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Happy Birthday to Book Writer and Streak Shooter Jess Walter

By Beth Clark • July 20, 2018

Jess Walter

Book writer and streak shooter (his words) Jess Walter is the ridiculously talented author of eight books, the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins, The Financial Lives of the Poets, and We Live in Water among them. He spent 15 years as a successful journalist while becoming a novelist, and his reporting, short stories, and essays have been published in most major US newspapers and top magazines. His refreshingly unconventional honesty, clever wit, and subtle dark humor make him a reader favorite, and his characters have a habit of stealing your heart and leaving a mark on your soul while making you laugh out loud. A lot.

His unassuming manner and versatile writing styles set him apart from other authors, and he's unique in other surprising ways, like becoming a father at 19, being a first-generation college student, and managing to become an award-winning writer without an MFA in creative writing (or anything else). In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, he joked that he took the service entrance route to literary success, but he clearly steered his innate genius in the right direction and loves what he does for a living.

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins is a bella storia of a not-quite-love affair that spans decades and will make you laugh as it captures the rugged charm of Italy's Cinque Terre and seamlessly intertwines it with the underbelly of Hollywood. One chapter in, you'll see why it spent 69 weeks on the NYT Bestsellers list. By the time it ends with perfectly cohesive precision on page 337, you'll want more of the characters whose powerful love, loss, hope, and humor have taken up residence in your soul.

And because he felt like he might burst open and because he lacked the dexterity in English to say all that he was thinking—how in his estimation, the more you lived the more regret and longing you suffered, that life was a glorious catastrophe—Pasquale Tursi said, only, "Yes." - Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

Along with 69 weeks on the NYT Bestsellers list, five as #1, Beautiful Ruins was also:

  • Esquire's Best Book of 2012
  • NPR-Fresh Air's Best Novel of 2012
  • A New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of the Year
  • Selected as one of the "Best Books of the Year" by Entertainment Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Miami Herald, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and a bunch of others.

The Financial Lives of the Poets

The Financial Lives of the Poets is a wildly (and darkly) funny story of the American dream gone bad that's also tender, relevant, and brilliantly refreshing in its truth about the flawed systems we exist in. It somehow manages to simultaneously be warm and bitter, dark and hopeful, and hilarious and tragic, which makes it a book that's really hard to put down, so binge readers be will engage you on all literary cylinders and pull you in!

"My dreams tend to be either so obscure as to seem random, or so obviously connected to my subconscious that it's embarrassing—as if even my hidden depths lack depth." - Jess Walter, The Financial Lives of the Poets

Once you start reading, you'll see why it was Time Magazine's #2 Book of the Year in 2009 and selected as one of the "Year's Best Novels" by the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, NPR's Fresh Air, Arizona Republic, Oregonian, Salon, Kansas City Star, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

We Live in Water

The Seattle Times nailed it when it called Jess Walter's story collection We Live in Water "so freakishly, fiendishly good it isn't fair." It also won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, Long List Story Prize, and Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize. The stories are as diverse as they are comical, and though the overriding theme is one of diminished dreams and personal struggle, it manages to instill hope with its generosity of spirit and captivating truth. Life is messy, and Walter has a true gift when it comes to making readers laugh with his straightforward vulnerability and his quirky but relatable characters who have grit.

Who isn't crazy sometimes? Who hasn't driven around a block hoping a certain person will come out; who hasn't haunted a certain coffee shop, or stared obsessively at an old picture; who hasn't toiled over every word in a letter, taken four hours to write a two-sentence email, watched the phone praying it will ring; who doesn't lay awake at night sick with the image of her sleeping with someone else? - Jess Walter, We Live in Water

Other Jess Walter Books

The thing about Jess Walter is that no matter which one of his books you pick up, you'll somehow be better for it by the end (or before), whether it makes you think and changes you on a deeper level or simply makes you laugh for a bit. Here are his other books and novels, so whichever titles appeal to you, do yourself a solid and order them today!

Read more by Beth Clark

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