The best books for a melancholy day

The Books I Picked & Why

Trombone

By Craig Nova

Book cover of Trombone

Why this book?

Craig Nova’s beautifully sad novel Trombone was much overlooked when it was first published. As melancholy as the trombone solos that ne’er-do-well father and arsonist Dean Golancz plays every time one of his many affairs ends, this book is about dangerous criminals, love, familial loyalty, and big moral questions. Mostly it’s a father-son story and love triangle in the guise of a crime novel, with beautiful, lush, gritty use of language throughout.  


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Mickelsson's Ghosts

By John Gardner

Book cover of Mickelsson's Ghosts

Why this book?

Mickelson’s Ghosts was the final book of famous novelist and equally famous writing teacher John Gardner, published a few months before his death in a motorcycle accident at the too-young age of 49. It tells the story of Peter Mickelson, a once-famous philosopher nearing the end of his career, and finding himself buying a run-down house he can't afford with his ex-wife and the I.R.S. breathing down his neck. Soon the rationalist philosopher finds himself living in a world of bad decisions, sex, hauntings and ghosts, and religious cults—a world where rationalism can’t save him from his own creeping madness and mortality. 


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Black Tickets: Stories

By Jayne Anne Phillips

Book cover of Black Tickets: Stories

Why this book?

West Virginia’s Jayne Anne Phillips made a noisy arrival on the literary scene with her triumphant collection of short stories, Black Tickets. One of the first of the “dirty realists,” Phillips paints the backroads and forgotten lives of rural West Virginia during a time when that state, and many like it, were on no one’s radar. As one of her characters says, “This ain’t the South…this is the goddam past.” Phillips captures the loneliness and the disconnected lives of young women and men in a way few books have done.  


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Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

By Cormac McCarthy

Book cover of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Why this book?

Cormac McCarthy is mostly famous for his All the Pretty Horses and The Road, the latter a novel that became a big-budget film and landed him on Oprah’s couch. But this earlier book, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, is what many fans consider the “real” McCarthy. It’s a western, but not like any you’ve ever read. Most westerns feature the good guys and the bad guys, the white hats and the black hats. Here, everyone involved is the blackest of black hats. It’s a horror story, an epic, a picaresque. The Judge is one of the great villains ever in literature, and his bloody story is told in lush and challenging language that recalls William Faulkner. 


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The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger

Book cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Why this book?

The times in which we live make J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye more relevant and able to speak to us than ever. Of course, Holden Caulfield is everyone’s favorite young curmudgeon, but if you haven’t read this one since high school, or at all as an adult, it’s time to give it a second look. This book has often been reduced to its sound bites: everyone Holden encounters is a “phony.” But this novel takes a deep dive into loss, seclusion, depression, and innocence.  Holden is funny and smart and lost inside his life, feeling cut off from the life and love teeming around him, a life that both draws him in and repels him. No Young Adult book has ever shone a brighter light on the emotions of being a grownup. 


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