Author Silas House blogs about writing, the writing life, books, movies, nature, religion, politics, and other things that generally concern conscious people. House is the author of the bestselling books Clay's Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, The Coal Tattoo, Something's Rising, Eli the Good, and Same Sun Here. HIs novel Southernmost will be published in June 2018. Find out more about him and his writing at www.silas-house.com
There are so many mediocre (or downright bad) books, movies, television, and music that it's sometimes hard to remember that there is so much great art being produced these days. So, a list of things I've enjoyed very much recently.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave. This is the most powerful book that I've read in a long while. The plot is so intricate and wonderful that I hate to even describe it for fear of giving something away, so I'll describe it as being about a young Nigerian refugee who is living with a British journalist and the way their relationship is formed and how it blooms into a profound friendship. The novel is about much more than that, and opened my eyes to atrocities being committed around the world that I had absolutely no idea about. I loved Little Bee especially because it is that rare thing: a literary page-turner. The language is precise and beautiful and the pages fly by due to the feverish plot-driven pacing. I can't recommend this book highly enough, although I should tell you that it is not for the faint
-of-heart, despite its sunny cover.
Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston. I really did not think that any of Hurston's books could be as beautiful as Their Eyes Were Watching God, but this one comes very, very close. The life story of a man who tries hard to be good then falls victim to his own desires and makes a horrible mistake that marks him forever, this novel is almost Biblical in tone and rhythm (as the title suggests). With a cast of characters I will never forget and sense of place so palpable that I could feel the blistering Alabama sun on the top of my head while reading, Jonah's Gourd Vine is a book that I encourage everyone to read with a pen in hand so you can mark all the amazing passages. The book is full of dialect, which I love, but some people find it hard to read. Get beyond that and you'll find one of the most beautiful novels ever written.
Winter's Bone. I went into Winter's Bone with some hesitation. I knew that it was set in a rural place and that it involved "tough customers" as we call them, people who are involved in the drug trade and live way up in the head of the holler where they can see the enemy and the law coming. So, when you put rural people and the drug trade together in Hollywood, you usually end up with nothing more than stereotypes. Luckily this is an independent film, directed, written, and produced by people who understand the place and the people. In this movie the rural people refuse to be the victims, especially the main character, played with amazing strength and defiance by a Kentucky actress named Jennifer Lawrence, whose performance is already getting Oscar buzz. Besides the great performances and writing, what I loved most about the movie were perfect little details that showed up in the set design and costumes. There is a beautiful musical centerpiece in the film and it is all so real that it made me feel like I was right at home amongst people I had known all of my life. If you see one movie this summer, make it Winter's Bone. Also not for the faint of heart, and not a date or popcorn movie in any way...I tend to like dark stuff.
People sometimes ask me why I love True Blood so much. Well, this season has tested my patience to say the least, yet I still cannot look away. What I love so much about True Blood is that it's about ethics, about doing the right thing. The second season was a constant look at faith and the nature of God. The profound nature of the show is sometimes hidden beneath--and always buffered by--the campiness that it offers. Often I think the show goes farther than I need it to (that whole head-twisting scene? I could've done without that) and I am downright tired of seeing the female characters constantly put in jeopardy but I am sticking with it because in the end it's about Sookie trying her best to be a good person and to protect everyone she loves. It's vulgar and over-the-top and too bloody, sure, but it's also intelligent and addictive. I can't look away (but I still like Big Love better).
Besides the True Blood theme song, which I've posted above, here are some other songs I'm loving this summer. My most recent heavy-rotation playlist:
1. News of the World. Paulette Jiles's short and beautiful Western was deeply moving and it is one of those rare books of which I can honestly say that every single sentence is a gem. Absolutely the novel of the year for me.
2. Mothering Sunday. Graham Swift wrote this elegant and stunning 192 page novel. Its shortness emphasizes just how masterful it is because in just a few pages Swift creates an entire world and gives us big themes like class, the power of storytelling, and loss, all delivered in prose that is erotic, economical, and powerful.
3. Raymie Nightingale. Kate DiCamillo wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Because of Winn Dixie, but this one is almost as good. A look at the definitions of friendship, family (chosen and blood), and the desire to be a good person. I absolutely loved it.
4. Miss Jane. Full disclosure here: the author, Brad Watson, was one of my mentors when I was studying for my MFA. But that doe…
I jumped the gun on my favorite albums of the year because I hadn't heard these gems when I composed my list. These were released in 2013 and are among my favorites, too.
Ben Sollee's The Hollow Sessions is a beauty that finds Sollee covering artists like Tom Waits, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Fiona Apple, Gillian Welch, Harry Belafonte, and others. The album was recorded in a little house situated in a Kentucky holler and conjure up the rural summertime with birds, wind, crickets, even water wending their way into the music. Sollee's cello and vocals are in top form and this piece of land brings out the best in him. In the press kit he says: “It’s a place to recharge and be still between the manic pace of the road. Over the years I’ve written songs, ballets, and ﬁlm scores while visiting and thought it would be a special palce to share, at least sonically. We really featured its voice on the recordings. It is a magical place and I tried to let it conduct me.”
1. Manchester by the Sea is a heartbreaker that feels so real you leave the cinema feeling as if the story has happened to someone you know well and care about. I think it also boasts the best performances of the year in Casey Affleck's heartbroken handyman and Michelle Williams as a woman doing everything she can to survive. Rarely does a film so well use sense of place as this one. It was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, who also made You Can Count on Me, and--a favorite film of mine--Margaret, an underrated masterpiece inspired by a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem.
2. Sunset Song. Terrence Davies is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers ever yet this film didn't make much of a splash in America. It should have, as it is the film that has most haunted me this year with its sweeping scenes of farmers working their fields or the rising chorus as they stroll to church (as shown in the short scene I'm embedding below). It's a film that uses words like "g…