Each week as part of SunLit — The Sun’s literature section — we feature staff recommendations from book stores across Colorado. This week, staff from Explore Booksellers in Aspen recommend “I Am the Light of This World,” “Cowboys Are My Weakness” and “Mothman Apologia.”
I Am the Light of This World
By Michael Parker
From the publisher: In the early 1970s, in Stovall, Texas, seventeen-year-old Earl — a loner, dreamer, lover of music and words — meets and is quickly infatuated with Tina, the new girl in town. Tina convinces Earl to drive her to see her mother in Austin, where Earl and Tina are quickly separated. Two days later, Earl is being questioned by the police about Tina’s disappearance and the blood in the trunk of his car. But Earl can’t remember what happened in Austin, and with little support from his working-class family, he is sentenced for a crime he did not commit.
From Jason Jefferies, General Manager: Michael Parker deserves to be a household name. He isn’t, largely because he cares more about teaching his creative writing students than self-promotion, but he is one of the greatest living American authors. In “I Am the Light of This World,” he gives us a sheltered backwoods teenage protagonist named Earl who falls in with the wrong crowd and goes to jail for a crime he did not commit.
None of the book takes place in jail; half of it takes place before, half of it after. What we learn through Earl’s story is how life, the world, and one’s values change when someone is put away for 40 years. With remarkable prose and a page-turning plot, this book should be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Cowboys are my Weakness
By Pam Houston
W.W. Norton & Co.
From the publisher: In Pam Houston’s best-selling story collection, we meet smart women who are looking for the love of a good man, and men who are wild and hard to pin down. Our heroines are part daredevil, part philosopher, all acute observers of the nuances of modern romance. “Cowboys Are My Weakness” is a shrewd and intoxicating look at men and women — together and apart.
From Emma Athena, Bookseller: The protagonists throughout “Cowboys Are My Weakness” don’t just fall in love; their experience is like “a hairline fracture easing through your structure the way snow separates before an avalanche on a too-warm winter day.” And when they’re not in love, they’re out to “fight like bears,” planting “a half-moon of teeth in his face” and making “noise like naked women burning in the fires of hell.”
They’re all smart women, these protagonists, even if they maintain their daredevilish streaks — and in each of the 12 short stories that comprise this collection by Colorado writer Pam Houston, they’re on the hunt through Western mountains for a good man. It’s just that the men they seem to find are wild, hard to pin down; some are hunters, others are river guides, cowboys, or souls that can’t help but circle back to the road. As such, the women are forced to reckon with these men — how to understand them? keep up with them? balance them? — and in doing so, must learn this type of figuring is only possible if, first, they face up to themselves.
By Robert Wood Lynn
Yale University Press
From the publisher: The 116th volume of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, Robert Wood Lynn’s collection of poems explores the tensions of youth and the saturation points of knowledge: those moments when the acquisition of understanding overlaps with regret and becomes a desire to know less. These are narrative poems of love and grief, built from a storytelling tradition. Taken together they form an arc encompassing the experience of growing up, looking away, and looking back.
From Tony Alcantara, Inventory Manager: One of the best and most original poetry books I have read in a long time, this was the winner of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. Throughout the collection, Lynn invokes the Mothman, an Appalachian cryptid, as a symbol to explore the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the Virginias.
Lynn does an excellent job elucidating the damage wrought on Appalachia and in ascribing blame where blame is due, but what makes this more than just a political diatribe is the sense of personal loss that the poems, particularly the elegies, reveal. Read “Mothman Apologia.” You can’t help but believe.