Writing Bloc’s Best Reads May Edition
This is the first post in what will be an ongoing best reads series in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. This month, Robert Batten, Michael Haase, and Jacqui Castle all chimed in with their recommendations. Check out the first three books that made the cut.
Robert’s recommendation: The Fireman by Joe Hill
My book of the month is The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It came to me as a recommendation from one of my editors, which is high praise in itself. The Fireman is an apocalyptic horror by best-selling author Joe Hill. It takes us to a version of our world that is burning. Literally. A mysterious disease, known as dragonscale due to the markings it creates on the body, is causing mass spontaneous combustion. With the sheer number of people catching fire, almost everything else seems to be going up in flames too, including civilization. Into this setting we meet Harper, an uncompromisingly positive nurse with a fondness for Julie Andrews. Harper is amazing. She’s a charming mix of innocence, courage, and intelligence. Experiencing the world through her point of view is a delight.
“Harper put the novel back on his desk, cornering the edges of the manuscript so it stood in a neat, crisp pile. With its clean white title page and clean white edges, it looked as immaculate as a freshly made bed in a luxury hotel. People did all sorts of unspeakable things in hotel beds.”
The story is a slow burn, building the intensity as the disasters mount. The world is well-realized and the dragonscale fascination, but throughout it’s the characters and the prose that shine. The novel telegraphs each of the disasters and betrayals beautifully, letting you stress as the tension builds without spoiling the moment when it finally arrives.
“Almost as an afterthought, she put a box of kitchen matches on top of it as a paperweight. If her Dragonscale started to smoke and itch, she wanted to have them close at hand. If she had to burn, she felt it only fair that the fucking book burn first.”
If you enjoy dystopian / apocalyptic fiction, you should absolutely read The Fireman.
Michael’s Recommendation: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
I enjoy reading and writing humor and satire, first and foremost. Somehow, this book slipped through the cracks. I never had this book recommended to me, so I feel obligated to push it forward. Yes, it’s a little older, as it was published in 1980. But wow, this book is so interesting and unique, a tale woven like no other. I haven’t read anything so clever and unique since Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.
This is an odd book, admittedly. Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist, is almost as antihero as they come. He is fractious, disrespectful, and flatulent. He is a highly educated man who manipulates his environment to appease his fastidious needs. Ultimately, he is a man who is unable to see his own difficulties, constantly diverting his problems onto others while scraping by ina strange, purposeless existence. He is thirty years old, living with his mother in the heart of New Orleans, and his antics inadvertently set in motion events that change the lives of all the other characters around him. His is simultaneously lovable and repulsive, and the balance is held tightly by the magnificent writing. Ignatius might be strange and difficult to visualize as a hero, but he is infinitely quotable. For example:
“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”
Ignatius, to me, is some of the most lovably worst parts of us with an unlimited vocabulary. The entire book is filled with oddball characters, each with their flaws and difficulties. But, in the end, you cheer for all. Go into it expecting a book like no other.
Okay, so I didn’t actually read this in May. I read it a few months ago. But, I wanted to start this series out by recommending this book because it had such a strong impact on me. The Knife of Never Letting Go is is one of those books that sticks with you, haunts you long after you’ve put it down. There are two other books in this series, and though I know I will love them, I haven’t picked them up yet for fear of what they might contain, whether I’ll be able to handle what comes next for our main character, Todd. I’ll get there…
In the town of Prentisstown, everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts. They refer to this as their ‘noise,’ and though the noise may get louder or softer, it never ceases. Every single person in Prentisstown is constantly surrounded by their own noise, and the noise of others, even the animals. If you think you have heard all the great stories there are to tell about a boy and his dog, think again. And have tissues nearby once you are ready to embark on this journey.
Todd’s world gets thrown upside down when he stumbles upon an area of silence. What is behind the silence, and where will it lead him?
I can hear it.
Well, I can’t hear it, that’s the whole point, but when I run toward it the emptiness of it is touching my chest and the stillness of it pulls at me and there’s so much quiet in it, no, not quiet, silence, so much unbelievable silence that I start to feel really torn up, like I’m about to lose the most valuable thing ever, like there it is, a death…
I hesitate to explain more about this story without delving into spoilers. All I will say is, read this immediately, and be ready to have it f#@k with your head long after the last page.