Most of the time people who are part of book clubs just show up with a list of the books they need to read and I try to find them all. But sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I get to suggest some of my favourite books to them as possible picks for upcoming months. Here are a few that I already recommend, or look forward to recommending to people in the future.
They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson – This book won the RBC Taylor Prize in 2015, which is pretty awesome since the author is only the third woman to ever win, and the first woman to win in the last 10 years. This book is about caring for aging parents, learning about their past, and coming to terms with the death of loved ones. It’s a treat for Oakville book clubs because people who grew up here know all the streets and local landmarks, but it’s also a great read for anyone who may be dealing with older adults in their families who they are struggling to connect with.
Synopsis: After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents — first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother — author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated, extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – I cannot recommend this book enough. Although it’s a book about science, it reads like a mystery as this reporter digs into the story behind the cancer cells that have been responsible for nearly every medical breakthrough since the ’50s. The book even comes with book club discussion questions.
Synopsis: Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum – I don’t think many people will like the main character in this book, but she will definitely get people talking. I read this for work and the amount of discussion that it generated was huge. People had such strong feelings, either love or hate, but in the end it made for one of the best conference calls I’ve ever been on.
Synopsis: Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.
But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.
Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy – One of my colleges described this book as “if Stephen King was writing for Breaking Bad” and now that I have actually watched Breaking Bad I can totally see the comparison. This would be great for a book club looking to diversify their picks because it isn’t a normal book. It’s a mix of family drama and detective mystery, wrapped in a coming of age story.
Synopsis: Jacob McNeely’s father runs a methodically organized meth ring, while local authorities turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town. Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when a fatal mistake changes everything, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves.
The Widow by Fiona Barton – This book isn’t even out in stores yet, but I know I’m going to end up recommending it to everyone who comes in looking for the next Girl on the Train. I was constantly second guessing my assumptions of who was guilty and who wasn’t. I both loved and hated many of the characters. It is a book that would definitely spark some conversation in a book club.
Synopsis: There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. But now that her husband is dead, there’s no reason to stay quiet. The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…
Do you like 5 Books Friday? If you want to participate, here’s a list of the upcoming topics that I’ll be writing about! Leave a link to your post in the comments, and if enough people join I can make this a real linkup!