The Elements (Shattered Wig Press)
For three decades, The Tinklers (Charles Brohawn and Chris Mason) have been sharing their wide-eyed wisdom through paintings, music, books, and performances. The local duo has been featured on NPR (the network once followed a segment on Saddam Hussein with a snippet of their song "Tough Guys Are Probably Sad Inside"), been the subject of an excellent documentary (2007's Everybody Loves The Tinklers), and appeared at venues such as the BMA. This slim, but poignant, book is the latest manifestation of their homespun worldview, and its hefty subtitle—An Account of the Wanderings of Steven & Mary and What They Learned in the Land of the Elements Hydrogen to Argon—pretty much sums up the story. Overall, it reads like a romantic novella written by adolescent geologists, and it's to The Tinklers's great credit that such a book could be so charmingly pithy.
Day out of Days (Knopf)
This book of stories seems timely and timeless, as it depicts people grappling with discontent, worry, and a creeping sense of unease. It reflects a national malaise that's as prevalent on the streets of Baltimore as it is out West, where Shepard's characters have been picking at the carcass of American mythology since the 1960s. In these pieces—which are loosely, but profoundly, connected by mood, image, and the arc of history—there's little left for them to scavenge. The frontier mindset has turned ugly and senselessly violent, violence has become mundane, and "people just keep living their lives because they don't know what else to do." Cultural heroes such as Hank Williams, Howlin' Wolf, and Casey Jones provide some measure of inspiration, but they're all dead. As it turns out, the road doesn't go on forever. And even if you manage to keep out of the ditch, it sometimes leads to nothing more than a Cracker Barrel.