10 Books of Summer Challenge

10Well, hello there! Nothing like getting back into the swing of things like joining a challenge. I’ve been itching to get back to the blog, so when Cathy at 746 Books announced her annual 20 Books of Summer challenge, I decided this might be a prime opportunity. Now, I’ve failed to complete this challenge before, so I decided to go easy on myself and commit to 10 books. You’ll notice, however, that I have 15 in my picture. I got a little carried away before I realized that I needed to consider that I’ll have at least three additional books to read for book club, plus I’m bound to go off script and read at least one or two unplanned books, probably re-reads. I average about five books a month, so this should be doable, even though I have a few chunksters there. Let’s get to the list, shall we?

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin. I don’t read a lot of Sci Fi, but I’ve always felt like this was a standard must-read for any person who considers themselves well-read. (For the record, I do not consider myself well-read because my reading has always been all over the place, so I have a lot of gaps.) But this is #4 in a series? Oof. Well. Anyone read it? Do I have to read the other three first? That’s a lot of Sci Fi for this reader, ya’ll, even if I am trying to better myself.

The Dog of the South, Charles Portis. True Grit is one of my favorite books of all time, and I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for several years.

The Power of the Dog, Thomas Savage. Ha, I should have listed this and The Dog of the South first in an attempt to make you all believe I was only going to read books with dog in the title! Anyway, I just added this dark, modern Western about two brothers vying for the same woman to my list after seeing a review of it on Goodreads a few weeks ago from someone with very similar tastes. Plus, I’m a total sucker for a Western.

Truly Devious, Maureen Johnson. I don’t read a lot of YA, but I’m familiar with Johnson because I used to follow her on Twitter. Her exchanges with the Brothers Green (John and Hank) were always so amusing. Larry from It’s Either Sadness or Euphoria (honestly this guy cannot be human—he reads and reads and then produces the most incredible reviews of everything) reviewed this on Goodreads a few weeks ago and it looked so cute I thought this boarding school mystery (the first in a series) would be a fun summer read.

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin. Honestly, I have been on the fence about this one, but my book group picked it to read for our next meeting, so the decision was made for me. Let’s hope it’s worth it. It does have a gorgeous cover.

The Guest Book, Sarah Blake. An East Coast multi-generational family saga.                 Sorry, did you need more explanation than that?

A Brightness Long Ago, Guy Gavriel Kay. I’m not sure if it’s just Game of Thrones ending or what, but I got the itch to read some Fantasy, and apparently this guy (see what I did there) is amazing. My MIL really enjoys his books and the description sounded fun, so I thought, why not try it?

Oral History, Lee Smith. Ever since reading Fair and Tender Ladies (oh, how that title makes me cringe, but it is such a wonderful book), I’ve wanted to read all of Lee Smith’s books. But since I have the attention span of a……..what was I saying?

Florida, Lauren Groff. I used to read short stories almost exclusively. Now I can’t remember the last time I picked up a collection, other than to re-read something. I’m not a huge fan of Groff’s novels, but I did love her collection Delicate Edible Birds, which was one of the first books I reviewed here. I’m a little worried about the hype, but we’ll see.

Red Clocks, Leni Zumas. Honestly of all the books on the stack this is the one I am least likely to read. I got it as part of a first editions/new releases subscription through Powell’s last year. I had just read The Power, which was alright, and was not in the mood to read another feminist dystopian novel. I’m still not, truth be told (and I already have Le Guin!), because we’re all just living the dream…er, nightmare…right now, aren’t we?

Less, Andrew Sean Greer. I bought this right before we moved to Amsterdam, so it was on a boat and then in storage and then it went on the shelf and I forgot about it until I went hunting for books to read for this challenge. It’s supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny, so sign me up.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne. There was so much hype around this one I tried to resist it, but then I read the first few pages at the bookstore and thought, yes. Then we moved and see Less by Greer, Andrew Sean above.

