Sunday, April 25, 2010

Joe Bonomo

Joe Bonomo is author of AC/DC's Highway to Hell (33 1/3 Series, 2010), Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found (2009), Installations (National Poetry Series, 2008), Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band (2007), and numerous essays and prose poems. He teaches in the English Department at Northern Illinois University.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Here are a few books I can’t shake:

Larry Brown, A Miracle Of Catfish

Apart from a few early stories and one self-consciously experimental miss (The Rabbit Factory), Brown’s work is uniformly strong. I love Joe, Fay, and Father and Son, but his last novel indicates how far he’d come as a storyteller and what he might have produced had he not died of a heart attack in 2004. A Miracle of Catfish is unfinished, but the world Brown creates is so full, the characters so round and naturalistic, the rolling, tense, verdant Mississippi landscape so sensually rendered, that the lack of a conventional resolution feels more realistic than not: this world is alive, unending. Brown’s final-draft notes included at the end of the book offer a glimpse of fates and possibilities, but they’re superfluous. Loneliness, alienation, aimless driving, splintered families, beers on ice in a cooler in a truck’s floorboards, and sticky heat and human anxieties and drama: it’s all here in a book that I can’t wait to read again.

Joe Mackall, The Last Street Before Cleveland: An Accidental Pilgrimage

The editor of River Teeth, a journal devoted to literary nonfiction, Mackall brings to bear on his troubled past a sharp, unforgiving eye for cinematic details. The title names the parameters within which Mackall uneasily but stubbornly moves in this return to his neighborhood to explore what he’s lost and what he might find there now. Mackall thankfully spares coyness and self-pity in confessing to spiritual and familial loss as well as addiction and professional malaise. A brave, clear-eyed book about loss of faith, how one’s sensibility is shaped by environment, and the struggles with that permanent fact, this is also a great book about writing’s redemptive possibilities.

Franz Lidz, Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers and My Uncle Arthur, New York's Greatest Hoarders

A cool blend of biography, reportage, and personal essaying, Lidz’s book chronicles the sad story of Homer and Langley Collyer — they lost themselves literally and figuratively in their Manhattan apartment filled with junk — and weaves in memories of his own hoarding uncle. I love writers who attempt to recognize shapes and patterns in their own lives reflective of those in the larger world. Lidz’s way in to his subject— autobiography > biography — tempers self-absorption and still essays the connections between personal and public. Plus, the story of the Collyer brothers is wildly interesting.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Gilead, an epistolary novel, feels essayistic, part of the reason it appeals to me. In letters written to his young son, John Ames moves from casual to formal, memoiristic to (gently) pedantic, nostalgic to deeply troubled. Robinson’s details of the physical and metaphysical worlds are remarkable and loving, the novel written with such spiritual passion, knowledge, and affection for its characters that it feels warm to the touch. Robinson’s interested in dramatizing the urgency of the finite life and of the wistfulness generated by a failing heart; looking backwards and forward at the same time, Ames sees sorrowful complexity and joyous simplicities, the novel’s masterful, humane blend.

Roger Angell, Late Innings: A Baseball Companion

Every year around the end of February I raid my shelves for baseball books; none ever match the warmth and heft of Angell’s. His New Yorker narrative musings on the game are anachronistic in the age of sabermetrics, and that’s what I love about them: with a patience obviously borne of a deep love for the game, Angell knits together stories and scenes, from spring training to August’s dog days to the World Series, that cohere both as fully-arced portraits and as snapshots of in-game moments. Nobody describes a plate appearance quite like Angell, and few share his breadth of knowledge, storehouse of memories, and ability as a story teller. His baseball writings are a great example of how it’s possible to write personally without writing autobiographically (although we get glimpses into Angell’s past and private life). I shamelessly love everything that this man, who’ll turn 90 this fall, has written about the game, but I’m partial to Late Innings because it covers the Seventies and the Yankees’ Bronx Zoo mania, among my favorite eras and memories of baseball.

Books I’ve read or re-read recently, and will again: Beryl Singleton Bissell’s The Scent of God; Claudia Rankine’s Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric; Christopher R. Weingarten’s Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back; Bruce Eaton’s Big Star’s Radio City; Josh Alan Friedman’s Tales Of Times Square; Luc Sante’s Low-Life and Kill All Your Darlings; Mark Irwin’s Tall If.

I’m looking forward to getting into Patrick Madden’s Quotidiana, Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir, Rob Trucks’ Fleetwood Mac's Tusk; Nick Flynn’s The Ticking Is The Bomb, Steven Church's The Day After The Day After: My Atomic Angst, and so many others….
Visit Joe Bonomo's blog, and read more about his new book, AC/DC's Highway to Hell.

--Marshal Zeringue