy should be at the top of your beach bag this summer.

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

Gary Almeter: Anyone who read and enjoyed Paul Kalanathi's When Breath Becomes Air will likely enjoy this (to the extent one can enjoy the story of someone's demise). This book poses the same unanswerable questions that Kalanathi's does. Riggs, who passed away in February 2017 from cancer, endeavors to answer those questions with so with so much levity, warmth, honesty, and lyricism that it almost is enjoyable (even when she’s telling her children that she’s dying).

The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan

Daniel: I’ve reached the point that if Timothy Egan decided to write a history of the portable toilet, I would be first in line at the bookstore. The introduction to his National Book Award-winning The Worst Hard Time might be the best prose I’ve ever read. It’s no surprise then that his recent work, The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, is an absolute treat to read. Thomas Meagher, an Irish nationalist booted from his home country after inciting (or more accurately trying to incite) a revolution against the British in 1848, certainly provides plenty of entertaining and mysterious material to work with. Egan follows the Irishman to his banishment in Van Dieman’s Land (present day Tasmania) in Australia, his command of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War, and his tragic end as governor of the Montana Territory. Anyone with a rebellious streak, or a song for Ireland in their hearts, will absolutely love this narrative. Nonfiction writing at its finest.

American Bang By Doug Richardson

Sean: Lucky Dey is back in his fourth novel from #NicestGuyinHollywood Doug Richardson. From page one, it’s easy to tell this not going to be the standard Lucky thriller. Following multiple story lines that somehow tie together perfectly by the end, American Bang is fast paced and never loses the heart of the character.

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger

Daniel: 1968 was one of the bloodiest years in American history. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. More than 500 American soldiers were killed in action during North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive in February. Protests and violence defined the Democratic National Convention much more than the nominee Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

All hope was not lost, however, thanks in large part to the men and women at NASA. Following the tragic fire of Apollo I, the space program briefly struggled to find its footing and initiative. President John F. Kennedy’s end-of-the-decade promise to land on the moon loomed, and Americans had barely figured out how to build a space command module nevermind plan a lunar mission. Spoiler alert: NASA got its act together and brazenly decided to fling a trio of astronauts to the moon and back for the first time.  

Jeffrey Kluger—who co-wrote Apollo 13 with astronaut Jim Lovell—thrillingly explains how mankind “went from being a species of one world to a species of two worlds” in Apollo 8. The book will not only reignite your passion for space and space travel, but also give you all the evidence you need that mankind must continue to explore and discover.

Gary: This short little book evolved from Calhoun's New York Times “Modern Love” essay of the same name. The author provides some astonishingly astute and extremely honest perspectives on marriage. She’s very funny, but the way she is able to infuse poignancy into the most mundane elements of a marriage is a real gift.

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Daniel: It’s shameful how long it took me to discover and read Sara Nović’s spellbinding debut Girl at War. The novel is set before, during, and after the Yugoslav civil wars in the early 1990s, and features one of the flintiest main characters you’ll ever meet. War creeps into Ana Jurić’s childhood, starting with air raids, food rationing, and making games out of generating power. The conflict between Croatia and Serbia eventually irreparably consumes Ana’s life through humiliation and gunpowder. There’s a demonstration of a father’s love that will leave you absolutely breathless. Have tissues handy. A lot of them. From war-torn Croatia to the gleaming skyline of New York City, Nović deftly explores the themes of war, memory, family, friendship, ethnicity, identity, and the true meaning of home.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Daniel: I’ve had a little time to sit with Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted, and I’m still speechless and awed by both his research and prose. Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep what so many of us take for granted on a daily basis: a home. Desmond puts you inside eviction hearings, grimy, roach-infested apartments, deteriorating trailer parks, homeless shelters, and, at times, the bitter cold of Milwaukee’s streets. From emotionally and physically damaged mothers choosing between food and rent to those in the conflicted and ambitious landlord class, Evicted shines a light on people often forgotten or overlooked in urban areas.

The epilogue is a rousing and convincing call to arms, and Desmond’s breakdown of how he managed this project will leave you just as slack-jawed as all the award-winning prose that came before it. As Desmond points out, this issue isn’t about resources; it’s about political will and rejection of the status quo. I encourage you not only to read the book, but also get involved in the author’s Just Shelter initiative. The program seeks to raise “awareness of the human cost of the lack of affordable housing” and “to amplify the work of community organizations working to preserve affordable housing, prevent eviction, and reduce family homelessness.”

Trajectory by Richard Russo

Daniel: I am constantly amazed at Richard Russo’s ability to cram a ton of poignant characterization into the small space of a short story. This short collection of four stories features broken, middle-aged characters in the middle of life-altering situations. Russo’s explores these characters’ actions and motivations while employing his trademark wit and lyricism. That sound you hear during the final story “Milton and Marcus”—about a screenwriter trying to land a job to provide his sick wife life insurance—is Sean Tuohy nodding his head at how perfectly Russo describes the ludicrous world of Hollywood.  

