The Best Books We Read 2011...One Old, One New.

In my last post The Best Books We Read 2011 I mentioned a lot of books that could have been my favorite of the year. I decided that two deserved special mention. The Land Breakers, a novel written by John Ehle in 1964 that remains- sadly- fairly unknown and Wunderkind the first novel by Nikolai Grozni, a Bulgarian-born, child-prodigy pianist who earned his MFA at Brown.

If you have never heard of John Ehle I am not surprised. Most of his books are out of print and though his wife and daughter are both well known actresses, he seems to have slipped into a literary underground. So, when a couple of us were at the NCIBA to talk to Michael Ondaatje about his latest novel The Cat's Table, when he asked us what we were reading (I mentioned Wunderkind) and I told him I had been reading a lot of Southern literature that he told the Random House people there that he's been wanting Random to put out John Ehle's books for years; mentioning specifically The Land Breakers. So I tracked down the small press, Press 53 out of Winston-Salem, NC and got a copy, read it, and was floored by this huge novel that focus on the settling of the Appalachian mountains. The characters, the tragedies, and the hardships are captivating and beautifully written with a knowledge of this area that is second to none. Ondaatje also mentioned the Harper Lee quote, who rarely did any blurbs or reviews, "Exciting... masterful storytelling." And she is not wrong.

As for new, I read Wunderkind. I carried this book around for a couple of months before I actually delved into it. I loved the cover (I'm a sucker for a good cover) and had read the first few pages a few times and saw that it was going to be good. But I was reading Faulkner, and nothing short of Faulkner seemed to be what I wanted to read. Then one night I started Wunderkind. I did not stop from that point on. Reading Grozni's characters (specifically the protagonist, Konstantin the rebellious piano prodigy) and his insight into the world of private music school and classical music became obsessive reading for me. The were chapters that I reread before continuing on and then tracked down the classical pieces that were the titles of each chapter. This is a powerful and gripping novel that opened up my understanding of life behind the iron curtain, music and what it means to be music and not just love it.

These are two books I think everyone should read and most importantly tell others to read.