Goodreads says I’m “on track” to finish my reading challenge for 2017 with eight books read. That’s 11 percent of my goal, the site says. I feel good about it. I opted to try and read 75 books this year, same number I tried for and surpassed last year. But I also try to keep quality in mind. I want to read 75 or more quality books. If I only finish 20 books and they are all spectacular and make me see the world better and help me become a better reader and a better writer, then I’m all set. That will be a winning year of reading for me.
Of the books I’ve read so far, I have to say that Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles has been my favorite. It’s the first book of his I’ve read and the guy really put on a short story clinic. Reminded me of how good a short story can be, how it can be all the things you want in a story and more. The guy is a phenom.
Here’s the other books I’ve read at this point in the year:
Cult of Loretta by Kevin Maloney – A heartbeat of a book. Moved along in this perfectly easy way and was written in this controlled voice any writer would envy. I read somewhere that Maloney said he wrote it as a kind of compiled series of short stories that connected to make the whole. Whatever he did, it worked. But I can see how he might be more fitted for short form. There’s no shame in that whatsoever. That’s what I’d like to tell him, if I could. The short story form is one of the most difficult to do well. And I’m not just saying that because I’m primarily a short story writer. It’s just a fact.
Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire – I’ve since started reading his collection of prose poems and I’m enjoying it far more than this, the collection that is widely considered his masterpiece.
Saw Strokes My Father Taught Me by G. Arthur Brown – A collection of flash fiction with a bizarro flavor. If I’m not forgetting one or two, I think this was my first bizarro read. It’s not really my thing, for the most part. Or not to this level, maybe.
Root and Shoot by Nathan Leslie – Another collection of flash fiction. I read Leslie’s story “A New Cycle” in Best Small Fictions 2016 and knew I wanted more from him. This one was a good fit for that craving.
United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas – Tieryas imagines what might have been if Japan had emerged victorious over the United States in World War II. I liked this one a lot. It read like a high-octane thriller with plenty of smarts. Tieryas has a fine ability to create bright, memorable characters and a plot line to back them up.
Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson – One of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. Stories like “Nirvana” and “Dark Meadow” took my head completely off and left me wondering if I would ever write anything even close to that level of perfection. Whatever hype has surrounded this guy is simply not enough.
The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour – Of the books I’ve read so far this year this one has by far the most interesting premise. A boy raised as a bird finding himself and his way in a New York City in the years leading up to the world-changing events of September 11, 2001. Great imagination, great story, great writing. It’s not a book you want to miss.
Cartoons in the Suicide Forest by Leza Cantoral – This one got on my radar via Facebook. I’m friends with Cantoral there and saw this title while scrolling my feed. I stopped fast because, well, just look at that title. Beautiful, strange, eye-catching, somehow brutal and inviting. I liked some of the stories in this collection and some others were not my thing. But Cantoral knows what she’s doing and that confidence shines through in every sentence.
Alright, let’s keep reading. Let’s be better readers. Let’s remind all of them (whoever they may be) that the world is made up of stories and that’s perfectly okay.