These books were suggested but didn’t get chosen over several months of voting. These are our wallflowers: they came to the dance but stood on the sidelines.
Publishing information, plot synopsis, and/or reviews are posted here for anyone who wanted to read a book that didn’t get enough votes.
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Fiction. 1998, 576 pages in the 2008 paperback edition. Believed to be available in hardcover, paperback, MP3 and downloadable audbook format, and via Kindle. The year is 1959 and the place is the Belgian Congo. Nathan Price, a Baptist preacher, has come to spread the Word in a remote village reachable only by airplane. To say that he and his family are woefully unprepared would be an understatement: “We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle,” says Leah, one of Nathan’s daughters. But of course it isn’t long before they discover that the tremendous humidity has rendered the mixes unusable, their clothes are unsuitable, and they’ve arrived in the middle of political upheaval as the Congolese seek to wrest independence from Belgium. The first part of The Poisonwood Bible revolves around Nathan’s intransigent, bullying personality and his effect on both his family and the village they have come to. As political instability grows in the Congo, so does the local witch doctor’s animus toward the Prices, and both seem to converge with tragic consequences about halfway through the novel. From that point on, the family is dispersed and the novel follows each member’s fortune across a span of more than 30 years. NPR covers the book <here>, and interviews author Kingsolver <here>. Find the book on Amazon.com <here>. The Phoenix Public Library offers copies <here>.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Nonfiction. Published Feb 2006, 352 pages. Believed to be available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook and Kindle. Plagued with despair after a nasty divorce, the author, in her early 30s, divides a year equally among three dissimilar countries, exploring her competing urges for earthly delights and divine transcendence. First, pleasure: savoring Italy’s buffet of delights–the world’s best pizza, free-flowing wine and dashing conversation partners–Gilbert consumes la dolce vita as spiritual succor. “I came to Italy pinched and thin,” she writes, but soon fills out in waist and soul. Then, prayer and ascetic rigor: seeking communion with the divine at a sacred ashram in India, Gilbert emulates the ways of yogis in grueling hours of meditation, struggling to still her churning mind. Finally, a balancing act in Bali, where Gilbert tries for equipoise “betwixt and between” realms, studies with a merry medicine man and plunges into a charged love affair. Sustaining a chatty, conspiratorial tone, Gilbert fully engages readers in the year’s cultural and emotional tapestry–conveying rapture with infectious brio, recalling anguish with touching candor–as she details her exotic tableau with history, anecdote and impression. Find it on Amazon.com and at the Phoenix Public Library.
(synopsis/review above is copyrighted by Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.)
Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. Fiction. August 2008, 224 pages. Believed to be available in hardcover, paperback, and various audio formats (not Kindle). Set in post-apartheid South Africa, the novel centers on a University of Cape Town professor of modern languages named David Lurie. “Twice married and twice divorced, his magnetic looks on the wane, David rather cruelly seduces one of his students, and his conduct unbecoming is soon uncovered. Refusing to play the public-repentance game, David gets himself fired–a final gesture of contempt. Now, he thinks, he will write something on Byron’s last years. Not empty, unread criticism, “prose measured by the yard,” but a libretto. To do so, he heads for the Eastern Cape and his daughter’s farm. In her mid-20s, Lucy has turned her back on city sophistications: with five hectares, she makes her living by growing flowers and produce and boarding dogs. “Nothing,” David thinks, “could be more simple.” But nothing, in fact, is more complicated–or, in the new South Africa, more dangerous. Far from being the refuge he has sought, little is safe in Salem. Just as David has settled into his temporary role as farmworker and unenthusiastic animal-shelter volunteer, he and Lucy are attacked by three black men. Unable to protect his daughter, David’s disgrace is complete. Hers, however, is far worse.” (reviewed copied from Amazon.com) Amazon.com offers the book <here> while you can get a free copy at the Phoenix Public Library, <here>. NPR reviewed the book & movie adapatation <here>.
Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg. Nonfiction. Published June 2010, 240 pages. Believed to be available in hardcover and Kindle. A rising publishing industry star trashes his life during a bender in this intense but callow confessional. Clegg, a literary agent with William Morris Endeavor, tells the story of a two-month crack binge in which he smoked away his literary agency partnership, his $70,000 bank account, 40 pounds (he’s forever cutting new holes in his belt to cinch it to his wasting frame), and his relationship with his devoted long-suffering boyfriend. There’s crazed excess and tawdry sex, but also a sharply etched portrait of the addict’s mindset: the veering between paranoia and a compulsive sociability with the random crackheads he picks up to party with; the shrinkage of the planning horizon to the search for the next hit; the bliss of the high (the warmest, most tender caress… then, as it recedes, the coldest hand); the bender’s unstoppable acceleration until, like a cartoon character running off a cliff, it has nothing left to sustain it. The author’s efforts to impart psychological depth to his addiction—he writes of wan collegiate debauches and a childhood complex about urinating—are less convincing; it’s clear that the binge will end when his money runs out. Though richly rendered, Clegg’s crack odyssey feels like an epic bout of self-indulgence. (synopsis/review above is copyrighted by Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.) Available from Amazon.com and at Target.com.
Yarn: Remembering the Way Home by Kyoko Mori. Nonfiction. Published November 2009, 240 pages. Believed to be available in paperback and Kindle. From the flawed school mittens made in her native Japan, where needlework is used as a way to prepare women for marriage and silence, to the beautiful unmatched patterns of cardigans, hats and shawls made in the American Midwest, Kyoko draws the connection between knitting and the new life she tried to establish in the U.S. From the suicide of her mother to the last empty days of her marriage, Kyoko finds a way to begin again on her own terms. Interspersed with fact and history about knitting throughout, the narrative touchingly contemplates the nature of love, loss and what holds a marriage together. (review from the publisher’s website) Available from Amazon.com and from the publisher’s website.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. Fiction. Published 2006, 464 pages in paperback. Believed to be available in hardcover, paperback, and audio formats. Available from Amazon.com, the Phoenix Public Library and Target.com. Reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is like watching a gifted athlete invent a sport using elements of every other sport there is — balls, bats, poles, wickets, javelins and saxophones. The book begins with the introduction of a hung-over detective to a gun-shot corpse in a fleabag hotel. Classic noir, except that the detective drinks slivovitz instead of bourbon: He’s Jewish, a kind of Philip Marlovsky named Meyer Landsman, though Landsman is a cop — a “noz” in the yiddisher slang of the book — not a PI. The whole local police force is Jewish: The book is set in a present-day alternate reality in Sitka, Alaska, a safe haven set up for Jewish refugees after World War II and the collapse of Israel. Now, after nearly 60 years, the Federal District of Sitka is about to revert to American rule. There are elements of an international terrorist thriller, complicated by religious conspiracy and a band of end-of-the-world hopefuls, and yet the book has a dimly lit 1940s vibe. Maybe that’s just because of what Jews and movie dicks have always had in common: felt hats and an affinity for bad weather. (review from the Washington Post via Amazon.com)
Columbine by Dave Cullen. Nonfiction. Published 2009, 464 pages in paperback. Believed to be available in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, Nook and various audio formats. A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review. Available from the author’s website, Amazon.com, the Phoenix Public Library, and Target.com among other retailers. In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen? Drawing on extensive interviews, police reports and his own reporting, Cullen meticulously pieces together what happened when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves. The media spin was that specific students, namely jocks, were targeted and that Dylan and Eric were members of the Trench Coat Mafia. According to Cullen, they lived apparently normal lives, but under the surface lay an angry, erratic depressive (Klebold) and a sadistic psychopath (Harris), together forming a combustible pair. They planned the massacre for a year, outlining their intentions for massive carnage in extensive journals and video diaries. Cullen expertly balances the psychological analysis—enhanced by several of the nation’s leading experts on psychopathology—with an examination of the shooting’s effects on survivors, victims’ families and the Columbine community. Readers will come away from Cullen’s unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill, even if the answers aren’t easy to stomach. (review from Publisher’s Weekly)
The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam. Nonfiction. Published Sept 2009 in paperback which is 336 pages. Believed to be available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle. Available from Amazon.com, the publisher’s website, the Phoenix Public Library, and Target.com among other retailers. Kiriyama-winner Aslam (Maps for Lost Lovers) takes an ambitious and moving look at the human cost of Afghanistan’s war-torn reality. Marcus, a British doctor, lives near Jalalabad and quietly mourns the loss of his Afghan wife, their grown daughter and his hand to the Taliban and tribal warring. His houseguests includes Lara, a Russian woman searching for the truth about her soldier brother’s disappearance, and David, a formerly zealous CIA operative whose love for Marcus’s murdered daughter binds him to the older man as they search for her missing son. There’s a tremendous tension in the first half of the book as the connections between the characters and the country are built up, and Aslam exploits the setup perfectly when a cast of younger characters—a fervent jihadi, a charismatic but arrogant American soldier, a rebellious local schoolteacher—arrive at the house and bring danger with them. Lyrical but not overwritten, the novel creates an unflinchingly clear picture of a country whose history of strife is still being written.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. Fiction. October 2009, 320 pages. Available in hardcover, paperback, audio and Kindle. An evocative novel of Japanese-Americans in Seattle during World War II. “Corner of Bitter and Sweet” is an actual place . . . it is Seattle’s Panama Hotel, where an old man named Henry Lee stands as the book opens and remembers an old, doomed love. The book reflects some of Ford’s own family history, his fascination with Seattle, his passion for jazz, and buried secrets in families that sometimes come spilling out. The story is fictional but based on real events, places and according to NPR’s Morning Edition, partly influenced by the author’s experiences. Click <here> for Morning Edition interview with the author. Amazon.com reviews & sells the book <here>.