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

Daniel: She Rides Shotgun features Jordan Harper’s signature blend of angst and violence, but it also comes with a big helping of heart. His heroine, 11-year-old Polly McClusky, has to grow up quick when her damaged, jailbird father Nate veers into her life driving a stolen car. Nate’s a marked man as soon as he leaves prison, and he “kidnaps” Polly in order to save her life. Their relationship grounds this action-packed novel, and is one of the many reasons I felt Harper made a giant leap forward in his fiction writing. Plus, he made me emotional invested in a teddy bear (something I’ll make him pay dearly for in the future).

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

Daniel: This is Valeria Luiselli’s third-straight month on “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.” We adore her work here at Writer’s Bone (thanks to author and Porter Square Books' Josh Cook). The Story of My Teeth is not only great fiction, on par with John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Days of Solitude, but also has an innovative and heartwarming backstory. Luiselli wrote the novel in collaboration with workers at a Mexican juice factory. She writes in the afterward that “many of the stories told in this book come from the workers’ personal accounts,” and that their “shared concerns” about life and art led to this narrative about “the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature.” The author refers to the collaboration as an ongoing one, “where every new layer modifies the entire content completely.” I suggest you fall in love with Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez as soon as possible and find out why Luiselli is a master of modern literature.

Author’s Corner

By Julie Buntin

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Rachel Khong’s debut novel is tender and winning—not only did I read it in one sitting (this book is impossible to put down), but it made me laugh and cry. Both, truly. In fragmented dated entries, it’s written from the perspective of 30-year-old Ruth, who returns home after a breakup to care for her father. He’s a history professor, and his memory is failing. That Khong captures both the comedy and the heartbreak of this family’s story is a rare accomplishment that showcases her gifts as a prose stylist and a human being. Rarely have I read a book with so much heart and generosity. A must read. It’s coming out in July but you should pre-order like, yesterday. 

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it until every single person in America has bought a copy of Morgan Parker’s latest poetry collection—these poems are written by an essential new voice. Morgan Parker is a force—when I read her I feel like I’m reading the poems that people will be looking to 50 years from now, when they’re try to figure out what this time meant. Parker writes about pop culture, about being black in America, about celebrities and bathtubs, and how fucked up it is sometimes to have a woman’s body. And how beautiful, too. Even when (especially when?) she writes about self-doubt, about envy, her voice is fearless, strong, so powerful that every poem in this collection gives me chills. I have several committed to memory. 

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

I have been telling everyone about this goddamned brilliant book. It’s a female friendship story, yes, but like all the female friendship stories I love, the relationship at the core of novel provides a way of investigating so many things about what it means to be a woman in the world, and in the case of these two particular women, the irresistible Mel and Sharon, what it means to be female artists. Animators, specifically. Whitaker is deft, hilarious, and terrific at plot—this book is fun. At the same time, it asks big questions about the risk of making art from experience, and how we can move on after losing someone we love. I finished the book months ago and think about it almost every day. 

White Fur by Jardine Libaire

This novel. I picked it up totally on a whim—I work at Catapult, and we share an office with Electric Literature, a literary website that, as you might imagine, receives an ungodly number of galleys and review copies every week. I spotted White Fur hanging out on one of the received shelves, and I grabbed it for no good reason—I guess I liked the cover. I read it in two frantic gulps over the course of a weekend, without leaving my couch. Honestly, the plot can be described in one familiar sentence—girl from the wrong side of the tracks meets rich boy, they fall in love, drama ensues. But that well-worn premise is brought to new life by Jardine Libaire’s vibrant, magnetic prose, and her two starring characters, who are so flawed and vivid they leap off the page. Plus, this book is hot. Like very, very sexy. It’s somehow both super steamy and satisfyingly literary, and after I read it, I wondered why we don’t see that combination more often. Because, damn, it works. 

Julie Buntin is the author of Marlena, “a coming-of-age story with real teeth.”

#NovelClass: IQ by Joe Ide

Sean: With this modern take on Sherlock Holmes set in Long Beach, Calif., Joe Ide proves that he's a welcome new face to the crime genre. Filled with ear-catching dialogue and interesting characters, IQ is a solid summer read.

Listen to Dave Pezza and I discuss more about the book in this month’s #NovelClass:

16 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: April 2017

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.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Daniel Ford: Of all the Valeria Luiselli titles author Josh Cook recommended during our live podcast at Porter Square Books, of course I would choose the one with the F train on the cover.

Subway aesthetics aside, Luiselli’s inventive and trippy debut novel is everything you want in a genre-bending story. Is the main character the young woman navigating New York City while championing an obscure Mexican poet? Or is it the poet himself, a man in search of himself while destroying his family? Or, better yet, is our hero a mother juggling her matriarchal and literary responsibilities (while her marriage seemingly slips through her fingers)?

The more I read this novel, the less I cared about any of those questions. Reading Luiselli’s perfect sentences and reveling in the scenes (both large and small) she built was reward enough. Whether it was a Harlem sidewalk, a family’s home, a subway platform, or a character’s daydream, Luiselli crafted a world that felt intimate, lived in, and familiar.

I have more of her oeuvre to catch up on, but if this is the kind of work I can expect, then I’m going to have to revisit my upcoming reading list. There’s also a good chance Luiselli becomes a staple on “Books That Should Be On Your Radar.”

An Exaggerated Murder by Josh Cook

Daniel: Speaking of Josh Cook…

It was a real treat to sit down and pick his brain a couple weeks ago (along with Sirens author Joshua Mohr) about his writing process and his reading recommendations.

