As the 2021-22 Season comes to close, and as we ready THE LIST for the 2022-23 Season, please enjoy these Summer Reading recommendations!
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, is back with a celebration of storytelling and a tribute to the important role it plays in the human experience. He weaves together five wildly different main characters in three different historical time periods. Masterfully, Doerr keeps the reader engaged with all these characters across a span of 500 years, eventually braiding the storylines together in a breathtaking finish. You will not want to miss this one!
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
If you like to be moved by the novels you read, this gem will deliver! Three generations of women–well, one is a plucky 9 year old girl–demonstrate what it means to be a family. Both exceedingly sprightly and frail, Grandma Elvira (we should ALL be like her when we’re grandmas!) tries to care for her daughter Mooshie, an unwed, pregnant, and very fragile actress, who in turn tries to care for her daughter Shiv, surely one of the most delightful and precocious children in all of literature. But who really ends up taking care of whom? And how do they do it? By fighting for each other each and every day, of course! Brilliant, hilarious, sad, moving–this is a must-read!
The Anomaly by Herve Le Telliere, a novel in translation
Paris to New York Air France flight 006 takes off as scheduled, hits extreme turbulence just before landing and eventually descends to Earth, but life for everyone on board has changed forever. In a genre mash-up of science fiction, thriller, and crime novel, we meet an array of the flight’s passengers from a closeted Nigerian pop star to a professional assassin who runs vegan restaurants in between assignments and an abused young girl focused on her pet toad. The book, a run-away hit in France, won the Prix Goncourt in 2021. It asks the reader to consider fundamental questions about free will, fate, the nature of time and the span of the universe while poking (mostly) gentle fun at late night TV, Americans – particularly someone resembling a recent U.S. President – the literary scene, and Emmanuel Macron.
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
When an unnamed interpreter arrives in The Hague after abruptly leaving New York, she is looking for love, friendship, and a place to belong. What follows is a web of drama: her lover is a married man who is separated…but not quite; her work as an interpreter puts her in close contact with former presidents accused of war crimes; she becomes increasingly obsessed with an act of violence her friend is a witness to. There is much to ponder in this thought-provoking novel, especially the concept of intimacy–what it is and how and where one chooses to relate to it. A cerebral page-turner!
Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (translated from Iranian)
At 25 years old, Kimiâ Sadr is sitting in a Parisian fertility clinic, waiting on test results for her IVF treatment. As she waits, she thinks back to her experience of being a 10 year old girl emigrating from Iran to France with her sisters and mother. A modern-day Sheherazade, Kimiâ weaves a sweeping history of Persian and Iranian politics into a deeply personal and moving story of her struggles to find her true self amidst her own disorientation. You know those books that make you sad when they end because you won’t be with the characters anymore? This is one of those!
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
In alternating narratives, Hell of a Book, winner of the 2022 National Book Award, tells the story of a Black author on his book tour for his recent novel, also titled Hell of a Book, and a young unnamed boy, called Soot on account of his dark skin, who witnesses a violent death in his family. The dual narratives snake around each other and become bound, painting a stark picture of what it is to be Black and male in present-day America, while also eventually meeting the fictional Black author’s stated goal of writing a love story – even if it’s not the kind of love story we readers expect. The story is by turns funny and infuriating, heartbreaking and illuminating.
Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó (translated from Hungarian)
When her beloved husband of many years dies, Ettie moves from her home in the countryside to her daughter Iza’s place in Budapest, at Iza’s insistence. Touchingly, Ettie thinks she will be the one taking care of Iza; after all, that’s a mother’s role. However, Iza has been an adult for a long time, and the years the two women have spent apart are cavernous; Ettie sees the world through old, pre-communist lenses, while Iza is all about progress and change. The novel explores the question of whether and how they will be able to build a bridge that will reach each other. Magda Szabo’s The Door was a runaway hit in America, but this one certainly deserves to be as well!
Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh
In her timely follow-up to Light and Heat, which Literary Masters members will recall reading together several seasons ago, Jennifer Haigh tackles the hot-button issue of the day: abortion. Haigh introduces readers to a range of characters who illuminate many strands of this central issue: a middle-aged reproduction counselor at Mercy Street (a Boston women’s health clinic that offers, among other vital services, abortions), a pro-life misogynistic white supremacist, and a lonely, slightly brain-damaged Catholic protestor frequently found outside the clinic, among others. Unsurprisingly, the book is serious, given the topic, but it is also unexpectedly entertaining, even funny at times, and very gripping.
A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team by Arshay Cooper
A group of young men growing up on Chicago’s troubled West side during the 1990’s is enticed into joining the first all-Black crew team being assembled at their public high school by an idealistic white entrepreneur hoping to give back to the community. Coming from backgrounds riddled with absent parents, abuse, drug addiction and crime, the teenagers are initially suspicious, showing up at the team’s informational meeting primarily for the free food. The challenges don’t end when they learn to row and move out into the wider world of high school crew – a world which doesn’t quite know what to make of them. Experiencing the team’s journey through the eyes of one its members, author Arshay Cooper, is uplifting, inspiring and a little bit heartbreaking. Added bonus – the book was adapted into a documentary in the summer of 2020 and is available for streaming on Peacock, Amazon Prime and You Tube.
