Books always make a good present for a friend or a stocking stuffer for that special someone.
In the spirit of shopping local and supporting friends here are five books you should buy this holiday season:
1. The Naming of Ghosts by Steve Mitchell
Steve Mitchell’s writing is unlike any other author I’ve come across. While reading the stories in his collection The Naming of Ghosts I felt at times like I was dreaming, at other times as if I was reading a poem and at others as if I was listening to music. Mitchell has the unique ability to draw you right into his character’s mind. His talent to convey the feminine is almost overwhelming and several times in reading the first few stories I had to stop and make sure I was holding the right book. His writing has been described as “hypnotic” and “compelling” and I’d say that barely scratches the surface. The stories are transformative and written in a style that lulls the reader into a place where the beauty of struggle is subtly painted. I was lucky to meet Mitchell at an afternoon writing seminar last fall and later attended a reading at Empire Books in Greensboro. He claims inspiration often comes from a single image or a picture. If so then he possesses a combination of vision, insight and poetics that is a rare gift indeed. A sample of his talent is available here.
2. In a World of Small Truths by Ray Morrison
I met Ray at a writing workshop put on by Press 53 over in Winston in the late summer. As fate would have it, two guys in the lunch line at the same time took a table together. I didn’t know at the time that I was talking up such a talented writer. Morrison’s short story collection is a gem and his range is evident in the first couple of stories which vary from the Southern Gothic style of “Laid to Rest”, a story about neighbors and assumptions along a rural fence line, to the magical realist variety of “Cityscape”. Several others in this collection of short fiction absolutely nail voice and setting while exploring a range of emotion and understanding of the complexities of existence. Morrison conveys the perspective of daughters, of sons, of parents and of neighbors as effortlessly as a cloud crosses the horizon. His stories are just that good.
3. Hill Billy Highway by Chad Nance
Nance is a Stokes County native obsessed with the absurd underbelly of the local and national political scene. This book reads like a boxing match between two talented middleweights as the punches fly and the narrative sticks you in the gut. A definite homage to the great Hunter S. Thompson this book will stick with you. Nance is a talented writer and spins tales of politics, protests and personal experience that have immediacy and gravitas right from the start. The magazine length piece “Sensei Seals” is an instant classic.
4. The Anxious Hipster by Brian Clarey
I’ve needed to buy Clarey’s book for a while now. The editor of Yes Weekly in Greensboro, Clarey puts the stir in hip as he mixes a blend of street tales and adventures in journalism. I’ve seen videos of Brian reading selections of his book in a spoken word performance set to the accompaniment of a blues guitarist. The ease with which he spins a yarn is a testament to the listening skills Clarey developed not only as a bartender but growing up in a mixture of New York tough and New Orleans mystique. Clarey’s column “Crashing the Gate” is a good read each week and I look forward to buying his book and getting the full monty.
5. What the Zhang Boys Knew by Cliff Garstang
I bought this book after attending a seminar in short story writing Garstang moderated. He read a selection from this unique collection in the final session of the day and I was intrigued. The novel fuses several perspectives within the context of a condo in the D.C. area. Based on the viewpoint of the Zhang Boys and their father as he struggles to build a new life for his sons after becoming a widower, the few selections I’ve read grip you with their immediacy. Garstang puts it all on the table in this effort with its unique plot and poignant but vibrant prose.