The Foremost Good Fortune (Non Fiction Biography Conley)
Susan and her young family move to China and struggle to adjust in their strange new surroundings. During their stay, Susan is diagnosed with breast cancer and has to adapt in ways she could never have predicted. By the end of this thoughtful, funny, and often poignant memoir you feel as if you’ve spent time with a close friend.
Excerpt: What unfolds in China is the bounty we hoped for: the universe is much bigger once you leave New England. But what happens while we’re there is that one of us gets cancer. It turns out to be me. This is my excuse for why I haven’t held on to more Mandarin grammar. For us, cancer becomes the story within the China story. China and cancer are both big countries, so there’s a lot to say about each.
The Maytrees (Fic Dillard)
The story of a marriage: love, betrayal, forgiveness, and loss. Its wise, warm heroine, Lou Maytree, is one of my favorites. This novel is poetically written and challenged my vocabulary but was well worth a careful read.
Excerpt: Sometimes by day or night he heard them breathe old as oceans—experienced. Now in compassion they bore, between them, their solitudes each the size of the raveled globe. Everything looked better since they were old.
The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 (Non Fiction Art)
The biography of Mary Delany, an English noblewoman born in 1700. Maybe I loved this book because I’m an ageing wannabe artist. But maybe it’s also a fascinating piece of history starring an inspiring woman who triumphed over challenges. (Plenty of lovely illustrations, too!)
Excerpt: Mrs. D, which is what they affectionately call her at the British Museum, dubbed her paper and petal paste-up a “flower mosaick”. And in the next ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals so accurate that botanists still refer to them—each one so energetically dramatic that it seems to leap out from the dark as onto a lit stage.
The Life of Pi (Fic Martel, Teen Martel, BCD Martel, Playaway Martel)
The adventures of a young boy who survives shipwreck but must spend months on the ocean with a tiger, Richard Parker, as his only companion. The novel explores spirituality, the meaning of life, and how we cope with hardships. Imaginative, sometimes harrowing, and surprisingly funny, this book can be enjoyed on many levels.
Excerpt: Every single thing I value in life has been destroyed. And I am allowed no explanation? I am to suffer hell without any account from heaven? In that case, what is the purpose of reason, Richard Parker? Is it no more than to shine at practicalities—the getting of food, clothing and shelter?
At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Non Fiction Home)
The author explores his own house room-by-room, diverting delightfully along the way. Stuffed with thousands of factoids that will make you exclaim “Aha!” Ever wondered why forks have four prongs? Read to find out.
Excerpt: Whatever happens in the world — whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over — eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house. So the history of household life isn’t just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be, but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body-snatching and just about everything else that has ever happened. Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”
To Kill a Mockingbird (Fic Lee, BCD Lee, Teen Lee)
This Pulitzer Prize winner was ahead of its time and is still relevant today. Narrated by a child, it exposes racial prejudice and evil while maintaining belief in human kindness. The novel is easily read but deep. (See also Scout, Atticus, and Boo, a collection of interviews with prominent people including Oprah, Tom Brokaw, and Anna Quindlen about how the novel influenced their lives.)
Excerpt: Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.
Quite a Year for Plums (Fic White)
If you have a beloved old lady in your life you will enjoy this novel. If you like smart wit, rural Southern atmosphere, and quirky characters, you will enjoy anything by Bailey White. In addition to this book, look for her collected commentaries; Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Sleeping at the Starlite Motel.
Excerpt: It was not fair to blame Ethel for the Irish Potato Famine just because she had such a lively interest in a variety of men. “Ethel is a gifted teacher,” she said. “That is an important thing to remember.”
A Girl Named Zippy (Teen Biography Kimmel, Teen BCD Biography Kimmel)
In a series of short, unpredictable and funny chapters, Haven Kimmel shares what it was like growing up poor in the tiny town of Mooreland, Indiana.
Excerpt: “Do you know what you do with one of these?” Rose asked me. I shook my head. “You put it in your nose like this,” she said, placing the seed part just inside her nostril so that the petals flared out around her nose. It was beautiful, like nostril jewelry. “Give me one,” I said, picking a little blossom off the tree. Rose added another to her own face and then she really looked like a flower garden. I was adjusting mine when I forgot what I was doing and inhaled. Up! went the little seed. Up! went
Ladder of Years (Anne Tyler)
Delia Grinstead is 40 years old, her husband is overly preoccupied and her teenage children roll their eyes at her. One day she strolls away and just keeps going. (My own teenagers used to worry about how often I read this novel. For a while they hid my sneakers.) What follows is a tender, wise exploration of what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a person.
Excerpt: Mrs. Grinstead was last seen around noon this past Monday, walking south along the stretch of sand between Bethany and Sea Colony. Witnesses of her departure—her husband, Dr. Samuel Grinstead, 55, and her three children, Susan, 21, Ramsay, 19, and Carroll, 15—were unable to recall any suspicious characters in the vicinity. A slender, small-boned woman with curly fair or light-brown hair, Mrs. Grinstead stands 5’2” or possibly 5’5” and weighs either 90 or 100 pounds. Her eyes are blue or gray or perhaps green.“
The Glass Castle (Non Fiction Biography Walls, BCD Biography Walls, SP Biography Walls)
Jeanette Walls was raised in poverty by unconventional, free-spirited parents who eventually chose to become homeless. Despite the odds, she becomes a successful journalist and comes to affectionate, respectful terms with her parents and their lifestyle.
Excerpt: I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she’d see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.
The Tiger’s Wife (Fic Obreht)
This modern story of a young doctor in the post-civil war Balkans is interwoven with a Yugoslavian fable about a Muslim outsider protected by a tiger. The result is a myth-like exploration of acceptance, forgiveness, and the price of war.
Excerpt: The German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs. He did not know anything beyond the hiss and screech of fighter planes passing overhead and the missiles falling, the bears bellowing in another part of the fortress, and the sudden silence of the birds.
Outliers: The Story of Success (Non Fiction Soc Sci)
Malcolm Gladwell is consistently entertaining and compelling. His latest, Outliers, explores what makes super achievers different from the rest of us.
Excerpt: The book grew out of a frustration I found myself having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—”they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.