Some of my favorite authors include: Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Paul Beatty, William Boyd, Peter Carey, E.M. Forster, Ernest Hemingway, Kazuo Ishiguro, Denis Johnson, James McBride, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Charles Portis, James Salter, Ali Smith, Wallace Stegner, David Foster Wallace, Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodehouse.
In the early 1970s, adrift and fearful of the Vietnam draft, Jay Parini talks his way into the PhD program in literature at St. Andrews. Early in his program, through a string of unlikely coincidences, Parini is cajoled into chaperoning the visiting, blind, and elderly Jose Luis Borges on a literary quest into the Highlands. Filled with wonderful characters and gorgeous descriptions of the rugged countryside, whether this work is fiction or memoir is just part of the fun (and part of the point) as Parini takes us on an enchanted trip that provides an intimate and endearing portrait of an enigmatic genius of post-modern literature. Although, in many ways, the turmoil of the early 70s reverberates today, there is something wonderfully distracting, and uplifting, in this account of a simpler time when you could jump into your rusted out Morris Minor, with barely more than a toothbrush, and head for the hills (and islands) on a whim. If you love language, literature, Scotland, or just a great coming-of-age road novel, this is one of those happy books that makes you want to be a more ambitious reader and embrace life’s unexpected opportunities.
Fight Night is a wildly entertaining, big-hearted, and poignant novel by one of the most inventive writers of our day. The story revolves around the relationships between a young girl, her pregnant mother, and ailing grandmother living in tight quarters in a single household as they fight, each in their own way, to life on their terms.
A big book in a small package. Jenny Offill's deft deployment of imagery, observation, and seemingly random thought conjures pure magic. Weather is beautiful, sad, funny, ultimately hopeful and totally of the moment. Do yourself a favor, set aside a couple of hours and swallow it in one go.
Two aged (and literal) partners in crime sit in the Algeciras ferry terminal one night, hoping to catch a glimpse of a young woman, an Irish Traveler, perhaps the daughter of one of them. During the course of the evening, they reminisce about their past - friendships, loves, and betrayals. This tight, taut tale is filled with humor, nostalgia, humanity and, occasionally, pure malice.
Mid-1990s Northern Ireland and The Troubles serve as the backdrop for this spectacular re-telling of The Iliad that arrives like a gut shot. Fast and energetic, Country serves a great complement (or tonic) to Milkman depending on your experience. Also terrific as an audio book (the author reads) because the language and cadence are such an important part of the experience. Why not make this your introduction to Libro.fm through Wellesley Books!
An established food writer and Berkeley hippie goes corporate when she gets tapped by Condé Nast to run Gourmet magazine at just the moment the food, restaurant, and farm-to-table movement hits the mainstream. She courts big time chefs and writers (I particularly enjoyed the chapter on David Foster Wallace) to modernize the magazine to meet the challenge. Reichl's evocative descriptions will have you making a restaurant reservation, trying a new recipe, or even booking a flight to Paris! I will never experience a glass of champagne the same way again...
This novel, inspired by a real event, revolves around a two-day discussion by a group of isolated and illiterate Mennonite women to determine a course of action upon discovery that, over a period of years, they have been systematically drugged and raped by a group of men and boys from their community. Women Talking lights a slow fuse that burns, builds and ultimately blows the lid off any concept of patriarchy.
Ali Smith writes beautiful prose, loves language and a good pun, lightly tackles weighty topics, and many of her plots could provide the makings of a Shakespearean comedy. In Winter, a struggling 30-something son, in an attempt to impress his successful and domineering mother, hires a young vagrant woman to impersonate his girlfriend, who walked out on him the week before his Christmas visit home. Add an estranged sister, absent for 30 years, all together on a rambling Cornwall estate for a perfect Smith-mix to tackle love, family, as well as the current global political backdrop.
In 1986, a massive fire at the Los Angeles Public Library was obscured in the national media by the concurrent Chernobyl disaster. Orlean uses the fire as a springboard to spin portraits of a variety of fascinating personalities and extended discourses on such unrelated topics as the birth of the city of Los Angeles and the difficulties of arson investigation. Her reassuring message throughout the book is that libraries are thriving despite (or maybe because of) the dual pressures of the digital age and the rise in homelessness. A current librarian quotes Albert Schweitzer and this important message "All true living takes place face to face." Highly recommended!
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Consider me an evangelist for this wildly entertaining road novel which cleverly juggles grand contemplations of cosmic and theological mysteries with hilarious riffs on the short-sightedness and mundanity of modern life. Smart and thought provoking, Aaron Thier has written One True Book for our day and age.
