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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

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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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5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: September 2015

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.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Daniel Ford: Lauren Groff’s novel Fates and Furies was published on Sept. 15 and promptly longlisted for the National Book Award. Considering the novel’s beautifully crafted sentences, its dual narrative structure, and its multi-faceted look at a marriage between two young creative spirits, it’s not hard to figure out why critics and readers alike have made Fates and Furies a hit. The marriage of Lotto and Mathilde begins innocently enough—we’re told from Lotto’s point of view—but like all marriages, it falls prey to doubt, confusion, lies, and tragedy. Because of its narrative structure—the first half focuses on Lotto, an aspiring, out-of-work actor, the second half on Mathilde, a wife dedicated to making their lives a success—Fates and Furies has drawn comparisons to Gone Girl with some justification. However, what separates this novel from Gillian Flynn’s megahit is the presence of actual love and hope. I was much more invested and intrigued by the characters in Fates and Furies than I ever was reading Gone Girl. Without giving too much away, there’s a twist when the perspectives change, however, it fits with the character in such a way that I didn’t completely question everything I had read before. There’s a true love story in Fates and Furies that is as messy, complicated, and passionate as any in real life. The novel compels you to keep reading, so you’ll have this one done in just a couple days, but Lotto and Mathilde will stick with you long after you finish.

Make Me by Lee Child

Sean Tuohy: In Make Me, Lee Child takes readers on a thrill ride that goes from the cornfields of the Midwest to the sun-soaked shores of Los Angeles and everywhere in between. Child's itinerant hero Jack Reacher steps off a speeding train in an oddly named sleepy town in the middle of nowhere and right onto the playing field with a bang, like always. Reacher wants to explore the town’s origins, but he’s suddenly finds himself racing down a dark path searching for a missing investigator and trying to out run hitmen. Child always delivers with solid action, well-paced plots, and hardboiled dialogue that pops out of Reacher’s mouth and socks you in the face.

Daniel: I haven’t read a Jack Reacher yarn in quite some time. I cracked open Make Me after being inspired by Sean’s recommendation and our field trip to Harvard to see Child interviewed by Stephen King. After reading some heavier literature and non-fiction earlier this month, the book was the perfect brain candy. Make Me is wildly entertaining and featured snappy dialogue and Reacher doing Reacher things (like expertly planning out a shootout with a trio of thugs well before the action happens). Reacher also gets a lot more beat up in this book than in some of the others I’ve read. He’s not 100 percent during the novel’s climatic events, which made me think about how the “Justified” writers portrayed Raylan Givens after they realized it wouldn’t be realistic if he shot and killed everyone every episode. Twenty books into the series, Child wisely reminded readers that Reacher isn’t a superhero. He’s just a guy trying to stay off the grid, which is getting increasing more difficult in an increasingly connected world (Reacher even has a debit card now!). Make Me made me (see what I did there?) even more excited for the next 20 Reacher adventures.  

For more insights into Make Me, watch the Stephen King and Lee Child event Writer’s Bone attended at Harvard:

Gary Almeter: Say the title of this book aloud. Just do it. The six words put together are so discordant, so cacophonous that you almost don’t know how to feel when you say them. The rest of the book, on the heels of its title, is no less jarring for all the best reasons. Clegg’s debut novel is a story of profound loss and a meditation on grief, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness. Then it adds a layer of suspense as those affected search for the truth behind the accident at the center of the novel. All of this takes place in a small town where the visiting haves comingle with the native have-nots. The resultant anger and resentment from each are beautifully and authentically realized.

This narrative is told from many different points of view. Clegg navigates through a number of characters’ consciousnesses in an elegant and commanding way. He jumps back and forth between first and third person, back and forth in time, from coast to coast, and from the protagonist to an ancillary character who also sheds insight on the loss.   

Clegg’s story is all about what happens in those serendipitous settings where people who wouldn’t ordinarily meet actually do. And how that meeting propels them forward. It is often beautiful; often adversarial; always interesting. One of the ancillary voices in this novel says, “It’s a relief to finally find where you’re meant to be.” It’s equally rewarding seeing Clegg get them there.

For more insights on Bill Clegg, listen to Gary’s recent podcast with the author:

Daniel: There are two statistics that struck me in Aziz Ansari’s excellent sociological study, Modern Romance. First, in a 2013 study about Japanese dating habit, “a whopping 45 percent of women aged sixteen to twenty-four ‘were not interested in or despised sexual contact,’ and more than a quarter of the men felt the same way.” Wow, that’s a lot of people who are not only not getting any, but don’t want any at all! And this from a country that has a serious population problem! Come on, Japan, get on that. Literally.

Secondly, “in nonmarried but ‘committed’ couples there is a 70 percent chance of cheating.” Damn. That’s a high percentage. And, as Ansari point outs throughout the book, it’s easier than ever to connect and communicate with people, so that number might even get higher in the future.

Some of the findings in the book might lead some to despair over the changing nature of relationships, marriages, and friendships. However, Ansari’s wit and charm ooze from every page and sort of make you optimistic about where we’re headed as a civilization. I’m just thankful that I found the headline to my article in Stephanie Schaefer, and that we got to discuss the book while enjoying a healthy, committed relationship.     

Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill

Sean: There is a disappointing film out right now based on this stellar true-life crime tale. Spanning 30 years, the book, written by two award-winning Boston reporters, covers the unholy marriage between the FBI and Boston crime lord James "Whitey" Burgler. The prose has an odd, almost playful, tone. It’s much better than the film and has the added bonus of being a quick read. 

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