Book Discussion Group Title List 2012

January 2012

By Leif Enger

In the winter of Rube's 11th year, two schoolyard bullies break into his house, and Rube's big brother Davy guns them down with a Winchester. Shortly after his arrest, Davy breaks out of jail and goes on the lam. Shortly after Davy's escape, Rube, his younger sister Swede, and their father hit the road too, traveling across Minnesota and North Dakota, determined to find their lost outlaw Davy. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase.

The journey comprises the action in the novel, but this is not really a book about adventures on the road. Rather, it is a story of relationships in which the exploration of character takes precedence over incident. Enger's profound understanding of human nature stands behind his compelling prose.

February 2012

By Dave Eggers

Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans after Katrina to protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament. Eggers, compiling his account from interviews, sensibly resists rhetorical grandstanding, letting injustices speak for themselves.

Eggers employs a poetic, declarative style, shaping the narrative with subtlety and grace. Though Zeitoun's story could have been a source of cynicism or despair, Dave Eggers's clear and elegant prose manages to deftly capture many of the signature shortcomings of American life while holding onto the innate optimism and endless drive to more closely match our ideals.

March 2012

By Te'a Obreht

Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living in an unnamed country is on an ill-advised "good will" medical mission at an orphanage on what is suddenly the "other side," now that war has broken out, when she learns that her grandfather, a distinguished doctor forced out of his practice by ethnic divides, has died far from home. She is beset by memories, particularly of her grandfather taking her to the zoo to see the tigers. We learn the source of his fascination in mesmerizing flashbacks, meeting the village butcher, the deaf-mute Muslim woman he married, and a tiger who escaped the city zoo after it was bombed by the Germans.

Moments of breathtaking magic, wildness, and beauty are paired with chilling episodes in which superstition overrides reason; fear and hatred smother compassion; and inexplicable horror rules. Every word, every scene, every thought is blazingly alive in this many-faceted, spellbinding, and rending novel of death, succor, and remembrance.

April 2012

By Diane Setterfield

There are two heroines here: Vida Winter, a famous author, whose life story is coming to an end, and Margaret Lea, a young, unworldly, bookish girl who is a bookseller in her father's shop. Vida has been confounding her biographers and fans for years by giving everybody a different version of her life, each time swearing it's the truth. Because of a biography that Margaret has written about brothers, Vida chooses Margaret to tell her story, all of it, for the first time. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is full of repressed feeling and is unprepared for both heartache and romance.

A wholly original work told in the vein of all the best gothic classics. Lovers of books about book lovers will be enthralled.

May 2012

By Maya Angelou

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local poor white trash. At eight years old and back at her mother's side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned. Poetic and powerful, this is a modern American classic that will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

June 2012

By Spencer Seidel

A conversation with her mother led Alice right back to the place she had run from for years. Her twin brother, younger by just a minute or so, had been fading, transforming into an image of their drunken, narrow-eyed father. Now her father was dead, and her brother, Chris, missing. Alice resigns herself to return to help her mother and the local police with the mystery surrounding the crime. But there are some family secrets her mother would sooner take to the grave than reveal.

Dead of Wynter crackles like footsteps on frozen branches. Seidel combines well-written action sequences and vivid, cruel characters as the secrets of one New England family are slowly meted out.

July/August 2012

By Marilynne Robinson

The narrator, John Ames, is 76, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. He is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son; a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. He tells his son about his ancestors, the nature of love and friendship, the part that faith and prayer play in every life and an awareness of one's own culpability. There is also reconciliation without resignation, self-awareness without deprecation, abundant good humor and a number of philosophical queries. There is no simple redemption here; despite the meditations on faith, even readers with no religious inclinations will be captivated.

This is a book to ponder, to read and re-read, and to carry through life as we grow older and find ourselves feeling the need to explain why we are the way they are to those we are about to leave behind.

September 2012

By Harlan Coben

At a party in his home, attended by friends and their offspring, Myron Bolitar overhears two teen girls talking about driving home drunk from parties. Stung by his own memory of a high-school friend who died in a car crash, Bolitar makes the girls promise to contact him if they ever need a lift or are in trouble. The call does come a few nights later. Myron drives the caller to a friend's house, but she ends up disappearing, and guilt-ridden Myron must use all his resources to try to find what happened.

After a six-year hiatus, it's good to herald the return of Myron Bolitar, the former Boston Celtics basketball star who became a sports agent and crime solver in Coben's sprightly, exciting series. This book is a hybrid featuring Coben's popular character but utilizing the suspense of his recent stand-alone novels. Slickly plotted, this fast-paced revenge tale ends with a trademark twist.

October 2012

By Carol Birch

Nineteenth-century London comes vividly alive in this story a street urchin named Jaffy Brown. After a close call with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals. As the years pass, Mr. Jamrach recruits Jaffy and another boy named Tim to capture a fabled dragon during the course of an epic three-year whaling expedition in the East Indies. But when a violent storm sinks the ship, Jaffy and Tim are forced to confront their relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains. Jamrach's Menagerie is a truly gripping novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival.

November 2012

By John Boyne

It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War. But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will--from their first meeting to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain. The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in France during World War I. This novel will keep readers on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and will stay with them long after they've turned the last page.