Dear Reader Comprehensive Book List

 

 

1-September 10, 1992

West with the Night  Beryl Markham

The memoirs of a woman who worked as an airplane pilot in Kenya in the thirties.  Hemingway writes, "she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer... [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers."

 

2-October 8, 1992

My Son's Story Nadine Gordimer

We get a different view of Africa in the most recent novel by the 1991 winner of the Nobel Prize, a South African writer.  A teenaged boy discovers that his father, a "colored" teacher and leader in the movement against apartheid, has a mistress, a white human rights worker.  One of the twelve Notable Books for 1990 chosen by the New York Times Book Review.

 

3-November 11, 1992

The Sweet Hereafter Russell Banks

The driver of a school bus for a small New England community believes she sees a dog darting onto a road.  She swerves, the bus falls into a half frozen ravine, and many of the children are drowned.  From this grim premise, Banks creates a fascinating, cathartic story. 

 

4-December 9, 1992

A Thousand Acres Jane Smiley

The novel that won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize.  A farmer divides his prosperous farm between his three daughters, an action that has dire consequences.  Sound familiar?  Jane Smiley, a unique Midwestern voice, has updated King Lear to a farm in Iowa. 

 

5-January 13, 1993

The Rebel Angels Robertson Davies

At his best Robertson Davies resembles a lean, modern Dickens with a ribald sense of humor. The setting for the novel is a Canadian university, College of St. John and the Holy Ghost, or Spook as the faculty refers to it.  The plot includes a stolen manuscript of an unpublished Rabelais novel, kinky sex, a murder and a suicide.  Anthony Burgess includes "The Rebel Angels" in "99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939," and writes, "It is a wise, profound and joyful book... Robertson Davies is without doubt Nobel Prize material."

 

6-February 10, 1993

Emma Jane Austen

Many consider this to be Austen's best novel.  Emma Woodhouse is handsome and clever but she misreads the situations and the people that surround her, leading to very funny misunderstandings. 

 

7-March 10, 1993

Where I'm Calling From Raymond Carver

Carver, until his recent death from cancer, was the leading minimalist, a literary style which held sway in the early eighties and has been blamed for everything from insipid, superficial fiction to the rise in teenage pregnancies.  So what is minimalist fiction and why do people say such terrible things about it?  Read Carver and choose your side.  "Carver is arguably the most important American short story writer since Ernest Hemingway..." (Library Journal). 

 

8-April 14, 1993

Daughters Paule Marshall

Ursa has just had an abortion and her long-term relationship with her lover is about to end.  Her mother calls her back to the Caribbean island of Triunion to help salvage the career of her father, a political reformer.  The novel depicts Black culture of the US and the Caribbean.  "Flawless in its sense of place and character, remarkable in its understanding of human nature, "Daughters" is a triumph in every way" (New York Times Book Review).

 

9-May 12 1993

Revolutionary Road Richard Yates

Every year or so, some magazine prints an article about overlooked writers and books; Richard Yates usually gets at least one mention.  This novel shows all of the obstacles, external and internal, that come between people and their dreams.

 

10-June 9, 1993

Jazz Toni Morrison

The latest novel from the Pulitzer-prize winning writer of "Beloved" depicts Harlem in the 1920s.  "a celebration of a certain place and a certain period...a novel that should be read with pleasure and wonder"  (Jane Smiley in Vogue).

 

11-August 4, 1993

Bastard Out of Carolina Dorothy Allison

A story about a young woman who dreams of escaping her family's hopeless, impoverished life in South Carolina.  "Allison manages a rare feat: a child narrator who delivers her truth in remarkable, beautiful original language" (Boston Phoenix).  A 1992 National Book Award finalist.

 

12- September 1, 1993

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love Oscar Hijuelos

Pulitzer-Prize winning novel that details the lives and loves of two young Cuban musicians in New York City in the late forties, early fifties.  The atmosphere of New York night life is irresistible.  "The writing is quite simply, extraordinary: lyrical and literary, earthy and base in it celebrations of life in the face of death" (Houston Chronicle).

 

13-October 6, 1993

Wait Until Spring, Bandini John Fante

The first of four autobiographical books chronicling the life of Arturo Bandini, the son of immigrant Italian parents who settle in Colorado at the turn of the century.  Fante is one of American literature's most underappreciated writers.

 

14-November 10, 1993

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

 

15-December 1, 1993

Geek Love Katherine Dunn

A recent National Book Award nominee, this story traces the life of a carnival family who save their traveling "Carnival Fabulon" from bankruptcy by giving birth to a family of freaks.  A profoundly moving story, Dunn endows her unusual characters with a dignity and emotion seldom found in more conventional characters.

 

16-January 5, 1994

Lady Chatterly's Lover D. H. Lawrence

Probably the best depiction of a woman's sexual awakening written by man or woman in any language.  Gets better with every read.

 

17-February 2, 1994

Wise Blood Flannery O'Connor

The first novel of Flannery O'Connor, whose literary reputation continues to grow.  Her fiction is marked by grotesques and black humor.  Wise Blood has Hazel Motes, a preacher for the Church without Christ.  This is a hard novel to summarize or explain, even harder to forget. 

 

18-March 2, 1994

The Carpathians Janet Frame

By the author of An Angel at My Table, A novel about an American woman who comes to live in a town in New Zealand to study local Maori myth about a Memory Flower. 

 

19-April 6, 1994

The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke trans. by Stephen Mitchell

"Perhaps the most beautiful group of poetic translations this century has produced" (The Chicago Tribune).  We'll concentrate on a dozen or so poems, read portions aloud, then discuss them. 

 

20-May 4, 1994

All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy

Set in 1949, this is the story of 16-year-old boy who leaves his home in southern Texas and crosses over the border into Mexico.  His idyllic, sometimes comic, adventure ultimately leads to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.  Winner of the 1992 National Book Award.

 

21-June 1, 1994

The English Patient Michael Ondaatje

Winner of the Booker Prize. In the final moments of WW II, four people left in a Tuscan Village slowly begin to reveal themselves to each other.  When the New York Times Book Review named this novel one of the best of 1992, it wrote, "These people are so brilliantly drawn and singular they seem like icons in a mosaic..." Toni Morrison called it "profound, beautiful and heart-quickening."   

 

22-August 7, 1994

The Shipping News E. Annie Proulx

A journalist those wife has been killed with her lover in a car accident moves back to the Newfoundland Town where he grew up."Proulx creates an amazing world in Killick-Claw, Newfoundland--a cold, rocky place that nevertheless is populated by a fascinating variety of big-hearted, unlikely heroes" (Booklist).  Winner of the Heartland Prize, Pulitizer Prize, and National Book Award.  (ag)

 

23-October 12, 1994

Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie

All the children born in India at midnight of a particular New Year have special powers.  As they grow older they become aware of them.  The narrator is a boy whose gift is telepathy; he acts as a mediator for all the children.  All this is tied to historic events in India's recent history.  Strange but effective!  I couldn't put it down. (vc)

 

24-November 17, 1994

The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon's most accessible novel is about the darkness at the heart of the American Dream.  I read it a long time ago and remember being very disturbed by it. (jm)

 

25-December 15, 1994

Gate to Women's Country Sheri S. Tepper

Science fiction, but not hard science.  A look at a post-nuclear world where a society in the process of rebuilding.  I had to reread it immediately to make sure that she played fair. (lc)

 

26-January 9, 1995

Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha Roddy Doyle

Winner of the 1993 Booker Prize.  Written by the author of the "The Commitments."  Doyle is truly a master of dialogue.  "Superb creation of a childhood and by far the best thing Roddy Doyle has done" (The Sunday Independent).  "Like all great comic writers, Roddy Doyle has become an explorer of the deepest places of the heart, of love and pain and loss" (The Irish Times).  (bb) *Jan’s first meeting

 

27-Febraury 7, 1995

The New York Trilogy  Paul Auster

This book consists of three separate, short novels that echo each other's themes--coincidence and synchronicity, the nature of human identity and memory, the search for and flight from the dark truths lurking behind our lives, and the act of writing.  I loved this book and am curious about what others might make of it.  (jm)

 

28-March 8, 1995

Eva Luna  Isabel Allende

Allende (yes, she's related to the late President Allende) is a wonderful author who combines magical realism with political awareness.  Eva Luna follows its title character from the jungle to the city.  She is a sort of Scherezade, and much of the book is made up of her stories.  I would recommend anything by this author. (vc)

 

29-April 12, 1995

Imagining Argentina  Lawrence Thornton

Set during Argentina's "dirty war" when thousands of people were snatched from the streets, this novel tells of Carlos Rueda's visions.  He can "imagine" what has happened to the disappeared.  Soon the relatives of the disappeared flock to him to find out what has happened.  But will his gift be able to save his wife and daughter?  "A harrowing, beautiful novel" The New Yorker. Winner of the 1987 Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award  (ag)

 

30-May 10, 1995

Angels in America  Parts I and II  

I have read these--the two of them together are not that long.  Yes, they're plays.  They raise truly interesting questions about our society, pain, forgiveness, healing, politics and Roy Cohn.  What more could you ask for? (lc)

31-June 14, 1995

 

The Coming Triumph of the Free World  Rick DeMarinis

Acerbic, funny and sometimes twisted stories by America's best unknown fiction writer.   His volume of short stories Under the Wheat won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize.  This collection is richer and more complex.  (ag)

 

32-August 17, 1995 

The Map of the World  Jane Hamilton

A critically acclaimed novel about how a woman's life becomes turned upside down when a child dies in an accident on her property.  (jm)

 

33-October 11, 1995

A Shot to the Heart  Mikal Gilmore

Gary Gilmore's brother writes about how Gary Gilmore's crime and notoriety affected his life and his family.  (jm)

 

34-November 8, 1995

One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabrial Garcia Marquez

One of the most influential works of the 20th century, the granddaddy of magic realism. (vc)

 

35-January 10, 1996

Affliction  Russell Banks

A perfect companion piece to the non-fictional Shot to the Heart. A brother recreates the steps that led to his brother's crime.  One critic has written that reading Russell Banks gave him insights into America and its society that he didn't get elsewhere.  A powerful novel.  (ag)

 

36-February 15, 1996

Justine  Lawrence Durell

The first novel of the Alexandria Quartet.  Each successive novel enlarges the context of the events described in the first,   completely changing our perceptions of those events.  "Here is a remarkable novel: deeper in thought, more intricate in design, more distinguished than most."  New York Herald Tribune Book Review (jd)

 

37-March 14, 1996

Shame  Salman Rushdie

No one could get through it the first time, so let's take another crack at it.  Set in a country that is not quite Pakistan, `Shame' is a sort of modern fairy tale.  The characters include Omar Khayyam Shakil, born of three mothers, and Sufiya Zinobia a woman who absorbs the emotions of others. (vc)

 

38-April 15, 1996

The Stone Diaries Carol Shields

Poignant story of a twenty-century pilgrim in search of herself.  "Deliciously unclassiable, blatantly intelligent and subtly subversive"  (San Francisco Chronicle).  Winner of the 1995 Pulitzer and National Book Critics Circle Award. (jm)

 

39-May 16, 1996

Moo  Jane Smiley

A humorous look at the people attending and teaching at a Midwestern Unversity. (lc)

 

40-June 6, 1996

Huckleberry Finn  Mark Twain 

Just in time for summer.  See if it still makes you want to light out for parts west. (vc)

 

41-September 12, 1996  

Poor Things Alasdair Gray

Winner of the 1992 Whitbread Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize.   Set in the eighteenth century, this novel deals with the loves of two Scottish doctors and a twenty-five year woman who has been created by one of them from human remains.  I haven't read this book, but the reviews were glowing.  "You become aware that this odd book has been a great deal more than entertaining only on finishing it.  Then your strongest desire is to start reading it again" (Spectator).   The author also draws his own illustrations.  (ag)

Gail’s first meeting

 

42-October 10, 1996

The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor

This is an early Soviet classic, recently made available in a new and much-praised translation (already in paperback!). This book is both complicated and entertaining, and Bulgakov is often a very funny writer. The Master in this book is the devil, so if you're ready for the combined forces of the evil empire and evil incarnate, this is the book for you.  I think this is a book that will offer good discussion. (vc)

 

43-November 14, 1996

Persuasion Jane Austen (lc)

 

44-December 12, 1996

Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart Joyce Carol Oates

According to PW, this book is about "racial disharmony from the mid-'50s to mid-60's propels this tale of the love that binds a black man and a white woman in an upstate New York industrial town wracked by violence and murder."  What I love about Oates is that she isn't afraid to go over the top in her writing; it's great to read well-written pageturners which don't involve shopping.  (jd)

 

 

45-January 16, 1997

Neuromancer William Gibson

The book that started the cyperpunk genre, which celebrates the outlaw computer hacker.  It has an honored reputation among avant garde writers such as Kathy Acker.  (ag)

 

46-February 20, 1997

Galatea 2.2 Richard Powers

After a failed relationship and several years in the Netherlands, a novelist named Richard Powers returns to his college town of U. [Urbana] to take an appointment at "the Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences" and becomes involved in a project in which he teaches a "neural network" (a highly advanced artificial intelligence) English literature.  It was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, was ranked in Time Magazine's Top Five Fiction Books of 1995, and was among the New York Times's list of "Notable Books" of 1995.  (jm)

 

47-March 13, 1997

The Good Soldier    Ford Maddox Ford.

