Staff Selections

Jeffrey

The Ocean of Life
Callum Roberts

If you like nature, swimming, going to the beach or eating fish, this is for you.  It consists of three sections: a fascinating history of human exploration and exploitation of the oceans, a clear-eyed account of the damages and dangers their ecosystems currently face, and a hopeful call to action to protect and heal the intricate, beautiful web of life under the sea.  An important book on ecology, but even more a great piece of natural history writing.

Kathleen

Mayhem: A Memoir
Sigrid Rausing

This beautifully crafted piece of writing by GRANTA editor, Social Anthropology PhD, and Swedish heiress Sigrid Rausing contrasts Rausing’s elegant, ordered, and intellectually and artistically vibrant life with the chaos and heartbreak of her brother’s and his wife’s drug addiction. Mayhem is both a personal and intellectual exploration of the nature of addiction.

 

Liz

The Vegetarian
Han Kang

I loved The Vegetarian so much. A beautiful, harrowing, bizarre short novel about a woman whose life unravels after a disturbing dream prompts her to give up meat. I couldn't put it down, and I can't stop thinking about it now.

Mary

Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng

This novel begins at the end of the story’s events, with the Richardson family standing on the tree lawn in a comfortable neighborhood of Shaker Heights, Ohio, watching their home burn to the ground from a fire set by their youngest child.  Conveniently, the Warrens, tenants of the Richardsons, have just vacated their apartment, so the burned-out family has a place to go.  Though we know the arsonist, the rest of the story is told elliptically, and reads like a who-done-it.  Readers discover that “crazy Izzy” setting fire to their home is arguably not the most destructive act in the flickering enterprises of these families.

Ng’s well-crafted story is partly about growing up and  owning up, and is compelled at its core by opposing views of maternity.  Credible characters experience a gamut of mothering possibilities, and their plausible, tangled experiences provoke reflection on the pressures, needs and nurture of motherhood.  For anyone who’s had a mother.

Paul

Bottomland
Michelle Hoover

Michelle Hoover who wowed Prairie Lights’ audience, reading from her first book, The Quickening, now has a second book.  It’s called Bottomland and, like her first, deals with rural culture in Iowa in the early 20th Century.  This book is more of a thriller than The Quickening, involving a Germ, as always, well researched with characters formed by the dark circumstances of their lives.  She’ll be reading the end of April, a reading all lovers of Willa Cather and the great mid-western writers will not want to miss.

Robert

The Mechanical Horse
Margaret Guroff

This book is a winner on several levels.  The bicycle’s progressive influences on American life are manifold, and Guroff manages to tell the story with a convincing thoroughness and a prose style that never drags.  The bicycle improved mobility for the working class, allowed women greater freedom and a more practical mode of dress.  Cyclists were instrumental in getting the awful 19th century road improved, and the list goes on.  For what is a relatively brief book, the notes and bibliography are impressive.

Pages

Suzanne

The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi

A near-future dystopian novel by the author of The Windup Girl.

Through his compelling characters, Bacigalupi explores the disparate effects income inequality has on technology, society and personal ethics in the face of changes brought about by climate change.  It deals with water rights and water privatization on the Colorado River in an arid American Southwest, making it a particularly timely “summer read”—but one that will leave you thinking about it past summer.

Terry

Haints Stay
Colin Winnette

A quirky and interesting take on the Western. It’s short (just a tad over 200 pages) but it packs an outsized wallop. It reminded me of Patrick DeWitt's excellent Sisters Brothers, but with all the fat stripped out. This is pure literary muscle. (And if you haven’t read Sisters Brothers, you now know what to read when you finish Haints Stay).

Tim

The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins

Which of us has not noticed the same people every day of our lives and, not knowing anything of their real circumstances, created an imaginary narrative around them to satisfy our own fantasies?  This is certainly the case of Rachel, our protagonist, who sees a couple on their terrace every morning on her commute to work, and builds her own biography of their lives.  When the woman goes missing and is the subject of endless media reports, Rachel feels she knows this woman and tries to help the police with their investigation.  This intriguing premise is the springboard of Ms. Hawkins' fascinating suburban thriller -- a tale told by three women:  Rachel, an alcoholic; Megan, the missing woman; and Anna, who remarried Rachel's husband, Tom, after their divorce.  All three narrators are unreliable, wearing the blinders of their addictions, dissatisfactions, and jealousies.  Full of red herrings, flashes of revelations, and plenty of twists and turns, this is a splendid mystery populated with fascinating characters.  Enjoy!

Deb

Home Made Winter
Yvette Van Boven

Perfect book for the upcoming frigid season: Beautiful photos and delicious recipes - a cookbook lover's must.