To review a book or to write a “book review” is to pinpoint its particular presence and its peculiarities. To trap its transcendence of the time in which it takes place. And the time it reaches out to where the reader resides. It hopes to stop time in its tracks and expand it at the same time. Taking us to somewhere else. Somewhere like a window we can look through and see the importance of this book — for better or worse.
Stephanie Storey’s Oil and Marble, which was released this spring, is not only a page-turner but an eye-opener.
When we think of Peru, we think of captivating pictures of Machu Picchu. We’ve all seen them. Some of us have actually been there. The Inca Empire, llamas, snow-capped mountains and walls of huge, precisely-cut stones are all part of the vision of this great country. And all of this is captured, as if in a time capsule, by Ronald Wright in his historical novel, The Gold Eaters.
“How near at hand it was
If they had eyes to see it.”
In a surfing genre memoir complete with a SurferMagazine, globe-trotting storyline, all set to a 1960s rock & roll soundtrack, and with genuine literary flair, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days is a one-of-a-kind, stand-alone achievement in terms of surf lore. Mirroring the tradition of the expression “a writer’s writer,” Finnegan is “a surfer’s surfer.” So, all you surf bums, big wave riders and belly-board wannabees, this is the book for you.
So, Scout (Jean Louise) comes back home to Maycomb — where “everyone is either kin or almost kin”— at age 26 and after being “away” and living in New York City for several years. Sixteen years have gone by since we last heard from her in the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Maycomb she comes home to isn’t the same Maycomb we know from the 1960 novel.
Spartanburg poet and nonfiction writer John Lane has broken out of his comfort zone and journeyed into the netherworld of the novel and Appalachian noir. Joining company with Ron Rash, Charles Frazier, Wayne Caldwell, Wiley Cash, Pam Duncan and David Joy, Lane has maybe even raised the bar a bit by dovetailing the upstate South Carolina textile mill culture with that of the Western North Carolina farming communities. Talk about conflict! In Fate Moreland’s Widow, conflict crosses state lines and cultures and embodies the tensions and inequities in characters redolent of the haves and the have-nots and of labor unions vs. the business elite on both sides of clearly drawn lines.
When people ask me what I’ve been doing this fall, I tell them I’ve been on a reading jag — reading new novels hot off the press. What I’ve found is that there have been a lot of very good books that have come out in the last year, including some by some very talented new writers who are just coming on the scene.
As I write this, I am wondering if I should disqualify myself from writing a review about a book written by someone I know. But in this case I must write, and trying to be objective, let you know that something special has been born among us here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Alongside a rising tide of great books written by the likes of Charles Frazier, Ron Rash, Wayne Caldwell, Wiley Cash … there’s a new kid on the block. His name is Will Harlan and he lives in Barnardsville.
With its title Colony Collapse Disorder taken from a recent mysterious collapse of honeybee populations in North America, Keith Flynn’s new collection of poems, while being entirely prescient in terms of the current social-political-economic situation here in the U.S., is anything but only local or nationalistic.