Posts Tagged ‘Bildungsromans’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Keith H’s Picks

December 31, 2014

They say too many books will spoil the broth, but they fill my life with so much, so much love.  I read primarily science fiction and fantasy, with a dose of comics and science fiction/fantasy for kids and teens.  I’m pretty well rounded.  These are my favorite science fiction and fantasy books that were new to me this year.

MMistbornistborn: the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Vin is a street urchin who gets wrapped up with a gang attempting to overthrow the imperial Lord Ruler. She lives in a world  divided into  commoners and  allomancers, who are sorcerers able to ingest certain metals to give them a specific power.” Coinshots” can use steel to propel metal through space. “Tineyes” use tin to enhance their senses. “Thugs” use pewter to enhance their strength. Most allomancers can only use a single metal but the most feared are Mistborn, who can use the powers of all metals. Sanderson’s writing became increasingly well-known after he was selected to finish Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. I prefer Sanderson’s own works, which are still epic fantasy with thorough world-building, but considerably less sprawling. (Trilogies instead of 10+ book epics)  Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book of the Mistborn trilogy.

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
After Yeine Darr’s mother dies, she is called to the imperial city by her grandfather, the emperor. Her upbringing as a barbarian leaves her outcast in imperial society. She soon finds that she has been chosen to compete for the throne against two cousins who are immeasurably more well-versed in magic and backstabbing than her. To top it off, gods made incarnate are also meddling with the competition. I read this initially because it was compared to Octavia Butler, but Jemison creates her own unique universe in this innovative work. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in “The Inheritance” trilogy.

The Knife of Never Letting GoKnife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Todd lives on a planet recently settled by humans. Unfortunately, a native virus has killed all of the women and given men the curse of “Noise”, constantly hearing each other’s thoughts. Todd learns a secret which causes him to flee their settlement with his dog, Manchee. Todd can also hear his dog’s thoughts. Manchee’s dog voice has replaced the voice of Dug, the dog from “Up”, in my imagination of what dogs sound like while speaking English . This story is told in a dialect that takes some initial getting used to, but becomes second nature quickly. This brutal, face paced story was published as a teen book but due to some disturbing themes, I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 15.

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A historical fiction, immigration story with a fantastic twist: the immigrants are magical beings. Chava is a Golem, a lifelike woman made of clay by an outcast rabbi who practices Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a Jinni, a fire spirit born in the deserts of Syria, recently released from being trapped inside a copper flask. They meet while trying to find their places in the chaos of late 1800s New York City. The details of Jewish and Arab mythology and culture are well-researched and intriguing. Watching Chava and Ahamad become friends and soul mates was a pleasure straight to the end.

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
A seemingly unreliable narrator describes her life as the daughter of an evil fairy. After fleeing to her father’s home, Morwenna is promptly sent away to a boarding school in the English countryside. As an avid reader, she finds solace by joining a science fiction book club at the local library. Any speculative fiction fan will enjoy the club’s discussions of the great authors of SF:  LeGuin, Delaney, Heinlein, Asimov, et al. This book is like a love letter to SF combined with an awesome to-read bibliography.  Among Others was the winner of the 2012 Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novel.  Read another review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 23, 2014

These five books were the ones that stuck in my mind during 2014. They reveal truths about our shared humanity while introducing readers to new places and new forms of style. Take a moment to try these out; they are well worth your time.

Claire of the Sea LightClaire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
On the night of Claire Limyè Lanmè’s seventh birthday, she disappears. Motherless, her fisherman father Nozias has decided to give Claire away to Madame Gaëlle, a shopkeeper who lost her daughter in an accident years earlier, to ensure Claire greater opportunities. As the members of the seaside Haitian town of Ville Rose, search for her, their interconnected stories, secrets, and losses emerge. Danticat creates vivid characters and her writing captures the beauty and sorrow of daily life.

The CommitmentsThe Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Put together a group of Dublin working class misfits with the soul sounds of the 1960s and you have Roddy Doyle’s punchy and charming novel about the joys of rock and roll. The book follows the escapades of the band as they combat over practice, get through their first gig, cut their first single and run into inevitable creative differences. Doyle’s free-flowing bawdy dialogue is exhilarating. So, if you are looking for some fun, introduce yourself to the Hardest Working Soul Band in Dublin: The Commitments.

My Struggle Book OneMy Struggle Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Karl Ove Knausgaard blurs the lines between fiction and memoir in the first volume of his novelistic autobiography. The book begins with a meditation on death and then proceeds to explore Knausgaard’s childhood and fraught relationship with his troubled father. This expansion and contraction of universal ideas and the minute details of Knausgaard’s life creates a fascinating tension between the author and the reader. Knausgaard lays his life out on the table with unflinching directness for the reader to examine. My Struggle is probably not for every reader, but it is something strange and new.

AusterlitzAusterlitz by W. G. Sebald
Traveling across Europe, the unnamed narrator meets and befriends Jacques Austerlitz an architectural historian. As their relationship develops, he gradually learns of Austerlitz’s search for his lost history. As a small child, Austerlitz’s mother placed him a Kindertransport to Britain where an aged Welsh couple adopted him and gave him a new identity. After learning of his birth family after their deaths, Austerlitz begins to discover his past and how the Holocaust severed his past life from his present. Uncanny, hypnotic, and dreamlike, Austerlitz conveys the incompleteness of memories with their ragged and hazy qualities, while capturing the devastation of the Holocaust.

The Patrick Melrose NovelsThe Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Edward St. Aubyn pillories the excesses and absurdities of the British upper class with elegant prose and vicious wit in this cycle of four novels. He begins with Patrick’s childhood relationships to his sadistic father and neglectful mother, and following him into a ravenous drug addiction, recovery, marriage and fatherhood. His character eventually reaches a form of uneasy redemption. Patrick and the world he inhabits aren’t likable, but there’s a level of truth to St. Aubyn’s storytelling, as Patrick struggles to place himself beyond his lifelong demons. Despite some of their grim subject matter, the novels are deeply, darkly funny.

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Ruth F’s Picks

December 19, 2014

I am a children’s librarian in Holly Springs. Next year, I will celebrate my 40th birthday and will most likely be fitted for my first pair of bifocals. Here are five books, some written by my contemporaries and others about middle age, that I recommend for those of you still able to read small print in dim lighting.

Life After DeathLife After Death by Damien Echols
Author Damien Echols was born just a few months before me and he would have graduated high school the same year I did — had he been born into the same world of middle class privilege that I was. Instead, he spent the first 18 years of his life in and economically depressed Arkansas hamlet. As teenagers, when I was fretting over my SAT scores, he was fretting over the verdict of his capital murder trial.  When I went off to college, he went off to Death Row. Then, after spending his first 18 years of adulthood in prison, Echols and two others incarcerated in connection with the same crime were released when DNA evidence was tested and deemed exculpatory. Shortly after, he landed a deal to publish a memoir based on the journals he kept in prison. I challenge any member of Generation X to read Echols’ story without noticing similar parallels between his life and ours.

Good in a CrisisGood in a Crisis by Margaret Overton
Sometimes, the best books are the ones you most love to hate. When life handed baby boomer Margaret Overton lemons in mid-life, she tried to make lemonade by writing a memoir. But it came out a little tart. I cringed at every supposedly funny story in this memoir about the author’s Internet dating escapades. And yet, I compulsively turned page after page because it is so easy to identify with Overton. For every good choice I have made that she did not, I feel relief that her train wreck of a life can’t possibly be what’s in store for me. And for every stroke of bad luck she endured, I feel a humbling sense that it probably is.

Lean InLean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Women like me, on the precipice of converting their households from DINK (double income, no kids) to what New York Times Columnist Pamela Druckerman famously called DITT (double income, toddler twins), will find this book fascinating. The rest of you might not be too interested in how author Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wishes she had done more to secure reserved parking for expectant mothers at her company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. But you should read this book anyway. If you can overlook the usual gripes about late meetings and early carpools, there is a universal message about setting the terms of personal success and a refreshing new definition of what it means to be a feminist.

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is a fiction story of twin sisters on the brink of 40. They share a psychic connection, but occupy separate sides of the Mommy divide. I’m not sure anybody will see themselves in either sister, but author Curtis Sittenfeld nailed the subtext and sanctimony between the childfree and the parents. The stay-at-home mother in the story, Kate, is affluent and secure. Mothering has given her lots of responsibility and purpose, but very little satisfaction. She is the very definition of a desperate housewife. Her childless sister, Violet, lives on the edge. By that I mean she is reckless, frivolous and completely unmoored. As the sisters decide whether to embrace the DNA that makes them the same or the choices that set them apart, their psychic prediction comes true in a way neither could have expected. Read another review.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Who among us has not aspired to write the Great American Novel or regretted reaching middle age without having done so? Mark Zusak, that’s who. His 40th birthday is six months from now and his literary masterpiece is 10 years old. The Book Thief has earned a slew of awards, dominated best-seller lists, been canonized on high school required reading lists and been adapted for a movie. But a technicality prevents it from being called my generation’s Great American Novel: the author is Australian and the setting is Nazi Germany. It seems counter intuitive for a book about genocide in World War II Europe to also be about a post-racial American ideal. But Zusak makes it work. In this war story, humanity trumps race or creed. Young or old, Jew or Gentile, German or not, everybody faces a common enemy in the villainous narrator: Death.  Read another review.