So Much Blue by Percival Everett
56-year-old artist Kevin Pace is working on a secret painting. No one is allowed to see the 12×21 foot canvas completely covered in different shades of blue–so much blue!–that he works on as he thinks back to momentous turning points in his life. There was an affair in Paris, one he still does not fully understand, and a dramatic and life-changing trip to El Salvador with his best friend Richard. In this fascinating book that deals with the intersection of past and present, Kevin aims to understand and reconcile the choices he’s made, the secrets he’s kept, and the life he has lived. And there is so much beautiful blue…
We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole
Many well-regarded authors of note will churn out a memoir later in life. Irish author Fintan O’Toole deemed his own life “too boring” to do that, as he explains in the afterword of this entertaining mash-up consisting of a history of contemporary Ireland combined with a little bit of memoir and injected with personal musings. O’Toole starts with the year of his birth, providing just enough backstory of his homeland to make the ensuing narration of Ireland’s multiple transformations over the next 60 years readable and fascinating. O’Toole finds the humor throughout and, at times, writes so engagingly, that the history is as gripping as a great novel.
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Are books by Maggie O’Farrell going to land on our Summer Reading list every year? Well, there are worse things! Last year Hamnet was the runaway favorite, and this time we’re lauding one of her older books. This Must Be The Place is a story of love, family, forgiveness, and identity. Attempting to escape the wreckage his life has become, Daniel goes to Ireland on a short trip for a personal mission. To his surprise, he stays and marries former movie star Claudette, a mysterious woman many had presumed to be dead. As we learn how the two of them ended up in Donegal in the first place, we meet other characters from their past and learn about events they have tried to forget. A sweeping novel that spans decades and continents, it will stay with you long after you turn the last page!
Groundskeeping by Lee Cole
After five lost years spent drinking and drugging in his early 20’s, Owen, a young first-in-his-family to college Kentuckian, returns home in hopes of igniting his writing career and spending time with his beloved grandfather. He takes a job groundskeeping at a local, highly regarded private university where he can attend graduate level creative writing classes for free. There he meets Alma, the school’s writer-in-residence, who is a first-generation daughter of Bosnian refugees, and who grew up with everything he didn’t. The relationship with Alma, who finds Kentucky quite foreign, forces Owen to see his hometown and family through her liberal, well-educated, upper middle-class eyes. In this debut novel, Cole grapples with issues of class, family ties and what they mean, identity, jealousy, who gets to tell whose story, and the current political divide in America.
As the 2020-21 Season of Literary Masters comes to a close, enjoy these superb summer recommendations–until we meet again in the fall!
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Winner of the National Book Award, and deservedly so! Written in the form of a screenplay, this story of Asian immigrants will make you laugh right before you realize, “oh, I’m actually feeling uncomfortable.” Shining a light on which roles Hollywood deems suitable for Asian actors, this unique novel also explores which roles society deems suitable for its Asian citizens. Letting no one off the hook, it also asks Asians in all their various roles: “why are you accepting this role that someone else wrote for you?” A super read!
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
We all know who William Shakepeare is but how well do we know the man? O’Farrell won the National Book Critics Circle award for her novel exploring his life and marriage with particular attention to the death of his young son, Hamnet, at age 11. The book imagines how this event may have shaped or inspired the creation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays Hamlet four years later, after Hamnet’s death, while painting a vivid picture of life in 16th century Stratford.
Death in Mudlick by Eric Eyre
In the first of our two summer nonfiction reads focusing on the opioid epidemic, Eric Eyre, an investigative reporter for West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail, dives into the story of why the state was awash with enough hydrocodone and oxycodone between 2007 and 2012 for every resident to receive 130 pills. Eyre, who won a Pulitzer in 2017 for his reporting on this story, unspools the narrative like a thriller but manages to keep our eyes trained on the very human cost of this “man-made disaster fueled by corporate greed and corruption.” At the same time he gives the reader an appreciation for the difficulties of investigative reporting at a thinly-financed newspaper in an ever-more-challenging economic environment for print journalism.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
Keefe, whose previous book, Say Nothing, was long listed for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, turns his attention to the Sackler family and the role it played in the opioid crisis in the second of our nonfiction summer titles on the subject. While we may feel we know the story of the famous family whose name graces the wings of museums and scholarships at prestigious universities, Keefe manages to engage the reader while digging deeper into this extraordinary family. As John Carreyrou (who you will remember as the author of Bad Blood) put it in his New York Times review, “Put simply, this book will make your blood boil.”
We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Readers will find strands of Loving Day, The Sellout, Underground Railway and The Vanishing Half in this satirical novel set in a United States of the near future that is much more overt in its racism than our current one. The loving father at the center of the story will do anything to protect his family, particularly his son – even if it means erasing who the boy is. It is that love that gives the story its emotional core.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Set in Finnmark, Norway in 1617, this atmospheric novel will transport you to an entirely new place. A ship carrying 40 men is lost to sea in a storm. Without their men to take care of them, the women of the Arctic island Vardo must take care of themselves. But tragic events must be explained, and the women soon turn on themselves to make sense of their pain. Based on the real events of the Vardo storm and witch trials of 1621.
