Comprehensive booklist

2018 Booklist


January 17, 2018 The Incarnations Susan Barker (400 pages) Lisa's house
"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)

February 28, 2018 Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien (480 pages) Lori's house
from Man Booker Prize site: "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)

March 28, 2018 The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead (320 pages) Lisa's house
"[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)

May 2, 2018 The Strangler Vine M. J. Carter. (400 pages) Jan's House
"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)

May 30, 2018 Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates (176 pages) Al's house
"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)

June 20, 2018 The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton (308 pages) Gail's House
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)

July 25, 2018 Moonglow Michael Chabon (430 pages) Al's house
"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)

August 22, 2018 Swing Time, Zadie Smith (464 pages) Patty's house
“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)

October 3, 2018The Sympathizer Viet Thanh Nguyen (384 pages) Al's house
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 14, 2018 Lincoln in the Bardo George Saunders (343 pages) Lori's House
Acclaimed novel about love and loss.

December 12, 2018 Nutshell Ian McEwan (224 pages) Lisa’s house
An unborn baby overhears plans for a murder. “The literary acrobatics required to bring such a narrator-in-the-womb to life would be reason enough to admire this novel. But McEwan, aside from being one of the most accomplished craftsmen of plot and prose, also happens to be a deeply provocative writer about science.” NY Times



November 19, 2018