Corey Mesler’s summer reading list

By Corey Mesler

Dare Me” by Megan Abbott (Reagan Arthur Books, $24.99)

Megan Abbott writes like the illegitimate daughter of Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith. (Don’t you love reviews that start that way?) Her noir thrillers are fast-moving, glib-talking, sweetly plotted and written with clean, sharp prose. This new page-turner takes place, partially, in a high school and concerns the new coach of the cheerleading squad. If that sounds like an unconventional place for a mystery, in Abbott’s sure hand it becomes something larger, like her last novel, “The End of Everything”, a blend of thriller and smart, sociologically driven story. When you read one Abbott you will want to read them all. The earlier books are straight, hardcore pulp mysteries.

Vlad” by Carlos Fuentes (Dalkey Archive, $17.95)

Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican novelist, known for his mythic narratives like “The Hydra Head” and “The Death of Artemio Cruz”, here, in a brief but powerful novel, takes on a web of vampirism in Mexico. “Vlad” is Vlad the Impaler, of course, whose fabled cruelty was an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In this sly sequel, Vlad really is undead: dispossessed after centuries of mayhem by Eastern European wars and rampant blood shortages. More than a postmodern riff on “the vampire craze,” Vlad is also an anatomy of the Mexican bourgeoisie, as well as our culture’s ways of dealing with death. For — as in Dracula — Vlad has need of both a lawyer and a real estate agent. Fuentes’ theme may be the moral decay in Mexico but his story still manages to jolt and thrill.

Canada” by Richard Ford (Ecco Press, $27.99)

What more needs to be said about Richard Ford? He’s won all the big prizes. His infrequent books are treated as literary events. He’s as handsome as Don Draper. And he’s carved out a respected bookish career that has now gone on for decades. His Frank Bascombe trilogy ranks right up there with Updike’s Rabbit books and Roth’s Zuckerman novels. Now, his new novel, “Canada”, is being touted as one of his best, “this haunting and elemental novel about a young man forced by catastrophic circumstance to reconcile himself to a world that has been rendered unrecognizable.” Canada is a coming-of-age story, beautifully realized, but, as with all of Ford’s work, the reader may get as much of a kick out of the author’s elegant and meticulous style as his compelling storyline. Ford can craft sentences as elegant as Updike’s. And his first-person voice here is beguiling and memorable.

The Sleeping and the Dead” by Jeff Crook (Minotaur Books, $24.99)

The publisher describes this as “a new mystery series starring Jackie Lyons, a Memphis crime scene photographer with ghostly assistance.” As Jackie works to separate natural from supernatural, friend from foe, and light from dark, the spirit world and her own difficult past become the only things she can depend on to solve the case. If that doesn’t whet your appetite how about this from Publisher’s Weekly: “Crook deftly explores the human fascination with the macabre at the same time he draws attention to the reader’s own voyeuristic impulses.” Add to it that Jeff Crook is a longtime Memphian and a helluva good cat and is also the author of a Dragonlance fantasy series, among other works of fiction, and I predict this will be the novel most Memphians will be picking up this summer.

A Hologram for the King” by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s, $25.00)

Dave Eggers needs no introduction to modern readers. His whip-smart books and his innovative and groundbreaking press, McSweeney’s, have come to define a certain style and hipster élan in current writing and publishing. McSweeney’s publishes prodigious writers in unique ways and, in an era when we’re hearing that tired old proclamation about “the death of the book,” his publications argue for permanence of content and design. His own memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” made him a literary rock star. “A Hologram for the King” is Egger’s newest novel. In a rising Saudi Arabian city, far from weary, recession-scarred America, a struggling businessman pursues a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter’s college tuition, and finally do something great. In “A Hologram for the King”, Dave Eggers takes us around the world to show how one man fights to hold himself and his splintering family together in the face of the global economy’s gale-force winds. This taut, richly layered, and elegiac novel is a powerful evocation of our contemporary moment and a moving story of how we got here.

Honorable Mention:

Gardner Remembers” by Corey Mesler (Pocketful of Scoundrel Press, $6.95)

Ok, I wrote it so I like it. Sue me. It’s brand new. It’s got real Memphis mojo and Memphis music in it. Memphians love real Memphis mojo. And it’s only $6.95! But, here, lemme let someone else praise the book, and then I’ll go back to the bookstore and hide in my office and be quiet.

“Mesler captures the flavor of the late ’60s/early ’70s Memphis music scene expertly, especially his evocation of the Shell as it was then. I could almost hear Knowbody Else (later Black Oak, Arkansas) performing their creepy local FM hit, “Flying Horse of Louisiana,” there while I was reading ‘Gardner Remembers’.”

  • Ross Johnson, drummer for Panther Burns, Jim Dickinson, and Alex Chilton

Mesler is the owner of Burke’s Books on Cooper Street.

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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