Comprehensive booklist

2021 Booklist


January 25, 2021 An Orchestra of Minorities Chigozie Obiama (448 pages) 

The book is narrated by the "chi" or the "spirit guardian" of the main character. Chinoso, a young poultry farmer in Nigeria happens upon a woman about to jump off a bridge. He is horrified and hurls two of his chickens off the bridge to demonstrate how horrifying the whole scene is. She doesn't jump, and it goes from there.... Billed as a "contemporary twist on the Odyssey, it was long-listed for the Booker Prize. "In the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition, Chigozie Obioma weaves a heart-wrenching epic about the tension between destiny and determination." Patty

February 25, 2021An Odyssey: A Man, a Son, and an Epic Daniel A. Mendelsohn (306 pages) 

[from the CPL website] When esteemed critic Mendelsohn was preparing an undergraduate course on The Odyssey, his aging, retired father Jay asked if he could sit in. After all, it might be his last chance to study the great classic. Despite their somewhat strained relationship, Mendelsohn agreed, and after the course concluded, having heard about an Odyssey-themed Mediterranean cruise, father and son embarked on the journey together. What results is a layered, intelligent book that is a moving father/son memoir, a penetrating work of literary appreciation, and a unique travel memoir all rolled into one. Mendelsohn weaves Odyssean themes and techniques into his writing so gracefully that you might not even notice it. A great companion to the classic epic and a thoughtful introduction for those who’ve yet to read it. Jan

April 1, 2021 Great Believers Rebecca Makkai (448 pages)

 I LOVED Music For Wartime and really want to read this. It’s about AIDs and evidently spans 1980s Chicago and modern day Paris. The NYT calls it “a page turner about illness and mortality” (what’s not to like about that!) I have heard nothing but good things about this book. It won a bunch of awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer and shortlisted for the National Book Award. Gail


April 22, 2021 Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth Sarah Smarsh (304 pages) 

This book got lots of award nominations, and I'm interested in how it will differ from Hillbilly Elegy and Educated as a memoir. I'm also interested in how her experiences in rural Kansas compares to those of my cousins' in downstate Illinois. Jan

May 13, 2021 Olive, Again. Elizabeth Strout (304 pages) 

Like its predecessor, Olive, Again is made up of interconnected stories all set in a small town in Maine. The 13 tales, told from a range of perspectives, explore Strout’s preoccupations with grief, loneliness and familial torments. Olive, Again is a tour de force. With extraordinary economy of prose – few writers can pack so much emotion, so much detail into a single paragraph – Strout immerses us in the lives of her characters, each so authentically drawn as to be deserving of an entire novel themselves. Compassionate, masterly and profound, this is a writer at the height of her powers.--The Guardian Patty 

June 21, 2021 Shelter Jung Yun (336 pages)

A son who is estranged from his parents comes home to take care of them after they have been attacked. “Yun has written the rare novel that starts with a strong premise and gets better and richer with every page...a marvel of skill and execution, tautly constructed and played without mercy.” -- Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times Al

July 19, 2021 Warlight Michael Ondaatje (289 pages) 

Two siblings whose parents leave them in the care of two dodgy characters under murky circumstances in post-WWII London are at the center of this magnificent novel of secrets, loss, more secrets, and intrigue. Jan

September 14, 2021 On Swift Horses Shannon Pufahl (320 pages) Al's House

From the LA Times, "It’s 1957, and a young couple, Lee and Muriel, are planting stakes in San Diego, making a fresh start well away from their roots in Kansas. They are, as Pufahl writes, “learning slowly how to be modern.” Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Lee’s drifter brother, Julius, watches the mushroom clouds of nearby A-bomb tests as he tries to shed his old skin as a thief and begin legit work in a casino. Sputnik orbits above everybody, at once a wonder of new technology and a portent of a deepening Cold War. It’s practically axiomatic that every story set in 1950s America must be a critique of its squeaky-clean surfaces. “On Swift Horses” is no different. But it does it so skillfully — Pufahl’s prose is consistently lyrical and deeply observant. And her keenest observations are about the secrets we keep." Patty

July 29, 2021