Books to Keep You Up at Night
In the interests of the read-a-thon, I thought it’d be fun to put together a list of books that keep people up at night! But I want to emphasise that all of these books sound so good, I plan to use this list for way more than the read-a-thon! So for those of you not participating, you might want to take a look anyway. :) I solicited suggestions, and y’all poured them in, which is great. Before that, I’d done my own research to find books 300 or less pages in certain genres. For everyone’s suggestions, though, I didn’t worry about page number! Before we get to the list, I’ll explain the format. First, I’ve provided the page numbers after the title and author, for those of you who are looking for shorter (or longer) books. Then, I’ve provided a summary of the book, usually from the description on my library’s website which was based on either the book jacket or a blurb. I made sure there weren’t any spoilers. Finally, if it was someone’s suggestion, that’s noted in parantheses with the person’s name linked to his/her blog. If there’s isn’t any suggestion, that means I found the title through my research (and haven’t read it). I was originally going to add my own already read suggestions, but the list is so long I didn’t think it necessary! You can either scroll through, or jump to a certain genre via these links:
Books About Books
Fantasy and Sci-Fi
Graphic Novels (fic and nf)
Fantasy and Sci-Fi
…visiting other worlds might be the key to keep you turning pages.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (221 pgs): In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier — and whatever alien species are to be found there — will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason. One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful 1-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery — or rediscovery — of inner space…and that disease the ancients called the soul. A page-turning SF adventure, a masterpiece of wit and black humor that accurately predicted the horrors of Stalinism, We is the classic dystopian novel. (Carl’s suggestion and you can read his review)
Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (243 pgs): In a world policed by telepaths, Ben Reich plans to commit a crime that hasn’t been heard of in 70 years: murder. That’s the only option left for Reich, whose company is losing a 10-year death struggle with rival D’Courtney Enterprises. Terrorized in his dreams by The Man With No Face and driven to the edge after D’Courtney refuses a merger offer, Reich murders his rival and bribes a high-ranking telepath to help him cover his tracks. But while police prefect Lincoln Powell knows Reich is guilty, his telepath’s knowledge is a far cry from admissible evidence. (Carl’s suggestion)
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue (318 pgs): On a summer night, Henry Day runs away from home and hides in a hollow tree. There he is taken by the changelings – an unaging tribe of wild children who live in darkness and in secret. They spirit him away, name him Aniday, and make him one of their own. Stuck forever as a child, Aniday grows in spirit, struggling to remember the life and family he left behind. He also seeks to understand and fit into this shadow land, as modern life encroaches upon both myth and nature.” “In his place, the changelings leave a double, a boy who steals Henry’s life in the world. This new Henry Day must adjust to a modern culture while hiding his true identity from the Day family. But he can’t hide his extraordinary talent for the piano (a skill the true Henry never displayed), and his dazzling performances prompt his father to suspect that the son he has raised is an imposter. As he ages, the new Henry Day becomes haunted by vague but persistent memories of life in another time and place, of a German piano teacher and his prodigy. Of a time when he, too, had been a stolen child. Both Henry and Aniday obsessively search for who they once were before they changed places in the world. (Andi’s suggestion)
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (164 pgs): From familiar fairy tales and legends; Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires, werewolves; Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories. (Andi’s suggestion)
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller (320 pgs): Walter M. Miller’s acclaimed SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz opens with the accidental excavation of a holy artifact: a creased, brittle memo scrawled by the hand of the blessed Saint Leibowitz, that reads: “Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels–bring home for Emma.” To the Brothers of Saint Leibowitz, this sacred shopping list penned by an obscure, 20th-century engineer is a symbol of hope from the distant past, from before the Simplification, the fiery atomic holocaust that plunged the earth into darkness and ignorance. As 1984 cautioned against Stalinism, so 1959’s A Canticle for Leibowitz warns of the threat and implications of nuclear annihilation. Following a cloister of monks in their Utah abbey over some six or seven hundred years, the funny but bleak Canticle tackles the sociological and religious implications of the cyclical rise and fall of civilization, questioning whether humanity can hope for more than repeating its own history. (Janet’s suggestion)
Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall (209 pgs): Set in a dystopian near-future northern U.K. where global warming, a fuel crisis, drug epidemics and a cruel totalitarian regime known as the Authority have savaged the land and people, the story is told by Sister, a young woman living in cramped terrace quarters. Sterilized against her will (the result of the Authority’s female sterilization policy) and forced to work in a New Fuel factory, Sister escapes to seek out Carhullan, a shadowy all-female commune run by the enigmatic Jackie Nixon. Carhullan is a hard-knocks utopia, in which women’s strengths and passions grow from manual labor, paramilitary training and intense, sometimes sexual, friendships. As the threat of the Authority grows, Sister rises in the ranks of the Carhullan resistance force, oblivious to the increasing similarities between the Authority and Jackie’s seductive, psychological control. Though the climax and denouement are sloppily handled, the overall effect is haunting, timely and well wrought. (Imani’s suggestion)
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay (421 pgs): “Ned Marriner is spending six weeks with his father in France, where the celebrated photographer is shooting Saint-Sauveur Cathedral in Aix-en-Provence. Both father and son fear for Ned’s mother – a physician with Doctors Without Borders, currently assigned to the civil war-torn country of Sudan. This is not the first time she’s placed herself in harm’s way to help alleviate suffering – and Ned has inherited her courage. He’ll need it.” “While exploring the cathedral, Ned meets Kate Wenger, an American exchange student with a deep knowledge of the area’s history. But even Kate is at a loss when she and Ned surprise a scar-faced stranger, wearing a leather jacket and carrying a knife, deep inside the cathedral. “I think you ought to go now,” he tells them. “You have blundered into a corner of a very old story…”” “In this ancient place, where the borders between the living and the long-dead are thin, Ned and his family are about to be drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, changing – and claiming – lives. (Janet’s suggestion)
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (676 pgs): Eight of the nine provinces of the Peninsula of the Palm, on a world with two moons, have fallen to the warrior sorcerers Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Brandin’s younger son is slain in a battle with the principality of Tigana, which the grief-stricken sorcerer then destroys. Years later, a small band of survivors, led by Alessan, last prince of Tigana’s royal house, wages psychological warfare, planting seeds for the overthrow of the two tyrants. At the center of these activities are Devin, a gifted young singer; Catriana, a young woman pursued by suspicions of her family’s guilt; and Duke Sandre d’Astibar, a wily resistance leader thought dead. Meanwhile, at Brandin’s court, Dianora, his favorite concubine and–unknown to anyone, another survivor of Tigana–struggles between her growing love for the often gentle tyrant and her desire for vengeance. Gradually the scene is set for both conquerors to destroy each other and free a land. (Imani’s suggestion)
Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner (221 pgs): These fairies are tough, cold, selfish beings, yet all the more glamorous and fascinating for that. Seeing them struggle with everyday problems, made all the more difficult sometimes for being fairies, dealing with age, death, birth, and all-too human conditions makes for an involving narrative. The Kingdom of Broceliande that Warner creates is an enduring creation – this book has been a font of inspiration for many authors, and you can trace the development of Warner’s style throughout the stories. Never condescending, always brilliant, this collection is a taut narrative of different characters living in the same world as we do, but with a twist. (Imani’s suggestion)
Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip (262 pgs): In the woods that border Lynn Hall, free-spirited Rois Melior roams wild and barefooted. She soon meets Corbet Lynn, who has returned to rebuild the estate of his murdered grandfather. As autumn gold fades into winter, Rois becomes obsessed with Corbet’s secret past–and with the curse that will forever haunt him. (Imani’s suggestion)
The Book of Flying by Keith Miller (262 pgs): In a city where some inhabitants sit in cafes while others fly over the sea, Pico, a wingless poet who works as a librarian, falls in love with one of the winged people. When she eludes Pico’s grasp, he despairs until he discovers, hidden near his library, a book telling of a ruined town where he can get his own wings. He immediately sets off for the fabled town, his mission taking him through deep forests into the arms of a lusty, gorgeous robber queen whose charms diminish for the reader when she utters cliches like “It’s the ultimate theft, the stealing of another’s heartbeat.” Other encounters-with a talking rabbit who has compiled many fascinating tomes on local flora; with a young man who, in addition to being the poet’s near-spitting image, is a cannibal-bring the poet ever closer to his goal, though each new twist in his journey saps his strength. (Chris’ suggestion)
…because after so many hours awake, your brain might appreciate a break!
