Required Reading Around the World

Every country has a book that is required reading for most, if not all, students throughout their academic career. Here is a list of some of the world’s required reading in case you were looking for a way to expand your horizons this winter. Ultimately, the world’s most common required reading choices show the values and what countries deem important for the coming generations to know.

  • Afghanistan:  “The Qur’an” is the primary religious text of Islam and is required reading for every student in Afghanistan starting at a young age.
  • Austria:  “Faust” is a play about a scholar named Faust who makes a pact with Mephistopheles–the devil–because Faust is dissatisfied with life.
  • China:  “The Analects of Confucius” is a compilation of the teachings of the ancient philosopher Confucius; it’s believed to have been written sometime between 475 BC and 221 BC.
  • Colombia:  “100 Years of Solitude” is an internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed novel that offers a rich and brilliant chronicle celebrating the endless variety of life in the mythical Latin American town of Macondo.
  • Germany:  “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a journal that was kept by a Jewish girl named Anne Frank as she lived with her family in hiding in Amsterdam under Nazi occupation.
  • Ghana; Nigeria:  “Things Fall Apart” is set in Nigeria in the 1900s. This novel follows Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and village wrestling champion, his journey to power and glory, and his eventual fall when he fights back against white colonialists.
  • India:  “An Autobiography: the Story of my Experiments with Truth” covers Gandhi’s life from his childhood to his early 50s.
  • Pakistan:  “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” follows the story of a Pakistani man as he reflects on his time in the United States before and after the events of September 11, 2001.
  • Russia:  “War and Peace” follows the lives and loves of five families, begins in 1805 and continues through Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia.
  • United States:  “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a classic  novel about the American South in the 1930s that illustrates how racism, sexism and injustice have shaped US history (and still cause harm today).
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Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • “Uncommon Type” by Tom Hanks and Kevin Twomey:  A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the things he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tell in this first collection of his short stories. they are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!

uncommon type

  • “Heather, the Totality” by Matthew Weiner:  The explosive debut novel–about family, power and privilege–from the creator of the award-winning Mad Men… Mark and Karen Breakstone have constructed the idyllic life of wealth and status they always wanted, made complete by their beautiful and extraordinary daughter Heather. But they are still not quite at the top. When the new owners of the penthouse above them begin construction, an unstable stranger penetrates the security of their comfortable lives and threatens to destroy everything they’ve created.

heather the totality

  • “The Floating World” by C. Morgan Babst:  When a fragile young woman refuses to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approaches, her parents are forced to go without her, setting off a chain of events that leaves their marriage in shambles and their daughter catatonic.

floating world

  • “Lady Killers” by Tori Telfer:  Inspired by author Tori Telfer’s Jezebel column “Lady Killers,” this thrilling and entertaining compendium investigates female serial killers and their crimes through the ages. When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are ones like Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, Kate Bender? The narrative we’re comfortable with is the one where women are the victims of violent crime, not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally, overwhelmingly male that in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared in a homicide conference, “There are no female serial killers.” Each chapter of Lady Killers explores the crimes and history of a different subject, and then proceeds to unpack her legacy and her portrayal in the media, as well as the stereotypes and sexist cliches that inevitably surround her. The first book to examine female serial killers through a feminist lens with a witty and dryly humorous tone, Lady Killers dismisses easy explanations (she was hormonal, she did it for love, a man made her do it) and tired tropes (she was a femme fatale, a black widow, a witch), delving into the complex reality of female aggression and predation. Featuring 14 illustrations from Dame Darcy, Lady Killers is a bloodcurdling, insightful, and irresistible journey into the heart of darkness.lady killers
  • “The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman:  Find your magic. For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York city at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children:  No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse. The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

rules of magic

  • “Ali” by Jonathan Eig:  The definitive biography of an American icon, from a New York Time best-selling author with unique access to Ali’s inner circle. He was the wittiest, the prettiest, the strongest, the bravest, and, of course, the greatest (as he told us over and over again). Muhammad Ali was one of the twentieth century’s greatest radicals and most compelling figures. At his funeral in 2016, eulogists said Ali had transcended race and united the country, but they got it wrong. Race was the theme of Ali’s life. He insisted that America come to grips with a black man who wasn’t afraid to speak out or break the rules. He didn’t overcome racism. He called it out. “I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me–black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.” Ali went from being one of the most despised men in the country to one of the most beloved. But until now, he has never been the subject of a complete, unauthorized biography.

ali

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

Check out some of your library’s newest additions!

  • “Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan:  Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men. Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished. With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.

manhattan beach

  • “Fresh Complaint” by Jeffrey Eugenides:  Jeffrey Eugenides’s best-selling novels have shown him to be an astute observer of the crises of adolescence, self-discovery, family love, and what it means to be American in our times. The stories in Fresh Complaint explore equally rich and intriguing territory. Ranging from the bitingly reproductive antics of “Baster” to the dreamy, moving account of a young traveler’s search for enlightenment in “Air Mail,” this collection presents characters in the midst of personal and national emergencies. We meet a failed poet who, envious of other people’s wealth during the real-estate bubble, becomes an embezzler; a clavichordist whose dreams of art founder under the obligations of marriage and fatherhood; and, in “Fresh Complaint,” a high school student whose wish to escape the strictures of her immigrant family lead her to a drastic decision that upends the life of a middle-aged British physicist. Narratively compelling, beautifully written, and packed with a density of ideas despite their fluid grace, these stories chart the development and maturation of a major American writer.

fresh complaint

  • “Provenance” by Ann Leckie:  A power-driven young woman has just once chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned. Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

provenance

  • “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright:  From one of America’s greatest minds, a journey through psychology, philosophy, and lots of meditation to show how Buddhism holds the key to moral clarity and enduring happiness. Robert Wright famously explained in The Moral Animal how evolution shaped the human brain. The mind is designed to often delude us, he argued, about ourselves and about the world. And it is designed to make happiness hard to sustain. But if we know our minds are rigged for anxiety, depression, anger, and greed, what do we do? Wright locates the answer in Buddhism, which figured out thousands of  years ago what scientists are only discovering now. Buddhism holds that human suffering is a result of not seeing the world clearly–and proposes that seeing the world more clearly, through meditation, will make us better, happier people. In Why Buddhism is True, Wright leads readers on a journey through psychology,  philosophy, and a great many silent retreats to show how and why meditation can serve as the foundation for a spiritual life in a secular age. At once excitingly ambitious and wittily accessible, this is the first book to combine evolutionary psychology with cutting-edge neuroscience to defend the radical claims at the heart of Buddhist philosophy. With bracing honesty and fierce wisdom, it will persuade you not just that Buddhism is true–which is to say, a way out of our delusion–but that it can ultimately save us from ourselves, as individuals and as a species.why buddhism is true
  • “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott:  On a dim winter afternoon, a young Irish immigrant opens the gas taps in his Brooklyn tenement. He is determined to prove–to the subway bosses who have recently fired him, to his badgering, pregnant wife–“that the hours of his life belong to himself alone.” In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Savior, an aging nun appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward for his widow and his unborn child. We begin deep inside Catholic Brooklyn, in the early part of the twentieth century. Decorum, superstition, and shame collude to erase the man’s brief existence. Yet his suicide, although never spoken of, reverberates through many lives and over the decades testing the limits and the demands of love and sacrifice, of forgiveness and forgetfulness, even through multiple generations. The characters we meet, from Sally, the unborn baby at the beginning of the novel, who becomes the center of the story to the nuns whose personalities we come to know and love to the neighborhood families with whose lives they are entwined, are all rendered with extraordinary sympathy and McDermott’s trademark lucidity and intelligence. Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is a crowning achievement by one of the premiere writers at work in America today.

