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Books, From A to Zombies

November 19th, 2009 (10:04 am)

current mood: mellow

Here is my Book Club reading list for the next six months. We read fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary. Meetings are the second Tuesday of each month, in Alexandria, Virginia. You're welcome to join us if you're in the area! Contact me for time and location. Book descriptions below are adapted from Amazon.com and book-jacket copy.

Tuesday, December 8
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
by Barbara Kingsolver
This book chronicles the year that novelist Barbara Kingsolver, along with her husband and two daughters, made a commitment to become locavores–those who eat only locally grown foods. This first entailed a move away from their home in non-food-producing Tucson to a family farm in Virginia, where they got down to the business of growing and raising their own food and supporting local farmers. For teens who grew up on supermarket offerings, the notion not only of growing one's own produce but also of harvesting one's own poultry was as foreign as the concept that different foods relate to different seasons. While the volume begins as an environmental treatise–the oil consumption related to transporting foodstuffs around the world is enormous–it ends, as the year ends, in a celebration of the food that nourishes us: body, heart, and soul.

Tuesday, January 12
The Reader
by Bernhard Schlink
Originally published in Switzerland, and gracefully translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway, The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, reading, and shame in postwar Germany. Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. He never learns much about her, and when she disappears, he expects never to see her again. But, to his horror, he does. Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past, and Michael soon wonders if she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. As he follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: What should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust? (Yes, this is the novel upon which last year's well-received Kate Winslet film was based.)

Tuesday, February 9
by Ayn Rand
This dystopian novella by Ayn Rand, first published in 1938, takes place at some future date when mankind has entered another dark age as a result of the evils of irrationality and collectivism. Technological advancement is carefully planned, when it is allowed to occur at all, and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (for example, the word "I" has disappeared from the language). Many of the novella's core themes are echoed in Rand's later books, such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Tuesday, March 9
The Nineteenth Wife
by David Ebershoff
This ambitious novel tells two parallel stories of polygamy. The first recounts Brigham Young's expulsion of one of his wives, Ann Eliza, from the Mormon Church; the second is a modern-day murder mystery set in a polygamous compound in Utah. Unfolding through a variety of narrative forms—Wikipedia entries, academic research papers, newspaper opinion pieces—the stories include fascinating historical details. We are told, for instance, of Brigham Young's ban at his community theater on dramas that romanticized monogamous love; as one of Young's followers says, "I ain't sitting through no play where a man makes such a cussed fuss over one woman." Ebershoff demonstrates virtuosity as he convincingly inhabits the voices of both a 19th-century Mormon wife and a contemporary gay youth excommunicated from the church, while also managing to say something about the mysterious power of faith.

Tuesday, April 13
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
It’s difficult to tell if critics’ reactions to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should be characterized as praise or astonishment. Some reviewers treated the book as a delightful gimmick. Others found that, beneath the surface, the book actually constituted an interesting way of looking at Austen’s novel. Zombies answer certain puzzling questions: Why were those troops stationed near Hertfordshire? Why did Charlotte Lucas actually marry Mr. Collins? (She had recently been bitten by zombies and wanted a husband who could be counted on to behead her—of course!) But critics also pointed out that this parody shows that Austen’s novel has remained so powerful over time that even the undead can’t spoil it.

Tuesday, May 11
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson
This debut thriller is a serious page-turner about Mikael, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until he receives an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name. The catch is that he must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. This one has been racking up rave reviews.