There is lots of buzz in the blogger community with Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Today, bloggers are asked to post about terrific books that fly under the radar. We often ask booksellers just that question when we visit a bookstore and pass on their recommendations. Here’s our chance to share our own thoughts.
Claire’s favorite forgottens: If I ask people whether or not they like Dickens and Austen, I get an immediate answer, usually (but not always) in the affirmative. If I ask them about my other favorite author, Colette, I tend to get a blank stare. People have–sometimes–heard of her. Usually more for her semi-scandalous lifestyle (had lovers of both sexes, woo-hoo) than for her work, although there is the whole Gigi thing–people who like musical theater know her novella Gigi.
But the Claudine books? Claudine at School, Claudine in Paris, Claudine Married and Claudine and Annie (well, that last one isn’t so great, so skip that). People don’t know them and I don’t understand why. They’re amazing reads: witty, funny, sexy, insightful, bawdy, crazy, intelligent. Claudine is the BEST heroine of all time. I’d match her against Scarlett O’Hara any day. She’s smarter than anyone else around her, but she’s not particularly interested in intellectual pursuits. She’s beautiful, but uniquely, almost weirdly so. She’s fifteen in the first book and you can see the tension between the sexuality she wants to explore and her fears of where that exploration could lead her–where they do eventually lead her in subsequent books. She’s old beyond her years and very very young.
When I wrote my first novel, I thought a lot about what I loved about Claudine and tried to use some of that. I’d prefer not to use the term “stealing”–but if I could write half as well as Colette, I’d steal everything I could from her. She’s an amazing writer, able to capture anything she can sense–taste, feel, see, touch–in simple but beautiful prose. (She wrote these books originally in French. They’re translated wonderfully by Antonia White.) It’s crazy to me that people don’t read these books. I reread them regularly. They’re an escape and a pleasure and a delight.
Kim’s spotlight turns to Susan Straight: When people ask me what I’ve recently read, I stutter and pause as if I’m trying to hide something, but it’s not that, it’s that I read one book after another and they start to blend. The very good ones and the bad ones stand out, but the others, almost all good, start to fade into the mist of my middle aged brain matter. Not so with Highwire Moon. There are scenes from the book that still resonate with me, or maybe even haunt me, years later. A book about a daughter seemingly abandoned by her mother (that scene alone is worth the price of the book), it is the story about how they both struggle with their separation. In the process, Straight opens the door to the life of an illegal immigrant, how our food is grown, and our foster care system. Topics more timely now than when the book was published 8 years ago.
I first encountered Straight in 1995 with Blacker than a Thousand Midnights, about a black man trying to become a fireman in a world full of road blocks. Halfway through the book, I looked at her picture and was amazed she wasn’t a black man. She writes characters so real in her books that I physically feel the joy and pain they experience. Pick up either of these books, you won’t regret the time you’ve spent.