ninth hour

  • “The Twelve-Mile Straight” by Eleanor Henderson:  Cotton County, Georgia, 1930:  in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured. Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth. Acclaimed author Eleanor Henderson has returned with a novel that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.

twelve-mile straight

Best New Books This Week

Check out some of the library’s best new titles this week!

  • “Forest Dark” by Nicole Krauss:  Jules Epstein, a man whose drive, avidity, and outsized personality have, for sixty-eight years, been a force to be reckoned with, is undergoing a metamorphosis. In the wake of his parents’ deaths, his divorce from his wife of more than thirty years, and his retirement from the New York legal firm where he was a partner, he’s felt an irresistible need to give away his possessions, alarming his children and perplexing the executor of his estate. With the last of his wealth, he travels to Israel, with a nebulous plan to do something to honor his parents. In Tel Aviv, he is sidetracked by a charismatic American rabbi planning a reunion for the descendants of King David who insists that Epstein is part of that storied dynastic line. He also meets the rabbi’s beautiful daughter who convinces Epstein to become involved in her own project–a film about the life of David being shot in the desert–with life-changing consequences. But Epstein isn’t the only seeker embarking on a metaphysical journey that dissolves his sense of self, place, and history. Leaving her family in Brooklyn, a young, well-known novelist arrives at the Tel Aviv Hilton where she has stayed every year since birth. Troubled by writer’s block and a failing marriage, she hopes that the hotel can unlock a dimension of reality–and her own perception of life–that has been closed off to her. But when she meets a retired literature professor who proposes a project she can’t turn down, she’s drawn into a mystery that alters her life in ways she could  never have imagined. Bursting with life and humor, Forest Dark is a profound, mesmerizing novel of metamorphosis and self-realization–of looking beyond all that is visible towards the infinite. forest dark
  • “Autonomous” by Annalee Newitz:  When anything can be owned, how can we be free? Earth, 2144, Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane. Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair:  Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jack’s drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understand. And underlying it all is one fundamental question:  Is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned? autonomous
  • “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” by Nathan Englander:  A prisoner in a secret cell. The guard who has watched over him a dozen years. An American waitress in Paris. A young Palestinian man in Berlin who strikes up an odd friendship with a wealthy Canadian businessman. And The General, Israel’s most controversial leader, who lies dying in a hospital, the only man who knows of the prisoner’s existence. From these vastly different lives Nathan Englander has woven a powerful, intensely suspenseful portrait of a nation riven by insoluble conflict, even as the lives of its citizens become fatefully and inextricably entwined–a political thrilled of the highest order that interrogates the anguished, violent division between Israelis and Palestinians, and dramatizes the immense moral ambiguities haunting both sides. Who is right, who is wrong–who is the guard, who is truly the prisoner?  A tour de force from one of America’s most acclaimed voices in contemporary fiction.dinner at the center of the earth
  • “Shadowhouse Fall” by Daniel Jose Older:  Sierra and her friends love their new lives as shadowshapers, making art and creating change with the spirits of Brooklyn. Then Sierra receives a strange card depicting a white beast called the Hound of Light–an image from the enigmatic, influential Deck of World. The Deck tracks the players and powers of all the magical houses in the city, and when the real Hound begins to talk Sierra through the streets, the shadowshapers know their next battle has arrived. shadowhouse fall
  • “Gorbachev” by William Taubman:  When Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR was one of the world’s two superpowers. By 1989, his liberal policies of perestroika and glasnost had permanently transformed Soviet Communism, and had made enemies of radicals on the right and left. By 1990 he, more than anyone else, had ended the Cold War, and in 1991, after barely escaping from a coup attempt, he unintentionally presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union he had tried to save. In the first comprehensive biography of the final Soviet leader, William Taubman shows how a peasant boy became the Soviet system’s gravedigger, how he clambered to the top of a system designed to keep people like him down, how he found common ground with America’s arch-conservative president Ronald Reagan, and how he permitted the USSR and its East European empire to break apart without using force to preserve them. Throughout, Taubman portrays the many sides of Gorbachev’s unique character that, by Gorbachev’s own admission, make him “difficult to understand.” Was he in fact a truly great leader, or was he brought low in the end by his own shortcomings, as well as by the unyielding forces he faced? Drawing on interviews with Gorbachev himself, transcripts and documents from the Russian archives, and interviews with Kremlin aides and adversaries, as well as foreign leaders, Taubman’s intensely personal portrait extends to Gorbachev’s remarkable marriage to a woman he deeply loved, and to the family that they raised together. Nuanced and poignant, yet unsparing and honest, this sweeping account has all the amplitude of a great Russian novel.gorbachev

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

It’s time for the latest installment of “Your Library Curated.”  All of these books are brand-new additions to our collection–check them out today!

