I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What I'm Reading: May 2008

This month I read many award winners and a YA title suggested by one of my students.

I began the month by finishing the audio of Geraldine Brooks' latest People of the Book. This title goes well with April's book discussion offering The Lemon Tree. This novel is a mixture of historical fiction and more contemporary events (the 1990s conflict in Sarajevo). The plot begins with the story of Hanna Heath, a rare Hebrew manuscripts restorer and her encounter with a one of a kind Haggadah. As she is restoring the work, Hanna finds clues to the book's past. A past which she never can fully uncover, but which Brooks treats the reader to with her imagination. What follows is a novel which explores European Jewish history back to 1480, with an emphasis on Jewish-Muslim relations.

I felt the book was at its best when the reader was brought into the past. Hanna's story got a bit old to me, and the suspense elements introduced in the last third were a bit contrived. However, I loved being lost in the story of the actual book and its journey backward through time. Also, the overall message about how historically Muslims and Jews have worked together was uplifting. I also happened to be listening to this novel near Passover, and since a Haggadah is used during the Passover Seder, it added to my enjoyment of the work.

In terms of readalike, those listed here on my post about The Lemon Tree would all be a good place to start. Another book I have written about, Gentlemen of the Road, would be good for readers who liked the historical aspects of Jewish-Muslim relations. My People's Passover Haggadah by Lawrence Hoffman, a 2 volume set, has both the text of the Haggadah and well respected commentary on its history and the holiday of Passover; it should satisfy those who want more information on this aspect of the book.

There may also be readers of this book who are interested in book preservation or any of the specific historical time periods discussed in this novel. You could go on forever finding readalikes for this novel. With all of the different periods, peoples, and issues in this book, it is a great example for practicing Whole Collection RA.

Recently, I mentioned John Banville's alter ego, Benjamin Black, in this post, which led me to finally reading his award winning suspense novel Christine Falls . It is the 1950s in Ireland. Our "hero" is Quirke, the pathologist at the local hospital. Without giving too much away, this a a classic noir tale, told at the time of the all powerful Catholic Church. Quirke, a depressed borderline alcoholic, finds his brother, an obstetrician, trying to change an autopsy report, which leads Quirke into a tangled mystery which ultimately puts him in danger. Obviously, he survives since the sequel, Silver Swan just came out.

This was better than average noir in my estimation. For readalikes, I would suggest anything by P.D. James and the new Elizabeth George Careless in Red (which is not only has a darker tone, but also deals with a main character who has lost his wife, like Quirke). For an American twist try the Michael Connelly Harry Bosch mysteries.

I tackled another award winner this month, the Pulitzer Prize winner, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I was worried this book would be too consciously constructed and over rated. Happily I was wrong. Diaz has written a compelling story of an overweight, speculative genres loving, nerd. But is also the story of his mother and sister, their Dominican Republican roots and the horrors and legacy of Trujillo's regime. The story is told mostly by Oscar's college roommate and is written in a monologue style with frequent flashbacks. There is also strong language. It is not a traditional novel, but it was still entertaining to read.

Again, there are many ways to identify readalikes here. First, even though the novel makes fun of it, In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, would be a great read for those wanting to know more about the reign of Trujillo. But really the book most like Diaz's novel is Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude. It has the same coming-of-age themes, a New York area setting, multicultural issues, and artists. The writing is also similarly non-traditional, yet accessible. Of course, I would also be remiss if I did not mention the numerous references to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy throughout Oscar Wao.

Finally, a book Oscar might have liked, Hero by Perry Moore. This book is easy to describe. It is a YA, gay coming out story, where the protagonist is also a superhero. It is YA, so it has a happy ending. In fact, the hero saves the world and gets the boy. It is fun and thought provoking.

Since Hero is a YA book, most of the readalikes are also YA novels. I would like to suggest some adult options. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon shares the superhero and gay issues appeals, while many of the novels by David Leavitt deal with artists and coming out themes.

No comments: