This month’s book recommendations include works by Peng Shepherd, Paul Tremblay, Megan Abbott, Eric Rickstad, Dwayne Alexander Smith, Rebecca Makkai, and more!
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).
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
By Sean Tuohy
Have you ever asked yourself, "Where the hell do screenwriters get ideas for movies?" Most of them come from the minds of deeply troubled writers or the back of Captain Crunch cereal boxes, but some originate from books!
Here's a collection of some of the best films based on books.
Drive by James Sallis
“Drive,” the indie darling film of 2011 featured Ryan Gosling as a movie stunt driver who moonlit as a getaway driver. The film was filled with stellar acting, a pumping soundtrack, and a solid storyline. American post-noir master James Sallis wrote the novel of the same name. Mixing together a sparse writing style with heavy characters, Sallis created a stunning tale.
Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” was the kid’s movie that was really meant for adults. Overflowing with beloved cartoon characters, the film mixed together live action for the first time in history. The plot follows hard-boiled, cartoon-hating detective Eddie Valiant, who must help Roger Rabbit prove that he didn’t commit a murder. Where the movie is rides the line between adult and children, the novel is darker in tone and deals with a stranger world then the one in the film, It’s a fast, but odd, read.
The strange story of how “Die Hard” went from novel to screen could be it’s own book. Written as a sequel to the “The Detective” (also turned into a film starring Chairman of the Board), Nothing Last Forever follows retired detective Joe Leland as he visits his daughter’s Christmas office party in L.A. when it gets taken over by terrorist. Leland must fight his way though terrorist as he tries to save his daughter. There are major differences between source book and film. The ending the book much darker, the main character is a truly flawed hero with many issues, and the terrorist are not bank robbers. A solid, fast paced read that makes you need to take a shot of whiskey at the end.
58 Minutes by Walter Wager
To learn more about how this story became the basis for “Die Hard 2,” swing by The Nicest Guy In Hollywood Doug Richardson’s website and take a read, totally worth it. But in the novel, a father must save his daughter from a madman who threatens to crash all the planes at JFK during a snowstorm. It’s great little read, but, man, who doesn’t love watching this scene:
Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin
Before Fat Amy, there was the source book. A reporter spent one season following college-aged wanna be singers as they tried to win an a cappella championship.
The Running Man By Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Arnold Schwarzenegger on a game show where he must stay alive for 24 hours? 1980s action gold! Before the one-liners and cheesy ‘80s effects there was the novel The Running Man by Stephen King’s alter ego Richard Bachman. A short, but wickedly fast novel follows Ben Richards, an unemployed father living in a broken world, as he completes in a popular game show. He must stay alive for a week while being chased by hunters. King claims that he wrote the book in three days.
By Sean Tuohy
It is that time of year again when costumed children pound on your door and demand candy. While waiting for the next chubby pre-teen wearing a homemade Batman costume to arrive at your door, why don’t you crack open a horror novel?
We’ve put together a list of the top five modern horror novels to help you question that creaking sound coming from upstairs. Throw on a pair of Depends and get ready to be scared shitless.
Want to go camping? Do not read this novel. Want to have blood-soaked nightmares caused by a crafty written novel? Then pick up The Troop. During Cutter’s camping trip all hell breaks lose…and quickly. The characters create a strong connection with the reader, which makes the gore in the novel that much more painful.
How do comedy writers let out their stress? Some write horror novels like William Peter Blaty. The former “Pink Panther” writer decided that making people wet themselves from fear was better then making them wet themselves from laughing too hard. His most chilling work is Legion. The story features a demon that takes hold of elderly people in a coma and uses them to commit murder around the city. and the detective trying to stop him. The book was turned into “Exorcist III” despite the fact that there isn’t an exorcist in the novel. The film and the book are both spine-tingling good and should not be enjoyed in the dark.
This book introduced us to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the only human being who can make Chianti terrifying, and reminded us that we should invest in new locks. Harris designs a horrifyingly real serial killer. The Red Dragon—a deformed man who is mentally unstable but tries to deal with his emotions—kills families in their sleep. The novel dives into the killer’s twisted mind and examines his trauma, while at the same time following the burnt out FBI profiler trying to capture him. Thrilling and dark, Red Dragon reminds you that anyone can be a killer.
