As 2010 rolls around, I know many of you will be making picks for a book club you’ve been a part of for years, or you’ll be joining a new group. (Or, maybe you’ve got your picks lined up months in advance. If so, please share the titles in the comments!)
My mom recently joined a book club in Arkansas, and I know she’s excited about January and February: Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo and Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage are on the docket.
If you’re just starting a club, BookPage has many resources: We have a book club column in the print edition of BookPage (click here for December’s highlighted books); and we’ve got an entire page dedicated to all things book club on BookPage.com, where you can learn about new books out in paperback, write a profile about your club or review books your group enjoyed.
What books will your club be reading in 2010?
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
September 2009, Riverhead
Juliet, Naked follows the intertwining stories of Duncan, a college professor in a small English town whose one passion is for the music of Tucker Crowe; Duncan's girlfriend Annie, who is beginning to realize how angry she is that she's just spent 15 years with a man who loves Tucker Crowe more than her; and Tucker Crowe himself, who has been in near-seclusion in rural Pennsylvania since shortly after the release of his greatest album, Juliet, in 1986. Hornby has a gift for illuminating the inner lives of his characters, from their moments of petty jealousy to the recognition of their scariest or most humbling needs. I especially appreciate his insight into the kind of fannish obsession that Duncan has for Tucker Crowe, which both embarrasses and sustains him. I always love Hornby's characters, and this book is no exception; I'm almost excited that I have another flight tomorrow, so I can have an excuse to plow through the rest of Juliet, Naked and find out how it ends!
What really frightened him was how spectacularly his transgression had paid off. All these years, he'd done nothing more than read and listen and think, and though he'd been stimulated by these activities, what had he uncovered, really? And yet by behaving like a teenage hooligan with a screw loose, he had made a major breakthrough. He was the only Crowologist in the world who knew about that picture, and he could never tell anyone about it, unless he wished to own up to being mentally unbalanced. Every other year spent on his chosen subject had been barren compared to the last couple of hours. But that couldn't be the way forward, surely? He didn't want to be the kind of man who plunged his arms into trash cans in the hope of finding a letter, or a piece of bacon rind that Crowe might have chewed. By the time he got back to the hotel, he had convinced himself he was finished with Tucker Crowe.
What are you reading today?
This is pretty oddball, but I’m giving a copy of Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends (Chronicle) to my teenage son who loves comic books and hopes to attend Comic Con himself one day. The book is a large-format, illustrated look at the history of the show.
My dad is a huge fan of literary fiction, so I’m giving him John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River (Random House) and E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langely (Random House). Irving and Doctorow are two of his favorite writers and I know he is excited about their new books
—Abby, Fiction Editor
I'm giving The Lacuna (HarperCollins) to my mom, who loves both Mexico and art history, and The Education of a British-Protected Child (Knopf Doubleday) by Chinua Achebe to my dad, who loves both postcolonial writers and childhood memoirs.
—Kate, Nonfiction Editor
I'm giving City of Thieves (Penguin) by David Benioff to my grandfather. This book has been a hit with everyone I've recommended it to, including my brother, who hadn't read a book in years before I loaned him my copy. My grandfather loves novels about World War II and has visited St. Petersburg, where the novel is set, so I think he'll enjoy this one.
—Trisha, Web Editor
My 18-year-old sister just started college in New York (1,300 miles away from home!), so I’m giving her a copy of Ann Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier (Random House). I think my sis will appreciate the story of a young woman’s search for independence—plus, Packer does great descriptions of NYC.
—Eliza, Assistant Web Editor
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Whether you're celebrating Christmas or just celebrating a couple of days off, we're betting this long weekend will contain at least a few hours of reading time for most of you. It certainly will for me. Snug in my suitcase: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark and Crash Course by Paul Ingrassia. Neither of which has any connection to Christmas, but I'm sure to be getting enough holiday spirit from other sources!
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
February 2010, Algonquin Books
There are no black people in Nature today. Only us.
The wind catches me at the ankles now. My socks have fallen on the climb up the stairs to this lookout point.
“No way we could get Miss Doris up to see this,” Drew says.
“There’s no way my mama wants to be out in the thick of cold climbing up stairs to see anything but the Lord himself,” Aunt Loretta says. “But if she did. . .”
Aunt Loretta doesn’t finish what she’s saying. She stares out at the falls and moves her hands in the air like she can measure what she is seeing. Like she’s framing it with her hands.
“You about done with this cold, Rachel?” Drew asks.
Aunt Loretta is leaning on the rail, looking at the waterfall now. She’s hypnotized. I think she is crying.
Drew sees that she is crying too.
Aunt Loretta cries without sound, but I can see a shudder go through her. Is it the cold wind? Drew is saying something to her. I hear in only half volume. The wind is in my good ear, and in the other a thrumming, a hum.
“I want to be that girl again,” is all I can hear of what Aunt Loretta says. Drew seems to know what she means. He leans into her, but I move away. I don’t want hands on me.
I take small steps backing off the bridge. I walk slowly and carefully. What I’m scared of I can’t explain. It’s the look in Aunt Loretta’s eyes, the way her voice sounds small and hurt. Maybe she’s measured a long icy fall.
