This Week's 5 Best Stories From NPR Books

Jul 4, 2012
Originally published on July 4, 2012 6:15 pm

If you're like me, you probably have stacks of books sitting around your home waiting to be cracked open.

Despite my apartment's messy milieu, the piles are actually carefully curated in the order of what I plan to tackle next. Of course, the stacks tend to grow faster than I can read, but no matter.

Here are this week's five best stories from NPR Books. They'll grow your piles, but I promise, these books are worth it.

1. Mississippi Mayhem

Faulknerphiles: Surely you are by now aware that this Friday is the 50th anniversary of William Faulkner's death. Cheers to you, let the celebratory readings begin.

Faulknerphobes: Do not be afraid, for there exists one book, written by the man himself, that will allay your apprehension.

According to author W. Ralph Eubanks, The Reivers is a "painless introduction" for those looking to tackle Faulkner's mountain of work. In this lovely essay written for our series, PG-13: Risky Reads (which also airs on All Things Considered), Eubanks writes that as a young boy looking for adventure and some off-limits adult content, this story of a stolen horse and car was, well, "pretty cool."

2. Buried Treasure

But perhaps you're looking for new fiction this week. For that, allow Weekend Edition editor Barrie Hardymon to slip you into something a little more contemporary. She dove through her own stacks and came up with this list of the five best hidden gems of the year — those books that were perhaps missed by the reading public, that should not be overlooked.

The plots are diverse — from love between Wall Street types to a look at London newspapers in the late '90s. There's also Wiley Cash's debut novel, which "opens in a hot haze of death and religion," as well as a charming English romp that Hardymon calls "The Twilight Zone set at Downton, complete with mystery, horror and a bracing bit of class commentary."

For some under-the-radar discovery, look no further.

3. The Guiltiest Of Pleasures

From underappreciated, we move on to just plain old ignored: It's genre fiction, and its time has come! For the best of sci-fi, fantasy and the rest, we turn to our nerd-in-residence, NPR editor Petra Mayer, who wrote this essay for our series My Guilty Pleasure.

Petra assures us that The Black Jewels Trilogy is like no other fantasy out there — tropes are flipped "on their heads" and "common pairings of good/light and evil/dark have come uncoupled." Instead we have a world where "only women can rule" and Saetan, the ruler of Hell, is "a good guy, when you get to know him."

Of course, there's plenty to feel guilty about — the "men are a teenager's dream: muscly, gorgeous, attentive, protective, brilliant in bed" — but if you're in the mood to embrace your inner nerd, you can't do much better than this one.

4. Grit, True Grit

Then there are genre writers like Solomon Jones, whose thrillers have some serious personal depth.

For our series, Crime in the City, Morning Edition host David Greene went to Philadelphia to spend some time with Jones. They talked about his book, The Last Confession, which begins with a death at Philly's 30th Street Station. But they also discussed addiction and sobriety, both of which Jones has experienced. "I consider myself fortunate to still be here" he told Greene.

One place where you can really see that The Last Confession is not a normal thriller is in the acknowledgments. The first person Jones thanks is his "Lord and savior Jesus Christ, who snatched me off the streets and gave me a second chance at life." That is no ordinary writer, and this is no ordinary crime drama.

5. Oh, For The Love Of Dog

Reader, I feel I should admit something to you. As a member of the NPR Books team there's pretty much no genre I won't read. I've tackled fiction and nonfiction, horror and poetry. But I will not read books about animals. No can do.

And thankfully, I didn't have to. NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner did it for me.

When the folks over at Morning Edition noticed a trend of what they are calling "dog memoirs" they asked Rovner (a dog owner and dog show competitor) to see if they were any good.

Somewhat surprisingly, she found that they were. Books by Jill Abramson and Julie Klam are worth your time even if you're not a dog lover. One by Jon Katz might have you in tears by the end. And if you're not careful you might even find yourself engrossed in titles like Show Dog: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred. But maybe that's pushing it.

If you've made it this far and you're still looking for the perfect weekend read, here's a bonus for you. Check out this interview with Ben Fountain, whose novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk perfectly captures one soldier's journey.

Rosie Friedman works on the NPR Books team.

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