  • “The Burning Girl” by Claire Messud:  Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put  her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. The Burning Girl is a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and straddles, expertly, childhood’s imaginary worlds and painful adult reality–crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence. Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions:  To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.9780393635027_custom-da0654e0fea6af64672495dc8a7c9d52fb5b1dcd-s400-c85
  • “What Happened” by Hillary Rodham Clinton:  “In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down” says Hillary Rodham Clinton. For the first time, Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Hillary takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules. This is her most personal memoir yet. In these pages, she describes what it was like to run against Donald Trump, the mistakes she made, how she has coped with a shocking and devastating loss, and how she found the strength to pick herself back up afterward. With humor and candor, she tells readers what it took to get back on her feet–the rituals, relationships, and reading that got her through, and what the experience has taught her about life. She speaks about the challenges of being a strong woman in the public eye, the criticism over her voice, age, and appearance, and the double standard confronting women in politics. She lays out how the 2016 election was marked by an unprecedented assault on our democracy by a foreign adversary. By analyzing the evidence and connecting the dots, Hillary shows just how dangerous the forces are that shaped the outcome, and why Americans need to understand them to protect our values and our democracy in the future. The election of 2016 was unprecedented and historic. What Happened is the story of that campaign and its aftermath–both a deeply intimate account and a cautionary tale for the nation.what happened
  • “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward:  In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers. Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise. Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.9781501126062_custom-faf53a5537a90b3d214fb087df157842dc7a3e26-s400-c85
  • “Sourdough” by Robin Sloan:  Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois:  their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her–feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it. Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up. When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges:  a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly? Leavened by the same infectious intelligence that made Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore such a sensation, while taking on even more satisfying challenges, Sourdough marks the triumphant return of a unique and beloved young writer.9780374203108_custom-a1065fffb44b3d741777e4ba1c9e0b79128f00e7-s400-c85
  • “If the Creek Don’t Rise” by Leah Weiss:  Sadie Blue has been a wife for fifteen days. That’s long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby. Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia, a ticket out of town is hard to come by, and hope often gets stomped out. When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline…if she can just figure out how to use it. This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek. With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, If the Creek Don’t Rise is a debut novel bursting with heart, honest, and homegrown grit.9781492647454_custom-d6c5521a37596d30f3f6530e34f92269c4e46367-s400-c85
  • “Reincarnation Blues” by Michael Poore:  First we live. Then we die. And then…we get another try? Ten thousand tries, to be exact. Ten thousand lives to “get it right.” Answer all the Big Questions. Achieve Wisdom. And Become One with Everything. Milo has had 9,995 chances so far and has just five more lives to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her. More than just Milo’s lover throughout his countless layovers in the Afterlife, Suzie is literally his reasons for living–as he dives into one new existence after another, praying for the day he’ll never have to leave her side again. But Reincarnation Blues is more than a great love story:  Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle–if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity. As darkly enchanting as the works of Neil Gaiman and as wisely hilarious as Kurt Vonnegut’s, Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues is the story of everything that makes life profound, beautiful, absurd, and heartbreaking. Because it’s more than Milo and Suzie’s story. it’s your story, too.9780399178481_custom-b7ac3d0ab263c8a9015c4b5262532958d42cdf64-s400-c85
  • “The Red-Haired Woman” by Orhan Pamuk: On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a master well digger and his young apprentice are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck meter by meter, the two will develop a filial bond neither has known before–not the poor middle-aged bachelor nor the middle-class boy whose father disappeared after being arrested for politically subversive activities. The pair will come to depend on each other and exchange stories reflecting disparate views of the world. But in the nearby town, where they buy provisions and take their evening break, the boy will find an irresistible diversion. The Red-Haired Woman, an alluring member of a travelling theatre company, catches his eye and seems as fascinated by him as he is by her. The young man’s wildest dream will be realized, but, when in his distraction a horrible accident befalls the well digger, the boy will flee, returning to Istanbul. Only years later will he discover whether he was in fact responsible for his master’s death and who the redheaded enchantress was. 9780451494429_custom-933a3f198cacab61495dc5ed0f6a94a1f187dec4-s400-c85
  • “Wild Things” by Bruce Handy:  In 1690, the dour New England Primer, thought to be the first American children’s book, was published in Boston. Offering children gems of advice such as “Strive to learn” and “Be not a dunce,” it was no fun at all. So how did we get from there to “Let the wild rumpus start”? And now that we’re living in a golden age of children’s literature, what can adults get out of reading Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon, or Charlotte’s Web and Little House on the Prairie? In Wild Things, Bruce Handy revisits the classics of American childhood, from fairy tales to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and explores the backstories of their creators, using context and biography to understand how some of the most insightful, creative, and witty authors and illustrators of their times created their often deeply personal masterpieces. Along the way, Handy learns what The Cat in the Hat says about anarchy and absentee parenting, which themes link The Runaway Bunny and Portnoy’s Complaint, and why Ramona Quimby is as true an American icon as Tom Sawyer or Jay Gatsby. It’s a profound, eye-opening experience to reencounter books that you once treasured after decades apart. A clear-eyed love letter to the greatest children’s books and authors, from Louisa May Alcott to L. Frank Baum to Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Mildred D. Taylor, and E.B. White, Wild Things will bring back fond memories for readers of all ages, along with a few surprises.9781451609950_custom-49201e5073d0c048b8ddca4ff51ee8b6dc15294d-s400-c85
  • “The Stone Sky” by N.K. Jemisin:  The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe. For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what  her mother will not admit:  that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed. 9780316229241_custom-77d15112b6bcc7291659fc1be8b38abdd983025a-s400-c85
  • “Good Booty” by Ann Powers:  In this sweeping history of popular music in the United States, NPR’s acclaimed music critic examines how popular music shapes fundamental American ideas and beliefs, allowing us to communicate difficult emotions and truths about our most fraught social issues, most notably sex and race. In Good Booty, Ann Powers explores how popular music became America’s primary erotic art form. Powers takes us from nineteenth-century New Orleans through dance-crazed Jazz Age New York to the teen scream years of mid-twentieth century rock-and-roll to the cutting-edge adventures of today’s web-based pop stars. Drawing on her deep knowledge and insights on gender and sexuality, Powers recounts stories of forbidden lovers, wild shimmy-shakers, orgasmic gospel singers, countercultural perverts, soft-rock sensitivos, punk Puritans, and the cyborg known as Britney Spears to illuminate how eroticism–not merely sex, but love, bodily freedom, and liberating joy–became entwined within the rhythms and melodies of American song. This cohesion, she reveals, touches the heart of America’s anxieties and hopes about race, feminism, marriage, youth, and freedom. 9780062463692_custom-2181b72b808dace0a303a4d49c4127d4fa118d2b-s400-c85
  • “Ghost of the Innocent Man” by Benjamin Rachlin:  During the last two decades, more than two thousand American citizens have been wrongfully convicted. Ghost of the Innocent Man brings us one of the most dramatic of those cases and provides the clearest picture yet of the national scourge of wrongful conviction and of the opportunity for meaningful reform. When the final gavel clapped in a rural southern courtroom in the summer of 1988, Willie J. Grimes, a gentle spirit with no record of violence, was shocked and devastated to be convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life imprisonment. Here is the story of this everyman and his extraordinary quarter-century-long journey to freedom, told in breathtaking and sympathetic detail, from the botched evidence and suspect testimony that led to his incarceration to the tireless efforts to prove his innocence and the identity of the true perpetrator. These were spearheaded by his relentless champion, Christine Mumma, a cofounder of North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission. That commission–unprecedented at its inception of 2006–remains a model organization unlike any other in the country, and one now responsible for a growing number of exonerations. With meticulous, prismatic research and pulse-quickening prose, Benjamin Rachlin presents one man’s tragedy and triumph. The jarring and unsettling truth is that the story of Willie J. Grimes, for all it outrage, dignity, and grace, is not a unique travesty. But through the harrowing and suspenseful account of one life, told from the inside, we experience the full horror of wrongful conviction on a national scale. Ghost of the Innocent Man is both rare and essential, a masterwork of empathy. The book offers a profound reckoning not only with the shortcomings of our criminal justice system but also with its possibilities for redemption. 9780316311496_custom-1d08af8c06c0686faf026ddf00a0dc6ce201661b-s400-c85
  • “What She Ate” by Laura Shapiro:  Food stories can be as intimate and revealing as stories of love, work, or coming-of-age. Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table. It’s a lively and unpredictable array of women; what they have in common with one another (and us) is a powerful relationship with food. They include Dorothy Wordsworth, whose food story transforms our picture of the life she shared with her famous poet brother; Rosa Lewis, the Edwardian-era Cockney caterer who cooked her way up the social ladder; Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and rigorous protector of the worst cook in White House history; Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, who challenges our warm associations of food, family, and table; Barbara Pym, whose witty books upend a host of stereotypes about postwar British cuisine; and Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan, whose commitment to “having it all” meant having almost nothing on the plate except a supersized portion of diet gelatin. what she ate
  • “Mrs. Fletcher” by Tom Perrotta:  Eve Fletcher is trying to figure out what comes next. A forty-six-year-old divorcee whose beloved only child has just left for college, Eve is struggling to adjust to her empty nest when one night her phone lights up with a text message. Sent from an anonymous number, the mysterious sender sends her a sexually explicit text. Over the months that follow, that message comes to obsess Eve. While leading her all-too-placid life–serving as Executive Director of the local senior center by day and taking a community college course on Gender and Society at night–Eve can’t curtail her own interest in exploring what that text was all about. 9781501144028_custom-7fd8c7fd6e0b67810f24efbd20a6bf4ed0577480-s400-c85
  • “Conscience of a Conservative” by Jeff Flake:  Republican Senator Jeff Flake takes his party to task for embracing nationalism, populism, xenophobia, and the anomalous Trump presidency. The book is an urgent call for a return to bedrock conservative principle and a cry to once again put country before party.conscience of a conservative
  • “Stanton” by Walter Stahr:  Of the crucial men close to President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869) was the most powerful and controversial. Stanton raised, armed, and supervised the army of a million men who won the Civil War. He organized the war effort. He directed military movements from his telegraph office, where Lincoln literally hung out with him. He arrested and imprisoned thousands for “war crimes,” such as resisting the draft or calling for an armistice. Stanton was so controversial that some accused him at that time of complicity in Lincoln’s assassination. He was a stubborn genius who was both reviled and revered in his time. Stanton was a Democrat before the war and a prominent trial lawyer. He opposed slavery, but only in private. He served briefly as President Buchanan’s Attorney General and then as Lincoln’s aggressive Secretary of War. On the night of April 14, 1865, Stanton rushed to Lincoln’s deathbed and took over the government since Secretary of State William Seward had been critically wounded the same evening. He informed the nation of the President’s death, summoned General Grant to protect the Capitol, and started collecting the evidence from those who had been with the Lincolns at the theater in order to prepare a murder trial. Now with this worthy complement to the enduring library of biographical accounts of those who helped Lincoln preserve the Union, Stanton honors the indispensable partner of the sixteenth president. Walter Stahr’s essential book is the first major biography of Stanton in fifty years, restoring this underexplored figure to his proper place in American history.9781476739304_custom-f77b8c099ae6d1d2435a383db0c99684189c632b-s400-c85

