My Recent Reads

Since deciding to write more seriously, it has been increasingly difficult to find novels with a story that sucks me in. My attention span for a lot of books these days is short.

Last semester, one of the books we studied was Frank Bill’s Crimes In Southern Indiana. Back in April, I had the pleasure of introducing Frank at a reading at the University of Indianapolis. Afterward I was able to hang out with him and a few others at a local pub and picked his brain about writing and fiction. On top of being a really cool guy and an amazing story teller, Frank is very well read. He was kind enough to suggest a few writers to focus on, and from there I developed my summer reading list. This is a few of the books I have read so far.

 

Crimes In Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

I first heard of Frank Bill on facebook. There was all this chatter about him there, and after a while it was so persistent I finally got around to buying a copy at Barns & Noble. I was blown away from the first damn sentence. The best thing I can say about Frank’s writing is that it makes you believe that the horrible things that take place in many of the stories in the book can and do happen. As a police officer of almost twelve years, I can assure you that they definitely do, and Frank Bill is the first writer that I have come across that tells stories that actually match up to the reality of what humans will do to one another. I really enjoyed this book and can’t recommend it enough.

Needle Magazine

I ordered the first two copies of Needle for two reasons. First, Frank Bill spoke highly of it and two, not to toot my own horn too much, I recently had a story accepted by Needle. My first impression is that this little magazine packs quite a punch. Each story in issue one grabbed and keept my attention. If you are looking for a great read, you can’t go wrong by becoming a Needle junkie.

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

Wow! This is a great collection of great stories. I hear people complain all the time about how the short story is dead. Well more people need to read this book. Knockemstiff is a group of tales about a fictional place called Knockemstiff Ohio. Pollock is an awesome story teller, and I can’t wait to read his novel The Devil All The Time. Do yourself a favor and snag a copy.

All Shot Up by Chester Himes

Himes is another author that I kept seeing posts about on facebook. A lot of what I saw said he was one of the best hardboiled writers out there, and they were right. All Shot Up, like many of Himes’ tales, takes place in Harlem. At the center of the story are two hard as nails detectives named Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. When I picked this book up off the shelf and read the back, I had to buy it just because of those two names. I was not disappointed. Himes paints a vivid portrait of the hard knocks life and crime in Harlem and establishes Coffin Ed and Grave Digger as two of my favorite hardboiled detectives to date.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

If you could only read one book this year, I would tell you to make it Winter’s Bone. I am ashamed to say that I never heard of Daniel Woodrell until Frank Bill told me to check him out. I started with this book and was blown away. Since reading it I have bought two more of his books. Woodrell has a way of writing that gets inside you. Not only do you fall in love with his descriptions and the way he puts words together, the way he writes changes you. Winter’s Bone has altered forever how I look at and evaluate fiction. His main character is a plucky teenager who displays more balls as she tries to track down her missing crank cooking father than most men I know. When you reach the end you want to turn back to the beginning and start all over again.

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

Creepy and disturbing is how you have to describe this novel. Not necessarily because of what takes place in the story, although that also is disturbing, but how Thompson pulls you with gentle fingers into the mind of a killer. The story center’s around a small Texas town sheriff deputy who has no morals, suffers no guilt, and drifts through life without a soul. This book is scary because after reading it you won’t be able to look at people around you and not wonder if they have fooled you as completely as the deputy has fooled everyone around him. If you like stories that spin out of control, you will love The Killer Inside Me.

Drive by James Sallis

I am a little torn about this book. It did pull me in, I have to admit, but there was something about it that bothered me. After dwelling on it for a while, I think the reason that I didn’t fully enjoy this story is the fact that the main character remained faceless to me throughout. Sallis is a great writer, but he chose to name the main character of Drive by the faceless moniker of “Driver.” We never know Driver’s real name. This coupled with Sallis’ bare bones style with which he wrote Drive never gave me enough story meat to dig into and savor. Driver drifts through life much like I drifted through the story, never really having much emotional attachment to anything that was happening. As I write this, I can see that it is possible that Sallis intended this so that the reader can feel the hopelessness that a life of crime and violence can bring a person, but for me the story left me wanting more.

Out of the Woods by Chris Offut

This book is not pictured above because I have loaned it out. I am so glad I read this collection of short stories. If I had to describe Out of the Woods in one word it would be nostalgic. The found thoughts, when you remember something or someone from your childhood and you pine to go back in time and place to the last time you were truly happy and at peace. I know that seems like a cheesy mouthful, but that is the effect Offut’s book had on me. The stories really make you think about who you are and where you come from. I grew up in Washington State, and recently my grandfather passed away, so my sisters and I flew back to Vancouver Washington, just across the Colombia River from Portland Oregon, to attend the funeral. It had been over ten years since I had been back to the west coast, and I was shocked by how much I had missed the mountains and forests that I had grown up around. I even made the comment to my sisters of not understanding why I ever left the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. When I read Out of the Woods, I was reminded how I felt going home, and the feeling took on an even stronger emotional context within me causing me to ache for the place I came from all over again. It was a wonderful read, and I highly recommend it.

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