WALKING DEAD – A graphic novel, The Walking Dead (Days Gone Bye) by Robert Kirkman is told from the protagonist’s POV. He’s a lawman that comes out of coma to find a world that’s nothing like the one he knew, before his big sleep. It’s more about survival in a post-apocalyptic society than a volume on epidemics and zombies. But, it’s the focus on human survival and the interpersonal dynamics that makes Walking Dead work as a story (where so many mindless formulaic zombie tirades fail). Another testament to the quality of the book is this: I’m not generally a comic book guy. So, the graphic novel works on many levels, with visuals and pacing to make it different than a straight novel or the television version.
THE MALTESE FALCON – In his best known book, Dashiell Hammett pens the stylish Sam Spade, protagonist of The Maltese Falcon. He’s tough enough to stand up to thugs or the police. He smells trouble when a buxom dame breezes into his office. Soon enough, his entire world will be turned upside down. Hammett wrote about detectives because he had been employed as one after responding to a vague classified ad. He had a notoriously short writing career, publishing four novels and all of his short stories within nine years. His poor health, struggle with alcoholism and community party membership led to his decline and eventual imprisonment in McCarthy era hysteria. In the final years of his life, he was hounded by the IRS for back taxes, dying penniless.
DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP – Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy envisions a yellow stone church on the Santa Fe plaza. The book follows his life and the construction of the Cathedral Basilica. In Willa Cather’s ‘Death Comes for the Archbishop’, she gracefully describes the haunted beauty of New Mexico. The landscape is desolate and rich in culture, including characters that are greedy/ gluttonous priests, along with sympathetic descriptions of the Hopi and Navajo. The book (which appears on several best-of lists) is episodic is scope. The author successfully describes grand visual details of the region that are like nowhere else. Such that New Mexico culture becomes a character in its own right.
THRILLER – How can I get a snapshot of thirty established—and, rising writers–in the thriller genre? I love to read but don’t always have as much time as I would like. That’s the phenomenal thing about Thriller, edited by James Patterson, something not seen often in publication. Sure, there are anthologies focused on single authors, examples like the Norton Anthology or the Best-of-the-Year compilations. It’s awesome to have these short stories compiled. I read one when I have time and take long breaks between, when I get busy. As an added bonus, you get a smattering of everything: western, legal, police, military, etc. If you love thrillers, action and horror as much as I do, this is the book for you!
THIS FINER SHADOW – It’s an unusual title, often included in the cannon of gay lesbian novels as a definitive pulp classic, by texts such as Truly Pulp and Queer Pulp. Refer to my Goodreads bookshelf for further information on these non-fiction texts. The forward explicitly states that McIntosh was not a homosexual. Although that is debatable, he was frustrated by multiple rejections from agents/ publishers, suffering years of revisions when he committed suicide, in the midst of a full-blow mental breakdown. After he met his death, by plunging from the top of his apartment building, his wife posthumously published the novel. Similarly to another book that I’m reading right now (The Third Sex by Artemis Smith), This Finer Shadow by Harlan Cozad McIntosh draws upon the Freudian/ psychoanalytic theory of homosexuality as ‘inversion’, which was conventional wisdom in the 30’s. The novels (Finer Shadow and Third Sex) draw striking parallels in terms of setting (Manhattan near Washington Square), gender roles, labels: butch/ queen/ femme/ macho/ nelly and explores turmoil these characters faced. In many ways, both books describe a common experience, which feels familiar. In Finer Shadow, the protagonist is a sailor who finds himself in a big city full of confusing possibilities. While it is not a book I would normally read, I appreciate the experience. I will always wonder … what it must have been like ‘in the life’ before Stonewall?
THE HOURS – The novel skillfully interweaves three story lines: Virginia Wolf as she writes Mrs. Dallaway, Laura Brown (a Leave it to Beaver sort of fifties housewife) and Clarissa Vaughan a Manhattanite in the midst of planning a party. The Hours by Michael Cunningham explores what it was (might have been like?) to be a lesbian within three specific historical contexts (1920, 1950 and approximately 1990). It also explores varied aspects of illness–such as the AIDS epidemic, depression, suicide and mental illness–in that the story moves from past to present and back to past again. Cunningham is the award winning author of several additional books including A Home at the End of the World as well as Flesh and Blood. For many reasons, I place Cunningham and Easton-Ellis on a similar shelf in terms of contemporary American literary criticism. Up to (and including) their progress wresting free sexual liberation from the USA’s puritanical moral code, exploration of LGBT studies and the use of stream-of-consciousness in terms of literary technique.
THE COMPLETE NEW YORKER – Billed as ‘The Nation’s Greatest Magazine’, I purchased the binder of eight DVD’s (with every page from 1925 to 2005) for pennies on the dollar. Don’t pay full price! Go to Amazon and buy a new or used set. What has ‘The Complete New Yorker’ got that no one else has got? More short fiction than you can (probably) read in a lifetime. As an English major, in my first year at state university, I learned the gold standard of the short story was contained therein. In the almost thirty years since, I’ve turned to the New Yorker, time and time again. Load a DVD on your laptop, to carry decades of issues with you, to travel wherever you go. A short story is the perfect choice to read in a single sitting, while commuting by train or by plane, for example. Treat yourself to the very best international writers literature has to offer. If you’re a hard-copy person, print single pages, I recommend you adjust your printer settings, to significantly darken the text. My single criticism of the DVD set is that the printed pages are faint and the text is not crisp. Regardless, there is no better way to browse literature in a more economical, compact or readily accessible format. This is truly the best of the best!
CAMERA FIVE – This book intrigued me from the start. Why? Because, I love it when culture and paranormal ignite an innovative storyline. That’s what Martyn Stratton is able to accomplish in Camera Five. Set in the UK near London, the book makes good use of setting and explaining the house’s past. The main thrust of the novel deals with two thirtysomething lovers–a TV anchor and a reporter–wrapped up in paranormal investigations, hauntings and possessions. The pairing is complemented by a friend who is a psychic clairvoyant. If you know anything about my books, you’re well aware these elements result in an irresistible formula. Get ready for a thrill ride! You’ll follow the protagonist on a wild chase, in order to prove that ghosts exist and that the spirit world is real. This is a must read!
A SECOND CHANCE – Who among us hasn’t looked back fondly on their first love? What would you do, or give up, for a second chance? A Second Chance by Bryan Mooney convincingly explores these issues. This is a really good romance.