Wednesday, June 14, 2017

literature in translation

RA Roundtable met this week at the Emmet O’Neal Library for a discussion of literature in translation.  Our next meeting is on Wednesday, August 9 at 9am at the Hoover Library and the topic up for discussion will be parenting/mentoring titles.  Also, it will be time to set up meetings for next year.  I’ve already had a request for a repeat of bookgroup picks so think about what you’d like to read and I’ll add it to list of choices!

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the 2017 JCPLA Staff Development Day at Homewood!  The keynote speaker is William Ottens, the hero behind the popular Librarian Problems tumblr!

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

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The Case of Alan Turing: The Extraordinary and Tragic Story of the Legendary Codebreaker by Eric Liberge
Alan Turing, subject of the Oscar-winning 2014 film The Imitation Game, was the brilliant mathematician solicited by the British government to help decipher messages sent by Germany's Enigma machines during World War II. The work of Turing and his colleagues at Hut 8 created what became known as the "bombe" which descrambled the German navy's messages and saved countless lives and millions in British goods and merchandise.

Despite his heroics, however, Turing led a secret life as a homosexual. After a young man with whom he was involved stole money from him, he went to the police, where he confessed his homosexuality; he was charged with gross indecency, and only avoided prison after agreeing to undergo chemical castration. Tragically, he committed suicide two years later.

Authors Liberge and Delalande used once-classified information only available in 2012 to create a biography that is scientifically rigorous yet understandable for the lay reader. It's also a meticulous depiction of World War II, and an intimate portrayal of a gay man living in an intolerant world.
Delving deeper into Turing's life than The Imitation Game, this graphic novel is a fascinating portrait of this brilliant, complicated, and troubled man.

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The Department Q series of Jussi Adler-Olsen
Carl Mørck used to be one of Denmark’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of cold cases for company. 

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The novels of Fredrik Backman
Fredrik Backman is a Swedish blogger and columnist. A Man Called Ove, his first novel, has sold more than 500,000 copies in its native country and has been published in more than twenty-five languages all over the world.

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The novels of Muriel Barbery
Muriel Barbery is a French novelist and professor of philosophy. Barbery entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993. She then taught philosophy at the Université de Bourgogne, in a lycée, and at the Saint-Lô IUFM.

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Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries
ANDREA CAMILLERI is the author of many books, including his Montalbano series, which has been adapted for Italian television and translated into German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Japanese, Dutch, Swedish, and finally, English. He was born at Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento. His style is very particular as he mixes Italian and local dialect without however making it unreadable for those who are not from that part of Italy. Camilleri has won numerous literary awards in Italy as well as in France.
A Nest of Vipers (Aug 2017)
The Pyramid of Mud (Jan 2018)

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The Konrad Simonsen mysteries of Lotte and Soren Hammer
Detective Chief Inspector Konrad Simonsen, faces both life and murder investigations on the basis of his morals. This sometimes has serious consequences. He has a strong loyalty towards his employees, which ever so often clashes with his superior’s loyalties.
The Lake (2017)

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Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole mysteries
Harry Hole (pronounced "Harry HOO-LEH") is the main character in a series of crime novels written by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. Hole is a brilliant and driven detective with unorthodox methods, a classic loose cannon in the police force.
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Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series
Carlos Ruiz Zafón is the author of six novels, including the international phenomenon The Shadow of the Wind, and The Angel’s Game. His work has been published in more than forty different languages, and honored with numerous international awards. He divides his time between Barcelona, Spain, and Los Angeles, California.
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Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret mysteries
Jules Amedée François Maigret, simply Jules Maigret or Maigret to most people, including his wife, is a fictional French police detective, actually a commissaire or commissioner of the Paris "Brigade Criminelle" (Direction Régionale de Police Judiciaire de Paris), created by writer Georges Simenon.
75 novels and 28 short stories about Maigret were published between 1931 and 1972, starting with Pietr-le-Letton (Pietr the Lett) and concluding with Maigret et Monsieur Charles. The Maigret stories were also adapted for television and radio.