The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg
This is one feel-good summer read! A group of women meet weekly for a Confession Club, where they share their innermost secrets, desires, and regrets. What could go wrong? Not to worry, more goes quite right as these friends listen, support, and help each other navigate real-life situations. There’s more than a little romance and love, also! Grab your beach umbrella and this book and enjoy a few hours escape with some lovely ladies!
Middle England by Jonathan Coe
You are guaranteed to laugh as you travel through England via this page-turning novel, but be warned: there’s no having tea with the Queen! Instead, your company will be disaffected and confused Brits who are trying to figure out what’s happening in their own country. How did the hosts of the 2012 Olympics end up Brexiting out of Europe just a few years later? Super thought-provoking and entirely topical!
A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke
You have to admit it takes gumption to write a book about a famous actor who cheats on his even more famous and stunningly beautiful wife when you, as the author, are also a famous actor (Ethan Hawke) who infamously cheated on none other than the stunningly gorgeous Uma Thurman. Is this a roman a clef? A confession? Hawke’s guilt overtaking his pen? Who cares, as the result is a fast-paced romp through a theatrical production of Hamlet, exploring themes of fame, fidelity, life’s purpose, and more!
Monogamy by Sue Miller
Another story of infidelity, but this time the scorned wife (yes, it’s the wife again) finds out without being able to confront her husband. What can she do with this information? How does it now change her perspective on her relationship with her husband? And how does it change how she views herself? The characters in this page-turner are not easily pigeon-holed, which makes the novel that much better!
Abigail by Magda Szabo
This classic coming-of-age story, set in Hungary during WWII, will captivate you and your coming-of-age daughters! When Gina is sent away to a hideous boarding school by her doting father, the young girl is confused and extremely upset. The bullies at school don’t help matters. Only Abigail, the classical statue in the school garden, is available to offer solace and aid. Slowly, Gina learns who she can depend on to survive both her school-based troubles and the ever-encroaching wartime horrors. A perfect summertime Mother/Daughter Book Club read!!!
My Year Abroad by Chang Rai Lee
A somewhat aimless but basically agreeable one-eighth Asian (yes, this is important) college junior retrospectively narrates this improbable tale of his alternate year abroad which takes him from a tour of Asia with his froyo store boss on a quest for investors to his time living with his 30-year old lover and her 8-year old son in the witness protection program. Lee, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for On Such a Full Sea, is clearly having fun here and the reader will as well.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Un-put-downable! This retelling of the war between the ancient Greeks and the Trojans (you remember that one, right?) is a rollicking read! Giving voice to the women of the war this time, this novel brims with wit, wisdom, humor, and…revenge! You’ll hear from, among others, Penelope, Cassandra, Hecabe, Clytemenestra, and of course the muse Calliope. If you’re worried you can’t remember who is who from your high school mythology class, have no fear. Natalie Haynes manages to weave an educational primer into her propulsive story. This one is a treat!
A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry
A Thousand Moons, a sequel to Literary Masters member-favorite Days Without End, Barry’s Costa-winning 2017 novel, picks up the story of Thomas McNulty and John Cole on the same farm where we left them. The perspective is new as this stand-alone story is narrated by Winona, the Lakota girl McNulty and Cole are raising as their own. The idyll of the Tennessee farm where they live with two former slaves and fellow veteran Lige Mason is upset by violent attacks on more than one member of this “family.” Revenge lies at the heart of the plot, even as compassion and love fuel the story’s momentum.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
On New Year’s Eve, in a small Swedish town, a bank robbery goes wrong and a group of strangers at an apartment viewing find themselves held hostage. As they get to know each other and navigate their desires, secrets, and anxieties, two policemen – a father and son duo struggling to connect – grapple with how to solve a seemingly unsolvable crime. Told from varying perspectives, this novel is a layered, cleverly constructed story full of twists and turns. Even more so, it is a poignant reflection on forgiveness, hope, and the role we can unknowingly play in a stranger’s life.
As the 2019-20 Season of Literary Masters comes to a close, enjoy these summer reading titles until we meet again!
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
Following two couples for several decades starting in the socially turbulent 1960’s in Greenwich Village as the husbands share pastoral leadership of the Third Presbyterian Church, Dearly Beloved examines the role of faith in its many guises and how it shapes the relationships, marriages, careers and choices of the foursome. The evolution of each of the characters encourages readers to grapple with the questions of what gives life meaning and how our decisions resonate within our daily lives in unexpected ways.
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
If you have a sister, read this book! If you have a sister whom you love, read this book with her! Warning: bring a BIG box of tissues. Although you will definitely laugh at loud at times, you will most assuredly weep as well. Elf and Yoli are sisters who have grown up in a Mennonite household. Although on the surface, Elf’s life looks perfect and Yoli’s leaves a lot to be desired, the truth is that Elf is determined to end her own life. And Yoli is just as determined to save her. If you like books that put you in someone else’s shoes and makes you truly feel as you read, then this book is for you!