The novel is about a small group of people in the early part of the century. The narrator is one of the principles, who has his own reasons, generally hidden from himself as well as from the reader, for telling his story the way he does.  That story is a tangle of infidelity, death, and melodramatic flights into madness, and as it progresses the readers perceptions of events and the characters continually shift.  It is, however, all miraculously controlled by the author.  Against all odds, he dosen't make ONE wrong move.  (GI)

 

48-April 10, 1997

Ship Fever and Other Stories  Andrea Barrett

Stories are about "the love of science and the science of love."  Scientists classic (e.g. Linnaeus) and contemporary are characters in most of the stories.  I thought that the stories were interesting taken individually and considered as a collection.  Winner of the 1996 National Book Award for Fiction;   stories were chosen for Best American Short Stories for 1994 and 1995.  (JD)

 

49-June 12, 1997

The Robber Bride  Margaret Atwood. 

Three middle-aged Toronto women and their relationship with Zenia, a rather nasty piece of work. A recent Tempo interview with Atwood revealed that Zenia prompted the the strongest reader response of any of her fictional characters.  "As insightful as it is witty" Nation. (LC)

 

50-August 10, 1997

Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe

This is a historical novel about people in a village in Eastern Nigeria, and one family in particular. It starts before any Westerners are on the scene, and ends after they've arrived. Although you might expect the things that "fall apart" do so as a result of imperialism and zealous missionaries, the roots of the problems the characters encounter in the novel precede any contact with outsiders. I read this last fall and would like to read it again. I think the multiple perspectives offered in this novel would make for good discussion.  (VC) Lisa Taylor’s first meeting

 

51-September 18, 1997

Group Portrait With Lady Heinrich Boll

I read this some fifteen years ago and remember being blown away.  I'm very curious about how it would strike me now.  It is a fictional biography of a woman who would not normally be the subject of a biography; she has done nothing to bring her to the notice of the public.  However a very earnest researcher has interviewed those who know her and ferreted out the details of her life. Supposed to be the book that most motivated the Nobel committee to give Boll the prize. (GI)

 

52-October 9, 1997

The Ambassadors  Henry James

The new movie of Portrait of a Lady has reminded me of how long it's been since I read anything by James and how I have meant for years now to read The Ambassadors.  This one is late James, about the wealthy widow Newsome who sends the dutiful Strether, her fiance(I think?), to Paris to retrieve her son Chad who is reported to be enjoying himself far too much.  I haven't read the book, but rumor has it that Mrs. Newsome need to send a second ambassador after Strether.   Jamesian nuance amidst the fleshpots of Paris.  (Blurb by JD, nominated by VC)

 

53-November 13, 1997

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov.

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta...''  I'm ashamed to have to admit that I've never read this book (although I did see the great Kubrick film). There's supposed to be a new film version coming out, with Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert, and I'd like to have read the book before seeing the movie. (JM)

 

54-December 17, 1997

Morality Play Barry Unsworth

Part mystery, part medieval historical novel, this is about a group of traveling players who find themselves endangered by what they learn about a murder.  I haven't read any of his books, but Sacred Hunger won the Booker Prize a few years ago.  Morality Play was named a "Best Book" by Publishers Weekly. (jd)

 

55-January 15, 1998

Philadelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman

This is a novel based on the ugly incident in West Philadelphia where the police bombed out a block of rowhouses occupied by the Black political group/cult  Move. The novel centers on a writer from that neighborhood who has sort of self-exiled himself for ten years, but returns when he becomes obsessed with finding the identity of a boy who was seen escaping the fire. I haven't read it, but it was highly recommended to me. (vc)

 

56-February 12, 1998

White Man's Grave by Richard Dooling

Michael Killigan, a Peace Corps worker in Sierra Leone, disappears.  His best friend, Boone, goes to look for him and finds himself out of his league dealing with witchfinders, black magic, and tribal politics.  Meanwhile Michael's father, a high-powered bankruptcy lawyer, finds all his clout is useless in trying to get information about his son.  And what's that dog-faced bat he sees in his bedroom? Although the plot moves slowly at times, the world Boone finds himself in is fascinating. This novel is funny and scary by turns. Shortlisted for the National Book Award.(ag)

 

57-March 19, 1998

Libra by Don Delillo  (jm)

 

58-April 16, 1998

Accordian Crimes Annie E. Prouix (Prew)

I haven't read this one, but loved The Shipping News.  The novel follows an accordian and all the adventures  that occur to its owners.  (ag)

 

59-May 14, 1998

The Origin of Satan  by Elaine Pagels

I thought this would be an interesting non-fiction book for us because I liked her Gnostic Gospels book.  Not everyone cares about gnosticism, but the idea of evil and how (and why) religion and culture personifies it might have some appeal.  Pagels has an easy style which partially explains why she's published by Random House and not by UCP. (jd)

 

60-June 11, 1998

Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips

This novel was short-listed for the Booker a few years ago (1994?). Phillips is a West Indian-born author who is getting a lot of attention lately. I haven't read this novel yet, but from what I gather, it starts with a poor family in the 1730's that sells its children into bondage (something that still goes in a lot of developing countries today). The book tells their story in several times and  places and in several voices, starting in the 1730's, into the nineteenth century and (I think) ending with WWII. (vc)

 

61-July 16, 1998

The Symposium  Plato

The famous dinner party where the discussion turns to the topic of love.  A big hole in my liberal education.  (ag)

 

62-August 1998

Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray

 

 

 

 

63-September 10, 1998

Hard Times  Charles Dickens

Never read this, but rumor has it that it is "distilled"--as opposed to "lite"--Dickens at half the length of David Copperfield and Bleak House (personal favs of mine).  As you'd guess, this is not cheery book, but that's not why we read Dickens.  We read Dickens for his memorably-named characters and to find out just how they will go to the bad, with the consolation of a few laughs to be had along the way.  In the Gradgrinds we meet a notably disfunctional family--dead mom, dad is the embodiment of utilitarianism--in the northern industrial city of "Coketown," plus their lovely housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit. (jd)

 

64-November 12, 1998

The Green Knight   Iris Murdoch

A promotional synopsis says: "When an attempt by the sharp, feral, uncommonly intelligent Lucas to murder his brother, Clement, backfires and Lucas kills a stranger, the stranger reappears with specific demands for reparation."  Actually--this is only a fragment of the plot.  It concerns a whole constellation of people--all of them individually interesting--and somehow both iconic and solidly human.  Mythic themes-biblical, medieval, and classical, infuse the action-without erasing the (again) very human dimensions of the character's lives.  I think that this book is a meditation about the different species of love possible between and among people.   Its a serious book--in that it has philosophical weight--but it is also lighthearted and warm.  I really liked it-and would love to read it in company. (gi)

 

65-December 10, 1998

The New Confessions   William Boyd

"My first act upon entering this world was to kill my mother."  So begins this novel in the form of an autobiography. The narrator John James Todd is a silent film director much like the director of "Napoleon." This novel takes us through the trenches of World War I, Weimar Berlin, and Hollywood in the postwar years.  One of the most beguiling novels I've read in years. "It's a novel that can be read with pleasure for its story, and also one that grows in the mind as you think about it afterwards;  the most ambitious and best work of this writer" The New Republic. (ag)

 

66-January 14, 1999

Germinal Emile Zola

Zola's 1885 masterpiece of everyday relationships and working life exposes the inhuman conditions of miners in northern France in the 1860s.  An Oxford University Press World Classic.  I read this one a while ago, and was devastated by the descriptions of life in those times.  I would like to read it again and discuss it to understand it better  (lt)

 

67-February 11, 1999

The Metamorphosis Ovid

Always meant to read this to find out just what parts of which stories were stolen by Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton, not tomention such later worthies as Swift, Shelley, Swinburne, and Shaw. I know that you can find Orpheus and Euridice in there along with Baucis and Philemon and a version of Pygmalion. We wouldn't have to read the Golding translation of 1565 unless one of you hardliners insists. (jd)

 

68-April 8, 1999

The Fifth Business Robertson Davies

 

69-May 17, 1999

The Manticore and World of Wonders Robertson Davies

 

70-June 9, 1999

Continental Drift Russell Banks

 

71-July 14, 1999

The Trees in My Forest Bernd Heinrich

 

72-September 13, 1999

The Reader B Schlink

 

73-October 13, 1999

The Blue Flower  by Penelope Fitzgerald

(1997 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction)

This is the story of Friedrich Hardenberg--Fritz, to his intimates--a young man of the late 18th century who is destined to become one of Germany's great romantic poets. In just over 200 pages, Fitzgerald creates a complete world of family, and lovers, but also an exhilarating evocation of the romantic era in all its political turmoil, intellectual voracity, and moral ambiguity. (LT) Double book group at Lisas

 

74-November 10, 1999

A Blessing on the Moon  Joseph Skibell

Chaim Skibelski, covered by the dead bodies of townspeople killed by the Nazis, struggles to return home but finds his house now inhabited by interlopers. He stays there for a while, to the dismay of at least some of the family, but then must move on.  For my part, the book made me laugh out loud in the midst of its inevitable grimness, and I found Skibell's strategy for dealing with the holocaust and its aftermath to be both appealing and touching. (JD)

 

75-December 8, 1999

Corregidora by Gayl Jones.

Ms. Jones was featured in the NYT not long ago due to her dramatic life-story -- her husband barricaded her and himself  before killing himself in a confrontation with the police. "Corregidora" seems to be not unrelated; it's a sort of monologue told by a blues singer who has been treated badly by the men she's loved. This book got a lot of critical praise and is described as offering important insights into male/female relationships in the African-American community. (VC)

 

76-January 20, 2000

The Stories of John Cheever

Wondrous things happen in these pages.  On a fine fall morning a man decides to swim home across the river of swimming pools that stretch across his suburban county and travels through more than backyards; a radio picks up not radio waves, but the secret lives and discord of neighbors. In general New York and its suburbs in the fifties become the settings of marvelous stories and fables. We'll decide upon which stories we want to concentrate upon in the December meeting. (AG)

 

77-February 28, 2000

Another World Pat Barker

 

78-March 22, 2000

Black Dogs Ian Mc Ewan

 

79-June 14, 2000

No Mercy Red O’Hanlon

 

80-July 12, 2000

Auto Da Fe Elias Canetti

 

81-August 9, 2000

Birthday Letters Ted Hughes

 

82-September 25, 2000

Under The Volcano Malcolm Lowry

 

83-October 30, 2000

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter Mario Vargas Llosa

 

84-December 21, 2000

So I Am Glad A.L. Kennedy

 

85-January 22, 2001

Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver

 

86-February 26, 2001

Disgrace J. M. Coetzee

 

87-March 29, 2001

A Fairly Honorable Defeat Iris Murdoch

 

88-April 26, 2001

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

Oh, that Emma!