Adventure and good times quickly dissolve into a fight to stay alive in Scott Smith’s novel. The horror story features a group of young Americans vacationing in Central America who stumble upon ruins. Not surprisingly, things go horribly wrong. Smith masterly mixes spine-chilling tension and blood-curdling horror in this short novel.
Really, you didn’t see this coming? Daniel Ford and I devoted an entire podcast episode last year (you can listen to it below)! This man is a king (see what I did there?). The Shining perfectly showcases King’s talent as a master storyteller. The true horror of the novel is not the ghost or the evil hotel, but watching a loving family being slowly ripped apart. Jack’s fall from good husband and father struggling with demons to blood-thirty murderer is gut wrenching. Oh, and the lady in the bathtub is freaky!
Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew will review or preview books they’ve read or want to read. This new 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.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Daniel Ford: I’ll admit I’m a little late to the party on this book. But I’m swiftly making up for lost time. During my recent trip to New York City, multiple people demanded I read this novel. I made my way to Strand Book Store, bought a cheap copy, and have been devouring it ever since.
John Kennedy Toole won a posthumous Pulitzer for the book after his mother found a publisher for it years after he committed suicide. It’s been said on numerous reviews I’ve read that Toole had more great work in him, which I completely agree with. His dialogue and comedic timing are so good that you won’t want to put this book down.
The best part is that Nick Offerman is reportedly going to play the role of Ignatius J. Reilly in a stage production of the book. I don’t know if he has the obesity to pull it off, but I’m pretty sure he will nail Reilly’s bursts of outrage.
Sean Tuohy: I like history. I like fiction. However, I didn’t like the two mixed together until now. I heard Daniel’s podcast interview with Jeff Shaara and then I was given the novel. I fell in love after the first three pages. Shaara painted a vivid portrait of the early years of the Civil War and gave me a better understanding of the men who fought it. The novel also reminded me of how young our nation was at the time and how close we came to losing it all. It’s a wonderful tale that you will be reading deep into the night.
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
Daniel: I was a huge fan of Joshua Ferris’ debut novel, And Then We Came to the End, because his writing style was a refreshing change of pace and perfectly blended humor and drama. I read it in a few days and recommended it to everyone I knew.
I didn’t know about his second novel, The Unnamed, until I found a used paperback copy at Raven Used Books in Boston. It’s an expertly crafted tale about a man struggling with a rare disease that forces him to keep walking. His relationship with his wife and daughter falls apart and gets put back together several times during the novel and your heart aches the entire time you’re reading it. The book isn’t devoid of hope, which is why you’ll be glad you powered through the book in a couple days. However long it takes you to read, it’ll stay with you for quite some time and for good reason.
I would read this over his recent work,To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. While I enjoyed spending time reading his style, I wasn’t particularly in love with the story or the main character. Ferris will be hard-pressed to top The Unnamed or And Then We Came to the End, but I’m eager to see him try.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Dave Pezza: Alrighty, this is a quick review for the aforementioned book because Daniel won’t let me borrow any more seasons of the television series “Community” until this review is in his hands. So here we go.
Stephan King is, in short, awesome. Sean and Daniel spent an entire podcast talking about him. He is the master of the macabre and thane of thrills. Let’s put it this way, King is a machine. And this particular machine manufactures creative masterpieces of suspense and weird like no other! King has published Guns, Joyland, Ghost Brothers of Darkland Country, Doctor Sleep (the long awaited sequel to The Shining), and Mr. Mercedes in the last two years alone. Admittedly, I haven’t read much King. I've previously read the first 200 pages or so of The Stand and The Cycle of the Werewolf (a really cool illustrated collection of short stories following werewolf attacks in a snowy New England town). So I approached Mr. Mercedes from a mostly King-ignorant perspective.
Having said that, I highly recommend this book. King does everything right to convert his down-to-earth, blunt, blue-collar style to the detective novel format. His lead detective, retired detective Bill Hodges, is a quintessential King workaholic with a haunted past. He’s supported by the young and black Jerome, who is Ivy League bound and perpetually explaining technology to Hodges, and the curt, but charming and promiscuous Janey, Hodges love interest and overall doll! The gang teams up to stop Brady—a troubled man with mommy issues who floored a V-12 Mercedes into a crowded parking lot and walked away scot-free—from committing a new act of mass destruction.
I flew through this thriller and now I’m hungry for more King quirks, creepiness, and crudities wrapped up in literary stylings of legend.
Dave: Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is Eggers’ second publication since A Hologram for the King, his 2012 novel named as a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. I’m a fan of Eggers. I read What is the What, his novelization of the story of one of Lost Boys of Sudan, in college. I wasn’t’ particularly taken, but after reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a few years later, I began to admire Eggers’ frank, but hopeful, style of writing. A Heartbreaking Work…, Eggers’ memoir about the death of both of his parents and his raising of his younger brother, is astonishingly bleak and soul regenerating. Your Fathers…is not nearly as cut and dry. Eggers’ latest work got a scathing review in the New York Times Book Review. I felt unfairly so. However, when you publish a book composed entirely in dialogue through your own publishing company, you really don’t have to give a shit about critics. Eggers managed to complete this new work entirely in dialogue between the main character and several of his captives. Thomas, Eggers’ 30-something main character, kidnaps a series of people and chains them up in an abandoned military base in California to converse with them. Thomas believes that he can find the answers to his qualms about the current American culture by talking to these men and women, who include an astronaut, a congressman, and a police officer. The ensuing conversations compose the bulk of the 212-page novel.
These conversations, unfortunately, vary in relevancy and success. Some I found confusing, vague, and trite. Others were gripping, enlightening, and honest glimpses of social progressive dialogue. Overall, I suggest giving it an honest read. Eggers makes an attempt here, with some success, to remind us of how and how not to discuss social issues. We avoid many of the issues Eggers brings about in Your Fathers…, and short of being chloroformed, chained, and threatened with electrocution, many of us would be unwilling to earnestly discuss the issues Thomas poses to his captives.
Your Fathers…is a cry for help. You can hear him yell through the pages, “Get off Facebook, Twitter, and whatever and have a real, honest conversation with someone about real issues, especially with those that disagree with you.” Is the defunding of the space shuttle really low point in our nation’s grandeur? Is police brutality and hyper-aggressiveness a national concern?
Eggers may not have the right answers here, but at least he is asking, and, thankfully, he is doing it in format where clicking “like” isn’t a legitimate response.
Sean Tuohy: I was given this book just before I started backpacking through Europe after high school. The book details a boy's coming of age in post-civil war Spain while investigating a long-forgotten book with deadly secrets. The characters jump off the page in this well-written and heartfelt story, but the true star is the city of Barcelona. Zafon paints the city so vividly that you feel as if you are walking the stone streets and running a hand along the bullet marked city walls. I started reading this book when I was sitting on the cold marble floor of the Barcelona train station one summer afternoon. By the time we reached Rome two days later I was nearly done. This book will insert a sense of adventure in you while traveling. Side note, I was nose deep in this book when I was involved in an indecent moment in Vatican City.
Daniel Ford: As a kid, I used to bring multiple books with me on car trips just in case I finished one. I always needed a backup. Who wants to be in a car headed toward grocery shopping without a book? Not this guy. I used to travel a lot in college with St. Johns’ baseball team and tore through a ton of books on long bus trips. I read several hundred pages of David McCullough’sTruman on the road to Charleston, S.C. and devoured Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code in one shot from New York City to Morgantown, W.V. I enjoy reading magazines, I like the ease of the Kindle, but nothing beats a flesh-and-book in my hands while heading to the next adventure (or more likely to the bookstore to buy more books). Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods not only is a travel memoir, but also a great travel companion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this on the road or on the train. You can enjoy walking the Appalachian Trail by sitting on your keister. Doesn’t get much better than that.
ST: This is one of the most celebrated comic books of all time and that is for good reason. I had heard about Moore's epic but never picked it up until I went to Canada with a group of friends. My friend Jorge handed me the yellow covered comic and ordered "read this" before walking away. For the next week I had my nose stuck between the pages of a masterpiece. This is a comic book that can even be read by non- comic book fans. The artwork is done in a classic style that will never age, along with fresh, evergreen dialogue. If you need a break from your travels and want to try something new, I recommend this.
DF: I recommend reading this following a tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace on 28 East 20th Street in New York City. My older brother and I sprinted from a bar several blocks away just to make the final tour of the afternoon. It was also 100 degrees out. We were dripping sweat, but it was totally worth it to see where the nation’s 26th President started out.
This books tracks Roosevelt’s rise to fame and offers more thrills and adventures than you might think for being a biography on a former President. From the moment a sickly “Teedie” is told by his father, “You have the mind, but you do not have the body,” you root for Roosevelt to overcome his shortcomings and take his rightful place in history. His early travels as a youngster should also inspire you to take flight and experience all the world has to offer.
ST: I have never been a fan of poetry besides Langston Hughes, but my friend Danny gave me this collection of poems as a birthday gift. It sat on my shelf collecting dust sadly for a year or so before I picked it up randomly as I was in the process of moving to Boston. One overcast morning, I picked the book up and randomly opened to a poem and a few hours later I had eaten the book up and started rereading it. This is a great intro book in to modern poetry for non-poetry fans. Cohan's witty and original views on life give you a different view on the world when you put the book down.
DF: This is the perfect book for a long train ride. It won’t take you long to finish and it’s a tightly wound thriller where the stakes for the “characters” and nation have never been higher. The story follows the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. What more do you need in a thriller? Swanson also gives you the impression that Booth was really close to missing and that Lincoln would have kicked his ass because Lincoln would have been between his wife and danger and was still jacked from being a rail-splitter back home. You should read this on a trip to Washington D.C. that ends with a visit to Ford’s Theatre.
ST: At 14 years old, I found the world of Stephan King and never truly left. From that moment on, I kept one foot solidly in the land of darkness, magic, and wonder. Reading Salem's Lot— King's second published book is a modern take on a vampire story—you’ll find yourself watching a good author find his footing in the publishing world. It’s not as strong as some of his later work, but still well-crafted and filled with classic King characters we have all come to love. The tale about a small New England town that is invaded by the vampires will also keep you awake while on your travels.
The Boxcar Children: Snowbound Mystery and Houseboat Mysteryby Gertrude Chandler Warner
DF: I couldn’t decide on which one of these The Boxcar Children mysteries to include, so I’m throwing them both in. I used to read both the car religiously. There was hardly a morning spent at the breakfast table without a book from The Boxcar Children collection, in fact. I loved reading about the adventures this cool group of kids had without the help of grown-ups. Both mysteries are far more sophisticated and darker than the teen crap being shoved down society’s throat today.
The Boxcar Children started out living alone in an abandoned boxcar, became self-sufficient, and were eventually taken in by an old man who trusted and respected them enough to experience the world on their own. He would be thrown in jail in 2014. These books made me want to adventure on my own as well, which eventually led me leaving home for New York City where I didn’t know a soul. I knew I’d be okay because my friends Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny were always able to come back home after their adventures and regal their grandfather with tales of their shenanigans.
ST: Not a fan of sci-fi? You will be after reading this breath taking sci -fi novel about the human condation to discover more by icon Arthur C Clark. The books tells the story of a massive alien space ship as it passes Earth and the crew of humans sent to investigate. Not very long but filled with classic sci-fi and tension building moments this space travel book will take you to new places.
DF: The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a great read, but let’s face it, not exactly uplifting literature. Ben H. Winters’ vision of apocalypse is different. Not that it’s not bleak, because it is, but it allows you to sort through your thoughts on how people might actually react if an asteroid was about to collide with Earth. The book features a semi-boiled police detective Hank Palace who continues to do his job…because, well, that’s what he does. People disappear, laws become flexible, murder becomes easy, but Palace keeps up the good fight because that’s what he’s always done. The world has six months from when the book starts (this is the first in a trilogy) and while it’s a major plot point, the author doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The world has in large part accepted its fate and gone crazy accordingly. I remember reading this book late at night on the subway and bus headed toward Queens—and many times I was the only one on either. If you’re alone in the world and want to feel what it’s like if you were really the only person in the world, follow Hank Palace around for a little bit. There are worse things you could do. Like talk to people.
Need something to read while you’re bundled under the covers and trying to forget about the snowplow rumbling futilely down your street? Or are you lucky enough to need a poolside companion while you brown your skin and sip drinks more colorful than Elton John’s wardrobe?
