BookPage asked me recently to share with them what I’ve been reading lately. I can’t say there’s any rhyme or reason to my book selection these days: a little nonfiction, a lot of fiction. A little American West, a little Spanish Inquisition. And a lot of new work by friends like Bill Gifford, James Hannaham, Jonny Waldman and Gretchen Rubin, who all had books come out within a week of my own. But for BookPage, I decided to stick with the theme of the American West and wanderers along frontiers real and imagined. Here’s what I came up with.
WHAT THEY’RE READING: HANNAH NORDHAUS
Hannah Nordhaus explores her family’s history and its fabled connection to a restless spirit in American Ghost. Our reviewer writes that while she focuses on history, “inevitably, Nordhaus’ journey really is a search for self, and we are privileged to be able to accompany her.” (Read the full review here.)
We asked Nordhaus to tell us about three books she’s enjoyed reading lately.
Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell
I discovered Mary Doria Russell’s books recently, and frankly, I’m furious that I haven’t been reading her longer. Russell is most famous for The Sparrow, a science-fiction tale of alien first contact that is so much more than that. She knows how to tell a story in striking language, and she also knows how to make us think. Epitaph is a follow-up to her 2011 novel, Doc, which traced the paths of the true-life Western icons Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp through the duo’s time in Dodge City, Kansas. Epitaph takes up whereDoc left off, following their trail—and that of Wyatt Earp’s common-law, Jewish wife, Josephine Marcus—to Tombstone, Arizona, in the days leading up to the famous OK Corral shootout. Yes, there are guns and cowboys and horses aplenty, but this is no stock shoot-em-up Western; it’s a majestically wrought, intricately detailed, thoughtful, surprising and provocative examination of memory, heroism, character and mythology in the 19th-century West.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
I recently stumbled upon Kent Haruf’s most celebrated novel on the remainder table at my local bookstore, which just seems wrong. He’s the iconic writer of the Colorado plains and my state’s finest literary product—and yet I had never read his work. A few weeks later, I learned that Haruf had died. I fished the book from the stack on my bedside table and read it through. And then I read it again. Every word matters in that book; Haruf’s language is taut and carefully considered, the story so lovely, the characters so human and flawed all at once, that you want to hold them close long after the book has ended. In Haruf’s hands, the flat and seemingly unexceptional lives of his characters are, like the furrowed grasslands in which they live, transformed into something wondrous. I live at the intersection of mountains and Haruf’s immense and exacting prairie. It extends far beyond what the eye can see. Now, when I look east, I look to Haruf.
Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
I’ve recently developed a fixation on the Spanish Inquisition, and I decided it was time, finally, to read that era’s most famous piece of literature. The critic Harold Bloom has called Don Quixote the first modern novel—and it’s modern all right. One might even describe it as postmodern: The book is ironic, intertextual, meta-fictional and deeply weird. There’s tilting at windmills, yes, and blood-drenched beatings, burning books, horse-on-pony sexual assault, serial vomiting, cruelty, burlesque and all manner of lunacy. I have used the word “quixotic” often in my writing; only now do I realize that I have been using it wrong. Don Quixote may be lovable, mostly, but he’s no impractical idealist; in my opinion, he’s downright demented.
You can read the original post here.