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (403 pgs): In the opening scene of Bray’s riveting debut novel set in Victorian times, narrator Gemma Doyle walks the streets of Bombay, India, with her mother on her 16th birthday. By the end of the second chapter, her mother, who has told Gemma to return home, is dead, and Gemma has envisioned just how it happened, involving a “dark shape” that makes a “slithering sound.” Next, readers find her on a train bound for Victoria Station, en route to Britain’s Spence Academy. Gemma’s visions intensify while at school, where she is led to a nearby cave and discovers a diary of a woman who had similar experiences. She soon learns of an age-old Order of sorceresses who can open doors between worlds and of a tragedy two decades prior that is beginning to cast its shadow over her. Meanwhile, the girls of Spence are preparing for their “season,” when they will be trotted out before wealthy bachelors in hopes of securing a good marriage. Bray brilliantly depicts a caste system, in which girls are taught to abandon individuality in favor of their man’s wishes, as a deeper and darker horror than most things that go bump in the night. (Megan’s and Somer‘s suggestion)
Zel by Donna Jo Napoli (227 pgs): High in the mountains, Zel lives with her mother, who insists they have all they need because they have each other. Zel’s life is peaceful and protected–until she encounters a beautiful young prince at the market. But her mother sees the future unfolding and she will do the unspeakable to prevent Zel from leaving her.
Beauty by Robin McKinley (247 pgs): This much-loved retelling of the classic French tale Beauty and the Beast elicits the familiar magical charm, but is more believable and complex than the traditional story. In this version, Beauty is not as beautiful as her older sisters, who are both lovely and kind. Here, in fact, Beauty has no confidence in her appearance but takes pride in her own intelligence, her love of learning and books, and her talent in riding. She is the most competent of the three sisters, which proves essential when they are forced to retire to the country because of their father’s financial ruin.
Witch Child by Celia Rees (261 pgs): The year is 1659, a time of fear and lies. For Mary Newbury, it is a time of desperation. While she watches, unable to intervene, her wise and beloved grandmother is falsely condemned, tortured, and hanged as a witch. Soon the relentless crowd may turn upon Mary. When a mysterious stranger offers her a way out — safe passage to America — she knows she must go. But she doesn’t know that the turbulent voyage will bring her to yet another society where differences are feared and defiance is deadly.
Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett (234 pgs): Bennett’s lush reimagining of the life of Mary Shelley–on the eve of her authorship of the classic gothic novel “Frankenstein”–is a gripping story of passionate young love, poetic history, and the most enduring horror story of our time.
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (369 pgs): Here is the original, deeply moving story of Asher Lev, the religious boy with an overwhelming need to draw, to paint, to render the world he knows and the pain he feels, on canvas for everyone to see. A loner, Asher has an extroardinary God-given gift that possesses a spirit all its own. It is this force that must learn to master without shaming his people or relinquishing any part of his deeply felt Judaism. It will not be easy for him, but he knows, too, that even if it is impossible, it must be done…. (Janet’s suggestion)
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (224 pgs): John, “a witty misanthrope,” meets and falls for zine writer Marisol, a “rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love.” A bittersweet tale of self-expression and the struggle to achieve self-love. (Megan’s suggestion)
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (389 pgs): Grace Brown’s body is discovered, and her murder, which also inspired Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, is the framework for this ambitious, beautifully written coming-of-age story set in upstate New York in 1906. Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey is a waitress at the Glenmore Hotel when Brown is murdered. As she learns Brown’s story, her narrative shifts between the goings-on at the hotel and her previous year at home: her toil at the farm; her relationship with her harsh, remote father; her pain at being forbidden to accept a college scholarship. Plain and bookish, Mattie is thrilled about, but wary of, a handsome neighbor’s attentions, and she wonders if she must give up her dream of writing if she marries. In an intelligent, colloquial voice that speaks with a writer’s love of language and an observant eye, Mattie details the physical particulars of people’s lives as well as deeper issues of race, class, and gender as she strains against family and societal limitations. Megan’s suggestion)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (208 pgs): Clay Jenkins returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 13 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Bakerhis classmate and crushwho committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, hell find out how he made the list. (Dewey’s suggestion)
Life as I Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (337 pgs): When a meteor hits the moon, Miranda must learn to survive the unimaginable. Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all–hope–in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world. (Darcie’s and Chris’ suggestion; Chris also mentioned the companion book, The Dead and the Gone)
…give your eyes a rest with books that use pictures more than words!
Flight vol. 1 ed. by Kazu Kibuishi (208 pgs): features stories by professionals and non-professionals alike, all playing on the theme of flight in its many incarnations. From the maiden voyage of a home-built plane to the adventures of a young courier and his flying whale to a handful of stories about coming of age and letting things go, this first volume of Flight is full of memorable tales that will both amaze and inspire. (Imani’s suggestion)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (232 pgs): This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys). Fun Home refers both to the funeral parlor, where he put makeup on the corpses and arranged the flowers, and the family’s meticulously restored gothic revival house, filled with gilt and lace, where he liked to imagine himself a 19th-century aristocrat. The art has greater depth and sophistication that Dykes; Bechdel’s talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man’s secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter’s burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. The recursively told story, which revisits the sites of tragic desperation again and again, hits notes that resemble Jeanette Winterson at her best. Bechdel presents her childhood as a “still life with children” that her father created, and meditates on how prolonged untruth can become its own reality. She’s made a story that’s quiet, dignified and not easy to put down. (Emily’s suggestion)
Dream Country (#3 in the Sandman series) by Neil Gaiman (160 pgs): The third book of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. What’s remarkable here is that the main character of the book–the Sandman, King of Dreams–serves only as a minor character in each of these otherwise unrelated stories. (Actually, he’s not even in the last story.)
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (192 pgs): In 2001, French-Canadian cartoonist Delisle traveled to North Korea on a work visa to supervise the animation of a children’s cartoon show for two months. While there, he got a rare chance to observe firsthand one of the last remaining totalitarian Communist societies. He also got crappy ice cream, a barrage of propaganda and a chance to fly paper airplanes out of his 15th-floor hotel window. Combining a gift for anecdote and an ear for absurd dialogue, Delisle’s retelling of his adventures makes a gently humorous counterpoint to the daily news stories about the axis of evil, a Lost in Translation for the Communist world.
…it might be what you need to convince you keep turning the pages!
Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrove Manor by Stephanie Barron (289 pgs): Purportedly editing Austen manuscripts found in an old Maryland estate, Barron recounts the suspicious death of the elderly Frederick Payne, Earl of Scargrave. Anonymous notes accuse Isobel, Austen’s friend and Payne’s young bride, and a “grey-hared Lord” of murdering the earl. Intensifying Isobel’s misery is Lord Harold Trowbridge, who badgers the widow to sell him her estate in Barbados. Concerned for her friend and for Fitzroy Payne, the new earl who not-so-secretly loves Isobel, Austen undertakes snooping that leads her to a second corpse and leads Isobel and Fitzroy to trial before the House of Lords. As Austen explores a passel of suspects who are heavy-handedly cast as the originals for the characters in her novels, the reader is offered imitation scholarly footnotes. (Bluestocking’s suggestion)
Sweet Danger by Margery Allenham (201 pgs): Who is Albert Campion? A youngish man who seems equally at home with majesty and mystery, yet he goes by an assumed name. In The Fear Sign, Campion and two of his friends have been posing as the “Hereditary Paladin of Averna” and escort. They have done such a good job of impersonation that they have attracted assassins. As Campion becomes more entangled in the search for the lost regalia of the kingdom of Averna a small, strategically located and petroleum-rich piece of the British Empire he finds his life and the lives of his friends threatened. Francis Matthews excellently portrays the various characters. Allingham (The Fashion in Shrouds) keeps the suspense high in this delightful period novel, capturing the feel of rural England in the 1930s. (Emily’s suggestion)
Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood (175 pgs): After leaving the tedium of 1920s English high society for Melbourne, Australia, Phryne Fisher becomes embroiled in a mystery involving poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops, communism, and erotic encounters with a beautiful Russian dancer.
The Mark Twain Murders by Edith Skom (277 pgs): this exciting story is set at Midwestern University in Illinois where a student is killed after winning a prize for her essay on Tom Sawyer . Convinced that the girl had plagiarized the piece, Professor Beth Austin plunges into the intricate task of unearthing the original. Coincidentally, Gil Bailey, an erudite FBI agent, arrives to investigate thefts of library treasures and establishes an informal partnership with Austin. Suspicion falls on professors and others on the university staff as the amateur and professional detectives cooperate.
Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton (244 pgs): …Until the Dickensian law firm of Willis #38; Willis summons her to a reading of the woman’s will. Down-on-her-luck Lori learns she’s about to inherit a sizable estate–if she can discover the secret hidden in a treasure trove of letters in Dimity’s English country cottage. What begins as a fairy tale becomes a mystery–and a ghost story–in an improbably cozy setting, as Aunt Dimity’s indominable spirit leads Lori on an otherworldly quest to discover how, in this life, true love can conquer all.
…some lighthearted fun will provide a welcome break!
Austenland by Shannon Hale (197 pgs): In 32-year-old singleton Jane Hayes’s mind, no man in the world can measure up to Fitzwilliam Darcy specifically the Fitzwilliam played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Jane is forced to confront her Austen obsession when her wealthy great-aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her an all-expenses-paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a British resort where guests live like the characters in Jane’s beloved Austen novels. Jane sees the trip as an opportunity for one last indulgence of her obsession before she puts it “all behind her Austen, men, fantasies, period,” but the lines between reality and fiction become pleasantly blurred as Jane acclimates to the world of Spencer jackets and stringent etiquette rules, and finds herself torn between the Darcyesque Mr. Nobley and a forbidden tryst with Pembrook Park’s gardener.
Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro (308 pgs): Louise Canova should be happy and in love. But her actor husband seems to be growing distant and she doesn’t know why. Is it her fault? Riddled with uncertainty, the insecurity she thought she’d left behind in adolescence comes back to haunt her. But when she discovers a faded volume titled Elegance in a secondhand bookshop, she believes she’s found the answers. Written by French fashion expert Madame Dariaux, Elegance is an encyclopedia of style that promises to transform plain women into creatures of grace and poise. From Accessories to Zippers, there’s nothing Madame can’t advise upon — including inattentive husbands, false friends, and the absolute importance of seductive lingerie. The lessons Louise learns have a surprising effect and an outcome she never expected. Within the book’s pages lie clues to her past, and she discovers that everything, even elegance, has its price.
Le Divorce by Diane Johnson (309 pgs): A New York Times Bestseller Divorce follows this smart, sexy American abroad as she arrives in Paris to visit stepsister Roxy, a poet whose marriage into an aristocratic French family assured her of a coveted place in Parisian society. But all is not as it should be in the Persand household: Roxy’s husband has just left her for the Czechoslovakian wife of an American lawyer. Could “le divorce” be far behind?
…read one of these, and suddenly you won’t want to turn out the light!
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (246 pgs): The four visitors at Hill House– some there for knowledge, others for adventure– are unaware that the old mansion will soon choose one of them to make its own.
The Winter Sea by Susannah Kearsley (288 pgs): Historical author Carrie Mclelland travels to Scotland to visit her agent only to be lured by the solitary beauty of Slains Castle. When she finds her muse has taken on a new persona in the shape of a young women from her familial past, she finds a new direction for her work-in-progress in Scotland not France. As the story Carrie had intended to write unfolds in this new way she can’t explain the hold the history of the area and the people has on her. What’s even weirder she quickly learns (after the fact of writing it) that what she writes from her imagination has strong elements of the actual facts that are disclosed by those around her. Fearing she might be insane, she wonders if maybe this is genetic memory shared from her ancestor Sophia Paterson, the protagonist narrator of her book? (Melanie’s suggestion)
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (376 pgs): Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals … a used hangman’s noose a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet.” “I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder. … For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts – of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the band-mates he betrayed. What’s one more? But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.” “And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door … seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang … standing outside his window … staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting – with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand. (Andi’s suggestion)
The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stroker (280 pgs): Malcolm Ross went to face the trial that waited in the Trelawny home. And because he did, the jewel of horror was unleashed and that unleashed the horror consumes us all. A novel of unyielding terror from the author of Dracula. (Bluestocking’s suggestion)
A Face at the Window by Dennis McFarland (309 pgs): A fascinating story of a haunted man’s spiritual awakening–by the author of “The Music Room”. After sending their only daughter off to boarding school, Cookson Selway and his wife Ellen travel to London to escape their empty house. But their quiet hotel has guests other than those on the register, and the vacation turns into a journey not only to another city, but to another time.
Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark (268 pgs): Nancy Harmon long ago fled the heartbreak of her first marriage, the macabre deaths of her two little children, and the shocking charges against her. She changed her name, dyed her hair, and left California for the windswept peace of Cape Cod. Now remarried, she has two more beloved children, and the terrible pain has begun to heal — until the morning when she looks in the backyard for her little boy and girl and finds only one red mitten. She knows that the nightmare is beginning again….
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (133 pgs): A self-satisfied couple intent on raising a happy family is shocked by the birth of an abnormal and brutal fifth child.
The Haunting of Lamb House by Joan Aiken (200 pgs): The prolific Aiken has conjured up a deliciously scary ghost story set in the English residence of Henry James and later of E.F. Benson. Most of the book is devoted to the diary of Toby Lamb, who describes mysterious events in his own life and his relations with his beloved older sister and with his best friend. In this tale, Aiken suggests as much as she reveals about dark secrets that lead to suicide. The action then shifts to James’s period of residence, which is followed by a first-person account of Benson’s time in Lamb House. Aiken’s mastery of style serves her well in her creation of three distinct voices. She raises intriguing connections among the stories, including speculations that one protagonist can haunt an era before or after his own.
Treasure Box by Orson Scott Card (310 pgs): A shattering childhood tragedy left Quentin Fears devastated and unable to cope with the world and its citizens. It didn’t, however, prevent him from making millions through brilliant investments. And now the enigmatic recluse has experienced the extraordinarily unexpected: love at first sight. But a whirlwind courtship and marriage to Madeleine — beautiful, witty, and equally ill-at-ease with reality — is bringing Quentin something other than the bliss he anticipated, for now he must meet his new wife’s family. A bizarre, dysfunctional collection of extreme characters, they are guarding a secret both shocking and terrifying — as is Madeleine herself. And suddenly Quentin Fears must prevent his dream woman from unleashing an ageless malevolence intent on ruling the world.
When the Day of Evil Comes by Melanie Wells (317 pgs): Dylan Foster’s carefully constructed, orderly world begins to fray, thread by thread, the day the eyes of hell turn upon her. After a chance encounter with a creepy, sickly looking stranger, her days become punctuated with disturbing, inexplicable events. Desperate for answers, Dylan seeks not only to extricate herself from the nightmare, but to separate the spiritual from the earthly, friend from foe, angel from devil, good from evil. She’s smack in the eye of the battle with only God-issued spiritual armor and her own wits to protect her.
Pigtopia by Kitty Fitzgerald (247 pgs): Society has rejected Jack Plum: born with a disfigurement, he is labeled either a monster or an imbecile by his abusive mother and thoughtless neighbors. But Jack has created a haven, his “pigtopia,” a shelter in his cellar, with a tunnel out into the woods, built with his long-lost father, and shared with his beloved pet pigs. Then Jack meets Holly Lock, a sensitive young teenager who lives nearby, and offers her a piglet. Together they forge an unlikely and beautiful friendship. But society and fate intervene, and Jack’s secret world is threatened by forces beyond his control. (Imani’s suggestion)
…a little bit of mystery, a little bit of scary, and a whole lot of fun.
Disclosure by Michael Crichton (512 pgs): Beautiful, bright, and talented Meredith Johnson arrives at Digital Communications Technology company to become the head of a division, a position that Tom Sanders thought was going to be his. Meredith, his former lover, invites him to her office after hours and attempts to seduce him. When he rejects her, she accuses him of sexual harassment. Tom hires Louise Fernandez to defend him and reverses the accusation to name Meredith as the aggressor. To this plot, Crichton adds computer-industry sabotage, corporate mergers, video-linkups, stock options, CD-ROM jargon, and even a trip on a virtual-reality simulator to help Tom save his reputation and career. (Litlove’s suggestion)
Relentless by Simon Kernick (352 pgs): John Meron, a happily married father of two, who’s never been in trouble, receives a phone call that will change his life forever. His friend, Jack Calley, a high-flying city lawyer, is screaming down the phone for help. As Meron listens, Calley is murdered. His last words, spoken to his killer, are the first two lines of Meron’s address. Confused and terrified, Meron scoops up his children and hurries out of the house. Just in time. Within minutes a car pulls up outside and three men get out. It’s clear that they’re coming for him. He’s being hunted and he has no idea why. And with his wife missing, an unidentified corpse in her office, and the police after him for murder, his life’s about to get one hell of a lot worse. (Litlove’s suggestion)
A Dark Devotion by Clare Francis (410 pgs): Alex and her husband are criminal lawyers, in practice together in London. Their work is putting a strain on their marriage; Alex feels Paul is all too willing to represent the guilty. Then Will Dearden, an old friend whom she hasn’t seen for twelve years, calls upon Alex for help. He still lives in Norfolk where they grew up together. His elegant wife, Grace, has disappeared and he thinks the police aren’t trying hard enough to find her.” “Although – or maybe because – Alex once had a crush on Will, she comes to his aid and, in the depths of winter, revisits the lonely marshes that were the scene of their youth. The more she learns about Grace, the greater her admiration for Will. But what should she do when she discovers that he has a very good reason to have murdered his alluring, but not very lovable, missing wife?(Litlove’s suggestion)
Madman by Tracy Groot (316 pgs): Set in Palestine during the time of Jesus’s ministry, Groot’s gripping tale centers on Tallis, the servant of an Athenian philosopher who has been sent to the town of Hippos to solve the mysterious disappearance of the Greek academy that the philosopher had funded. What Tallis discovers is that one professor was murdered, another killed himself, and a third is now a raving madman. Groot’s third novel after Stones of My Accusers and The Brother’s Keeper proves she is one of the best historical writers of faith-based fiction. Her characters are exquisitely drawn, and the complex and convincing plot will mesmerize readers. While the characters do not actually interact with Jesus until late in the novel, Groot’s conclusion is credible and marvelous in its simplicity. (Janet’s suggestion)
Along Came a Spider by James Patterson (435 pgs): Alex Cross, a black Washington, D.C., police detective with a Ph.D. in psychology, and Jezzie Flanagan, a white motorcycling Secret Service agent, become lovers as they work together to apprehend a chilling psychopath who has kidnapped two children from a posh private school. The psychotic villain, who aspires to become more notorious than Lindbergh baby kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann, is effectively nightmarish. Atypical characters, sex, sometimes shocking violence, and several surprising plot twists are all attention-grabbing, while short chapters with a shifting viewpoint add brisk pacing and genuine suspense. Patterson’s storytelling talent is in top form in this grisly escapist yarn. (Debi’s suggestion)
The Quickie by James Patterson (357 pgs): When she sees her husband with another woman, Lauren Stillwell’s heart nearly stops beating. Their marriage is perfect, she has a great job, she loves her life. But his betrayal turns her into someone she never imagined she could be – a woman lusting for revenge.” “It was supposed to be a quickie, a way to even the score. But Lauren’s night of passion takes a shocking turn when she witnesses an unexpected, unbelievable, deadly crime. Her horrifying secret threatens to tear her life apart, pitting her need to uncover the truth against her fear that the truth may be too horrible to bear. And whichever choice she makes could cost her dearly – her job, her marriage, even her life. (Debi’s suggestion)
Homicide My Own by Anne Argula (219 pgs): Wry humor, straight-talking characters, and shades of the supernatural flavor this cleverly written debut police procedural. Two Spokane cops named Quinn and Odd, a female/male team, drive to an island in the Northwest Indian Territory to pick up a bail-jumper wanted for statutory rape. While there, Odd becomes suddenly psychic after reading about the 30-year-old unsolved murder of an Indian boy and his white girlfriend. Since their bail-jumper is sick, they have just enough time to investigate; and it soon becomes evident that Odd’s visions come from the murdered girl. Unlikely coincidences and frank revelations add interest; strongly recommended. (Janet’s suggestion)
Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz (401 pgs): at good and evil, life and death, and everything in between. Jimmy Tock comes into the world on the very night his grandfather leaves it. As a violent storm rages outside the hospital, Rudy Tock spends long hours walking the corridors between the expectant fathers’ waiting room and his dying father’s bedside. It’s a strange vigil made all the stranger when, at the very height of the storm’s fury, Josef Tock suddenly sits up in bed and speaks coherently for the frist and last time since his stroke. What he says before he dies is that there will be five dark days in the life of his grandson–five dates whose terrible events Jimmy will have to prepare himself to face. The first is to occur in his twentieth year; the second in his twent-third year; the third in his twenty-eighth; the fourth in his twenty-ninth; the fifth in his thirtieth. Rudy is all too ready to discount his father’s last words as a dying man’s delusional rambling. But then he discovers that Josef also predicted the time of his grandson’s birth to the minute, as well as his exact height and weight, and the fact that Jimmy would be born with syndactyly–the unexplained anomal of fused digits–on his left foot. Suddenly the old man’s predictions take on a chilling significance. What terrifying events await Jimmy on these five dark days? What nightmares will he face? What challenges must he survive? (Megan’s suggestion)
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (311 pgs): Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things-and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a-well, whatever. (Jaimie’s suggestion)
Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (309 pgs): The dead don’t talk. I don’t know why.” But they do try to communicate, with a short order cook in a small desert town serving as their reluctant confidant. Odd Thomas thinks of himself as an ordinary guy, if possessed of a certain measure of talent at the Pico Mundo Grill and rapturously in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, Stormy Llewellyn. Maybe he has a gift, maybe it’s a curse, Odd has never been sure, but he tries to do his best by the silent souls who seek him out. Sometimes they want justice, and Odd’s otherworldly tips to Pico Mundo’s sympathetic police chief, Wyatt Porter, can solve a crime. Occasionally they can prevent one. But this time it’s different. A mysterious man comes to town with a voracious appetite, a filing cabinet stuffed with information on the world’s worst killers, and a pack of hyena-like shades following him wherever he goes. Who the man is and what he wants, not even Odd’s deceased informants can tell him. His most ominous clue is a page ripped from a day-by-day calendar for August 15. “Today is August 15.” In less than twenty-four hours, Pico Mundo will awaken to a day of catastrophe. As evil coils under the searing desert sun, Odd travels through the shifting prisms of his world, struggling to avert a looming cataclysm with the aid of his soul mate and an unlikely community of allies that includes the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. His account of two shattering days when past and present, fate and destiny converge is the stuff of our worst nightmares – and a testament by which to live sanely if not safely, with courage, humor, and a full heart that even in the darkness must persevere. (Melanie’s suggestion)
…perhaps going back in time will help you make it through the twenty-four hours!
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (194 pgs): Every war has turning points and every person too.” Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy. As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.(Litlove’s suggestion)
Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue (336 pgs): Donoghue takes scraps of the intriguing true story of Mary Saunders, a servant girl who murdered her mistress in 1763, and fashions from them an intelligent and mesmerizing historical novel. Born to a mother who sews for pennies and a father who died in jail, 14-year-old Mary’s hardened existence in London brings to mind the lives of Dickens’s child characters. Mary has an eye for fine things and ambitions beyond her social station, and her desire for a shiny red ribbon leads her to sell the only thing she owns: her body. Turned out by her mother, Mary is taken in by a local prostitute, Doll Higgins; they live together in Rat’s Castle in the seedy section of town. Doll teaches Mary the tricks of her trade and gives her all the gaudy dresses Mary once coveted. For a year, the term slammerkin meaning a loose gown or a loose woman becomes all too familiar to Mary, until she checks into a charity hospital and attempts to straighten out. (Matthew’s suggestion)
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (256 pgs): We were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July.” “Trond’s friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them. But this morning was different. What began as a joy ride on “borrowed” horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day – an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys.” “At age sixty-seven, Trond has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated part of eastern Norway to live the rest of his life with a quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on that fateful summer. (Matthew’s suggestion)
The Ha-Ha by Dave King (340 pgs): When a mute war veteran opens his home to a young boy, he gets a glimpse of life outside his shell–with all its exuberant joys and crushing sorrows. Its been 30 years since a Vietnam War injury left Howard Kapostash unable to speak, read, or write. Since then he can communicate only with sounds and gestures–a condition that makes him appear slow and disturbed. But inside his head, Howie is the same man he was before the war, longing for Sylvia, his high school sweetheart, and mourning his parents and his chance at a family. Howies solitude comes to an abrupt end with a desperate phone call in the middle of the night; Sylvia is being forced into rehab and needs him to care for her nine-year-old son Ryan until she returns. Though Ryans first days with Howie are strained by misunderstanding, his presence gradually transforms Howie and his entire household, which includes Laurel, a soup chef, and a pair of housepainters Howie grumpily thinks of as Nit and Nat. By midsummer, their once-cold home is alive with the happiness, disappointment, and love of a real family. But with Sylvias return imminent, Howie is obliged to wonder if the change is only temporary–and to reconsider, in the process, just what the war cost him. (Chartroose’s suggestion)
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (511 pgs): Sue Trinder is a teenage orphan who lives amongst a group of confidence men, thieves, baby farmers and fingersmiths (a 19th-century term for a pickpockets). An unscrupulous man commonly and ironically known as Gentleman compels Sue to join in his plot to win the heart of an elderly bookish man’s niece named Maud. Maud is heiress to a fortune, but she can only claim it if she marries. The plan is: win the lady, ditch the wife in an insane asylum and split the fortune. (Jaimie’s suggestion)
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (664 pgs): Two ferociously ambitious sisters, Mary and Anne Boleyn, are rivals for the bed and heart of King Henry VIII. (Darcie’s suggestion)
The Haunted Hillbilly by Derek McCormack (112 pgs): This historical first-person narrative is told by Nudie, “The Rodeo Tailor” (perhaps most famous for dressing Elvis Presley), a gay couturier who, in Derek McCormack’s world, also happens to be a vampire. As the story evolves with its magical poetic cadence and minimalist style, Nudie makes and then breaks the career of Hank, a country-and-western singer at the Grand Ole Opry. Inspired by the real-life observations of country music promoter Oscar Davis, who saw it all and told it all in a series of tapes suppressed by the Country Music Foundation, The Haunted Hillbilly conjures the seamy queer underbelly beneath country music’s sparkling, sequined surface. (Imani’s suggestion)
One Thousand White Women by James Furgus (304 pgs): An American western with a most unusual twist, this is an imaginative fictional account of the participation of May Dodd and others in the controversial “Brides for Indians” program, a clandestine U.S. government-sponsored program intended to instruct “savages” in the ways of civilization and to assimilate the Indians into white culture through the offspring of these unions. (Darcie’s suggestion)
…none of these easily fit into the other categories, but they’re still page-turning!
Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster (145 pgs): An old man awakens, disoriented, in an unfamiliar chamber. With no memory of who he is or how he has arrived there, he pores over the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching his own hazy mind for clues. Determining that he is locked in, the man – identified only as Mr. Blank – begins reading a manuscript he finds on the desk, the story of another prisoner, set in an alternate world the man doesn’t recognize. Nevertheless, the pages seem to have been left for him, along with a haunting set of photographs. As the day passes, various characters call on the man in his cell – vaguely familiar people, some who seem to resent him for crimes he can’t remember – and each brings frustrating hints of his identity and his past. All the while an overhead camera clicks and clicks, documenting his movements, and a microphone records every sound in the room. Someone is watching. (Carl’s suggestion)
The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle (393 pgs): Sarah Laden, a young widow and mother of two, struggles to keep her family together. Since the death of her husband, her high-school-age son, Nate, has developed a rebellious streak, constantly falling in and out of trouble. Her kindhearted younger son, Danny, though well behaved, struggles to pass his remedial classes. All the while, Sarah must make ends meet by running a catering business out of her home. But when a shocking and unbelievable revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another young boy into her already tumultuous life.” “Jordan, a quiet and reclusive elementary-school boy and classmate of Danny’s, has survived a terrible tragedy, leaving him without a family. When Sarah becomes Jordan’s foster mother, a relationship develops that will force her to question the things of which she thought she was so sure. Yet Sarah is not the only one changed by this young boy, and as the delicate balance that holds her family together begins to falter, the Ladens will all face truths about themselves and one another – and discover the power of love to forgive and to heal. (Chartroose’s suggestion)
The Cider House Rules by John Irving (560 pgs): 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. (Andi’s suggestion)
Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates (128 pgs): The story revolves around a group of college girls in the 1970s and their obsessive preoccupation with charismatic anti-establishment English professor Andre Harrow and his artist wife, Dorcas. The two stand out in their small New England college town, and they revel in their difference, which draws Andre’s female students to him like bees to honey. A talented and infatuated junior, Gillian is relegated to the shadows until Andre picks her out as one of his “special” girls. What follows is a disturbing look at the power of obsession and the abuse of trust. (Andi’s suggestion)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (203 pgs): It is July 1962. Florence is a talented musician who dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, an earnest young history student at University College of London, who unexpectedly wooed and won her heart. Newly married that morning, both virgins, Edward and Florence arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their worries about the wedding night to come. Edward, eager for rapture, frets over Florence’s response to his advances and nurses a private fear of failure, while Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by sheer disgust at the idea of physical contact, but dreads disappointing her husband when they finally lie down together in the honeymoon suite. (Andi’s suggestion)
Letter from Point Clear by Dennis McFarland (390 pgs): The Owen children long ago left their gracious family home in Point Clear, Alabama, in favor of points north. But when their father takes ill, the youngest, Bonnie, who has spent a decade in Manhattan as an unsuccessful actress, returns to care for him. Soon after his death – unbeknown to her two siblings – Bonnie falls in love with and marries a handsome evangelical preacher, and together the couple takes up residence in the stately Owen mansion.” “When they receive Bonnie’s letter announcing her marriage, Ellen and Morris head for Alabama, believing they must extricate their troublesome sister from her latest mistake. To their surprise, they find that Bonnie’s charismatic young husband, Pastor, has already saved her from her self-destructive ways, and Bonnie is now nearly three months pregnant. But Bonnie has only recently informed Pastor that Morris is gay, and Pastor quickly undertakes a campaign to “save” him as well. (Matthew’s suggestion)
The Future of Love by Shirley Abbott (306 pgs): Love can be a happy affair or a source of impenetrable sadness. For eight New Yorkers, the love they find is never what they expect. Shirley Abbott brilliantly dissects those tangled relationships. And what a messy knot it is: Maggie loves her husband, Mark, but wishes he weren’t unemployed. Mark has little to do these days but rendezvous with his lover, Sophie. That she happens to be his daughter’s nursery school teacher is unfortunate. Maggie is also in the dark about her recently widowed mother’s affair with Sam, a famous publisher. Sam’s wife, Edith, is more concerned about derailing plans for her granddaughter’s commitment ceremony. Edith doesn’t believe in same-sex love; well, according to Sam, Edith doesn’t believe in sex at all. Which may be why Sam in spending so much time at Antonia’s Greenwich Village apartment. As the ground under them is literally shaken in September of 2001, each member of this urban ensemble will have to rethink his or her complicated domestic arrangements – and begin to look at the future in new ways. (Matthew’s suggestion)
Monsters of Templeton by Lauren (364 pgs): On the very morning Willie Upton slinks home to Templeton, New York (after a calamitous affair with her archeology professor), the 50-foot-long body of a monster floats from the depths of the town’s lake. This unsettling coincidence sets the stage for one of the most original debut novels since The Time Traveler’s Wife. With a clue to the mysterious identity of her father in hand, Willie turns her research skills to unearthing the secrets of the town in letters and pictures (which, “reproduced” in the book along with increasingly complete family trees, lend an air of historical authenticity). Lauren Groff’s endearingly feisty characters imbue the story with enough intrigue to keep readers up long past bedtime, and reading groups will find much to discuss in its themes of “monsters,” both in our towns and our families. (Darcie’s suggestion)
The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig (224 pgs): The post-office girl is Christine, who looks after her ailing mother and toils in a provincial Austrian post office in the years just after the Great War. One afternoon, as she is dozing among the official forms and stamps, a telegraph arrives addressed to her. It is from her rich aunt, who lives in America and writes requesting that Christine join her and her husband in a Swiss Alpine resort. After a dizzying train ride, Christine finds herself at the top of the world, enjoying a life of privilege that she had never imagined. But Christine’s aunt drops her as abruptly as she picked her up, and soon the young woman is back at the provincial post office, consumed with disappointment and bitterness. Then she meets Ferdinand, a wounded but eloquent war veteran who is able to give voice to the disaffection of his generation. Christine’s and Ferdinand’s lives spiral downward, before Ferdinand comes up with a plan which will be either their salvation or their doom. (Imani’s suggestion)
