“Frances and Bernard” by Carlene Bauer. A novel told, mostly, in letters between a fictionalized relationship between Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. You don’t need to know or enjoy either writers work to get lost in this world of love and faith in its imperfect forms.
“Agua Viva” by Clarice Lispector. This is a great place for fiction-lovers to dip their toes into the river of language that is the Brazilian novelist Lispector. The 128 pages show her great depth and ability to put so much into every page.
“Karate Chop” by Dorthe Nors. Fifteen stories that can unsettle and show simple beauty in equal doses. She has a range in her style and characters that is impressive and makes it clear she is not writing the same story over and over again.
“1914” by Jean Echenoz. We watch five Parisian men head off to the Great War and know things will change for all of them. Who becomes the hero? Who could not be paralyzed by fear? How many actually return? Echenoz is hugely popular in his homeland and is known for his imaginative and dreamy storylines but he keeps it simple here.
“What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” by Richard Ben Cramer. Williams is well-known as one of the finest hitters ever and as an absolute crank. Especially towards journalists. Cramer was told by friends of Williams that he was ‘gone fishing and might not come back.’ Cramer waited him out and this gem is the result.
“An Armenian Sketchbook” by Vasily Grossman. One of the first embedded journalists, Grossman’s works have shown the world some first-hands accounts from the Red Army. When the Russian government sent him away for a few months he spent his time chronicling
Armenia and its people. This lighter, funnier, very humane side of his writing is no less enthralling.
“German Autumn” by Stig Dagerman. I have pushed this book towards readers since Erik Anderson at the Univ. of MN Press handed me a copy. Different from anything else I’ve read regarding WWII this book was written as long-form newspaper pieces for a Swedish paper after the fall of the Reich. Here is Germany, broken, and its people attempting to move forward.
“How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America” by Kiese Laymon. The personal essay has so many possibilities for wrong turns. Laymon, an editor at Gawker, does an admirable job of looking at race in contemporary America in new ways. Or old ways with a new lens. One piece, an apology written to an uncle, is moving and strong.
“84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff. First published in 1970, this book chronicles’ Hanff’s relationship with a bookstore staff after inquiring about a book. Its charm is in watching true friendship form from a business request. Both sides bring equal personality to the relationship.
“Ru” by Kim Thuy. This is a book that was shown to me by a customer at Micawber’s. He and I share an admiration for Canadian fiction prize-winners. This won the Governor’s General prize and is told in vignette form. Each little piece, or chapter, helps build to form a very strong whole.
“Searching For Robert Johnson” by Peter Guralnick. Not much is known about the great blues legend/ghost. Guralnick visits the places and talks to some of the people who knew Johnson–or people who knew people who knew Johnson. The definitive answers are few and that is part of the fun.
“Play Pretty Blues” by Snowden Wright. A great pairing with the Guralinick book for personal or book club reading. This story is told by the six ‘wives’ of Johnson. While a novel, it does dovetail some of the facts with some of the myths regarding Johnson and his multiple aliases. This story stands on its own as well as a well-crafted story.