Okay, it’s time to pick our first book! I’ve gone through the previous comments and made a list of all the books people seriously recommended. (Let me know if I missed any.) I’ve included a link to their respective Amazon pages as well as a small descriptive blurb. To vote, just leave a comment with your choice. Just pick one; we’ll get to the others eventually. (I know it’s hard. I want to read all of them now!) You can even post anonymously if you want. At the end of the weekend we’ll tally up and get started! Read on for the list…“Back When We Were Grownups” by Anne Tyler
The first sentence of Anne Tyler’s 15th novel sounds like something out of a fairy tale: “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” Alas, this discovery has less to do with magic than with a late-middle-age crisis, which is visited upon Rebecca Davitch in the opening pages of Back When We Were Grownups. At 53, this perpetually agreeable widow is “wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part.” Given her role as the matriarch of a large family–and the proprietress of a party-and-catering concern, the Open Arms–Rebecca is both personally and professionally inclined toward jollity. But at an engagement bash for one of her multiple stepdaughters, she finds herself questioning everything about her life: “How on earth did I get like this? How? How did I ever become this person who’s not really me?”
“Coraline” by Neil Gaiman
In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close. The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks to the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own. Only it’s different. At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go. Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.
“Great Apes” by Will Self
Like Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Great Apes is a strange and twisted tale, a surreal satire on the human condition, and an omen for those who wander too far. After a long night of partying, Simon Dykes, a successful British painter, wakes up to find that his girlfriend has turned into a chimpanzee. In fact, the world Simon once knew has become a planet of apes. Convinced he is still human, Simon is confined to the emergency ward of a hospital and put under the care of Dr. Zack Busner, clinical psychologist, radical psychoanalyst, maverick drug researcher and media personality. Written with the glittering satiric edge that is Self’s hallmark, Great Apes is a hilarious, disturbing, and truly unforgettable novel.
“Kushiel’s Dart” by Jacquieline Carey
When Mary Magdalene wept over the dying Christ, her tears mixed with blood in the earth beneath him. From that soil the great earth mother formed Blessed Elua, the most beloved of angels, and from him and his band of eight angels descended the beautiful D’Angelines. Phedre, a D’Angeline, is trained in the exotic Night Court to be a courtesan of the highest order. As she learns before she is 10, she is marked by the angel Kushiel, one of Elua’s eight, whose path to ecstasy is one of pain and submission. Phedre leaves the Night Court to serve Anafiel Delauney. She becomes devoted to him, and he treats her like a favorite daughter, teaching her diplomacy, strategy, and the ability to recognize deeply layered patterns of intrigue. Because her beauty and sexual skills make her a coveted prize, her capabilities for observing and listening make her privy to some of the deadliest secrets whispered in her highborn clients’ bedrooms. Thus she lives out her destiny as Kushiel’s dart.
“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold
On her way home from school on a snowy December day in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon (“like the fish”) is lured into a makeshift underground den in a cornfield and brutally raped and murdered, the latest victim of a serial killer–the man she knew as her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. Alice Sebold’s haunting and heartbreaking debut novel, The Lovely Bones, unfolds from heaven, where “life is a perpetual yesterday” and where Susie narrates and keeps watch over her grieving family and friends, as well as her brazen killer and the sad detective working on her case. As Sebold fashions it, everyone has his or her own version of heaven. Susie’s resembles the athletic fields and landscape of a suburban high school: a heaven of her “simplest dreams,” where “there were no teachers…. We never had to go inside except for art class…. The boys did not pinch our backsides or tell us we smelled; our textbooks were Seventeen and Glamour and Vogue.”
“Moon Palace” by Paul Auster
Against the mythical dreamscape of America, Auster brilliantly weaves the bizarre narrative of Marco Stanley Fogg, an orphan searching for love, his father, and the key to the riddle of his origin and fate.
“The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant
The red tent is the place where women gathered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and even illness. Like the conversations and mysteries held within this feminine tent, this sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider’s look at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter, Dinah. Told in the voice of Jacob’s daughter Dinah (who only received a glimpse of recognition in the Book of Genesis), we are privy to the fascinating feminine characters who bled within the red tent. In a confiding and poetic voice, Dinah whispers stories of her four mothers, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah–all wives to Jacob, and each one embodying unique feminine traits. As she reveals these sensual and emotionally charged stories we learn of birthing miracles, slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets. Eventually Dinah delves into her own saga of betrayals, grief, and a call to midwifery.
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O’Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves.