My book wish list grew exponentially after a visit to the bookstore and some online window shopping this week. Some of those books will no doubt make my next “books that influenced me” list, while others will be sure to provide plenty of enjoyment. It was difficult paring down to just 13 selections, but here, in no particular order, is a small selection of books I’ll be looking forward to cuddling up with soon:
1. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen. I have it from good source (i.e. Sara Gruen herself) that she started writing this novel while participating in NaNoWriMo. This bit of encouragement was shared with us participants in an email from her during the latest installment of the demented — and fun! — novel writing challenge. “[…]Jacob was there because his luck had run out— orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive “ship of fools.” It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act— in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. Surprising, poignant, and funny, [this] is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down.”
2. Love in the time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’ve read this masterpiece about twenty years ago now, and with this book and One Hundred Years of Solitude, I am ready to immerse myself into Garcia Marquez’s magically surreal world yet again. “In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs — yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.”
3. Empire Falls, Richard Russo. This one will go into my care package for Lee, but I’ll be sure to dig into it before it’s off to France. “Miles Roby has been slinging burgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it’s Janine, Miles’ soon-to-be ex-wife, who’s taken up with a noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps it’s the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town-and seems to believe that “everything” includes Miles himself. In Empire Falls, Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.”
4. My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk. One of two books on my list from this Nobel prize winning Turkish author. “The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed. The ruling elite therefore mustn’t know the full scope or nature of the project, and panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears. The only clue to the mystery — or crime? — lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, My Name is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex and power.”
5. Morality for Beautiful Girls, Alexander Mccall Smith. Part 3 of a delightful and ever-growing mystery series. “Precious Ramotswe, founder and owner of the only detective agency for the concerns of both ladies and others, investigates the alleged poisoning of the brother of an important “Government Man,” and the moral character of the four finalists of the Miss Beauty and Integrity Contest, the winner of which will almost certainly be a contestant for the title of Miss Botswana. Yet her business is having money problems, and when other difficulties arise at her fiance’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she discovers the reliable Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is more complicated then he seems.”
6. The Cellist Of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway. A beautiful haunting story I look forward to exploring. “One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fragment after the only extant score was firebombed in the Dresden Music Library, but the fact that it had been rebuilt by a different composer into something new and worthwhile gives the cellist hope. Meanwhile, Kenan steels himself for his weekly walk through the dangerous streets to collect water for his family on the other side of town, and Dragan, a man Kenan doesn’t know, tries to make his way towards the source of the free meal he knows is waiting. Both men are almost paralyzed with fear, uncertain when the next shot will land on the bridges or streets they must cross, unwilling to talk to their old friends of what life was once like before divisions were unleashed on their city. Then there is “Arrow,” the pseudonymous name of a gifted female sniper, who is asked to protect the cellist from a hidden shooter who is out to kill him as he plays his memorial to the victims. […] An extraordinary, imaginative leap […] that speaks powerfully to the dignity and generosity of the human spirit under extraordinary duress.
7. Loving Frank: A Novel, Nancy Horan. Not yet released, this book blurs the line between fiction and biography. “I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current. So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives. In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright.”
8. The Secret Book of Grazia Dei Rossi, Jacqueline Park. “A sweeping tale of intrigue and romance set in a time rife with court politics, papal chicanery, religious intolerance, and inviolable social rules. Grazia, private secretary to the world-renowned Isabella d’Este, is the daughter of an eminent Jewish banker, the wife of the pope’s Jewish physician, and the lover of a Christian prince. In a “secret book” written as a legacy for her son, she records her struggles to choose between the seductions of the Christian world and a return to the family, traditions, and duties of her Jewish roots. As she re-creates Renaissance Italy in captivating detail, Jacqueline Park gives us a timeless portrait of a brave and brilliant woman trapped in an unforgiving, inflexible society.” This book seems to have several elements in common with “The Birth of Venus” by Sarah Dunant which was my favorite year this year, and it comes highly recommended as well. So far so good.
9. People Of The Book, Geraldine Brooks. Another book telling the story of a book, exploring Jewish tradition and based on some factual elements. “Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding; an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair, she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation. Inspired by a true story, “People of the Book” is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed [Pulitzer winning] author.”
10. Next, Michael Crichton. “Welcome to our genetic world. Fast, furious, and out of control. This is not the world of the future—it’s the world right now.” Because a good thriller is fun to find and sometimes I need a break from literary novels. I’ve read several of Crichton’s bestsellers and his formula works for me.
11. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov. “One hot spring, the devil arrives in Moscow, accompanied by a retinue that includes a beautiful naked witch and an immense talking black cat with a fondness for chess and vodka. The visitors quickly wreak havoc in a city that refuses to believe in either God or Satan. But they also bring peace to two unhappy Muscovites: one is the Master, a writer pilloried for daring to write a novel about Christ and Pontius Pilate; the other is Margarita, who loves the Master so deeply that she is willing literally to go to hell for him. What ensues is a novel of inexhaustible energy, humor, and philosophical depth.” The Master and Margarita is recognized as one of the essential classics of modern Russian literature. The novel’s vision of Soviet life in the 1930s is so ferociously accurate that it could not be published during its author’s lifetime and appeared only in a censored edition in the 1960s. Its truths are so enduring that its language has become part of the common Russian speech.
12. Company Novel of the Cia, Robert Littell. I’m not familiar with this bestselling author, but I figure this is a good book to start with, since I happen to like stories about spies and the CIA. “This critically acclaimed blockbuster from internationally renowned novelist Robert Littell seamlessly weaves together history and fiction to create a multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic saga of the CIA—known as “the Company” to insiders. Racing across a landscape spanning the legendary Berlin Base of the 50’s, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Bay of Pigs, Afghanistan, and the Gorbachev putsch, “The Company” tells the thrilling story of agents imprisoned in double lives, fighting an amoral, elusive, formidable enemy — and each other — in an internecine battle within the Company itself. A brilliant, stunningly conceived epic thriller, “The Company” confirms Littell’s place among the genre’s elite.”
13. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen or heard of this book accompanied with glowing recommendations over the years. I’ve decided it’s a musts-read before even laying my eye on a single line. I’ll be sure to report back once I’ve read it. “Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize, The God of Small Things is a magical, sophisticated tour de force. Set in 1969, mainly in Kerala, India, it is the story of Rahel and her twin brother Estha. Armed only with the innocence of children, they seek to craft a childhood for themselves amid the wreckage that constitutes their family. This astonishing first novel by Arundhati Roy is sweet and heartbreaking, ribald and profound. The God of Small Things is a novel to set beside those of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”
All reviews provided by the publishers or book jackets. I can’t hardly wait to put in my order and crack those brand new spines open.
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