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
Harper, March 2010
Shep could feel it, that for Zach suddenly the whole happy-family playacting was too much. The boy didn't know that until a week ago his father was about to abscond to the east coast of Africa, and he didn't know that his mother had just been diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer, much less did he know that as far as his mother was concered the disease was his father's fault. But these highly incidental unsaids emitted the equivalent of the high-frequency sound waves that convenience stores now broadcast outside their shops to keep loitering gangs from the door. What dulled adult ears could no longer detect was unbearable to adolescents, and the same might be said of emotional fraud. Zach popped his pizza pocket early from the taoster and took his half-frozen dinner in a paper towel upstairs without even bothering with "See ya."
Roast chicken, boiled potatoes and steamed green beans. Glynis commended his preparation, but only picked. "I feel fat," she admitted.
"You're underweight. It's only fluid. You have to stop thinking like that."
"Suddenly I'm supposed to become a different person?"
"You can be the same person who eats more."
"Your chicken," she said, "is probably not what I feel so little appetite for." This was surely true. Given the purpose of food, an appetite at meals implied an appetite for the future.
Safe From the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough
January 2010, Knopf
Steve Yarbrough’s fifth novel is one of the finest examples of lovely language in fiction I’ve read all year. The vehicle for Yarbrough’s words is the story of Luke May, a local history teacher in Loring, Mississippi, in the Delta. When a new teacher comes to Luke’s school, he is pushed to investigate a Civil Rights-era tragedy. This consuming quest—part murder mystery, part personal reckoning—will lead Luke to make a drastic and painful choice.
She’s not there. I hang around near the door until two minutes before eight, nodding at the students as they file past, a couple of them giving me funny looks, wondering what I’m doing here. When I finally give up and head for my own room, at the far end of the west wing, I see her: like me, she’s been standing outside the door, this small, trim woman in the same white slacks and purple blouse she wore the first day of school. She looks anxious, her hands working nervously as they hang by her sides. She has no intention of leaving. The bell rings, but she doesn’t move.
She watches while I walk toward her. When I’m four or five feet away, she says, “Yes?”
I don’t know how I know this, but I do: yes with a question mark after it doesn’t mean yes and it doesn’t mean no. It’s not a statement, but neither is it a question. What it is is an opening, a space you can either fill in or choose not to.
What are you reading today?
Blackout by Connie Willis
February 2010, Spectra
Eileen, Polly and Mike are historians at Oxford in 2060, where a time-travel machine can send researchers into the past to study history as it happens. Eileen is observing the children evacuated to the British countryside during World War II, while Mike is studying the heroes of Dunkirk and Polly is sent to London during the Blitz. But back in 2060, the future of time travel grows increasingly uncertain, and the scheduled "drops" more erratic. What will happen to Eileen, Polly and Mike if they can't get home again?
Four months, Eileen thought, separating them. I only have to put up with them for four more months. "No one's going to invade," she said firmly, "tonight or any other night."
"'Ow do you know?" Alf demanded.
"You can't know something what ain't 'appened yet," Binnie said.
"Why ain't 'e going to?" Alf persisted.
Because the British Army will get away from him at Dunkirk, Eileen thought, and he'll lose the Battle of Britain and begin bombing London to bring the British to their knees. But it won't work. They'll stand up to him. It'll be their finest hour. And it will lose him the war.
"Because I have faith in the future," she said, and, getting a firmer grip on Alf and Binnie, set off with them into the darkness.
What are you reading today?
True Confections by Katharine Weber
January 2010, Crown Publishing Group
In the form of an affidavit, narrator Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky (formerly known as “Arson Girl”) chronicles the history – the good, the ugly and the absurd – of her family-by-marriage’s candy company.
“Candy makes people happy,” Sam used to say as a way of summing up and moving the conversation past a challenging moment, “and I make candy. So my business is to make people happy. Who could ask for anything better?”
Zip’s Candies might make people happy, but it doesn’t make the Ziplinskys happy. I take peculiar solace in finding myself part of a great American tradition of troubled candy families. At an awards dinner during a candy and snack show in Atlanta last year, an inebriated vendor told me fascinating details of two Mars family divorces, which make my situation seem like a piece of cake. And let us reflect for a moment on Hart Crane’s suicidal leap into the sea from a ship sailing between Havana and Florida at age thirty-three, in 1932. His father, Clarence, had invented Life Savers candy twenty years before, inspired by the recent innovation of round flotation lifesaving rings on ships.
Related in BookPage: Katharine Weber writes a behind-the-book essay about Triangle, her fourth novel.
What are you reading today?
Devil's Dream by Madison Smartt Bell
November 2009, Pantheon
Bell's novel about the Civil War experiences of General Nathan Bedford Forrest brings one of history's most gifted—and controversial—wartime leaders to life. Look for a Q&A with Madison Smartt Bell on BookPage.com later this month.
At dusk they gathered around a campfire Ginral Jerry had built in the lee of a snowbank, which did something, though not exactly enough, to cut the bitter rising wind. Forrest sat on a tripod camp stool, his long arms wrapped around his knees, reflected firelight flickering from the deep hollow of his eyes. Though he was in his shirtsleeves he didn't seem to feel the cold. Is he even human? Henri thought.