Here are seven books that I truly randomly chose from my bookshelves:
1. Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie – I would basically read anything that Alexie writes, including grocery lists, but I especially like this book because it’s different than his others. It doesn’t pivot as much on humor as it does on questions of identity and psychological rage. That said, there is this really funny portrait of a white writer who writes Indian mysteries (I have no proof of this, but I always think Alexie is poking fun at Tony Hillerman). But the book is rich with questions of what it means to be who we are and what it would mean for us to be that person if we weren’t in a place where we were accepted.
2. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson – This book is another that is darkly humorous, especially if, like me, you grew up in a community of people who seem to think that world closely circumscribed by only church things is the best way to go. The protagonist is determining her sexuality and embracing it while also coming to terms with the distance it will create between her and her adopted family. (I’m sensing a theme in the books I’m reviewing lately – more to explore in a journal later.)
3. Changing Places by David Lodge – my high school English teacher, Mr. Evans – the man who turned me on to photography (as a viewer not a shooter) and to many great writers, told me I would like David Lodge, and he was right. Lodge is funny – coffee through the nose funny – and this book explore the world of two university professors, one American and one British, who switch places for a term. The story of their discoveries and foibles is hysterical.
4. Paradise by Toni Morrison – This book is, in my opinion, highly underrated in terms of Morrison’s work. It explores the lives of women living in a convent-like community out in the wilderness. Each character is written with ferocity and focus, yet the group of women also functions as a character itself. For those of you familiar with the Gnostic Gospels, this book weaves those ideas into the text in complex ways.
5. Home by Tracy Kidder – The story of a house being built in New England – that’s it. Kidder just does his thing and looks into the lives of each of the people working on the house – the architect, the contractor, the builders. I can remember reading this book outside the Gestalt Institute in Cleveland – and I only remember where I read books when they’re really good.
6. Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood – I love books on writing – so this may not be the best review – but Atwood does give some great advice and perspective on what it means to live as a writer. For those of you that don’t love her fiction, this might be a way to read some Atwood and say you have without having to go into her plots.
7. From Our House by Lee Martin – This work of nonfiction explores Martin’s life with his farmer father, a man who loses an arm in a farming accident. It’s a harsh story that includes abuse, but it’s not sensation – Martin isn’t seek to make his past spectacular. Instead, he’s ruminating through it. If you read this one and like it, I hear good things about Martin’s new book The Bright Forever; it was Pulitzer finalist this year.
So that’s it. If you’ve read any of these and reviewed them, you can post a link with Mister Linky below. And as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these in the comments.
P.S. The student and faculty reading at the college went spectacularly last night. The students were wonderful, if nervous, and I honestly work with some of the most talented writers I’ve ever met. Now if we only had time to write more.