Holiday Reading with Arizona Authors
By Guest Contributor Jonathan Danielson
Unlike California, Texas, Florida or even Iowa, our countrymen haven’t viewed the Grand Canyon State as synonymous with great literature and authors during our 100+ year history. That doesn’t mean there’s a dearth of literary talent that hasn’t, at one point or another, called Arizona home. I present this totally subjective and non-comprehensive reading list of works from authors who could have once been your next door neighbor and encourage you to pick up one of these titles for your holiday reading.
9. (Obvious) Honorary Selections
We all know about High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. We are also familiar with the works of Zane Grey and Edward Abbey. For the sake of conciseness, I mention these obvious choices briefly.
Consider this “briefly”.
8. The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body: Poems by Alberto Rios
What better way to start a list about Arizona authors than a book of poetry by Arizona’s first poet laureate? And what better book to start with than this Nogales-based collection of magical realism poetry, which was also a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award? I can’t think of anything else, either.
7. The Odditorium: Stories by Melissa Pritchard
Since 1983, the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction has been awarded annually to a collection of short work of outstanding merit. One of those winners has been teaching at Arizona State University for the last twenty years. Pritchard’s The Odditorium is a collection of short stories that, according to The Washington Post, “considers the inner lives of the strange, the damaged and the forgotten.” If your Thanksgivings were anything like mine growing up, which included high-functioning alcoholism, backyard horseshoe competitions and arguments that would inevitably turn into decades-long disputes, then you should feel comfortable with these themes.
6. Never Mind the Pollacks by Neal Pollack
Neal Pollack is an author and journalist who grew up in Paradise Valley and graduated from Saguaro High in Scottsdale. “Neal Pollack” is the main character of this satirical rock-and-roll alternative history novel and serves as Pollack’s cool and crazy alter-ego who bares little resemblance to the man upon whom he is based. Why waste your time reading fake musical history disguised as a false memoir? Ask yourself this: what did you say to that friend from high school whom you hadn’t seen in twenty years in response to the question, “So, what have you been up to lately?” History is an exorbitant lie. In this case, it includes poop jokes.
5. Pretty Much Anything by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is Los Angeles’s science fiction darling, which is appropriate and deserved. If he had never lived in Tucson while growing up, then he would have never read his neighbor’s science fiction magazines. For all we know he would have aspired to grow up and become a refrigerator repairman instead of one of sci-fi’s most celebrated minds. Whether it’s Farenheit 451 or The Martian Chronicles or Short Stories or whatever, you can’t go wrong.
4. The Twilight Series by Stephanie Myer
While I said I would avoid obvious selections, this young adult series by Cave Creek resident and Chaparral alum Stephanie Myer is worth mentioning because it has sold over 29 million copies. Anything that makes angst ridden prepubescent teens and tweens pick up a book—even if it was their mother’s copy—needs to be recognized and celebrated.
3. This Is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks
If you’ve read a literary journal in the last decade (and why would you?) then you more than likely read Caitlin Horrocks, who briefly came through Arizona as a graduate student in ASU’s creative writing program. Horrocks was here and gone before you knew it but her brief residency in Tempe allowed her to write this debut collection, which The New York Times called an “impressively sharp first book.”
2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
By all accounts, the writer NPR once referred to as “the voice of a generation” hated his time at the University of Arizona. Maybe it’s absurd he appears on this list. However, if you’ve ever talked with someone who claims* they’ve read Infinite Jest in its entirety, then you also know that the novel is completely absurd. What better way to celebrate the master of post-modern irony who fought tooth and nail to transcend postmodern irony than to include him on a list that he would probably would’ve hated anyway?
* lies to impress
1. Crooked Hearts by Robert Boswell
Before attending the U of A for his undergrad and graduate education, Robert Boswell grew up in Yuma. Since then, he’s written about a dozen books ranging from story collections to essay collections to novels to a play, but nothing resonates louder for an Arizona-based holiday reading list than his 1987 debut novel about a middle-class Yuma family that, despite failures and betrayals, heartaches and losses, resentment and anger, still finds ways to love each other.
Bookmans focuses on Shop Local/Give Local this November and supporting authors with an Arizona connection is an ideal place to start. Once your holiday meal kicks in and things quiet down, you will find the opportune moment to connect with the talent we have in our own literary community.
Bio: Jonathan Danielson is a short story writer from Arizona. He is a frequent contributor to the Feathertale Review and his work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Juked, Superstition Review, Southern California Review, Five Quarterly, and others. He teaches writing for Arizona State University, fiction for The Eckleburg Workshops and serves as Assistant Fiction Editor for Able Muse.
* Bookmans is your store to explore. If you are looking for a particular title from an author with ties to Arizona, please give us a call and we will check our shelves for you. Otherwise, we hope you will come and browse.