So here are a few books that stood out…
The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser
This is a truly Southern tale, set in Atlanta, no less. The themes are of growing up and interracial friendships: neither themes I would have sought out, but I enjoyed them precisely because she’s such a good writer! Very richly textured writing, and if I didn’t know any better, I could think Mary Swan was a real girl.
Fallen Angels by Patricia Hickman
This one makes me chuckle, just thinking about it. Here’s a new and classy take on the lost children theme: take one obnoxious, determined teenaged girl set adrift during the Depression with several siblings in tow. Imagine her grabbing a runaway redneck for shelter. See her casting them as a widowed pastor and his kids. Watch them trick the whole town while God “tricks” them into…well, not romance. Something better! Read it and see.
Linda Nichols has become one of my favorite modern authors because…well, because she’s real, and I like her literary “voice.” Pain and redemption painted in rich, glowing colors.
Bad Ground by J. Dale Cramer
Now this one you all would like, so trot off to your library and get it, folks! It’s a seventeen-year-old kid’s introduction to the miner’s world, which has a code and a culture all of its own. There’s terror and beauty down there in that black hole (which I’m glad to visit vicariously, and only vicariously). There’s his first hunting trip. Very, very funny! There’s the growing-up theme, which I find just as applicable to twenty-seven as it is to seventeen. And there’s the one memorable scene that got me crying and cheering all at once. Don’t remember doing that before.
For the past week or so, I’ve been working on at least three books at once, which isn’t usual for me. Here they are, going from the ridiculous to the sublime in short order:
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss
The title? Well, it’s what a panda does…if you’ve got your commas mixed up. This is the punctuation book that some literary friends have been talking about, and which I finally broke down and checked out. I laughed and giggled and chuckled: probably a laugh for every three of four pages of this teeny, tiny book written by a Britishwoman with a fiendish eye for punctuation. Since I’ve just been defining this stuff for English students, it was especially funny, I but have the feeling that all of you are quite erudite enough to get a kick out of it…without studying up first. I should add that she throws in six or seven offensive laughs, mostly near the end of the book, so consider yourself warned.
Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is actually just an essay and a short story about “fairy stories,” of all things, and is tucked into a larger book called The Tolkien Reader. According to Tolkien, fairy stories are most emphatically for adults first, filling for us the same function that Jesus’ parables did: putting earthly clothes on our spiritual thoughts so we can see them better. (It’s interesting to note the Tolkien wrote this essay while he was working on his trilogy). What’s a fairy story? Among other things, it is a story which promises and delivers a piercingly beautiful ending that somehow captures our deepest longings. What is the most beautifully plotted fairy story you have ever heard? Isn’t it the one in which a king disguises himself as one of his subjects…dies to save them from looming evil…and then, miraculously, comes back to life? And unlike all the other stories…this one is true.