Marlena, Julie Buntin. If I remember correctly, this came out right around the same time as Emma Cline’s The Girls (which I thought was fantastic), so I bought and I’ve tried several times to read it and…meh. But maybe there will be some sort of cosmic convergence and I’ll not only actually finish this 10 Books of Summer challenge but I will do so by reading this book! I love it when things just work out, don’t you?

The Italian Teacher, Tom Rachmann. I wholeheartedly enjoyed both The Imperfectionists and The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, so when I saw this on sale at the book store I bought it. And then I went on to read something else. Not that it’s a pattern or anything.

The Gunners, Rebecca Kauffman. Honestly, I think it was on sale? Like The Immortalists, this is one that got a lot of hype and I felt sort of wary about but obviously I had a brain fart and now look at me, proud owner of this book.

So there you have it. Is anybody still out there? Have you read any of the books on my list? Please share in the comments…and stay tuned to see if this will be my year!

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Reader’s Journal: Train Dreams

Train DreamsTrain Dreams is one of those books that has seemed to crop up on “Best of” lists at the end of each year for the last few years. I first had the chance to read Denis Johnson in graduate school when I was assigned to read Fiskadoro for a class on the post-modern Twentieth century novel; it was a chance I didn’t take. I was much more interested in reading short stories at the time, and my interest in getting a PhD was starting to dwindle as I realized that none of my friends who were close to completing their degrees were getting job offers and that much of my time and energy would be less devoted to reading and writing what I liked and more to finding ways to say things about literature that either probably didn’t need to be said or would be said in better ways by somebody else.

Nevertheless, I’ve carted Fiskadoro around for the last twenty-three years, sure that I’ll get to it at some point. The chances look better this year than ever before, however, since I made Train Dreams my first book of 2019 and was stunned by this beautifully haunted (and haunting) narrative of the American West. The novella’s protagonist, Robert Grainier, works a variety of jobs across Montana and Washington State, including logging and hauling. He was sent to the Northwest Territories (specifically Idaho) as a child from either Utah or Canada to live with his aunt and uncle, although he has no recall of his early life or how he came to be in his present place. He doesn’t know exactly how old he is. Instead, he relies on accounts of himself from his cousins, even as those accounts differ completely from each other. In his thirties he takes a wife and they have a daughter, but while he’s away working a great fire consumes the valley where their small cabin resides. When he returns the land is devastated, his family gone. He returns to the land as it begins to recover, living first in an old canvas tent and then rebuilding a small cabin in the footprint of the former. He works in the area hauling goods and doing odd jobs for the rest of his life. At night, he howls with the wolves. He flies once in an airplane at a county fair. He sees a train carrying Elvis, watches the interstate being built. He never sees the ocean or speaks on a telephone. He never remarries.

All his life Robert Grainier would remember the vividly the burned valley at sundown, the most dreamlike business he’d ever witnessed waking–the brilliant pastels of the last light overhead, some clouds high and white, catching daylight from beyond the valley, others ribbed and gray and pink, the lowest of them rubbing the peaks of the Brussard and Queen mountains; and beneath this wondrous sky the black valley, utterly still, the train moving through it making a great noise but unable to wake this dead world.

