Since we are already 1/4 of the way through 2013 (?!), and since I mentioned a handful of pulpier offerings the other day, I thought I’d point out a couple of the more “literary” reads I’ve really enjoyed so far this year.
The Tenth of December by George Saunders
You can’t really talk literary fiction in 2013 without talking about this book, which the illustrious New York Times heralded as “The best book you’ll read this year.” Pretty much hyped everywhere, I figured I’d give it whirl, even though I came to it with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. But hey, I have to say it’s a fantastic collection of stories. Sharp, funny, and varied in voice and approach. There was only one story in it I found myself skimming a bit, but other than that I have no complaints. Definitely well worth checking out, even if — no, especially if — you’re one of those people that claim, categorically, that literary fiction sucks. Trust me on that.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
I’m a Jess Walter fan, having seen him read and do various panels at a couple different Montana Festivals of the Book, so I knew I’d like this. And, since he is from Spokane, a mere three hours away, by Western geography that makes him my neighbor. Another widely-heralded book, I can think of only one place I’ve seen it get less than stellar reviews. Julia liked it, and I think my mom liked it too. Hell, I loved it. And I love that Walter has a brand new collection of short stories out too, called We Live in Water. It happens to be sitting on my nightstand right now, as a matter of fact. . . .
Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Honestly I don’t even know how this one came across my radar. I suspect I read something Megan wrote somewhere and I liked it, so I picked up her collection of short stories. This one might be my favorite of the three mentioned here, if only because it came unheralded, for the most part, and was something I really related to and enjoyed. The stories are all pretty rural in nature, with a ton of heart and sentiments near to me. It doesn’t hurt that one story has a protagonist with a sick dog, worrying it needs surgery, and stressing over where the money will come from . . . which I read shortly after we had to drop $1400 for emergency surgery on one of our dogs (who had swallowed a rock that was lodged in her gut), with all the soul searching an incident like that can evoke. This is great stuff, and highly recommended. Plus Megan keeps a great blog, the kind I like. The kind that’s not just relentless self-promotional bullshit, but a glimpse into her day-to-day life in rural Vermont. I dig it.