Staff Book Suggestions Spring 2018
Selected Stories by William Trevor
(Library of Congress PZ4.T8163 Sel 2010)
William Trevor was arguably one of the best short-story writers that ever lived. His stories inhabit the lives of ordinary and unremarkable people—protagonists who are at once disturbed, complex, and full of feeling. His language is precise, his settings are quiet, and his tone is empathetic. Read Trevor’s Selected Stories. It opens the mind, fosters introspection, and demands the strictest attention to detail.
The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason; translated from Icelandic by Bernard Scudder.
(Library of Congress PZ4.A7525 Dr 2008)
I came across this book while I was planning my trip to Iceland. After finishing The Draining Lake, it is easy to see why it was recommended in my tour book. Indriðason cleverly uses Iceland’s history, landscape, and culture to craft a well-thought-out murder mystery. The title refers to an Icelandic lake, Kleifarvatn, which curiously began draining in 2000. In the novel, the falling water level reveals a body previously hidden on the bottom of the lake. I simultaneously learned about the rugged and isolated country while racing to finish this Nordic noir.
The Kinsey Millhone mystery series by Sue Grafton
(Library of Congress PZ4.G7374 Ai/Bi et al)
After seeing the announcement of her death and the tribute display of some of her books on the second floor, I realized I have never read Sue Grafton—although I am addicted to mystery series. I have now completed “A” is for Alibi (PZ4.G7374 Ai ) and am halfway through “B” is for Burglar (PZ4.G7374 Bi 1985). Grafton was a great writer—period. I was immediately taken in by her great attention to detailed description that takes you right into a scene, and makes you “know” the character she’s describing. I’m sure I will continue picking these books up to read periodically. I highly recommend them.
The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones
(Library of Congress DA225 .J66 2012)
Dan Jones is a premier popular history writer and his history on the Plantagenets has quickly become one of my favorite go-to historical recommendations for those who wish to read history but don’t want to slog through academic texts. Jones artfully weaves history, anecdote, and narrative that compels any reader to keep the pages turning. The book follows the stories of the (in)famous Plantagenet Kings of England and recounts the tales of how their actions, personalities, and familial conflict forged the nation of England and profoundly affected the entire history of Western Europe. From their rise through force of arms and marriage to their bloody end on Bosworth Field, The Plantagenets: the Kings Who Made England remains a fun, easy, and informative read for anyone interested in historical non-fiction.
(Library of Congress PZ4.S66 Sw 2016)
If you liked the tale of two women’s friendship in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, and have been looking for something similar, you may find it in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time. Smith tells the story of two friends—one rebellious and wild, the other jealous of her friend’s talent—growing up in the housing estates of London. As the women’s friendship becomes more fraught, so does each character become more disillusioned in her pursuit of success and happiness.
The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe
(Library of Congress PZ4.A13 Wo)
The Sisyphean tale of an insect collector who gets trapped in a pit of quick sand by a conniving village. It is here that he meets a woman who spends her life digging the sand that is constantly on the verge of entrapping her. This claustrophobic novel left me thirsting for warmer days that are hopefully not spent in an endless cycle of existential banality.
The Locusts Have No King by Dawn Powell
(Library of Congress PZ3.P868 Lo 1999)
New York society satire by Dawn Powell. A classic novel with a sharp eye and wit on the literary world with every type of publisher. The main character, Frederick Olliver, is a historian and writer, having an affair with a married, beautiful, and successful playwright, Lyle Gaynor. Olliver’s new book makes it to the bestseller lists just as Lyle’s Broadway career is falling apart. First published in 1948, this book shows NYC, careers of women and men, and the loneliness and hopes they all have after the war.
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
(Library of Congress PZ4.A1753 Cal 2007)
Not my usual fare, but the recent film and surrounding chatter inspired me to take part. What I found was something relevant, reverent, rending, relatable, risqué, and recommended (if not downright required). Read this book!
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
(Library of Congress PZ4.W265 Si 2017)
I loved this book, which was the 2017 National Book Award’s winner. It’s a compelling book dealing with racism, family, death, grief, violence, love—and ghosts. Her writing is beautiful and lyrical and the portraits she created evoked such emotion that I couldn’t put the book down. I consumed it so fast I want to reread it.
(Library of Congress BL535 .R63 2005)
Explore the endless possibilities of life after death with the cheeky, intelligent, and endearing Mary Roach. In this book, Roach explores the lore and theories behind reincarnation, the soul, ghosts, mediums, near-death experiences, and more. Like her other books, Roach interviews an array of individuals, including scientists, and gathers her findings to present well-rounded, scientific arguments to explain these spooky phenomena. This book will keep you guessing and will introduce you to science you’ve never heard of before.
(Library of Congress NEW PZ4 .B98666 Ki 2003)
Spring is a good season to fulfill literary resolutions, and Kindred has been on my list for a long time! First published in 1979, it’s considered a classic of science fiction, as well as of African American literature. Octavia E. Butler was an extraordinary writer, and an African American woman who wrote in what was a very male genre. Not only did she win multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, science fiction’s highest honors, but she was also the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur Fellowship.
In my opinion, Kindred, her most popular book, should be required reading. (See this recent NPR story on Butler, which talks about Kindred‘s significance.) The premise is relatively simple, not really science fiction, but in the author’s own words, “a kind of grim fantasy”: Dana, a modern-day African American woman and an aspiring writer, finds herself drawn through time, pulled back by some connection to her ancestors living in the antebellum plantation South. There she comes to know first-hand the evils of slavery, and the roots of racism and hatred that have so long impacted the experience of African Americans in this country. Beautifully written, with not a word wasted, and thoroughly researched, it is a difficult, necessary book full of uneasy truths. Also not for the squeamish. It made an impact on me, and I think others will feel the same.
All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski
(Library of Congress PZ4.K326 Al 2015)
Memorable novel about a family and various characters that come to stay while the German Army is in retreat and the Red Army is approaching. This book is part of the NYRB classic book club. I receive 12 books a year and so far each selection has been an excellent read.
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
(Library of Congress NEW PZ4 .E719 Go 2017)
“Where can a person go when he doesn’t know where to go?” Erpenbeck places this sentence and this sentence alone on page 266 and repeats it, alone, on the facing page 267 in case we missed it. That question is at the heart of this novel about Richard, a widower and retired scholar. Richard was born in the chaos of post-war Berlin and knew only his mother, not his father. He lived in the east and taught Classics. He now lives on a lake in the northern suburbs of Berlin and as he gropes for a new life post-retirement, he discovers the refugees in Oranienplatz. An agreement with the Berlin Senate results in their removal to a nursing home near his home, and Richard begins to spend time with them. He seeks out their stories and we learn much about them, but this novel is about Richard. We first hear his wife’s name on p. 69 (I think) and bits appear here and there—as they appear in our thoughts. The author saves the most information on that for the last two pages. This is a snapshot, nothing is wrapped up in a bow, as in life. I heard Erpenbeck speak, and she claimed Richard represented her; she grew up in the East and loves Latin and Greek. She described how after the fall of the wall, she emigrated without ever packing her bags. Everything changed but the street layout. That personal experience and her family’s twentieth-century history in Germany informed her reaction to what happened when refugees flooded Germany in 2015. This book takes place over several seasons, but I consider it appropriate for spring. Erpenbeck’s sensitive consideration gives me hope, and hope is spring’s primary emotion.
(Library of Congress Acquisitions dept.)
This book should be classified as a controlled substance because it can lead directly to being addicted to Karin Slaughter’s work. Slaughter’s character development and ability to tell stories from multiple characters’ perspectives makes her work engaging, suspenseful, and fun to read.