Now that the weather is warming up, many Cincinnati seniors are looking for good books to curl up with on the porch, in the park or at an outdoor café as they take advantage of the fresh air.
But instead of taking the usual approach of perusing the New York Times’ Best Sellers list, Oprah Winfrey’s or AARP’s current recommendations, let’s take a deeper dive into great reads by authors writing right here in the Tristate.
Divining, by Pauletta Hansel
Did you know that the City of Cincinnati just inaugurated its first Poet Laureate? Pauletta Hansel, a native of Jackson, Kentucky but a Greater Cincinnati resident for the past several decades, was recently installed as the city’s first official purveyor of the written word in a special ceremony at the Mercantile Library on April 15.
Hansel’s most recent collection of poems, Tangle, was released last year. But her first collection, 2002’s Divining, is an excellent entry point into her work. In it, she explored topics ranging from the challenges of growing up in small town Appalachia to mother-daughter relationships to friendships lost to illness to the redemptive power of healing.
The Way the World Is: The Maggie Boylan Stories, by Michael Henson
Cincinnati author Michael Henson has been many things in his career: a factory laborer, a teacher, a substance abuse counselor.
Certainly that last role, and his experience living in Southwestern Ohio in the peak of a narcotics abuse crisis, informed his powerful collection of connected short stories about Maggie Boylan. She a painkiller addict, wife, estranged mother and “queen of invective” living in rural Ohio, who tries to save others even as she has difficulty saving herself.
Henson’s story cycle is alternately sad, darkly funny, heartwarming, devastating and reaffirming in its chronicling of the drug-complicated, tattered fabric of the fictional but all-too-believable Morris County, Ohio, where the residents should never be taken at the face value assigned to them by tongues wagging at the local gas station’s coffee counter.
The Way the World Is won the 2014 Brighthorse Books Book Prize for short fiction and is available for purchase through that small press, or online at Amazon.
Famous People I Have Known, by Ed McClanahan
Kentucky’s literary tradition is rich and storied, from James Still and Janice Holt Giles, through to the “Fab 5” authors of the 1960s and 1970s. McClanahan is one of those, along with his contemporaries Bobbie Ann Mason, Wendell Berry, Gurney Norman and the late Kentucky Poet Laureate, James Baker Hall.
While studying on a prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford in the 1960s, McClanahan became fast friends with Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Tom Wolfe, Larry McMurty and other literary and creative vanguards of the Hippie movement. As one of Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, McClanahan was present at some of the seminal events in the decade’s counterculture, including the first “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and tours in Kesey’s famous bus, Further.
His memoir, Famous People I Have Known, is a raucous, hilarious, good-naturedly off-color and best of all (mostly, probably) true recounting of McClanahan’s wild ride — from his childhood in the hills outside Maysville, to writing in Palo Alto, to his return home as a strangely bedecked prodigal son.
McClanahan is an eventual shoe-in for the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. Although his novel, The Natural Man, is perhaps his most well-known work, Famous People I Have Known may stand out as his best. Order your copy here and prepare for belly laughs.
Senior book lovers need look no further than the bounds of the Tristate for great spring reads.
Try the suggestions above, then branch out and find your own. Attend poetry readings at bookstores and coffee shops around Cincinnati. Ask your local librarian to help you find works by Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana authors. Or go online and search.
There’s an amazing literary scene happening right here in the Tristate. This spring, when you’re looking for a good read for yourself or for your book discussion club, support your local authors!