Books From Every State in America

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy reading a book that either takes place in or is about the place you’re going.  If you’re not like me, you can just go ahead and stop reading… that’s what this blog post is about.  I am going to recommend at least one book (usually more) that takes place in or is about every state in America.

Personally, I love getting the feel for a place that I’m travelling to–that’s what these books do best.  The best part is that all of these items are available at your library!

Alabama

“Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg:  This book is about an unlikely relationship between an 86-year-old woman in a nursing home and a middle-aged housewife. Violence and race are addressed as well.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee:  Scout Finch, the young daughter of a local attorney in the Deep South during the 1930s, tells of her father’s defense of an African-American man charge with the rape of a white girl.

Alaska

“The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey:  Alaska, 1920:  a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London:  This gripping story follows the adventures of the loyal dog Buck, who is stolen from his comfortable family home and forced into the harsh life of an Alaskan sled dog.

Arizona

“Almanac of the Dead” by Leslie Marmon Silko:  When the ex-mistress of a sinister cocaine wholesaler takes a job as secretary to a Native American clairvoyant who works the TV talk show circuit, she begins transcribing an ancient manuscript that foretells the second coming of Quetzalcoatl and the violent end of white rule in the Americas.

“The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver:  Feisty Marietta Greer changes her name to “Taylor” when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, IL. By the time she reaches Oklahome, this strong-willed young Kentucky native with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up ’55 Volkswagen bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom. But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor’s passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does…

Arkansas

“Boy Erased” by Garrard Conley:  A poignant account by a survivor of a church-supported sexual-orientation-conversion therapy facility that claimed to “cure” homosexuality describes its institutionalized, intense Bible study program and the daily threats of his abandonment by family, friends and God, an experience that transformed the author’s relationships and self-understandings.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou:  Poet Maya Angelou recounts a youth filled with disappointment, frustration, tragedy, and finally hard-won independence. Sent at a young age to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, Angelou learned a great deal from this exceptional woman and the tightly knit black community there.

California

“The Sellout” by Paul Beatty:  This is a biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality–the black Chinese restaurant.

“Take This Man” by Brando Skyhorse:  This is the true story of a boy’s turbulent childhood growing up with five stepfathers and the mother who was determined to give her son everything but the truth. When he was three years old, Brando Kelly Ulloa was abandoned by his Mexican father. His mother, Maria, dreaming a more exciting life, saw no reason for her son to live his life as a Mexican just because he started out as one. The life of Brando Skyhorse, the American Indian son of an incarcerated political activist, was about to begin.

“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck:  First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in it scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

Colorado

“Plainsong” by Kent Haruf:  A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver. In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl–her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house–is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.

“The Shining” by Stephen King:  Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote… and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

Connecticut

“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates:  In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model couple:  bright, beautiful, talented, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. Perhaps they married too young and started a family too early. Maybe Frank’s job is dull. And April never saw herself as a housewife. Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But now that certainty is about to crumble. With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves.

Delaware

“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez:  A boy and a girl who fall in love. Two families whose hopes collide with destiny. An extraordinary novel that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be American. Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream:  that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.

“Never Let Her Go” by Ann Rule:  The murder of Anne-Marie Fahey, secretary to the governor of Delaware, is investigated fully, revealing the shocking affair with respected attorney Thomas Capano that eventually led to her death. Real life drama of a doomed young woman hopelessly trapped in a web of politics, sex, and murder by a charming, successful yet murderous lover.

“Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk:  An underground classic since its first publication in 1996, Fight Club is now recognized as one of the most original and provocative novels published in this decade. Chuck Palahniuk’s darkly funny first novel tells the story of a god-forsaken young man who discovers that his rage at living in a world filled with failure and lies cannot be pacified by an empty consumer culture. Relief for him and his disenfranchised peers comes in the form of secret after-hours boxing matches held in the basements of bars. Fight Club is the brainchild of Tyler Durden, who thinks he has found a way for himself and his friends to live beyond their confining and stultifying lives. But in Tyler’s world there are no rules, no limits, no brakes.

Florida

“The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean:  In Susan Orlean’s mesmerizing true story of beauty and obsession is John Laroche, a renegade plant dealer and sharply handsome guy, in spite of the fact that he is missing his front teeth and has the posture of al dente spaghetti. In 1994, Laroche and three Seminole Indians were arrested with rare orchids they had stolen from a wild swamp in south Florida that is filled with some of the world’s most extraordinary plants and trees. Laroche had planned to clone the orchids and then sell them for a small fortune to impassioned collectors.

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston:  One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston.

Georgia

“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker:  This is the story of two sisters–one a missionary in Africa and the other a child wife living in the South–who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance, and silence.

Hawaii

“Unfamiliar Fishes” by Sarah Vowell:  From the bestselling author of “The Wordy Shipmates” comes and examination of Hawaii’s emblematic and exceptional history, retracing the impact of New England missionaries who began arriving in the early 1800s to remake the island paradise into a version of New England.

Idaho

“Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson:  A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, the eccentric and remote sister of their dead mother. The family house is in the small town of Fingerbone on a glacial lake in the Far West, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.” Ruth an Lucille’s struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep  undertow of transience.

Illinois

“Native Son” by Richard Wright:  Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.

Indiana

“A Girl Named Zippy” by Haven Kimmel:  When Haven Kimmel was born in 1965, Mooreland, Indiana, was a sleepy little hamlet. Nicknamed Zippy, she possessed big eyes and even bigger ears. In this loving memoir, Kimmel takes readers back in time to when small-town America was still in the innocent postwar period and treats readers to an appealing, and knowing, heroine.

“The Friendly Persuasion” by Jessamyn West:  The Birdwells are a pacifist Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War. A quintessential American heroine, Eliza Birdwell is a wonderful blend of would-be austerity, practicality, and gentle humor when it comes to keeping her faith and caring for her family and community. Her husband, Jess, shares Eliza’s love of people and peaceful ways but, unlike Eliza, also displays a fondness for a fast horse and a lively tune. With their children, they must negotiate their way through a world that constantly confronts them–sometimes with candor, sometimes with violence–and tests the strength of their beliefs. Whether it’s a gift parcel arriving on their doorstep or Confederate soldiers approaching their land, the Birdwells embrace life with emotion, conviction, and a love for one another that seems to conquer all.

Iowa

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson:  In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition:  He “preached men into the Civil War,” then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father–an ardent pacifist–and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells the story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend’s wayward son.

“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson:  Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century–1951–in the middle of the United States–Des Moines, Iowa–in the middle of the largest generation in American history–the baby boomers. As one of the bet and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood with an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons)–in his head–as “The Thunderbolt Kid.”

“A Thousand Acres” by Jane Smiley:  This powerful twentieth-century reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear centers on a wealthy Iowa farmer who decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. Ambitiously conceived and stunningly written, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love and pride–and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

Kansas

“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote:  On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues. As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz chronicles the adventure of Dorothea in the land of Oz. A cyclone picks her up from her Kansas home, where she lives with her aunt and uncle, and deposits her in the fantastical land. She begins a journey along the yellow brick road to seek help from the Wizard of Oz. On her way, she meets her fair share of witches (good and band) and a scarecrow without a brain, a tinman without a heart and a cowardly lion. They travel together to the Emerald City to seek audience with the wizard.

Kentucky

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe:  Published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was a powerful indictment of slavery in America. Describing the many trials and eventual escape to freedom of the long-suffering, good-hearted slave Uncle Tom, it aimed to show how Christian love can overcome any human cruelty. Uncle Tom’s Cabin has remained controversial to this day, seen as either a vital milestone in the anti-slavery cause or as a patronizing stereotype of African-Americans, yet it played a crucial role in the eventual abolition of slavery and remains one of the most important American novels ever written.

Louisiana

“Five Days at Memorial” by Sheri Fink:  Fink provides a landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravages by Hurricane Katrina–and a suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice. After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. Fink unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of healthcare rationing.

“A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole:  When Marie decides to leave Bruce, she delivers herself of a torrent of ferocious humor and foul-mouthed vituperation concerning him and their marriage, not to mention love, hate, caring, commitment, and all the other current cliches about relationships. As he follows Marie and Bruce through breakfast, a friend’s party, and dinner, Wallace Shawn brilliantly orchestrates her savage attacks and his slyly passive defenses into a symphony of subversive propositions about the  nature of the marital state.

Maine

“Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout:  At the edge of the continent, in the small town of Crosby, Maine, lives Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher who deplores the changes in her town and in the world at large but doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her.

“We Took to the Woods” by Louise Dickinson Rich:  In her early thirties, Louise Dickinson Rich took to the woods of Maine with her husband. They found their livelihood and raised a family in the remote backcountry settlement of Middle Dam, in the Rangeley area. Rich made time after morning chores to write about their lives. We Took to the Woods is an adventure story, written with humor, but it also portrays a cherished dream awakened into full life.

“The Cider House Rules” by John Irving:  First published in 1985, The Cider House Rules is John Irving’s sixth novel. Set in rural Maine in the first half of this century, it tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch–saint and obstetrician, founder and director of the orphanage in the town of St. Cloud’s, ether addict and abortionist. It is also the story of Dr. Larch’s favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted.

Maryland

“The Great Gilly Hopkins” by Katherine Paterson: This timeless Newbery Honor Book from bestselling author Katherine Paterson is about a wisecracking, ornery, completely unforgettable young heroine. Eleven-year-old Gilly has been stuck in more foster families than she can remember, and she’s hated them all. She has a reputation for being brash, brilliant, and completely unmanageable, and that’s the way she likes it. So when she’s sent to live with the Trotters–by far the strangest family yet–she knows it’s only a temporary problem.

Massachusetts

“Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace:  A spoof on our culture featuring a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation house near Boston. The center becomes a hotbed of revolutionary activity by Quebec separatists in revolt against the Organization of North American Nations which now rules the continent.

“Walden” by Henry David Thoreau:  Walden is one of the best-known non-fiction books ever written by an American. It details Thoreau’s sojourn in a cabin near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. Walden was written with expressed seasonal divisions. Thoreau hoped to isolate himself from society in order to gain a more objective understanding of it. Simplicity and self-reliance were Thoreau’s other goals, and the whole project was inspired by Transcendentalist philosophy. This book is full of fascinating musings and reflections. As pertinent and relevant today as it was when it was first written.

Michigan

“The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy:  The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone–and some returned; it h as seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave  her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts–and shapes–their family’s future.

