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These books will warm the cold days ahead

By Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romine Powell has published three collections of poetry (University of Arkansas Press) and a non-fiction book, "Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers" (John Blair).

Have I told you about the small pink club chair with ottoman I bought for $12 at a garage sale this summer? Soon as I saw it, I knew it had the magical powers necessary to allow me to indulge my reading habit during daylight hours.

I can’t remember a sunnier reading summer.

If you’re looking for excellent fiction, I recommend two lists of hand-picked novels: The long list for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and the long list for the Crooks Corner Book Prize (sponsored by Crooks Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill), which honors a debut novel set in the South.

The novel “Byrd,” by Kim Church of Raleigh, made both lists.

On the Flaherty-Dunnan list I found Robin Black’s “Life Drawing.” I sank into it and didn’t draw breath until I’d finished. It’s a taut, riveting tale of marriage and art, friendship and trust, and the all-consuming spiral of deception.

Such a big hullabaloo over “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee,” by Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills. No, this quick delight is not a critical assessment of Lee’s work, as some would have it be. Rather, it’s a cracking good assessment of the small-town Southern life that created a writer who created “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a classic of small-town Southern life. The Lee sisters, Alice and Nelle, as the latter is called, deny they cooperated with the biographer. It’s so clear they did.

Alan Michael Parker is a Davidson College poet and prof, whose novel-in-99-short takes, “The Committee on Town Happiness,” is a wicked stunner.

Don’t toss that Aug. 4 New Yorker magazine. “Finding the Words” by Alec Wilkinson is an intense gaze at the poet Edward Hirsch’s struggle to write a book-length elegy about the loss of his son. The impulsive, charismatic Gabriel died at 22 in 2011 of cardiac arrest. Hirsch is head of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in New York, and this “masterpiece of sorrow” called “Gabriel” is out this month from Knopf.

If I believed in swooning, I’d swoon over Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila,” her third novel set in fictional Gilead, Iowa, and due from Knopf in October. I’ve been a Robinson fan since her 1981 novel “Housekeeping.” She won the Pulitzer for “Gilead,” and followed it with “Home.” Now the sorrowful old preacher John Ames of those two novels is smitten by a near-feral young woman who can’t trust. How these two achingly lonely people come to find love and redemption through each other will warm me through the cold, cold winter ahead.

Dannye’s blog: readinglifeobs.blogspot.com

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