- Category: Ron
The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney & Ian Rankin
A prequel to the Jack Laidlaw series by William McIlvanney, the father of Tartan Noir, who died in 2015 leaving half a manuscript, completed by Rebus author Ian Rankin.
Set in 1970s Glasgow, the story revolves around the murder of a defense lawyer and two local gangs. Generally speaking, when an author dies I’d prefer if they stayed dead, (spare me the spate of Robert B. Parkers, the Stieg Larssons, the eternal V.C. Andrews) but this reads true, like a respectful yet page turning homage, the exception to the rule.
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On Animals by Susan Orlean
A collection of essays from the author of The Library Book and The Orchid Thief, about animals and those that love them.
Highly entertaining, both easy and a joy to read in Orlean’s signature style (she loves deer but refers to them as “cloven hooved disease vectors” for the ticks they carry that have infected her, her husband and dogs with Lyme Disease). Even if you’re not “animalish,” as she calls it, I dare you to read the introduction without laughter and delight.
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- Category: Ron
Razorblade Tears: A Novel by S. A. Cosby
What could easily be boilerplate crime fiction (two fathers join forces to avenge their sons’ murders) is elevated here, thanks to matters of race, setting, LGBTQ issues and rich character development.
African American ex-con Ike Randolph, and Buddy Lee Jenkins, a self proclaimed redneck, rejected their married sons in life. United in both grief and guilt after their violent deaths, this Virginia odd couple looks for vengeance in what transpires to be more than a simple hate crime. Crosby doesn’t preach, or beat the reader over the head with issues of race, class and homophobia, but they’re ever present and rolled out in a nuanced way. There’s enough action to please genre fans without turning off those with a more literary bent. Crosby, in this follow-up to Blacktop Wasteland, shows himself to be fully deserving of all the buzz he’s been getting over the last two years.
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Indigo: Arm Wrestling, Snake Saving, and Some Things in Between by Padgett Powell
Wide ranging essays and profile pieces collected over the last three decades, by the author of Edisto.
Powell writes about a championship arm wrestler, growing up in the segregated and newly integrated South, profiles writers including William Trevor and Flannery O’Connor, and the varieties of gumbo, complete with the best method to skin and clean squirrels. Powell is the sort of writer’s writer where it really doesn’t matter what subject he chooses to address: his way with words simply makes you happy to take the ride.
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- Category: Ron
Rememberings by Sinead O'Connor
A conversational, self-deprecating memoir bereft of apologies and regret, from the Irish singer-songwriter.
Funny, frank and generous, this chronicle from the 54 year old singer doesn’t follow the usual arc of a musician’s tale (ambition, success, depravity and eventual redemption) – O’Connor is truly too unique for anything that conventional. I’ll note that while I adore two of her singles, I’m not sure I’d even recognize her music otherwise, but this is one of those great reads where previous fandom or knowledge is not required.
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Talk to Me: A Novel by T.C. Boyle
A look at communication, human and animal consciousness and relationships wrapped up in a story of academic research on a chimpanzee raised from birth among humans.
Those familiar with linguistic and primate studies, or familiar with the documentary “Project Nim,” will recognize a somewhat thinly veiled account of a 1970s Columbia University psychology experiment that taught American Sign Language to an infant chimpanzee taken from his mother’s arms , sent to live with a human family. Many of the themes here have been explored by Boyle previously, but his talents as a writer and story-teller supersede any familiarity to past work. And while the story itself may not be new to some readers, telling it with a great many fictional liberties just makes it felt all the more. If the plight of the chimp here (Sam) doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one.
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- Category: Ron
Binge: 60 Stories to Make Your Head Feel Different by Douglas Coupland
Coupland's best work since his earliest.
These interconnected micro-length stories are insightful, honest, often uncomfortable and laugh out loud funny. I devoured (binged?) this book with the same sort of delighted glee I consumed Generation X with, 30 years ago.
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Running is a Kind of Dreaming: A Memoir by J.M. Thompson
A brutally honest memoir of mental illness and recovery through ultrarunning.
If you truly want to understand the insidious horror of the way that madness and addiction can creep into one’s life and gradually escalate from odd behavior and bad decisions all the way to hospitalization, this is the book. Despite the author being able to ultimately salvage his life, this is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read: it makes The Exorcist read like Curious George. A Dewey Diva Pick.
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- Category: Ron
The Hard Crow: Essays 2000-2020 by Rachel Kushner
A collection of essays revealing the Booker shortlisted author of The Mars Room as a new millennial heir apparent to Joan Didion.
Kushner writes about culture as an active participant, like the best of the New Journalists of the 60’s and early 70’s. The subjects here are wide-ranging: motorcycle racing, art, a Palestinian refugee camp, literary criticism, Italian underground cinema and working as a waitress in San Francisco. All are infused with a sense of living hard with eyes very wide open, that never turn away. In an age of first person writing that is mostly vulnerable and earnest, these essays serve as an absolute tonic and wild joy to read.
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Victoria Sees It by Carrie Jenkins
A literary tour de force about an academic woman's disintegration and incipient madness.
A note on marketing: I found the author blurb on the cover, from someone whose work I greatly admire, to be off-putting at best: "A brilliant thriller." Also, on the back jacket, the statement that this is "A queer psychological thriller." I get it - the publisher is afraid of the curse of a book being positioned as Literary Fiction and only selling 2,000 copies but these acts of desperation betray a lack of confidence in readers and the book itself, which is brilliant. A thrilling read does not a thriller make, and I find marketing schemes nothing but an off-putting disservice.
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