Best-of-the-Year Meeting, Pt. 2
Posted by: Neil Hollands
A meeting themed around best books of the previous year provides a great opportunity for readers to try a title that they want to read but can’t otherwise fit into the pile. It’s also a great discovery session: As discussion proceeds, everyone who attends discovers more titles to add to their own to-read list. Here are six more titles that came to our recent staff book group meeting at Williamsburg Regional Library.
Sheila from our Technical Services division chose the latest Oprah’s Book Club selection, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis. It’s a great historical fiction companion to The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson’s wonderfully readable nonfiction work about the history of the great migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West. Mathis’s debut tells the story of Hattie Shepherd, a fifteen-year-old who flees from Georgia to Philadelphia in 1923, then in eleven further point-of-view chapters, adds the experiences of her children and siblings to the skein.
Barbara from our Outreach division selected Where’d You Go, Bernadette. It’s funny social commentary wrapped in the tale of a high-powered architect becomes agoraphobic and must rely on a virtual assistant in India to run her life. Mostly told in an epistolary format, the novel satirizes private schools, posturing parents, Seattle/Microsoft culture, fashionable environmentalism, and other topics, but has real emotional bite at the core: the tough life Bernadette’s eccentricities create for her daughter Bee.
Connie’s selection was Alice Munro’s latest book of award-winning stories Dear Life. Perhaps most notable in this volume of the Canadian story master’s canon are the last four stories, which she admits are the most autobiographical she has published. Fans who are looking to know more about this important writer will need to read this.
I mentioned one of Cheryl’s selection in the last post, but her favorite was The Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. Anne Applebaum has already contributed one important history to the world: her 2003 opus Gulag, which remains one of the best documents of the Soviet gulag system. Now she returns with another historical blockbuster, which focuses on the experience in three different countries–Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Hungary–as the Iron Curtain fell. I like a description of the book I read on GoodReads: “meticulous and creepy.” This is an important, yet eminently readable book.
Ann Marie from Outreach services, selected Rosamund Lupton’s Afterwards. In a blend of mystery, paranormal fiction, and literary fiction, Lupton tells the story of a mother who goes into a burning school to save her daughter. What’s unusual is that her detection is conducted through out-of-body experiences and hazy memories while she and her daughter fight for life from their hospital beds. And here’s the kicker: her son is the primary suspect in the arson that caused the whole mess.
Finally, pooch-lover Ann from our Program Services division picked John Homans’ What’s a Dog For?: the Surprising History, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend. The title describes the book’s scope well, but there’s a personal story at its heart: Homans’ adoption of his dog Stella, her place in his family, and the contrast her existence had with that of the dogs he remembered from his childhood. It’s an interesting study of how our relationship with pets has evolved with the times.
My selection was Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, but I’ll save that for another post. Come back next week, when I’ll post the first draft of results from my annual compilation of all of the year’s best-books selections and awards.