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
A timely look at the transactional nature of marriage for immigrant women of little means who often carry the weight of their family’s future with them to their new home in the United States. Ana comes to New York as a 15-year-old bride to a much older fellow Dominican in a loveless marriage that becomes suffocating as she is isolated in the tenement apartment they share with his brother. Freedom comes years into the marriage as her husband returns to the Dominican Republic during a time of political unrest. Ana is left to decide if she will follow her dreams or remain in a marriage that protects her family back in the DR.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Winner of the National Book Award for fiction and one of President Barack Obama’s favorite books, this thought-provoking novel will keep you on your toes! Set in a performing arts high school during the 1980’s, the story revolves around a precocious group of friends, two of whom fall madly in love. As one may expect in such a setting, there is plenty of drama with enough twists and turns that eventually you’ll realize “Aha! this is a trust exercise! Now, as reader, who or what do I trust?”
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
A bartender in a remote Vancouver hotel, a stylish society trophy “wife,” a hardened cook aboard a foreign-owned container ship…are you hooked? Vincent is the enigmatic central character in this new novel by the author of Station Eleven. The book weaves together Vincent’s story with a Ponzi scheme as it is exposed, two different women disappearing near bodies of water, and the unexpected death of an EDM band member in an underground club while being an unexpectedly moving portrait of secrets, greed, love, and unintended consequences.
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Looking for a book you can gobble down in a day? This classic roman noir, published in 1934, is riveting on so many levels! A drifter arrives at a diner run by an old Greek man and his much younger, beautiful, and bored wife. An immediate attraction between the newcomer and the young woman sets things in motion–how does one get rid of an unwanted spouse without paying for the crime? If you think you know what happens in this novel, guess again. Even after finishing it, you’ll want to check your own assumptions! Much deeper than you may at first consider it, this book was the model for Albert Camus’ The Stranger.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
The latest novel from the author of The Family Fang brings together Lillian and Madison as two unlikely roommates at an East Coast boarding school. Even more unlikely is their enduring friendship as the beautiful Madison goes onto marry a prominent southern politician with two children from a previous marriage, while Lillian is stuck living at home and working as a grocery checkout clerk. They are reunited when Madison needs Lillian’s help to care for her stepchildren who have an unfortunate habit of spontaneously combusting. Despite the fantastical premise, the book is an often-funny, and ultimately quite moving examination of parental love and finding purpose in unexpected places.
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
An excellent audio book, even for those of you who tend to read print instead of listening. As Ronan Farrow narrates the story, you’ll get carried away–just by his mesmerizing voice. And the story itself is rather jaw-dropping! His investigative journalism stands next to that of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (co-authors of She Said), illuminating events leading up to and surrounding the #metoo movement. A real page-turner, the book is even better when paired with the ten-part podcast of the same name. Read or listen to the book first, then listen to the podcast. And of course, if you haven’t yet read She Said, make that a priority!
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
National Book Award-winner Woodson’s spare new novel examines how history, community, and decisions made by characters just coming into their own, impact the members of two African American families from wildly different backgrounds and social classes in Brooklyn. The beautifully written, moving story, which was a New York Times Notable book of 2019 and went on to become a NYT bestseller, examines issues of sexual desire and orientation, gender expectations, familial and individual ambition, and the price of striving to overcome history.
Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell
Mitchell, an investigate reporter for the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, spent almost two decades digging into unsolved murder cases from the Civil Rights era in his state as well as Alabama. This book recounts his efforts on four of them including an assassination, an act for which no one went to jail until Mitchell’s reporting got the case re-opened. The book illuminates the systemic racism – often at the hands of state and local government officials – that made justice so long in coming.
The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage by Mara Hvistendahl
When three ethnic Chinese men are discovered digging around in the cornfield of a farmer under contract to Monsanto in Iowa in September of 2011, it touches off a remarkable, two-year investigation raising questions about industrial espionage, the role of the government in protecting corporate secrets, and corporate influence in trade disputes. An eccentric seed scientist, a Chinese agricultural executive living in suburban Florida and a veteran FBI investigator inhabit this compelling story.
The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson
An easily accessible and readable story, this novel is also a bit of a gut-punch. Filled with secrets–and the inevitable power that always goes hand-in-hand with them–the book follows the life and memories of Sister Johanna Marie. When the nun is summoned to Reykjavik as part of an investigation into the death of a priest decades earlier, her trip to the Icelandic capital as well as down memory lane upends her own quiet existence and exposes truths that shatter those around her. But will all be exposed? And should it? These are questions you can answer for yourself as you read this captivating tale.
As the 2018-19 Season of Literary Masters comes to a close, we’re reading furiously to get ready for the 2019-20 Season! As always, we’ll be posting THE LIST sometime in August, so watch for that! Meanwhile, grab your beach gear and head out with these titles to keep you turning those pages until we meet again!
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
This latest novel from Ian McEwan does not disappoint! As you’re lying on the beach, you’ll be able to ponder what makes a human a human. Are we more machine-like than we realize? And you can also geek out on robot stuff! Just how close are robots to humans? The story is set in 1980’s London but history as we know it has changed a bit. Twenty-something Charlie is at a loss career-wise and in love with his neighbor Miranda. When Charlie inherits some money, he decides to buy a robot, also known as a synthetic human, named Adam. Together Charlie and Miranda ‘program’ Adam and the result is a pretty terrific individual. There’s only one problem: due to artificial intelligence, Adam learns and develops way beyond Charlie and Miranda’s control. The result is…well, you’ll have to read the book! Anyone who has Siri or Alexa in their life needs to read this book!