Elvis Babbitt is a precocious 10-year old with a head for science. Although she, her renegade older sister, and befuddled father are "not a family of criers," Elvis is attending mandated weekly counseling sessions and developing an 18-month grieving plan. They are each coming to terms with the accidental drowning of her mother during a sleepwalking episode. Funny, poignant, and insightful, Hartnett has created an original and pure voice in her debut novel.
Quaint and quirky, this short novel revolves around a postman who escapes his dull routine by steaming open, and living vicariously through, the personal mail of his various patrons. One day he stumbles upon a romantic courtship conducted solely in the form of haiku poems and becomes obsessed with the correspondents. If this all sounds creepy, it all pulls together and delivers a very satisfying conclusion. The story has a sweetness reminiscent of The Housekeeper and the Professor or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry with the added benefit of a crash course in advanced haiku.
This fast-paced and witty rumination on art, love, and philosophy is built around the Global Financial Crisis and the collapse of the Irish banking system. Given my background in global finance, I was particularly impressed with the light strokes Murray deployed to simply yet accurately render a fairly complex and potentially ponderous backdrop. However, as in his previous novel Skippy Dies, the main story line is merely a jumping off point as he deftly juggles multiple and varied topics with vivid scenes and memorable characters. Also here, the outright humor belies the depth and sincerity with which he approaches his underlying themes.
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The author, an accomplished falconer, boldly undertakes the "manning" of a goshawk, a large and vicious predator, as a means of coping with the sudden and unexpected death of her father. Although notoriously difficult to tame, she turns to The Sword and the Stone author T. H. White's chronicle, The Goshawk, for a road map. Along the way, she discovers common ground between the hawk's fierce temperament and her own. H is for Hawk is part grief memoir, part naturalist diary, part literary meditation. A rich and rewarding read, this book is already firmly established as one of the best books of the year.
Ten years and two wars in the post-Soviet Chechen Republic are recounted over five days through the lives and memories of a small group of villagers caught in the crosshairs of the conflict. At times beautiful, others brutal, it's a stunning portrait of a lesser known chapter in our modern world. Marra has written a first novel every bit as powerful as The Kite Runner or Everything is Illuminated.
The Rosie Project is Where'd You Go, Bernadette meets The Silver Linings Playbook. This book is laugh out loud funny and full of quirky characters involved in a sweet, upbeat story. I loved Rosie and Don. Start early in the day or else you'll be reading straight through the night!
This powerhouse novel is set in the 1970s and revolves around an unlikely trifecta of the New York art scene, motorcycles racing, and the Red Brigade labor confrontations in Italy. The narrator, Reno, is an artist, obsessed with speed, who relocates from the Nevada to New York. She falls in love with the disaffected heir of an Italian tire and motorcycle dynasty, sets a land speed record for women on the Bonneville Salt Flats, but crashes when she tries to connect with members of the family empire. Entertaining and informative, this ambitious work is garnering some impressive reviews from some industry heavyweights.
On his way to the post box to mail a note of consolation to a long forgotten and now dying friend, Harold Fry decides to keep walking. Without a smart phone, backpack, or even a decent pair of shoes, Harold sets off to trek the length of England to reconnect with his friend and his past. Rachel Joyce is an award-winning playwright for BBC Radio and a stage actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Not surprisingly, the pace of her storytelling quickly puts you in cadence with Harold's journey and his contemplations of modern society, love, and family. This is a simple, but powerfully uplifting, debut novel.
I laughed out loud at the humor in the terse philosophical musings and staccato banter between two brothers, hired guns, on a manhunt across the California Gold Country. This modern take on the traditional Western novel is a fun, but substantive, read. If you liked True Grit (book or movie) you'll enjoy this. Winner of the 2012 Tournament of Books and a Booker Prize finalist.
Set in a Dublin boys' boarding school, this comedic tour-de-force ranges through typical teenage fare like video games and pop music to riffs on string theory and the Goddess Creation Myth. Daring and edgy.
This semi-autobiographical Vietnam War thriller is rife in detailed battle scenes with the North Vietnamese Army and the complex politics and race relations of the late 1960s. Written over the course of 30 years by a highly decorated veteran, this reads like an early Tom Clancy novel.
Hitchcock, "The Fugitive", and MC Escher combined in a postmodern noir thriller. Darkly funny and sexy, this debut novel is great fun.
This lost classic has been revitalized by the recently released Coen brothers' movie. The dialogue and pace of author Charles Portis have been faithfully rendered in the film. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will find something compelling in 14 year-old Mattie Ross's quest to hunt down her father's killer. This is a great book for vacation travel as it can truly be read and enjoyed by everyone in the family.
In 1799, Dejima is a small, artificial island in Nagasaki Harbor that serves as the sole port for a Japanese Empire sealed off from the outside world. Jacob de Zoet travels to Dejima from Holland to earn his fortune with the Dutch East India Company. Instead, he discovers a world of corruption and treachery, and is beguiled by the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor.