Late last month I asked Joy about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m a firm believer in the idea that the cream always rises. I absolutely love when I see someone like T. Geronimo Johnson getting the attention he deserves for his new novel Welcome To Braggsville. So many people seemed to have missed his debut, a debut that was a PEN/Faulkner finalist, an absolutely beautiful novel, Hold It ‘Til It Hurts. I could name a lot of books that are coming out of major houses that are incredible—Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, Jamie Kornegay’s Soil, M.O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away, Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals, Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain—but the reality is that given this opportunity, I’d rather point you in the direction of some people I think most folks are overlooking.Visit David Joy's website.
I can think of loads of books that haven’t gotten the attention they deserved in the past few years: Mark Powell’s The Sheltering, Rusty Barnes’ Reckoning, Sheldon Lee Compton’s The Same Terrible Storm, Charles Dodd White’s A Shelter of Others. All of that being said, I’m going to give you three recommendations (a book of fiction, a book of nonfiction, and a book of poetry) that are coming out or have just came out that I think everyone should be reading.
The first is a novel by Robert Gipe called Trampoline that’s coming out of Ohio University Press (March 2015). Gipe is someone who is not new to a lot of readers in Appalachia, but outside of this region people may not be familiar with his work. I honestly feel like this will be the best debut to come out of Appalachia this year. The narrator, Dawn Jewell, reminds me of some cross between Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield and True Grit’s Mattie Ross. This is a young girl raised in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. Her father died in a mining accident. Her mother turned to drugs. She’s being raised by a grandmother who is taking on the coal companies head on. This is one of the best looks into that part of Appalachia that I’ve read in a long time. Bottom line, Robert Gipe’s Trampoline is a tour de force.
The second is a group of essays that function cohesively as memoir by Leigh Ann Henion, a book called Phenomenal that’s coming out of Penguin Press. I don’t read lots of nonfiction anymore, but from the opening pages of this book I knew that Leigh Ann had the chops for what makes writers like Rick Bass or Leslie Marmon Silko so prodigious. It’s just that unwavering honesty, that willingness to pick apart self, just the vulnerability of it that makes that book hang with you. I think she’s one of the finest nature writers doing it right now, but that book is so much more than a travel log or a natural history of the world’s phenomena. This book is about love and family and grief and happiness and solitude, just a book with a tremendous scope that she somehow manages to handle incredibly well on the page. She’s one to watch out for.
Lastly is a book of poetry by Denton Loving that came out of Mainstreet Rag called Crimes Against Birds. Denton is another one that is known in Appalachia, but that is just waiting for a bigger stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a major novel or a major collection of short stories in his future. But until then we have these poems, and this book is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. He handles the masculine with an uncompromising honesty. I think of a poem like, “A Love Poem About An Exploding Cow,” and that opening stanza, “In the middle of night I wake / to a dying cow, holy / even in its pain, as it stands / on a hillside of fescue, / split open from neck / to underbelly.” Denton does what all great poets do and he typically does this with a narrative arc reminiscent of someone like Ron Rash. His poems are short stories. His poems are novels. This is definitely someone who is going to set his own place at the table in the very near future.