The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

August 18, 2014

The Razor's EdgeThe Razor’s Edge (1944) is one of those classic books I never read. All I knew was that Bill Murray was roasted for his role as young Larry in the 1984 film. (Turns out there was a 1946 version , too, with Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Anne Baxter, and Elsa Lanchester.) The title alone, from the book’s epigraph, is more perplexing than beguiling.

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over
Thus the wise say the past to Salvation is hard.

W. Somerset Maugham was one of the most popular writers of the day. He had commercial success with his novels, short stories, plays and films, and his masterpiece Of Human Bondage had been published in 1915. He had served in World War I as one of the British “Literary Ambulance Drivers”, and then as a spy. This experience supplied some background for his character Larry, a young man who had been a WWI aviator. When Larry returns to Chicago from the Great War, he is congenial enough, yet somewhat aimless. “I don’t know my purpose yet,” he replies to inquiries about his prospects. When offered a job as a broker in Chicago, however, he declines. His fiancé Isabel tells him “A man must work, Larry. It’s a matter of self-respect.” But Larry decides to go to Paris: “I think there I may be able to see my way before me.”

The Razor’s Edge was one of the first popular American novels to explore Eastern cultures, following the Transcendalists, and followed by the Beats in the 1950s. Maugham had visited an ashram in India, and talked with a well-known Hindu guru there. Larry tramps around Europe and India and absorbs much from fellow travelers and gurus, from the meaning of success, to the question of evil, to reincarnation, to the infinite.

If you have been asked, “What’s the use of knowledge if you’re not going to do anything with it?”, or can identify with the response, “Can anything in the world be more practical than to learn how to live to best advantage?”, read The Razor’s Edge.

If you like this book, you may also enjoy Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, or Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


Best New Books of 2013: Kate H’s Picks

December 6, 2013

Recently, I have enjoyed reading a lot of modern classics and historical fiction. I love to find new reads by browsing award winner lists, especially when I’m trying to find a good non-fiction or science fiction book.
My picks for 2013 are all novels which share themes of change, growth, and renewal, which is fitting during this wonderful transformative time of year!

Harvest by Jim Crace
Set in an ambiguous time period of British history, Harvest documents the decline of a rural town in the countryside struggling against the encroaching presence of industrialism. The close knit, close-to-being-inbred members of this community are forced to accept and eventually become displaced by the changes coming to pass around them. Their reaction to newcomers demonstrates a deep distrust of intrusion into their insular existence. Through his narrator, Walter Thirsk, Crace remains tender toward the members of this community, whilst also hinting at the dangers of a closed (literally and figuratively), society. A novel of many layers, Harvest is Jim Crace at his best.

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
Probably my favorite book of 2013, The Death of Bees is O’Donnell’s stunning debut in fiction. Set in Glasgow, Scotland, the story follows the lives of sisters Marnie and Nelly who, after discovering their parent’s dead bodies, decide not to report the deaths and instead, bury the bodies in the back yard. The characters of Marnie, Nelly, and their elderly neighbor Lennie who becomes their friend and guardian, are portrayed vividly; and their relationships feel real and touching. Wildly entertaining but also emotional and affecting, I highly recommend this novel which I raced through in a day.

Snapper by Brian Kimberling
Snapper is set in rural Indiana and follows the twists and turns of Nathan Lochmueller’s life. Reading as a series of short stories, or vignettes almost, each chapter portrays an event in Lochmueller’s life which has a lasting impact on future events. They eventually tie together as a bildungsroman of sorts, as Lochmueller comes to accept the past and embrace the present. A very relatable story, Snapper also taught me a lot about bird watching and Indiana, while remaining breezy and funny throughout.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
A novel about growing up, death, and faith, Ordinary Grace documents one summer in a Minnesota town in 1961. Hit with the death of his older teenage sister, thirteen year old Frank is thrust into an adult world of secrets, lies, and betrayal. Ordinary Grace is mysterious and ominous; never fully revealing itself to the reader and refusing to answer so many questions. The characters each portray the various meanings of what it is to have faith, and leaves us questioning its presence and power in our own lives.

