Books to Know -Top 10 List – September 2014
1. Little Failure: A Memoir
By Gary Shteyngart, January 2014
New York Times Bestseller
After three acclaimed novels, Gary Shteyngart turns to memoir in a candid, witty, deeply poignant account of his life so far. Shteyngart shares his American immigrant experience, moving back and forth through time and memory with self-deprecating humor, moving insights, and literary bravado. The result is a resonant story of family and belonging that feels epic and intimate and distinctly his own.
Born Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad during the twilight of the Soviet Union, the curious, diminutive, asthmatic boy grew up with a persistent sense of yearning—for food, for acceptance, for words—desires that would follow him into adulthood. At five, Igor wrote his first novel, Lenin and His Magical Goose, and his grandmother paid him a slice of cheese for every page.
In the late 1970s, world events changed Igor’s life. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev made a deal: exchange grain for the safe passage of Soviet Jews to America—a country Igor viewed as the enemy. Along the way, Igor became Gary so that he would suffer one or two fewer beatings from other kids. Coming to the United States from the Soviet Union was equivalent to stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of pure Technicolor.
Shteyngart’s loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer or at least a “conscientious toiler” on Wall Street, something their distracted son was simply not cut out to do. Fusing English and Russian, his mother created the term Failurchka—Little Failure—which she applied to her son. With love. Mostly.
As a result, Shteyngart operated on a theory that he would fail at everything he tried. At being a writer, at being a boyfriend, and, most important, at being a worthwhile human being.
Swinging between a Soviet home life and American aspirations, Shteyngart found himself living in two contradictory worlds, all the while wishing that he could find a real home in one. And somebody to love him. And somebody to lend him sixty-nine cents for a McDonald’s hamburger.
Provocative, hilarious, and inventive, Little Failure reveals a deeper vein of emotion in Gary Shteyngart’s prose. It is a memoir of an immigrant family coming to America, as told by a lifelong misfit who forged from his imagination an essential literary voice and, against all odds, a place in the world.
2.Everybody’s Got Something
By Robin Roberts and Veronica Chambers, April 2014
“Regardless of how much money you have, your race, where you live, what religion you follow, you are going through something. Or you already have or you will. As momma always said, “Everybody’s got something.”
So begins beloved Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts’s new memoir in which she recounts the incredible journey that’s been her life so far, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. With grace, heart, and humor, she writes about overcoming breast cancer only to learn five years later that she will need a bone marrow transplant to combat a rare blood disorder, the grief and heartbreak she suffered when her mother passed away, her triumphant return to GMA after her medical leave, and the tremendous support and love of her family and friends that saw her through her difficult times.
Following her mother’s advice to “make your mess your message,” Robin taught a nation of viewers that while it is true that we’ve all got something — a medical crisis to face, aging parents to care for, heartbreak in all its many forms — we’ve also all got something to give: hope, encouragement, a life-saving transplant or a spirit-saving embrace. As Robin has learned, and what readers of her remarkable story will come to believe as well, it’s all about faith, family and friends. And finding out that you are stronger, much stronger, than you think.
3. Audition: A Memoir
By Barbara Walters, May 2009
Barbara Walters, arguably the most important woman in the history of television, has had an amazingly full life. In the bestselling Audition, she describes her extraordinary public and private journey.
By Adam Begley, April 2014
Updike is Adam Begley’s masterful, much-anticipated biography of one of the most celebrated figures in American literature: Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike—a candid, intimate, and richly detailed look at his life and work.
In this magisterial biography, Adam Begley offers an illuminating portrait of John Updike, the acclaimed novelist, poet, short-story writer, and critic who saw himself as a literary spy in small-town and suburban America, who dedicated himself to the task of transcribing “middleness with all its grits, bumps and anonymities.”
Updike explores the stages of the writer’s pilgrim’s progress: his beloved home turf of Berks County, Pennsylvania; his escape to Harvard; his brief, busy working life as the golden boy at The New Yorker; his family years in suburban Ipswich, Massachusetts; his extensive travel abroad; and his retreat to another Massachusetts town, Beverly Farms, where he remained until his death in 2009. Drawing from in-depth research as well as interviews with the writer’s colleagues, friends, and family, Begley explores how Updike’s fiction was shaped by his tumultuous personal life—including his enduring religious faith, his two marriages, and his first-hand experience of the “adulterous society” he was credited with exposing in the bestselling Couples.
With a sharp critical sensibility that lends depth and originality to his analysis, Begley probes Updike’s best-loved works—from Pigeon Feathers to The Witches of Eastwick to the Rabbit tetralogy—and reveals a surprising and deeply complex character fraught with contradictions: a kind man with a vicious wit, a gregarious charmer who was ruthlessly competitive, a private person compelled to spill his secrets on the printed page. Updike offers an admiring yet balanced look at this national treasure, a master whose writing continues to resonate like no one else’s.
By Phil Klay, March 2014
Phil Klay’s Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos.
In “Redeployment”, a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people “who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died.” In “After Action Report”, a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn’t commit, in order that his best friend will be unburdened. A Morturary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains—of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both. A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel. And in the darkly comic “Money as a Weapons System”, a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier’s daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.
Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing. Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss. Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation.
6. America: Imagine a World without Her
By Dinesh d’Souza, June 2014
#1 New York Times Bestseller
Is America a source of pride, as Americans have long held, or shame, as Progressives allege? Beneath an innocent exterior, are our lives complicit in a national project of theft, expropriation, oppression, and murder, or is America still the hope of the world?
Dinesh D’Souza says these questions are no mere academic exercise. It is the Progressive view that is taught in our schools, that is preached by Hollywood, and that shapes the policies of the Obama administration. If America is a force for inequality and injustice in the world, its power deserves to be diminished; if traditional America is based on oppression and theft, then traditional America must be reformed and the federal government can do the reforming.
In America: Imagine a World without Her D’Souza offers a passionate and sharply reasoned defense of America, knocking down every important accusation made by Progressives against our country.
Provocative in its analysis, stunning in its conclusions, Dinesh D’Souza’s America will be the most talked about book of the year.
7. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A Novel
By Haruki Murakami, Translator Philip Gabriel, August 2014
A New York Times #1 Bestseller
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel—a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan—from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.
Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.
8. Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War
By Helen Thorpe, August 2014
From an award-winning, “meticulously observant” (The New Yorker), and “masterful” (Booklist) writer comes a groundbreaking account of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and how their military service affected their friendship, their personal lives, and their families.
America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter political debate, of course, but what is uncontestable is that a sizeable percentage of American soldiers sent overseas in this era have been women. The experience in the American military is, it’s safe to say, quite different from that of men. Surrounded and far outnumbered by men, imbedded in a male culture, looked upon as both alien and desirable, women have experiences of special interest.
In Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of three women over twelve years on their paths to the military, overseas to combat, and back home…and then overseas again for two of them. These women, who are quite different in every way, become friends, and we watch their interaction and also what happens when they are separated. We see their families, their lovers, their spouses, their children. We see them work extremely hard, deal with the attentions of men on base and in war zones, and struggle to stay connected to their families back home. We see some of them drink too much, have illicit affairs, and react to the deaths of fellow soldiers. And we see what happens to one of them when the truck she is driving hits an explosive in the road, blowing it up. She survives, but her life may never be the same again.
Deeply reported, beautifully written, and powerfully moving, Soldier Girls is truly groundbreaking.
9. Enrique’s Journey
By, Sonia Nazario, January 2007
An astonishing story that puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States, now updated with a new Epilogue and Afterword, photos of Enrique and his family, an author interview, and more—the definitive edition of a classic of contemporary America.
Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for feature writing and another for feature photography, this page-turner about the power of family is a popular text in classrooms and a touchstone for communities across the country to engage in meaningful discussions about this essential American subject.
Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers. As Isabel Allende writes: “This is a twenty-first-century Odyssey. If you are going to read only one nonfiction book this year, it has to be this one.”
“Magnificent . . . Enrique’s Journey is about love. It’s about family. It’s about home.”—The Washington Post Book World
“[A] searing report from the immigration frontlines . . . as harrowing as it is heartbreaking.”—People (four stars)
“Stunning . . . As an adventure narrative alone, Enrique’s Journey is a worthy read. . . . Nazario’s impressive piece of reporting [turns]the current immigration controversy from a political story into a personal one.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Gripping and harrowing . . . a story begging to be told.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“[A] prodigious feat of reporting . . . [Sonia Nazario is] amazingly thorough and intrepid.”—Newsday
10. Wild: From Lost to Found in the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed, March 2013
#1 National Bestseller
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.One of the Best
Books of the Year: NPR, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, St. Louis Dispatch