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When she's not working in her garden, Gayle is usually reading or watching reruns of West Wing and ER. She loves contemporary fiction, mysteries and memoirs. Occasionally you'll find her reading essays by people like Malcolm Gladwell, Paco Underhill, Daniel Pink or John McPhee.
One minute she was there, walking the requisite four steps behind her husband, the next minute she had disappeared as he rushed to catch the subway. Where had she gone? Was she killed? Did she run away? Who was she anyway? Her daughter, her son, and her husband all have their own recollections about who this Mom was and she has her own story to tell as well. A compelling mystery set in the Korean countryside with visits to the big city, composed almost entirely in second-person narration, the writing is intensely moving. The characters continually battle with their own guilt for not taking better care of her while remembering the times when they were young, growing up in incredible poverty in the countryside. You will never think about a mother’s love for her family in the same way again.
A collection of stories, stand-alone vignettes, set on the military base in Fort Hood, Texas. Children wait for their fathers to come home—and leave again—and wives hope they will come home and will not be too much changed by what they have experienced. It’s haunting and captures the war that is fought at home—the emotional stress undergone by the women who also serve as they wait—as well as the impact on the men who leave their wives and children. These are ordinary people’s lives told by one who lives this very life herself. Fallon says, “You get used to hearing through the walls. You learn too much. You know when the men are gone. And without them there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.”
If you are a parent -- thinking you're doing all the right things -- you will never look at your children the same way again after you read Amy Chua's book. You'll find yourself questioning whether pushing then might have made them musical geniuses, math wizards, prolific writers, or all of the above. Pushing, prodding, threatening, demanding, and sacrificing -- but always loving -- your children in what Chua calls the "Chinese Style of Parenting" might have been their ticket to success. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is disquieting -- it is hard to read if you empathize with her children or you find yourself thinking about your children's abilities and potentials in a new light. I read this in two nights, and now I can't stop talking and thinking about it.
How well do you know your neighbors; those people who live on your block, in your apartment complex? As they come and go do you ever think they might have lives that are not revealed by their choice of car, the way they prune their hedges, or how they treat their children? Ginsberg looks inside the windows of a typical suburban neighborhood and what she finds are pregnant teens, drug-addled adults, deep, dark secrets clothed in polyester pant suits and people trying to maintain the semblance of normalcy. A mini mystery, great characters, and an absorbing plot. The makings of a good novel, to be sure.
I'm very excited about Jeannette Walls' new book. Walls' descriptions of life in the early 20th century are like reading a wonderful history book filled with amazing people. It is set in southern Arizona and features Jeannette's strong, resourceful, often funny grandmother who bootlegs liquor, rides horses and plays a mean game of poker. This is the prequel to Jeannette's unforgettable memoir, The Glass Castle.
This is the perfect book for balmy fall days. It begs to be read with a cup of tea and a scone by your side. It is hard to put down and I was sad to finish it. Byatt is an incredible storyteller—she uses myth, psychology, and fairytales—and this novel has stories within stories. You learn about the beginnings of the Arts & Crafts movement, British aristocracy, the friends of Oscar Wilde, early Fabians, nudists, and most importantly the strange and convoluted relationships that develop among family members and their immediate sets of friends. She's an amazing novelist.
I love the Vegetarian Epicure—it’s still one of my favorite cookbooks. This new one, all soups, any time, any season, is wonderful and the 160 enticing recipes may charm even a die-hard carnivore. She also has recipes for breads, dips and spreads, salads and a collection of desserts, as well as sample menus at the start of each chapter that make it easy to plan a full meal. Before it gets too hot again, try some cool weather soups; perfect to keep in the fridge and warm up for lunch or dinner.
When editor Gary Fisketjon sends out a manuscript, I always read it and am rarely disappointed. Border Songs was no exception and I savored every chapter, every character, every lovely sentence, every plot twist and turn. It is a superbly crafted novel—there is the necessary tension to keep the reader worried about what might happen to the big lovable Brandon whose connections with the natural world is so surprising and touching and whose relationships with humans is so unsteady and unsure. And the dialogue is pitch perfect; the characters come to life in a few deftly written paragraphs. Reading this novel was pure pleasure and reminded me once again, that books that are well-written and well-edited will become the bookseller’s next favorite book to recommend. This certainly is mine.
