Comprehensive booklist

2017 Booklist

January 11, 2017 A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman (352 pages) Lisa's house
 “In Fishman’s bold, ambitious and wickedly smart first novel, a Soviet émigré writer in New York becomes disturbingly adept at forging applications for Holocaust reparations…bold, ambitious and wickedly smart...The only problem with this novel is that its covers are too close together.”  NY Times Book Review (ag)

February 13, 2017 The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (317 pages) Gail'shouse
This one has received mixed reviews, though I know people who loved it. (I’ve avoided reading the reviews in order to come to the book with as little pre-prejudice as possible.) Some call it fantasy, others allegory. The book focuses on the relationship between an elderly couple during a (past?) time in England when there are things like ogres and a knight called Gawain. Their memories seem not to be working, a condition they fear, yet are also afraid of what they might find out should clear memory return. Sorry to be so vague; it’s hard to write about a book you’re trying to avoid reading about. Anyway, I’ve put it on the list because I’ll read anything by Ishiguro. (jd)

April 12, 2017 Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkal (240 pages) Lori's house
Got intrigued by an article on her that I recently came across--haven't read her novels. “Makkai proved in her most recent novel, The Hundred-Year House, that she's capable of crafting alluring, interwoven character studies. In Music for Wartime, she's penned a series of short stories—three of which are based on legends from Hungary, where her family hails from. Spanning Berlin, Romania and present-day America, where true love can be found in front of a live audience, her short stories are as moving as they are varied."—The Huffington Post (pw)

May 17, 2017 My Name is Lucy Barton Elizabeth Strout (193 pages) Lisa'a house
Lucy Barton, hospitalized for nine weeks in NYC, is visited by her estranged mother.  Her mother spends five nights with her daughter, telling her stories about the people from her hometown of Amgash, Illinois.  Strout’s novel is “a book of withholdings and a book of great openness and wisdom. It starts with the clean, solid structure and narrative distance of a fairy tale yet becomes more intimate and improvisational….Strout is playing with form here, with ways to get at a story, yet nothing is tentative or haphazard. She is in supreme and magnificent command of this novel at all times” (The Washington Post). (ag)

June 21, 2017 My Brilliant Friend Elena Ferrante (331 pages) Gail's house
For anybody who doesn’t know—the books are in some ways the standard trope of chick lit—the story of two female friends from their girlhood-in Naples in the 1950s—through their lives.   Evidently, though, they are far more original, unexpected and thoughtful than most genre fiction.  Amazon quotes Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge: "Amazing! My Brilliant Friend took my breath away. If I were president of the world I would make everyone read this book. It is so honest and right and opens up heart to so much. Reading Ferrante reminded me of that child-like excitement when you can’t look up from the page, when your eyes seem to be popping from your head, when you think: I didn’t know books could do this!" (gi)

July 26, 2017 An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie (296 pages) Lisa's house
I saw this on the New York Book Review Classics list and it looked really interesting to me. As a teenager raised in a rather traditional village in Togo in the 1950s—the author's imagination is seized by a book about Greenland. He decides to go there, live among the Eskimos and become a hunter. It takes him eight years of adventures—but he gets there—a tall black man from the tropics joining people who have never seen anyone resembling him before. Amazon characterizes his account as a "brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record…[that] is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human species and to the surprising sympathies that bind us all."(gi)

August 30, 2017 The Small Backs of Children Lidia Yuknavitch (224 pages) Patty's house
"In a war-torn village in Eastern Europe, an American photographer captures a heart-stopping image: a young girl flying toward the lens, fleeing a fiery explosion that has engulfed her home and family. The image, instantly iconic, garners acclaim and prizes and, in the United States, becomes a subject of obsession for one writer, the photographer's best friend, who has suffered a devastating tragedy of her own"-- Provided by publisher.  I haven’t read this, but loved her memoir, The Chronology of Water. (jd)

October 11, 2017 The 6th Extinction Elizabeth Kolbert (336 pages) Al's house
Been wanting to read this book for some time. "Kolbert accomplishes an amazing feat in her latest book, which superbly blends the depressing facts associated with rampant species extinctions and impending ecosystem collapse with stellar writing to produce a text that is accessible, witty, scientifically accurate, and impossible to put down" (Publishers Weekly). (pw)