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (318 pgs): Celebrated American soprano Roxane Coss has just finished a recital in the home of the vice-president of a poor South American country when terrorists burst in, intent on taking the country’s president hostage. The president, however, has not attended the concert, which is a birthday tribute in honor of a Japanese business tycoon and opera aficionado. Determined to fulfill their demands, the rough, desperate guerrillas settle in for a long siege. The hostages, winnowed of all women except Roxane, whose voice beguiles her captors, are from many countries; their only common language is a love of opera. As the days drag on, their initial anguish and fear give way to a kind of complex domesticity, as intricately involved as the melodies Roxane sings during their captivity. While at first Patchett’s tone seems oddly flippant and detached, it soon becomes apparent that this light note is an introduction to her main theme, which is each character’s cathartic experience. The drawn-out hostage situation comes to seem normal, even halcyon, until the inevitable rescue attempt occurs, with astonishing consequences. (Janet’s suggestion)
Shout Down the Moon by Lisa Tucker (292 pgs): the story of struggling singer Patty Taylor. Working to overcome a contentious relationship with her alcoholic mother and to be a better parent to her two-year-old son by the drug-dealing Rick, Patty is on the road for months at a time, fronting a group of dedicated jazz musicians who resent her and regard her as nothing more than a pretty face. She is determined to make music her career in spite of her band’s disdain and her creepy manager’s sleazy attempts to market her. She has had too many stints of homelessness and too many dreadful jobs to let a little flack stand in her way. When Rick, newly released from prison, shows up unexpectedly, however, Patty is faced with some serious choices about her and her son’s future. (Megan’s suggestion)
The Translation of Dr. Apelles: a Love Story by David Treuer (315 pgs): Dr. Apelles, a Native American who translates Native American texts, works as a book classifier for RECAP (Research Collections and Preservations), a “prison for books” located near an unnamed American city. While at the local public library, Dr. Apelles finds a manuscript that he begins translating. The story-within-a-story is of Bimaadiz and Eta, sole surviving infants of separate villages wiped out by a devastating winter. Discovered by different men from the same tribe, the children are adopted by their saviors, reared together as friends and eventually fall in love. Dr. Apelles, while translating the story, realizes his life is unfulfilling, so he begins a love affair with a fellow book classifier, Campaspe, that parallels Bimaadiz’s and Eta’s. (Imani’s suggestion)
Kafka on the Shore by Murakami (436 pgs): Kafka Tamura runs away from home to escape his father’s oedipal prophecy and to find his long-lost mother and sister. As Kafka flees, so too does Nakata, an elderly simpleton whose quiet life has been upset by a gruesome murder. (Imani’s suggestion)
…memoirs tend to make fascinating non-fiction
The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong (305 pgs): A former Roman Catholic nun and a critically acclaimed British writer on contemporary theology, Armstrong (e.g., Islam) here offers a moving, insightful memoir of her adult life, beginning as she leaves the convent in the late 1960s. (Her years as a nun are recounted in her earlier Through the Narrow Gate.) The narrative continues through her stressful readjustment to the outside world as a middle-class, second-career Oxford student. (Imani’s suggestion)
As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto (279 pgs): The riveting story of the famous “twins case” of Joan/John, which became a major touchstone in the hotly contested “nature vs. nurture” debate on human sexuality.
Choosing You by Alexandra Soiseth (250 pgs): All her adult life, Alexandra Soiseth has wanted a husband, children, dogs and cats—a busy, loving, home. But at thirty-nine, with no husband on the horizon, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She googles for sperm. (Litlove’s suggestion)
Gweilo: Memoirs of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth (269 pgs): As an inquisitive seven-year-old, Martin Booth found himself with the whole of Hong Kong at his feet when his father was posted there in the early 1950s. Unrestricted by parental control, he had free access to hidden corners of the colony normally closed to a Gweilo, a “pale fellow” like him. Befriending rickshaw coolies and local stallholders, he learned Cantonese, sampled delicacies such as boiled water beetles and one-hundred-year-old eggs, and participated in colourful festivals. He even entered the forbidden Kowloon Walled City, wandered into the secret lair of the Triads and visited an opium den. Along the way he encountered a colourful array of people, from the plink plonk man with his dancing monkey to Nagasaki Jim, a drunken child molester, and the Queen of Kowloon, the crazed tramp who may have been a member of the Romanov family. Shadowed by the unhappiness of his warring parents, a broad-minded mother who, like her son, was keen to embrace all things Chinese, and a bigoted father who was enraged by his family’s interest in “going native,” Martin Booth’s compelling memoir is a journey into Chinese culture and an extinct colonial way of life that glows with infectious curiosity and humour. (Matthew’s suggestion)
Not Buying It by Judith Levine (274 pgs): If you’ve ever contemplated cutting down on your consumerism but couldn’t bring yourself to do it, Levine’s volume allows you to witness and learn from this drastic experiment without going through the withdrawal yourself. Since giving up shopping entirely is impossible in North America (buying food requires money), the most interesting aspect of Levine’s adventure is the process of defining necessity. High-speed Internet access, Q-tips and any soap fancier than Ivory, for example, are all ruled out as luxuries. With chapters divided by month, the book witnesses Levine’s journey from enthusiastic experimenter in January to a still game but weary participant by the fall, as favorite luxuries run out and clothes become shabbier. As Levine trades in movies and restaurants for the public library system and dinner parties at home, she is forced to reflect on not only the personal indulgences she’s become used to but also their place in defining her social space. Since this book is about exploring consumerism rather than economizing (although she does manage to save $8,000 by the end of the year), Levine investigates several anticonsumer movements she joins her local Voluntary Simplicity group, participates in Buy Nothing Day and consults experts on issues of consumerism and conservation.
The Cat Who Went to Paris by Peter Gethers (194 pgs):Gethers, publisher of Villard Books, was an aileurophobe until he met the six-week-old Scottish Fold kitten, a gift from his friend Cindy. He capitulated immediately. From the beginning Norton exhibited extraordinary aplomb no matter where he was, or in whose company; he was sensitive, intelligent and always aware of what was happening. Norton accompanied Gethers everywhere–to the office, to parties, on business trips to Los Angeles and Paris, on weekends to Fire Island; hotel staff and airline personnel were eager to serve him. Like Cleveland Amory’s cat, Polar Bear, Norton became a social arbiter who influenced his owner’s love life. What a pet. What a tale.
Nine Lives by Lynn Snowden (288 pgs): this incredible cross-country journey through nine contrasting professions will pique the occasional longing in all of us to “try on” another life. Snowden’s employment included pyro-technician to a heavy-metal band, advertising copywriter, Hollywood publicist, substitute teacher, Vegas cocktail waitress, suburban housewife, stripper, rape counselor, and chocolate factory worker. Her odyssey is more than mere playacting, however. She analyzes each job for clues to its effect on self-esteem, individual perspective, and group values as well as for the attitudes it elicited from others.
Complications by Atul Gawande (269 pgs): Medicine reveals itself as a fascinatingly complex and “fundamentally human endeavor” in this distinguished debut essay collection by a surgical resident and staff writer for the New Yorker. Gawande, a former Rhodes scholar and Harvard Medical School graduate, illuminates “the moments in which medicine actually happens,” and describes his profession as an “enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line.”
The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard (208 pgs): Beard writes with perfect pitch as she takes readers through one woman’s life–from childhood to marriage and beyond–to memorably capture the collision of youthful longing and the hard realities of time and fate.
Books about Books
…someone else’s love of books may be just the thing to keep you reading.
Trading in Memories by Barbara Hodgson (154 pgs): Those who wish to understand a city’s history visit museums, but Barbara Hodgson prefers a different approach. She explores the streets, bookstores, and markets, where a city reveals its most private self, displaying the contents of its attics and trash bins. Back alleys, obscure cemeteries, and hidden courtyards also offer up surprising finds and capture the essence of the city. Covering a wide cultural and physical geography from Brussels to Marrakech and Damascus to Portland, “Trading in Memories” follows Barbara Hodgson’s travels through markets and other repositories of material culture around the world. (Imani’s suggestion)
Book by Book by Michael Dirda (170 pgs): While books contain insights into our selves and the world, it takes a conversation–between the author and the reader, or between two readers–to bring them fully to life. Drawing on sources as diverse as Dr. Seuss and Simone Weil, P. G. Wodehouse and Isaiah Berlin, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda shows how the wit, wisdom, and enchantment of the written word informs and enriches nearly every aspect of life, from education and work to love and death. Organized by significant life events and abounding with quotations from great writers and thinkers, “Book by Book” showcases Dirda’s capacious love for and understanding of books.
A Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel (205 pgs): While traveling in Canada, Alberto Manguel was struck by how the novel he was reading (Goethe’s Elective Affinities) seemed to mirror the social chaos of the world he was living in. An article in the daily paper would be suddenly illuminated by a passage in the novel; a long meditation would be prompted by a single word. He decided to keep a record of these moments, rereading a book a month and forming A Reading Diary: a volume of notes, reflections, and impressions of travel, of friends, of events public and private, all elicited by his reading.” “From Don Quixote (August) to The Island of Dr. Moreau (February) to Kim (April), Manguel leads us on an enthralling adventure in literature and life, and demonstrates how, for the passionate reader, one is utterly inextricable from the other.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff (112 pgs): a charming record of bibliophilia, cultural difference, and imaginative sympathy. For 20 years, an outspoken New York writer and a rather more restrained London bookseller carried on an increasingly touching correspondence.
Used and Rare by Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone(215 pgs): When Nancy Goldstone bought a vintage copy of “War and Peace” to win a birthday bet with co-author Larry, the couple began their journey into the world of book collecting, meeting a hilarious cast of eccentrics along the way. Part travel story, part love story, and part memoir, this book provides a delightful love letter to book lovers everywhere.
Rereadings ed. Anne Fadiman (244 pgs): Is a book the same book—or a reader the same reader–the second time around? The 17 authors in this witty and poignant collection of essays all agree on the answer: Never.
…take a journey to far away places that will hold your interest.
Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin (294 pgs): An American journalist who was born and raised in Asia and has been visiting Burma since the middle 1990s, Larkin recounts the year she spent traveling across Burma, now Myanmar, using the life and work of British author Orwell (1903-50) as her guide. He lived in the country during the 1920s as an officer of the Imperial Police Force, and based his first novel, Burmese Days, on the experience.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (307 pgs): . Taking readers on a rollicking ride far beyond packaged-tour routes, IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY introduces a country where interesting things happen all the time, from a Prime Minister who was lost at sea while swimming at a Victoria beach to Japanese cult members who managed to set off an atomic bomb unnoticed on their 500,000-acre property. Leaving no Vegemite unsavored, readers will accompany Bryson as he dodges jellyfish while learning to surf at Bondi Beach, discovers a fish that can climb trees, dehydrates in deserts where the temperatures leap to 140 degrees, and tells the true story of the rejected Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House.
…because I ran out of categories, lol.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (240 pgs): Maupin’s alternately playful and sentimental tales depict an all-too-easily satirized population of transients and toffs living in and around San
Francisco. (Emily’s suggestion)
The End of America by Naomi Wolf (176 pgs): In this call to arms, Naomi Wolf compels us to face the way our free America is under assault. She warns us that we have little time to lose if our children are to live in real freedom.” “Wolf shows that there are ten classic steps dictators or would-be dictators always take when they wish to close down an open society. Each of these ten steps is now underway in the United States today. (Andi’s suggestion)
Girl, 13 by Starla Griffin (239 pgs): More than forty 13-year-old girls from all over the world share their hopes and dreams in this ground-breaking book. Girl 13, unites the voices of girls from every continent. Author Starla Griffin has travelled the world interviewing and photographing 13-year-old girls, giving a voice to a new generation of young women.
Jeans by James Sullivan (303 pgs): In Jeans, journalist and pop culture critic James Sullivan tells the story of this amazing garment, from its humble utilitarian origins to its ubiquitous presence in the twenty-first-century global economy. Beginning with the appearance of front-buckled denim pants in nineteenth-century America, Sullivan untangles the legends surrounding the origin of jeans and traces their adoption as work clothing in the West. Jeans then follows their mass production by regional entrepreneurs including San Francisco’s legendary Levi Strauss, their widespread adoption as youth clothing and westernwear in the twentieth century, and their popularization around the world.
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (199 pgs): Bryson documents the efforts of earlier scholars, from today’s most respected academics to eccentrics like Delia Bacon, an American who developed a firm but unsubstantiated conviction that her namesake, Francis Bacon, was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunker like room in Washington, D.C., where the world’s largest collection of First Folios is housed.” “Bryson celebrates Shakespeare as a writer of unimaginable talent and enormous inventiveness, a coiner of phrases (“vanish into thin air,” “foregone conclusion,” “one fell swoop”) that even today have common currency. His Shakespeare is like no one else’s – the beneficiary of Bryson’s genial nature, his engaging skepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivaled in our time.
Hiroshima by John Hersey (196 pgs): Hiroshima is the story of six human beings who lived through the greatest single manmade disaster in history. With what Bruce Bliven called “the simplicity of genius,” John Hersey tells what these six — a clerk, a widowed seamstress, a physician, a Methodist minister, a young surgeon, and a German Catholic priest — were doing at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, when Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atomic bomb ever dropped on a city. Then he follows the course of their lives hour by hour, day by day.