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Zama by Anonio Di Benedetto
First published in 1956, Zama is now universally recognized as one of the masterpieces of modern Argentine and Spanish-language literature.

Written in a style that is both precise and sumptuous, weirdly archaic and powerfully novel, Zama takes place in the last decade of the eighteenth century and describes the solitary, suspended existence of Don Diego de Zama, a highly placed servant of the Spanish crown who has been posted to Asunción, the capital of remote Paraguay. There, eaten up by pride, lust, petty grudges, and paranoid fantasies, he does as little as he possibly can while plotting his eventual transfer to Buenos Aires, where everything about his hopeless existence will, he is confident, be miraculously transformed and made good.

Don Diego’s slow, nightmarish slide into the abyss is not just a tale of one man’s perdition but an exploration of existential, and very American, loneliness. Zama, with its stark dreamlike prose and spare imagery, is at once dense and unforeseen, terse and fateful, marked throughout by a haunting movement between sentences, paragraphs, and sections, so that every word seems to emerge from an ocean of things left unsaid. The philosophical depths of this great book spring directly from its dazzling prose.

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The Four Corners of Palermo by Guiseppe Di Piazza
Palermo in the 1980s is a perfect place for a young crime reporter to get his start. The Sicilian Mafia is at work, threatening, wounding, and killing anyone who dares to defy their orders. Our protagonist is himself no angel, hardly compassionate, a bit macho and egocentric, but candid in his recounting of what has unfolded in front of his eyes both on the job and in his private life.

Di Piazza, who is also a Sicilian journalist, tells his stories as if he were reporting actual events. His description of the tense bravado of a youth growing up in the midst of Mafia terror is strikingly acute.

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Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue
The poet and the artist battle it out in Rome before a crowd that includes Galileo, a Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw the world into flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII execute Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into those most-sought-after tennis balls. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as the conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the course of history. In a remote Mexican colony a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that it’s a manual instead of a parody. And in today’s New York City, a man searches for answers to impossible questions, for a book that is both an archive and an oracle.

Álvaro Enrigue’s mind-bending story features assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal schemes, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful gut-punch of a novel. 

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Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan
A wry, affecting tale set in a small town on the Indonesian coast, Man Tiger tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families and of Margio, a young man ordinary in all particulars except that he conceals within himself a supernatural female white tiger. The inequities and betrayals of family life coalesce around and torment this magical being. An explosive act of violence follows, and its mysterious cause is unraveled as events progress toward a heartbreaking revelation.

Lyrical and bawdy, experimental and political, this extraordinary novel announces the arrival of a powerful new voice on the global literary stage.

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Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev
In one of the first twenty-first century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life, and whom he knows only as Grandfather II. What he finds, among the forgotten mines and decrepit barracks of former gulags, is a world relegated to oblivion, where it is easier to ignore both the victims and the executioners than to come to terms with a terrible past. This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today's Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion.

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Ladivine by Marie NDiaye
On the first Tuesday of every month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her husband and young daughter and secretly takes the train to Bordeaux to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse herself has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads and despises but also pities. Long ago abandoned by Clarisse’s father, Ladivine works as a housecleaner and has no one but her daughter, whom she knows as Malinka.

After more than twenty-five years of this deception, the idyllic middle-class existence Clarisse has built from scratch can no longer survive inside the walls she’s put up to protect it. Her untold anguish leaves her cold and guarded, her loved ones forever trapped outside, looking in. When her husband, Richard, finally leaves her, Clarisse finds comfort in the embrace of a volatile local man, Freddy Moliger. With Freddy, she finally feels reconciled to, or at least at ease with, her true self. But this peace comes at a terrible price. Clarisse will be brutally murdered, and it will be left to her now-grown daughter, who also bears the name Ladivine without knowing why, to work out who her mother was and what happened to her. A mesmerizing and heart-stopping psychological tale of a trauma that ensnares three generations of women, Ladivine proves Marie NDiaye to be one of Europe’s great storytellers.