Like most trips to Porter Square Books, it ended with me walking out with an armful of fiction. The best part was Cook signed my copy of his novel An Exaggerated Murder and used a plethora of profanity.

I wasn’t surprised when the novel turned out to be a smart, fresh take on the detective genre. Cook’s characters are wonderfully flawed, earnestly eccentric, and hopelessly rationale in the face of a “stupid crime.” The pages start flying immediately, but make you take some time and truly appreciate the craftsmanship that went into this novel. We can’t wait to read what Cook writes next!

(P.S. The author will graciously sign a copy of the book provided you order it from Porter Square Books. Profanity costs extra.)

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Adam Vitcavage: The Great Gatsby is one of the most read books in all of American literature. For better or worse F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has been a cornerstone of what the American Dream is and what it can do to people. Stephanie Powell Watts’ No One is Coming to Save Us is a profound novel that explores the similar themes Fitzgerald's classic work laid out.

Make no mistake, this isn't merely a retelling of the Jazz Age classic; it is unique and only borrows Gatsby’s mindset. Set in North Carolina, Watts’ novel is about a man returning home to build his dream house to woo his long lost love. Unlike Gatsby, this novel explores America through African-American eyes, and we see factories crumbling and Jim Crow still lingering.

Watts’ prose eloquently takes us on a journey of loss and hope. What stands out even more than her beautiful writing is her rich characters that are some of the most memorable of recent years. Make no mistake, this book deserves to be taught in high schools as much as any other right now.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Daniel: When astronauts reach for the stars, who gets left behind on Earth? That’s the essential question Meg Howrey explores in her recently published novel The Wanderers.

Let me set the scene before I delve into this book’s eclectic cast of characters. A trio of astronauts is handpicked by a private space company to train for a potential mission to Mars. If all goes well, the group goes to Mars. If not, who knows. As thrilling as that sounds, and it is despite some of the monotony the space “wanderers” face, their thoughts are more tied to Earth than ever before in their career.

Everyone in this novel is searching for something, and likely nowhere close to finding it. Helen, a weathered, super-competent veteran of the U.S. space program who is much more at home in the cosmos, struggles to push away thoughts of her sad adolescence and loveless marriage. Her dramatic daughter “Meeps” grieves over the freak death of her father while also fearing for her mother’s safety, finding acting success, and developing a relationship in an unexpected place. Dmitri, whose astronaut father Sergei provides both comic relief and mild paranoia, unconventionally explores his sexual identity. And Yoshi, the crew’s third member, battles his own tortured past while also trying to emotionally connect with his distant, yet equally brilliant wife, Madoka.

That sounds like a lot of characters to juggle in one novel, but Howrey shifts perspectives so subtly and smoothly at exactly the right moments that you won’t have trouble keeping up with the novel’s events. If you’re anything like me, you’ll finish the last pages and think, “Wait, that’s it? I want more!” Trust me, do yourself a favor, spend some time with your head in the stars and read this book.

What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Adam: So far, 2017 has seen an incredible amount of short story collections. Add Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky to that growing list. Familial connections tie these stories together, but stylistically the stories vary from sort of science fiction to modern realism.

It’s mesmerizing what Arimah can do with a seemingly traditional idea and stretch it into something distinct. Stories include a generational tale about ghosts of war, a father’s attempts to protect his daughter, a woman desperate for a child, and more. However, there is much more to these stories than a simple fragmented synopsis. For instance, the mother who wants a child weaves one out of her hair. Get ready to be wowed by these stories.

The Whore's Child by Richard Russo

Daniel: “Just one story,” I told myself. “You have a reading list a mile long and the third season of ‘Grace and Frankie’ just dropped on Netflix. You don’t have time to read more than one story.”

Well, not for the first time, I lost an argument with myself and ended up reading every story in Richard Russo’s short story collection The Whore’s Child in 24 hours. Also not surprising, Russo’s empathetic—and often hilarious—style translates beautifully to the shorter storytelling format.

The real stand out in the collection is the eponymous “The Whore’s Child.” The story features an older nun who crashes a creative writing class and slowly realizes a painful family truth while writing a “fictional” memoir. The story shamelessly fiddles with your heartstrings, but it also offers biting meta-commentary on the writing process. Paired with Luiselli’s collection, The Whore’s Child should give you all the literary inspiration you need to craft your own short stories.

The Stand by Stephen King

Mike Nelson: The Stand is much more than a prerequisite to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, though that’s the catch that influenced me to dive in last summer (really hope my brother wasn’t lying to me about that, though it’d be a great prank). Yes, I wrote, “last summer,” and, yes, I know this column is meant to focus on books you recently read...we’re getting to that.

King takes readers on an epic, near-biblical journey through his version of the apocalypse, where forces of good are left to square off against forces of darkness in a battle for the earth’s soul. Or a battle for like, the western half of the United States, if you want to be super literal about it. Sitting at approximately a million pages and taking half-a-year for a very casual reader who stops to read other books in-between (out of necessity, I swear), The Stand is much more about the journey than it is the conclusion. As the world flirts with its desistance, how many of its occupants will seek to grant it an extension, and how many others will resign to fate no matter how dark?

