Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Suggestions for our fall reading list

It's time to choose our next books.  So far these are the books that have been suggested, but we need more suggestions.  Some of these may be too new, meaning you'll have a hard time getting them from your library, so check availability before you tell us which to read.  Please comment, so I'll have some idea what interests you.  Do any of these sound good to you?

The Postmistress ~ by Sarah Blake, 2010
Synopsis from the author's web site:  What would happen if a postmistress chose not to deliver the mail?

It is 1940. While the war is raging in Europe, President Roosevelt promises he won't send American boys over to fight.

Iris James is the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts a small town at the end of Cape Cod. She firmly believes her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Faithfully she stamps and sends the letters between people such as the newlyweds Emma and Will Fitch, who has gone to London to help out during the Blitz. But one day she slips a letter into her pocket, and leaves it there.

Meanwhile, seemingly fearless radio gal, Frankie Bard is reporting the Blitz from London, her dispatches crinkling across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention. Then in the last desperate days of the summer of 1941, she rides the trains out of Germany, reporting on what is happening to the refugees there.

Alternating between an America on the eve of entering into World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, an a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin.
The Housekeeper and the Professor ~ by Yoko Ogawa, 2003
Synopsis from the publisher's web site:  He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem--ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.  She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities--like the Housekeeper’s shoe size--and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.
Finding Nouf ~ by Zoe Ferraris, 2008
Synopsis from the author's web site:  When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. When the coroner's office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened.

He quickly realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner's office who is bold enough to pursue the investigation on her own. Their partnership challenges Nayir, as he confronts his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs. Fast-paced and utterly transporting, Finding Nouf is a riveting literary mystery that offers an unprecedented window into Saudi Arabia and the lives of men and women there.
American Wife ~ by Curtis Sittenfeld, 2008
Plot summary from the author's web site: On what might become one of the most significant days in her husband’s presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led her to the White House–and the repercussions of a life lived, as she puts it, “almost in opposition to itself.”

A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice learned the virtues of politeness early on from her stolid parents and small Wisconsin hometown. But a tragic accident when she was seventeen shattered her identity and made her understand the fragility of life and the tenuousness of luck. So more than a decade later, when she met boisterous, charismatic Charlie Blackwell, she hardly gave him a second look: She was serious and thoughtful, and he would rather crack a joke than offer a real insight; he was the wealthy son of a bastion family of the Republican party, and she was a school librarian and registered Democrat. Comfortable in her quiet and unassuming life, she felt inured to his charms. And then, much to her surprise, Alice fell for Charlie.

As Alice learns to make her way amid the clannish energy and smug confidence of the Blackwell family, navigating the strange rituals of their country club and summer estate, she remains uneasy with her newfound good fortune. And when Charlie eventually becomes President, Alice is thrust into a position she did not seek–one of power and influence, privilege and responsibility. As Charlie’s tumultuous and controversial second term in the White House wears on, Alice must face contradictions years in the making: How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona?

In Alice Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld has created her most dynamic and complex heroine yet. American Wife is a gorgeously written novel that weaves class, wealth, race, and the exigencies of fate into a brilliant tapestry–a novel in which the unexpected becomes inevitable, and the pleasures and pain of intimacy and love are laid bare.
The Lacuna ~ by Barbara Kingsolver, 2009
Book description from the publisher's web site:  In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.

Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America's hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach—the lacuna—between truth and public presumption.

With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time.
The Great Gatsby ~ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
This novel was first published in 1925, but didn't do well until the 1950s, when it was republished. Set on Long Island's North Shore and in New York City during the summer of 1922, it is a critique of the American Dream.  It's the classic story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan.  Nick Carraway is the cynical neighbor observing the decadence and excess.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ by Betty Smith, 1943
This novel, first published in 1943, is the coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan during the first two decades of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia:  "The main metaphor of the book is the hardy Tree of Heaven, of Asian origin, now considered invasive, and common in the vacant lots of New York City."

The Dark Is Rising ~ by Susan Cooper,1973
This is a five-book fantasy series for grade five and up, but the second in the series is also entitled The Dark Is Rising.  The second volume is about 11-year-old Will, who discovers he's one of the Old Ones. My library's description of this children's book:  "On the Midwinter Day that is his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers a special gift -- that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark. At once, he is plunged into a quest for the six magical Signs that will one day aid the Old Ones in the final battle between the Dark and the Light. And for the twelve days of Christmas, while the Dark is rising, life for Will is full of wonder, terror, and delight."


Bonnie Jacobs said...

