Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Books for Adults

Emerson is getting ready for its annual book fair. Here are some suggestions for the adult readers in our community and beyond.

Lost on Planet China, J. Maarten Troost’s new book joins The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned with Savages as a unique, humorous, and informative travel book. Troost leaves behind the tropical islands that he visited in his previous books and his wife and two sons to spend several months trying to understand China and its role in the modern world. There are parts that will make you laugh and other parts that will startle and amaze you. It is a very different look at China than one gets from the news or other travel and history books. Add China to your list of places to visit and view with a new eye.

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and other national papers, is a memoir that follows her journey from growing up in the ruling class in Liberia to her teen years as a refugee in the United States and then to her return to the country of her youth. In addition to a well-written story, this book presents a history of Liberia from the viewpoints of the people who were living there for generations as well as the freed slaves that the U.S. sponsored to go there to set up a new country.

Pretty Birds by NPR reporter Scott Simon is a novel that was inspired by Simon’s time spent reporting from Sarajevo. The protagonist is a young girl whose family is forced from their home when the fighting started. As the family struggles to survive, she finds that she can earn money and food by becoming a sniper. The mixing of a fairly innocent teen-age girl with the cold, hard brutality of war makes a moving story, despite some flaws in the writing.

The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte packs a lot of power into a slender volume. It ponders the question of what the impact is of the photographers who get the close-ups of war that we see on the evening news and in print materials. There were descriptions of brutality that were almost impossible to read, but the story was so compelling and the questions so important that I barely stopped to breathe as I read,

The Help by Katherine Stockett gives a somewhat different view to relations between the races in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s. It has been quite popular recently so you probably have heard about this novel of an upper middle class white woman who interviews the African American maids who serve her family and the families of her friends. Maids know about a family than any family probably cares to admit. These maids also know pain, sorrow, and racism at its worst.

Step back in time a little more than a decade from the time of The Help and you will be in the South that is portrayed in Mudbound by Hillary Jordan which tells the differing lives found by two men, one black and one white, who return from World War II. While serving in Europe they were treated almost equally. Now they need to pick up their very separate lives. These were hard times for hardened people.

The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs is one of the strangest books I have read in a long time. I suspect that it is a book that people either love or hate with little middle ground. I enjoyed the questions that it stirs about religion, Autism, genetic engineering, and child rearing. This story got my book club looking at the history of the Netherlands and the surrounding areas as well discussions of the role of the Catholic Church in the area. Be warned—the writing is designed to get under your skin, and it does.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid covers only a few hours as it relates an interaction between an unnamed American tourist and a Pakistani in a café in Lahore. The Pakistani fellow tries to explain his country and his feelings about by recalling his college experiences at Princeton and how his life fell apart because of a failed love and then was further complicated by 9/11. Despite a weak ending, this story will give you much to think about as Pakistan remains in the forefront of so much of our news.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova takes the reader inside the mind of a sufferer of early onset Alzheimer’s. The author is a psychologist who works with the aging and specifically with Alzheimer patients. The story shows the fateful progression of the disease as well as the fear that Alice feels as she loses her memory in bits and in large pieces.

Kafka’s Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes by Mark Crick is a quick diversion that will bring a smile to your face and perhaps some good food to your table. Each of the 14 recipes is written in the style of a different well-known author.

It seems as though everyone I know has already read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows by now, but just in case you haven’t, let me suggest you give it a try. In letters and journal entries, this long-on-the-best-seller-list novel makes readers want to visit the island of Guernsey while recounting the life the islanders led during the Nazi occupation of their home. Along with the history and a look into the culture of the island is a sweet and believable love story. In short, it has something for almost everyone.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich M. Nguyen has been chosen as a statewide read this year. I can’t tell you what activities there will be around this book, but I can tell you that it is sure to stir some food memories for you no matter who you are. Nguyen, her father, sister, and grandmother found their way to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1975 as Vietnamese refugees. This is a story of trying to fit into a new society without losing one’s roots.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink was read by many of the Emerson teachers this summer. While not everyone enjoyed it as much as I did, I am going to suggest that it is worth your time to read it and think about some of Pink’s interesting ideas. Will right brainers rule the future? It is hard to tell, but developing some right brain traits can’t hurt.

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