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Margarito and the Snowman by R.E. Young
RE Young ‘s latest features a nation buried in snow and ice in an obligatory 365 days a year Christmas celebration, a tribe of Mayan warriors in comedy troupe disguise, an existentially challenged hero known as the Snowman on a quest that takes him south of the border down ol’ Mexico way, and a B-grade movie director named Boone Weller with his own agenda. Is it a book? A movie? Told in a shoot from the hip Texas style, Margarito and the Snowman is loose, rangy, battered with an attitude and bound to offend everybody.


The Nina Borg myseries by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Danish Red Cross nurse Nina Borg has dedicated her life to helping those underserved by society—but her do-gooder tendencies often lead her into situations beyond the law’s protection.
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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there's not much else to do in a dying small town that's almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn't open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You'd need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy's house is full of them), and...customers.
The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel's own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

The Bible has been translated into many languages from the biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

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Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Two hundred years ago, two young German librarians by the names of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published a collection of tales that would become one of the most influential works of folklore in Germany, Europe, and eventually the world.

Between 1812 and 1857, seven editions of their tales appeared, each one different from the last, until the final, best-known version barely resembled the first.

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Aesop’s Fables
Some may say that Aesop is infamous for the life he led over 2000 years ago and mostly for the hundreds of fables that have been attributed to his name since. Aesop’s fables have reached countless generations since he is reported to have been alive, and they continue to be a part of the lives of many. Not every fable, however, that has been linked to Aesop is his own original material. In actuality, there are many fables attributed to Aesop that, for a variety of reasons, couldn’t possibly be his own. In many ways the unclear authorship of the fables is at the fault of the storytelling tradition, many details are naturally lost and/or altered. However the storytelling tradition is also responsible for the survival of the Aesop Fables—if story telling didn’t exist, neither Aesop nor his fables would have survived.

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The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo
Combining magic, mysticism, wisdom and wonder into an inspiring tale of self-discovery, The Alchemist has become a modern classic, selling millions of copies around the world and transforming the lives of countless readers across generations.

Paulo Coelho's masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago's journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat.  Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo.  As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

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The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
Opening the flaps on this unique little book, readers will find themselves immersed in the strange world of best-selling Haruki Murakami's wild imagination. The story of a lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plotting their escape from a nightmarish library, the book is like nothing else Murakami has written. Designed by Chip Kidd and fully illustrated, in full color, throughout, this small format, 96 page volume is a treat for book lovers of all ages.

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The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
I first discovered this book in high school (through a wonderful teacher whom I cannot thank enough) and it remains one of my favorites. The Cyberiad chronicles the adventures of two “constructors” (inventors) named Trurl and Klapaucius. The best term for their relationship would be frenemies because they are constantly competing to invent more and more wonderful devices and their exchanges are frequently vitriolic, but can also be tinged with affection and mutual respect—even if they happen to be yelling at each other. They also happen to be robots.  When they are not trying to outdo each other in inventive genius, they are often hired for tasks requiring their constructing and problem-solving skills, such as “How Trurl Built a Femfatalatron to Save Prince Pantagroon from the Pangs of Love, and How Later He Resorted to a Cannonade of Babies.” How could I not want to find out what that was all about? But my favorite of the stories is “Trurl’s Electronic Bard,” in which Trurl creates a machine that can write poetry on demand, on any subject, in any form. When challenged to write a tragic six-line poem about a haircut, in which every word begins with the letter “s,” the machine obliges with this:

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

If the text can jump through these kinds of hoops in English, what must it have been like in the original Polish? Kudos to Kandel for his translation on this one. He keeps the prose lively and engaging, and I can hardly imagine the stories any other way, especially since I can’t read Polish.  According to Kandel himself, “The original Lem is so much better, worlds better, than Lem in Kandel’s English. This is our punishment for trying to build a tower that reaches heaven.” But I am more than willing to take his word for that, since his word is literally what I have and I couldn’t have read Lem’s work without it.

