Summer is here in full swing, and Marilyn Herbert has once again compiled the Bookclub-in-a-Box list to what we’re reading this season—most of these are already available in paperback, making it all the easier to pick it up for your book club selection. If you’re looking for a summer reading suggestion, you can’t go wrong with any of the following books!
Half-Blood Blues (Esi Edugyan)
Europe during the Second World War has generated a host of intriguingly sad and extraordinary stories, to which Esi Eduygan adds one more with Half-Blood Blues. A young jazz musician, Hiero, is taken by the Nazis before his career can take off. Ironically, he is a German-born citizen, but tragically, he is black. His story is told by his American friend Sid, whom he met while they were both playing music in Berlin and Paris during the early days of the war. Edugyan presents the themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal against the political backdrop of the times. The novel’s lyrical language and use of dialect mimics the power of jazz and shows how music can help combat oppression and racism.
The Sisters Brothers (Patrick DeWitt)
The growth of America’s West and the time of the Gold Rush were special in the development of the American psyche, and that’s why the genre of the Western has become a classic in both literature and film. Patrick deWitt brings his raw and raunchy characters to life. Starting with Eli and Charlie Sisters, two hired guns, we are treated to a cast that would do Charles Portis and John Wayne proud. As America finds its coast-to-coast footing and identity, it is men like the Sisters brothers who reflect the humour, violence, love, loyalty, and “true grit” of the 1850s era. This book is to be read with laughter and awe at what was simultaneously a simple and innocent world juxtaposed with the harsh realities of a largely lawless era.
The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides)
Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard meet at school when they take a class in semiotics—the study of signs and symbols. It is exactly signs and symbols that play a large part in this coming-of-age story. This trio of young adults must navigate their way from the classroom into the realities of the world at large. Eugenides pits modern times and explorations against the traditional Victorian view of life, as they were played out in the novels of writers like Jane Austen and George Eliot. The Marriage Plot takes a serious look at marriage, religion, and science through the eyes of each of these lovestruck characters.
The Cat’s Table (Michael Ondaatje)
In the early 1950s, an 11-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. He is placed at the lowly “Cat’s Table” with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean, the boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. At night they spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.
Part of the reader’s journey is to consider whether this tale is partially an Ondaatje memoir or a completely imaginary tale. The author does not make this an easy distinction, but it is a fun and beautifully written novel.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Nathan Englander)
Englander’s book of short stories is modeled after Raymond Carver’s book What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Carver’s stories focus on the difficulties of emotional connection. His characters are removed from conventional social and political concerns. Englander’s characters define themselves largely through their acceptance, or rejection, of religion—most particularly, Jewish orthodoxy and tradition. Englander uses allegory and folklore to explore questions of morality and history. Like all of his literature, there are rich historical and literary references that highlight and reflect the author’s keenly special intelligence. There is humour, drama, tragedy, and even silliness that surround his survey of life’s uncertainties.
Waiting for Sunrise (William Boyd)
Waiting for Sunrise takes us back to turn-of-the-century Vienna and the early days of psychoanalysis. Just before entering into a session with his psychiatrist, Lysander Rief, a young actor, is attracted to a beautiful young woman also seated in the waiting room, and they have a passionate but very destructive affair. But this is only part of this novel’s range. Boyd takes us through a number of warring fronts, from the human psyche with its Freudian bent into the very real battlefields of the First World War.
Running the Rift (Naomi Benaron)
Amid the horrors of the Hutu-Tutsi tensions in Rwanda, Jean Patrick Nkuba is a runner in both a physical and symbolic sense. He dreams of becoming an Olympic contender, Rwanda’s first in track and field. He is a Tutsi being trained in secret by a Hutu coach, who may possibly be also training the soldiers who are out to kill his and other Tutsi families. He is not only in a race for his country’s glory; he is also in a race for his life.
