It’s a few days after Christmas and I have enjoyed spending uninterrupted time with my family, eating rich yummy food as well as having some well-deserved lazy reading time. I love nothing more than the unscheduled time of flopping across a chair and becoming immersed in a REALLY good book. Not everyone wants the over the top Christmas and New Years jubilations, especially me. Christmas is an overachiever’s holiday and once it is over and the New Year is here, I breathe a sigh of relief and feel proud that once again- I have survived Christmas.
So as the New Year approaches, I am thinking about some of the novels, essays and poetry I have read this year!
This year was INSANLY busy… I sold my house I lived in before I got married and my husband and I bought and moved into a new house- with two kids and two dogs and three cats in tow. I traveled to a few cool places and the Museum was bustling with activity including dynamic art exhibitions. It’s been a year of long days at work and few weekends off- as a result I didn’t read that many novels. However, I did manage to read some pretty interesting stuff, here are a few:
- Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) A review of this book on NPR completely hooked me. I have a “guilty pleasure” love of a good mystery. For a voyeur like me, stories about dysfunctional families are CRACK but stories about dysfunctional marriages are an even better drug, especially when the novel is filled with so much psychological suspense.
- The Cove (Ron Rash) Whenever I discover that Ron Rash has published a new novel, I either rush out to buy it or download it on Nook (yes, I own one of those evil devices). He is one of my favorite novelists and poets. In The Cove, the backwoods western North Carolina cove is where Laurel Shelton lives. It is a place that was cursed long before the Shelton family settled there. Rash creates a dark, spooky and forlorn atmosphere. The setting is in Madison County North Carolina, a beautiful, mountainous and rural area. This is a great book especially for anyone who enjoys reading a good love story.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) This is a book that was made into a movie with a lot of hype around it, but then again, it doesn’t hurt having Daniel Craig as your main character. I read this novel because I thought I should read it before I went to see the movie (which to date I haven’t yet seen). I have to admit, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo captivated me. It’s an “ugly” book and not kind to women but it is also smart, with a good story. Lizabeth Salander is a damaged computer hacker with some serious intimacy issues. This book has a lot of sexual politics, misogyny and a cold case that isn’t so cold. Like a stray cat, Lizabeth is out there trying to survive.
- Juliet Naked (Nick Hornsby) I read Hornsby’s novel, High Fidelity while working at a used book and vinyl record store years ago, so I felt I intimately knew those characters in High Fidelity since it is based on record store employees. Like High Fidelity, Juliet Naked has an indirect focus on music and pop culture. The main characters are Annie and Duncan, a middle-aged couple, and Tucker Crowe, an aging musician in retirement. Annie and Duncan have a relationship-ending fight about the quality of Tucker Crowe’s new album, and Annie begins a correspondence with Tucker Crowe. Juliet Naked is about regret- BIG, mid-life crisis level regret. Annie and Duncan’s fight are really about the all too-quick passage of time and of wasted opportunities.
I read a lot of short story collections this year- Prefect reading for ME and my crazy schedule and life. The three collections I have selected below are all about Kentucky and North Carolina. My two favorite places!
- Kentucky Straight (Chris Offutt) This is actually a short story collection that I read a long time ago and decided to reread. I love Chris Offutt. He is the ultimate rambling man who was born in Morehead Kentucky, just up the road from Hazard. Also for you True Blood fans, he also wrote some of the screenplays for that HBO series, but long before True Blood, Offutt wrote this short story collection. If you like a good short story, great Southern writing, and want to be knocked on your butt by a writer’s sheer talent, then introduce yourself to Chris Offutt’s work.
- Girl Trouble (Holly Goddard Jones) Jones is also a Kentucky writer but she hails from the western part of the state and is currently an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I can’t quiet remember how I discovered her work but I did read somewhere that Jones’ Girl Trouble, is a retellings of ancient Roman tragedies. All the stories are set in or just outside of the fictional town of Roma, Kentucky. Girl Trouble has many instances of physical violence, beatings, rape, killings of humans and animals alike, as well as emotional violence such as betrayal, punishment, and unkind words of the worst type—This book reads like classic tragedy, but the stories’ characters have a southern twang.
- Let the Dead Bury their Dead (Randall Kenan) This is another book I reread. It is set in Tims Creek North Carolina a fictional town in eastern North Carolina, governed by the rituals and rhythm of farming, something we know all about in the east. Tims Creek reminds me of growing up in Hazard because to outsiders Tims Creek looks like a dull North Carolina backwater settlement. The town was established by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders who are now farmers, shop owners, factory workers, and regular folks but Kenan makes clear in the telling of his thirteen stories, that nearly every dwelling in this fertile country houses a fascinating tale. Kenan grew up Chinquapin, NC and his stories depict this unique haunted landscape.
Non-Fiction and Essays
Here are a few that I read this year.
- Composed (Roseanne Cash) I love her music as well as her father and stepmother, so I decided to read Cash’s memoir. Rosanne Cash’s memoir is the testament to the power of art, tradition, and how all three transformed her life. I love country music and good songwriters, so reading about Cash’s life was an easy and fun read.
- Townie (Andre Dubus III) I started reading Andre Dubus III because I liked his father, Andre Dubus’, short stories and –thought: “why not check out his cute son’s books”. Dubus III is a great writer. I recommend his fiction, but his memoir Townie is truly amazing. His violent neglected childhood gives new meaning to the phrase my mom always says: “jerked up” instead of raised.
- Pulphead, (John Jeremiah Sullivan) Sullivan is an essayist whose work has been in various magazines over the years. He writes extraordinary prose that contains offbeat insights about modern culture. He is an incredible stylist and also a fellow Kentuckian, so I got to like him. Also- if you happen to remember Axle Rose of Guns and Roses, then you will feel pretty darn sorry for Axel by the time you read Sullivan’s essay about him.
Recent visits by two US Poet Laureates, Philip Levine and Natasha Trethewey -to the Greenville Museum of Art this past year rekindled my love of poetry.
- What Work Is by Levine is a hymn of praise for all the workers of America.
- Bellocq Ophelia by Tretheway is a book of poetry inspired by the photographer, John Bellocq’s 1900’s New Orleans portraits of prostitutes.
Lastly, I dipped my toe into the waters of online journals this year. Here are a couple of them that I like:
- Still: The Journal Contemporary literary writing of Central Appalachia, or the Mountain South
- Drafthorse A biannual online publication of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, visual narrative, and other media art where work, occupation, labor—or lack of the same—is in some way intrinsic to a narrative’s potential for epiphany.
As the 2013 approaches, I am looking forward to discovering what this year will fetch, so bring on the GOOD BOOKS!!