And now, today’s installment of “books that I read last year that are not getting the full attention that they deserve.”
Let’s get things started with Ian McNulty’s A Season of Night: New Orleans Life After Katrina.
McNulty’s book is a first person account of what it is like to live in the midst of an environmental catastrophe. The author had nowhere to go after the storm and a job that needed him to show up. So he does what none of us would have done and returns to his partially destroyed home without electricity in a city that lay in ruins. He gutted the heavily damaged first floor, moved all of his ruined belongings to the curb, and lived with his dog in the relatively undamaged second floor (minus a few windows). Winter two-steps into town and McNulty still has neither electricity nor hot water. It’s not all grim. To keep spirits up, the author throws a “bring what you have” party that really gets going when teenage Mormon volunteers happen by with food that didn’t start in a can. McNulty’s story is a great tale of survival and determination. I’m adding it to my Katrina Canon.
I can hardly believe that I am relegating Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends to this type of review.
Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers, without question. Maps and Legends is his first non-fiction book. The collection of essays provides the author’s take on writing and reading. The idea of exploring “the areas beyond the map” is a unifying theme that Chabon uses to describe his need to push beyond conventional ideas of genre and literary writing. The cover alone is worth the price of admission. The blue, green, and brown areas on the cover are each a separate intricately cut sheet that wrap around the book to form the dust jacket. Maps and Legends is published by McSweeney’s, and I am a huge fan of what they do with books.
And finally – Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital rounds out this edition.
I’ll point out that The Children’s Hospital hard cover is also a McSweeney’s book. For a small independent press, they sure seem to crank out a lot of stuff that I like. Go, McSweeney’s, Go!
The novel is difficult to describe without making it sound ludicrous. It begins with a huge flood devastating the earth. The hospital along with the staff, patients, and visiting family are all that survive. The building, as it turns out, was designed to survive and accommodate those within indefinitely. An Arc. What follows for the next thousand pages of the story is an incredible exploration of Big Ideas, all of which I feel compelled to capitalize: Illness/Health, Truth, Beauty, Medicine, Motherhood, Theology, Life/Death, and Salvation. Adrian is a pediatrician, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and a student at the Harvard Divinity School. He has some big things to say and the skill to say them. I’m not sure that I understood all of what I was being told, but The Children’s Hospital is an incredible piece of work.