 

89-May 21, 2001

Flaubert's Parrot Julian Barnes

At the first sight this book is a story of an elderly English doctor Geoffrey

Braithwaite who tries to reconstruct the life of the great French writer Gustave Flaubert in order to understand him. Those who love Flaubert will find in this wonderful novel a lot of interesting and amazing facts and details that could help them in better comprehension of their favorite writer's oeuvre. But this is only a top layer of the narrative. Dr Braithwaite really wants to solve the mystery of his beloved but unfaithful

wife's suicide, using Flaubert's life as his own image in the psychological mirror of humanity (Gustave Fraubert, c'est moi?).

 

90-June 14, 2001

Headlong Michael Frayn

A wild caper of deception, obsession, and the discovery of a lost masterpiece that could turn the art world upside down. Or not.

 

91-July 16, 2001

Waiting Ha Jin

"Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu." Like a fairy tale, Ha Jin's masterful novel of love and politics begins with a formula--and like a fairy tale, Waiting uses its slight, deceptively simple framework to encompass a  wide range of truths about the human heart.

 

92-September 13, 2001

Immortality Milan Kundera

The author of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" follows the lives of four contemporary characters as well as the love of Goethe and Bettina von Arnim.  "`Immortality' swings easily, almost imperceptibly, from narrative to rumination and back again, collapsing the distinction between action and concepts... In its inventiveness and its dazzling display of what written words can convey, `Immortality' gives fiction back its good name."

 

93-October 15, 2001

Pilgrim  Timothy Findley

The story of a man who can't die even though he tries over and over to kill himself. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, in 1912 he's placed in a Zurich clinic where Carl Gustav Jung is hard as work trying to determine the perimeter of the collective unconscious.

 

94-November 19, 2001

The Moviegoer Walker Percy

This elegantly written account of a young man's search for signs of purpose in the universe is one of the great existential texts of the postwar era and is really funny besides. Binx Bolling, inveterate cinemaphile, contemplative rake and man of the periphery, tries hedonism and tries doing the right thing, but ultimately finds redemption (or at least the prospect of it) by taking a leap of faith and quite literally embracing what only seems irrational.

 

95-December 13, 2001

The Hide Barry Unsworth

 

96-January 14, 2002

White Teeth  Zadie Smith

 

97-February 20, 2002

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

In the introduction to his translation, Seamus Heaney argues that Beowulf's role as a required text for many English students obscured its mysteries and "mythic potency." Now, Thanks to the Irish poet's marvelous recreation (in both senses of the word) under Alfred David's watch, this dark, doom-ridden work gets its day in the sun. (jd)

 

98-March 11, 2002

Underground  Haruki Murakami,

With great sensitivity, insight, and respect, Murakami coaxed a remarkable group of people into describing their harrowing experiences aboard the five morning rush-hour Tokyo trains on which members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult released deadly sarin gas. Unlike a journalist, Murakami doesn't force these narratives into tidy equations of cause and effect, good and evil, but rather allows contradictions and ambiguity to stand. (gi)

 

99-April 15, 2002

The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin is a tale of two sisters, one of whom dies under ambiguous circumstances in the opening pages. The survivor, Iris Chase Griffen, initially seems a little cold-blooded about this death in the family. But as Margaret Atwood's most ambitious work unfolds--a tricky process, in fact, with several nested narratives and even an entire novel-within-a-novel--we're reminded of just how complicated the familial game of hide-and-seek can be. (jd)

 

100-May 20, 2002

Ravelstein Saul Bellow (233 pages)

Bellow's thinly fictionalized memoir of Alan Bloom. I confess that I want to read this for purely selfish reasons. It is about my stomping grounds and my father was from the same cohort as Bellows and Bloom. We haven't read Bellow. (gi)

 

101-June 25, 2002

Ironweed William Kennedy

Mr. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winner follows Francis Phelan as he returns home after a long time on the road after the accidental death of his infant son Gerald. The opening pages are some of the most remarkable passages I’ve ever read. Francis works in

the cemetery where his parents are buried. His mother watches him as she weaves the roots of weeds then eats them with "an insatiable revulsion." The capper of Kennedy’s Albany trilogy. (ag)

 

102-August 19, 2002

The White Boy Shuffle: A Novel Paul Beatty (240 pages)

From Booklist: Gunnar Kaufmann, is one of the few black children in a predominantly white suburb, then spends his teenage years in all black-Latino-Asian west Los Angeles. Kaufmann's wry observations on his neighbors, his own poetry, and the events that lead him to a Boston University basketball scholarship are hilarious and often very moving.

 

103-September 16, 2002

Contempt Alberto Moravia (276 pages)

This book was #46 on the French list of the 50 best 20th century books. I don't know if that's a recommendation. Molteni, the narrator, aspires to be a man of letters, but has taken a job as a screenwriter in order to support his beautiful wife, Emilia. Frustrated by his work, he becomes convinced that she no longer loves him--that in fact she despises him--and a s he relentlessly interrogates her about the true nature of her feelings, he makes h is deepest fear (or secret desire) come true. (gi)

 

104-October 28, 2002

The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. William Makepeace Thackeray

Some critics like this better than Vanity Fair. The novel concerns the life and times of the title character and narrator, a roguish Irishman. The fast-flowing satirical narrative reveals a man dedicated to success and good fortune. (ag)

 

105-December 9, 2002

When We Were Orphans Kazuo Ishiguro (at Al’s House)

The narrator's parents disappear from their Shanghai home and he is sent to England, where he grows up, becomes a detective, and returns to Shanghai  (in the late 1930s) to try to solve the mystery. I gather that: the narrator is unreliable, his grasp of reality perhaps questionable, memory slips, people behave strangely, and historical and political forces move in mysterious ways. Praise for this book is pretty fullsome --it has been proclaimed a masterpiece The Sunday Times said "You seldom read a novel that so convinces you it is extending the possibilities of fiction". (gi)

 

106-January 23, 2003 The Body Artist  Don deLillo

 

If you're ready for another deLillo, I can recommend this one for its shortness and its weirdness.  It's part ghost story, part examination of the nature of art, and where it intersects with life.  Is the main character merely going off the deep end in the isolation of her grief?  It's a tiny book, beautifully written. (jd)

 

 

 

107- February 28, 2003 Soul Mountain Gao Xinjgian

 

In 1983, Chinese playwright, critic, fiction writer, and painter Gao Xingjian was diagnosed with lung cancer and faced imminent death. But six weeks later, a second examination revealed there was no cancer – he had won "a second reprieve from death." Faced with a repressive cultural environment and the threat of a spell in a prison farm, Gao fled Beijing and began a journey of 15,000 kilometers into the remote mountains and ancient forests of Sichuan in southwest China. The result of this epic voyage of discovery is Soul Mountain. (pw)

 

108-March 24, 2003 The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich Philip K. Dick

 

Science Fiction for people who hate science fiction. Philip K. Dick is the science fiction master whose novels and short stories have been the inspiration for the movies Bladerunner and Total Recall. In this novel, the earth has experienced an environmental catastrophe and is trying to colonize Mars. The few people unfortunate enough to be drafted to live on Mars relax with the recreational drug Can-D, which allows people to "translate" into layouts based on a Barbie-like doll called Perky Pat and enjoy the illusion of being back on earth. What happens when a cheaper, stronger drug enters the market with one nasty side effect: the trip doesn’t seem to end? A funny, mind-bending, brilliant novel. (ag)

 

109-April 2003 The Killer Angels Michael Shaara

A Pulitzer prize winner, and highly recommended by several friends.. It is a recreation of the battle of Gettysburg--written with emphasis on the major actors, and how their personalities and characters informed the action. I am a little loath to recommend a book about war right now--when the impending weirdness makes me want to wrap myself in a comforter and watch chick flicks--but I recently picked up this book and was grabbed by it. Although it looks fat--it reads quickly, with the ease of well crafted, matter of fact prose and really satisfying storytelling. I put it down to pick up Barry Lyndon, but intend to pick it up later--whether I have to or not. (gi)

 

110-May 2003 The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order Samuel P. Huntington

 

This book came out six years ago, and remains controversial, so I would love to read it in company.   Huntington asks what the critical distinctions are among peoples: ideology? economic? cultural?  Obviously from the title, Huntington must make the case for clashes between civilizations being the greatest threat to world peace.  Buy I don't really know anything about the "remaking of world order" part of the solution.  Kissinger and Brzezinski think it an important book.  I haven't heard what bin Laden thinks. (jd)

 

 

111-July 14, 2003 The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk, Book 1 Jaroslav Hasek

 

Considered one of the 100 Best Books from the 20th Centry literature, this Czech classic has a new translation by Zdenek Sadlon and Emmett Joyce. In Europe, The Good Soldier Svejk has a status like Catch 22 here in the states. From Amazon:

Hasek lays bare the ridiculousness of the old Habsburg monarchy: the ethnic rivalries, the endless bureaucracies, religions of convenience, the military hierarchy, as seen through the eyes of the not-as-simple-as-he-seems Czech reservist, Svjek.” (ag)

 

 

112-September 15, 2003 The Duke of Deception Geoffrey Wolff ; A Boy’s Life Tobias Wolff

 

Most of you probably have read Tobias’s excellent book about his life with his mother after her divorce, but a lesser known work is brother Geoffrey’s story about life with his father, a con artist and pathological liar. Together these books are a fascinating study of family life gone bad. Duke is out of print but can easily be found in libraries or online or at used bookstores. (ag)

 

113-October 9, 2003 The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway

I know that we are all (long) out of high school--but I HAVE NEVER READ THIS BOOK. In fact I have never read any of Hemingway's novels. Maybe you all want to revisit it and force me to fill this gap in my education? A plus: its short and composed of those famous terse sentences. (gi)

 

114-November 20, 2003 The Cave Jose Saramago

 

Cipriano Algor, an elderly potter, lives with his daughter Marta and her husband Mar‡al in a small village on the outskirts of The Center, an imposing complex of shops, apartment blocks, offices, and sensation zones. Mar‡al works there as a security guard, and Cipriano drives him to work each day before delivering his own humble pots and jugs. On one such visit, he is told not to make any more deliveries until further notice. People prefer plastic, he is told; it lasts longer and doesn't break. Unwilling to give up his craft, Cipriano tries his hand at making ceramic dolls. Astonishingly, The Center places an order for hundreds of figurines, and Cipriano and Marta set to work. In the meantime, Cipriano meets a young widow at the graves of their recently departed spouses, and a hesitant romance begins.