If you don’t fear death...if you feel like you have everything in control...if you think humans are intrinsically good, spend some time with The Stand and tell me you feel the same. Or if you’re more like the man they call Trashcan Man, maybe just read it because you like to watch things burn.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Adam: Every year, April brings the welcome return of baseball in America. You better believe there is some “best baseball books” list that makes the rounds (even I wrote one on my blog in 2014). There’s a reason The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach gets recommended on every literature blog this time of year. It’s one of the best “baseball” books published. 

While the game plays a major role in this novel, it’s really about a young man’s evolution at a small college in Wisconsin. As the story progresses, baseball fades into the background for the majority of Harbach’s book as he explores sexuality, Moby Dick, confidence, and so much more.

Mad Men and Politics, co-authored and -edited by Lilly Goren

Daniel: I don’t need a good excuse to re-watch “Mad Men,” but I’m glad my recent podcast interview with Lilly Goren provided one. Goren appeared on the podcast recently to promote the thoughtful collection of essays she co-authored titled, Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America.

From Goren’s essay “If You Don’t Like What They Are Saying, Change the Conversation” The Grifter, Don Draper, and the Iconic American Hero” to Linda Beail’s “Invisble Men: The Politics and Presence of Racial and Ethnic ‘Others’ in ‘Mad Men,’” Mad Men and Politics takes a deep dive into how Matthew Weiner’s hit show depicted—both successfully and, some would debate, incompletely—corporate culture, machismo, feminism, race, family, war, and identity during the 1960s. Everything from Don Draper’s gray flannel suit and Joan Harris’ pen necklace to Peggy Olson’s rise and Bert Cooper’s stodginess are explored for political, sociological, and psychological context—both for that decade and our current era.

After reading these essays and re-watching a few episodes of the show, I’m reminded that in politics and culture it seems like everything has changed and nothing has changed. Obviously we’ve made strides as a society, but at the same time, we seem to be spinning our wheels with the same issues depicted in the show. Like any good academic or critical writing, Mad Men and Politics will force you to keep asking questions, and make you even hungrier to find the answers.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Daniel: Dark Money by New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer is essential reading for anyone baffled or troubled by what’s going on politically and culturally in this country. The exploration into where all the “dark money” being funneled into our political system comes from starts with a furrowed-brow meeting with some of the richest people in the United States (and the globe) after President Barack Obama’s victory over John McCain in the 2008 election. This powerful cabal vowed to finance the opposition to the new President through any means (legal, illegal, shadowy, etc.) necessary.  

However, as chilling as the details of that meeting are, it’s nothing compared to Mayer’s investigation into how families like the Kochs made their fortune and then wielded it like a weapon in order to advance a deeply conservative agenda. All of the information Mayer finds is unsettling. From the Koch brother’s father building oil refineries for the Nazis to the DeVos family buying millions of dollars worth of influence, Dark Money makes clear that the radical right is more or less a collection of talking points and sacks of cash.

To be sure, the Democrats would love to have a system this sophisticated and efficient. And if they had anything close to this kind of organization and money, they’d never lose another election again, and a few marginalized groups of citizens might actually get help purely by happenstance. However, a radical wing of the GOP—that believes in a hyper-nationalist, super-racist, and downright grim view of America—has hijacked our political agenda, and is well funded, in large part, by a very small group of individuals.

Dark Money may be uncomfortable reading, but we’re never going to break out of our current political paralysis by avoiding the truth.

The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich

Daniel: I got sucked into Paul Vidich’s The Good Assassin—the follow up to the author’s excellent debut spy thriller An Honorable Man that hits shelves April 18—just as easily as George Mueller gets suckered into doing yet another shadowy errand for the CIA.

Vidich’s Cold War setting feels immediate because of the political shenanigans currently infecting the United States. The author turns up the heat in The Good Assassin—literally and figuratively—by dropping his character in Havana before the fall of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Mueller is investigating Toby Graham, a potentially corrupt and treasonous CIA operative, who our hero has known since college.

A gripping plot combined with Vidich’s signature understated prose and tortured characters makes The Good Assassin a worthy follow up to An Honorable Man. It’s a novel that should be under your arm as you head to the beach this summer (or while swirling a glass of dark alcohol in a plush chair by the fire).

Author’s Corner

Dimitry Elias Léger isn’t just one of our favorite authors, he’s also one of our favorite readers. He sent over a lovely photograph from Geneva of his current book pile for this month’s Author’s Corner. This is what reading should look like!Daniel Ford

Pictured: Mohsin Hamid's  Exit West , Viet Thanh Nguyen's  The Sympathizer , Paulo Coelho's  The Spy , and Geoff Colvin's  Humans Are Underrated .

Pictured: Mohsin Hamid's Exit West, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Paulo Coelho's The Spy, and Geoff Colvin's Humans Are Underrated.

Dimitry Elias Léger is the author of God Loves Haiti. To learn more about Léger, listen/read our podcast and print interviews with the author.

#NovelClass

Listen to Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford’s discussion about Lisa Gardner’s novel Right Behind You.