The story is non-linear and made up more of anecdotes about Grainier’s encounters and dreams than anything that shows an arc across his almost eighty years. Things happen to Grainier, and while he’s certainly affected he remains largely unchanged throughout his life. He’s an everyman, in a sense, and also a reminder that even the smallest lives can be full of wonder. About fifteen years ago I worked with a person who had gone from Atlanta to visit some relatives in northern Alabama, and I remember him telling me that several of them had never experienced technological advances that we took for granted: microwave ovens, for example, and ATMs. They could not fathom walking up to a machine and having it dispense cash. This was 2005. I say this not to make fun, nor to point out how backwards things can still be in the American South. I bring this up because I find it so interesting how easy it is to exalt lives like these in literature, and then so easily forget they still exist in real life until they come upon us in such ugly ways, like the 2016 election. These are people who are poor and largely forgotten, living in deeply rural areas in flyover states. In 2011 when this book was published it would have read as a dream or an allegory. Today I read it and wonder, how did it all go so wrong? The ugliest comments I’ve seen would say these people should simply die, and that is most likely what will happen, as they are either blocked from services that can offer help or refuse those services outright when they are available. But in literature they remind us they should not be discounted, that the circumstances of their lives bring them to experience the world in a very particular way that makes sense to them. This, ultimately, is why a book like Train Dreams is so important, not just for its beautiful language, for its particular account of the American West, but to remind us of the humanity, to remind us to stop and consider lives so wholly different from our own, something that seems harder to do in our own country but easy to afford to those from elsewhere. How do we begin to change that world? What is the new story America must tell itself, even as these dreams remain?

Reader’s Journal: November Road

November RoadLou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone was an amazing surprise for me in 2017, so when I heard he had a new book coming out this year, I immediately made it a priority. Of course, I make lots of books a “priority”—that’s how I ended up with 266 unread books in my possession. I always have good intentions, but what matters, of course, is follow through, and in the case of Berney’s latest, November Road, I’m happy to say that I, in the parlance of my Southern friends, “got her done.” Ew.

Anyway, the book! The year is 1963. Frank Guidry works for the mob in New Orleans. Charlotte is a housewife in Woodrow, Oklahoma, with two daughters and an alcoholic husband who has trouble holding down a steady job. For Frank, the Kennedy assassination sets into motion a chain of events that send him on the run. For Charlotte, the meaninglessness of such a momentous event to her everyday life makes her realize that something has got to change, so she takes her two girls, Joan, 8, and Rosemary, 7, and hits the road for California. Frank and Charlotte’s paths cross in New Mexico after Charlotte’s car goes into a ditch. They wind up staying at the same hotel, and Frank, realizing that a man traveling with a wife and two daughters is far less suspicious than a man traveling alone, begins to charm Charlotte and the girls. Together, the four of them head west. On their trail is hitman Phil Barone.

The thing is, up to a point, this is a predictable story. You know Frank and Charlotte are going to fall for each other. You know Barone will catch up with them eventually. You know Charlotte will figure out that Frank isn’t the person he pretends to be. But the beautiful thing about this book is that the characters don’t go in exactly the direction you think, and that’s not because Berney throws in a big plot twist at the end. See, November Road is the kind of novel that you can hold up as a fine example of the fact that in the very best fiction, the characters drive the plot, rather than existing in service to it. Frank, Charlotte, and Barone are so well developed that you really want them all to come out ahead. Even Joan and Rosemary come across as two real little people rather than plot devices or clichés. In fact, nothing in this story is cliché, when it so, so easily could have veered that way. Another terrific thing is the way Berney uses details specific to the time period, like the Kennedy assassination and certain music, like Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” without being heavy-handed like, “It’s 1963! Huge turning point for America!” Instead, he shows how these things matter to the characters, who are having their own huge turning points that really have nothing (and then also, in some ways, everything) to do with current and coming world events.

Lately I feel that the highest praise I can offer a book is to say it’s worth re-reading. Both November Road and The Long and Faraway Gone earn this praise. Maybe it’s a phase I’m going through, but I follow so many publishers and bloggers, and I have started to feel more than overwhelmed by what’s NEW, NEW, NEW all the time. Everyone’s hyping the same books, and they come and go so quickly. I’ve done more re-reading this year than I have in a long time, and it feels good. It feels much better than trying to keep up with new releases and books longlisted or shortlisted for this or that prize that seem like the judges simply raced through and didn’t notice the smoke and mirrors. Forget those books. Read Lou Berney. Read him twice. You won’t be sorry.