 

When Marta learns that she is pregnant and Mar‡al receives a promotion, they all move into an apartment in The Center. Soon they hear a mysterious sound of digging, and one night Mar‡al and Cipriano investigate. Horrified by the discovery, the family, which now includes the widow and a dog, sets off in a truck, heading for the great unknown. Suffused with the depth, humor, and above all the extraordinary sense f humanity that marks each of his novels, The Cave is sure to become an essential book of our time. (pw)

 

115- December 18, 2003 Atonement Ian McEwen

 

McEwen is a master at conveying obsessions in relationships.  I haven't read this yet, by the way, so can't give it a "wrenching" rating.  The NYTimes said "The idyllic situation of an English family in 1935 disintegrates, starting with a crime; World War II is no help either."  I should think not. (jd)

 

 

116- January 15, 2004 A House and Its Head Ivy Compton-Burnett

 

Yet another candidate that I haven't read.  Ivy Compton-Burnett's books are like those by Henry James except that she uses 60-70% fewer words.  Her seemingly cryptic dialogues reveal love, assumptions, disappointment, and betrayal in the briefest of sentences.  During her lifetime she was considered part of the avant-garde, perhaps because the dearth of description in her books.  You can't know what people and things look like because the real action is taking place inside the characters' heads.  I think Compton-Burnett is an amazing writer, but most of her novels are out of print.  Her own comment on her work was, "My novels are hard not to put down," but I get hooked every time I remember to get one out of the library. (jd)

 

117-February 19, 2004 Life of Pi Yann Martel

Won the Booker Prize, yadda, yadda, yadda, which may or may not attract the rest of you. It's okay if you fail to share my obsession with all things Booker. But what's not to like? There's perilous travel undertaken by the family of a Pondicherry zookeeper and, also, a tiger. The available stuff on Amazon may give you more than you wish to know, if you prefer not to know too much about the plot before reading the book. I would have given this to my brother-in-law, except that he read it as soon as it came out in cloth and loved it. (jd)

 

118-March 15, 2004 In Praise of the Stepmother Mario Vargas Llosa (Al's house)

The story, by the author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, covers the relationship between a middle-aged woman, her husband, and her precocious stepson, Stepmother engages both the reader's carnal and intellectual mind. Vargas Llosa both shocks and seduces the reader with his sensuous detail and psychological insightsA delight for lovers of erotica, classic visual art, and great literature.  Amazon Review  (ag)

 

 

119-April 19, 2004 The Green Man--Kingsley Amis 

A page turner and a ghost story.   I write from recollection (which makes me --like the protagonist--an unreliable narrator)--so bear with me.  The alcoholic proprietor of an historic pub/hostelry called the Green Man experiences unnatural phenomona.  His alcoholism, however, as well as his narcissitic delusions and his childish fantasies, make the meaning and origin of his experiences very uncertain.  A book as much about the trials and pitfalls of middle age as about ghosts--I remember this as being both funny, genuinely spooky, and thought provoking.  I had some difficulties with the end--but I think that could be a good topic for discussion. (gi)

 

120-May 10, 2004 Lovely Bones Alice Sebold 

 Probably everyone knows the general idea of the plot:  A young girl is murdered and "observes" her family and the police as they try to find her killer.  It got widely varying reviews from customers; some very high praise, others were disappointed.  Editorial reviews seemed very positive.  I'm curious. (pw)

 

121- June 2004 State of Siege Juan Goytisolo

This is a very strange book, both wrenching and confusing. I read it last fall, can't forget it, and would love the chance to discuss it with all of you. From Booklist: "Set during the siege of Sarajevo (with serpentine side trips to a Paris neighborhood also under siege), the book displays all the earmarks of magic realism--unexplained disappearances, people discovering they may be fictional characters, reincarnated saints, and dizzying shifts in narrative perspective that somehow manage to retain a similar authorial voice. But midway through, Goytisolo provides plausible explanations for all that has transpired--only to begin playing tricks with reality anew(Frank Sennett). jd

 

122- July 2004 Drop City T C Boyle

It is 1970, and a down-at-the-heels California commune has decided to relocate to the last frontier--the unforgiving landscape of interior Alaska--in the ultimate expression of going back to the land. North woods 1; hippie idealism 0. Short listed for the National Book Award. immoderately entertaining” NY Times 2/23/2003 (ag)

 

123 - September 2004

The Easter Parade Richard Yates I reread this book again last spring and found it as piercing and heartrending as I remembered it.  It follows the lives of sisters Sarah and Emily Grimes over four decades, as they try to find happiness in marriage, lovers, careers and family. Yates is one of my favorite writers. I find myself rereading chapters after I finished the novel trying to figure out how his taut, seemingly simple style gets me so involved with his characters. "Yates writes powerfully and enters completely and effortlessly into the lives of his characters . . . A spare yet wrenching tale."The New York Times Book Review (ag)

 

124- October 2004 The Darts of Cupid and Other Stories Edith Templeton

(National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction 2002)

 From Publishers Weekly

Rain dripping on cobblestones, the strains of violins in cafes, sexual games concealed beneath sophisticated conversation this is the European atmosphere of these seven exquisite stories by Prague-born Templeton, still active at 85. Though her characterizations are as sharp as her vision, she is a tantalizingly enigmatic storyteller, and the delicate tales on display in this first collection of her work gracefully evade categorization. (lt)

 

125 - November 2004 Old School Tobias Wolf

From Publishers Weekly

A scholarship boy at a New England prep school grapples with literary ambition and insecurity in this lucid, deceptively sedate novel, set in the early 1960s and narrated by the unnamed protagonist from the vantage point of adulthood. Each year, the school

hosts a number of visiting writers, and the boys in the top form are allowed to compete for a private audience by composing a poem or story. Wolff offers a delicate, pointed meditation on the treacherous charms of art.” (pw)  

 

 

126 - January 6, 2005 The Good Apprentice Iris Murdoch (Al's House)

From Amazon: “Edward Baltram is overwhelmed with guilt. His nasty little prank has gone horribly wrong: He has fed his closest friend a sandwich laced with a hallucinogenic drug and the young man has fallen out of a window to his death. Edward searches for redemption through a reunion with his famous father, the reclusive painter Jesse Baltram. Funny and compelling, The Good Apprentice is at once a supremely sophisticated entertainment and an inquiry into the spiritual crises that afflict the modern world.” (ag)

  

127 - February 17, 2005 (Tehran Two-for-One Special) Al's House

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Since we have read Lolita, and Jane Austen, and other works taken up by the Iranian ladies depicted-I think that it might be interesting to see their responses, and discuss the role given to reading in this book. “In 1995, after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran due to repressive policies, Azar Nafisi invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home. Since the books they read were officially banned by the government, the women were forced to meet in secret, often sharing photocopied pages of the illegal novels.” (Amazon) 384 pages (gi)

 

Persepolis, Story of a Childhood  by Marjane Satrapi   Yet another I've been meaning to read and since it's only about 150 pages and, literally, a comic book, (From Publisher's Weekly) Satrapi's autobiography is a timely and timeless story of a young girl's life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi's radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over.” (jd)

 

128 - March 22, 2005 By Night in Chile Robert Bolano

A deathbed confession revolving around Opus Dei and Pinochet, By Night in Chile pours out the self-justifying dark memories of the Jesuit priest Father Urrutia. “Mordant, haunting and sometimes elegaic...takes the reader hurtling into the darkest psychological folds of one man and one country. “ New York Times Book Review (pw)

 

129 - May 2, 2005 Heir to the Glimmering World Cynthia Ozick (Lisa's House)

Donna Seaman in Booklist

Ozick draws on sacred and literary traditions to create a tale at once compassionate and brightly satirical, otherworldly and down to earth. It's 1933 and the Mitwissers, a prominent Jewish German family, have escaped the Nazis and found a dubious yet irresistible champion in peripatetic and dissolute James Philip A'Bair, who is intrigued by Professor Rudolph Mitwisser's obsession with Karaism, a renegade eighth-century Baghdad-based Jewish doctrine rejecting rabbinical interpretations in favor of a strict focus on scripture… As her captivating characters struggle to come to terms with their raided past, Ozick brilliantly dramatizes the conflict between theology and science, various modes of mythmaking and survival, and "the hot drive to dissent, to subvert, to fly from what all men accept!" (pw)

 

130 - June 6, 2005 Jack Maggs Peter Carey (Lisa's House)

I haven’t read this one, but it was picked in a list of terrific historical fiction in a recent Wall Street Journal article. (The list included Regeneration and Sacred Hunger so it has I’m willing to give it some credence.) The novel takes place in London and the Australian penal colonies, following the title character as he experiences villainy and revenge. “Hard-boiled and thrillingly creepy, Jack Maggs meticulously evokes a world shrouded in fog, where everyone hides a dark secret.” (ag)

 

131 - August 1,  2005 Winner of the National Book Award : A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather Jincy Willett (336 pages)

Ok-couldn't resist the title.  From Publisher's Weekly: brilliant black comedy starring twins with antithetical dispositions and a handsome stranger with designs on both of them. Zaftig Abigail has turned promiscuity into an art form, while the literary, virginal Dorcas finds pleasure in the library-in its books, but also in the graffiti scrawled on its façade. (gi)

  

132 - September 26, 2005 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage Contemporaries)

by Mark Haddon 240 pages (Al's house)

Another book that intrigued me when I was shopping around Amazon.Description: Narrated by a fifteen-year-old autistic savant obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, this dazzling novel weaves together an old-fashioned mystery, a contemporary coming-of-age story, and a fascinating excursion into a mind incapable of processing emotions.

Reviews: "Moving. . . Think of The Sound and the Fury crossed with The Catcher in the Rye and one of Oliver Sacks's real-life stories." -Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  

 

133 - October 10, 2005 Pere Goriot by Balzac 

Yes, it's time to read a classic, this time Balzac, a famous French author in whose oeuvre I haven't made even a dent. I've actually started this already and would love to have folks reading it with me.  I haven't got much past the introductory scenes where we meet everyone in the boarding house from the point of view of a somewhat know-it-all and cynical narrator.  The characters are Dickensian, and rumor has it that the name of the main character--Rastignac--is a watchword in France for young man on the make.  I suspect that if we read this, we'll find ourselves casting the movie, the same way as we did with Zola's Germinal.

 

134 - November 17, 2005 Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert (Lisa's House)

 Never as acclaimed as Madame Bovary, but nonetheless an enthralling read. From Amazon: "It follows the amorous adventures of Frederic Moreau, a law student who, returning home to Normandy from Paris, notices Mme Arnoux, a slender, dark woman several years older than himself. It is the beginning of an infatuation that will last a lifetime….Blending love story, historical authenticity, and satire, Sentimental Education is one of the great French novels of the nineteenth century." (ag)

 

135 - January 19, 2006 Our Mutual Friend Charles Dickens (Al's house)

Our Mutual Friend was the last novel Charles Dickens completed and is, arguably, his darkest and most complex. The basic plot is vintage Dickens: an inheritance up for grabs, a murder, a rocky romance or two, plenty of skullduggery, and a host of unforgettable secondary characters. But in this final outing the author's heroes are more flawed, his villains more sympathetic, and the story as a whole more harrowing and less sentimental. (lt)

 

136-  March 13, 2006 The Man with the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren (Lisa's house)

I’ve never read this—and as a lifetime Chicagoan I always thought that I should. It's set in Chicago of  the ‘40s-50’s –or as one reviewer puts it “in the gritty underbelly of post-WWII Chicago”. It follows a musician, who after a stint in prison, returns home to be reclaimed by the heroin habit that he had kicked. Its seems pretty grim—but the general consensus is that its grimness is relieved by the author’s humor and by his affection for his complex and very human characters. (gi)

 

137 - April 6, 2006 The Persistence of Memory, Tony Eprile (al's house)

from NYT Book Review: "Part fable, part coming-of-age story, Eprile's first novel concerns Paul Sweetbread, a South African Jew who becomes a foot soldier in one of the cold war's less remembered conflicts: the apartheid regimes' bloody campaign in Angola and Namibia. Paul is torn between his agitated liberal conscience and the desire to prove himself a loyal South African." (jd)

 

138 - May 4, 2006 Two Lives, William Trevor (Lisa's House)

I think that I've read most of Trevor's amazing short stories (though its hard to say--since in his eighties -I think?- he's still cranking them out). I've never read one of his novels though--it may be that I haven't wanted to see his rather unflinching view of human weakness and wickedness played out in full. Two Lives, which is a pair of somewhat related novellas seems a good compromise. They are both about women in their fifties (a group I find myself naturally interested in). From Amazon: The two lives of the title are brilliantly illuminated in a pair of short novels, Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria, that exemplify the biting, tragicomic work of this Anglo-Irish master. The first novel is a sorrowful love story, the second a sort of thriller. Each of Trevor's two heroines is trapped in her life, one in Ireland and the other in Italy, and each has some experience of the transformative power of literature, a subject the author knows at first hand. Nobody can break your heart with such laconic precision. To be read with Bushmill's in hand. (gi)

 

139 - June 12, 2006 A Dictionary of Maqiao, Han Shaogong (Julia Lovell, Translator) Al's house

This masterful and quite heady novel tackles the history of a fictitious town buried deep in China, a place protected by rivers and mountains. When a "sent-down" worker from the city joins a group of urbanites to live in the town, they discover a place that's almost a metaphor for Chinese life -- cast in reverse. (hk)

 

140 - August 3, 2006 Any Human Heart, William Boyd (Lisa's House)

Like The New Confessions, this novel is an ersatz autobiography of a man whose career rambles over many of the key movements or events of the 20th century. The writer Logan Gonzago Mountstuart's journey takes in the Bloomsbury set, the General Strike, the Spanish Civil War, 1930s Americans in Paris, wartime espionage, New York avant garde art, even the Baader-Meinhof gang--all with a stellar supporting cast. Publisher's Weekly "Surely one of the most beguiling books of this season…rich, sophisticated, often hilarious." Named to Atlantic's "2003 Books of the Year." (ag)

 

141- August 31, 2006 Mr. Palomar, Italo Calvino Al's House

Italo Calvino's book, "Mr. Palomar," is a superbly crafted novel about an intellectual quest for order and reason in a chaotic and unreasonable world. Mr. Palomar's mistake is in thinking that things would be better (or, at least he'd be less anxious) if he could just figure out how to get everything to calmly step over to the "ordered" side of the line. He is the twentieth century's Don Quixote, not on a romantic quest but an intellectual one. (pw)

 

142-  October 9, 2006 Ingenious Pain, Andrew Miller (Lisa's house)

From Amazon: "Set during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, this novel follows James Dyer, an English freak of nature who, since birth, has been impervious to physical pain. By turns a shill for a quack pain- reliever at county fairs, an object of study by a wealthy collector of human oddities, and, eventually, a surgeon, James Dyer--and through him the reader-- gains exposure to a panoply of 18th-century philosophical thought, medical practice, historic events, and larger-than-life rogues and heroes, both fictional and real. Intelligent, deeply pleasurable reading." (ag)

 

 

143 - November 20, 2006 The Plot against America, Philip Roth (Al's House)

(From Amazon) "What if" scenarios are often suspect. They are sometimes thinly veiled tales of the gospel according to the author, taking on the claustrophobic air of a personal fantasia that can't be shared. Such is not the case with Philip Roth's tour de force, The Plot Against America. It is a credible, fully-realized picture of what could happen anywhere, at any time, if the right people and circumstances come together. The book explores a wholly imagined thesis and sees it through to the end: Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR for the Presidency in 1940. He was a true American hero: brave, modest, handsome, a patriot. According to some reliable sources, he was also a rabid isolationist, Nazi sympathizer, and a crypto-fascist. It is these latter attributes of Lindbergh that informthe novel. (jd)

 

144 - January 8, 2007 The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession Paulo Coelho

From Booklist: This tale is the philosophical and spiritual chronicle of one man's quest for self-discovery. Stunned by his wife's inexplicable disappearance from their Paris home and immediately suspected of foul play by the authorities and the press, the unnamed protagonist, a best-selling writer, is forced to reexamine both his marital relationship and his own life... Interwoven with details drawn from his life, the mesmerizing narrative offers a highly personal meditation on the meaning and the power of love.

 

145- February 19, 2007 Beware of God, Shalom Auslander (Al's house)
These are short, elegant stories, often allegorical, filled with whimsical moments (e.g. hamsters
discussing their owner's taste in paperbacks) as well as fresh, irreverent perspectives on religious worship
and the existence of God. It was a brisk, easy read. (hk)

 

146-March 19, 2007 Ghostwritten David Mitchell (448 pages) Lisa's House
A weird book that really intrigues me. From Publishers Weekly: Nine disparate but interconnected tales (and a short coda) in Mitchell's impressive debut examine 21st-century notions of community, coincidence, causality, catastrophe and fate. Each episode in this mammoth sociocultural tapestry is related in the first person, and set in a different international locale. Already a sensation on its publication in England, Mitchell's wildly variegated story can be abstruse and elusive in its larger themes, but the gorgeous prose and vibrant, original construction make this an accomplishment not to be missed. (gi)

 

147-May 21, 2007 Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness, John M. Hull (218 pages) (Al's House)
From Library Journal: In 1983, Hull, a university lecturer who had lived with sight problems from the age of 13, found that the dark discs he had fought for 36 years had finally overwhelmed his sight. The spiritual and emotional reactions to his vision loss form the basis of this poignant memoir, and the many questions he asks contribute to his eventual acceptance of his fate. A richly textured dream life adds to his exploration of the "other world" of blindness, and the understanding and meaning he finds coalesce into a powerful work. (hk)

 

148-June 18, 2007 On Beauty, Zadie Smith (464 pages)--Al's House
From Publishers Weekly: This is a superb novel, a many-cultured Middlemarch…The parade of characters swirl around two antagonistic Rembrandt scholars in a Massachusetts college town. Howard Belsey is a self-absorbed, working-class British white man married to African-American Kiki and father to three cafe-au-lait children. Monty Kipps is a West Indian stuffed-shirt married to the generous Carlene, with a gorgeous daughter, Veronica. The book is funny and infuriating, crammed with multiple shades of love and lust, midlife and teenlife crises. (lt)

 

149-July 23, 2007 The Line of Beauty Alan Holinghurst (437 pages) Al's House
The book is primarily about a group of well educated, well heeled, gay men in Thatcherite England. According to reviews, however, the plot is not as notable as the beauty of the writing, the richness of characterization, and the way that the author details the particularities of class and time, revealing the significance of small things. Evidently, the title is taken from Hogarth’s attempt to codify aesthetics “The Analysis of Beauty”. Reportedly the novel draws from both Hogarth’s vision of aesthetics, and perhaps something of the vision of society expressed in his drawings. (gi)

 

150-October 8, 2007 Seven Types of Ambiguity, Elliot Perlman (640 pages) Al's House
New Yorker: "Cheekily swiping the title of William Empson's seminal work of literary criticism, this second novel by Perlman, an Australian writer, presents seven first-person narrators-whose lives are all nudged off course by a man's abduction of his ex-girlfriend's young son-in a compulsively readable tangle. (jd)

 

151-November 19, 2007 The Island of the Colorblind, Oliver Sacks (336 pages) Lisa'a house
From Amazon: Drawn to the Micronesian island of Pingelap by reports of a community of people born totally colorblind, Dr. Sacks set up a clinic in a one-room dispensary. There he listened to patients describe their colorless world in terms rich with pattern and tone, luminance and shadow. Then, in Guam, he investigated a puzzling neurodegenerative paralysis, making housecalls amid crowing cockerels, cycad jungles, and the remains of a colonial culture. The experience affords Sacks an opportunity to elaborate on such personal passions as botany and history and to explore the meaning of islands, the dissemination of species, the birth of disease, and the nature of deep geologic time (pw)

 

152-January 7, 2008 The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (560 pages) Lisa's House
His grandfather and great-grandfather were presidents, his father was a congressman. Henry Adams always felt like an underachiever. His account of his life and efforts to come to terms with his family history is one of the most highly regarded of the 20th Century American literature. From Amazon: "Among the oddest and most enlightening books in American literature. It contains thousands of memorable one-liners about politics, morality, culture, and transatlantic relations" (ag)

 

153-February 11, 2008 The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion (240 pages)
I’ve been wanting to read this for quite a while—but need encouragement to pick it up. Recently, Didion’s husband of 40 years died suddenly after visiting their daughter, who was dying more slowly in a hospital. According to reviews, Didion recounts the events, and their attendant psychological states, with the cool precision and the beautiful prose that she is known for. I would like the opportunity to investigate an aspect of the human condition that many of us are likely to experience to some degree, in the company of such an unflinching intellect. (gi)

 

154-March 10 Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, Elizabeth Royte (336 pages) Lisa's House
As an Amazon customer put it: GARBAGE LAND is Elizabeth Royte's plucky voyage of discovery down the various waste streams to their ends - burying, burning, composting, recycling - of the assorted components - glass, plastic, e-waste, metals, sewage, food scraps, paper, plant debris - comprising the 210 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in the U.S. per annum. Royte really gets into it; she spends a year separating, weighing and categorizing her own household throwaways, goes along with her neighborhood's sanitation men to pick-up the detritus of others, and travels near and far outside her home in New York City to discern and share what ultimately happens to the discarded stuff that languishes even now in your waste bin. (gi)

155-April 7, 2008 The Ruby in Her Navel, Barry Unsworth Al's House
"Set in the Middle Ages during the brief yet glittering rule of the Norman kings. Thurstan is dispatched to uncover the conspiracies brewing against his king. During his journeys, he encounters the woman he loved as a youth; and the renewed promise of her love, as well as the mysterious presence of an itinerant dancing girl, sends him on a spiritual odyssey that forces him to question the nature of his ambition and the folly of uncritical reverence for authority. With the exquisite prose and masterful narrative drive that have earned him widespread acclaim, Barry Unsworth transports the reader to a distant past filled with deception and mystery, and whose racial, tribal, and religious tensions are still with us today." (lt)

156-May 5, 2008 Blood and Thunder, Hampton Sides Lisa's House
From Time Magazine's 10 Best Books: "With the fur trapper and wilderness scout Kit Carson as his focus, Sides has constructed a heartbreaking history of three cultures in the Southwest--American Indians, Mexicans and Americans--during and after the Mexican-American war, an age of bloody confrontations in which the Navajo would be all but swept away." (jd)

157-June 2, 2008 Elizabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee Al's House
Elizabeth Costello is a philosophical novel that would make for a great discussion.  Or is it really a novel at all?  I was intrigued because along with the philosophical issues accompanying the topics addressed in the book, there is the larger question of how discourse can take place when the participants cannot accept a common ground for discussion. (jd)

158-July 7, 2008 The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Just as Garbageland traced where all our garbage goes, this book examines how we get our food. Pollan pulls together information from myriad sources and fields to shed light on how a process so basic became something so politicized and complicated. His section on how corn became king is particularly pertinent because of the recent reports that the environmental cost in producing ethanol negates any gains—and drives up food costs. (ag)

159-September 15, 2008 Quartet in Autumn, Barbara Pym
Shortlisted for the 1977 Booker Prize. I always enjoy her books, and hope the Booker prize gives the nomination weight. (lt)

160-November 3, 2008 An Equal Music, Vikram Seth
From Publishers Weekly: "Seth finds his true voice in this lyrical, ravishing tale of star-crossed lovers, an English violinist and the pianist he desperately pursues... This novel is tightly controlled, original in design, awash in the music and spirit of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, Brahms and Bach." (pw)

161-December 8, 2008 March, Geraldine Brooks (Lisa's House)
From Publishers Weekly: "Brooks's luminous second novel, after 2001's acclaimed Year of Wonders, imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women... Brooks, who based the character of March on Alcott's transcendentalist father, Bronson, relies heavily on primary sources for both the Concord and wartime scenes; her characters speak with a convincing 19th-century formality, yet the narrative is always accessible." Won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006. (jd)

162-January 5, 2009 The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron (460 pages)
I've never read this.  I like Styron.  Winner of the Pulitzer in 1967, it's considered an American Masterpiece. Its about Nat Turner, the leader of a bloody slave rebellion, and  is framed as a memoir, narrated by Turner in the night before his execution.  (gi)

163-February 9, 2009 Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, Rajiv Chandrasekaran
A heartbreaking account of the naiveté, arrogance and pure boneheadedness that defines the Iraq occupation. While the author is critical of the Bush Administration, he writes quite sympathetically about many the U.S. functionaries (many chosen mainly for their steadfast beliefs in the Republican party and the free market) who found themselves in an impossible position with little aid or guidance forthcoming.  NY Times picked it as One of the Best Books of 2007. (ag)

164-March 16, 2009 Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra , a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed....Adichie tells her profoundly gripping story primarily through the eyes and lives of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family... It's a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing" (Publishers Weekly)

