Literary Fiction

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett

What if you had never noticed the small things in life?  Having lived a privileged life defined by ceremonies and duties, would you have had the time to notice the subtle changes in behavior of the people around you when upset, worried, or flustered?  And what would make you start noticing?  This is the premise for the brilliantly witty audiobook The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett.

In this audiobook, richly-narrated by the author, the Queen, having never read for pleasure, stumbles upon a bookmobile outside the gates of Buckingham Palace and feels duty bound to check out a book.  While she dutifully finishes the first book she checks out, she feels duty bound once again to check out a second book, which is the one that captures her attention and leads to her rabid consumption of books.  Helping the Queen on this journey is Norman, a kitchen boy in the palace, who is promoted to page after his encounter with the Queen in the bookmobile.  With Norman as her accomplice, the Queen is introduced to an array of authors and begins to see the world through other people’s eyes. 

Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs

Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs

At a recent library staff-development event we were introduced to local author Belle Boggs and her colorful collection of short stories that comprise Mattaponi Queen. It’s telling that Ms. Boggs started her talk by giving us a slideshow tour of her hometown of Walkerton in King William County, Virginia. When I had the opportunity to read my copy of the stories, I was impressed that the setting was so strongly communicated in each story that it carried the same weight as characterization, plot, and other pillars upon which a story is built. The characters--lively, quirky, and in some cases, doomed--pigeonhole neatly into this clearly envisioned landscape and truly come to life.

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day

In Every Day, David Levithan creatively reinvents the familiar saga of star-crossed romance. The relationship at the novel's core is predictably fraught with tension and angst, but a significant twist transforms the entire scenario: one of the participants isn't actually a physical person, but exists as an intangible entity that inhabits a different body each day. 

The entity known as A has no gender or corporeal presence, nor can it control which body it will occupy next. There are several restrictions that govern A's movements, however. A is never in the same body twice, inhabits hosts that match A's own age, and lingers in a geographical area as long as there are eligible bodies for it to occupy.  

If you like Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones: On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, on which survival is a daily struggle, eccentric Mr. Watts, the only white man left after the other teachers flee, spends his day reading to the local children from Charles Dickens's classic "Great Expectations."

If you enjoyed this book's portrayal of teachers in the learning process of reading and its connection to classic literature, here are some other titles you may enjoy:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel--a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors. (worldcat.org)

 

 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This book traces the coming-of-age of a young orphan, Pip, from a boy of shallow aspirations into a man of self-possession. Raised by a humble blacksmith, Pip is recruited by the wealthy Miss Havisham to be a companion to her ward, the cold but beautiful Estella. There, Pip learns to despise his rough origins as Estella torments him about his low prospects. When Pip is informed that an unknown benefactor expects to make him his heir, he sets off to London to realize his "great expectations." But true gentleman stature, he will find, is a matter of character, not fortune. (catalog description)

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

This is a love story. This is a story about what makes us human. This is a story about reaching for the stars. Lydia Netzer’s poetic narration in Shine Shine Shine transports us to the Moon.

We meet Sunny Mann living in an immaculate Georgian house in a perfectly geometrically gridded neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia and hosting a get-together with her girlfriends. She is perfectly manicured and coiffed and dressed in cute maternity wear, as she is pregnant with her second child. The ladies gossip about Les Weathers, the perfect news anchor, who lives nearby.  The girls chat about Sunny’s brilliant and rich but odd astronaut husband, Maxon, who is on a rocket on the way to colonize the moon. Sunny is embodiment of the well-off suburban stay-at-home mom, including the silver minivan.

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Marian Caldwell has it all. She’s the producer of a critically-acclaimed TV show. She’s deeply in love with Peter (a powerful player in the entertainment world), who also happens to reciprocate her feelings. She’s gorgeous, lives in a penthouse with stunning views of NYC and never thinks twice about dropping big bucks for haute couture. But in Emily Giffin’s latest novel, Where We Belong, Marion is harboring a secret she’s kept for eighteen years.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz's versatility enables him to effortlessly shift from elaborate epics to intimate, micro-level storytelling. Just a few years after his sweeping epic, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz is back with This is How You Lose Her, a collection of overlapping and intersecting short stories that offer brief, nuanced glimpses of complex characters, emotions, and situations. 

Although the stories contained within This is How You Lose Her are arranged in a non-linear sequence, they create a fragmentary portrait of Yunior's life and progression from a young immigrant learning English from Sesame Street to a middle-aged man reflecting on a hollow life and deteriorating body.

It's Time to Finally Read Moby Dick!

Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab

If you’ve never managed to make it all the way through this “great American classic,” NOW is the time to give it one more go! Wait, don’t click away! Hear me out! I’ve tried at least three times in the past to read Moby Dick & always get bogged down after a few chapters. All that whaling! All that boiling down of blubber! And, what is Ahab’s problem anyway?! So I’ve never “gotten” Moby Dick & never finished the book. I always abandon the Pequod, Ishmael, Ahab, & the gang and leave them floating in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

But NOT this time! You may have heard recently that writer, Philip Hoare, is leading a "big read" of Moby Dick, or, in this case, more like a “big listen.” He’s offering a chapter per day in free downloadable audio. There’s a different reader and a different artist’s illustration for each chapter.  I know about this because I have been reading, not a chapter per day, but a PAGE per day, of Moby Dick since August 9th , 2012, and writing a blog about it.  So, several people who’ve been following my blog have told me about the big read project. “This guy stole your idea!” they say indignantly.

If you like Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bojhalian

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bojhalian: Parallel stories of a woman who falls in love with an Armenian soldier during the Armenian Genocide and a modern-day New Yorker prompted to rediscover her Armenian past.

If you enjoyed Sandcastle Girls for its incorporation of family ancestry into a historical fiction novel, here are some other titles you may enjoy:

Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian
Poet Peter Balakian relates the story of his childhood in New Jersey, where the American culture of the 1950s and 60s collided with his family's memories of the extermination of Armenians by the Turkish government in 1915. (worldcat.org)

 

 

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Yuri Zhivago, doctor and poet, lives and loves during the first three decades of 20th-century Russia. (worldcat.org)

 


 

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

Maybe it’s just me or possibly it’s a baby boomer thing, but does anyone else agree there’s something about our culture that dictates we be the best at whatever we try—parenting, our profession, chosen hobbies, etc.? Mediocrity just doesn’t cut it. Imagine then, the pressure to excel if you’ve graduated from an Ivy League school. In Deborah Copaken Kogan’s latest offering, The Red Book, Harvard alumni come together for their 20th reunion, a gathering which portends to be an event to remember.

Published every five years, The Red Book is a much-anticipated volume, updating former Harvard classmates with coveted facts about fellow alumni—mates, offspring, jobs, accomplishments, etc. The book provides not only information, but also a means for comparing oneself to one’s peers. With those facts in hand, graduates arrive at the reunion either solo or with families in tow. Let the games begin.