Reader’s Journal: UNSUB

UNSUB (UNSUB, #1)I could say that I picked up Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB on a whim, but that wouldn’t be exactly true. For one thing, I read her first book, China Lake, back in 2011. That was the first in her Evan Delaney series, and the only one I read—not because I didn’t enjoy it (I did!), but because I’m generally too interested in a different next book to get to the next one in a series right away (or ever). I had just discovered the Edgar Awards and along with it some favorite new authors. I decided to read Meg Gardiner because I liked her, or more specifically her blog, Lying for a Living. But then, to tell the truth, I kind of forgot about her. If I tell you that up until last week I had 674 books on my Goodreads “want to read” list, I think that’s explanation enough.

But why UNSUB? Why not just the next in the Evan Delaney series? I guess because I was in a serial killer kind of mood. Is that a thing? In truth, I didn’t read the description all that closely, and I thought it was a book about a father-daughter investigative team that was obsessed with the Zodiac Killer. Close, but not quite. Mack Hendrix is an ex-homicide detective who was driven into retirement after his obsession with a serial killer called The Prophet drove him close to the brink of madness and killed his partner. Caitlin Hendrix is a cop like her old man, working in narcotics when she gets called to the scene of a grisly murder on the outskirts of San Francisco. It’s clear from the crime scene that The Prophet has returned, and Caitlin is determined to be a part of the investigation. That’s where the thrill ride starts, and Gardiner never lets up, even for a second. The story is expertly plotted and paced and highly entertaining to boot. It took me two days to read it, but if you don’t spook easily, you could probably get through it in one sitting. (Actually, if you do spook easily, one sitting might be better, like ripping off a bandage.)

Earlier this year I read Michelle McNamara’s fantastic I’ll Be Gone in the Dark about her obsession and hunt for the Golden State Killer. As it turns out, the GSK prowled and terrorized the Santa Barbara neighborhood where Meg Gardiner lived as a kid, the creek he used to slip quietly through neighborhoods running nearly alongside her family home and the homes of her friends. Echoes of that killer’s crimes appear in UNSUB, as does the terror he caused in the communities where he committed crimes. Gardiner also pays some homage to McNamara’s work in reminding the reader that back in the day, county agencies handled their own investigations, so often they had no idea that the serial rapist or killer in their midst was wreaking the same havoc in other nearby counties. Today, California has a sophisticated DNA database (thanks to a family member of one of GSK’s victims), and we are all linked by the internet—something Gardiner uses to the killer’s chilling advantage. Caitlin also receives help from an amateur sleuth who helps to run a forum called FindTheProhet.com, giving a nod to all those people who work earnestly and tirelessly (and maybe a bit obsessively) to help resolve long unsolved crimes.

I bring up McNamara’s book because in misreading the description for UNSUB and then adding it to my TBR, I assumed I was going to get a novel based on the same type of characters, regular people haunted by and driven to solve a mystery. And instead I got a combination crime thriller/police procedural, which aren’t genres I usually gravitate to, and I think for that reason some things in the book didn’t work for me. (This might get a little spoilery, but I’ll do my best not to reveal anything.) Let me preface this by saying that the problem is me and my expectations, not the book. Gardiner ratchets up the tension from the get go and never lets up, which I appreciated, but I like a slower burn. When The Prophet resurfaces, things escalate quickly over the course of a few days, and it all seemed to me…over the top. There are videos and hidden cameras and explosions and so on and so forth. There’s an elaborate finale in which just the right people are at the scene and lots of people are killed and…I know it’s wrong, but I kept thinking, really? Isn’t this a bit much? (But then I kept reading, because Gardiner is good, and I had to know what happened.) But maybe that’s the point. In fiction, strange as it may be, serial killers are entertainment, and we get to control them, and the point is to contain them, to catch the bad guys (although I am not saying she catches him; you’ll have to read it to find out). But for me it would have been just as thrilling if the end was Caitlin and team pouncing on The Prophet when he was coming out of WalMart with milk and toilet paper, maybe even more so, because that’s really the most terrifying thing of all. GSK, BTK, Ted Bundy…these people walk the streets, go to the grocery store and the mall and the Starbucks, send their kids to school, go to church. In 2016 a billboard went up along Georgia 400 near Alpharetta with a drawing of GSK and a number to call for any information of his whereabouts. And I remember thinking, because I had read McNamara’s original GSK profile in LA Magazine in 2013 (warning: the opening sketch alone will give you nightmares), “No. No way is he here. He’s in California.” But how would I have known? It was entirely plausible he could have crossed the country to get a fresh start. When my husband wasn’t home, I kept the doors and windows locked.

