The Reading List

I’m trying to read a shit ton in 2011.  There are several little black notebooks hanging out around my duplex.  In one of them I started writing down books after I finished them and a few thoughts.  See, I was trying to give myself a way to remember what I had read and what I thought about it at the time.  I’ll transcribe those notebook entries here.  (thanks spellcheck)

January

1.Hell at the Breech-Tom Franklin.  Certainly an epic novel.  After the first thirty pages or so the story reverses three years for 20 or so pages then back to the original timeline.  The ‘good’ guys in the novel become the ‘bad’ guys or at least they seem to do more damage.  Maybe it’s just visible damage.  Who is the main character?  Mack, the boy, or Waite the sheriff, or Bledsoe?  They show up about the same number of pages.  Excellent the whole way.

2.Less Shiney-Mary Miller.  Her short shorts are not as exciting as the stories in Big World but they are all interesting and unique.  Lots of single women or women who act act single.  Plus more than a few dogs.  Nice to see the progression from these stories to the Big World stories.  What’s next?

3.Virginia Lovers-Michael Parker.  What a shitty book.  I guess the sentences were fine because I was 30 or more pages in and realized it had been nothing but one cliche after another and it didn’t stop for 194 pages.  Oh Lordy.  But I’ve read two books of his that were excellent and I have another on the shelf.  But this was bad.

4.No One Belongs Here More Than You-Miranda July.  Some or most of the stories here are too quirky for their own good, especially the shorter ones.  But none of them were bad.  Something That Needs Nothing was worth reading a bunch of them to find.  A+ story.  It was also the longest story in the collection.  There was also a really great scene in Mon Plasir about being an extra in a resteraunt scene for a movie.

5.Arkansas-John Brandon.  He seems to have an airy tone in both books.  The grave things that happen don’t seem that grave because of the tone.  I’m not sure I like this.  The second person chapters were probably the most compelling and the weaving of the narrative was well done.  The ending seemed to drag out way too long.

6.Where We Once Belonged-Kent Haruf.  A one day read.  There was a strange structure here, 8 pages of a guy returning to a town where everyone hated him and sitting in his car, then it flashed back and told the life story of that guy and the narrator.  It didn’t get back to the story of the guy in the car until the last 15 pages or so.  When the story was in the 30s & 40s the diction was as well, like Catcher In The Rye.  But as it reached the 70s the diction was more contemporary.  It was seemless and I doubt I would have noticed if I hadn’t read it in such a short period of time.  A very good book.

7.Trash-Dorothy Allison.  Her first book and all the stories were in 1st person and read like essays.  The preface story said that they were sort of biographical and I read them that way.  The childhood stories were out of Bastard out of Carolina, the same character names and stories.  The others were all about Allison and someone.  She was never alone and had massive amounts of lesbian sex.

8.Winter In The Blood-James Welch. Set on Native American land in Montana.  I enjoyed this story well enough.  It had the same kind of humor as Wise Blood and sometimes Journey Into The Night-Celine.  A puzzling humor.  Dave suggested this one and loves it.

Febuary

9.In The Lake Of The Woods-Tim O’Brien.  There were fatty pages in this one but the weaving of present, past, and way past story lines was great.  The magician characteristic was so important and really distinguished him from the other soldiers.  Plenty of people could be unsatisfied with the lack of resolve at the end and AI might agree with them but the final possibility introduced is so possible, but unexpected that I wanted to read the beginning again to see if it was there.

10.The Terror Of Living-Urban Waite.  My first straight up crime/action adventure book.  It was alright but hollow.  The chapter were cut short almost like movie editing and I can see it on the big screen.  I might even watch it when it comes on TNT and I’ve got nothing else to do.  It was recommended.

March

11.Serena-Ron Rash.  A re-read of Rash’s largest and most popular book.  But it’s probably my least favorite of his.  But it’s an excellent story with conflict between management and labor and environmentalists and greedy capitalists.  I read it with more patience the 2nd time and enjoyed it more that the first time yet it’s hard to have any sympathy for Serena, her husband and their like.  More of the young girl and boy would have been great but then it would have been Winter’s Bone.  Rash is great.

12.Stories II-Scott McClannahan.  He’s got a raging good voice through all of these stories and they remind me a lot of What The Faulkner.  I want to see what happens when the stories get longer or the novel he is about to publish.  This collection was a shit ton better than Justin Taylor’s book of stories.  The biggest thing is that I want to read this entire collection all over again.  Yes.  And here is a really excellent interview with Scott.

April

13.The Next Step In The Dance-Tim Gautreaux.  What a great book, which shouldn’t be a surprise.  It deals so well with the depression that comes with job loss and with being unsatisfied with one’s lot in life and the consequences with trying to change that and failing.  The time of the story must be the 80s but it’s so well hidden-as is the rest of the world from that part of Louisiana.  I’ve read two novels from Gautreaux and a collection of stories and all three were excellent.  What surprises me is how reading the dust jacket doesn’t do his books justice.  The settings or characters or plot overview doesn’t jump off the page but the books are so good.  I’m glad I have one more of his on the shelf waiting for me.