Interview with Michael Kandel


Initially rejected by Verne’s editor as being a much too grim view of the future, Paris in the Twentieth Century languished forgotten until its discovery and publication in 1996. The protagonist, Michel Dufrenoy, has the misfortune to have artistic and poetic inclinations in this future society which values nothing more than technological advances. We can see which way the wind is blowing for him early in the novel, when he is practically laughed off the stage during Prize Day at the Academic Credit Union because he has earned First Prize for Latin Verse. As he describes himself:

“Here I am abandoned on the high seas; requiring the talents of a fish, all I have are the instincts of a bird; I want to live in space, in the ideal regions no longer visited—the land of dreams from which one never returns!”

Be careful what you wish for, indeed. Dufrenoy is pathetically ill-suited to his society and is eventually ground down very fine by its demands; however, part of the fascination of this novel for any fan of Jules Verne is seeing what he predicts and how true to life his predictions would be. Here as in other novels he is uncannily accurate on many points: widespread electric lighting, automobiles (“gas cabs”), high-speed trains, fax machine transmissions, and execution by electricity. Seeing Verne work his prescient magic is reason enough to visit Paris in the Twentieth Century. The novel is available for download in both English and French:


And just for fun:

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The Dinner by Herman Koch
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

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The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe
When Saskia Ehlvest, a young Dutch girl, disappears from a rest stop along a highway in rural France, her lover, Rex Hofmann, cannot accept her disappearance and embarks on an obsessive search for her that spans years.

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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

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The Dirty Dust by Mairtin O'Cadhain
Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s irresistible and infamous novel The Dirty Dust is consistently ranked as the most important prose work in modern Irish, yet no translation for English-language readers has ever before been published. Alan Titley’s vigorous new translation, full of the brio and guts of Ó Cadhain’s original, at last brings the pleasures of this great satiric novel to the far wider audience it deserves.

In The Dirty Dust all characters lie dead in their graves. This, however, does not impair their banter or their appetite for news of aboveground happenings from the recently arrived. Told entirely in dialogue, Ó Cadhain’s daring novel listens in on the gossip, rumors, backbiting, complaining, and obsessing of the local community. In the afterlife, it seems, the same old life goes on beneath the sod. Only nothing can be done about it—apart from talk. In this merciless yet comical portrayal of a closely bound community, Ó Cadhain remains keenly attuned to the absurdity of human behavior, the lilt of Irish gab, and the nasty, deceptive magic of human connection.

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Graveyard Clay by Mairtin O'Cadhain
In critical opinion and popular polls, Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Graveyard Clay is invariably ranked the most important prose work in modern Irish. This bold new translation of his radically original Cré na Cille is the shared project of two fluent speakers of the Irish of Ó Cadhain’s native region, Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson. They have achieved a lofty goal: to convey Ó Cadhain’s meaning accurately and to meet his towering literary standards.

Graveyard Clay is a novel of black humor, reminiscent of the work of Synge and Beckett. The story unfolds entirely in dialogue as the newly dead arrive in the graveyard, bringing news of recent local happenings to those already confined in their coffins. Avalanches of gossip, backbiting, flirting, feuds, and scandal-mongering ensue, while the absurdity of human nature becomes ever clearer. This edition of Ó Cadhain’s masterpiece is enriched with footnotes, bibliography, publication and reception history, and other materials that invite further study and deeper enjoyment of his most engaging and challenging work.

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Billie by Anna Gavalda
A number 1 bestseller in France and translated into over twenty-five languages, Billie is one of the most beloved French novels to be published in recent years. A brilliant evocation of contemporary Paris and a moving tale of friendship, Anna Gavalda’s new novel tells the story of two young people, Billie and Franck, who, as the story opens, are trapped in a gorge in the Cévennes Mountains. Billie begins to tell stories from their lives in order to calm herself and Franck as darkness encroaches. In alternating episodes, the novel moves between recollections of the two characters’ childhoods and their dire predicament.