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
Part mystery, part love story, part immigrant’s tale, part family saga with a little bit of a ghost story thrown in–there’s a lot going on in this novel and it all works! A terrific cast of characters takes turns narrating, and the pages fly by. It starts out with Driss, a Moroccan immigrant who is killed by a hit and run driver. When his daughter Nora returns home to help her family, the story gets…complicated. Secrets are drudged up, grudges are reignited, and loyalties are tested. The varied voices in the story span racial, class, and political divides–a microcosm of today’s world in many ways.
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
If your summer weather disappoints, this gem of a novel will brighten your day! Aviva Grossman is a young, wide-eyed intern working for Congressman Aaron Levin. It doesn’t take long for the two to fall into an affair, and it doesn’t take very much longer for the press to find out. The result is fairly predictable: they treat her like a Monica Lewinsky while the Congressman escapes much like…you know who. So, what does Aviva do? She runs away and takes on a new identity. Ten years later when she runs for mayor of a town in Maine, her daughter Ruby finds out her secret and takes off to find the Congressman. You will laugh out loud reading this novel, but there are also serious issues to ponder. Double standards for one. And if you do read it, let us know what you think happens after the last page!
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
This quirky and charming novel has an adorable 12 year old narrator named Elvis–after the singer. When Elvis’ mom dies, her family deals with the loss in various ways. Elvis’ dad takes to wearing his wife’s clothes and loves a parrot who can mimic her voice, and Elvis’ sister takes on a challenge to bake 1000 rabbit cakes in her mom’s baking pans that were always used for family celebrations. Elvis consults her school counselor, who tells the child she should be over her grief in 18 months. As we see Elvis struggle to achieve this, the result is a tender, funny, and poignant tale of grief, love, and resilience.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
On the surface this fascinating novel is a breezy read, very accessible and entertaining. On a deeper level, though, it will tax your brain and your literary prowess. This book is told in three parts. The first part is a May/December romance between Alice, a young book editor, and much older Ezra Blazer, a famous author. (Evidently this character is based on Philip Roth, with whom the author Lisa Halliday once had a relationship.) There are lots of allusions to Alice in Wonderland as well as other books, so you can ponder that while you read! Part 2 is an abrupt change of pace and mood–we find ourselves with Amar Ala Jaafari, an Iraqi-American economist on his way to Kurdistan. Stopping over in London to visit a friend, Amar is detained by immigration at the airport. Amar has fallen into a different rabbit hole, for sure–this one is more Kafkaesque and nightmarish than Alice’s adventure. Another abrupt change for Part 3: we are back with Ezra Blazer who is being interviewed by BBC about his Desert Island Discs. Highly recommended, and we BET you’ll want to talk about this book with others! If you’re on vacation with friends, have everyone read it–you can do a Beach Book Club!
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
When you’re buying your beach gear, don’t forget running shoes and shorts! You’ll want to lace up and get out there after you read this compelling memoir by the famous and lyrical Japanese writer. Part meditation on running, part meditation on writing, and part almost real-time reporting of racing marathons, this slim book will give you much to contemplate as you cover the miles yourself.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Yes, The Godfather was a book before it was the classic movie and that book turns 50 this year. With all of the Mafia-based literature, movies and television shows that have followed, it is easy to forget how fresh this violent, action-packed take on New York’s underworld was in 1969. With its dialogue and details that rang so true, many wondered precisely how close Puzo’s connection to his subject matter might actually have been.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie, the titular heroine of this comedic debut novel, is on the verge of a breakdown, struggling at work, and trying to process the after-effects of being abandoned by her mother at age 11. And yet, this book is very, very funny even as it breaks your heart. It has been described as a “black Bridget Jones,” as well as providing an important view of black British life and black womanhood – perspectives from the margins that are all too rare. The audio book is excellent.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
After Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1961 and became a literary sensation, the world did not hear from her again until 2016 when she died. During the 50-year silence, she helped her good friend, Truman Capote, research and write his true-crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood. She then became intrigued with her own true-crime story: that of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a sharp-dressing Alabama Baptist preacher who made a practice of buying insurance policies on people who frequently turned up dead. Harper Lee spent over a decade working on a book about the case but never finished the manuscript and nothing was ever published. As compelling as the true crime story at the heart of Furious Hours is, Cep’s dive into uncovering why Lee stayed silent for all of those years is even more so.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
In this cleverly structured book about the true life “disappearing” of Jean McConville in Belfast in 1972 during the height of what came to be known as the Troubles, Keefe conveys much of the history of Northern Ireland. You will feel like you are reading a detective novel, but these characters are real people. Keefe captures the violence and the damage of the period while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
And if Northern Ireland during the Troubles intrigues you, you may want to pick up Milkman, the Man Booker award winning novel from Anna Burns, which inhabits the same locale and time period.