“The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides:  This beautiful and sad novel tells of a band of teenage sleuths who piece together the story of a twenty-year old family tragedy begun by the youngest daughter’s spectacular demise by self-defenstration, which inaugurates ‘the year of the suicides.’

Minnesota

“History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund:  Fourteen-year-old Linda lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Linda as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.

“Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis:  “This is America–a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little groves.” So Sinclair Lewis-recipient of the Nobel Prize and rejecter of the Pulitzer-prefaces his novel Main Street. Lewis is brutal in his depictions of the self-satisfied inhabitants of small-town America, a place which proves to be merely an assemblage of pretty surfaces, strung together and ultimately empty.

“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner:  This is the tragedy of the Compson family, featuring some of the most memorable characters in literature:  beautiful, rebellious Caddy; the manchild Benjy; haunted, neurotic Quentin; Jason, the brutal cynic; and Dilsey, their black servant. Their lives fragmented and harrowed by history and legacy, the character’s voices and actions mesh to create what is arguably Faulkner’s masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

Missouri

“Enemy Women” by Paulette Jiles:  For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the war between the states is a plague that threatens devastation, despite family avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee. The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women’s prison.

“Bettyville” by George Hodgman:  When George Hodgman leaves Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri, he finds himself–an unlikely caretaker and near-lethal cook–in a head-on collision with his aging mother, Betty, a woman of wit and will. Will George lure her into assisted living? When hell freezes over. He can’t bring himself to force her from the home both treasure–the place where his father’s voice lingers, the scene of shared joke, skirmishes, and behind the dusty antiques, a rarely acknowledged conflict:  Betty, who speaks her mind but cannot quite reveal her heart, has never really accepted the fact that her son is gay.

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain:  “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” Ernest Hemingway wrote. “It’s the best book we’ve had.” A complex masterpiece that spawned controversy right from the start (it was banished from the Concord library shelves in 1885), it is at heart a compelling adventure story. Huck, in flight from his murderous father, and Jim, in flight from slavery, pilot their raft through treacherous waters, surviving a crash with a steamboat and betrayal by rogues. As Normal Mailer has said, “The mark of how good Huckleberry Finn has to be is that one can compare it to a number of our best modern American novels and it stands up page for page.”

Montana

“A River Runs Through It” by Norman MacLean:  From its first magnificent sentence, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing,” to the last, “I am haunted by waters,” A River Runs Through It is an American classic. Based on Norman Maclean’s childhood experiences, the title novella has established itself as one of the most moving stories of out time; it captivates readers with vivid descriptions of life along Montana’s Big Blackfoot River and its near magical blend of fly fishing with the troubling affections of the heart.

Nebraska

“My Antonia” by Willa Cather:  Willa Cather’s My Antonia is considered one of the most significant American novels of the twentieth century. Set during the great migration west to settle the plains of the North American continent, the narrative follows Antonia Shimerda, a pioneer who comes to Nebraska as a child and grows with the country, inspiring a childhood friend, Jim Burden, to write her life story. The novel is important both for it literary aesthetic and as a portrayal of important aspects of American social ideals and history, particularly the centrality of migration to American culture.

Nevada

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson:  This cult classic of gonzo journalism is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.

New Hampshire

“A Separate Peace” by John Knowles:  Gene was a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas was a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happened between them at school one summer during the early years of World War II is the subject of A Separate Peace. A great bestseller for over 30 years–one of the most starkly moving parables ever written of the dark forces that brood over the tortured world of adolescence.

New Jersey

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz:  Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture tragic accidents, and above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

New Mexico

“Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya:  Stories filled with wonder and the haunting beauty of his culture have helped make Rudolfo Anaya the father of Chicano literature in English, and his tales fairly shimmer with the lyric richness of his prose. Acclaimed in both Spanish and English, Anaya is perhaps best loved for this classic bestseller. Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima comes to stay with his family in New Mexico. She is a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic. Under her wise wing, Tony will test the bonds that tie him to his people, and discover himself in the pagan past, in his father’s wisdom, and in his mother’s Catholicism. And at each life turn there is Ultima, who delivered Tony into the world-and will nurture the birth of his soul.

“Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather:  Willa Cather’s best known novel is an epic–almost mythic–story of a single human life lived simply in the silence of the southwestern desert. In 1851, Father Jean Marie Latour comes to serve as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, all the while contending with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events, Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.

New York

“Open City” by Teju Cole:  A haunting novel about identity, dislocation, and history, Teju Cole’s Open City is a profound work by an important new author who has much to say about our country and our world. Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor named Julius wanders, reflecting on his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. He encounters people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey–which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the  most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.

“Just Kids” by Patti Smith:  In Just Kids, Patti Smith’s first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality to Just Kids as she has to the rest of her formidable body of work–from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when, The New York Times remarked, “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s that resonates with the power of myth. A novel of lyrical beauty yet brutal realism, of magic, romance, and mysticism, The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger:  This is the story of Holden Caufield with his idiosyncrasies, penetrating insight, confusion, sensitivity and negativism. Holden, knowing he is to be expelled from school, decides to leave early. He spends three days in New York City and tells the story of what he did and suffered there.

North Carolina

“Serena” by Ron Rash:  The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains–but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattlesnakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

“Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier:  Cold Mountain is an extraordinary novel about a soldier’s perilous journey back to his beloved at the end of the Civil War. Based on local history and family stories passed down by the author’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded solider, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. Inman’s odyssey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman and Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.

North Dakota

“The Plague of Doves” by Louise Erdrich:  A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, The Plague of Doves–the first part of a loose trilogy that includes the National Book Award-winning The Round House and LaRose–is a gripping novel about a long-unsolved crime in a small North Dakota town and how, years later, the consequences are still being felt by the community and a nearby Native American reservation. Through generations have passed, the town of Pluto continues to be haunted by the murder of a farm family. Evelina Harppart Ojibwe, part white–is an ambitious young girl whose grandfather, a repository of family and tribal history, harbors knowledge of the violent past. And Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who bears witness, understands the weight of historical injustice better than anyone. Through the distinct and winning voices of three unforgettable narrators, the collective stories of two interwoven communities ultimately come together to reveal a final wrenching truth.

Ohio

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison:  This is the story–set in post-Civil War Ohio–of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked death in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad:  a woman of “iron eyes and backbone to match.” Sethe lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing intruder who calls herself Beloved.

“Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson:  In a deeply moving collection of interrelated stories, this 1919 American classic illuminates the loneliness and frustrations–spiritual, emotional and artistic–of life in a small town.

Oklahoma

“Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann:  In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.

“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton:  No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he’s got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends–true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up on “greasers” like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect–until the night someone takes things too far.

Oregon

“Little Century” by Anna Keesey:  In the lawless frontier town of Century, Oregon, Esther Chamber is met by her distant cousin, a laconic cattle rancher named Ferris Pickett. But this town on the edge of civilization is in the midst of a very real range in a story of dispossession, greed, and ecstatic visions of America.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey:  Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. This is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy’s heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them all imprisoned.

Pennsylvania

“An American Childhood” by Annie Dillard:  Pulitzer prize winning author Annie Dillard’s poignant, vivid memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s details the exhilaration of a young, vibrant girl discovering the world around her and exploring it with a keen mind and curiosity.

“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold:  When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn’t happen. In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief, her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor and begin the difficult process of healing. In the hands of a brilliant novelist, this story of seemingly unbearable tragedy is transformed into a suspenseful and touching story about family, memory, love, heaven, and living.

Rhode Island

“The Witches of Eastwick” by John Updike:  Toward the end of the Vietnam era, in a snug little Rhode Island seacoast town, wonderful powers have descended upon Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, bewitching divorcees with sudden access to all that is female, fecund, and mysterious. Alexandra, a sculptor, summons thunderstorms; Jane, a cellist, floats on the air; and Sukie, the local gossip columnist, turns milk into cream. Their happy little coven takes on new, malignant life when a dark and moneyed stranger, Darryl Van Horne, refurbishes the long-derelict Lenox mansion and invites them in to play. Thenceforth scandal flits through the darkening, crooked streets of Eastwick–and through the even darker fantasies of the town’s collective psyche.

“My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult:  Conceived to provide a bone marrow match for her leukemia-stricken sister, teenage Kate begins to question her moral obligations in light of countless medical procedures and decides to fight for the right to make decisions about her own body. New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult tells the emotionally riveting story of a family torn apart by conflicting needs and a passionate love that triumphs over human weakness. Anna is not sick, but she  might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shot so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate–a life and a role that she has never challenged–until now.

South Carolina

“Bastard Out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison:  Greenville County, South Carolina, a wild, lush place, is home to the Boatwright family-rough-hewn men who drink hard and shoot up each other’s trucks, and indomitable women who marry  young and age all too quickly. At the heart of this astonishing novel is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a South Carolina bastard with an annotated birth certificate to tell the tale. Observing everything with the mercilessly keen eye of a child, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that will test the loyalty of her mother, Anney. Her stepfather, Daddy Glen, calls Bone “cold as death, mean as a snake, and twice as twisty,” yet Anney needs Glen. At first gentle with Bone, Daddy Glen becomes steadily colder and more furious-until their final, harrowing encounter, from which there can be no turning back.

“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson:  Raised in South Caroline and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

“The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd:  Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna.

South Dakota

“Lakota Woman” by Mary Brave Bird:  A powerful autobiography of Mary Brave Bird who grew up fatherless in a one-room cabin without running water or electricity on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown:  First published in 1970, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee generated shockwaves with it frank and heartbreaking depiction of the systematic annihilation of American Indian tribes across the western frontier. In this nonfiction account, Dee Brown focuses on the betrayals, battles, and massacres suffered by American Indians between 1860 and 1890. He tells of the many tribes and their renowned chiefs–from Geronimo to Red Cloud, Sitting Bull to Crazy Horse–who struggled to combat the destruction of their people and culture.

Tennessee

“Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor:  Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is the story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a “blind” street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawks, Hazel Motes founds The Church Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with “wise blood,” who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel’s existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdom gives us one of the most consuming characters in modern fiction.

“A Death in the Family” by James Agee:  On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tend to his father, whom he believes is dying. The summons turns out to be a false alarm, but on his way back to his family, Jay has a car accident and is killed instantly. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay’s wife, brother, and young son, Rufus, Agee creates an overwhelmingly powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss that should be read aloud for the sheer music of it prose.

Texas

“The Liars’ Club” by Mary Karr:  In this funny, razor-edged memoir, Mary Karr, a prize-winning poet and critic, looks back at her upbringing in a swampy East Texas refinery town with a volatile, defiantly loving family. She recalls her painter mother, seven times married, whose outlaw spirit could tip into psychosis; a fist-swinging father who spun tales with his cronies–dubbed the Liars’ Club; and a neighborhood rape when she was eight. An inheritance was squandered, endless bottles emptied, and guns leveled at the deserving and undeserving. With a raw authenticity stripped of self-pity and a poet’s eye for the lyrical detail, Karr shows us a “terrific family of liars and drunks…redeemed by a slow unearthing of truth.”

“Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry:  A love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic Lonesome Dove, the third book in the tetralogy, is the grandest novel ever written about the last, defiant wilderness of America. Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of characters. Richly authentic, beautifully written, and always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make us laugh, weep, dream, and remember.

Utah

“Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey:  Zane Grey’s best-known novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, was first published in 1912. One of the earliest Western novels, it tells the story of Jane Withersteen’s struggle to overcome persecution within  her Mormon church. With the help of her friends, she overcomes adversity to find herself, a child who needs her and her true love in the process.

Vermont

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt:  Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

“Pollyanna” by Eleanor Porter:  When orphaned, eleven-year-old Pollyanna comes to live with austere and wealthy Aunt Polly, her philosophy of gladness brings happiness to her aunt and other unhappy members of the community.

Virginia

“The Known World” by Edward Jones:  Henry Townsend, a black farmer, bootmaker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusal mentor–William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia’s Manchester County. Under Robbins’s tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation–as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation:  slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels:  low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave “speculators” sell free black people into slavery, and rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.

“The Hemingses of Monticello” by Annette Gordon-Reed:  Historian and legal scholar Gordon-Reed presents this epic work that tells the story of the Hemingses, an American slave family, and their close blood ties to Thomas Jefferson.

“Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson:  Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer to he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

Washington

“The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” by Sherman Alexie:  Sherman Alexie’s darkly humorous story collection weaves memory, fantasy, and stark reality to powerfully evoke life on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The twenty-four linked tales in Alexie’s debut collection–an instant classic–paint an unforgettable portrait of life on and around the Spoke Indian Reservation, a place where “Survival=Anger x Imagination,” where HUD houses and generations of privation intertwine with history, passion, and myth. We follow Thomas Build-the-Fire, the longwinded storyteller no one really listens to; his half-hearted nemesis, Victor, the basketball star turned recovering alcoholic; and a wide cast of other vividly drawn characters on a haunting journey filled with humor and sorrow, resilience and resignation, dreams and reality. Alexie’s unadulterated honesty and boundless compassion come together in a poetic vision of a world in which the gaps between past and present are not really gaps after all.

“This Boy’s Life” by Tobias Wolff:  In this unforgettable memoir of boyhood in the 1950s, we meet the young Toby Wolff, by turns tough and vulnerable, crafty and bumbling, and ultimately winning. Separated by divorce from his father and brother, Toby and his mother are constantly on the move. Between themselves they develop an almost telepathic trust that sees them through their wandering from Florida to a small town in Washington State. Fighting for identity and self-respect against the unrelenting hostility of a new stepfather, Toby’s growing up is at once poignant and comical. His various schemes–running away to Alaska, forging checks, and stealing cars–lead eventually to an act of outrageous self-invention that release him into a new world of possibility.

“Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson:  This is the kind of book where you can smell and hear and see the fictional world the writer has created, so palpably does the atmosphere come through. Set on an island in the straits north of Puget Sound, in Washington, where everyone is either a fisherman or a berry farmer, the story is nominally about a murder trial. But since it’s set in the 1950s, lingering memories of World War II, internment camps and racism helps fuel suspicion of a Japanese-American fisherman, a lifelong resident of the islands. It’s a great story, but the primary pleasure of the book is Guterson’s renderings of the people and the place.

West Virginia

“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls:  The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a penetrating look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who hated anything to do with domesticity. The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

Wisconsin

“American Dervish” by Ayad Akhtar:  Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games has previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too  young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes. Mina is Hayat’s mother’s oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah’s doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat’s skeptical father can’t deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family’s Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher. When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true.

“Evicted” by Matthew Desmond:  The author takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the 20 dollars a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords:  Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers.

“Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder:  A year in the life of two young girls growing up on the Wisconsin frontier, as they help their mother with the daily chores, enjoy their father’s stories and singing, and share special occasions when they get together with relatives or neighbors.

Wyoming

“The Solace of Open Spaces” by Gretel Ehrlich:  A stunning collection of personal observations that uses images of the American West to probe larger concerns in lyrical, evocative prose that is a true celebration of the region.

“Close Range” by Annie Proulx:  Annie Proulx’s masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in this collection of stories about loneliness, quick violence, and wrong kids of love. In “The Mud Below,” a rodeo rider’s obsession marks the deepening fissures between his family life and self-imposed isolation. In “The Half-Skinned Steer,” an elderly fool drives west to the ranch he grew up on for his brother’s funeral, and dies a mile from home. In “Brokeback Mountain,” the difficult affair between two cowboys survives everything but the world’s violent intolerance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cut Up Your Collection

If you’re anything like me, you have piles of books everywhere waiting to be read, in the process of being read and library books that looked interesting– but I logically know I’ll never have time to digest all the things I want to read.

In this way, I’ve always been interested in the insight that could be gained from peeking at another person’s book piles.  In the same vein, what would people think of me?  Much like my musical tastes, there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it.  Or is there?

Nina Katchadourian has thought through this very issue and created an art project to accompany these curiosities. The specific project that I have linked to cuts up William S. Burroughs’ book collection at his Kansas home.  If you look at some of these photographs, there is definitely something to be said of the types of books Burroughs liked to read.  From my estimation, his reading tastes are a little odd, off-the-wall and representative of the sub-culture of drugs just like his own writing.

Perhaps, I was drawn to this particular collection because I am currently re-reading Naked Lunch. The first time I read it, I think I was far too young to understand it. At the age of 14, it seemed like a jumbled-up mess of darkness and grotesque descriptions of disease.  Now, at the age of 27, I understand that it is about the disgusting ways in which addiction can change your life–any addiction–violence, vapid consumerism or self-loathing. I see the inspiration even in just the titles of Nina’s cut-up project. Now, I’m interested in reading these titles for myself to see what Burroughs saw.

I thought I would take a few snapshots of the Jacksonville Public Library’s collection.  We serve everyone and therefore, we try to collect books from as many different genres and tastes as we can.  For this reason, I don’t necessarily think that these snaps will provide as much of a clue into the entirety of our collection as one’s own personal collection.  However, I did try to pick titles that I found interesting or that played well together.  Feel free to tell me what you think or post some pictures of your own!

Cut up Project

Cut up Project 2

Mini Book Review

So, I just finished reading “Are You Sleeping” by Kathleen Barber as an e-book.  There is something so subtle and nuanced about this book as it seamlessly slips between the past and the present. The twist in this thriller is also so under the radar that it will haunt you and make you question your own judgment long after you finish reading it. If you pick this one up, don’t expect a dose of optimism, but rather the harsh reality of mental illness and those it affects.  Lies, murder, and darkness–what more could you want in a psychological thriller?are you sleeping

A Couple of Mini Reviews

I won’t get into politics here, but have you ever wondered why government officials and financial institutions are rarely held accountable for their crimes?  Then, The Chickens*** Club by Jesse Eisinger is for you.  If you’re offended by the star symbols, I’m sorry.  Anyway, it’s a wonderful new book that we have at the library by a Pulitzer Prize winner.  He talks about James Comey and a wide cast of characters we’ve all been hearing about in the news.  It’s a fascinating read discussing the financial crisis, as well as other large-scale scandals. If you would like to place a hold on this book, click here.

chickenshit

On the completely opposite side of the spectrum is Richard Kadrey’s The Kill Society.  This book is like a cross between Mad Max and Cormac McCarthy with a lot of noir themes thrown in for good measure. This book is a thrill ride until the very last minute and I had a great time with it. It’s available from your library as an e-book.

kill society

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

Here are some mini-reviews of the best new books at your  library:

  • Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero:  This is the story about the kids from Scooby-Doo all grown-up.  While this sounds like a bit of a silly idea, it is well-executed with some dark undertones.

meddling kids

woolly

  • The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota:  This is a book that challenges its readers to step into the shoes of another–in this case, take a walk in the lives of Indian migrants in Britain.

year of the runaways

  • Defectors by Joseph Kanon:  This is a wonderful thriller and spy novel that is set in the early 1950s during the Red Scare. It was so gripping that it only took me about a day to get through it.

defectors

  • The Child by Fiona Barton:  The author’s previous book, The Widow, centers around a cold case–this book does as well, only this time, it involves the murder of a newborn. There’s a huge twist at the end that will leave you thinking about this book for some time to come.

child

  • The Force by Don Winslow:  This quote from NPR was so wonderful that I have to use it.  “An instant classic, an epic, a…Wagner opera with a full cast and buckets of blood and smack and Jameson whiskey.”  If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, then I don’t what to tell you.

force

  • Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (e-book):  A book about dementia that’s sweet (but not too sweet) and relatable. goodbye vitamin
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss (e-book):  Goss is drawing from Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mary Shelley in this story of friendship and history. Rather than being derivative, it’s actually quite insightful.

strange case

do not become alarmed

  • The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman:  This book is a testament to the power of reading.  Literature vs. video games–who will win?

chalk artist

  • Theft by Finding by David Sedaris:  For fans of David Sedaris, this is like a glimpse into his mind–an all-at-once shocking and amazing place.

theft by finding

  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn:  A suspenseful read full of pain, but also hope.

alice network

  • Silver Silence by Nalini Singh (e-book):  If you like paranormal romance, then this book is for you.  There are changelings, humans, and a race called Psy who ward off all emotions.

silver silence

lost and found sisters