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December 13, 2007

CAAF: 5 x 5 Books by Writers that I've Tilted a Few Around by Matthew Eck

5 x 5 Books ... is a recommendation of five books that appears regularly in this space. This week's installment comes from Matthew Eck, whose novel The Farther Shore is the Lit Blog Co-op's Read This! Selection for winter. In a review for Salon, Stephen Elliott described Eck's book as "a truly great war novel by a writer of sizable talent who has come close to war." Keep up with the LBC discussion of the novel going on this week here.

It's that time of the year where we like to get depressed and we like to drink. We visit family and friends -- and pets are left alone for days on end with too little water. In the title I use the word "around" because not all the writers on this list drink. I use the word "few" because I've already embarrassed myself enough out there in the world. But never apologize -- even as you knock over the Christmas tree.

I'm not saying that writers have to drink either, don't get me wrong there. I never drink anything but coffee when I'm writing. Don't dull your senses. Don't introduce bad habits into your writing time.

I think I really chose these books because I must have somehow gotten a little depressed around all these writers at one point. But it's that little bit of depression I carried back to the beauty of their books, their work heavy with loss.

1. The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. This is one of those novels where I'll let the writing speak for itself. It has one of the greatest first lines in all of literature: "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

The writing in the book is unbearably beautiful. Case in point, later in the book:

Behind her, the clouds surrendered their last crimson streaks to a soft, foggy gray. A single tall evergreen tilted against the falling sky. Behind me, the party began to rumble like thunder. Peggy relit the hash pipe, and this time I accepted it from her. We shared the smoke as the evening winds rose off the cold sea, rose up the wooded ridges, and herded the party inside, people muttering thin complaints like children called from play to the fuzzy dreams of the their early beds.

2. Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn. If you've ever wanted to be loved, read this book. And this next sentence has nothing to do with what I just said: Kirn has written some of the finest scenes about Mormon sex, in case that's what you're looking to give, or get, for Christmas. This is one of the few books that made me laugh until I cried -- and not because it's all funny.

3. A Stranger In This World by Kevin Canty. This is one of the few books that made me cry until I needed to laugh. I love to teach "Dogs" and "Pretty Judy." Besides, the man turned me on to Babel. I'll love him forever for that one.

4. The End of the Story by Lydia Davis. I do not know Lydia Davis -- let me make that clear. But I once sat in a room where fifteen or twenty MFA-ers were trying to talk to her. Okay, so I wasn't sitting, I was trying as well. I love this book for the way memory tumbles against memory. I love the "nothing" it offers.

5. Tom Thomson In Purgatory by Troy Jollimore. One of the notes I scribbled in the margins of this book reads, "Did you ever get laid on Christmas?" It's not a note to Tom Thomson either. It was fodder for the friend I gave the book to. This is a book you'll have to buy for someone else because it'll say so much to you.

Posted December 13, 2007 12:30 AM

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