Current Selection: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzberald
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, is the story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
April 2013: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo chronicles the hardscrabble lives of some of Mumbai's poorest — and most inventive — people in Beyond the Beautiful Forevers.
March 2013: Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old college dropout living in the small Texas town where he grew up. After he's arrested for trashing the car of his sister's ex, he's given two choices: face jail time or enlist in the Army. He chooses the Army. And Iraq. Author Ben Fountain's debut novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, is the story of what happens to Lynn after he joins Bravo Company in the early years of the Iraq war.
February 2013: Told by three resonant and evocative characters -- Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past -- Wiley Cash's debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all.
December 2012/January 2013: The Best American Short Stories series is the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. Each volume’s editor selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites. A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field, then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish. This unique system has made the Best American series the most respected — and most popular — of its kind.
November 2012: Imagine a world where the color red has startling powers and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. Welcome to Bald Slope, North Carolina, the setting of Sarah Addison Allen's The Sugar Queen. There's magic behind every closet door.
October 2012: Discovering a magical manuscript in Oxford's library, scholar Diana Bishop — a descendant of witches who has rejected her heritage — inadvertently unleashes a fantastical underworld of demons, witches and vampires whose activities center on an enchanted treasure. According to NPR's Neda Ulaby, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness "becomes increasingly charming as it goes along." Here's her full review.
September 2012: Amor Towles' Rules of Civility opens with a chance encounter with a handsome banker in a jazz bar on New Year's Eve 1938 and sets the stage for Katey Kontent -- the book's narrator -- to join the upper echelons of New York society, where she befriends a shy multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow. NPR gave Rules of Civility rave review when it was released -- here's an excerpt.
August 2012: Gillian Flynn's book Gone Girl revolves around a woman who disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary. When her diary reveals hidden turmoil in her marriage, her husband realizes that something more disturbing than murder may have occurred. Here's an excerpt of the book that made NPR's critics list.
July 2012: Flashing back and forth between Annie and Buster's extremely odd childhood and tentative adulthood, Kevin Wilson's madcap premise in The Family Fang quickly deepens. When art is everything and all art is extreme, what does real life look like? How much of our life is our own creation, and how much are we only playing parts? Here's an excerpt of the book that made NPR's Summer's Best Reads List.
June, 2012: In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband. The memoir debuted at the top of the Washington Post and New York Times nonfiction bestseller lists. Warning: If you’re offended by profanity, this book is not for you.
May, 2012: Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This NPR interview from 2006 with the book’s author, Markus Zusak has more information on this award-winning book.
April, 2012: Lauren Groff’s new book Arcadia is April’s book club pick. In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what would become a commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this romantic, rollicking, and tragic utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and after. Here’s an excerpt.
March, 2012: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt is March’s book club pick! Set against the backdrop of the California Gold Rush, The Sisters Brothers follows the misadventures of Charlie and Eli Sisters, two hired guns who, under the order of the mysterious Commodore, try to kill Hermann Kermit Warm. Think Deadwood, but directed by the Coen brothers — a classic Western with darkly comic narration. Here’s an excerpt.
February, 2012: Divergent is February's book club pick! The society of Veronica Roth's futuristic Chicago has been divided into five factions, each representing a different virtue: honesty, selflessness, intelligence, peacefulness and bravery. At the age of 16, each member must choose a faction, and our narrator, Beatrice, faces a nearly impossible decision from the start: stay with her family, or dare to be herself. NPR chose it as one of the Top YA Novels of 2011!
January, 2012: WKNO's Book Club kicks off the New Year with Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, a good, old-fashioned mystery that features a cast of characters you already know. This review from Fresh Air’s Maureen Corrigan is all the convincing you'll need to grab a copy.
November/December, 2011: Nearly twenty years ago on NPR's Morning Edition, David Sedaris read excerpts from his "Santaland Diaries" about his experiences working as a Macy's department store elf. That reading launched Mr. Sedaris’ career as a novelist, playwright, and humorist – and a Morning Edition tradition was born. That story is included in Holidays on Ice, our book club pick for November. In Holidays on Ice, you get a collection of essays poking fun at the holiday season – "Jesus Shaves" recalls a French class in which students try to explain to each other the concept of Easter; "The Monster Mash," tells of Halloween at the morgue; and "The Cow and the Turkey," is a story about the Secret Santa woes of barnyard animals.
October, 2011: October. The month when the cool weather gets settled-in and kids start deciding on Halloween costumes, when pumpkin-filled tents start appearing in grocery store parking lots, and when WKNO puts on a pledge drive… perfect time for a fantastical novel like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is a unique experience full of breathtaking wonders, but behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose. This story from All Things Considered has more details.
September, 2011: S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep is a stay up all night, page-turning thriller. It's also September's book pick. Every day Christine - a woman with a rare form of amnesia - wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her. At the urging of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to keep track of daily events so that she can start to link her full story together. But one morning, she opens it and sees that she's written three unexpected and terrifying words: "Don't trust Ben." Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her amnesia? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? Check out the first chapter here.
August, 2011: August's book is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Swamplandia! revolves around thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree. She's lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s headliner, it's chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brother defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined world that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality. Check out the author's interview (and read an excerpt) from All Things Considered.
July 2011: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is July's book club pick. You’ve probably heard of Ann Patchett. She wrote Bel Canto – about a famous opera singer and a group of foreign dignitaries who are taken hostage by terrorists. It was a huge best-seller and won Patchett both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002. In State of Wonder researcher Marina Singh sets off to the Amazon jungle to discover what could be a promising and valuable new fertility drug. Check out Maureen Corrigan’s review (and read an excerpt) here.
June, 2011: Our pick for June is Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Rose Edelstein can taste feelings in food – whatever the cook is experiencing (good or bad) while preparing the meal – but Rose is only 9-years old and soon finds both family dinners and school lunches almost unbearable. The book follows her on a journey to understand what the feelings mean and how to deal with knowing things you’re well… not supposed to know. In addition, the book explores the dynamics within Rose's family, with her hovering mother; her distant father; and her very odd older brother. Here’s an excerpt.
May, 2011: Our pick for May is David Mitchell's most recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. It opens in 1799 at a trading post on Japan’s island of Dejima that is run by the Dutch. That’s where we meet Jacob – a young clerk who has traveled from Europe to work for a few years as a bookkeeper so he can earn enough money to return and marry his fiancé. Mitchell, who has twice been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, spent four years working on the novel. Simple details, like if people used shaving cream or not, took a lot of time he says – so much so that that a single sentence could take half a day to write. "It was tough," Mitchell told NPR’s Scott Simon, "It almost finished me off before I finished it off.” He made the NPR rounds last summer to talk about the book. Take a listen to the interview with Scott Simon that I referenced earlier (you’ll love his accent.)
April, 2011: Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. In this month’s pick, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, author Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories; from Henrietta’s hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.
March, 2012: Garth Stein’s book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is narrated by a dog named Enzo. Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.
February, 2011: Acclaimed bestselling author Michael Capuzzo brings true crime realistically and vividly to life in The Murder Room, an account of a group of passionate men and women, inspired by their own wounded hearts to make a stand for truth, goodness, and justice in a world gone mad. Here is author Richard Walker’s interview on Fresh Air.