36 Arguments for the Existence of God (Rebecca Newburger Goldstein)
Cass Seltzer, an eminent psychologist, becomes even more famous when he publishes a book about the psychology of religion that becomes a runaway bestseller. His fictional focus is to list and counter a number of arguments for the existence of God, and his very human and compassionate efforts earn him the label “atheist with a soul.” In his personal life, he is in love with Lucinda Mandelbaum, an eminent mathematician who worships game theory and has little sympathy for perspectives that cannot be proven scientifically. His life has been influenced equally by his one-time teacher and mentor, Jonas Elijah Klapper; Roz, a former love and independent anthropology spirit; and finally, by Azarya, a six-year-old mathematical genius who is to inherit the leadership of a major Hasidic sect.
This short book is long on psychology, philosophy, religious theory, logic, rationality and emotion. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein gives the reader the tools with which to debate all aspects of the human belief system.
The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
The Night Circus invites the reader into a nocturnal, Victorian-era circus where two competing magicians fall in love in the midst of a lifelong battle of skills. An old rivalry between Horace Bowen (a.k.a. Prospero the Enchanter) and Mr. A. H— (a.k.a. “the man in the grey suit”) leads to their latest competition, a long, drawn-out battle of magical prowess between two young magicians of their choosing, one of whom must die at the competition’s end. Without their consent, Celia Bowen, Horace’s gifted daughter, and Marco, a promising young orphan, are inextricably bound to the rules of the game, which is played out against the backdrop of the mysterious black-and-white circus, moving without warning from town to town, only opening after the sun sets every night. From the first page, the book conjures a compelling atmosphere that stakes a claim on all of your senses, letting you feel what it must be like to wander through the fantastical tents of Le Cirque des Rêves.
A Man of Parts (David Lodge)
David Lodge has written a novel fictionalizing the true life and personality of the great science fiction writer, H.G. Wells. As the book opens, Wells is at the end of his career and life. He takes us back into his memories of his work and his women. Wells was not only a great writer, but he was also a great womanizer—the facts, dates, and characters in this book are all real. Lodge has imagined the interior of Wells’ mind and perspectives. For readers who are not familiar with the catalogue of books that Wells has left behind, A Man of Parts is a wonderful introduction to this literary sci-fi legend.
Canada (Richard Ford)
Having parents who rob a bank and are imprisoned is bound to change the life of the children. Dell is 15 when this happens to him and his sister, and unfortunately for Dell, his sister also abandons him. He is taken in by a family friend who subsequently transports him from the United States into Canada, where the rest of this unusual and thoughtful story takes place. Looking back on his life, Dell brings us right inside his once-adolescent psyche and makes us strongly aware of parent-child relationships and perspectives.
HHhH (Laurent Binet)
HHhH: “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich”, or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”. The most dangerous man in Hitler’s cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich was known as the “Butcher of Prague.” Feared and hated, Heydrich seemed indestructible—until two men, a Slovak and a Czech, drafted into action by the British secret service, killed him in plain site on a street in Prague. Laurent Binet, a professor of history and literature, tells a compelling story of war, blending fact, fiction, and imagination.
In One Person (John Irving)
In One Person is John Irving’s 13th novel, and tells the story of Billy Abbott, a bisexual man who keeps getting crushes on all the wrong people; for one, he falls in love with an older woman whom he doesn’t know is transgender, which leads to a lot of misunderstandings. According to Irving, his new book is the fourth of his “political novels”—the first three being The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and A Prayer for Owen Meany—and because he chooses a side of a controversial issue in each of these books, he says “it’s no surprise to me that in the case of these four, they have had both my best reviews and my worst.” In this latest book, the author brings his themes of sexual identity and unfulfilled love to life with heartbreaking skill.
419 (William Ferguson)
Receiving email requests from needy and greedy scam artists is a familiar event to all internet users. But what happens when someone responds to the request for money? Unbelievable as it seems, many do. William Ferguson takes readers into the scam called 419. What are the implications, the consequences, and the intricacies of falling for such a swindle? Ferguson takes us into this world and navigates it for us.