This book is a book lover’s dream, and I am certain that it will become a classic and referred to by generations of readers. Abraham Verghese wrote The Tennis Partner several years ago and, although a work of non-fiction, it read like a novel. Attempts by skilled non-fiction writers to move into the realm of fiction often fail, but this is a glorious triumph. It is a saga of dedicated doctors and their passion for saving lives. It opens with a nun giving birth, in a third world country, to conjoined twins, and it is about family—fathers, sons, mothers, and community—convents, impoverished city dwellers, charity hospitals, war, and Ethiopia. It’s absorbing, wild, perilous, evocative, and tender.
Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy, has been named Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Jones, who is founder and president of Green For All, possesses "a unique ability to inspire people of all colors, classes, and generations to uplift vulnerable people, while protecting our vulnerable planet." Publisher Mark Tauber called The Green Collar Economy: "A book we all believed in from the start, and it has been both exciting and rewarding to see Van and his message embraced by so many. All of us here at HarperOne are proud that the work and ideas that were presented in The Green Collar Economy will continue in Washington, D.C."
When you think the world is hopeless, this book might give you cause to be optimistic. What would it take to change the lives of poor children—not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles—but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? Paul Tough's stories about Geoffrey Canada's bold effort to offer a cradle-to-college program for thousands of underprivileged children in Harlem is anything but dry theoretical rhetoric. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the dramatic ups and downs of the Harlem Children's Zone, a $58 million project encompassing 97 city blocks and serving 7,000 children, and includes personal stories of the staff, students, and their parents and teachers with expert opinions and the broiling debates over poverty, race and education. Geoffrey Canada is a driven, brilliant crusader argues that to change the lives of poor children, everything has to change—their schools, their families, their neighborhoods—all at once. Barak Obama says if he becomes president, he will work to replicate this amazing program in cities all over America. Read it and weep, laugh... and find hope.
Amy Irvine writes with integrity and insight about the natural environment, much like, Edward Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams do. She lives in the southern part of Utah with Mormon ranchers who hate environmentalists almost as much as they hate coyotes. Irvine comes from Mormon pioneer stock, but finds herself on the outside of Mormon culture, shunned by those she would love to befriend. The memoir attempts to reconcile a modern woman’s non-conformist sensibility with the longing to belong to a community whose values are diametrically opposed to her own. An avid hiker, Irvine takes the reader into slit canyons, desert washes, and old Indian ruins with her lyrical, bold writing, allowing us to “see” what she does and grow our own sense of urgency about protecting pristine lands. This is a memoir not to be easily forgotten.
I’m a foodie and love books that talk about food lore, ingredients, and exotic tastes. I also read memoirs. This book combines all of these elements in a remarkable way. At the age of three, Kim Sunée was abandoned on a bench in a marketplace in Seoul, South Korea. A young GI and his wife brought her to the States, and she grew up in New Orleans amongst an extended family that included maternal grandparents who taught her how to cook. She never felt at home in her adopted country and, while still in her teens, moved to France where she continued cooking lessons under master chefs. This is her story, complete with recipes and anecdotes, of finding her rightful place in the world, and using food to lead her home.
As the granddaughter of Polish and Russian immigrants, and having grown up with stories from "the old country," this book of twelve connected short stories spoke to my heart. It made me laugh, it make me cry, it made me indignant. Immigrants have always added so much to our culture in America, but they often struggle with our language, with the nuances of our culture, and with the way they are treated by those who got here first. The stories are about adjusting, adapting, and most of all retaining a sense of who you really are, not how you're seen by others. You'll not soon forget the characters and you'll grow to appreciate how impossibly hard it is to adopt a new country whether you're in your teens or as an aging adult. This would be a great book club choice.
A literary mystery set in the late 1800’s with characters that stay with you long after you finish. The author’s screenwriting experience shows in this riveting novel told in powerful short takes. I read this book in one long, wonderful vacation day under an umbrella on the beach. What a treat!
Marianne Wiggins has created a fictional namesake whose father died when he was fifty, leaving his family unclear as to what part any of them played in his life. At the same time she tells the story of real-life photographer Edward S. Curtis, the famous chronicler of early-twentieth-century North American Indian life, who abandons his family, but leaves behind a legacy of photographs, Indian artifacts, and a scandalous secret life. Included are Curtis's beguiling photographs, as well as snapshots from Wiggin's own family albums. Magical, mystical, and magnificently written, The Shadow Catcher offers an unforgettable look at how people live their lives, both in the foreground and in the background.
Men's friendships are at the heart of Carlson's latest novel. The characters are sensitively drawn, and their relationships begin silently and evasively. As three men work together creating a bridge across an Idaho gorge, they open up to one another, sharing their pasts and aspirations. Humor and anger are mixed with the work they do together—details of carpentry providing the basis for their interactions and weaving together the fabric of their past lives. In sharing their stories, the three come to understand themselves and allow the guilt they each feel about past transgressions seep away.
Linda Olsson's book is perfect—the gentle flow of the story, the tension created with hints of the characters past lives which only get revealed when the women are comfortable enough with each other to talk about the details. The author adroitly draws the reader carefully and slowly into the story using the the voices of her characters and the setting, which becomes another of the characters. This book is still at the top of my list for recommending to bookgroups. It is simple in its scope but manages to capture the whole realm of women's friendships and their importance in our lives.
Each section of this brilliant novel is told from the perspective of a different character in a different voice. Harrison has created complex characters dealing with loss and love in the landscape of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and through the rituals of Native American life. When I finished this book, I immediately read it through for a second time. This is one of the best novels I've read in years. If you're discovering Jim Harrison for the first time, this is a great book to get you started on his work—you'll want to go back and read everything he's written. (This book is also strongly recommended by Bob.)
Lee Smith knows the South, but I had no idea how well she could capture the aftermath of the Civil War and those it left devastated in its wake. Through a beautiful patchwork of journal entries, letters, poems, recipes, songs, catechism and court records, On Agate Hill follows the life of self-described “ghost girl” Molly Petree, whose parents and brothers have been killed by Union soldiers. This is a moving record of one woman’s life, and I was deeply touched when it ended. Excellent writing, insightful perspectives and a wonderful story.
"Can't cook but doesn't bite." This newspaper ad offering the services of a housekeeper draws the attention of a Montana widower with three sons in the fall of 1909. Ivan Doig is one of my favorite authors and his writing in this novel is exceptional. Like Wallace Stegner before him, he captures the West in his novels, and its landscape becomes one of the book's characters. It's an affectionate, heartwarming tale that also celebrates a vanished way of life. You will read this and then want to share it with all your friends.
This is a stunning novel, filled with art, mystery, spirituality, and love. The power of family history as it both haunts and educates family members drives the plot, transporting us back and forth in time in the best storytelling tradition. Marc Chagall and his paintings play pivotal roles in this wonderful novel. I found myself wanting to read it aloud to anyone who would listen. It was good to the last word.
If you like Malcolm Gladwell, you’ll love Daniel Pink. Like Gladwell, Pink uses stories, websites, book recommendations, exercises, and his own philosophy to encourage us to use our right brains to understand our world. The eras of "left brain" dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a New World in which "right brain" qualities—inventiveness, empathy, meaning—predominate. That’s the argument at the center of this provocative and original book, which uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for comprehending and functioning well in our daily work and play lives.
While looking at the roles women are expected to play in both Mexico and the United States, this novel is a moving story of one woman engaged in a very personal struggle. Growing up in extreme poverty in the Mexican cities of Teatl´n and Sinaloa, Magda uses her feminine wiles and her sharp mind to build a new life for herself. I loved the relationships between the women in this novel. They learn to stand up for themselves, and with help from a porcelain Baby Jesus who cries real tears and their own abilities, they realize their dreams. This book left me feeling like I'd gone to Mexico and visited with people who would become life long friends.
This is one of my favorite books. I loved it so much that it sent me to museums looking for Vermeer paintings of which there are so few in existence. It begins with one of his masterpieces hanging in the private study of a school teacher. He knows that the painting came to his father in an unethical, if not immoral way, but he can't bear to part with it. We follow the painting backwards in time through a series of its owners to Vermeer, himself. The cast of characters we meet along the way is memorable and when you're finished reading, you have a history of the world seen though one work of art.