165-April 21, 2009 A Landing on the Sun, Michael Frayn (Lisa's house)
Frayn has created a tender civil service comedy of the kind that only an Englishman could bring off. The almost anonymous narrator, a basically dry-as- dust denizen of Whitehall, is charged with investigating the mysterious demise of a colleague, Stephen Summerchild,who had fallen to his death from high in the Admiralty offices years before. Bit by bit, through old files,photographs and a cache of uproarious tapes, he pieces together the strangest romance: that of Summerchild and a Russian-born Oxford philosophy don who had been summoned, in a moment of government madness, to investigate the nature of happiness. Amid much beautifully spoofed academic chatter, the two find a profound attraction and create a literal love nest in a tiny roomhigh under the government eaves.  This is a masterly comic performance with a hint of rue. (pw)

166-May 26, 2009 Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks
Sacks examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people--from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hypermusical from birth; from people with "amusia," to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds--for everything but music. (lt)

167-July 13, 2009 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
According to a reviewer on amazon.com, "the titular Oscar is a 300-pound-plus "lovesick ghetto nerd" with zero game (except for Dungeons & Dragons) who cranks out pages of fantasy fiction with the hopes of becoming a Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien." His family sounds just as appealing.  352 pages. (jd)

168-August 24, 2009 Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, Doris Lessig (449 pages).  Lisa's house
From Library Journal:"What is better than a really good biography? Not many novels," says Lessing in her first chapter of what is destined to be one of the best autobiographies of our time.... From her childhood in the wilds of what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe ) through her young married life in Salisbury to her Communist years during World War II, Lessing is able both to capture the immediacy of her youthful feelings and to comment on her past self with both compassion and the distance that maturity brings. This is a wonderfully vivid memoir that reveals the origins of a remarkable writer. (gi)

169-September 21, 2009 Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garicia Marquez Al's House
A ninety-year old man reflects on his sexual life in this novella (130 pages).  “A strange and luminous novel” (NY Times Book Review). (ag)

170-October 26, 2009 Indian Summer, William D. Howells (Lisa's House)
Indian Summer is the first book examined in Noel Perrin's delightful and quirky collection of essays about unjustly neglected  booksA Reader's Delight.  I gave Nan Indian Summer as a Christmas gift and she loved it: Prose like Edith Wharton, but a happy ending. The plot involves the divided attraction of journalist who recently had a scalding tryout in politics and two women he meets while licking his wounds in Italy. As Perrin writes, "the book flashes with wit, gleams with intelligence, glows with sense…a true minor classic.”  (ag)

171-November 23, 2009  Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
Amazon.com "Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited
on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take
. (pw)

172-December 14, 2009 Quarantine: A Novel, Jim Crace (256 pages)
Short listed for the Booker, the novel recounts Jesus' 40 days in the desert—but here he is only one of 5 pilgrims—all facing their own temptations in the wilderness. In particular, I gather, it focuses on a woman who is waiting for her abusive husband to complete his lingering death—only to have him healed by Christ. (Is he Lazarus?)  This was another book on the summer “buttonhole” list.  There was a long excerpt posted (about the woman and her husband) that sucked me in right away.  Crace is celebrated for his ability to create a sense of place in the natural world—and I gather that he excels at this here. (gi)

  173-January 11, 2010 Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World, David Bodanis
David Bodanis weaves tales of romance, divine inspiration, and fraud through a lucid account of the invisible force that permeates our universe. In these pages the virtuoso scientists who plumbed the secrets of electricity come vividly to life, Thomas Edison; the visionary Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, and Alan Turing. (pw)

174-February 15, 2010 Gods Behaving Badly, Marie Phillips
And you thought Zeus, Apollo, Eros, et al were meddlesome back in the day. (jd)

175-March 15, 2010 The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus, Margaret Atwood

“A fascinating and rather attractive version of this old, old story, a creation tale about the founding of our civilization meant to be heard over and over and over.”–Chicago Tribune (pw)

 

176-April 6, 2010 The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenidies

The first novel of the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex. I thought the movie made from Suicides was an atmospheric puzzler. The whole mystery of death, sex, love and desire all wrapped up and examined by the communal voice of adolescent boys. I am curious to see how this is conveyed in print. (243 pages) ag

 

177-May 10, 2010 The Lazarus Project, Alexander Hemon

I adore Hemon's writing anyway, but I've read this and keep thinking about it. Besides what's said in the review below, the book features an obsession with an incident from Chicago history, a road trip, and the unease that can accompany encounters with people from a past you thought you left behind. From the New York Times: “The gifted Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon has taken the formal structure of humor, the grammar of comedy, the rhythms and beats of a joke, and used them to reveal despair. His new novel, “The Lazarus Project,” is a remarkable, and remarkably entertaining, chronicle of loss and hopelessness and cruelty propelled by an eloquent, irritable existential unease. It is, against all odds, full of humor and full of jokes. It is, at the same time, inexpressibly sad.” (jd)

 

178-June 7, 2010 The Yiddish Policemen's Union , Michael Chabon (al's house)

I would love to hear the discussion on this one. I found it entertaining in a very unnerving way.

From Publisher’s Weekly:"They are the "frozen Chosen," two million people living, dying and kvetching in Sitka, Alaska, the temporary homeland established for displaced World War II Jews. Chabon's ambitious and entertaining new novel is a murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller. The novel begins with a fascinating historical footnote: what if, as Franklin Roosevelt proposed on the eve of World War II, a temporary Jewish settlement had been established on the Alaska panhandle? (lt)

179-July 5, 2010 The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann (Al's House)

From Publisher’s Weekly: “In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z , site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn't stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction. By interweaving the great story of Fawcett with his own investigative escapades in South America and Britain , Grann provides an in-depth, captivating character study that has the relentless energy of a classic adventure tale.” 352 pages (gi)

 

180-August 2, 2010 The Accordionist's Son, Bernardo Atxaga (Al's house)
I haven't read this yet but it's on my list. Axtago is a Basque writer, and this book is framed by the Basque diaspora as well as the tenacious hold of the language, culture, and history on this tiny ethnicity and on the rest of Spain . Atxaga was named one of “21 top writers for the 21st century” (The Observer, U.K. ) A plot summary from The Guardian: “On his horse ranch in California , David Imaz whiles away the time until his vital heart operation by looking back at his upbringing in the Basque country of the 1960s and 1970s. The bombing of Guernica and the Spanish Civil War reverberate through his memories as he tries to uncover whether the despotic father he detests has blood on his hands.” (jd)

 

181-September 13, 2010 The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry  (lisa'a house)

"The main character is a one-hundred year old woman, Roseanne McNulty, who now resides in the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital . Having been a patient for some fifty years or more, Roseanne decides to write an autobiography. She calls it "Roseanne's testimony of herself" and charts her life and that of her parents, living in Sligo at the turn of the 20th Century. She keeps her story hidden under the loose floorboard in her room, unsure as yet if she wants it to be found. The second narrative is the "commonplace book" of the current chief Psychiatrist of the hospital, Dr Grene. The hospital now faces imminent demolition. He must decide who of his patients are to be transferred, and who must be released into the community. He is particularly concerned about Rose, and begins tentatively to attempt to discover her history. It soon becomes apparent that both Roseanne and Dr Grene have differing stories as to her incarceration and her early life, but what is consistent in both narratives is that Roseanne fell victim to the religious and political upheavals in Ireland in the 1920s – 1930s." (Wikipedia) Short-listed for 2008 Booker Prize (lt)

 

182-October 18, 2010 The Zero, Jess Walter (336 pages) at Ikosium Kafe 5200 N Clark St.

The story involves a cop who witnessed the attacks on 9/11 and how it affects his life afterwards. The reviews all stressed how this grim topic is handled with humor and irreverence which gets to the heart of the matter more effectively than a more somber treatment would. From the Wall Street Journal: "'The Zero' could end up as the 'Catch 22' of 9/11 (with) its brilliant ironies, its deadpan truths, its insider smarts and its everyguy hero ... (Walter) elevates 'The Zero' above mere satire to Kafkaesque parable." (ag)

183-December 13, 2010 The Age of Grief, Jane Smiley (224 pages)
This is a book of short works: all of them very good-all first person meditations-by private and singular people-on being alone and being with others—and being alone while being with others.  It is the novella at the end of the book, though, that really packs a punch.  It is the narrative of a man who believes that his wife, with whom he has three daughters, has become disaffected with her life with him, and is having an affair.  We can only touch the wife’s experience through the observations of her husband, which are loving, detailed, grounded in deep domestic familiarity, and the sharp fear of substantiating what he sees.  Even though the narrator is an odd person, whose reactions are very unlike what mine would be, I felt like I was looking out of his eyes, and that his experience became part of my personal history. I think all of the stories form a cohesive whole, with the final novella as the centerpiece.  (gi)

184-January 3, 2011 The Little Disturbances of Man, Grace Paley (189 pages)

When I was writing short stories and totally turned off by the Ann Beatty school of affectless literature, I came across the short stories of Grace Paley. Here were gorgeously written stories about people with personalities and the voices to convey them. They lived in places that weren’t a collection of Walmarts and fast food places. And they had real problems instead of unspecified ennui.  A short but amazing collection. (ag)

 

185-February 14, 2011 An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, Brock Clarke (Al's House)
Opening lines:   “I, Sam Pulsifer, am the man who accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts, and who in the process killed two people, for which I spent ten years in prison and, as letters from scholars of American literature tell me, for which I will continue to pay a high price long into the not-so-sweet hereafter. This story is locally well known, and so I won't go into it here. It's probably enough to say that in the Massachusetts Mt. Rushmore of big, gruesome tragedy, there are the Kennedys, and Lizzie Borden and her ax, and the burning witches at Salem, and then there's me.” (jd)

 

186-March 17, 2011 Deep Water, Patricia Highsmith (256 pages) Lisa's House
From Amazon: In Deep Water, set in the small town of Little Wesley, Vic and Melinda Meller's loveless marriage is held together only by a precarious arrangement whereby in order to avoid the messiness of divorce, Melinda is allowed to take any number of lovers as long as she does not desert her family. Eventually, Vic tries to win her back by asserting himself through a tall tale of murder—one that soon comes true (gi).

187-April 13, 2011 Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev (200 pages) Al's House
This is my nomination in the “classics of world literature I never got around to reading” division. Here’s a testimony by Gary Shteyngart from the NPR website:
" My favorite novel is Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, a 200-page ravishing knockout of a book that explains just about everything you need to know about families, love, heartache, religion, duels and the institution of serfdom in 19th-century Russia, not to mention advice on how to seduce your housekeeper's young daughter. In short, it's a Russian masterpiece, one written so beautifully and with such economy, that when you finish reading it you feel a little shaken and a little stirred. A vodka martini on the front porch might be in order.” (jd)

 

188-May 16, 20011 Little Bee, Chris Cleave (276 pages) Lisa's House
From Booklist: Little Bee, smart and stoic, knows two people in England, Andrew and Sarah, journalists she chanced upon on a Nigerian beach after fleeing a massacre in her village, one grisly outbreak in an off-the-radar oil war. After sneaking into England and escaping a rural “immigration removal” center, she arrives at Andrew and Sarah’s London suburb home only to find that the violence that haunts her has also poisoned them. In an unnerving blend of dread, wit, and beauty, Cleave slowly and arrestingly excavates the full extent of the horror that binds Little Bee and Sarah together. (pw)

 

189-June 13, 2011 Black Hole, Charles Burns (Al's house)
"Set in mid-1970s Seattle, this graphic novel tells the story of adolescents struck by a mysterious, sexually-transmitted disease that changes them in unpredictable ways. Some break out in boils or bumps; one grows a second mouth on his chest; another sheds her skin, like a snake….Burns' art is tremendous, in individual panels but especially through the page layouts and motifs that present themselves throughout the work” (Jonathan Lasser of About.com). Weeks after I read the book, images and bits of narrative kept coming back to me, until I had to sit down to read it again.  This is a creepy book and that creepiness perfectly captures the self revulsion that can be a part of adolescence. (ag)

190-July 12, 2011 The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
(528 pages)

