I made it! Last day of January, and I am posting my recommendation for the month on time! The start of my 2016 has been nuts, and it’s starting to finally settle down a bit. So at last, I can give you my January recommendation:
This month I am actually recommending a classic: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. The reason why is because I haven’t come across anyone (who didn’t go to my high school) who has read, let alone heard of this book, which is a travesty. Thankfully, it was required reading for my junior AP language class, and it is actually one of the books that made me want to be an English major.
It is almost like a collection of short stories, each chapter about a different resident of Winesburg, a fictional town modeled off of Anderson’s hometown, Clyde, Ohio (though Winesburg, Ohio is a real town). I say “almost” because the short stories truly ought to be read in order. This is because there is a thread that ties them all together, and that thread is George Willard. George plays a major role by listening and recording the many stories the residents of the town share with him, and in many ways, Winesburg, Ohio becomes his coming-of-age-story.
I love this book because it is hauntingly beautiful. Each character the chapters highlight is incredibly unique and complex. Many of them are haunted by their pasts, but all of them are isolated from the community in some way. It paints a picture of a small town life in which everyone knows each other, yet loneliness, isolation, and the inability to communicate are dominant themes. It’s one of those books that makes me pause and think often, but it’s also got enough ambiguity that I don’t think there is ever one way to “figure out” any one of the characters in the book – which, after all, is a delightfully stark and realistic representation of actual human beings. It’s a book I know I will return to several times.
*Fun fact I just learned from Wikipedia: Ray Bradbury was inspired to write The Martian Chronicles from Winesburg, Ohio – which makes TOTAL sense. I also adore The Martian Chronicles.
Here is a snippet from the first chapter, “The Book of the Grotesques” (it is assumed that the “Grotesques” are the residents of Winesburg, who the reader will soon learn about in the chapters that follow):
In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes.
You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.
The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.
For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.
You can read the full chapter here, along with the rest of the book! Gotta love Bartleby!
Literary fiction/classic/short story collection
For those who like:
- Psychological stories
- Strong character development
- Dark/bizarre settings and themes
Things people may not like:
- Dark/bizarre settings and themes
- Potentially confusing