The 30 Best Books of 2016

By Daniel Ford

To date, I’ve read 96 books in 2016, which is up from the 87 I read last year. Since you’ve already called me a nerd in your head, please allow me to further strengthen the case. Those 96 books add up to 37,872 pages, myriad reading devices, and two dried out eyeballs. I also managed to get engaged, help build a website at my day gig, edit and shop a novel, and feed and bath myself.

While I’m troubled by the direction the United States and the world are headed in, I’m just as confident that art and literature will continue to inform, illuminate, and ignite a global citizenship that needs to be more engaged and educated than ever before.

Without further adieu, enjoy the 30 best books of 2016. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or tweet us @WritersBone.

30. Everyone Loves You Back by Louie Cronin  

There was a lot to love about Louie Cronin’s debut novel. Cranky radio personalities, quirky Cambridge denizens, awkward love triangles, and jazz on vinyl all made Everyone Loves You Back one of the most fun reads of 2016.

29. Massacre on the Merrimack by Jay Atkinson          

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Hannah Duston is a badass! Author Jay Atkinson’s passionate retelling of her story offers a glimpse of early American life and the steely resolve women needed (and still need) to brave the New World.  

28. A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti         

Matthew Hefti’s main character is writing a letter to a lifelong friend, but he could have easily been writing a letter to the ongoing conflicts the United States has been involved in since 2001. Hefti is a talent to watch, and he delivers a heartfelt and moving debut.   

27. Lay Down Your Weary Tune by W.B. Belcher         

This remains one of the best lines I’ve read this year: “We’re all here for one thing,” Eli says to Jack, “to find a live connection and hold onto it until it bucks us off.” Well done, W.B. Belcher. (Killer cover too!)

26. Swing Time by Zadie Smith

During a “Friday Morning Coffee” episode earlier this year, author Richard Dalglish implored writers not to forget about craftsmanship. There’s no finer example of craftsmanship than Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time. Smith asks big, important questions, and I hope that readers debate the answers throughout the new year.

25. We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman

I don’t think Matthew Norman’s main character Andy Carter truly recovers from getting dumping at an Applebee’s (and, really, who would?), but it’s fun watching him try to cobble his life back together. Midwestern sensibilities have never been so hilarious.

24. Dark Horse by Rory Flynn

Eddy Harkness isn’t the hero the real world (or the fictional one he inhabits) deserves, but he certainly is the one we need. In Eddy we trust!

23. The Infinite by Nick Mainieri

Nick Mainieri’s debut features two of my favorite characters from 2016. Jonah McBee and Luz Hidalgo’s fervent and turbulent relationship sets off a chain of events that leads to an unexpected conclusion. The Infinite is one of the best debuts I’ve ever read.

22. The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived by Tom Shroder         

The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived is essential reading for aspiring authors and journalists. Tom Shroder explores his Pulitzer Prize-winning grandfather’s life while also recounting his own writing career. The passionately researched narrative will fill up your creative tank.

21. Christodora by Tim Murphy

The more I learn about Tim Murphy and his work, the more I like him. His effortless nonlinear storytelling in Christodora perfectly complements his damaged, but tenacious, characters and his exploration of the AIDs epidemic. It’s a gut-wrenching read, but a necessary one.  

20. The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung

Sonya Chung puts her characters through hell throughout her sophomore novel. Their responses to tragedy and inner demons don’t make them the best human beings at times, but you’ll easily fall in love with them despite their myriad flaws. The Loved Ones also features one of the most haunting and beautifully sad farewells you’ll ever read.

19. Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay 

http://www.writersbone.com/book-recommendations/2016/8/3/10-books-that-should-be-on-your-radar-august-2016

Disappearance at Devil's Rock scared the bejesus out of me. Top-notch suspense. Paul Tremblay also experiments with his prose by featuring text conversations, fragments of diaries, and police interview transcripts.

18. The Fireman by Joe Hill

Joe Hill’s brand of apocalyptic fiction ranks alongside Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and José Saramago’s Death With Interruptions. Much like those works, The Fireman features a harrowing (and down right sexy) epidemic, a sense of humor, and characters you wouldn’t mind spending damnation with. Hill is one of fiction’s best world builders, and his enthusiasm for the craft of writing is infectious. (His live readings also tend to feature kazoos!)

17. The Nix by Nathan Hill

Considering that Nathan Hill’s debut novel tops many year-end book lists, The Nix is arguably ranked too low here. That’s a testament to the quality of fiction we read in 2016. The Nix is a compulsive read that, at times, gets weighted down by some of its pop culture and societal critiques. However, since 2016 proved to be a bitch of a year culturally and politically, I’d much rather have too much of Hill’s wit rather than not enough.

16. Louisa by Louisa Thomas      

Louisa proved to be a very welcome and refreshing look at Revolutionary War-era America. Louisa Thomas explored the life of Louisa Adams, our first foreign-born First Lady. While Mrs. Adams does spend a good chunk of time recovering from or feigning illness, she proves more than a match for her surly, ambitious, and misunderstood husband (everyone’s favorite dinner guest, John Quincy Adams).

15. Dodgers by Bill Beverly

If “The Wire” had decided to spend a whole season devoted to a road trip with Bodie, Wallace, Poot, and D’Angelo Barksdale, I imagine it would have resembled something close to what Bill Beverly crafted in Dodgers. It’s a thriller with real heart and muscle, thanks in large part to its conflicted main character East. The opening chapters are written as if they were fired from a gun, and set the tone for the rest of the novel’s coming of age journey. 

