At a holiday caroling party the other night, we were all gathered around the piano in our Christmas sweaters belting out Christmas songs arranged for us in plastic binders when in walked a tall, dapper man, a friend of a friend of a friend, in what appeared to be a seersucker suit carrying a puppy. Many of us stopped singing and he was instantly mobbed by fans and would-be puppy holders. (His named was Anton, we learned later, when we ran into him at a thrift store, where we sang more carols and he convinced us to buy a pair of cowboy boots that we didn’t really need.) It all reminded us a little bit of Jonathan Evison, who’s known by just about everyone as Johnny, and who enters a room full of booksellers with similar panache—and often with beer or jello shots or pigs in a blanket, or offers to pick up the tab. There’s a great profile of him here, where the writer talks about him having an “author uniform sort of like Tom Wolfe (except much more casual)—you know, the sort of outfit that lets you know exactly who you’re dealing with, and what a character he is.” (Go here for a snapshot of Johnny when he’s not playing detox Santa and here for a listen to paean he wrote to indie bookstores).
Evison’s recent bestseller, the big-hearted Western saga West of Here, is on the shortlist for a Pacific Northwest Book Award. His debut novel All About Lulu was an Indiebound Reading Group pick and won a Washington State Book Award. His forthcoming novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, is due in the next year or two. Johnny’s favorite indie is his hometown store, Eagle Harbor Book Company (Bainbridge Island), which packed in more than 250 people for the kick-off of his tour for West of Here. He hit 45 cities on the tour, a considerable number even for a rockstar.
Here’s his list:
How The Mistakes Were Made by Tyler McMahon. Having grown up in punk bands in early ’80s Seattle, and later being intimately involved in the sound and the scene that would be dubbed grunge in the early ’90s, I was excited about six months ago when I received Tyler Mcmahon’s How The Mistakes Were Made from St. Martin’s, which chronicles the rise and fall of a rock-and-roll band in 90’s Seattle. I knew going into this novel that if McMahon hit any false notes, I’d hear them loud and clear. But guess what? He didn’t. I quickly devoured The Mistakes, and since I relish the opportunity to repeat myself, briefly, this is what I had to say: With the velocity and conviction and frenetic pace of a punk anthem, McMahon has captured perfectly the life cycle of a rock-and-roll band in all its exhilarating and destructive glory. How the Mistakes Were Made is fast, furious, and un-put-downable.
Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm. Sticking with the Seattle music theme, Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town is a great gift book. An oral history of the Seattle sound and scene that even includes snippets from yours truly! It’s always great to hear the story from the characters themselves, and like the recent Merge records history, Our Noise, Everybody Loves Our Town is a must-have for any alternative music fan—ergo, as a gift, this book has a wide reach!
The Ringer by Jenny Shank. Please don’t judge this book by the cover. I happen to know that the author cried for two days when she saw it. As good as Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is (and I wrote a blurb for it which started with the word “spectacular”), The Ringer may be even better. Like Harbach’s Fielding, baseball serves only as a framing device for this promising debut about such durable American themes as race, class and family. Make no mistake though, Shank knows baseball like the sister of the major league ballplayer she is.
Zazen by Vanessa Veselka. At turns hilarious, unsettling and improbably sweet, Veselka’s debut is, above all, a highly engaging, and totally unique experience, which will have you re-reading passages and dog-earing pages. But best of all, in the end, Zazen is that rare novel that dares to be hopeful in the face of despair, and succeeds. Veselka has a shit-ton of voice, and you know within the first paragraph that you’re in for a ride. She could write about dog turds and I’d happily read it.
Damascus by Joshua Mohr. The third novel from San Fransisco’s Joshua Mohr is his best to date. Mohr is the bard of the underbelly, and the Mission District is his playground. Part Harry Crews, part Charles Bukowski, and part Franz Kafka, Mohr will make you squirm, laugh, recognize, and take pause. Behind his wayward and dissolute characters, burns the clear-eyed moral vision of a very unique artist.