The Bread and the Knife: A Life in 26 Bites by Dawn Drzal
In these 26 brief, evocative gastronomical essays, Drzal, who is a former cookbook editor, provides an unflinching look back at her life. These alphabetized morsels include “F is for Fowl” in which Drzal cooks a freshly shot pheasant for M.F.K. Fisher and nearly kills the legendary chef with the result, as well as the meal in which she realizes her marriage is over. You will want to eat, cry, laugh and keep reading.
We’ve wrapped up the 2017-18 Season of Literary Masters literary salons–what a stellar season! If you missed any of our titles, click on “Past Book Groups” to see what our members enjoyed reading, discussing, and bonding over. We’re already looking forward to the 2018-19 Season, and we’ll be posting THE LIST sometime in August or September. Until then, here are a few titles to keep you turning the pages, whether you’re on the beach or sneaking a ‘book break’ at work! Enjoy!
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This page-turning story starts out with a house that has burned down, and we don’t know who has done it. By the end of the novel, we’re ready to burn it down ourselves! It’s part mystery, part psychological study, and part dysfunctional family tale–what’s not to love? Throughout the entire novel, the author has excellent pacing. She gives just enough information to lead us along (ooh…I’ll read just one more chapter) but only divulges what she wants us to know–when she wants us to know it.
Brass by Xhenet Aliu
With a compelling story and electric writing, this debut novel is one heck of a page-turner. Alternating chapters tell the stories of Elsie, a Lithuanian immigrant to Waterbury, Connecticut, as she falls in love with Bad Boy Bashkin, who also happens to be an immigrant, but from Albania. Elsie is working in a diner, saving her tips so she can escape the town she’s grown up in. Lulu, their daughter, narrates the alternate chapters, but from 17 years into the future. The effect is that we can see what’s going to happen to Elsie’s future as she hurtles toward it, even as we root for her to avoid the inevitable. This novel is at times laugh out loud funny, and other times it leaves the reader feeling they’ve been punched in the gut.
The Changeling by Victor Lavalle
Buckle your seat belts! And put your helmets on! This is one heck of a ride. A mash-up of genres that is so creative and thought-provoking, you’ll be handing the book to people to read–so you can discuss it with them! It starts out as a pleasant, very readable story about Lillian and Brian and their charming romance. But WHAM! does it ever take a dark turn into fairy tale land–the old fashioned kind that were written for adults. If you know any version of the changeling story, you have a hint of what’s to come. But the amazing part is how much is woven into this novel. You’ll keep reading just to see how it all comes together! And it does, allowing your book club to discuss so many issues–parenting, technology, social media, and the stories we tell ourselves to get through the day–just to name a few!
Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato
This is the story of 8 year-old Edgar and his mom Lucy, who live with Edgar’s paternal grandmother for reasons you’ll find out. The grandmother adores Edgar and he adores her. The relationship between Lucy and her son, as well as the relationship between Lucy and her mother-in-law, though, well, those are a bit more fraught. You cannot help but fall in love with Edgar and Lucy–this is one of those books that just feels good to read. However, it’s not without its darkness, as Edgar is kidnapped by a man who is grieving his own son’s death. Gulp. Your book club can explore family love, betrayal, grief, survival, and love–just to name a few! And the writing is beautiful. 🙂
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The family of a Vietnam POW moves impulsively to a remote area of Alaska to live off of the grid in a tiny community of quirky characters. 13-year old Leni is forced to fight for her survival as well as that of her mother as she is coming of age in one of America’s last true frontiers. Many of you know Kristin Hannah because you read–and loved–The Nightingale!
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
This book was named a Book of the Year by NPR and The Washington Post. A loner widower raises his daughter, Loo, on the road moving from motel to motel until he decides it is time to settle down. After they settle in Loo’s late mother’s hometown, she becomes curious about her parents’ life, the time before she was born, and how her past relates to the twelve scars on her father’s body.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This debut novel, set in a contemporary, black Southern California community, explores how the decisions of our young lives and the communities in which we are raised impact our lives forever. Nadia Turner is 17 as the book opens. Grieving the suicide of her mother, she makes a decision at the end of her time in high school that reverberates across the following years for her and the characters around her.
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder
Browder, who grew up in a family of American communists with strong ties to Eastern Europe, became wildly successful investing in Russia just after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Along the way, he managed to become the enemy of many of the Russian oligarchs who controlled the new Russian economy, and then of Vladimir Putin’s government. His accidental activism led to major legal changes in the U.S.and Russia – and indirectly to the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr, Jared Kushner and the Russian lawyers.
Summer is nearly here, and although we at Literary Masters have been reading furiously to gather THE LIST for our 2017-18 Season, we know you need a few titles to get you through the long, hot summer months. Of course, we always save the best for THE LIST, but here are some stellar summer reads nonetheless. Enjoy! And if you feel like it, let us know what you think. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, THE 2017-18 Season LIST will be posted in late August, early September. So come back for a visit and see what Literary Masters members will be reading next!
Our Summer Reading List is here–drum roll, please!
The Leavers by Lisa Ko. Everyone is saying how timely this book is, so you can see if you agree. Dealing with issues of immigration, family, and cultural assimilation, to name a few, this debut novel won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, “awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social injustice.”
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. This gorgeous and, if you’re familiar with Saunders, unsurprisingly unique book would have landed on THE LIST, but we don’t like to repeat authors too often, and we recently enjoyed his short story collection. This is his first novel, and it centers on Abe Lincoln, who is grieving the loss of his son Willie. You can read this book quickly, but you shouldn’t. You should savor it and ponder the biggest issues that life presents. Hint: life and love are two of them.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Why is that poets write such gorgeous novels? (Rhetorical question!) This book was a finalist for the National Book Award and we can see why. Take a trip back in time to Texas and travel with a most unlikely pair. It’s 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is returning 10 year old Johanna, recently rescued from her Kiowa kidnappers, to her relatives in San Antonio. Johanna, however, has other ideas. Exploring issues of identity, family, and morality, among others, this book also illuminates an issue–based on true events–that you may not be aware of.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan. This is a FUN read! Narrated by a fetus (yes, we too thought this sounded weird) who is listening to his mother plot the murder of his father with her lover–who, wait for it…is the fetus’ uncle! Shades of Hamlet for sure! Are you in a brave book club? Tackle both the play and this novel in the same month and discuss them both! Laugh out loud funny with serious issues to explore.
Girl at War by Sara Novic. Another debut novel we couldn’t put down. Exploring issues of how war impacts an individual, a family, a community–and yet can go unnoticed by so many–this book is poignant and timely. Read this along with The Cellist of Sarajevo, a Literary Masters favorite.
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. Many of you know Trevor Noah from The Daily Show, and he is funny! This is his memoir, and yes, it’s funny, but it’s also serious and thought-provoking. Trevor was born to a white Swiss-German father and a black Xhosa mother in South Africa during the time of apartheid. Thus, his birth was literally a crime. And this is his story–specifically–but it encompasses so much more. Read it and ponder.
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. Not quite a collection of short stories and not exactly a novel–this book seems to encompass both. One chapter’s secondary or tertiary character shows up as the starring attraction of the next chapter. Lucy Barton, who many of you know from Strout’s previous book My Name is Lucy Barton, has a role in this new book–but you can read them discretely. Elizabeth Strout’s writing, of course, plays a dazzling role.
The Nix by Nathan Hill. What do you really know about anyone? Especially your mother? Think about it. Or, jump on board this ride, accompanying Samuel Andresen-Anderson as he tries to unravel the mystery of who his mother is–and who he is as well. Over 600 pages that fly by!
Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Almost like reading two books that converge. And two for the price of one from Zadie Smith has to be a good thing, right? Readers should enjoy the musicality and rhythm of this novel as they contemplate issues such as identity, friendship, responsibility, equality and more.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Marketed as a Young Adult novel, this book is being read by many grown-ups as well. It’s timely and thought-provoking; an unarmed youth is shot by a police officer. Read it with your teenagers and discuss.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon. We love this description from the Amazon page: “From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the ‘American Century,’ the novel revisits an entire era through a single life and collapses a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most moving and inventive.” How could not want to read this book now?
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Race seems to be a large theme in our list this summer, which is fitting–considering it’s a large part of our national conversation. This novel doesn’t shy away, and will keep you riveted from page one. Read it before the movie is released!
The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin. Yes, it’s TBT! We couldn’t resist putting this on our summer reading list because of the renewed interest in this tragedy due to the television drama and documentary. This is an excellent read–it explores the historical context of what happened before, during, and after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Prepare to feel many emotions as you read.
Enjoy your summer! Read a book. Discuss a book. Share a book. Give a book.
Should Your Book Club Read Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adicie? Yes. Especially if your book club members have a month where there’s a lot going on outside book club (did I hear you just say “That’s every month!”?) because this book is SHORT but very, very thought-provoking.
The book is a letter to Ms. Adicie’s friend, who has just given birth to her baby girl Chizalum and has asked Adicie for advice on raising her as a feminist. The book is that letter, offering 15 suggestions, each of which heads its own chapter. The entire book is only 63 pages and you can finish it well under an hour. Or you can savor it and think deeply as you read. Or you can return to it, dipping into its wisdom as and when you like. You may want to order copies to give as gifts to new–and old–mothers. Or to daughters. Or sons! To fathers and husbands.
I agree with much of the book, and there are parts of the book that I am still mulling over. One stark piece of advice that I disagree with, however, is under the suggestion “Teach Chizalum to read.” Obviously I don’t disagree with that advice! However, Adicie goes on to say, “If all else fails, pay her to read.” I must say, I strongly disagree with this.
There are many, many ways to teach a child to read and to foster the love of reading. Paying money, in my opinion, sends the wrong message. I’d prefer children to be intrinsically motivated to read, rather than extrinsically.
As I said, this is my opinion. I am guessing, though, that there are studies with data out there about this. Just using common sense, though, what happens to a child who has been ‘rewarded’ to read when that money is no longer paid? I presume the argument is that the child will have developed the habit of reading and therefore will continue to do so even without remuneration.
Contrast this idea, though, with a child who has actually developed the appreciation and love of books and reading for their value, not because of the value of $$$. A child who finds books and reading worthwhile and a reward in itself will be a life-long reader. That’s my strong bet, anyway.
You all know I am open-minded, however, so if you disagree, please feel free to weigh in–I’d love to hear from you!