Indignation by Philip Roth. Fiction. Reprinted Oct 2009, originally published 2008, 256 pages. Available in hardcover, paperback, audio and Kindle. In the second year of the Korean War, a butcher’s son–a straight-A student wound tight with aspiration–flees Newark and his father’s increasingly unhinged fears for his safety. Heading midwest, he finds a strange collegiate land of fraternities, football heroes, V-neck pullover sweaters and white buckskin shoes, panty raids, and mandatory chapel services, and, most startlingly, a young woman with desires of her own. Indignation records a series of small explosions against ’50s propriety and the dire consequences they lead to, capturing the misery of desire amid repression, along with the greater terror of being trapped in endless, relentless memory. (review by Amazon.com writer Tom Nissley). Click <here> to visit the Amazon.com page for this book. Click <here> to visit the NPR page, which posts a review and an excerpt of Chapter 1.
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow. Fiction. January 2010, 256 pages. Chosen as an Amazon Best Books of the Month for February 2010, and awarded the Bellwether Prize for fiction that addresses issues of social justice. The author’s own personal search for identity inspired the novel which revolves around a girl who moves across the country to live with her grandmother after surviving a family tragedy. The daughter of an African American GI father and a Danish mother, she is forced to choose a racial identity in her grandmother’s predominantly Black neighborhood. Interestingly, the story takes place in the US in the 1980s. The author began writing it in 1997, and says the intervening years — including the election of the nation’s first Black President — have changed the biracial debate. Read a short NPR interview with the author <here>.
Movie Love in the Fifties, by James Harvey. Nonfiction. Published 2002. 464 pages. More than just a catalogue of films by theme or gender, this is a book that explores who we were as a nation in the 1950s, through our movies. NPR’s reviewer Anthony Giardina says, “Movies in the 1950s weren’t all pitched to the appetites of teenage boys. They were made for adults, and one of the marvels of Harvey’s book is the way he opens up the adulthood of our parents and grandparents through the movies they went to see — movies that not only reflected their adult dilemmas and choices but actually had a hand in shaping the kind of people they became.” Publisher’s Weekly says, “as compulsively readable as it is detailed and exhaustive.”
Read the NPR review and listen to the All Things Considered interview <here>. The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, by Frans de Waal. Nonfiction. In his new book, de Waal, the C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, says nature has been wrongly depicted to justify a “survival of the fittest” attitude in humans. Drawing on examples from his primate observations, de Waal says it’s time for humans to rethink how we treat each other. NPR’s audio interview with the author can be heard <here>.
Connected, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. Nonfiction. The authors describe how social media is changing human behavior. Did you know that if a friend’s friend – someone you’ve never met – gains weight, you’re more likely to gain weight too? Or, did you ever think about how all the fish in a school know how to turn at the same time? Christakis and Fowler discovered describe their research into how social networks tie into health and human behavior, including obesity, smoking, voting and happiness. Science Friday’s Ira Flatow interviews the authors; click <here> to listen. Visit the Amazon.com page for this book by clicking <here>
Loving Frank, by Barbara Horan. Fiction. Horan’s ambitious first novel is a fictionalization of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, best known as the woman who wrecked Frank Lloyd Wright’s first marriage. Despite the title, this is not a romance, but a portrayal of an independent, educated woman at odds with the restrictions of the early 20th century. Frank and Mamah, both married and with children, met when Mamah’s husband, Edwin, commissioned Frank to design a house. Their affair became the stuff of headlines when they left their families to live and travel together. Frank and Mamah eventually settled in Wisconsin, where they were hounded by a scandal-hungry press, with tragic repercussions. NPR interviewed the author; click <here> to read.