SACO – I won’t be alone when I suggest that this past year has been filled with ‘firsts’ and events that often made you shake your head in wonder. But even with all the distractions, there has remained one constant – the availability of good books. For whatever reason, I love to read. I always have and suspect, I always will.
The books I have chosen for this post might not appear on the NY Times bestseller list, or come from an author who has sold millions of copies, but for me, they are significant and important. They’ve made me think, dream, and hope. The stories shown here have stayed with me for some time. In more than a few instances, I have shared these stories with my students, friends, and family. And in other cases, I kept them for myself the way you sometimes hoard the last chocolate-chip cookie in the jar. (Don’t you do that?)
Good, bad, or indifferent, here they are, and I hope you like them as much as I do. Oh – here’s the last bit of advice – If you like the books, and I will provide links to the author’s website, please try to buy them from a local independent bookstore.
Elizabeth Strout – The Burgess Boys – Here’s the full disclosure – Elizabeth Strout is a fellow Bates graduate and Maine writer. She writes about people, places, and time periods in a way that has always reminded me of home. I grew up in Massachusetts and not Maine, but we had some remarkable and interesting people there too. Strout is clearly a keen observer of the human condition and human frailty and that comes through in her work.
Bruce Coffin – This year has been remarkable for this former Portland Police Detective. His debut novel, “Among the Shadows,” was published by Harper Collins and has received both critical and popular acclaim. Like so many of his fans and readers, I am anxiously waiting for the next John Byron novel.
Elizabeth DeWolfe – I first met Elizabeth at a Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance meeting in Biddeford, and almost immediately, I was intrigued by the story she told me of a young factory worker, a girl, who drowned in the Saco River. The girl worked at one of the textile mills that lined the mouth of the river, and after the spring thaw, in 1850, her body was discovered. That was enough for me; I wanted to know more.
Andre Dubus – I have grown to love the short story form and one of the best practitioners, is Andre Dubus. His stories resonate with elements of his own life and the world he sees every day. The stories are gritty, realistic, and sometimes difficult to think about. But the truth is, you will think about them.
James Bradley – Another great piece of narrative nonfiction. I loved the flying sequences and the sheer will and determination displayed by the men who flew together during World War II. I have long loved military stories and history.
Philip Roth – Philip Roth is a master storyteller and I love his work and the way he effortlessly seems to weave the narrative together. This particular story centers around a college professor in a small town in New England, and better yet, he teaches at a well-respected, liberal arts college. Roth also makes it clear that what one sees on the surface may not be the entire story.
Peter Heller – Here’s the truth behind this selection. A friend in my running club (don’t laugh) suggested that I read Heller’s first novel, The Dog Stars, and I loved it. When I saw this novel in a local independent bookstore (hint, hint), I bought it. This is more of a murder mystery set in the southwest, but like his other work, it’s a page turner and you won’t be disappointed.
Alice Munro – Enough said. I love her work and each time I read one of her stories, I think about the writing schedule she kept. Starting in 1968, she published a new anthology of short stories every few years and almost exclusively (there is one novella) remained true to that form. He stories are not flashy, fantasy, or necessarily mysterious – they are about life and the vagaries of the human condition. They too, make you think.
Sena Jeter Naslund – Here’s the sad truth – at one time, I owned three copies of this book because I was afraid I might lose it while on a business trip. I remember reading an interview where she described the inspiration for the novel. She said something to the effect: “There are only one or two paragraphs in Moby Dick devoted to Ahab’s wife, and I always wondered what she was like.” Now, thanks to Naslund, I have an idea.
David Arenstam – Like my friend, Bruce Coffin, my debut novel was published this year. It was something I will never forget. The story is based on countless hours of interviews with Vietnam veterans and as I often say, it is not a story of war and death – it’s a story of life. I hope you like it.
Bill Roorbach – A teacher and writer from Maine, sounds familiar. I know I may be a little late to the party, but I’d think we share a love of stories, literature, and a sense of what keeps readers turning the page. And yes, I own multiple copies of this novel too. A decades-old crime story that makes you wonder what will happen next. If you are like me, you may read this and immediately search for his other work.
Daniel James Brown – I know this book has been a national bestseller and many people have already read it, but I read it again with my students this year and they loved it. There is so much to talk about with this story. The Olympics in 1936, America before World War II, building boats, growing up during the depression, finding your one true love – need I go one. I loved the book.