This month's book recommendations feature works by Jason Allen, Dana Czapnik, Valeria Luiselli, Rebecca Makkai, George Packer, Sally Rooney, De’Shawn Charles Winslow, and more!
By Daniel Ford
Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.
This finalist for the National Book Award is landing on just about every top 10 list for 2014 and with good reason. All the Light We Cannot See, which tells the tale of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France during World War II, contains so many perfect sentences that I constantly question how a lowly human could have produced it. Here are two of my favorites:
Marie-Laurie can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of sunlight.
As if, at every meal, the cadets fill their tin cups not with the cold mineralized water of Schulpforta but with a spirit that leaves them glazed and dazzled, as if they ward off a vast and inevitable tidal wave of anguish only by staying forever drunk on rigor exercise and gleaming boot leather.
Every chapter is a lyrical surprise that raises your spirit right before it breaks your heart. I have less than 150 pages to read and I don’t want it to end.
Only my older brother can make fun of me for reading Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David one moment and then recommend this history book the next.
Here’s the overview from Barnes & Noble:
Drawing on the diaries of a midwife and healer in eighteenth-century Maine, this intimate history illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.
Yup, that’ll get the history nerd juices flowing.
After lusting after this Hemingway Library Edition for months, I now hold it in my hands at this very moment. I must confess I have never read Hemingway’s first novel, but that didn’t stop me from drooling over a $85,000 copy at the 2014 Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.
This copy features early drafts, deleted passages, and other titles Hemingway drew up before setting on The Sun Also Rises. I haven’t been this excited about an extended edition since Peter Jackson’s "Return of the King," which featured the mouth of Sauron.
Simply because it has been far too long since we last included Leonard on a list and for the fact it’s my favorite novel featuring Raylan Givens. This needs to be a film (preferably not one based on the 1997 television movie) ASAP.
This novel might be incredibly hard to read, but it could be worth it. Writer’s Bone essayist Dave Pezza recommended it to me, and I’m intrigued by the premise. Pynchon tells the story of British surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon as they cause a ruckus on both sides of the line that bears their name. What makes the book a challenge is that Pynchon writes as if he’s living in the 18th century. Fuck me; writing this must have sucked. My hope is that Pychon stayed in character and lived, spoke, and drank like a man from the 1700s.
Bonus: The Best Book I Read in 2014
The more I wrestled with this decision, the clearer my answer became. I loved Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves, Scott Cheshire’s High as the Horses’ Bridle, Charles M. Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed, Peter Sherwood’s The Murdery Delicious Hamwich Gumm Mystery: A Comedy of Terrors, Stephen King’s The Shining, and Jeff Shaara’s Gods and Generals, however, one book floored me more than all the others. And that novel is…
2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajama’s by Marie-Helene Bertino! If you haven’t read it yet, make it part of your New Year’s resolution!
By Daniel Ford
An American history tome might not be anyone’s first choice while parked on a beach chair, restocking Vitamin D after a long winter, and drinking a cold, frothy adult beverage.
However, there isn’t any kind of literary law that says all your beach reads need to be light, popcorn-y yarns that you breeze through in an hour and a half.
Do some learning in between sandy, romantic walks with these five U.S. history books!
This book comes with its own soundtrack!
I’d love to be able to tell you that this post doesn’t get any nerdier than that moment, but…alas.
The War of 1812 was pretty fucking goofy. Without an army or a navy, the U.S. Government at one point was debating whether or not to declare war on England and France. Which ended up looking evens sillier when the British made James Madison hightail it out of Washington right before they burned the White House to the ground.
But you’ll enjoy plenty of naval battles, a country proving it could hold its own despite its suspect war aims, and a battle fought after the conflict had officially ended.
I’m trying really hard to get Sean Tuohy to write the screenplay for Lyndon Johnson’s legendary 1948 Senate campaign.
Caro makes your heart thump describing the details of the race between Johnson and former Texas governor Coke Stevenson(this name alone should be a movie!). Johnson tried to cut into his opponent’s seemingly insurmountable lead by campaigning in a helicopter, but still had to resort to buying votes to win the election and set his course to the White House.
Stevenson at one points heads out to check out the disputed county votes himself with a retired U.S. Marshall who just happened to shot Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde (!!!!!). The election also involves a shadowy Mexican enforcer nicknamed “Indio” who eventually admitted to helping put the fix in.
Cast Bryan Cranston as LBJ and I'd pay money to see that.
It’s best not to read this book while on a boat.
Unless of course you’re comfortable reading about a shipwreck caused by an angry sperm whale followed by survivors lost at sea for more than 90 days who had to draw straws to figure out who got eaten first.
It’s chilling and grim, but it’s the perfect read while enjoying low tide and being anchored by beach cocktails.
The Founders can sometimes come off as a little inaccessible.
Several of them can be found memorialized in marble in Washington D.C., which doesn’t help the cause. But this book breathes life into guys like George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson (one of U.S. history’s biggest douches).
Hamilton and Burr’s duel offers the most suspense for obvious reasons, but the debate on where to place the nation’s capital and Jefferson and Adams’ renewed friendship at the end of their lives are equally as thrilling.
One could argue that Prohibition was one of the more successful interventions in drinking history.
However, the temperance movement also facilitated the rise of organized crime and the restriction of personal freedom, as well as wasted federal dollars pursuing and prosecuting violators of the Volstead Act.
Okrent writes with a spirit and verve that grabs you from the first chapter (which details how much Americans were drinking before Prohibition set in).
The best part is you can wet your whistle while making fun of the poor schumcks getting in trouble for wetting theirs during the heyday of the Progressive movement.