But anyway, back to the safe world of fiction: UNSUB is a terrific read, and lucky me, the second one, Into the Black Nowhere, is already out, and set in my home state of Texas. And I don’t think I’ll stop there.

Reader’s Journal: Why you should read Anthony Marra (if you haven’t already)

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaThis year I’ve read both of Anthony Marra’s books, The Tsar of Love and Techno and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Both works were on so many ‘Best of’ lists the years they were published that I was wary, but I needn’t have worried. They both live up to the hype, especially The Tsar of Love and Techno, a series of linked stories set across the former Soviet Union (Chechnya, a Siberian city called Kirovsk, Leningrad/St. Petersburg) that move between the Soviet era just before World War II to near present day. Recently I saw someone on Goodreads say about a book that the best way they could share how much they loved the work was simply to quote from it extensively. This is exactly how I felt about The Tsar of Love and Techno, and to a lesser extent A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which was Marra’s debut novel, as I seemed to find myself highlighting some turn of phrase or passage on every other page. In fact, I underlined so much that the best way for me to share my feelings might simply be to hand someone the entire book. I’ll admit that A Constellation did drag a bit in places; it’s more bleak than The Tsar, dealing exclusively with the aftermath and devastation of both the First and Second Chechen Wars for a small group of characters. A Constellation covers only five days in the present but moves across time to share the lives of the principal characters. In both books the characters are connected either as family or friends, or by history or direct circumstance, and at times by all of the above. Some of these stories take too long to tell, the suspense building not to a bang but a whimper that can leave the reader feeling that the time spent on something that the plot reveals as inevitable might have been better spent on another character, another story. This is why I think The Tsar is better: Marra seems to have honed these connections, to have figured out exactly how much to tell in one place so that later, when a small but significant detail from an earlier story appears as a major element in a later one, the reader feels the power of the mystery of coincidence. There is much less of a feeling of “of course” and more of a sense of wonder at the ping and response of human activity across time.

The Tsar of Love and TechnoTwo things I loved in both books. First, the humor, which I completely did not expect. A Constellation has its fair share, especially when it brings together two of the primary characters, Akhmed and Sonja. He is a mostly incompetent village doctor who would prefer to be an artist; she is a talented surgeon who studied in London but returned to Chechnya for complicated reasons having to do with her younger sister. At the beginning of the novel, Akhmed brings a  child, Havaa, to the hospital where Sonja works, hoping that as a doctor Sonja will agree to take the homeless child into her care if he agrees to help her manage patients in the hospital. To test him, she asks what he would do with an unresponsive patient brought into the emergency room. He  responds that he would give the patient a questionnaire:

She had asked what he would do with an unresponsive patient, and he, in a blundering moment, had taken it to mean quiet or unwilling to talk , and had thought of the mute village baker, who communicated only through written notes—which had proved problematic the previous winter when the baker suffered from a bout of impotence he was too ashamed to write down, even to Akhmed. Akhmed had resolved the problem—shrewdly, he thought—by giving the mute baker a questionnaire with a hundred potential symptoms, of which the baker checked only one, and so had saved the baker’s testicles, marriage and pride.

Marra is highly adept at using humor to bring levity to the darkest moments. Although occasionally slapstick, this humor is often the most complicated kind, pulled from moments of misunderstanding or desperation to remind us all that the human condition is equal parts comedy and tragedy.

