Literary Masters Salons: THE LIST 2020-2021 Season
Order may vary slightly among facilitators
Book 1: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Timing is everything, right? Published at the start of one of the most consequential summers in American history, this novel explores both timely and timeless issues of race, class, gender, and love. Twin sisters grow up in a small town in the deep South, one longing to escape. They both leave, but only one returns while the other embarks on an entirely new life and new ‘self’. We follow each of their journeys as they diverge, and we see how the past, despite its name, is harder to put behind us than we might like.
Book 2: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Buckle your seat belt because you’re in for a wild ride! This novel falls into the genre of speculative fiction yet explores many of the issues we all face today. While out walking in New York City, April May and her friend Andy discover a huge sculpture–Carl–that they video and post online. Before they can spell F A M E, the video has gone viral and their lives have forever changed. Being at the center of attention has its perks but, as April May reluctantly finds out, it also has its responsibilities. Just who is this Carl and who has sent him? And, importantly, what does he want? What have April May and Andy unleashed upon the world?
Book 3: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Sit back and relax as we listen to 11 year-old Reuben Land, an asthma sufferer growing up in 1960s Midwest. Rube’s brother is “on the lam,” and Rube, his idolized father, and his precocious sister Swede set out to find him. Heading out across the Badlands of South Dakota and encountering numerous obstacles along the way, the family may need a miracle to save the day. Sadly, it seems like those have just run out. This novel is a hero’s journey, a quest, a love story, a comedy, a tragedy, and a meta-fiction–all wrapped up in a great story!
Book 4: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Evidently this book “caused a genuine political uproar in Tokarczuk’s native Poland,” which is reason enough to read it, right? Our book in translation for this season, its author is the recipient of both the Man Booker International Prize (for Flights) and the Nobel Prize for Literature. In a remote village in Poland, hunters are being mysteriously killed. A reclusive and eccentric woman, who just happens to love William Blake’s poetry and astrology, investigates, and along the way connects with other lonely souls over discussions of…all sorts of things! Our book has been described as a ‘noir novel’ as well as a ‘thought-provoking existential thriller.’ Clearly, critics and readers have opinions, and we look forward to hearing yours as we discuss this extremely unique book.
Book 5: The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
The author, a celebrated Vietnamese poet, has written her first book in English, and we’re excited to be sharing this #ownvoices novel with you. A family saga set in Vietnam against the backdrop of the American War and all that led up to it, it’s the personal relationships that will draw you into this lyrical story. As always in the best historical fiction, you’ll no doubt learn something you didn’t know along the way!
Book 6: Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
“Only connect” is a famous line from our classic for this season and is one of the reasons we chose this book! It’s the turn of the 20th century and we’re in the English countryside. Three families from different classes are thrown into each other’s spheres. Can they truly “connect”? Will they be able to overcome societal expectations and norms to truly understand each other? Must they merely tolerate each other, or will they be able to accept–even embrace–those on a different rung of the social ladder? With writing as gorgeous as we’ve come to expect from one of our favorite authors!
Book 7: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
Our nonfiction title for the season, this book is very timely as many call for the stigmas surrounding mental illness to be removed. This story of Don and Mimi Galvin and their 12 children is also jaw-dropping on many levels. Born between 1945 and 1965, by the 1970’s, six of the twelve children had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, prompting a study of the Galvin’s by the National Institute of Mental Health. Join us as we embark on a journey to understand what happened on Hidden Valley Road, both in scientific/medical terms as well as in emotional/family terms.
Book 8: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Six different narrators tell us the story of the McAllan family and their sharecroppers the Jackson family, all living on a muddy farm in the Mississippi Delta. As one family is white and the other black, not much unites them in the 1940’s South. Until, that is, each family’s son returns from the WWII battlefield and gravitates towards the other, building a friendship over shared experiences. Although the two sons may find healing through their relationship, the locals bristle at such an affront to the natural order of things. Souls will be tested. This page-turner will have you on the edge of your seat!