14.Volt-Alan Heathcock.  Almost every story was a winner.  The first two had people running away from their life.  And they ran a long way and not in a car or truck, actually on foot.  The book is full of people living on the land, harsh land.  A long story about a mother and daughter dragged but packed a punch in the end.  The final two stories were as good as any and my favorites along with the first two.

15.The Wilding-Benjamin Percy.  A story of a camping trip with a son, father, and grandfather.  There’s all kinds of tension between each of the three men-the kind you would expect, not living up to expectation, not being man enough, don’t tell me what to do, etc.  The land they are camping on is about to be developed into a golf course so there is tension over that as a side plot.  There is also a side plot with a Iraq war vet who’s returned home, is suffering from PTSD and dresses up in a suit of animal hair and stalks the wife who is left behind from the camping trip.  This part is way better than it probably sounds.  A good book, I enjoyed reading it and only wished there was more to it.  More of the vet and more in the story.  I wanted more bad things to happen.

16.Die A Little-Megan Abbott.  A 50’s Hollywood crime noir.  I’m not an expert in this style of storytelling so everything here might be old and worn out but I enjoyed the shit out of this book.  There was plenty of suspense, though I had some idea what was being hidden, and enough happened to keep me reading to find out if what I thought was true was.  This is Abbott’s first novel and I plan to pick up her most recent work soon.

May

17. There Eyes Were Watching God-Zora Neale Hurston.  OK, so I was a little late to the party on this one.  I bought the book three years ago and I finally got around to reading it.  The plot was great, I was captivated throughout the book.  Of course the dialog, all in dialect, is the most striking characteristic of this book.  It is abrasive but it’s very consistent so once you grab hold of it you can read it without difficulty.  After I put the book down for the day I would find myself having conversations with myself in the dialect.  It is not unusual for me to have solo conversations but it is uncommon for them to sound like African American from the early 1900s.  Also, it’s stunning how much of this book is dialog, probably 85%, but it works.  Two thumbs. up.

18.The Complete Stories Of-Breece D’J Pancake.  I first picked this book up two years ago on the advice of a homie of mine.  I read a story or two and then put it away.  I’m a dumbass because these stories are great and right up my alley.  The characters work, like having jobs, and there jobs are tough.  Work might not always be what the story is about but it always has an effect on the character and the people around them.  Seriously, I was impressed with these stories.  The Salvation Of Me has the most exciting opening paragraph I’ve ever read.  I liked it so much I put it on facebook.  That means something, right.

19.Look Look Feathers-Mike Young.  I’ve read Mike’s stories on the internet and in a journal or two for the last couple of years so when I saw he had a book coming out I was stoked.  Several months later I got around to ordering it.  His stories have a feel, a feel mainly of a time, the early 2000’s and of an age, high school through just out of college.  He characters have the internet, myspace, youtube, etc and so forth.  They use the internet as a way to belong, to fit in, to make sense of who they are in the scoop of everyone else.  This seems like a real thing and Mike handles it well.  And these stories are funny, don’t forget the funny.

20.Under The Bright Lights-Daniel Woodrell.  Under The Bright Lights is Woodrell’s first novel though it has been long out of print.  I read it in the recently reprinted Bayou Trilogy, a collection of his first three novels.  Under The Bright Lights is a different beast from his later works Like Tomato Red and Winter’s Bone, it’s a straight up dectective story with equal emphasis on a myriad of bad guys.  And most of these bad guys are dumb as shit, and that’s the way I like it.  This isn’t his best story but that’s OK it’s still a damn fine read.

June

21.One Foot In Eden-Ron Rash.  This is Rash’s first novel yet it was the last I read.  The storytelling is still impeccable and some of the themes in this novel, the loss of land and way of life, and the consequences of leaving home, show up in much of Rash’s later work.  I wouldn’t say this is his best novel but it’s still fucking great.  Read Ron Rash.

22.Pee On Water-Rachel Glaser.

23.Cowboy Maloney’s Electric Circus-Micheal Bible.

July

24.The Right Man For The Job-Mike Magneson.

25.The Devil All The Time-Donald Ray Pollack.

26.The Fire Gospel-Mike Magneson.

August

27.Stories V!-Scott Mclannahan

28.Muscle For The Wing-Daniel Woodrell

29.Crimes In Southern Indiana-Frank Bill

30.Train Dreams-Denis Johnson

31.The Missing-Tim Geautreux

32.Short Bus-Brian Allen Carr

33.The Heaven Of Mercury-Brad Watson

34.Big World-Mary Miller

35.The Outlaw Album-Daniel Woodrell

36.Play It As It Lays-Joan Didion

37.Salvation On Sand Mountain-Dennis Covington

38.Simple Machines-Michael Bible

39.Day Out Of Days-Sam Shepard

40.Queenpin-Megan Abbott


One Response to “The Reading List”

  1. I found quite a few titles here to check out – thanks! I have one for you: it’s a web site. You may like Goodreads as a way to track your reading and rate and review books.

    I found your site via your end-of-year list at Nine Bullets, by the way. Great music, great writing about it.

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