The second thing I love is a small thing: how Marra tells us something significant about even the most seemingly insignificant characters. For example, a man in A Constellation who is brought in after hitting a land mine:

The man, and he was a man, it was so easy to forget that with all his insides leaking out, had graduated from architecture school and had been searching for employment when the first bombs fell. When the land mine took his leg, he had already spent nine years searching for his first architectural commission. Another six and three-quarter years would pass before he got that first commission, at the age of thirty-eight. With only twenty percent of the city still standing, he would never be without work again.

I love this especially because it’s something I wonder about not even so much in novels as in real life, just passing people on the street or in the grocery store. These little glimpses make these bit players into something whole, give us a chance to see the detail framed against the bigger story.

A Constellation was Marra’s first book, but I recommend reading The Tsar first. I think they’re both worth reading and the quotes I’ve shared above are both from A Constellation, The Tsar is just…better. I’m not sure, but perhaps with A Constellation, Marra needed to write out all the blood and horror and betrayal to get some perspective, because it’s certainly the perspective piece of things that makes The Tsar the better book. And so, to convince you, I will leave you with a string of quotes (but I promise it’s not the whole book) from The Tsar. You’re welcome.

Radiographs of broken ribs, dislocated shoulders, malignant tumors, compacted vertebrae had been cut into vague circles, the music etched into the X-ray surface, the center hole punctured with a cigarette ember, and it was glorious to know that these images of human pain could hide in their grooves a sound as pure and joyful as Brian Wilson’s voice.

Yellow fog enshrouded the city like a varnish aged upon the air.

Despite inheriting her grandmother’s beautiful figure, Galina danced with the subtlety of a spooked ostrich.

You see, Kolya was a hundred meters of arrogance pressed into a two-meter frame, the kind of young man who makes you feel inadequate for not impressing him.

The Lenin statue once stood in the square outside this school, arm raised, rallying the schoolchildren to glorious revolution, but now, buried to his chin like a cowboy sentenced to death beneath the desert sun, Vladimir Ilich waves only for help.

I fear for her future in a country whose citizenry is forced to assemble its own furniture.

Then she’s gone and I’m left alone with the assistant whose saccharine perfume smells of vaporized cherubs.

Danilo, a contract soldier, body build like a flour sack and brain wired like a firecracker…

The megalopolis in his mind has quieted to a country road. He does his work, he eats his bread, and he sleeps with the knowledge that today hasn’t added to the sum of human misery. For now at least it’s a peace of a kind he hadn’t imagined himself worthy of receiving.

Kolya entered the chorus with an orchestra of punch-drunk madmen living in him, belting the tune to the velvet yellow, to the misting lake, to the carcinogens no song could dislodge from his capillaries, and in this amphitheater of decimated industry, on this stage of ice and steel, he taught the granddaughter of a prima ballerina to dance.

The strip of concrete, scabbed in gray forest, stretched to the intersection where it linked with another sidewalk, which in turn intersected with another and another, circumscribing the limits of her life. How often had she walked down them silently? How often had she censored her thoughts, her judgments, her beliefs, her desires, consigning them to some region of her soul where they couldn’t betray her?

Took a long time to understand the American mindset. The fear of their cruel and capricious government weighs heavily on their psyches. They’re more inclined to believe they’ll lose what they have than receive what they want.

The Elephant in the…Book?

Something happened I just have to talk to you about. Recently, I read a book by a favorite author. I was mesmerized and thoroughly enjoying the experience until I hit the last few pages. Why? Because it seems the author (and the editors) made a huge mistake! Sorry, this is going to be a bit confusing, because I don’t want to reveal the book and author: In the middle of the book, the first-person narrator talks about a past event where she met a specific character. In the last few pages of the book, the narrator recalls a memory in the same time frame as that event, where another character specifically reveals that the person the narrator described meeting would not be attending the event for medical reasons. At first I thought this might be an issue with an unreliable narrator and perhaps I had missed something, but I went back to the initial event and at no point is there any surprise (“But So-and-So WAS there, even though Whosis had said So-and-So would not make it!”) or explanation (“The reason must not have been as bad as Whosis said, because So-and-So was there, which made me more suspicious”).