14. Bobby Kennedy by Larry Tye

The Kennedys have been dissected ad nauseam, however, Larry Tye finds a fresh angle to examine the life of Robert Kennedy. Tye follows John F. Kennedy’s younger brother’s astounding political transformation from his days working as a lawyer under Senator Joe McCarthy to his tragic campaign for President in 1968. Bobby Kennedy is unsparing and objective, but also gives RFK aficionados plenty of new reasons to admire their hero.

13. Youngblood by Matthew Gallagher

Matthew Gallagher’s novel Youngblood is right up there with Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue, Ross Ritchell’s The Knife, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds, and the aforementioned A Hard and Heavy Thing. Essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of our foreign policy and understand the men and women who execute it.

12. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout’s short novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, hit me with the right words and subject matter at the right time. A book about healing, motherhood, and love.

11. Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma   

Kristopher Jansma’s prologue, interlude, and epilogue are the most beautiful words ever written about New York City. His prologue in particular captures everything I feel about the city I’ve loved since childhood. This novel is a must read for anyone that’s been ensorcelled by the Big Apple’s many temptations.  

10. Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

It’s nice to know that the creators of one of the best sitcoms of all time were as eccentric as the characters many of us have come to love. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong discovers one great story after another about “Seinfeld” and its writers’ room. She also lovingly investigates the show’s curious, quirky fans who have kept it relevant well past its final episode. Seinfeldia is a breezy, energetic read that will have you binge-watching the show on Hulu by the time you’re finished. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.        

9. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters     

Ben H. Winters is the master of dystopian fiction, and he outdoes himself with Underground Airlines. In the novel, the Civil War never happened, slavery still exists, and a slave catcher desperate to repress and erase his past takes on an assignment that threatens to crack his carefully manufactured persona. This book is an absolutely thrilling and original tale that should shake a few assumptions of your own.  

8. This Side of Providence by Rachel M. Harper

One of the most powerful reads of 2016. Rachel Harper penned a tearjerker and beautifully developed the novel’s characters and themes. William Faulkner would be proud.

7. The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang

During a recent podcast interview author Jade Chang advised aspiring authors “to be ambitious.” Anyone who has read her debut novel The Wangs vs. the World knows how wonderfully ambition can pay off. Chang reinvigorates the immigrant narrative through the eyes of Charles Wang and his hilariously flawed family. Like many of the novels on this list, The Wangs vs. the World stress tests and critiques all of the tenets of the American Dream, but does so with an abundance of mirth and cynical optimism.

6. Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

What a pleasure it was to revisit Sully and all of the misfits that live in North Bath, Maine. Richard Russo is one of my literary heroes, and he didn’t disappoint with this follow up to the classic Nobody’s Fool.    

5. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s novel should have been titled, You Will Hold Your Breath The Whole Time. I barely survived reading this incredibly tense and finely crafted mystery; I can’t imagine what it was like writing it. She has more than earned the “maestro of the heebie-jeebies” distinction from The New York Times.

4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is why fiction exists. The novel serves as a brutal reminder of the past and a cautionary tale for how easily we can slip into easy violence, subjugation, and intolerance. Colson Whitehead has established himself as one of the great voices in fiction.   

3. Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown’s achingly beautiful debut established itself as my favorite book of 2016 way back in August 2015 (I read an advanced copy leading up to its January 2016 pub date). It took two special novels to knock it off the top spot. After going back and rereading a few chapters while preparing this list, I was reminded of what made the book such a joy to read: hearty prose, snappy and spare dialogue, earthy characters, and a hard driving plot.  

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen        

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is great from the first line: “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.” Nguyen crafts a timely, gritty tale that lives in the past, but has an eye on our uncertain future.

1. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

We met a lot of memorable characters this year, but there was only one Frank. Be Frank With Me is an unforgettable debut that everyone should read. (And, according to the author, the paperback edition can easily fit in a stocking!)

Honorable Mention

Any of these books could have been added to the top 30. I wrestled with this list for days. I'm just grateful that I got to read so many great novels and nonfiction titles this year! Give plenty of love to these authors’ books as well!

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, Perfect Days by Raphael Montes, Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach, Seven Sins by Karen Runge, A Single Happened Thing by Daniel Paisner, The Last Days of Magic by Marc Thompkins, The Duration by Dave Fromm, The Girls by Emma Cline, An Honorable Man by Paul Vidich, The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott, Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts, The Unseen World by Liz Moore, Nefarious Twit by Tony McMillen, The Point Is by Lee Eisenberg, and Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

More From The Writer’s Bone Library

6 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: May 2016

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.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Daniel Ford: Nguyen recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, and for good reason. Set in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon and South Vietnam in 1975, The Sympathizer follows a double-agent refugee as he suffers through the death of close companions, shady political and military maneuverings, and his troubled family history. Since the novel also acts as a historical narrative of the end of the Vietnam War, one anticipates the violence, horror, and dysfunction; however, one might not expect the deep and dark humor Nguyen injects into his prose. The pages fly by without feeling weighted or overly somber. Horrible things befall our duplicitous hero, some as a direct result of his nefarious actions, but you can’t help rooting for him to walk away from his chosen path in one piece. The Sympathizer is a powerful mediation on brotherhood, the immigrant experience in the U.S., and, of course, war. And because his novel is so good, we won’t hold it against Nguyen that he beat out Writer’s Bone favorite David Joy for the 2016 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Sean Tuohy: Bill Beverly mixes the dark, urban violence of the inner city with the coming-of-age hopefulness and angst of The Catcher in the Rye. The book follows four teenage gangbangers from Los Angeles on a cross country journey to commit a murder. The novel is sparse and fast-paced, and moves from hardcore street crime to the lightheartedness of teenagers finding themselves in a wild world. One moment you’ll find tears welling in your eyes as you read a scene between a teenage boy and his mother, and, by the next chapter, you are gripping the book with growing tension. Dodgers can be picked up with ease, but can’t be put down lightly.

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Daniel: It’s hard for me to be objective about Richard Russo. I read Nobody’s Fool at an impressionable age as both a reader and a writer. I fell in love with the cantankerous Sully and his down-on-its-luck hometown. It’s always the first example I use when championing well-written character studies. I also have fond memories of bonding with my mother discussing the book (and the movie adaptation starring Paul Newman). I have obviously enjoyed the rest of Russo’s work—including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls, Straight Man, and Bridge of Sighs—but there’s a bit of Nobody’s Fool’s DNA buried in my own that supersedes all the other novels.

As you might expect, I was thrilled when I learned that Russo’s recent novel Everybody’s Fool returns to Sully’s North Bath, New York. Ten years have gone by, and our favorite curmudgeon faces something that he can’t ignore or talk his way out of—a potentially life-threatening diagnosis. The early reviews of Everybody’s Fool have been fabulous, and from what I’ve read I can say that the praise is well deserved. Russo proves that when done right, returning to an age-old friend can be a blessing instead of a curse. The author’s prose and dialogue are as sharp and warm as ever, and his humor remains second to none.

I know I’m not going to be able to resist binge reading the rest of Everybody’s Fool, but I plan on savoring every page the best I can. I learned what kind of reader and writer I was while reading Nobody’s Fool. I think I’ll decide what kind of man I’ve become while reading Everybody’s Fool

A Single Happened Thing by Daniel Paisner

Daniel: Daniel Paisner's novel is nostalgically charming for anyone who has loved the game of baseball. I can’t tell you how many times I consulted Baseball-Reference.com during the two days I devoured A Single Happened Thing. I came to love baseball during the 1990s, an admittedly wild time for the sport. You had superficially beefed up sluggers, colorfully awful expansion teams, and plenty of New York Yankees championships. Into this scrum, Paisner drops in “a Manhattan book publicist who believes he's been visited by the ghost of an old-time baseball player.”

Imagine if Ray Kinsella, the main character in Shoeless Joe (the inspiration for my favorite movie “Field of Dreams”), wasn’t just thought crazy by his neighbors, but by his loving wife. Would he have risked financial ruin and built the field if it were going to threaten his marriage? Paisner explores this possibility by making David Felb’s biggest critic and doubter his hardworking, and relentlessly lucid, wife. Felb isn’t entirely alone in his delusions though. His “tomboy-ish” daughter Iona inherited his hardball heart and has a chance encounter with the mysterious Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, which ensures she doesn’t drive her old man right to the asylum. Their relationship is the backbone of the novel and every scene with the pair should stir even the most cynical baseball critic.

One of my favorite quotes from the novel is: "It's difficult to hit as well...but we don't give up on the notion." The same can be said for writing, don’t you think?

We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman

Gary Almeter: This book is just great. You get to spend a couple weeks in the life of Andy Carter, a complicated young man who certainly doesn't have everything together, but someone who is funny (both intellectually witty and "fall down the stairs" funny), sensitive, and determined to be the most authentic Andy Carter possible. He's simultaneously iron-willed and compliant; irreverent and sensitive; insecure and self-indulgent.

Norman tells Andy's story with confidence, adding humor to the sad parts and profundity to the funny parts. He peppers every page with intriguing pop culture references. They paint a really vivid picture of Andy and his world and his state of mind. And sometimes they're just fun. And sometimes they serve as launch pads for some real insight (like what will archeologists think of our culture when they dig up an iPod with Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" on it?). The narrative is propelled by Andy's eagerness to connect with his dying grandfather, as well as an imminent SCOTUS decision about gay marriage. Like the conundrum that is Andy, Norman makes death and equality fun topics too.

Through it all, Andy maintains an astounding sense of humor and is quick to make keen observations about the absurdities, and pain, of life in the 2010s. But it's not all absurd. There is a tenderness and genuineness to Andy that makes him, and us, grateful for the community around him.