From Bookmarks Magazine: "At its core, The Little Stranger is an old-fashioned ghost story, complete with spooky house, eccentric inhabitants, an air of general madness and malcontent, and a narrator who may not be as mild-mannered as he seems. What elevates this novel from the crowded genre is Waters’s ability to evoke the subtleties of the past as she skillfully weaves tension and dread into each paragraph. The reviewer from Newsday likened this tale to the psychological classic The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. (lt)

191-August 22, 2011 Blame, Michele Huneven (304 pages) lisa's house
From “When college professor Patsy MacLemoore comes to in the drunk tank of the Altadena sheriff’s department, she can’t remember what she’s done. All she knows is that she has been there before and vowed she’d never return. This time it turns out that Patsy has killed two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, while driving on a suspended license.”  I’m guessing that the rest of the book is about the turns her life takes after being sentenced to four years in prison. (jd)

192-September 21, 2011 Dreams of Distant Lives, Lee K. Abbott Lisa's House
From Publishers Weekly: "Warmth lifts and fills these tales by an accomplished storyteller--they are also infused with humor, a bittersweet sorrow and deep affection for the follies and foibles of people who love. ...Abbott delivers a wry and respectful vision of human nature unsullied by sentimentality or falseness." (pw)

193-October 10, 2011 The Electric Michelangelo, Sarah Hall (368 pages)
From Publishers Weekly: "Hall's mellifluous coming-of-age story about an apprentice tattoo artist from the north coast of England who reinvents himself in Coney Island, N.Y ... follows Cyril Parks from his youth in the 1910s ... through his hard-won apprenticeship to the seedy rogue Eliot Riley, under whose exacting tutelage he becomes a skilled tattoo artist. Hall's writing is pure joy, especially when describing the childhood seaside shenanigans of Cy and his boy pals." (lt)

194-November 27, 2011 The Big Short, Michael Lewis (320 pages)
From The New York Times: “No one writes with more narrative panache about money and finance than Mr. Lewis, the author of “Liar’s Poker,” that now classic portrait of 1980s Wall Street. His entertaining new book does not attempt a macro view of the financial crisis, but instead proposes to open a small window on the calamities by recounting the stories of some savvy renegades who cashed in on their conviction that the system was rotten.” (ag)

195-January 9, 2012 Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows (200 pages) Lisa's House
From Booklist: "Fallows manages to take the relatively dry subject of translation and create a warm and witty memoir. Dwelling less on her own feelings then on the intricacies of language mastery, she shares experiences after she and her husband moved to China that taught her just how complex Mandarin can be. Such as the fact that there are 400 syllables in Mandarin as opposed to 10 times that number in English, making tone crucial in conversation. Fallows makes all this fascinating by writing in a thoroughly engaging manner that not only invites readers into her experiences, but also delights them with her discoveries." (gi)

196-February 2012 Parrot and Olivier in America, Peter Carey (400 pages)
Here’s a quote from the starred review in Publishers Weekly:  “The eminently talented Carey (Theft) has the gift of engaging ventriloquism, and having already channeled the voices of Dickens's Jack Maggs and the Australian folk hero/master thief Ned Kelly, he now inhabits Olivier-Jean-Baptist de Clarel de Barfleur, a fictionalized version of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose noble parents are aghast at his involvement in the events surrounding Napoleon's return and the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X. To remove him from danger, they send him to America, where priggish snob Olivier inspires Carey's humor during his self-centered adventures in New York, New England, and Philadelphia. . . . this wonderful novel is picaresque and Dickensian, with humor and insight injected into an accurately rendered period of French and American history.” (jd)

197-March 2012 Await your Reply, Dan Chaon (368 pages)
The book opens with a Northwestern University dropout named Ryan — one of three alienated main characters — shivering in the passenger seat of a car, his severed hand sitting next to him in a Styrofoam cooler. This is one of three taut narratives that Chaon has intermingled. This novel earned Mr. Chaon a National Book Award nomination, a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letter." (ag)

198-April 2012 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
(400 pages)
Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories? --Tom Nissley

199-June 4, 2012 The Children's Book, A. S. Byatt
From Publishers Weekly: "Byatt's overstuffed latest wanders from Victorian 1895 through the end of WWI, alighting on subjects as diverse as puppetry, socialism, women's suffrage and the Boer War, and suffers from an unaccountably large cast. The narrative centers on two deeply troubled families of the British artistic intelligentsia: the Fludds and the Wellwoods. Olive Wellwood, the matriarch, is an author of children's books, and their darkness hints at hidden family miseries. (lt)

200-July 2, 2012 Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer Richard Holmes (lisa's house)
A daring mix of travel, biographical sleuthing and personal memoir, it broke all the conventions of the genre and remains one of the most intoxicating, magical works of modern literary exploration ever published. Sleeping rough, he retraces Robert Louis Stevenson's famous journey through the Cevennes. Caught up in the Parisian riots of the 1960s, he dives back in time to the terrors of Wordsworth and of Mary Wollstonecraft marooned in Revolutionary Paris and then into the strange tortured worlds of Gerard de Nerval...(gi)

201-August 6, 2012 Open City by Teju Cole (272 pages) Al's house
I’ve read this twice and would love to discuss it with you because there are so many directions in which the discussion/argument could go. In short: over the course of about a year, the narrator, a Nigerian resident in psychiatry in NYC, walks around the city reflecting on what he sees, the history behind it, and his own personal history. Some might say there isn’t much of a plot, but I would disagree. Widely reviewed, this was one of the NYT’s Notable Books of 2011. (jd)

202-September 10, 2012 Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: a Tale of Love and Fallout, Lauren Redniss (lisa's house)
I got really curious about this when it first came out and am very intrigued by the decision to make it a graphic novel. From the San Francisco Chronicle: "Radioactive is an imaginative mix of drawings, photo collages and text; the result is a tender and haunting tribute to the scientists who fell in love while conducting research that led to their discovery of radium and polonium...Most powerful, however, are the seemingly glowing images (the glow-in-the-dark cover is admittedly cool, too) that Redniss has created using cyanotype printing. (pw)

203-October 16, 2012 Charles Dickens:  A Life Jane Smiley
Instead of giving a chronological account of Dicken s life, Smiley explores his major works, narrative techniques and innovative voice while presenting him as his contemporaries would have known him (sg)

204-December 3, 2012 We Need to Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver (432 pages) Al's house
A novel in the form of letters (to her husband) from a woman whose teenage son has killed classmates and teachers in a Columbine style shootout. As divisive as a buzz saw (gi)

205-January 14, 2013 Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (Al's house)
We have had some great discussions when we’ve tackled the novels of Russell Banks, (Affliction,  Continental  Drift). In this novel his protagonist is a convicted  sex offender, guilty of soliciting sex from an underage female.  After prison , he is forced to live under a Florida causeway with other men whom society finds “both despicable and impossible to remove and thus by most people simply wished out of existence.” Once again Banks takes a story straight out the headlines of today’s papers and makes the unfathomable understandable. “Russell Banks’s work presents without falsehood and with tough affection the uncompromising moral voice of our time... I trust his portraits of America more than any other—the burden of it, the need for it, the hell of it.” (Michael Ondaatje ) (ag)

206-February 11, 2013 Women in their Beds: New and Selected Stories Gina Berriault (342 pages) Lisa's House
Whether focusing on yuppies or drifters, social workers or Indian restaurateurs, heroin addicts or teenage baby-sitters, Berriault (The Lights of Earth) writes with great psychological acuity and a compassion that comes always from observation, never from sentimentality. Each story is constructed so gracefully that it's easy to overlook how carefully crafted Berriault's writing is. Her lilting, musical prose adds a sophisticated sheen to the truths she mine. (lt)

207-March 20, 2013 The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller (256 pages) Al's House
My turn to propose a book by a Nobel Prize winner—kiss of death, I know, but at least it’s shorter than Fatelessness by Imre Kertész, my other contender from a Nobel Laureate. From Publisher’s Weekly: “Five Romanian youths under the Ceausescu regime are the focus of this moving depiction of the struggle to become adults who keep ‘eyes wide open and tightly shut at the same time’. . .  .few books have conveyed with such clarity the convergence of terror and boredom under totalitarianism.” (jd)

208-April 29, 2013 A Journey to the End of the Millennium, A Novel of the Middle Ages A. B. Yehoshua (Al's house)
in A.D. 999, Ben Attar, a wealthy Jewish merchant from Tangier, embarks on a perilous voyage to Paris accompanied by his two wives, his Arab partner, a rabbi from Seville and a young black slave. His goal is to convince his nephew and ex-business partner, Raphael Abulafia, that bigamy (common among Arabs and not unheard-of among medieval Jews, we are told) is an honorable practice; that it's possible to love two wives equally and fairly. "Extraordinary . . . Yehoshua is so graceful and eloquent that his work's timeliness also succeeds, paradoxically, in making it timeless" (The New York Times Book Review) (sg)

209-May 29, 2013 Reading by Lightning  Joan Thomas (408 pages) Lisa's House
2009 Commonwealth Book Prize, Best 1st Book, Canada
For Lily Piper, life on the prairie is spare, austere, and tucked in. She is restless — not the daughter she feels her mother wants. When puberty hits, an abrupt shift in fate has Lily on her way to England to care for her aging grandmother. There, she experiences life in all its ambiguity, until she is called home to face a future she thought she had escaped. Thomas’s prose is intimate, elegant and devastatingly funny; her engrossing story of Lily Piper tells us something about how we make sense of the future when the future is something we can hardly imagine. (lt)

210-June 26, 2013 Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (128 pages) Lisa's House
Two of my colleagues have been hectoring me to read Train Dreams (first published as a novella in Paris Review in 2002, this version is slightly different.) Train Dreams was one of the three fiction books proffered by the Pulitzer Prize jury only to be rejected by the Pulitzer Prize board. (jd)

211-August 5, 2013 The Privileges Jonathan Dee (Al's House)
"Picture-perfect and ferociously confident and ambitious Adam and Cynthia marry right out of college and quickly have children, April and Jonas. Adam excels at a private equity firm in Manhattan, but, impatient for the big money, he also launches a high-stakes insider-trading venture....A suspenseful, melancholy, and acidly funny tale about self, family, entitlement, and life’s mysteries and inevitabilities."--Donna Seaman from Booklist (pw)

212-September 9, 2013 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Lisa's House)
I just finished this and would love to read it again and discuss it. It’s a novel composed of interconnected  stories about people on the outskirts of the music industry.  “Egan's overarching concerns are about how rebellion ages, influence corrupts, habits turn to addictions, and lifelong friendships fluctuate and turn. Or as one character  asks, How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat fuck no one cares about? Egan answers the question elegantly,  though not straight on, as this powerful novel chronicles how and why we change,  even as the song stays the same” (Publisher’s Weekly) Winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (ag)

213-October 16, 2013 You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier.  240 pages. (Lisa's house)
A critique of Web 2.0 by a computer scientist who isn’t an academic. From Publisher’s Weekly : “Computer scientist and Internet guru Lanier's fascinating and provocative full-length exploration of the Internet's problems and potential is destined to become a must-read for both critics and advocates of online-based technology and culture. Lanier is best known for creating and pioneering the use of the revolutionary computer technology that he named virtual reality.”  I figure that I’ll learn something, and the book could provoke an interesting discussion. (jd)

214-November 11, 2013 Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
(Al's House)
An acclaimed collection by the 2013 Nobel Prize winner.

