Comprehensive booklist

2019 Booklist


January 9, 2019
H.M.S Surprise Patrick O’Brian
Third in the series of the Aubrey-Maturin historical novels set during the Napoleonic Wars. This series of novels on the naval war aspect of what used to be called The Great War, until 1914 came along, have been described as the greatest historical novels ever written. This is one of my favorites, and I think the scenes set in India are particularly wonderful. If you like this one, you can go back to the first one and binge read the other 19 in order. (KP)

February 6, 2019
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan (430 pages) Al's house
I loved Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.  This new book, a WWII era historical novel about a female diver for the Brooklyn Naval Yard whose father has disappeared years earlier, was included on a slew of ‘best books of 2017’ lists and the blurbs included the Boston Globe, “A magnificent achievement…at once a suspenseful noir intrigue and transporting work of lyrical beauty an emotional heft.”  (George Saunders also gave a positive blurb for the cover.) (LO)

March 13, 2019
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror Mallory Ortberg (190 pages) Lisa's house
From the CPL Staff Picks: "In this collection of disturbing tales, Mallory Ortberg expands on the "Children's Stories Made Horrific" that they wrote for the late, lamented website, The Toast. Familiar storybook characters like The Velveteen Rabbit, Mr. Toad of Toad Hall and The Little Mermaid make appearances. But they are not the characters you remember." I agree. These fractured fairytales could be described as "frack-tured:" blown up from the inside. I think they'd be fun to discuss. (JD)

April 10, 2019
The Incendiaries R.O. Kwon (224 pages) Jan's House
“A powerful, darkly glittering novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea." “[With] a fairy-tale quality reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History … [The Incendiaries is] the rare depiction of belief that doesn’t kill the thing it aspires to by trying too hard. It makes a space, and then steps away to let the mystery in.” The New Yorker (PW)

May 22, 2019
The Weight of Ink Rachel Kadish (581 pages) Lori's House
Like A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, this emotionally rewarding novel follows the familiar pattern of present-day academics trying to make sense of a mystery from the past. Helen Watt, a British historian facing retirement, and her much younger American assistant, Aaron Levy, are asked to examine a cache of documents found in a London townhouse, purported to be the work of a blind rabbi in 1661 and written out by a copyist known only as Aleph. Aaron is brash and right from the outset rubs prickly, Parkinson’s-suffering Helen the wrong way. But they are forced to work together after Helen realizes that Aleph was most probably a Jewish woman—unheard-of for the 17th century. In alternating chapters, we see life of the copyist, Ester Velasquez, as an immigrant from Amsterdam, her friendship with a wealthy Jewish merchant’s daughter, her attempts to survive the plague and the Great Fire of London, and her covert correspondence with the preeminent minds of the period, including rogue philosopher Benedictus de Spinoza. Meanwhile, in the present, Helen and Aaron overcome academic infighting, rival historians, and greedy house owners to uncover Ester’s fate. What they find out about her life informs what they ultimately learn about themselves. Ester’s story illuminates the plight of London Jews in the 17th century, and Helen and Aaron’s sparking relationship is vivid and memorable, as the two historians discover how desire can transcend time. (Publisher's Weekly) (LT)

June 26, 2019
Educated: A Memoir
Tara Westover (352 pages) Patty's house
I downloaded this as an audio book for a road trip.  We didn’t finish it (we ran out of road)—but what we heard was fascinating—if grueling.  It’s the memoir of a women raised off the grid by survivalist parents—who didn’t believe in schools or doctors or many measures for comfort and safety..  Often, her own survival seems uncertain, even though you know she lived to tell her story.   She ends up with a doctorate from Cambridge—through brains, sheer force of will, and just enough help.  Wonderfully written—and really makes you think about what education means.  I want an excuse to get the book and finish it. (GI)

July 24, 2019
The Mars Room Rachel Kushner (352 pages) Al's house
I really enjoyed the short story excerpted from this novel, about women in a California prison, published in the New Yorker, which was a witty, fun read.  In a New Yorker article on her writing, Kushner is described as thinking of herself as a “girl citizen,” asking questions, at large in the world. She uses the novel as a place to be flamboyant and funny, and to tell propulsive stories, but mainly as a capacious arena for thinking…draw[ing] on decades of American social life and European intellectual history, while remaining open to slinky aberrations.” (LO)

September 4, 2019 Lori's house
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, presented by Sonny Liew (320 pages)
Part graphic novel, part art book, part historical essay, this is the biography of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, Singapore’s premier comic book artist, who’s life encompasses the history of Singapore from the Japanese occupation during WWII through the complex political rivalry of Lee Kuan Yew [who won]  and Lim Chin Siong [who didn’t] and onward, told through the history of Sinapore’s comic book culture. I was more than halfway through the book before I realized that Charlie Chan Hock Chye is an entirely fictional person, as is Singapore’s comic book cultural history, for the most part. One of the most brilliant books I ran across last year. (KP)

October 2, 2019 Lisa's house
Human Acts Han Kang (218 pages)
Beautifully written inter-connected stories rising from the 1980 student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea and the long-lasting aftermath of the violence. I think this book is even better than The Vegetarian which won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

November 13, 2019 (Jan's house)
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI David Grann (352 pages)
When a string of murders plague the oil rich Osage Indian nation in the 1920s, the Feds are brought in to investigate. David Grann traces their probe, revealing corruption at every layer of law enforcement and government. By the author of The Lost City of Z. Listed in Esquire’s “The 25 Best True Crime Books Every Person Should Read” (ag)

December 11, 2019 (Gail & Keith's house)
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men David Foster Wallace (336 pages)
We haven’t read any David Foster Wallace in book group (but that doesn’t mean I want to lug around Infinite Jest).  I was going to recommend something that I hadn’t read—but found that I would like to discuss Brief Interviews… which seems particularly apropos in these #Me too days.  The stories are sometimes funny, often sad, and always disturbing (GI)



November 14, 2019