It’s officially summer! Here is our recommended reading list for the season, full of books on experimental fiction and meditations on life in the South. Whether your summer finds you abroad or at home, poolside or inside, hiking or researching, we’ve got just the book to keep you company. So remember to stay cool, wear sunscreen, and read UP!
Almost Family by Roy Hoffman
35th Anniversary Edition
Nebraska Waters is black. Vivian Gold is Jewish. In an Alabama kitchen where, for nearly thirty years, they share cups of coffee, fret over their children, and watch the civil rights movement unfold out their window, and into their homes, they are like family—almost.
As Nebraska makes her way, day in and out, to Vivian’s house to cook and help tend the Gold children, the “almost” threatens to widen into a great divide. The two women’s husbands affect their relationship, as do their children, Viv Waters and Benjamin Gold, born the same year and coming of age in a changing South. The bond between the women both strengthens and frays.
Winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award and Alabama Library Association Award for fiction, Roy Hoffman’s Almost Family explores the relationship that begins when one person goes to work for another, and their friendship—across lines of race, income, and religion—develops degrees of understanding yet growing misunderstanding. This edition commemorates the 35th anniversary of the book’s publication and features a foreword by the author and includes a discussion guide for readers and book clubs.
“Hoffman has got it all exactly right: the interlocking of individual lives and great public events that made every Southerner feel as though he or she were living on the very edge of history.”
Tell the World You’re a Wildflower: Stories by Jennifer Horne
Tell the World You’re a Wildflower is a collection of loosely interwoven stories in the voices of southern women and girls of different ages and backgrounds. Beginning with the youngest characters and ending with the oldest, the stories encompass plastic surgery and white supremacists, family secrets and family trees, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and a young writer who describes her work in progress as “the bastard love-child of William Faulkner and Alice Walker.”
In Tell the World You’re a Wildflower, each character must decide what to tell, whether to tell it, and to whom to tell it. Each struggles with questions of identity and truth, trying to understand who she is and what holds true for her. Some tell their stories plainly, directly, others more obliquely, nesting one within another. Anchored in the tradition of southern storytelling, these women contend with loss, change, and growth while going to church, school, and prison, navigating love and sex, and worrying too much about what people might think
“While these true-hearted, lyrical stories often give voice to the voiceless, some of the details will seem drawn from your own memories. For example, for me: the gift of ‘a tiny silver goblet fashioned from a chewing gum wrapper.’ That image also suggests the nature of some of the very short stories of Jennifer Horne’s collection; they are poignant, handcrafted, slightly mystical, able to convey simultaneously both hope and sorrow. Horne’s stories glitter like pinpricked stars against the impenetrable immensity of reality.”
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits, Abundance, and most recently The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman
Come in at the Door by William March
Come in at the Door is the first in March’s “Pearl County” collection, and it tells the story of Chester, a boy who lives with his withholding, widowed father, and Mitty, who keeps house and serves as a surrogate wife to Chester’s father and a mother to Chester. One morning before dawn, Mitty takes Chester to the Athlestan courthouse to watch the hanging of a man who’d killed “a grotesque, dwarflike creature” he thought had “laid a conjure” on him.
Throughout Chester’s rambunctious young manhood, the gruesome memory hovers just below the surface of his mind, recalled in detail only at his father’s death, when the book sweeps forward to its shattering denouement. A classic of Southern Gothic that illuminates family, class, race, and gender, Come in at the Door marks the homecoming of a Southern storyteller at the peak of his craft.
“The outstanding virtues of March’s work are those of complete lack of sentimentality and routine romanticism, of a dramatic gift constantly heightened and sharpened by eloquence of understatement.”
—New York Times
Four for a Quarter: Fictions by Michael Martone
Four is the magic number in Michael Martone’s Four for a Quarter. In subject—four fifth Beatles, four tie knots, four retellings of the first Xerox, even the sex lives of the Fantastic Four—and in structure—the book is separated into four sections, with each section further divided into four chapterettes—Four for a Quarter returns again and again to its originating number, making chaos comprehensible and mystery out of the most ordinary.
“Reading Michael Martone’s Four for a Quarter is like flipping through radio stations in your car in the middle of the night in West Texas, a wash of wonderful elegiac fragments, memories, anecdotes, haunting bits and pieces of ordinary days, from Beatles’ backstories to the Eat Mor Chikin cow, from Santa Claus to baseball under the lights to six sad ways to lose a baby. Always engaging, at times funny, utterly affecting, this remarkable collection leads us through a dizzying collage of times, places, people and things, sights and sounds at once thrilling and scary. You’ll have a hard time putting it down, and when you do, you’ll be eager to get back to it. A masterful performance.”
Points of Honor: Short Stories of the Great War by a US Combat Marine by Thomas Boyd, edited and with an introduction by Steven Trout
Points of Honor: Short Stories of the Great War by a US Combat Marine is based on author Thomas Alexander Boyd’s personal experiences as an enlisted Marine. The stories in Points of Honor deal almost entirely with Marines in the midst of battle—or faced with the consequences of military violence. The eleven stories in this collection offer a panoramic view of war experience and its aftermath, what Boyd described as “a mass of more human happenings.” The themes are often antiheroic: dehumanization, pettiness, betrayal by loved ones at home, and the cruelty of military justice. But Boyd’s vision also accommodates courage and loyalty. Like all great works of war literature, this collection underscores the central paradox of armed conflict—its ability to bring out both the best and worst in human beings.
This reissue of Points of Honor is edited, annotated, and introduced by Steven Trout. Trout provides an overview of Thomas Boyd’s war experience and writing career and situates the stories within the broader context of World War I American literature.
“Thomas Boyd is famous for the novel Through the Wheat, now enshrined as a World War I classic. In Points of Honor, through a set of interlocking narratives, he pulls off something of a short story version of William March’s Company K. A clear and interesting introduction by Steven Trout, pegged for the literate general reader, makes a strong case for the stories as something of an advance over Through the Wheat. Here the characters and situations are diverse, and the modes of narration and development are strikingly varied.”
—Philip D. Beidler, author of Beautiful War: Studies in a Dreadful Fascination and The Victory Album: Reflections on the Good Life after the Good War
Natural Wonders: A Novel by Angela Woodward
Winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize
In Natural Wonders, Jenny is given the task of assembling a memorial edition of her recently deceased husband Jonathan’s lecture series about the physical history of the earth. With little knowledge of his work or of Jonathan himself, Jenny constructs from his fragmentary and disorganized notes her own version of our planet’s past.
Natural Wonders mixes mythology, popular fiction, and a misfired romance with the story of the earth hurtling around the sun. From intimately human to geologic to cosmic, it explores change, love, and loss.
“Exploring everything from the crackling of the earth’s surface and glacial fields to stories of explorers and scientists to tales of murder and sex to the slight and sad gestures of [the characters’] existence, Natural Wonders is a wide-ranging meditative book that is by turns delightful, clever, and heartbreaking.”
Now available in paper
Among the Swamp People is the story of author Watt Key’s discovery of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. “The swamp” consists of almost 260,000 acres of wetlands located just north of Mobile Bay. There he leases a habitable outcropping of land and constructs a primitive cabin from driftwood to serve as a private getaway. His story is one that chronicles the beauties of the delta’s unparalleled natural wonders, the difficulties of survival within it, and an extraordinary community of characters—by turns generous and violent, gracious and paranoid, hilarious and reckless—who live, thrive, and perish there.
It also chronicles Key’s maturation as a writer, from a twenty-five-year-old computer programmer with no formal training as a writer to a highly successful, award-winning writer of fiction for a young adult audience with three acclaimed novels published to date.
“The pleasure and dangers of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta are seen through the eyes of a Mobile, Ala., native in this sentimental account that spans a decade. . . . The book works well as both a travelogue and a portrait of humans struggling with and living alongside nature.”
Fourteen Stories: None of Them Are Yours: A Novel by Luke B. Goebel
In this dazzling debut about life after loss, Luke B. Goebel’s heart-hurt, ultra-adrenalized alter ego leads us on a raucous RV romp across what’s left of postmodern America and beyond. Whether it’s gobbling magic cacti at a native ceremony in Northern California, burning bad manuscripts in a backyard bonfire in East Texas, or travelling at top speed to an infamous editor’s office in Manhattan (with a burnt-out barista and an illegal bald eagle as companions), scene by scene, story by story, Goebel plunges us into a madly original fictional realm characterized by heartbroken psychedelic cowboys on the brink—lonely men who wrestle wild dogs on cheap beaches and kick horses in the face to get ahead.
“If Kerouac were writing today, his work might look something like this—and despite the title, many of the stories are indeed ours, as they focus on love and loss, pain and yearning.… This is a fierce, untamed, riotous book—and from the first page you’ll know you’re not reading Jane Austen.”
Fanning the Spark: A Memoir by Mary Ward Brown
In 1986, after years of publishing stories in literary magazines and periodicals, Mary Ward Brown published her first book, the story collection Tongues of Flame. It soon received regional and national attention, and the following year won the PEN/Hemingway Award for fiction. Mary Ward Brown was sixty-nine years old. Though she would go on to write and publish many more stories and a well-received second collection, It Wasn’t All Dancing, Mary Ward Brown’s late acclaim hardly hints at the rich and varied life that prepared the way for her success.
Fanning the Spark is the story of her life as a writer—her upbringing in rural Alabama; the joys of college, marriage, and motherhood; the sorrows of becoming a widow; and a lifelong devotion to writing, writers, and literature, and the company of those who shared those loves, nurturing and feeding her interior life in the face of many challenges, losses, and obstacles, both emotional and material.
“Anyone lucky enough to have met Mary Ward Brown will want to read this account of her remarkable life. Those who haven’t met her will get the chance here. She recognizes how unlikely it seems that her accomplishments should include becoming a celebrated writer, but no one else could have written the stories she has.”
—John Shelton Reed
Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman: Stories by Aimee Parkison
Winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize
In Aimee Parkison’s Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, lovers find unexpected romance in cramped spaces, fast food addicts struggle through cheeseburger addiction, and the splendor of nature competes with the violence of television. All the while, a complicated and precarious present dawns onto a new world where wealthy women wear children’s eyes as jewelry and those in need of money hawk their faces only to forever mourn what parts of themselves they have sold to survive.
Open the refrigerator door. Inside are antique jars. Open them to hear the music: Beethoven playing piano; slaves singing for freedom in plantation fields; mothers humming lullabies through the night to smallpox babies, knowing this song is the last sound their children will ever hear.
“Like its individual lines, the book takes us on a roller coaster ride along the peaks and nadirs of human existence, sometimes threatening to spin off the page. We get lost in the breathlessness of the language, the storm of image—to be suddenly dropped without warning, whiplashed, back to earth: by a woman cooking hamburgers on a corpse, a collectible used condom, a raging cow whipping a farmer, a jeweled child’s eye strung from a wealthy woman’s necklace. Parkison somehow, magically, manages to marry the satirical wit of Donald Barthelme with the lyrical power of Anne Carson. With some Stephen Graham Jones-style horror thrown in to boot.”