Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Bob Dylan’s Ephemera, Hiaasen’s Criminal Florida: Latest Book Picks

Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan’s latest reading recommendations include a historical American horror story, a COVID-era Hiaasen mystery, and the endless archives of a Nobel-winning musician.

FICTION

Wrecker by Carl Hiaasen

Hiaasen’s seventh punchy, single-word-titled novel for young readers is set—not surprisingly—in the Florida Keys, with their notorious tradition of shadiness-turned-lawlessness front and center of the narrative. Wrecker is the nickname for Valdez Jones VIII, a biracial teen and the scion of a family of historic shipwreck salvagers in Florida’s southern terminus. The setting is pandemic-era America, and Wrecker is surviving the plague in a comparative high life, Zooming his classes from his boat while keeping down a weekly job cleaning iguana feces off a particularly cherished gravestone (This is Florida, after all). It’s in the cemetery that he meets a suspicious character that enlists the boy’s services in tending to another plot—which spirals into an increasingly intricate web of criminal activity. Enjoyable for adults and teenagers alike, Wrecker is another wry commentary on the state of the world—and the state Hiaasen loves.

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

A couple of years ago, I interviewed Florida paranormal historian Mark Muncy, whose reflections of the Dozier School for Boys, an infamous reform school near the Panhandle, stuck with me. The place is allegedly haunted by the spirits of those who died there, but it’s the real-life horror that most stuck with Muncy upon his visit to the grounds: “A hundred years of state-sponsored child abuse … it just oozes palpable evil,” he told me. It makes for a grimly fitting setting for The Reformatory, a new work of historical horror fiction from American Book Award winner Tananarive Due, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Black horror. In the book, the place is renamed Gracetown School for Boys, circa 1950, and 12-year-old protagonist Robbie Stephens, Jr., bears witness to the unspeakable terrors that happened there—which in Due’s vision are inextricable from the racist realities of the Jim Crow South. Stephens sees ghosts, but, as with Muncy, the physical world is far scarier than the supernatural one.

POETRY

Homeland of My Body: New and Selected Poems by Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco will do gown in history as a barrier-breaking poet, becoming the first immigrant, the first Latino and the first openly gay person to read a poem at the U.S. inaugural, when he recited “One Day” at the second inauguration of President Obama. He has continued to be celebrated by the highest office in the land, winning a 2023 National Humanities Medal from the White House. President Biden said, “his poetry bridges cultures and languages … reflecting a nation that is hectic, colorful, and still becoming.” There’s no better time to explore the richness and variety of styles Blanco has been perfecting for decades. Homeland of My Body features self-selected works that Blanco felt were important to his growth as a poet, and he bookends them with new selections that reflect the world today and his place within it, grappling as always with issues of love, family, identity and art. Great poetry can be a thoughtful balm against a relentlessly violent news cycle; unplugging with Blanco every day might be the best therapy.

NONFICTION

Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine by Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel

Well worth its $100 price tag for Dylanophiles, Mixing Up the Medicine is a coffee table book full of revelations, one that helps piece together some of Bob Dylan’s puzzles from his formative years as a musician through his still-fertile contemporaneity. A few years back, editors Davidson and Fishel were granted exclusive access to a then-uncovered treasure trove of Dylan archives to be housed in the official Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gems from this exhaustive collection of 6,000 manuscripts and ephemera constitute Mixing Up the Medicine, among them handwritten letters to Dylan from Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and George Harrison; early drafts of lyrics; and other unseen writings, drawings and photographs. A diverse slate of voices from inside and outside the realm of popular music supplement the material with insightful essays, among them journalists Greil Marcus and Amanda Petrusich, Sonic Youth alum Lee Ranaldo, classical music critic Alex Ross and painter Ed Ruscha.


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John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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