One lazy Sunday in 2009, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance’s Executive Director Joshua Bodwell tapped out a list of books that had resonated with him that year. He wrote some reflections about each book and emailed the list to friends and family. And so an annual tradition was born. Here are three of his 2018 picks. The others will be featured in coming months.
“The Diary of a Bookseller,” Shaun Bythell, Melville House.
When John Cheever’s diaries were published years ago, I had no interest in reading them; I found the whole thing distasteful. But it’s obvious Shaun Bythell — whose The Book Shop in Wigtown is Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop — always intended to make public his sardonic snapshot of a year in book sales.
Each chapter opens with a quotation from George Orwell’s 1936 essay “Bookshop Memories” (which can be found in Books v. Cigarettes). Bythell usually agrees with Orwell’s cranky observations of the bookselling trade, and he is obviously a fan of British comedian Dylan Moran’s scathingly eccentric bookseller Bernard Black on the sitcom “Black Books,” but even when grousing about price-haggling customers and unreasonable staff, Bythell is never a full-on misanthrope like the fictional Bernard Black.
In fact, this humorous book is at its best when Bythell is writing affectionately about friends he obviously deeply admires, or on one of his many ventures out to buy book collections from people who are, often because of their age or a death, selling private collections. In these moments, Bythell is by turns philosophical and a wee melancholy … which is to say, I suppose, Scottish.
“Collected Short Stories & Novellas of Andre Dubus,” edited by Joshua Bodwell, David R. Godine.
What can I say? Yes, over the past two years I served as the series editor of this three-volume reintroduction of Andre Dubus’s short stories and novellas … but as I read and re-read and re-read again all the work, my admiration for Dubus only grew.
Along the way, I got to work with three of my literary heroes (Ann Beattie, Richard Russo, Tobias Wolff) as they provided introductions for the volumes. So, what can I say? Twenty years ago, I got lucky and stumbled upon Dubus’s masterful short stories. To have the opportunity to work so closely with his writing, and help introduce it to more readers, has been one of the most truly humbling gifts of my life.
“When I First Held You: 22 Critically Acclaimed Writers Talk About the Triumphs, Challenges, and Transformative Experience of Fatherhood,” Brian Gresko, Berkley Books.
There is no glut of great writing by men reflecting on fatherhood, so this is a very welcome anthology.
I discovered “When I First Held You” last winter after meeting the anthology’s editor, Brian Gresko, at a writing conference in Florida. We’d spent hours together manning a booth, and in that time we talked at length about fathering, about our partners, our struggles with clichés about masculinity.
When I left the conference, I thought I’d snooze on my flight home from Tampa. Instead, I blazed through about half of the anthology. There are memorable essays by Justin Cronin, Anthony Doerr, Andre Dubus III, and Benjamin Percy, just to name a few. I was moved more than once to tears while reading this anthology.