Although he had been publishing short stories since he was a teenager, Larry was 50 before his first novel, The Flamingo Rising (Knopf 1997), was published. Flamingo was one of three finalists for the Barnes and Noble Great New Voices award for 1997, a Los Angeles Times Top 100 book for 1997, and chosen by the Iowa Center for the Book to represent Iowa at the 2010 National Book Festival in Washington. It was also adapted for a Hallmark tv movie. With those pro-family credentials established, Flamingo was also included on the American Library Association’s Banned Books list for 2011. His third novel, A Good Man (2009), was nominated for Book of the Year by the Southeast Independent Booksellers Association in 2010. His 2012 novel, Love and Other Delusions, is a dramatic departure for Larryr in style and theme—“definitely not Hallmark material.” Early buzz for his latest novel, The Education of Nancy Adams, was enough to get Larry selected as the “Writer on Tour” by the Florida Literary Arts Council. He will be hosted by a lot of Florida colleges in the Fall of 2014 and Spring of 2015. He was included on the Iowa Literary Walk of Fame in 2010, joining other writers such as John Irving, Marilynne Robinson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Flannery O’Connor, et al.
I save a lot of books every year for my well-deserved beach vacation in St. Augustine, Florida. The first book I am reading this summer at the beach will be Richard Beeman’s Plain Honest Men, a history of the Constitutional Convention. Truth is, I am re-reading the Beeman book. I feel there is much I need to re-absorb. It is one of those books, I tell my students, that ought to be required reading for any politician who spouts off about the Founding Fathers and the sacred concept of Original Intent. Beeman brings alive every single day of the Convention, the personalities involved, the issues debated, the gossip, the drinking, the intrigue, and the entire messy business of creating a new government in the midst of social disintegration, a creation only made possible by compromises that galled those who finally agreed. The “truth” of American history is much more compelling than the mythology that is blathered on the campaign trail. Books like this make me a better history teacher. Books like this also make me a smarter voter.
As for fiction, the book I want to read this summer is Keith Donohue’s The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Picador), but it won’t be released until October. Donohue’s first novel, The Stolen Child, is one of my all-time favorites. How much did I like it? I bought a dozen hardcover editions and gave them away as gifts. I’ve never done that for any other book. His new book sounds great: “Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire.”
As for books in hand, I‘ll reach first for Bob Inman’s The Govenor’s Lady (John F. Blair). Already liking his Dairy Queen Days and Captain Saturday would be enough of an incentive, but the real interest came from my wife’s enthusiasm about the book. How do I know she liked it? She gave me an update each time she finished reading a chapter or two. She really wanted to talk about the book, and that is always a good sign. Lady is about Cooper Lanier, a woman governor of a southern state, who is succeeding her husband: “On her first day, as the state is blindsided by a blizzard, Cooper quickly realizes she is surrounded by leftovers from her husband’s administration and that he intends to manage the state’s affairs from the campaign trail, even if it means undermining her every command. Cooper is faced with the stark choice of seizing control or becoming a phony, irrelevant figurehead.” I love politics, and I love Inman’s writing. Govenor’s Lady should be a pleasure.
Choosing another beach book was made a lot easier after meeting Martha Woodroof at the Virginia Festival of the Book back in March. If Woodroof’s first novel Small Blessings (St. Martin’s Press, to be released August 12) is as entertaining as my conversation with her in Charlottesville, I’m in for a fun read. Consider this: “Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing the oddball faculty in his department and caring, alongside his formidable mother-in-law, for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom’s brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.” A story with “unrelenting neuroses” and “misguided” affairs…what’s not to like?
I only have a week at the beach, and I am a slow reader, right? So my final selection has to be a sure thing. Enter Jincy Willett. I am a big fan of her 2003 novel Winner of the National Book Award, and I have delayed reading her 2013 novel Amy Falls Down (Thomas Dunne Books) for too long. Willett is a wry writer and Amy might be a perfect book for a “mature” reader such as myself: “Amy Gallup is an aging novelist and writing instructor living in Escondido, California, with her dog, Alphonse. Since recent unsettling events, she has made some progress. While she still has writer’s block, she doesn’t suffer from it. She’s still a hermit, but she has allowed some of her class members into her life. She is no longer numb, angry, and sardonic: she is merely numb and bemused, which is as close to happy as she plans to get.” And, yes, the plot involves her literally falling down. So, a story about an old writer who falls down a lot…I should have written this book.
All in all, August in Florida, under a tent on the beach, listening to the Atlantic, and a stack of good books. To steal a thought from Martha Woodroof, my life is a series of small blessings.
What’s in your beach tote? Does your summer reading tend to be thematic or all over the place?