Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Books We Want for the Holidays: Reading Group Picks

Back before I had to drop out of the horrible pregnancy book group (as I didn't care to discuss sore nipples over dinner), I recall that we were always looking for good books for discussions.  Also, don't most groups break in December and then rejoin with vigor in January when all of those resolutions haven't been buried under a pile of chocolate chip cookies and work angst?  So, since it's the season of book giving, and more and more people are in book groups, and some of those groups might actually discuss the books, here's a way to kill two birds with one tome.  (See what I did there?  It's my token pun for 2012.  You're welcome.) These are some of my favorite reading group picks that came out in 2012.

For the fans of Cutting for Stone, allow me to recommend The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  The book starts in New York, the present day, when a happy family is suddenly thrown into turmoil when Julia's father, a Burmese native and lawyer, disappears one day.  Julia and her mother are at a loss, as nothing had occurred would suggest a sudden departure.  Julia goes in search of her father to his home country, and slowly the story of his childhood and the amazing relationship he shared with a girl emerge. This is a story of soul mates, enduring love, family, and acceptance that manages to be moving without being trite.

Simon Mawer's The Glass Room was one of my favorite books from a few years ago, and I loved his new book, Trapeze, too.  For Ian McEwan fans (and I'm thinking of his new novel, Sweet Tooth, and the classic Atonement, in particular), here's a World War II saga that begs for a sequel.  Marion works for the war effort as a receptionist until she's recruited to join a group of spies training to drop into Nazi-occupied France.  Marion speaks fluent French, and she used to spend summers with her older brother and his best friend, a man who was her teenage crush.  With the war threatening to destroy Europe and scientists all over the world racing to understand nuclear technology, Trapeze--which is the name of the mission--is a smart, literary thriller that blends fact and fiction.

As all of the Best of the Year lists roll out, I keep looking for Toni Morrison's new novel, Home, and wondering how it can continue to be overlooked.  This book is great, a return to the Toni Morrison who wrote Beloved and Sula, two of my favorite books.  Frank Money is a broken man, a soldier returning from the Korean War and suffering from the effects of combat trauma.  On top of the horrors he's witnessed, he's moving from an integrated society (the military) back into the segregated world of the 1950's United States.  Frank finds himself in the Pacific Northwest after he's discharged, but he has to find his way home to Georgia, to help his sister.  This is a tight novel that takes no wrong turns leaves plenty of space for discussion. (The paperback of Home goes on sale January 1st.)

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