The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock
Combining mysticism with pure realism, Peter Rock explores an unusual part of America’s religious history. The Shelter Cycle tells the story of two children, Francine and Colville, who grew up in the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religion that predicted the world could end in the late 1980s. This book is haunting in its rendering of individuals raised in a cult and how they grow up in their own ways thereafter. A blend of fact and fiction, The Shelter Cycle provokes us into thinking about the nature of religion and family, spirituality and upbringing: how does one inform the other? How can we know what is credible and what isn’t? An unpredictable and beautifully written book.

The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo

April 25, 2012

I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember and that means I read between 52-156 books a year depending on my level of busy-ness. First, I inhaled all the childhood favorites like the Little House, Black Stallion, and Trixie Belden series. Then I consumed the classics- my world view was forever shaped by Jane Eyre and 1984. In my early 20s my new obsession was the Catherine Cookson’s Mallen series and all the English royalty historical fiction. In my 30s and early 40s I loved the comfort, familiarity, and predictably of serial mysteries; I loved series with female protagonists as I felt like I was meeting an old friend with each book, I loved books set in places I had lived or traveled as I could walk familiar paths, I could relate to the homey mysteries as they made housekeeping and child care interesting- nothing like finding a dead body to bring spice into your life! But throughout all the periods I have liked general fiction and fantasies that gave me a window into new and different worlds- I loved being challenged with mind-opening ideas, being an armchair traveler, and having the opportunity to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”

As I approach 50, I have hit a reading rut-  it feels like “What has been is what will be,and has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ). I still read as much as ever, but I find myself frustrated with the “same ol’ same ol.” Everything feels derivative, like there is nothing new or fresh:

“If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss
The second burden of a former child.” (Shakespeare’s Sonnet 59)

But then I started Talk-Funny Girl by Ronald Merullo; it could be described as a coming-of-age story with slight hints of Ellen Foster, but the setting, rural New England, was fresh for me. Talk-Funny Girl brought  shades of Stephen King’s worlds of darkness and oddity but with incredible resilience bred from isolation and independence. Merullo uses a dialect that is completely brand new to me- one that is intriguing and unusual- and brings his story to life with imagery that puts me in a new and different place. Merullo’s protagonist, Marjorie, tells her story from her future so I had confidence that she survived her horrific home life, but the pacing and suspense of the story kept me on the edge of my seat and made me worry that she was an unreliable narrator. The story was also intriguing in its examination of Marjorie’s parents’  twisted backwoods’ religion with the hint of a murder mystery thrown in; Talk-Funny Girl felt like a realistic window into how poisoned a soul can become by extreme poverty and lack of education.

I was so happy to stumble upon this book and am thrilled to recommend it to my peers who are becoming as jaded as I!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

January 28, 2010

Other books by David Mitchell are uber weird, and you should read them if you’re into all things postmodern and metanarrative-y and unusual, and you should especially read Cloud Atlas if you are a music dork like my friend Bob.

But this novel completely defied my expectations–it’s a straightforward narrative about a 13-year-old boy with a stammer living in a teensy town in Thatcher-era England, and semi-autobiographical to boot. It takes place over the course of 1 year + 1 month (1982/3), with a chapter for every month, and 1 significant episode for every chapter.

Jayson Taylor is the protagonist, and in addition to his mortifying stammer he has a pair of lucky red underpants, an older sister who despises him (at first), parents with a dissolving marriage, and an unfortunately sensitive and intelligent brain that compels him to secretly write and publish poetry under the pseudonym Eliot Bolivar.  He’s precocious, but not overly so, and has a lovely way of describing everything, including stammerers: “they go trembly-red like an evenly matched arm wrestler, and their mouth guppergupperguppers like a fish in a net. It must be quite a funny sight.”

So on paper this resembles a standard nerdboy bildungsroman, however David Mitchell is much too talented to turn out something so humdrum.  Some reviewers have compared this to Catcher in the Rye (but not cynical) or Huck Finn (but in England, and not on a raft, and without the mysterious wooden leg…).

Honestly you could easily compare this to any brilliantly written coming-of-age novel.  Yet, it’s very much the work of Mitchell: he’s obsessed with using chapters as a means of organizing his ideas, though often with outlandish results. In this case, it’s 13 months in 13 chapters for a 13-year-old, and each chapter functions as a short story with a definite beginning, middle, end, and overall conundrum.  And by the time you reach the last of the 13 short stories/chapters they’ve been woven together into a marvelous novel, which is Jason’s 13th year of life, and a huge turning point for him.  That Mitchell pulls this off without being annoyingly pat or obvious or contrived is why I will continue to recommend and read his books.

And by the bye, years ago I read this with a book club that I used to lead, all of whom were suspicious of my selection (for some reason): well, they universally loved it, and were determined to recommend it to both friends and children and grandchildren.

You will like it.

%d bloggers like this: