Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Books By Great Writers

I had resolved to only blog on Sundays. But after completing a round of edits on The Birds of Opulence, a composite novel that I have been working on for years, I have been craving words. Not my own, they are still coming, bursting toward the new novel and new stories, but words by writers I can't resist. Books that would make me run to the bookstore the moment the ink was dry just to read the first page.

Neela Vaswani and I (who I mention below) had this experience once. We were teaching together at Spalding's brief residency in Creative Writing Program in Louisville. Before the workshop that we were co-teaching began, we ran down the street to a local Barnes and Noble. Out of breath we asked for Divisideroby Michael Ondaatje. The clerk looked at us like we were crazy (no Harry Potter line in sight) yet we walked back to the Brown Hotel giggling like school girls who had just seen their favorite pop icon holding our latest Ondaatje find.

Of course there have been Paula Dean and a Darrius Rucker (Hootie and the Blow Fish) sightings during previous residencies at Spalding but that is another blog.

Like most of you, I love, love words and love, love those who write words. I have my favorites Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones and Michael Ondaatje among them. But I also have friends who have recently published books (or recently forthcoming) who thrill me.

These are the books by three word warriors. Their works make my heart stop just a little in delight each time I read them.:

Head Off & Split: PoemsHead Off and Split: Poems by Nikky Finney-- I have read every poem in this book as Nikky worked each poem as though she was tending flowers in a garden--cleaning off the petals, giving them water, cutting them back so they'd bloom again and again. Bad flower metaphor. Corny perhaps, but these are the best poems that Nikky Finney has ever written. This is the best book that Nikky Finney has ever written. Those of you who know her work and her power know that everything she writes is stunning but this one rides a new wave and encompasses an ocean of truth. It's a distilled power. These poems have been boiled down the essence. We have never seen the likes of this from Nikky before. Get ready!

You Have Given Me a Country: A MemoirYou Have Given Me a Country: Memoir by Neela Vaswani-- My friend novelist Silas House says this is the best book that Neela has ever written. I loved Where the Long Grass Bends: Stories and I carried one of the essays from this book called "Hands" as though it was a page from the bible for at least a year. Neela is someone who has no agenda, no pomp, no academic swagger, no fiber of being a malcontent. But she is someone who brings light and breath into a room. In the academic realm where often the head is foremost and heart and soul are lacking. Neela brings both and lots of both—heart and soul. Her prose has the richness of poetry.

The Name of the Nearest River: Stories (Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature)The Name of the Nearest River: Stories (Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature) by Alex Taylor. It's hard to know how to begin with Alex. Poet Kelly Norman Ellis and I had the privilege of teaching him one summer when he was in high school as part of the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts, which nurtures the talents of many young artists. I remember that when we read one of Alex's pieces, Kelly and I were shouting almost. I saw Alex last fall. He's a man now with a grizzly beard and a deep voice. He was teaching writing. He walked up to me and said "You don't remember me. Do you?" As soon as he said it and smiled, I screamed "ALEX! I still remember the piece you wrote on jazz and New Orleans that summer." He was stunned. After all, he had been in high school when he wrote that piece. An insider at Sarabande told me that this book was one of the most amazing they had ever seen that it came to them nearly flawless but I wasn't surprised. That talent, that original voice, that beauty was in Alex then and it's here now. Refined. Pure. Raw.

What new books by great writers do you recommend?

Shout Outs:

I have Honoree Jeffers to thank for this post. She knows why.

Ms. Tananarive Due for her support for being the first person to forward my blog to others.


  1. The Alex Taylor book is absolutely fantastic. Favorite story is "This Device Must Start at Zero"

  2. so looking forward to the new nikky finney. i just love her poetry. hey! that's not fair - it won't be out until february? *sigh*

  3. I can't wait to read Nikky Finney's latest. Just finished Vickie Weaver's premier novel, Billie Girl~ poignant, earthy, and touched by humor and pathos. You will be so proud, Crystal!

  4. i say give victor lavalle's Big Machine a read. wild and propulsive and shot full of sentences that sing. big smart novel, and fun to boot.

  5. KK: Absolutely KK I like Victor LaVelle as well. The Ecstatic was one of my favorites.

    Anonymous: I love Vickie's work so I can't wait to read this book. Billie Girl is at the top of my list.

  6. Enjoyed reading your post so much Crystal. I had the good fortune of attending a writing workshop by Neela recently and yes..she is every bit the kind of person you say she is..i can't praise her enough for her serenity as well as her ability to teach without teaching..if you get what I mean! Unfortunately haven't read her "you have given me a country"yet..but am dying to get my copy of it..

    I just finished "Seeing" by Jose Saramagos..and what can I say? He died a few days after I had read the last word of the last page of this crazy novel..His style is in a certain sense quite unique..quite bizarrely detached & clinical and yet extraordinarily emphatic..he writes with great affection for his characters (well, at least some of them!)..a must read to understand the times we live in..

    Then I read "Waiting for the Barbarians" by Coetzee..good, very good..yet..does he get into the "heart of being" as Nadine Godimer describes him?..well, almost..he walks the thin line of moral ambiguity quite relentlesly..and yet not so ambiguous after all..I guess, that's his greatness..

  7. Great suggestions milind Wani. I'm going to pull "Seeing" from my shelf to read next.

  8. Welcome to the blogging world, Crystal!! I met you briefly in May at Spalding. (I'm one of the students.) I'll have to add some of these to my reading list!