One of the sad things about the publishing world today is that books only get their moment for a short while before they end up at The Strand or in the dollar bins. If a book is not the book of the moment, it’s hard to just stumble upon it, unless it’s recommended by someone you trust. Recommendations remain the lifeblood of books, so here are three books that have been recommended to me this year, that have not only entertained me, but informed my own writing and inspired me to work whenever working felt like an uphill battle.
I had never heard of this National Book Award winning author before. A friend of mine stumbled upon his poetry and picked up this book when he spotted it at the Harvard Bookstore. Handing me the book he said, “I cried three times while reading this.” He recommended I read it for my own writing. He said, “There is not a wasted word in this novel.”
He was right. Alexie writes beautifully simple prose that gets right to the point and manage to touch you while making it all seem effortless. Flight is the story of a young, orphaned Native American boy on the streets of Seattle. After a fight with his foster parents, he finds himself in jail and in the company of a rare and delinquent renaissance boy who takes him on time traveling search for his identity.
It’s liable to make you jealous how good this guy is. This book was originally written on bar napkins. Sounds romantic doesn’t it? Well, that’s Patrick DeWitt for you. He’s an author who injects romance into the grimmest aspects of life. Ablutions is the story of a hapless bartender stumbling through life, and that’s about it. There are many things here that I’d hate in any other book, like the fact that there’s not much of a plot. Yet, the plot is also somehow firm and easy to follow. It’s just that it’s hard to talk about what happens to this character in any clear context, and in a way this can feel like a lack of plot. Instead, what you have is an emotional journey in the truest sense. The book is also written in the second person, which is almost always annoying. Nonetheless, Ablutions functions, even thrives, like a rock bottom alcoholic, withering away, who nonetheless radiates beauty every time you look his way.
Bret Easton Ellis found himself on the chopping block once again recently with the release of his movie The Canyons. He’s quoted as saying, more or less, that screenplays take very little work, while novels take years of tinkering. Perhaps this is the reason why The Canyons was near-universally panned, and The Informers (another Ellis screenplay) was called the worst movie of 2008. Yet, Lunar Park continues to inspire me to become a better writer.
Lunar Park portrays Ellis as himself, a wayward novelist living with a wife and kid and philandering with co-eds whenever the opportunity presents himself. Distinguishing between the real Bret Easton Ellis and the character in Lunar Park is half the fun of this book. Up to a point, it seems perhaps they’re one and the same. That is, until demonic toys and ghosts enter the picture, then it becomes clear that Lunar Park is indeed a novel. All in all, this is the most emotionally rich horror novel I’ve ever read.