NAOMI AND HER DAUGHTERS
Walter Wangerin Jr.
A couple years ago I read PAUL by Walter Wangerin and liked it a lot. Paul isn't a very likeable character in the New Testament, and Wangerin didn't try to make him into one; if anything he made him grosser. But he did make him and other more minor New Testament characters seem like real humans, and he made Paul's letters and the history and divisions of the early church more relevant for me. NAOMI AND HER DAUGHTERS isn't as good. Wangerin gives the characters traumatic backstories and describes their bodily functions, but there's still something too Nice about the book and I couldn't really care about it. The version in the Bible is shorter and simpler and stranger and better.
WEEDS and CRAPALACHIA
Edith Summers Kelley and Scott McClanahan
U.S. history is short enough that you can kind of think you understand it, but it's long and deep and wide enough that you actually don't. WEEDS is about people living in Kentucky at the very beginning of the 20th century and CRAPALCHIA is about people living in West Virginia at the very end of it. WEEDS was written in 1923, and the library copy I read hadn't been checked out since 1979. CRAPALACHIA was written in 2013. The way people live and the way they write books has changed a lot in 90 years, but what are people gonna do, stop being people? Some of them are happy and some of them aren't; most people are poor and don't get books written about them. Reading WEEDS felt a little like reading a less sentimental version of Laura Ingalls Wilder at first, but then it got sadder and angrier and I stopped being able to read it in bed, I had to read it in the afternoon. Reading CRAPALACHIA felt like reading something good on the internet, which isn't a criticism, it's just what new books often feel like to me now: someone who likes to talk and who I like to listen to sitting on my porch or in my truck. Towards the end of his book, Scott says I wanted to write a book about all the people I knew and loved before I forgot them, but I see that my book is something else now. I see that I have been praying a selfish prayer for myself. Other than people, books and prayer might be the things I spend the most time thinking about and trying to figure out, and this is a realization I have often had. Those italics aren't a good example of what the book is like though. It's funny and good and sometimes gross and sometimes sad. I intend to read more books by Scott McClanahan, but will probably never get around to reading Edith Summers Kelley's other book. I made the Springfield library buy CRAPALACHIA and I just returned it, so you can get it from there if you live here.