Thanks to Steve Kistulentz for choosing today's books, all out in May and listed below in alphabetical order by author. As with any book we feature in Spine, we encourage you to head to your local library or bookstore to grab a copy. If you are an author, agent, or publicist and want your work/the work of one of your authors considered for inclusion, be sure to get in touch with Spine at email@example.com.
To me, summer used to be about escapism. I discovered my love of reading as a young man by spending the afternoon thunderstorms digging into huge paperback adventures, things like Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic, or science fiction about planet-killing comets. As I got older, I managed enough good fortune to learn that these kinds of books were written by actual, verifiable human beings, a prospect I hadn’t really considered as a pre-teen. And once I fell in love with an author, I learned that I wanted to read all of what they’d done. I’ve heard theorists refer to this as reading vertically, but I didn’t need a name for it; whether it was John Irving in high school or Harry Crews and Don DeLillo in college, or everything from Defoe to Lydia Davis to Alice Munro in graduate school, I wanted to know exactly when a favorite author’s new book was coming out. In the 90s, I took writing classes at night and a part-time job at the Borders books closest to my house, mostly for the employee discount and the chance to sneak away with an advance copy of the latest fiction. That’s how I discovered Rick Moody, Lorrie Moore, Frederick Barthelme, and a few others. To me, the Tuesday of publication day always has a certain excitement. So here are a few that I definitely would have stolen from the Borders stockroom, if Borders still existed.
The Night Before by Wendy Walker
One of the things I like is when a book seems both familiar and startlingly original. This one is based on a central mystery — a woman doesn’t return home from a blind date — that seems to me very of the moment. I’ve read all of Wendy Walker’s books, and this one is next up for me.
The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise
So this is kind of cheating, because this is the paperback edition. But I’d heard about Spencer and his work through mutual friends; he’s another Florida State PhD, and we had a few mentors in common. His work is generous, original, and well, it just sings. Trust me.
Talking to Strangers by Paul Auster
This collection of essays, journalism, and other nonfiction appeals to the completist in me. My wife turned me on to Paul Auster when we were dating, handing me a copy of The Music of Chance. I’ve seen reviews that call that book an absurdist novel, but to me it occupied a great little familiar corner of American thought, alongside the writing of people like Rod Serling, or Poe. Auster has always managed the difficult ballet between demonstrating his ample intellect while never coming across as pedantic.
Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense by Dan Abrams & David Fisher
Simply, I’m fascinated by Teddy Roosevelt. When I lived in DC, I lived around the corner from his old home on Belmont Road NW. Legend has it that he walked from the Adams Morgan neighborhood to the Potomac River every temperate morning for a swim. And to be honest, I’m a sucker for any book that promises a politician fighting against dark forces. Maybe that’s wishful thinking these days, but I find great value (and great solace) in seeing stories of how the system can work.
The Edge of Everyday: Sketches of Schizophrenia by Marin Sardy
I’m probably more wired towards nonfiction these days, because I tend to stay away from novels while I’m working on my own, but this title does the work all good nonfiction should, by taking personal and family stories to tell a larger public truth.
Vegetables Unleashed by José Andrés and Matt Goulding
José Andrés is a model for how to use one’s notoriety and economic clout, and I love the fact that he manages the hard work of wanting to both do good for others and do well as a restaurateur. His Washington, DC, outposts Jaleo, Minibar and Zaytinya are places I visit whenever I’m home, and I’ve been trying (and generally failing) to discover new ways to eat in a more sustainable, planet-friendly way.
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
This book speaks to a debate I’ve been having with myself ever since I decided to pursue a career as a writer. The world tells us that it values well-rounded people, yet so many artists are more the type to have jagged edges, the results of their deep drive to create. As a professor, I’m a big believer in the idea that we’d all be better served by an education system that required a broad base in the humanities as a way to foster critical thinking anchored in both the deep interrogation of ideas and in their historical context. This book feels like a good companion to the kind of light science that, if I was being snarky, I might call Gladwellian.
Steve Kistulentz is the author of Panorama, named a most anticipated novel of 2018 by the Chicago Review of Books, and a must read selected by publications as diverse as Entertainment Weekly and the New York Post. He is also the author of two collections of poetry, Little Black Daydream (2012), an editor’s choice selection in the University of Akron Press Series in Poetry, and The Luckless Age (2010), selected from over 700 manuscripts as the winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. He teaches at Saint Leo University in Florida, where he serves as the founding director of the graduate creative writing program.
Kistulentz was born in Washington, DC. He earned a BA in English from the College of William and Mary, an MA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and a PhD from the Florida State University. He lives in the Tampa area with his family.