Summer Book Group Suggestions
Posted by: Misha Stone
In a past post I mentioned that my colleague, Linda, and I were preparing to book-talk some book group suggestions to a women’s group in Seattle. I thought that I would share our list.
We wrote many of the annotations, but honestly also adapted a few from NoveList and used some from our Book Group Collection list.
Here is the list:
From our booktalk
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian (2007)
Laurel, a social worker, encounters a homeless man with a history of mental illness and a box of secret photos. After his death, Laurel pieces together his story, which includes characters descended from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. A terrific companion read with Gatsby.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave (2009)
A Nigerian refugee released from a British detention center seeks out the Englishwoman she met on a fateful day on a beach in her home country. A powerful novel narrated by two unforgettable voices.
Old Filth by Jane Gardam (2006)
Sir Edward Feathers, aka Old Filth, retires from his life as a lawyer and judge in Hong King with his wife Betty. But when Betty dies, the past that Edward has tried to avoid starts to resurface, revealing the complicated man beneath his unruffled demeanor. The New York Times called it “pitch-perfect.”
Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos (2009)
In Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, the Jones family siblings, whose mother disappeared in a tornado years before, reconnect when their father dies in this satisfying drama about small-town life, loss and redemption. From the Seattle author who wrote Broken for You.
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz (2009)
Thirty-eight-year old Portia Nathan, a Princeton University admission officer, must decide whether to confront the truth when a life-altering decision from her past resurfaces. Kirkus called it a “fine, moving example of traditional realistic fiction.”
Secret Son by Laila Lalami (2009)
Youssef El Mekki life with his mother in a Casablanca slums is upended when he discovers that his father is alive after all and a wealthy businessman. What life will Youssef choose and what will he risk is his desire for a better life?
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman (2009)
Henry Archer lives a quiet, solitary life until he is reunited with Thalia, a stepdaughter he hadn’t seen for twenty years. Soon Thalia moves into his basement and takes a job posing as the girlfriend of a B-list movie actor, and Henry takes on managing her career, meeting a handsome man of his own, and discovering the joy of family. Lovable, charming characters.
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan (2007)
Managing a failed seafood restaurant in a run-down New England mall just before Christmas, Manny DeLeon coordinates a challenging final shift of mutinous staff members, an effort that is complicated by his love for a waitress, a pregnant girlfriend, and an elusive holiday gift.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
Skeeter, a young white woman just out of college, convinces Aibileen, a black maid, to help gather the stories of “the help” in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s. The risk is greater than either imagined, yet 12 women agree to talk to Skeeter. Publishers Weekly called Stockett’s first novel “assured and layered, full of heart and history.”
More good novels to try
The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery (2006)
In rapidly westernizing 19th century Japan, the elegant daughter of a tea ceremony grandmaster takes in an orphaned American girl and together they navigate the changes in their lives in the venerable old city of Kyoto.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (2007)
From the author of The History Boys and The Clothes They Stood Up In comes a deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading.
Away by Amy Bloom (2007)
Lillian Leyb comes to America alone after her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, but when word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on journey from New York to Seattle, and then to Alaska.
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (1984)
Recounts the holiday of Edith Hope, meek, unmarried, and thirty-nine, who, on the mend from a disastrous love affair, becomes intimately involved with her fellow guests at the Swiss Hotel du Lac. In a New York Times review, Anne Tyler called it “wryly realistic.” Winner of the Booker Prize.
The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff (1999)
A novel set in Copenhagen, Paris and Dresden in the 1920s, introduces a man who discovers he is a woman, and the woman who will do anything for him, in a tale of love and marriage in the midst of fundamental crisis. Based on the life of Danish painter Einar Wegener, who had the first sexual reassignment surgery, this is the story of struggling to transform one’s life. An excellent selection for book groups that enjoyed Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)
Henry Lee, a Chinese American widower, reflects on his adolescence in Seattle during WWII and on his first love, Keiko, a Japanese American whose family was interned during the war. This debut is riveting portrait of prejudice, familial expectations and how the persecution of the Japanese affected our local communities.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (2007)
Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, which unearths allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love. “This novel’s firm, steady, even beautiful voice proclaims the completeness of the soul when personal and global issues are conjoined,” commented a reviewer in Booklist.
The Cure for Grief by Nellie Hermann (2009)
Deeply bonded to her three older brothers and in awe of her father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor, young Ruby is shocked when her eldest brother is abruptly taken away to a hospital, where he changes into a person she barely recognizes. The Washington Post said: “Nellie Hermann’s first novel is proof that in the hands of a skillful writer, the most familiar themes can still surprise us with their potency and truth.”
A Free Life by Ha Jin (2007)
Nan, a political science student at Brandies, and his wife, Pingping, struggle to get their son to the U.S. from China after the Tiananmen massacre. Nan tries to balance his dream to be a poet with the practicalities of providing security for his family. Simple, direct prose examines what a free life means.
The Girls by Lori Lansens (2005)
At the approach of her 30th birthday, Rose Darlen attempts to pen her autobiography while remembering the joys and challenges of her life with her conjoined twin sister, Ruby. Unusual situations with extraordinary characters who are exploring independence and togetherness.
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee (2009)
Hired by the wealthy Chen family as a piano instructor, Claire Pendleton is seduced by the social life of Hong Kong’s expatriate community and begins an affair with Will Truesdale, an enigmatic Englishman with a devastating past. A Booklist review said the complex characters drive a “rich and intimate look at what happens to people under extraordinary circumstances.”
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell (1937)
This account of Elizabeth Morison’s death by influenza in 1918, told from the perspectives of her sons and husband, is a spare and eloquent achievement.
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo (2007)
After sixty years of living in the upstate New York town of Thomaston, Louis Charles and his wife of forty years, Sarah, prepare for a trip to Italy to visit Louis’ childhood friend, an artist who had fled his hometown many years earlier. A classic Russo tale of small-town life and the ways that family and place shape us.
The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters (2009)
Feeling like an outsider while visiting her ancestral family in Kyoto, fourteen-year-old Japanese American Sarah Rexford begins to discern cultural mandates about boundaries and learns a painful secret about how her grandmother was forced to give up a daughter to another branch of the family. In a starred review, Booklist said, “This is a novel of extraordinary beauty.”
Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z by Debra Weinstein (2004)
Delighted when she lands a job with the eminent Flower Poet Z., Annabelle G., an aspiring young poet, soon realizes that she has acquired the mentor from hell instead of finding a meaningful relationship. A smart, witty spin on the university poetry scene.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961)
Unhappiness in the Connecticut suburbs in the 1950’s is incisively portrayed in a novel still resonant after 45 years in print.
And a nonfiction title we can’t resist
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (2006)
A novelist shows how to look at words, sentences, paragraphs, character, dialogue and details to fully appreciate literature. Although the title may appear to target writers, Prose’s approach to careful reading can be relished by readers everywhere. Includes a list of “Books to be read immediately.”