Either way, Daniel and Sean have you covered. They each recommended a short story, comic book, and novel that should become your nightstand’s best friend sooner rather than later.
Have a few things you’d like to add to list? Great! Let us know in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.
Sean: “A Matter of Principal” by Max Allan Collins.
This a short story for lovers of tough guy, anti-hero storylines. This was my first meeting with Collins' now famous hit man named Qurrey.
The story starts simple enough, a retired hit man talks about his issues with sleeping. He can't sleep because, well, he's bored as a retiree. While on a late night junk food run he stumbles in to a kidnapping. From this point on, Collins does an incredible job of making you feel as excited as Qurrey as he blows dust off his gun and goes to work.
Collins is like me because he grew up a huge fan of Mickey Spillane and it shows in his work. The story is bare bones and it keeps you rooting for the bad guy.
Daniel: “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway.
As much as I love “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “A Farewell to Arms,” I think my favorite words by Ernest Hemingway come from his 1927 collection of short stories titled “Men Without Women.” The short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is classic Hemingway; straight forward dialogue that speaks volumes about the characters uttering it. Two lovers talking to each other while waiting for a train, but neither one actually listens or understands anything the other person is saying. Their conversation centers on whether the woman should have an abortion or not, but really, it’s about the death of their relationship. You feel every ounce of that death with the woman’s last line, “I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” That’s damn good writing by one of the best.
Sean: Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell.
Like most everyone else, I am huge Batman fan, but I hold a special place for Oliver Queen, aka The Green Arrow, in my heart. He's a lot like Batman, but with less brooding and more of an attitude. The mini-series Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters is a stand out in the DC world. Besides the jaw-dropping artwork, the story puts you on the edge of your seat. It pushes the Green Arrow to the breaking point by attacking his personal life and his career as a crime fighter. The story holds up despite being published in the late 1980s.
Daniel: Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.
I wanted to go against the grain and pick something other than a Superman comic, but, alas, I could not. This Superman comic book is just too good. The artwork is a perfect modern take on old comic book styling and blends perfectly with the stories being told.
It makes Superman relatable without having to rely on the copious amounts of bearded brooding featured in “Man of Steel.” There’s something fundamentally optimistic about Superman that I think this comic captures beautifully. The recent film versions of Superman are much more cynical, which I guess reflects the times we live in. Loeb and Sale accomplish so much more by showcasing the world through Superman’s adolescent eyes rather than through a pessimistic adult’s.
I love Stephen King. When someone asks me to narrow something down that involves the New England-based writer, I can't do it. So for this, I managed to narrow it down to my two favorite Stephan King stories to read while trapped inside.
A lot of readers and movie lovers are about to be very angry with me. I am not a huge fan of the movie “The Shining.” Okay folks, put the pitchforks down and listen to me. The movie looks great and it's scary. But after reading the book, one can see that movie has no story, it's very empty. The movie is just about an already crazy man going more batshit crazy and attacking his family. In the book, King tells a tale of a family man who struggles with demons fueled by booze and rage and tries his best to be a good father and husband. Add in the fact that you are seeing the horrors through the eyes of a little boy with a power he doesn't fully understand and you are in for one hell of a ride.
Cell was King's homage to George Romeo's “Night of the Living Dead” series and it's fantastic fun. The book starts with a bang and then just keeps going. It's filled with over the top violence that makes you go "eww” in a good way. This book is also chock-full of King’s signature meaty, well-rounded characters. Unlike some of his other work that tends to be long and drawn out, this tale is short and sweet. The best part of this book is you can tell how much fun King had writing it; the joy and fun flies off the page to hit you in the face. Strap in for the ride and dive in to Cell.
Daniel: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I already recommended this on my personal blog “Hardball Heart,” but I just can’t help doing it again. This book is just so beautiful not to be enjoyed with a glass of red wine and a lover cuddled up next to you. Every line drips with love, passion, and romance, and you’ll never be able to forget the heartbreak and fiery exuberance of the novel’s final lines. If you don’t fall for all of the characters in this novel, well, then you have no idea what love is. This should be required reading in order to be a human being. In fact, people should have to read this book every year to make sure they remember what love should feel like.