One for the Books

Joe O'Connell's Top Reads of 2015

Paradise Sky and The Best I Recall head a list of stellar Lone Star books

One for the Books

In my favorite 2015 read, Joe Lansdale takes on the mythically true-ish story of Nat Love, an African-American marksman nicknamed Deadwood Dick who was both a marshal and a Buffalo Soldier. Along the novel's picaresque journey, Love is tracked by a racist killer seeking revenge. Paradise Sky (Mulholland Books), like Lansdale's equally fine 2013 novel The Thicket, channels Mark Twain. It's fun, beautifully written, and, most important, captures a neglected piece of the American puzzle.

Charles Baxter is known as a writer's writer. His collection There's Something I Want You to Do cements that rep with stories divided into virtues and vices. The story "Loyalty" shines the brightest with its abandoned husband coming to the aid of his crazed ex-wife. Baxter's tales are elegant gems of humanity. Austinite Elizabeth Harris' novel Mayhem reverberates around a castration done in anger after a potential rape in rural 1936 Texas. The fine prose echoes Katherine Anne Porter in its sense of place.

Gary Cartwright's memoir The Best I Recall (UT Press) was my favorite nonfiction work of 2015. It follows Cartwright's career from Sixties Dallas/Ft. Worth, reporting sports alongside Bud Shrake, Blackie Sherrod, and Dan Jenkins, to drug-addled Seventies Austin and his days at Texas Monthly. But his honest take on the losses of late life make this book truly a keeper.

Amanda Eyre Ward's novel of the migrant journey, The Same Sky (Ballantine), is the most important book to come out of Austin this year. Debra Monroe's blue-collar-to-academia memoir My Unsentimental Education (University of Georgia Press) is as well-written as it is wise. Jesse Sublett gets wonderfully gritty in his true-crime book 1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital (Arcadia Publishing). Former Austinite Dao Strom mixes music and memoir in the lyrical We Were Meant to Be a Gentle People (MPMP), a book/album examining memory and identity. I just read Elizabeth McCracken's masterful 2014 collection, Thunderstruck and Other Stories (Dial Press). You should too.

READ MORE
More Top 10
Top 10 Sweet Bites
Top 10 Sweet Bites

Virginia B. Wood, Jan. 3, 2014

Top 10 Restaurant Interiors
Top 10 Restaurant Interiors

Rachel Feit, Jan. 3, 2014

More Fiction
Jessi Cape's Top Reads of 2016
Top Books to Inspire Hope Amidst Change
Memoirs of activism and tales of suspense helped ground this reader during a roller-coaster year

Jessi Cape, Dec. 30, 2016

Rosalind Faires' Top Reads of 2016
Top Books to Make You Cry on Your Lunch Break
These three novels drew a discreet tear or two with their beautiful, brave, and bittersweet humanity

Rosalind Faires, Dec. 30, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Mary Moody Northen Theatre's <i>ANON(ymous)</i>
Mary Moody Northen Theatre's ANON(ymous)
At St. Edward's, this reworking of Homer's Odyssey gives names to the nameless in today's immigrant crisis

T. Lynn Mikeska, Nov. 17, 2017

UT Dept. of Theatre & Dance’s <i>The Crucible</i>
UT Dept. of Theatre & Dance’s The Crucible
The department manages to elicit tension from Arthur Miller’s familiar drama, but not without a few flaws

Shanon Weaver, Nov. 17, 2017

More by Joe O'Connell
<i>The Son</i> Rises With Philipp Meyer
The Son Rises With Philipp Meyer
Austin author on adapting his award-winning novel for AMC

April 7, 2017

SXSW Film Review: <i>David Lynch – The Art Life</i>
SXSW Film Review: David Lynch – The Art Life
Doc excavates the creative mind of the eccentric artist

March 14, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Top 10, Fiction, Nonfiction, Paradise Sky, Joe Lansdale, There's Something I Want You to Do, Charles Baxter, Mayhem, Elizabeth Harris, The Best I Recall, Gary Cartwright, The Same Sky, Amanda Eyre Ward, My Unsentimental Education, Debra Monroe, 1960s Austin Gangsters, Jesse Sublett, Dao Strom, We Were Meant to Be a Gentle People, Thunderstruck and Other Stories

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)