Franck’s life has been impacted by a childhood spent with a perennially unemployed father who toyed with Christian extremism and a mother aestheticized by antidepressants. A bright kid, Franck’s future was menaced at every turn by the bigotry surrounding him. As for Billie, her abiding wish as an adult is to avoid ever having to come into contact with her family again. To escape from her abusive and alcohol-addled family, she was willing to do anything and everything. The wounds have not entirely healed.

At the heart of Gavalda’s moving story lies a generosity of spirit that will take readers’ breath away, and an unshakable belief in the power of art to lift the most fragile among us to new vistas from which they can see futures full of hope, love, and dignity. Billie is a beautifully crafted novel for readers of all ages and from all walks of life that conveys a positive message about overcoming life’s trials and tribulations.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

popular fiction and bookgroups

The next RART meeting will be at Emmet O’Neal Library on Wednesday, June 14th at 9am and the topic up for discussion will be literature in translation.

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
"The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction."--Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love--and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.
Michelle, Irondale

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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?

Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark's cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.

Huguette was the daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. But wanting more than treasures, she devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.

The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic.

Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette's copper fortune. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.
Michelle, Irondale

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A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Stoneybridge is a small town on the west coast of Ireland where all the families know each other. When Chicky Starr decides to take an old, decaying mansion set high on the cliffs overlooking the windswept Atlantic Ocean and turn it into a restful place for a holiday by the sea, everyone thinks she is crazy. Helped by Rigger (a bad boy turned good who is handy around the house) and Orla, her niece (a whiz at business), Stone House is finally ready to welcome its first guests to the big warm kitchen, log fires, and understated elegant bedrooms. Laugh and cry with this unlikely group as they share their secrets and—maybe—even see some of their dreams come true. Full of Maeve’s trademark warmth and humor, once again, she embraces us with her grand storytelling.
Michelle, Irondale

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
Judith, Homewood

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?
Judith, Homewood

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The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo
From a bright new talent comes this debut novel about a young woman who travels for the first time to her mother’s hometown, and gets sucked into the mystery that changed her family forever
Mattie Wallace has really screwed up this time. Broke and knocked up, she’s got all her worldly possessions crammed into six giant trash bags, and nowhere to go. Try as she might, Mattie can no longer deny that she really is turning into her mother, a broken alcoholic who never met a bad choice she didn’t make.

When Mattie gets news of a possible inheritance left by a grandmother she’s never met, she jumps at this one last chance to turn things around. Leaving the Florida Panhandle, she drives eight hundred miles to her mother’s birthplace—the tiny town of Gandy, Oklahoma. There, she soon learns that her mother remains a local mystery—a happy, talented teenager who inexplicably skipped town thirty-five years ago with nothing but the clothes on her back. But the girl they describe bears little resemblance to the damaged woman Mattie knew, and before long it becomes clear that something terrible happened to her mother, and it happened here. The harder Mattie digs for answers, the more obstacles she encounters. Giving up, however, isn’t an option. Uncovering what started her mother’s downward spiral might be the only way to stop her own. Hilarious, gripping, and unexpectedly wise, The Art of Crash Landing is a poignant novel from an assured new voice.
Judith, Homewood

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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before. In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.
Judith, Homewood

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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our StarsMe Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?
Judith, Homewood

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The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
An interesting mix of romance gained and lost and a nail-biting survival story!  Dr. Ben Payne is on his way back to his patients and a very complicated situation with his wife.  Ashley Knox is on her way back to her fiancé and the final few tasks before the big day.  A snowstorm and a heart attack intervene and now Ben and Ashley are injured and stranded in the High Uintas Wilderness – one of the largest stretches of harsh and remote land in the United States.  The experience will change both of them forever.  The film adaptation, starring Idris Elba andKate Winslet, is due out in theaters in October 2017.
Holley, Emmet O’Neal

