The Maine Humanities Council organizes an annual statewide community read program — Read ME — with two titles chosen by a Maine author. It was my honor and privilege to be the selecting author for this year’s program, which has just been announced.
The 2023 titles are:
Meghan Gilliss‘s debut novel, Lungfish (Catapult Books). Here’s my full take as submitted to Maine Humanities: “I hate clichés like “not being able to put a novel down,” but then I started reading Lungfish on a transcontinental flight and next thing I know I’m back at the Portland Jetport – and I somehow made a connection along the way without noticing. This is a beautiful, ominous and quietly harrowing novel that captures how for so many people a few reasonable seeming steps and a little bad luck can take you from barely getting by to the possibility of death by starvation and exposure. In this case it’s an effectively single mother abandoned in one fashion or another by everyone she might have counted on, dependent on a partner whose drug dependency makes them undependable even as she has a small child depending on her for survival. Through well-intentioned decisions she finds herself squatting and trying to survive on a tiny Downeast island once owned by her late grandmother. Incrementally she finds herself creeping toward Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but with a not-really seaworthy dory instead of a handcart. At the same time there’s the beauty of place and nature and connectedness, the drama of families and parenting and living over the edge and out to sea, all woven into a story told by a narrator who is disassociated from the realities around her just enough so as to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.”
Morgan Talty‘s blockbuster debut book of short stories, Night of the Living Rez (Tin House). My take: “Here’s a book that captures so well what it’s like to grow up in hardscrabble parts of rural Maine where poverty and abuse and addiction and tedium grinds down and exhausts people in so many ways; where the land and nature inspire and heal and maybe keep you alive if you work at it even as they’re always try to kill you; where people – even in wrecked states – try to be there for one another best they can. But the characters in Talty’s interlocking short stories are members of the Penobscot Nation living on the Indian Island reservation and so — for those Maine readers who are neither of those things — there’s this completely unfamiliar overlay that makes it feel like Gabriel Garcia Marquez just stepped in and bent reality toward something closer to the truth….and yet you the whole time you know that overlay is also absolutely real and so it just kinda blows your socks off. Raw, powerful, loving, this is a book that deserves every bit of the massive national acclaim its received but remains something many Mainers will feel especially close to.”
My personal honorable mention goes to a work of history: Thomas Urquhart’s Up for Grabs: Timber Pirates, Lumber Barons, and the Battles Over Maine’s Public Lands (Down East Books). Too detailed perhaps for a statewide library-driven community read, perhaps, but this book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the history of land use in Maine North Woods, filling in the details (and bringing the receipts) on the state’s past neglect over its patrimony and the battle to correct that after the fact.
Read ME is offered in partnership with Maine State Library and Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Every summer, the program gets Maine adults all reading two books recommended by a well-known Maine author.
Hosted by public libraries all across the state, Read ME connects Maine’s adult reading community through shared experiences, supports Maine libraries in their work to provide quality adult summer reading initiatives, and elevates the work of upcoming Maine authors.