215-December 16, 2013 Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding
An unnerving investigative account of two gruesome years in the life of Oelwein, Iowa, a railroad and meatpacking town of several thousand. “The book, wrought from old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting of a type that’s disappearing faster than nonfranchised lunch counters on Main Street, isn’t chiefly a tale of drugs and crime, of dysfunction and despair, but a recession-era tragedy scaled for an “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder stage and seemingly based on a script by William S. Burroughs.” NY Times (ag)

216-January 13, 2014 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (176 pages)
I love Julian Barnes’s books, and this one is no exception. I guess I’m a sucker for narrators who don’t always understand themselves, let alone what’s going on around them. What tricks has Tony’s memory played on him? Some say that this won the Booker Prize as a consolation prize, but I can see why the judges picked it. (jd)

217-February 26, 2014 The Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (Lisa's House)
I have had this on my must-read list since I came upon an article asking authors and critics to name their favorite neglected  classic. Justified Sinner is a “terrifying spectacle of a novel. First published anonymously in 1824, the novel centers around the manuscript of an obscure Scottish Laird who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Robert Wringhim is a well-educated,  but illegitimate child of the Laird of Dalcastle. He leaves the estate to live with his mother, also estranged from the estate. Raised by his adopted father, a zealous Calvinist preacher, Robert grows to despise his biological family. When, on his 18th birthday, God reveals through the preacher, that Robert is one of the elect, the true action of the novel begins” (Amazon).  Or as the original article described it: a “hair-raising read about a man possessed by the devil commiting fraticide” (ag)

218-March 24, 2014 Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, Jeannette Winterson (al's house)
This is a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a tyrant in place of a mother, who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the duster drawer, waiting for Armageddon & It is the story of how the painful past Jeanette Winterson thought she had written over and repainted returned to haunt her later life, and sent her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her real mother (sg).

219- April 9, 2014 Changing Places, David Lodge (Lisa's house)
More than 200 books read by this group and not a single novel by David Lodge?!? That must change.  The first of what has become Lodge's Campus Trilogy, this novel follows the misadventures of two professors, one at a small college in England, the other at a huge State university in California, who switch places for an academic year.  Besides being a stellar comedy of manners, the book also skewers many of the literary theories of the 70s and the academic world in general. (ag) 

220-June 2, 2014 The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa (319 pp) Al's House
While trying unsuccessfully to read the first thirty pages of an Italian historical novel that shall remain nameless, I remembered that for years I’ve been meaning to read The Leopard. I like historical novels, and this one usually makes it onto lists of all-time greats in the genre as well as lists of the best Italian novels. (And look how short it is compared to many historical novels, say, those by Hilary Mantel.) Set in mid-nineteenth-century Sicily, the aristocratic main character sees the old way of life slipping out from under him as social change, political upheaval, and economic reversals threaten the family’s position. Reviews mentioned the beautiful, witty writing along with the elements of autobiography. (jd)

221-July 7, 2014 The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (512 pp)
A chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland... Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free. Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

222-August 25, 2014 Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (176 pp) Al's house
I’ve already read this one and would like to read it again. Levy packs a lot into her pages, turning the conventional plot of “a stranger comes to town”—in this case, a young woman arriving at the vacation house in southern France shared by two families—upside down and inside out with shifting points of view, flashbacks, and carefully chosen language. The reviewer for the LATimes said that the book “was constructed like a play . . . but reads like a novel.”  Too unconventionally written for a trade publisher, this book was nonetheless short-listed for the Man Booker prize. (jd)

223-September 22, 2014 Tortilla Curtainby T.C. Boyle (355 pp) Lisa's house
"In this explosive and timely novel, T. Coraghessan Boyle explores an issue that is at the forefront of the political arena. He confronts the controversy over illegal immigration head-on, illuminating through a poignant, gripping story the people on both sides of the issue, the haves and the have-nots...... In scenes that are alternately comic, frightening, and satirical, but always all "too real," Boyle confronts not only immigration but social consciousness, environmental awareness, crime, and unemployment in a tale that raises the curtain on the dark side of the American dream."  Another that I've been intending to read..(pw)

224-November 10, 2014 CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
(192 pages) Al's house
From Kirkus Review:  “A debut collection so friendly and casual in style (pieces first appeared in Harper's and The New Yorker) that it takes a while before you realize what a frightening world Saunders has created. His is a dystopian vision of a "degraded cosmos,'' a future in which leisure and history combine in theme parks for the rich while the rest of humanity fights over scarce resources….The politics of scarcity are brilliantly fictionalized in these smart and understated stories that are more Mad Max than 1984. (ag)

225-December 10, 2014The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (443 pp) Lisa's house
This is one of my two selections that I’ve already read. It passes the wrenching test easily, set as it is in North Korea. I would have given it to my brother-in-law, but he had already read it, thanks to the Pulitzer Prize publicity. Our main character has an unhappy childhood, and his life only gets worse—he’s a kidnapper for the state when the book opens. How can you carve out a life for yourself when you’ve surrendered everything to serve “the most glorious nation?” (jd)

226-January 26, 2015 Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (608 pp) Al's House
From Booklist: *Starred Review* “To the women in the hair-braiding salon, Ifemelu seems to have everything a Nigerian immigrant in America could desire, but the culture shock, hardships, and racism she’s endured have left her feeling like she has “cement in her soul.” … Astonished at the labyrinthine racial strictures she’s confronted with, Ifemelu, defining herself as a “Non-American Black,” launches an audacious, provocative, and instantly popular blog in which she explores what she calls Racial Disorder Syndrome. ..”  My nieces really liked this one too. (gi)

227-March 2, 2015 The Angel Esmeralda Don DeLillo (224pp) Lisa's House
A slim book that packs many punches.  I pulled it out of the Powell’s free box and read 4 of the stories and then lost it.  I need an excuse to recover it—especially since the stories aren’t exactly cozy—but disturbing, odd, and precise, and they tended to tenaciously occupy my mind when I was trying to go to sleep.  I’m always impressed by DeLillo’s craft and intrigued by his themes—but tend to be hesitant to enter into his worlds for the length of a novel. (gi)

228-April 6, 2015 The Goldfinch By Donna Tartt  (771 pages) Lisa's House
"The “Goldfinch” of the title of Tartt’s smartly written Dickensian novel is a painting smuggled through the early years of a boy’s life — his prize, his guilt and his burden." NY Times. "Hell, I feel like I've been waiting for a novel like this to appear not only since I read The Secret History, but also since I first read David Copperfield" NPR (ag)

229-May 11, 2015 Someone, Alice McDermot (232 pages) Lisa's House
From NPR: "I'll be honest. I often judge books by their titles — and Someone, isn't promising. It's generic, vague. Flat. And in the hands of a less talented author, this beautifully intimate novel would have been just that. Nothing spectacular happens in Alice McDermott's latest work. Her protagonist, Marie, is largely unremarkable except for her stubbornness and her eyeglasses. She could be any young Irish woman sitting in a church pew or a luncheonette in Brooklyn. She yearns for love and autonomy and respect — but who doesn't? And the larger theme here — Irish American life in 20th century New York — is hardly groundbreaking. But, this book shimmers. There is nothing stale or predictable about it." This review made me curious about the book. (pw)

230-July 13, 2015 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (560 pages) Al's House
"Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. She drowns, falls off a roof, and is beaten to death by an abusive husband but is always reborn back into the same loving family, sometimes with the knowledge that allows her to escape past poor decisions, sometimes not. ... Alternately mournful and celebratory, deeply empathic and scathingly funny ... From her deeply human characters to her comical dialogue to her meticulous plotting, Atkinson is working at the very top of her game. An audacious, thought-provoking novel from one of our most talented writers." (lt)

231-August 31, 2015 A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit (353 pages)
Solnit looks at man-made and natural disasters in this century and the last to examine individual, communal, institutional, and governmental responses, and what they might say about human nature and society. Her starting point was her own surprisingly positive response to the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and she goes back to look at other scenarios from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake up to Hurricane Katrina. Living, as I do, in a city with an emergency plan that hasn’t been shared with the citizens, I’m interested in the topic. (jd)

232-November 4, 2015 The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (500 pages) Al's House
A pastor from Earth is picked to satisfy an alien planet’s mysterious yen for religious instruction.  “Faber's great strength, trotted out right from the opening pages — this ability to write believable, lovely, flawed and inept characters. To animate his creations by exposing their great loves and human frailties, and to make us want, somehow, to follow along behind them…Faber tells a beautifully human story of love, loss, faith and the sometimes uncrossable distances between people.”—NPR.org, “All Things Considered” (ag)

233-January 4, 2016 The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell (336 pages) Lisa's House
"Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, and told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is a coming-of-age story in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents. Marnie and Nelly, left on their own in Glasgow's Hazlehurst housing estate, attempt to avoid suspicion until Marnie can become a legal guardian for her younger sister" Amazon. (lt)

234-February 7, 2016 Submergence by J.M Ledgard (208 pages) 2PM Al's house
Came across this in my neighborhood bookstore...“Profoundly readable and unfailingly interesting, this beautifully written novel tells two stories in parallel. James More, a British spy posing as a water engineer, is taken captive by jihadists in Somalia; the counterpoint to this viscerally horrific tale is his love affair with Danielle Flinders, a ‘biomathematician’ working in the field of oceanography.” —Publishers Weekly (pw)

235-March 21, 2016 How to Be Both by Ali Smith (383 pages) Hyde Park
I’ve read this one—it was shortlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize, won four other prizes in the UK—and plan to give it for Christmas to all my favorite relatives who don’t mind reading unusual fiction. There are two sections and two main characters separated, seemingly, by time and space, but are closer than you’d think: George, a 16-yr-old girl who lives in Cambridge, and Francesco del Cosso, an Italian renaissance painter. It’s all about love, loss, time, memory, work, fear, art, language, identity—all the biggies. (jd)

236-April 25, 2016 Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast Patty's House
"In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents"(Amazon). (gi)

237-June 1, 2016 Fourth Of July Creek by Smith Henderson (480 pages) Lisa's house
An overburdened social worker becomes involved with a near-feral boy and his survivalist father in 1980 Montana. “Breathtaking...heartbreaking…Henderson’s immersive, colorful style makes this scenic journey worthwhile. He’s a curious kind of hard-boiled poet - part Raymond Chandler, part Denis Johnson" (Entertainment Weekly). One of the New York Times Top Ten books for 2014. (ag)

238-July 13, 2016 The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud (160 pages) Gail's House
Translated from the French and nominated for the Prix Goncourt, this book by Algerian writer Daoud looks at Camus’s The Stranger from the point of the view of the dead Arab’s family, including back story. I read the excerpt in the New Yorker and want more. (jd)

239-September 7, 2016 H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (320 pages) Al's house
This has already gotten a ton of awards and been put on myriad “best” lists.  I listened to it on the road to the U.P. and back this June--and both Keith and I were entranced. "When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity and changed her life" (Amazon). (gi)

240-October 12, 2016 A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (480 pages) Al's house
I liked Life after Life so much, I'm interested in reading this "companion novel" as it's being called. From The New York Times Book Review - Tom Perrotta
…you read a novel like Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins, a sprawling, unapologetically ambitious saga that tells the story of postwar Britain through the microcosm of a single family, and you remember what a big, old-school novel can do. Atkinson's book covers almost a century, tracks four generations, and is almost inexhaustibly rich in scenes and characters and incidents. It deploys the whole realist bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it's a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she's set for herself…Atkinson's a sly and witty observer, with a gift for finding the perfect detail…" (pw)

241-November 9, 2016 The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs (432 pages) Jan's house
"The true story of two men, reared in the same mostly black, mostly luckless neighborhood, whose trajectories spectacularly diverge.... In Hobbs’s hands, though, it becomes something more: an interrogation of our national creed of self-invention....the book will be highly provocative, even irritating, to those who answer the problems of the American underclass with prefab ideological theories and solutions." NY Times Book Review (ag)

242-December 12, 2016 Citizen by Claudia Rankine (160 pages) Al's house
This book-length poem is a meditation on race in America. I’m intrigued because of its structure and the reported beauty of language. The book won lots of prizes and got great reviews."[Citizen] is an especially vital book for this moment in time. . . . The realization at the end of this book sits heavily upon the heart: 'This is how you are a citizen,' Rankine writes. 'Come on. Let it go. Move on.' As Rankine's brilliant, disabusing work, always aware of its ironies, reminds us, 'moving on' is not synonymous with 'leaving behind.' (The New Yorker) (jd)

243-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)

244-February 13, 2017 The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (317 pages) Gail's house
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)

 

 

January 29, 2017

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