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin.  Having never worked a day in his life, and now confined to a tiny, dreary attic room, watches the next several decades in Russian history pass by his front door.  You’d think he’d be lonely and isolated, but the Count is a wily individual and manages to make his mark in heartwarming and unexpected ways.
Holley, Emmet O’Neal

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Half-sisters Effia and Esi, never knowing one another, are separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver.  What follows are exquisite near-vignettes of each succeeding generation of these women, giving the reader a small porthole view into the ties, known and unknown, that tie relatives together and the flavor of the time and place in which they live.  The author was born Ghana, was raised in Huntsville, AL, and now lives in Berkeley, CA.  The sections of the book set in the coal mines of Pratt City, AL resonated authentically.
Holley, Emmet O’Neal

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The Girl Before by JP Delaney

SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY RON HOWARD

Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

EMMA
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

JANE
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.
Leslie, Homewood

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Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out―three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list―her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, Glennon found that rock bottom was a familiar place. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life.

Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another - and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they've been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, commit to living true―true to themselves and to each other.

Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.
Leslie, Homewood

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The Widow by Fiona Barton
There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.

Now her husband is dead, and there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.

The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.

Now her husband is dead, and there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.

The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…
Leslie, Homewood

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The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night, Salem's chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, wonders if there is a connection between his death and Salem’s most notorious cold case, a triple homicide dubbed "The Goddess Murders," in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed on Halloween night in 1989. He finds unexpected help in Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims newly returned to town. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian, is guilty of murder or witchcraft.

But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?
Leslie, Homewood

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All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani
Adriana Trigiani, the New York Times bestselling author of the blockbuster epic The Shoemaker's Wife, returns with her biggest and boldest novel yet, a hypnotic tale based on a true story and filled with her signature elements: family ties, artistry, romance, and adventure. Born in the golden age of Hollywood, All the Stars in the Heavens captures the luster, drama, power, and secrets that could only thrive in the studio system—viewed through the lives of an unforgettable cast of players creating magic on the screen and behind the scenes.

In this spectacular saga as radiant, thrilling, and beguiling as Hollywood itself, Adriana Trigiani takes us back to Tinsel Town's golden age—an era as brutal as it was resplendent—and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame and success. With meticulous, beautiful detail, Trigiani paints a rich, historical landscape of 1930s Los Angeles, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream: to tell stories on the silver screen.
The movie business is booming in 1935 when twenty-one-year-old Loretta Young meets thirty-four-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Though he's already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress instantly.

Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young's secretary, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots. Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives.

Anchored by Trigiani's masterful storytelling that takes you on a worldwide ride of adventure from Hollywood to the shores of southern Italy, this mesmerizing epic is, at its heart, a luminous tale of the most cherished ties that bind. Brimming with larger-than-life characters both real and fictional—including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven, Hattie McDaniel and more—it is it is the unforgettable story of one of cinema's greatest love affairs during the golden age of American movie making.
Leslie, Homewood

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A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
Julie Crawford left Fort Wayne, Indiana with dreams of being a Hollywood screenwriter. Unfortunately, her new life is off to a rocky start. Fired by the notoriously demanding director of Gone With the Wind, she’s lucky to be rescued by Carole Lombard, whose scandalous affair with the still-married Clark Gable is just heating up.

As Carole’s assistant, Julie suddenly has a front-row seat to two of the world’s greatest love affairs. And while Rhett and Scarlett—and Lombard and Gable—make movie history, Julie is caught up in a whirlwind of outsized personalities and overheated behind-the-scenes drama … not to mention a budding romance of her own.
Leslie, Homewood

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Speak by Louisa Hall
A thoughtful, poignant novel that explores the creation of Artificial Intelligence—illuminating the very human need for communication, connection, and understanding.

In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive.
A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.

Each of these characters is attempting to communicate across gaps—to estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or a computer program that may or may not understand them. In dazzling and electrifying prose, Louisa Hall explores how the chasm between computer and human—shrinking rapidly with today’s technological advances—echoes the gaps that exist between ordinary people. Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood.
Mary Anne, BPL Southern History

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GENERAL DISCUSSION:  Edison’s Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood
A rich and informative exploration of our age-old obsession with “making life.”  Could an eighteenth-century mechanical duck really digest and excrete its food? Was “the Turk,” a celebrated chess-playing and -winning machine fabricated in 1769, a dazzling piece of fakery, or could it actually think? Why was Thomas Edison obsessed with making a mechanical doll—a perfect woman, mass-produced? Can a twenty-first-century robot express human emotions of its own?

Taking up themes long familiar from the realms of fairy tales and science fiction, Gaby Wood traces the hidden prehistory of a modern idea—the thinking, hoaxes, and inventions that presaged contemporary robotics and the current experiments with artificial intelligence. Informed by the author’s scientific and historical research, Edison’s Eve is also a brilliant literary, cultural, and philosophical examination of the motives that have driven human beings to pursue the creation of mechanical life, and the effects of that pursuit—both in its successes and in its failures—on our sense of what makes us human.

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories Not For the Nervous
Once again Alfred Hitchcock gathers together a cold-blooded collection of his fiendishly brilliant friends for some group shock-therapy. This time it's a fear-for-all gala where only gourmet suspense and well-chilled mysteries are served -- and only the nervous are invited. To the Future by Ray Bradbury; River of Riches by Gerald Kersh; Levitation by Joseph Payne Brennan; Miss Winters and the Wind by Christine Noble Govan; The Man With Copper Fingers by Dorothy L. Sayers; Twenty Friends of William Shaw by Raymond E. Banks; The Other Hangman by Carter Dicson; Don't Look Behind You by Frederic Brown; No Bath for the Browns by Margot Bennet; The Uninvited by Michael Gilbert; Dune Roller by Julian May; The Dog Died First by Bruno Fischer; The Substance of Martyrs by William Samerot.
Mary Anne, BPL Southern History

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories That Scared Even Me
Collection of scary and macabre fiction from a variety of genres. It includes the entire text of John Wyndham's novel of alien invasion, Out of the Deeps, and 24 short stories by American or British authors, all written in the 20th century. Authors represented include T. H. White, Donald E. Westlake, Theodore Sturgeon, Thomas M. Disch, Ellis Peters, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Margaret St. Clair, Algis Budrys, and Gerald Kersh.
Mary Anne, PBL Southern History

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GENERAL DISCUSSION:  The Vanishing by Tim Krabbé
When Saskia Ehlvest, a young Dutch girl, disappears from a rest stop along a highway in rural France, her lover, Rex Hofmann, cannot accept her disappearance and embarks on an obsessive search for her that spans years. This book was adapted to film in the Netherlands in 1988 and in America in 1993.

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The Godfather by Mario Puzo
I read this novel because I’d seen the movie of the same name many times and wanted to further explore this sinister mafia world. But you need have no interest in the movie (or the sequels) to like this. It’s a world unto itself. The story has a powerful drive and captures you fully. Don Corleone, his family and his henchmen command a world of lived-in evil. It’s oddly invigorating to journey in this world, knowing somewhere back in your head it’s not real and you can go back to the relatively ethical real world at any time. That is, you can leave if you can stop reading, which a lot harder than you’d think.
Richard, Central Fiction

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The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman
Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you'll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that's home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”
Ken, Leeds


During our discussion of bookgroup picks, there was general interest in knowing what books garnered awful discussions.  We agreed that reasons varied, from bad writing all the way up to the equally frustrating occasion when everyone just loves it and there’s nothing to talk about.  What books have bombed in your book groups?  Comment here or friend RA Reading on Facebook!