Our book for April 28th, 2014, is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.
Our book for March 24th, 2014 is Behind the Beautiful Forevers: life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo.
In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.
Winner of the National Book Award
Our book for February 24th, 2014 is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.
A ferocious firefight with Iraqi insurgents at “the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal”—three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew—has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. For the past two weeks, the Bush administration has sent them on a media-intensive nationwide Victory Tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. Now, on this chilly and rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside the superstar pop group Destiny’s Child.
Among the Bravos is the Silver Star–winning hero of Al-Ansakar Canal, Specialist William Lynn, a nineteen-year-old Texas native. Amid clamoring patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and Support Our Troops bumper stickers on their cars, the Bravos are thrust into the company of the Cowboys’ hard-nosed businessman/owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a luscious born-again Cowboys cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized pro players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Among these faces Billy sees those of his family—his worried sisters and broken father—and Shroom, the philosophical sergeant who opened Billy’s mind and died in his arms at Al-Ansakar.
Poignant, riotously funny, and exquisitely heartbreaking, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a devastating portrait of our time, a searing and powerful novel that cements Ben Fountain’s reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation. 2012 National Book Award Finalist.
Our book for January 27th, 2014 is Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan. A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave. (from Amazon)
Our book for November 25th is Stolen Harvest: the Hijacking of the Global Food Supply by Vendana Shiva.
In Stolen Harvest, “the South’s best known environmentalist” (New Internationalist) and 1993 Right Livelihood Award winner, Vandana Shiva, continues her path-breaking work on uncovering the devastating human and environmental impacts of corporate-engineered international trade agreements. In Stolen Harvest, she charts the impacts of industrial agriculture and what they mean for small farmers, the environment, and the quality and healthfulness of the foods we eat. A short, impassioned, and inspiring book that will shape the debate about genetic engineering and commercial agriculture for years to come.
Our book for October 28th is Ivan Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale.
The Bartender’s Tale is the story of a father and son left on their own in a shifting world–a tale in itself as old as kinship, but ever new in the way “the bachelor saloonkeeper with a streak of frost in his black pompadour and the inquisitive 11year-old boy who had been an accident between the sheets” go about life in the small Montana town of Gros Ventre in 1960.
Tom Harry, the nonpariel bartender and proprietor of the “nearly holy oasis,” the Medicine Lodge, has a past he won’t talk about and a habit of sudden disappearances for a few days, which plagues his impressionable son, Rusty, as does the unexplained absence of his mother ever since he was born. In their otherwise companionable bachelor life together, Rusty has free run of the saloon’s fantastic back room. And in the momentous summer that is the heart of the novel, he shares this secret aperture into the often mystifying world of grownups with Zoe, the new girl down the street whose imagination outdoes even his own amid the wonders of the back of the saloon.
History, as it tends to do, arrives to these prime characters with gale force, first in the person of enthusiastic young oral historian Del Robertson and then in the shapely form of Proxy, an unforgettable taxi dancer in Tom’s earlier fabled saloon in a Fort Peck dam boomtown. Proxy comes bearing life-changing news, of the sort that leaves Rusty and Zoe marveling at what grownups get themselves into.
Our book for September 23rd is The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman.
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. Stedman draws the reader into her emotionally complex story right from the beginning, with lush descriptions of this savage and beautiful landscape, and vivid characters with whom we can readily empathize.