I have The Lacuna on loan from a friend, but my library has several copies available. Come suggest some titles for us to read this fall.

Jennifer said...

I would love to read all of these books here with ya'll. Indeed, they are all on my (infinite) TBR list, except Finding Nouf which I haven't heard of before.

As for suggestions, I'll put in my two cents with the caveat that I may not be reading them with ya'll depending on how things develop in my life. I'm thinking about rereading The Great Gatsby, which I like quite a bit, in September. I'm also thinking about rereading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, another that I liked a lot, in the fall. And lastly, I've been wanting to reread The Dark is Rising for awhile now. The series was a favorite of mine in junior high.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I've added Jennifer's suggestions to this post. Come and read about all the possibilities -- and add other titles of books you want to read.

Shirley said...

The most interesting to me is Postmistress as well as rereading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The least appealing to me is The Dark is Rising. I've read The Lacuna--not nearly as good, in my opinion, as Poisonwood Bible, but still a worthy read.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I've read The Postmistress, though I would be willing to discuss it. I'm also willing to re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My choices, however, would be The Housekeeper and the Professor, Finding Nouf, and The Lacuna.

Shirley, we have several months until the end of the year. Do any others interest you?

Susan said...

The Housekeeper and the Professor sounds really interesting (not available at my library, but could get it from Amazon), and The Postmistress (since it is sitting here on my desk waiting on me...).

alisonwonderland said...

I've loved everything I've read of Barbara Kingsolver's - so I'd be happy to read The Lacuna!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Speak up now or forever hold your peace! Based on comments left here by Jennifer, Shirley, Susan, Alison, and Bonnie, these books are where there's the most interest:

The Postmistress (4)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (3)
The Housekeeper and the Professor (2)
The Lacuna (2)

I'm going to designate The Postmistress our book for September. Before I settle on any of the others, speak up (again) and tell me whether or not you would read these books.

Susan said...

I would like to read The Housekeeper and the Professor for sure. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn sounds interesting also.

alisonwonderland said...

I'm speaking up. :)

All four of those are great picks! Are you looking at planning books through the end of the year?

I will definitely read The Postmistress, The Housekeeper and the Professor, and The Lacuna. I read - and loved - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn less than three years ago, so (given the length of my to-read list) I probably won't re-read it at this point, although I would be interested in the discussion.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Yes, Alison, it would be good to plan books through the end of the year so all book buddies have time to round up whatever we pick. Some book choices may not be readily available because libraries aren't funding as many books, and some of us may have trouble justifying the cost of new hardbacks.

Everybuddy, do you (like Alison) think we already have a good enough list for the rest of the year? Please speak up, and help me decide what we should do. If we choose the books from the comments, I think we should read the one with the fewest pages in December:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ 528 pages

The Housekeeper and the Professor ~ 192 pages

The Lacuna ~ 507 pages

Susan said...

Sounds like a good plan, Bonnie, thanks for all you do!

Jennifer said...

I like having the books picked several months in advance. This way I can check and see what the wait is like at the library. Then check again about a month before, if needed, to see more exactly when I think I should put a hold on the book so that it is most likely to give me the book during the time we are reading it.

I also prefer books that have been out for awhile. Our library system only lets you have "New Books" for two weeks, and you cannot renew them if someone has a hold on them (or possibly at all). (I believe a "New Book" is a book that was published within the past year.) I really need to remember to ask them about those two points next time I'm there.

It's often hard for me to read a longer book, a book with "depth", or a slower reading, thoughtful book in two weeks. Or if I'm just super busy. But I also know I'm a slower reader as well usually.

I have too many books and was spending too much on books so I am on a book buying lock down. If it's out in paperback and I can't get a hold of it, I can usually find it cheaply online with advance notice. I don't buy hardcovers at full price and will wait to get them from the library.

Anyways, too long a post to say that I do like knowing the books selections a couple months in advance and prefer books that have been out for a little while. But I also don't know when I next definitely plan to read with ya'll again (or even read a books again!), so go with what the others prefer.

Oh, and I also agree on a short book for December. Or maybe a collection of short stories. I enjoy them more than I used to and don't read enough of them.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Here's the order of books for the rest of the year, so you can make plans to get your copies. In case you forget, look at the right sidebar of our blog, where I have ALL the books we have read or have planned.

SEPTEMBER ~ The Postmistress ~ by Sarah Blake, 2010

OCTOBER ~ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ by Betty Smith, 1942

NOVEMBER ~ The Lacuna ~ by Barbara Kingsolver, 2009

DECEMBER ~ The Housekeeper and the Professor ~ by Yoki Ogawa, 2003