Summer reading: 5 local authors to take to the beach

In a town where there are more writers per capita than readers, it can be daunting to think about keeping up with the local offerings when it seems like just about everyone has a book. For your convenience, the Hook nets out a few must-reads from Charlottesville's literary luminaries (and there are plenty more). So when you're packing up for the beach or heading to the hammock and looking for something to delve into, here are five books worth reading if you're living here– or even if you don't.

The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
Former Hook fiction winner and UVA creative writing MFA, Harbach was the "It" first-time writer two years ago, getting a bidding war and a roll-out that would make published writers who have to do their own marketing– the majority– weep. With good reason. The Art of Fielding, which made the New York Times best books of 2011 list, is a darn good read, loosely about baseball at Westish College in northern Wisconsin, but also about friendship, family, love, and dreams. You know, the basics.

The Right-Hand Shore
by Christopher Tilghman
We'll confess, we've been remiss in reading this respected UVA creative writing prof, but once we did, we have to say this is the most beautiful prose we've read all year. Set in the oft-skipped years between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, Tilghman digs into his own centuries-deep family history on the Eastern Shore in Maryland, and charts the oft-thwarted economic ambitions of a plantation owner and the people who are technically free, but only one slip-up away from a lynching.

The Half-life of Happiness by John Casey
Okay, so far the UVA creative writing department is figuring heavily on this list, but no apologies for that. Casey's classic is Spartina, for which he won the 1989 National Book Award. But we're recommending his 1999 The Half-life of Happiness because it's such a Charlottesville book, with scenes set at McGuffey Art Center on First Fridays, and characters modeled on people who still live around here. Have some roman a clef fun trying to figure out who's who.

Venus Envy
by Rita Mae Brown
Brown burst on the scene in 1973 with her then-ground-breaking Rubyfruit Jungle, when nice Southern girls didn't write explicitly about lesbianism. She's gone on to pen dozens of books, including the sleuthing-cat franchise co-authored by Sneaky Pie Brown. The avid horsewoman also has a series of fox-hunting mysteries. But we're suggesting another Charlottesville-set book from 1994. We quite enjoyed Brown's tale of a 34-year-woman who thinks she's dying, tells her family and friends what she thinks of them, and comes out, only to discover the diagnosis was botched, creating quite a stir at Farmington, as we recall.

The Confession
by John Grisham
With all the Grisham legal thrillers and occasional baseball or football novel– we count 27– trying to decide where to dive in can be challenging. A Time to Kill, Grisham's first book, would be a good place to start, given that his next offering coming out this fall will be a sequel set 10 years later. However, we pick The Confession because of Grisham's work for the Innocence Project and his advocacy in Virginia's notorious false confession cases, such as the Norfolk Four. Grisham won the 2011 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction for The Confession, and what subject makes a better page turner than an innocent man set to be executed in four days?

1 comment

Nice books