A Tip from Your Local Bookseller
In lieu of a real post today, I think I'll just direct folks to the comments from a couple of earlier posts about the NBCC's "Good Reads," where a great discussion of the merits of the list has broken out. Additionally, I offer a recommendation of my own:
J.F. Powers is an author that few people read anymore, and that's a shame. He won the National Book Award in 1962 for his novel Morte D'Urban, and has been held in high regard by many writers for years, but I don't think he's ever found the readership he deserves. His books have made a small comeback, thanks to the New York Review of Books Press, which has given them hip new covers and put them back in print. (God bless the New York Review of Books for bringing so many books back from the dead.) Powers' subject matter -- the lives of Catholic priests in the Midwest in 50s and 60s -- won't appeal to everyone (it didn't appeal to me much when I found the books for the first time) -- but those with an open mind will find beautifully written stories, full of wry humor and plenty of pathos.
I discovered Wheat That Springeth Green, Powers' last novel, years ago in the tiny bookshop my friend runs. It's a bildungsroman of sorts, telling the tale of Joe, a star athlete in high school who, full of spiritual fervor, becomes a priest only to discover that it's not the life he thought it to be. Powers' dry sense of humor is on display throughout -- when an older priest at the seminary confronts Joe about stealing his hair shirt; when Joe can't remember the name of the new hippie priest the archdiocese has sent to his parish even after said hippie priest arrives (Joe's solution: to get the police to run the new priest's license plates); when the local defense contractor wants their new line of missiles blessed. Powers writes about priests the way Michael Connelly or David Simon writes about cops. Joe is a burned out, chain-smoking, borderline alcoholic who struggles throughout the book to rediscover the passion that drove him to the job to begin with. Powers' ability to render the quotidian details of this very specific culture is rare indeed. Rarer still that he's able to do it with such charm and grace.