Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Book Club Picks

It's ironic that I'm posting a list of book club recommendations because I've never actually been in a book club. But more than one person asked, so I figured I'd do it. Below is a list of books I really enjoyed and a short description of why I think it would make a good pick for a book club. I also included pictures of the book covers, since the book jacket often plays a role in what books I pick up at the store. Disclaimer: I'm not going to recommend anything hoity toity, so if your book club likes to read Hemmingway you can just stop right here.

1. Motherless Brooklyn - I read this about 4 years ago, so my memory is a little hazy, but I do remember that it is an excellent book. The narrator is Lionel Essrog, a "detective" suffering from Tourette's syndrome, and the way the author weaves the Tourettes into the prose manages to be both ugly and beautiful. Lionel's story is sad and yet hilarious and the plot centers around him trying to track down the killer of his boss, Frank Minna. From Amazon: "Minna enlisted Lionel and his friends when they were teenagers living at Saint Vincent's Home for Boys, ostensibly to perform odd jobs (we're talking very odd) and over the years trained them to become a team of investigators. The Minna men face their most daunting case when they find their mentor in a Dumpster bleeding from stab wounds delivered by an assailant whose identity he refuses to reveal--even while he's dying on the way to the hospital."

2. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - I read this years ago, and it's so much better than you think it's going to be! It has epic proportions and is painfully romantic. But it's not just a corny romance, it talks about war, family, and Italian culture and it's really quite sophisticated. I also think that it's been long enough since the movie came out that it might be possible to read this now without always picturing Nicholas Cage mooning around Italy pretending to play the mandolin. Except I just reminded you, so maybe not.

3. The Shadow of the Wind - Such a good book. It takes place in Barcelona in 1945 after the war. the back jacket says "Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author's other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax's books in existence. Soon Daniel's seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness and doomed love." It's totally one of those books that immediately after finishing it you want to debrief with a group. The cover makes it look a little like a dude-book, but it's not true. It's the kind of book you'll stay up past your bedtime reading because you must know what happens next.

4. Kite Runner - Really, really good and perfect for a book club. Downfall? Everyone in your club has probably already read it. Maybe you should try his newer book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, I've heard great things about it and I'm sure you have too. In fact, if your club does choose his new book, let me know before hand and I'll read it at the same time.

5. Middlesex - All I need to tell you is the first sentence of the book: "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license...records my first name simply as Cal." Real quick I'll tell you just one more thing - this book isn't good just because the story is good, the prose is truly beautiful as well.

6. A Trip To the Stars - This was my favorite book about 7 or 8 years ago and it still holds a special place on my bookshelf. Here's the back description: "At a Manhattan planetarium in 1965, ten-year-old Enzo and his young aunt, Mala, are separated, an event that profoundly alters the rest of their lives. In an epic tale of love and destiny, A Trip to the Stars charts their paths over the next fifteen years as they search for each other and, in the process, discover themselves. As Enzo and Mala cross continents and seas on their separate journeys, they encounter a dizzying array of people: an arachnologist in New Orleans, an asteroid specialist, a wounded B-52 navigator in Vietnam, a professional mind reader, a maverick NASA astronomer, and countless others... This is both a love story and a coming-of-age story that shows us what happens when we lose what matters most." It's super romantic, a little magic, crafty and smart. I'm not going to tell you that my Mom didn't like it because that might sway you. Oh wait.

7. The Girls - Conjoined twins, joined at the head. Do I even need to say anything else?! In case I do, here is a quick plot summary: "Conjoined twins Rose and Ruby Darlen are linked at the side of the head, with separate brains and bodies. Born in a small town outside Toronto in the midst of a tornado and abandoned by their unwed teenage mother two weeks later, the girls are cared for by Aunt Lovey, a nurse who refuses to see them as deformed or even disabled. She raises them in Leaford, Ontario, where, at age 29, Rose, the more verbal and bookish twin, begins writing their story—i.e., this novel, which begins, "I have never looked into my sister's eyes." Sounds like it's going to be hokey, but it's NOT.

8. The Namesake - see my review here. I think all age groups would like this one, particularly if you had/have a complex relationship with your parents and/or adult children.

9. Special Topics on Calamity Physics - see my review here. I particularly recommend this to book clubs that consist mainly of women ages 25-35. I really, really liked this book.

10. The Handmaid's Tale - see my review here. Make sure to read the comments though, because not everyone liked it like I did.

11. The History of Love - a friend recently mentioned this book, which I read a year or two ago. My only hesitation in recommending it is that if my friend hadn't mentioned it to me, I'm not sure I would have remembered it. But once I did, I also remembered that it was very good. The back jacket description doesn't give much away: "Leo Gursky is barely surviving, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive. But life wasn't always like this: 60 years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And though Leo doesn't know it, that book survived, inspiring fabulous circumstances, even love." This is a short book, but it packs quite a lot into its short stature (like me!). There's a bit of mystery, more than a bit of sadness, and the story of Leo and a young girl named Alma (who narrates a big chunk of the story and tells the story of the "fabulous circumstances" alluded to in the above description) interweave and connect in a way that's captivating.

If anyone or any group decides to take any of my suggestions, I'd love to hear about it.


Anonymous said...

What a list. My book club has read some of these. We enjoyed Shadow of the Wind, but not everyone enjoyed Middlesex (although I thought it was pretty good). I've wanted to read The History of Love (I even suggested it once), maybe I'll try to suggest it again.

As for the Kite Runner, I actually like the second book better (although both were very good). I even shared the Kite Runner with my husband!

Amanda said...

Great list! I've read a few and some of those are on my TBR list as well. And yes...I LOVED A Trip to the Stars too. I found it on a discount bin, liked the cover, and didn't know anything about it. I'll post a review of The Beastiary when I read it.

katie said...

A Thousand Splendid Suns was quite good, not as good as the Kite Runner, but good- I think I have it if you want to borrow.

Meanwhile, Middlesex is one of my favoriet of all time.