I keep trying to work out how this could have happened. The narrator meets this character in the middle of the book, and then at the end of the book we’re essentially told the narrator never did get to meet that person. And it’s interesting because our impression of the related character, Whosis, hinges on each of these events. I keep telling myself I must be misreading. Honestly, I can see how it could happen, because looking at a draft over and over again, you can start to take it for granted that everything’s in order, even if you read it all the way through. I certainly don’t want to point this out as a flaw, because the book is so good overall. Maybe people won’t notice? I’ve looked through Goodreads and no one has mentioned it, but I wonder if that’s because so many of us get to the end of a book–especially a thriller–and are so wrapped up in the conclusion that things like this don’t register. Have you ever experienced anything like this in a book? Did it change your opinion of the book or author overall?

Top Ten Books I Missed in 2017

Is it just me, or were a lot of good books published in 2017? I felt like I was buying something or adding something new to my list every time I turned around. I bought a lot of current books in 2017, which is unusual for me. I tend to buy more backlist titles, probably because I buy most of my books on sale or used. Six of the books on this list are already on my shelves, and I greatly covet the four that aren’t, especially because my library only has one of them. Sigh. Without further ado (and a day late), here are my top ten books I missed in 2017 but plan to read in 2018:

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee. This made so many “Best of” lists this year, and most importantly it was Roxane Gay’s favorite book of the year. We all trust Roxane, right?
The Child Finder, Rene Denfeld. The second I saw Rene Denfeld had a new book out, I had to buy it. I loved The Enchanted, which was beautiful and heartbreaking.
Bellevue Square, Michael Redhill. I had hoped to buy this 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel on my trip to Amsterdam after hearing Naomi and Kim say wonderful things about it, but the American Book Center didn’t have it and Waterstone’s was closed the day I finally made it over there (New Year’s Day). My library does have another 2017 Giller contender I really wanted to read, I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters (published in 2016), but not this one. Maybe they’ll have it by 2018?
The Essex SerpentThe Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry. Honestly, I just liked the cover on this one, and everyone was buzzing about it so…trust.
Marlena, Julie Bunting. I love novels about formative female friendships. Last year I had two on my radar, Marlena and Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl. Sadly, The Burning Girl, while spot on about many of the ways girlfriends can drift apart during adolescence, failed to provide the deeper story I longed for. Maybe Marlena will fill the gap.
Elmet, Fiona Mozley. This was one of the Man Booker Prize nominees that interested me the most after I heard Hannah Greendale review it on her YouTube channel, Beginning to Bookends. And again, that cover! I’m shallow. Sue me.Elmet
The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt. I was absolutely blown away by Mr. Splitfoot in 2016, and then again by her first novel, The Seas, when I read it last year. The second I heard Hunt had a new story collection out in 2017, I ordered it.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser. Like millions of American children, I grew up captivated by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her childhood and early adulthood in the American Midwest and West. This book sounds absolutely fascinating and takes a close look at Wilder’s relationship with her daughter Rose, who had a great deal of editorial influence on the books. THE LIBRARY DOESN’T HAVE IT. I feel this is un-American.
Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands, by Roger D. Hodge. Because you can take the girl out of Texas…
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, by Michael Finkel. Several people were talking about this one in 2017, but it came to my attention when it popped up as a recommendation for me after I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man. I’m fascinated by people who brave the wilderness and choose a simpler (in some ways) life. Nope, no copy at the library.

Hopefully I’ll get to most of these in 2018! How about you: did you read any of these in 2017, or do you hope to read them in 2018?