Bucky F*cking Dent by David Duchovny

Adam Vitcavage: A lot of people might not know the dude who hunted down aliens on “The X-Files” and drank and fornicated his way through writer's block on “Californication” studied literature at both Princeton and Yale. David Duchovny actually has some other writing credits to his name, and his most recent book, Bucky F*cking Dent, is a can't miss. Duchovny says this isn't a baseball book, but a story about fathers and sons, as well as a romance set against the hardball backdrop. The titular Dent is a real-life hero or villain, depending on if you’re a Yankees or Red Sox fan, in a tiebreaker game to get into the playoffs in 1978 (Spoiler alert: Dent crushes a homer, and all the hearts in New England, over the Green Monster.) But again, this is about more than baseball. Duchovny's prose is nothing to scoff at. He brilliantly tells this story in an earnest way. Don't be surprised if you start seeing his name pop up more often in the literary world. There's no doubt that he has more fiction stored away, waiting to be read by the world.

The Writer’s Bone Library

Thanksgiving Reading List: 6 Books We’re Thankful For

Editor’s Note: With Thanksgiving two days away, I asked the Writer’s Bone crew what books they were thankful for. Here’s what they came up with. Feel free to add the books you’re the most thankful for in the comments section or tweets us @WritersBone.—Daniel Ford

Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

Book-Cover.jpg

Stephanie Schaefer: Who didn’t love Dr. Seuss as a kid? I remember always reaching for his poetic books with colorful covers when it came time for my mom to read me and my brother a bedtime story. Little did I know that I would appreciate Oh, The Places You’ll Go even more as an adult. My mother gifted me with a shiny new copy of the book after high school graduation. There have been numerous instances in my life when I’ve gone back to read some of the lyrical lines as a pick me up through ups and downs in both my personal and professional lives. After all, when you’re at a crossroads or feeling lonely in a big city, sometimes you just need to hear the words, “Kid, You’ll Move Mountains.”

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Alex Tzelnic: I am immensely thankful for Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. I read it while living in Saigon as an English teacher. Every afternoon before teaching I'd walk over to my favorite coffee stand, sit in the tropical heat under a green umbrella, suck down Vietnamese iced coffees, and read a book that re-calibrated what I thought literature could be. I am also immensely thankful for George Saunders' essay on Slaughterhouse Five that says everything I could possibly want to say about it way better than I could possibly say it: “Mr. Vonnegut in Sumatra.”

Jim the Boy by Tony Earley

Gary Almeter: I had just finished another year teaching English at a high school in New York City and wanted to give myself an end-of-the-year treat. So on the last day of school I stopped at the Barnes and Noble on East 86th Street and, seduced by the simple watercolor cover evocative of the era in which the story is set, bought this book from the New Releases shelf. The story is a simple coming-of-age story set in rural post-Depression era North Carolina about a boy named Jim. Ironically, the story is so simple that it was jarring to realize how rare such simplicity had become. It's simple and spectacular. The writing and the tone are both so pure and heartfelt without being sappy. I loved every word. Then, eager to explore more of Earley's work, I later bought a book of short stories wherein we meet Jim again. Those short stories came first and in an interview I read someplace, Mr. Earley suggested that he just wasn't finished with this character named Jim so felt compelled to write a novel about him. And subsequently write another one called The Blue Star.

I am thankful for this book for a host of reasons. First, a reminder that books—hardcover, expensive, shiny, new smell books—make the best treats and that it's okay to treat yourself. Next, simple stories with contented characters, if they are told well, can still be compelling. Lastly, Mr. Earley's commitment to Jim is a reminder that, as a writer, it’s acceptable to capitulate to compulsion.

The AP Stylebook

Lindsey Wojcik: I am thankful for The AP Stylebook. It was the best investment I made during journalism school—although my copy is nearly a decade old (hint: holiday gift idea). It has been my saving grace during many production cycles, including during my tenure as my college newspaper's editor in chief through my post-collegiate career as a magazine editor. It has been my ace during disagreements about hyphens and capitalizations with colleagues. I'm often referred to as the AP Style nerd in the office.

I am thankful that a former colleague gave me his old copy of the guide, which was published the year I was born. It's a treasured reminder that I grew up wanting so badly to be a journalist, and for better or worse, today I am one. Thank you, AP Stylebook.

I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane

Sean Tuohy: The book that launched me into the world of hard-boiled detectives and murder mystery. I, The Jury, the first novel in the long running Mike Hammer detective series, is made up of everything that makes pulp novels great; tough guy dialogue, bullets flying, sexy femme fatales, and bloodthirsty bad guys. I am thankful that I stumbled upon this book in the eighth grade. It set me on a journey through pulp fiction that has taken over my life.

Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Daniel Ford: This was a harder exercise than I thought it was going to be. Part of me wanted to choose Mark Childress’ Crazy in Alabama because it was the first book my senior English teacher dropped in my hands when she forced me into the AP class. Another wanted to pick Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding because of its elegant depiction of the national pastime and its earthy, earnest characters.

However, I kept coming back to Sully in Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool. What a perfect curmudgeon. While Sully taught me the proper way to cuss and eek through a bad luck-plagued existence, Russo proved to me that plot wasn’t necessarily important when you have the right mix of characters. Sure, the events in Sully’s life make for fine literature, but it’s Russo’s study of the characters inhabiting the world in Nobody’s Fool that makes it art.  

Thanks to a personal blog post from a million years ago, I can even remember my favorite line: “Clive Jr.’s fear of Sully was always rewarding. But Sully wanted to be fully awake and not hungover to appreciate it.”

There’s a Writer’s Bone mission statement in there somewhere.

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