Sunday, May 30, 2010

Picks from the first half of 2010

I try to read at least 100 books each year, but right now I'm a bit behind pace for 2010. Hoping to address that this summer, but I've already found plenty of noteworthy titles. Here are some standouts from what I've read thus far, books that merit your consideration as you pick your summer reading material.

1) Mr. Shivers, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Easily my favorite debut of the year. I'm a sucker for style, and the prose is so gorgeous that the book reads like a dark parable. A chilling and mythic tale set against the backdrop of the Depression, the novel closes out with a stunningly good epilogue. I simply cannot wait to see what this writer does next.

2) Burning Bright, by Ron Rash. I'm not finished with this short story collection yet, but I'm already confident it will be among my year's favorite reads. Rash is one of our truly great American writers at this point.

3) The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. This is a fascinating and disturbing study of our culture, one that should be read and carefully considered.

4) 212, by Alafair Burke. Another excellent thriller from a talented writer who is constantly improving.

5) Blockade Billy, by Stephen King. Stephen King writing a chilling novella about baseball? Seems like the definitive summer read to me.

6) Burnt Offerings, by Robert Marasco. Sadly out of print, I finally tracked this book down after hearing about it for years. A wonderful supernatural thriller about the perfect summer retreat that's, well, maybe not so perfect.

7) Peace, by Richard Bausch. A gorgeous, tightly written WWII drama that unfolds in essentially one act, with stellar prose and character.

8) The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan. Egan wrote the stunningly good Dust Bowl account "The Worst Hard Time" and returns to form with this story of a forest fire that changed the nation.

9) Dogtown, by Elyssa East. This non-fiction account of a forgotten New England town, a brutal crime, and the region's emotional hold over the writer was one of my most pleasant finds of the year so far, and captured a lot of the feelings that drove me to write So Cold the River.

10) The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, by Don Robertson. Sure, I'm biased because it is set in Cleveland and I've heard my grandfather's recollections of the terrible industrial fire that provide the backdrop for this coming-of-age story, but the narration style, locked into the voice of a young child and always providing moments of profound grace and power, was mesmerizing. The first book in a recently reissued trilogy.