Isn’t this a great cartoon by Tom Gauld? What I’m wondering is–how did he get into my house to see my library? 🙂
Have you been missing my posts? THANK YOU! I’m sorry that I haven’t written any recently. No excuses, just the reality that I’ve been…READING. I will try to post at the end of the current Literary Masters season. I promise! Meanwhile, let me swiftly bring you up to date with what’s been happening with Literary Masters members.
We’ve been enjoying THE LIST so far! The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead was a hit all around; even members who found it difficult to read at times still appreciated its worth. Some of us, including yours truly, loved the fantastical elements in it, which carried truth to the reader in an entirely new way.
Everyone agreed that Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata is a little gem of a book. We found so much to talk about! I look forward to blogging about that one. Rose Tremain is a real crafts person; not a word is wasted. And there is so much beneath the surface!
December was our month for a classic, and we read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Every time I read that book, I close it and say “That is SUCH a good book.” Literary Masters members agreed! And it was the perfect book to read after last season’s The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. If you’re looking for a pairing, this is a good one.
We then moved on to our nonfiction selection for the season: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick. Everyone agreed–this should be required reading. Everyone learned a lot and our discussions were intense!
This month we are discussing the most gorgeous novel: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. After a few pages, I sat back, relaxed, and thought “Ah…I am in good hands.” This is “poetry under the prose”–so much so that I reread passages just to experience them again. I can’t wait to “dig deep” into this book with all our wonderful Literary Masters members!
You can always visit the Literary Masters website to see what members are reading–or have read. When are you going to join a Literary Masters book group?
Should your book club read The Lonely War by Nazila Fathi? The answer is absolutely yes! This wonderful memoir was the 2015-16 season’s nonfiction selection for Literary Masters book groups and salons, and almost everyone loved it. I say ‘almost’ because some people only ‘liked it a lot’. Some avid nonfiction readers said it was the best nonfiction book they had read in ages. Everyone agreed that it is worth reading and also important reading, considering what’s going on in the world today.
So, what can your book club discuss?
Warp-speed plot summary: Nazila Fathi was born in Tehran in 1970 and was all of nine years old when the revolution occurred and ushered in a whole new world for the Iranian people. Although many families fled the country, Nazila’s stayed, and she grew into adulthood in the new Islamic state. Fluent in English, Nazila was eventually hired to write for the New York Times until she and her family (her husband and two children) were forced to flee the country in 2009. In this memoir, Nazila takes the reader through her journey as well as the journey of the country of Iran and its people. As the years progress, we witness the growing pains of each as they grapple with new identities.
You’ll want to talk about how/whether this book has affected your view of Iran and the Iranian people. Literary Masters members are well educated and very engaged in world affairs, but still, almost everyone said they learned quite a bit about the revolution and the people involved–and about what the Iranian people wanted. You’ll want to discuss the Iranians’ desire for democracy–and what has happened to it since 1979. You’ll want to think about how US and British historical actions (think Moussadeq) affected the Iranian’s attitude toward the West and helped contribute to bringing about the revolution. You’ll want to connect all of this to today’s world, of course–a long conversation in itself!
Related to the above, you’ll want to discuss what you think Iran’s main problem is. And you’ll definitely want to discuss what it is that you admire about Iran.
You’ll want to discuss the class system in Iran and how the regime used it to further their aims. Was is a mutually beneficial relationship? Who came out ahead and who came out behind as a result of all the tumult? Ask yourselves: How responsible is the class system for the revolution? Also ask yourselves: Does anything like this exist in America?
You’ll want to talk about the various ideologies vying for power in Iran. Talk about how those who are in power get and remain there. Also, talk about the ways ordinary citizens survive or thrive under the various power structures. Also, talk about university students and technology–and the power that resides there!
You’ll want to talk about Iran in relation to its neighbors. Talk about how you think Iranians feel about themselves in comparison to other countries in the region. And how they feel about their political leaders, both historical and current.
You’ll want to talk about national security vs. individual freedoms: how do you feel about this debate with regard to our country after reading this book? How do we balance the two? If one side deserves more weight than the other, how do we keep it in check so we don’t topple over?
You’ll want to discuss Ms. Fathi’s parents and how they dealt with all the changes they were going through. If there was one criticism of the book from Literary Masters members, it was that they wanted to know more of the personal experiences of the family. (Sequel, Ms. Fathi?)
You’ll want to talk about the experience of women in Iran. Try to look at is AS a woman in Iran. And of course, look at it AS a western woman (or whatever you may be). This was quite the discussion in all Literary Masters groups! You will definitely want to discuss the veil!
You’ll want to talk about oil and its effect upon the people of Iran.
You’ll want to talk about Ms. Fathi. Do you think she offers a balanced view or is she biased in her telling of Iran’s recent history? The subtitle is “One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran.” Is she acknowledging bias on her part? Does her memoir connect you to the Iranian people or to Islam or to Iranian culture or to anything/anyone else in a new way?
You’ll want to talk about the relationship between the author and her maid. How do you feel about the choices Ms. Fathi makes? How do you feel about the choices the maid makes?
Well, this should get you started! Let me know how your book club enjoys discussing this wonderful memoir!