Book Bash Choices: March '12

It's our own version of March Madness: great books, refreshments, prizes, and fun, fun, fun! Here are the suggestions from our March '12 Bash sessions, if you couldn't make it.

Fiction

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (Anchor Books $13.95). Here is a beautiful novel that is closely based on the factual histories of Japanese women who came to the United States, prior to WW II, as “mail order” brides. Told in the first person plural as one voice, the stories are almost poetic. (Sandra)

Butterfly's Child
by Angel Davis-Gardner  (Dial Press, pb $15 due 4/10/12). This novel continues the story of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, following her son to his new home in America. Butterfly's Child is a beautiful sequel to the famous opera, with complex characters, strong roots, and surprising plot twists penetrating two very different cultures. (Sarah)

The Illumination
by Kevin Brockmeier (Vintage $15). A man read that it is important to find something new to love about your partner each day, so every morning he left a note to his wife, who copied the notes into journals until she died in an accident. The last, incomplete journal ended up in the hands of several strangers whose stories we learn through their relationships with the journal. At the same time, a strange worldwide phenomenon occurred. Physical, and sometimes emotional, pain was visible as a glow. How do we respond to people when their pain is obvious and oddly attractive? How does reading simple and tender expressions of love affect those who have no love? (Sally)

The Lost Wife
by Alyson Richman (Berkley $15.00). Beginning at the end, a man and woman meet at a wedding and realize they were once a young couple who met, fell in love, and married in pre-war Prague, only to have their lives shattered as they were separated by the Nazi invasion. The resilience of the human spirit is the theme of this story of a deep love. (Sandra)

Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury, pb $15 due 4/24/12). Esch, fifteen and pregnant, gives an hour-by-hour account of life with her hardscrabble family in Beau Savage, Mississippi. She and her brother’s pit bull (also pregnant), are the only females in a cast of vivid characters. Ward’s perfect voice, through Esch, casts a spell that’s hard to break. National Book Award Winner for 2011. (Sarah)

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick Dewitt (Harper $14.99).   I loved this book, described as "cowboy noir--a quirky and stylish revisionist western." A frontier baron orders Charlie and Eli Sisters, his hired gunslingers, to track down and kill a prospector....As the brothers' story is teased out, Charlie and Eli explore the human implications of many of the clichés of the old west and come off looking less and less like killers and more like traumatized young men. DeWitt has produced a genre-bending frontier saga that is exciting, funny, and, unexpectedly, moving. It was a finalist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. (Nancy)

Three Weeks in December
by Audrey Schulman (Europa $16).  Parallel stories, set in Africa, and separated by more than a century, tell of two outcast Americans--a 19th-century engineer whose homosexuality has estranged him from his family and friends in Maine, and an enthnobotanist with Asperger's, who is tracking down a chemically promising plant in a remote Rwandan gorilla refuge. (Nancy)

The Watery Part of the World
by Michael Parker (Algonquin, pb $13.95 due 6/05/12). Two historical events are combined for one great story: the disappearance of Aaron Burr's daughter Theodisa while traveling by ship off the coast of North Carolina, and the tale of the the last three inhabitants of Yaupon, a fictionalized Portsmouth Island. (Sandra)

The Well of Loneliness
by Radclyffe Hall (Anchor $15.95). Originally published in 1928, this is the timeless story of a lesbian couple's struggle to be accepted by "polite" society. Shockingly candid for its time, this novel was the very first to condemn homophobic society for its unfair treatment of gays and lesbians. (Sally)

Spotlight on Short Stories

Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories
  by Edith Pearlman (Lookout Books $18.95).  21 old favorites and 13 new. "A book you could take to a desert island knowing that every time you got to the end you could simply turn to the front cover and start it all again."--Ann Patchett. (Warren)

Civilwarland in Bad Decline 
by George Saunders (Riverhead Books $14.00).  Satirical short stories, funnier than Cormac McCarthy, but more manic than Kurt Vonnegut. Saunders' characters are caught in a dark American dream for which there is no wake up call. (Warren)     

It Wasn't All Dancing
by Mary Ward Brown (University of Alabama $16.95). These stories are set in rural Alabama. The effects of aging and relations between blacks and whites in small towns of the South are strong themes. The stories are set from the 50's to contemporary times. (Mamie)

White People
by Allan Gurganus (Vintage $15). These stories show off Gurganus's genius as a writer. They are traditional in subject matter, but creative in style. The themes of race relations, religion, small town life, and foreign affairs are explored through characters and setting. (Mamie)

The Best American Short Stories 2011
edited by Geraldine Brooks (Mariner Books $14.95). Chosen from the best literary publications, this collection features stories by outstanding writers and newcomers who will no doubt soon be household names. (Mamie)


NONFICTION


Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back
by Reynolds Price (Scribner pb $17).  I delighted in every page of this honest, moving memoir.  When Reynolds Price left home to study at Oxford, he had seldom been out of North Carolina.  He shares his fascinating journey into new and unfamiliar territories and the lessons he learns about literature, life and love. (Nancy)

A Pirate of Exquisite Mind by Diana and Michael Preston (Berkley $15).  William Dampier was an early English explorer, open-minded and insatiably curious, who adventured across the globe, occasionally as a pirate.  An astute naturalist, he inspired Darwin, and his travelogues inspired the literature of Swift and Defoe. This is a wonderful discovery of an original man. (Kent)

Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust Without Reason
by Anne Roiphe (Anchor $15.95). This is Roiphe's unsparing memoir of the New York literary scene of the 1950/60s, when writing was everything, and young women like herself were willing to give everything, and excuse anything, to be muse and companion to often abusive and alcoholic male writers. (Kent)

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
by Matthew B. Crawford (Penguin $15.00).  If "Idle hands are the devil's workshop", then "A busy workshop may tie the devil's hands." Moving and funny meditation on staying grounded in an increasingly abstract, information-driven society. (Warren)


YOUNG ADULT

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Yearling $6.99). Time travel is the frame for this beautifully realized story about family and friendship. Miranda finds a strange note in her apartment asking for the spare key, but the writer had to have the key already in order to get into the apt to leave the note. Hereby hangs a winning novel. (Carol)

Because of Mr. Terupt
by Rob Buyea (Yearling $6.99).  Mr. Terupt is an especially talented first-year teacher. He has a unique style which we see through the eyes of seven students who are deeply affected when an accident endangers Mr. Terupt's future. (Carol)