Wonderfully Discussable Books

Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
I love Lahiri and reading the description (and excellent reviews) on this collection makes me want to bump it to the top of my list. From Publishers Weekly: "Lahiri's touch in these nine tales is delicate, but her observations remain damningly accurate, and her bittersweet stories are unhampered by nostalgia."
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On my list because readers with great taste keep telling me it's amazing. From Booklist: "Hashimi’s first novel tells the story of two young Afghan women, separated by a century, who disguise themselves as boys in order to survive.... [she] weaves together two equally engrossing stories in her epic, spellbinding debut."
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A Book of the Month selection, which I've been meaning to read since The Tenement Museum in NYC called it a must-read immigrant story. The publisher calls this "a compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy." A 2016 Book of the Year for all kinds of publications.
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Public shaming used to be a common punishment, but it was stopped long ago: not because it was ineffective, but because it was deemed far too cruel. But with the dawn of social media, public shaming is back in a big way, and it's being carried out by ordinary people. Ronson walks the reader through some recent examples of lives ruined over one public mistake: a fabricated quote in a book, one ill-considered tweet, one Facebook photo that went viral. This is one of the scariest books I've read in a long time, and I'm not saying that lightly. An important but uncomfortable read for anyone on social media, and that's most of us.
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From the publisher: "Inspired by the incredible true story of one Jewish family separated at the start of World War II, determined to survive—and to reunite—We Were the Lucky Ones is a sweeping novel spanning six years and five continents and a tribute to the triumph of hope and love against all odds."
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Tom and Isabel live alone on Janus Rock, keeping the lighthouse. After two miscarriages and one stillbirth, all on the isolated island, Isabel is despondent. When a boat holding a dead man and a crying baby washes up on shore, Isabel persuades Tom to leave the discovery out of his log and eventually adopts the child as her own. But when they visit the shore and its nearby community two years later ... you can imagine what might happen.
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San Francisco Chronicle describes the title character as "funny, wicked and remorseful, a red-blooded original. The book is a page-turner because of her." From the publisher: "Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive's own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse."
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I finally read this just a couple of years ago. In the book of Genesis, Dinah is the only surviving daughter of Leah and Jacob. She's a minor character in the Bible, but The Red Tent is her life story: Diamant interweaves characters from the biblical narrative with characters of her own invention to vividly portray what it was like to live in those times, with a strong emphasis on the relationships between the women. Stirring, imaginative, and atmospheric.
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From the publisher: "Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a 'year of wonders.'"
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Kalanithi is nearing the end of his long and arduous training in neurosurgery when he receives his own terminal cancer diagnosis, and the role reversal is immediate: suddenly he's the patient, not the doctor. This is the book he wrote after his diagnosis: he'd always dreamed of writing a book "one day," and when his own timeline was dramatically shortened, he got to work. He didn't quite finish: one of the best parts of the book is the moving epilogue written by his widow. Recommended for fans of Atul Gawande: his Being Mortal is an excellent companion.
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I really enjoyed An American Marriage. This has been showing up everywhere -- the Summer Reading Guide, Oprah's book club pick, Book of the Month selection, a Links I Love blog post (the origin story is fascinating).
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In a season where every suspense novel is expected to have a "shocking plot twist!" this tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop time and again, without feeling gimmicky or manipulative. I was stunned as I slowly came to see that the story wasn't about what I thought it was about at all. On a dark, rainy night, a mother lets go of her son's hand for just an instant. The devastating accident sets the plot in motion. Part police procedural, part domestic suspense, with the ring of authenticity, no doubt thanks to Mackintosh's own 12 years as a police officer. This is an emotional roller coaster of a book. (Sensitive themes ahead, so mind your triggers.)
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Colson Whitehead brings Jim Crow-era Florida to life through the real story of a reform school in Tallahassee that claimed to rehabilitate delinquent boys and instead abused and terrorized them for over one hundred years. Elwood Curtis is bound for a local black college when an innocent mistake lands him at The Nickel Academy instead. Elwood finds comfort in Dr. Martin Luther King's words and holds to his ideals, whereas his friend Turner believes the world is crooked so you have to scheme to survive. All this leads to a decision with harrowing repercussions for their respective fates.
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From the publisher: "The stories in Five-Carat Soul—none of them ever published before—spring from the place where identity, humanity, and history converge. They’re funny and poignant, insightful and unpredictable, imaginative and authentic—all told with McBride’s unrivaled storytelling skill and meticulous eye for character and detail. McBride explores the ways we learn from the world and the people around us. An antiques dealer discovers that a legendary toy commissioned by Civil War General Robert E. Lee now sits in the home of a black minister in Queens. Five strangers find themselves thrown together and face unexpected judgment. An American president draws inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable. And members of The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band recount stories from their own messy and hilarious lives."
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One of the most recommended books on the What Should I Read Next podcast, this novel-in-stories tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. Chatting with the author for the MMD Book Club only heightened my appreciation for the story.
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From the publisher: "One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story... Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human."
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O magazine calls this "A dazzling debut novel." From the publisher, accolades include: NATIONAL BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Wall Street Journal • BookPage • Kirkus Reviews • Booklist • School Library Journal • NAMED A FAVORITE READ BY GILLIAN FLYNN • WINNER OF THE ALEX AWARD (The Alex Award winners are books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.) In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.
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From the publisher: "The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, 'each the other's world entire,' are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation."
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