The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride is inspired by "The Robber Bridegroom," a wonderfully grisly tale from the Brothers Grimm in which an evil groom lures three maidens into his lair and devours them, one by one. But in her version, Atwood brilliantly recasts the monster as Zenia, a villainess of demonic proportions, and sets her loose in the lives of three friends, Tony, Charis, and Roz. All three "have lost men, spirit, money, and time to their old college acquaintance, Zenia. At various times, and in various emotional disguises, Zenia has insinuated her way into their lives and practically demolished them.
The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table”—as far from the Captain’s Table as can be—with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: they are first exposed to the magical worlds of jazz, women, and literature by their eccentric fellow travelers, and together they spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. By turns poignant and electrifying, The Cat’s Table is a spellbinding story about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood, and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.
The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
One of most acclaimed books of the year, Tom Rachman's debut novel follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters and editors of an English-language newspaper in Rome.
"This first novel by Tom Rachman, a London-born journalist who has lived and worked all over the world, is so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how he pulled it off. I still haven't answered that question, nor do I know how someone so young…could have acquired such a precocious grasp of human foibles. The novel is alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching, and it's assembled like a Rubik's Cube. I almost feel sorry for Rachman, because a debut of this order sets the bar so high." Christopher Buckley, New York Times.
The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmond de Waal
Edmund de Waal is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots—which are then sold, collected, and handed on—he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.
And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.
Winner of the 2010 COSTA biography award.
God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza (play)
What happens when two sets of parents meet up to deal with the unruly behavior of their children? A calm and rational debate between grown-ups about the need to teach kids how to behave properly? Or a hysterical night of name-calling, tantrums, and tears before bedtime? The International Herald Tribune calls it “an expert piece of stagecraft, and savagely funny.”
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Here is the magical legend of King Arthur, vividly retold through the eyes and lives of the women who wielded power from behind the throne.
It won the 1984 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that the victory of Christianity over the "sane but dying paganism" of Avalon "ensures eons of repression for women and the vital principles they espouse."
"[A] monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends . . . Reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience. . . . An impressive achievement." New York Times book review.
"The Mists of Avalon is a beautiful book. The characters are alive, multi-dimensional; I really care about them." Madeleine L'Engle
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
In Pale Fire, Nabokov offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures: a 999-line poem by the reclusive genius John Shade; an adoring foreword and commentary by Shade's friend/neighbor, Dr. Charles Kinbote; a darkly comic novel of suspense, literary idolatry and one-upmanship, and political intrigue.
Published in 1962, Pale Fire is an experimental synthesis of poetry and prose that displays Nabokov's mastery of unorthodox structure.
I started this, just to get a feel for whether it would be good for book club, and I can't put it down. THIS is writing.
Red Dog, Louis de Bernieres
Stories about a dog, in the hands of my favorite author. What could be better?!
In 1998, Louis de Bernieres came upon a bronze statue in a town on Australia’s northwestern coast and was immediately compelled to know more about “Red Dog.” He did not have to go far: everyone for hundreds of miles in every direction seemed to have a story about Red Dog. Dubbed a “professional traveler” rather than a stray, Red Dog established his own transportation system, hitchhiking between far-flung towns and female dogs in cars whose engine noises he’d memorized and whose drivers he’d charmed. Everyone wanted to adopt him (one group of workers made him a member of their union), but Red Dog would be adopted by—or, more precisely, he would adopt—only one man: a bus driver whose love life quickly began to suffer and who never quite recovered from Red Dog’s relentlessly affectionate presence.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
American Gods is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on a mysterious and taciturn protagonist, Shadow.
The book won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, Locus, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards, all for Best Novel, and likewise received nominations for the 2001 BSFA Award, as well as the 2002 World Fantasy, International Horror Guild and Mythopoeic, and British Fantasy awards. It won the 2003 Geffen Award.
The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O'Connor
In this moving novel, Father Hugh Kennedy, a recovering alcoholic, returns to Boston to repair his damaged priesthood. There he is drawn into the unruly world of the Carmodys, a sprawling, prosperous Irish family teeming with passion and riddled with secrets. The story of this entanglement is a beautifully rendered tale of grace and renewal, of friendship and longing, of loneliness and spiritual aridity giving way to hope.
Winner of the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. (This was the year after To Kill a Mockingbird won -- just to give a sense of the literary era.)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
One of the first great novels of the Romantic era, Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame has thrilled generations of readers with its powerfully melodramatic story of Quasimodo, the deformed hunchback who lives in the bell tower of medieval Paris’s most famous cathedral.
Feared and hated by all, Quasimodo is looked after by Dom Claude Frollo, a stern, cold priest who ignores the poor hunchback in the face of his frequent public torture. But someone steps forward to help—the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, whose single act of kindness fills Quasimodo with love. Can the hunchback save the lovely gypsy from Frollo’s evil plan, or will they all perish in the shadows of Notre Dame? An epic tale of beauty and sadness, The Hunchback of Notre Dame portrays the sufferings of humanity with compassion and power.
Hugo introduced with this work the concept of the novel as Epic Theatre. A giant epic about the history of a whole people, incarnated in the figure of the great cathedral as witness and silent protagonist of that history. The whole idea of time and life as an ongoing, organic panorama centered on dozens of characters caught in the middle of that history.
Despair, Vladimir Nabokov
Despair is the wickedly inventive and richly derisive story of Hermann, a man who undertakes the perfect crime: his own murder.
“A beautiful mystery plot, not to be revealed.” - Newsweek
The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes—-the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned. Jeffrey Eugenides creates a new kind of contemporary love story in "his most powerful novel yet" (Newsweek).
Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
Franciscan priest Rohr (The Naked Now) is a big-picture kind of thinker when it comes to characterizing the human journey. Life has two halves; life follows the pattern of a hero/heroine's journey; life is disorderly and inherently tragic. Elders and mystics are more inclined to such sweeping and subtle observations, and Rohr, born in 1943, fits in both categories. Rohr writes about spirituality in broad terms, but is deeply grounded in the writings and thinkers of his Catholic religious tradition. His discussion of familiar theological concerns—the necessity of suffering, the opportunities provided by mistakes—is fresh because imaginative and vigorous. His metaphors ("discharging your loyal soldier"), paradoxes (see the book's title), and arguments are not, however, easy to follow or even easy to summarize. They will frustrate some readers, but delight others who are attentive enough to follow the connections Rohr makes. This small, provocative book will make a particularly good gift for a thoughtful, spiritually open man.
The Bram Stoker Bedside Companion, Bram Stoker
Ten short stories
The Lair of the White Worm, Bram Stoker
In a tale of ancient evil, Bram Stoker creates a world of lurking horrors and bizarre denizens: a demented mesmerist, hellbent on mentally crushing the girl he loves; a gigantic kite raised to rid the land of an unnatural infestation of birds, and which receives strange commands along its string; and all the while, the great white worm slithers below, seeking its next victim...
Dreams of Joy, Lisa See
In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z. G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.
Peony in Love, Lisa See
In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amid the scent of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from an epic opera, a live spectacle few females have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony is the cloistered daughter of a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own.
Peony’s mother is against her daughter’s attending the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony’s father assures his wife that proprieties will be maintained, and that the women will watch the opera from behind a screen. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave–and is immediately overcome with emotion.
So begins Peony’s unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow–as Lisa See’s haunting new novel, based on actual historical events, takes readers back to seventeenth-century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed.
Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place–even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence, a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors offer guidance, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth. Immersed in the richness and magic of the Chinese vision of the afterlife, transcending even death, Peony in Love explores, beautifully, the many manifestations of love. Ultimately, Lisa See’s new novel addresses universal themes: the bonds of friendship, the power of words, and the age-old desire of women to be heard.
Shanghai Girls, Lisa See
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.
As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.
At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are–Shanghai girls.
Mary, Vladimir Nabokov
In a Berlin rooming house filled with an assortment of serio-comic Russian émigrés, Lev Ganin, a vigorous young officer poised between his past and his future, relives his first love affair. His memories of Mary are suffused with the freshness of youth and the idyllic ambience of pre-revolutionary Russia. In stark contrast is the decidedly unappealing boarder living in the room next to Ganin’s, who, he discovers, is Mary’s husband, temporarily separated from her by the Revolution but expecting her imminent arrival from Russia.
Glory is the wryly ironic story of Martin Edelweiss, a twenty-two-year-old Russian émigré of no account, who is in love with a girl who refuses to marry him. Convinced that his life is about to be wasted and hoping to impress his love, he embarks on a "perilous, daredevil project"--an illegal attempt to re-enter the Soviet Union, from which he and his mother had fled in 1919. He succeeds--but at a terrible cost.
Despair, A Novel, Vladimir Nabokov -- see entry under Steph's above
Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
Pnin is a professor of Russian at an American college who takes the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he cannot master. Pnin is a tireless lover who writes to his treacherous Liza: "A genius needs to keep so much in store, and thus cannot offer you the whole of himself as I do." Pnin is the focal point of subtle academic conspiracies he cannot begin to comprehend, yet he stages a faculty party to end all faculty parties forever.
Readers meet one of Nabokov's funniest and most heartrending characters: Timofey Pnin, a professor of Russian at an American college, who lectures in a language he cannot master.
The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov
When Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions for his heirs to burn the 138 hand-written index cards that made up the rough draft of his final and unfinished novel, The Original of Laura. But Nabokov's wife, Vera, could not bear to destroy her husband's last work, and when she died, the fate of the manuscript fell to her son. Dmitri Nabokov’s decision finally to allow publication of the fragmented narrative—dark yet playful, preoccupied with mortality—affords us one last experience of Nabokov's magnificent creativity, the quintessence of his unparalleled body of work.
Laughter in the Dark, Vladimir Nabokov
Albinus, a respectable, middle-aged man and aspiring filmmaker, abandons his wife for a lover half his age: Margot, who wants to become a movie star herself. When Albinus introduces her to Rex, an American movie producer, disaster ensues. What emerges is an elegantly sardonic and irresistibly ironic novel of desire, deceit, and deception, a curious romance set in the film world of Berlin in the 1930s.
A malicious comedy of desire, deception, and denial played out against the background of the film world of 1930's Berlin.
Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrych
2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist (Winner in 2009 was Olive Kitteridge)
The unsolved murder of a farm family still haunts the white small town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after the vengeance exacted and the distortions of fact transformed the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation.
Part Ojibwe, part white, Evelina Harp is an ambitious young girl prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather, is a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. And Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who bears witness, understands the weight of historical injustice better than anyone. Through the distinct and winning voices of three unforgettable narrators, the collective stories of two interwoven communities ultimately come together to reveal a final wrenching truth.
Round House, Louise Erdrych
2012 National Book Award finalist
One Sunday in the summer of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to reveal the details of what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them to the Round House, a sacred place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.
As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy.