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H is for Haruf

Inspired by Stuck in a Book, I am continuing this occasional series, in which I will discuss favorite authors, alphabetically. The latest is Kent Haruf.

How many books do I have by Haruf?
Six, all of them the novels: The Tie That Binds, Where You Once Belonged, Plainsong, Eventide, Benediction and Our Souls at Night. (Haruf wrote only one other book: the essay-and-photograph collaboration West of Last Chance, with photographer Peter T. Brown.)

How many of these have I read?
All of them, once so far. But I intend to read all of them again, in order, for a second or even third time.

How did I start reading Haruf?
I had read glowing reviews of Haruf's fiction, and thought his small-town stories would be right up my alley. Our local Starbucks used to have a lending bookshelf where you could leave a book, and take a new one in return. One day, while waiting for my espresso, I glanced at the shelf (I find it utterly impossible to resist browsing any bookshelf), I saw a copy of Plainsong, read the first few paragraphs, liked what I saw, and took the book. (I don't think I donated a book that day, but I'm sure I did so on my next visit, to square things up.) I absolutely loved Plainsong, and steadily acquired the rest of his novels over the next few years, concluding with Our Souls At Night, which was published in 2015, a year after his death at the too-soon age of 71. I was so moved by the story and message of Our Souls at Night that I gave the book to every member of my family as Christmas gifts a few years ago.

General impressions...
Haruf is one of my absolute favorite writers. All of his novels are set in the high plains of eastern Colorado (where Haruf grew up), in the fictional small town of Holt, and each marvelously evokes Holt and its simple, everyday people. The two strongest books (Plainsong and Eventide) interweave multiple storylines among characters who lead very different lives but are still interconnected and reliant on each other, as it would be in any small town; the other four books are more tightly focused on a few key characters. Also, when I read Plainsong in 2008, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the book had unconsciously influenced my debut novel, Wheatyard.

If you've never read Haruf, you should start with...
Plainsong, which I'm sure will have you hungering for the other five novels. Eventide is sort of a sequel to Plainsong, so you'll probably want to read that second.

If I had to get rid of one Haruf book, it would be...
Absolutely none of them, although Where You Once Belonged is probably the least strong of the six, though still very good reading.

Other "H" candidates:
Knut Hamsun, Nick Hornby. Aleksandar Hemon. Hamsun, Hornby and Hemon are also beloved favorites of mine, and each could have easily been featured here. My list of H writers is exceptionally strong.

December 12, 2020 in Books | Permalink