It’s the Best Time to Curl Up With a Good Book
Tim Clark has been reviewing books for Yankee for three decades. Here are his favorite New England titles published in the past 25 years.
1. Those Who Fall by John Muirhead. This lyrical memoir of World War II bomber aviation was the first published work by a draftsman and shipyard supervisor from Massachusetts: “It never seemed to us that flak came from anything on the ground. Not from guns that men fired. Flak came from the sky itself; it blossomed there.” Bantam, 1988
2. Seasons at Eagle Pond by Donald Hall. A former U.S. poet laureate, Hall is also a superb essayist whose frank voice acknowledges the challenges of the New England climate: “There is no reason to live here except for love.” Ticknor & Fields, 1987
3. Open Season by Archer Mayor. When Brattleboro, Vermont, police detective Joe Gunther first appeared in 1988, I wrote, “His chief virtues are his doggedness and his awareness that simple answers are often wrong. I’m hoping we see a lot more of him.” Mayor recently published his 22nd Joe Gunther mystery. The Mysterious Press, 1988
4. Live Free or Die by Ernest Hebert. My favorite in a series of ornery novels of New Hampshire. The plot is secondary to the voice of the author, a voice that rises and falls with the rhythms of native speech and mocks its own literary pretensions. Hardscrabble Books/University Press of New England, 1995
5. Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer. His goal was to “put Paul Revere back on his horse again, to take the midnight ride seriously as a historical event, [and] to suspend fashionable attitudes of disbelief toward an authentic American hero.” Mission accomplished. Oxford University Press, 1995
6. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. This aching account of the loss of a Gloucester fishing boat and its crew draws power from sensory details: “A scream means the wind is around Force 9 on the Beaufort Scale, 40 or 50 knots. Force 10 is a shriek. Force 11 is a moan. Over Force 11 is something fishermen don’t want to hear.” W. W. Norton, 1997
7. Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels. Wessels explains mysteries like why some stone walls use big rocks and some use small ones. Your walks in the woods will never be the same. Countryman Press, 1997
8. Five Thousand Days Like This One by Jane Brox. In his poem “The Oven Bird,” Robert Frost asks “what to make of a diminished thing.” In this poignant memory of a family apple orchard in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts, Jane Brox has the answer. Beacon Press, 1999
9. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This novel-in-stories revolves around a retired Maine schoolteacher; it’s as close to perfect as anything I’ve ever read. Random House, 2008
10. There’s also a special category I call “Read Anything By …,” which includes Vermont’s Howard Frank Mosher, New Hampshire’s Thomas Williams, and the late, great Robert B. Parker, who died at his writing desk in January 2010. Parker was a native of Massachusetts, went to college in Maine, and wrote dozens of funny, literate mysteries featuring a Boston detective named Spenser. What millions of readers know about New England they learned from Parker.