November 8, 2017 Children of the New World Stories Alexander Weinstein ( 240 pages) Jan's House
This was brought up to me when I was talking about the British TV series: The Black Mirror. The stories here also take place in the near future and speculate on the possible outcomes of current technological trends. The book got a good and interesting review in the Atlantic. I thought it might be interesting to discuss –not only in its success and failures as a piece of writing—but whether its scenarios seem possible in light of what we believe about our society and human nature. It has also been characterized as a "page turner" and "quick read". (gi)

December 13, 2017 1984 George Orwell (267 pages) Al's House
Now would be the perfect time to read (or re-read) this classic post-war novel of group-think and surveillance, plus the loveliness Orwell’s prose. (jd) 


The Incarnations Susan Barker (400 pages)
"Set in contemporary Beijing, the narrative centers on the wretched life of a taxi driver named Wang Jun, a man of early promise who has been brought low by a cruel combination of personal breakdown, bad luck and betrayal. The book's clever central contrivance involves a series of mysterious letters that are left in Wang's taxicab, all written by a self-described soul mate. Each of theseletters describes, to Wang's understandably alarmed perplexity, episodes of the driver's previous incarnations as a bit player in some 15 centuries of China's past. But this clever conceit aside, it's the small sagas of Chinese history contained in the letters, together with Barker's vivid descriptions of today's China, that set this book apart as a work of considerable, if unnerving, importance." (lt)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien (480 pages)
from Man Booker Prizesit: "In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman called Ai-Ming, who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. 
Ai-Ming tells Marie the story of her family in Revolutionary China - from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989.  It is a story of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians - the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai - struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to.  Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie."(lo)

The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead (320 pages)
"[A] potent, almost hallucinatory novel... It possesses the chilling matter-of-fact power of the slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s, with echoes of Toni Morrison's Beloved, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and brush strokes borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift…He has told a story essential to our understanding of the American past and the American present" (New York Times review). (pw)

Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates (176 pages)
"Extraordinary . . . [Coates] writes an impassioned letter to his teenage son—a letter both loving and full of a parent's dread—counseling him on the history of American violence against the black body, the young African-American's extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration" (David Remnick, The New Yorker). (pw)

The Strangler Vine M. J. Carter. (400 pages)
"On one level, this enthralling novel is pure adventure: Young Ensign William Avery and rogue agent Jeremiah Blake set out to find the missing writer Xavier Mountstuart in 1837 India. On a deeper level, it's a subtle critique of how fact and fiction, myth and history, intertwine" (Keith Donohue of The Washington Post). The Strangler Vine represents what must be a lifetime spent reading and soaking up Indian history and geography: you feel yourself to be in India – in its grand palaces and its bazaars; in its colonial offices and in its jungles. Clothes, food, languages, the physical appearances of all the characters, Indian and European, are evoked with Tolstoyan freshness" (The Financial Times). (ag)

The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton (308 pages)
First novel by a women to win a Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence details the conflict between love and responsibility, passion and class responsibility among the members of a love triangle. Wharton was a friend of Henry James and shared his interest in and gift for describing social niceties in the best way. It's been too long since I read this. (jd)

Moonglow Michael Chabon (430 pages)
"A wondrous book that celebrates the power of family bonds and the slipperiness of memory….A thoroughly enchanting story about the circuitous path that a life follows, about the accidents that redirect it, and about the secrets that can be felt but never seen, like the dark matter at the center of every family's cosmos" (Ron Charles, The Washington Post). (pw)

Swing Time, Zadie Smith (464 pages)
“Brilliant…With Swing Time, Zadie Smith identifies the impossible contradiction all adults are asked to maintain — be true to yourself, and still contain multitudes; be proud of your heritage, but don't be defined by it. She frays the cords that keep us tied to our ideas of who we are, to our careful self-mythologies. Some writers name, organize, and contain; Smith lets contradictions bloom, in all their frightening, uneasy splendor.”—Annalisa Quinn, (pw)

 The Sympathizer Viet Thanh Nguyen (384 pages)
A former Communist spy in South Vietnam is evacuated from Saigon and finds his way in the US. "Thrilling in its virtuosity, as in its masterly exploitation of the espionage-thrill genre…The Sympathizer has come to be considered one of the greatest of Vietnam War Novels" (The New Yorker) Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. (ag)

November 18, 2017