Each month, the Columbia Public Library offers selections from its collection related to a current bestseller or hot topic. Director of Adult and Community Services Lauren Williams has compiled this month’s picks.
If you could trade two dollars and a bit of DNA to know your life’s true potential, would you?
This year’s community reading selection, “The Price of the Great Door” by MO Walsh (Putnam, 2020), explores this question and more. This quirky and charming novel about small town life, relationships and the power of dreams narrowly beats the exuberant work of historical fiction “Deacon King Kong” by James McBride (Riverhead Books, 2020).
Ahead of the public vote on the One Read 2022 title, a panel of community members reviewed a diverse list of finalist books, from works of historical fiction to books exploring a range of marginalized identities.
Magnificent meditation on love, grief and fate, the novel “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 2020) tells the moving story of the death of William Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son and the years leading up to the production of the tragedy Hamlet, largely through the watchful eyes of his wife Agnes.
“The Indigo Girl” by Natasha Boyd (Blackstone, 2017) also fictionalizes the life of a real historical figure, this time in 18th century South Carolina. Teenage Eliza Lucas, defying the expectations of her age and gender, leads her family’s plantations and finds she could lose everything. Refusing the prison of marriage, she further flouts social norms (and laws), making a risky pact with a slave: teach Eliza the secret steps to making indigo dye, the production of which she believes will save her family from ruin herself, and she teach slaves to read.
From a historical perspective on class and race, we move to a contemporary look at race and privilege in “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid (Putnam, 2019). Emira is a young black babysitter for an upper-class white family. In a racially charged incident, she is accused of kidnapping when she takes the toddler to an upscale market. Her well-meaning but ignorant employer and her white boyfriend try to counsel her in various ways on how to handle the incident, as well as her career and future, while Emira struggles to define her own path.
Black and gay Introverted biochemistry student Wallace faces a similar struggle in “Real Life” by Brandon Taylor (Riverhead Books, 2020). This intensely introspective novel is set over a single turbulent weekend at a Midwestern college where Wallace, the only person of color in his group of friends, is engulfed in loss and loneliness after the death of his father. and the ruin of months of research and data. Even unexpected amorous sexual encounters, tinged with violence, do not perforate his loneliness; and Wallace contemplates his place in this graduate program, this community, this life.
“Homeland Elegies” by Ayad Akhtar (Doubleday, 2020) blends fiction, essays and memoirs as central character Akhtar, a scholar and child of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, ponders his place and identity in a post-9/11 America. His father, initially an ardent supporter of Trump and America; his mother, nostalgic for Pakistan and critical of American materialism; and Akhtar himself all wonder if they will ever really feel at home.
Rather than prejudice based on race and religion, Judith Heumann fights against discrimination based on physical disability. In his captivating autobiography, “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” (Beacon Press, 2019)Heumann describes her fight for education, employment, and social inclusion, as well as her role as an advisor to the Carter administration to help create the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The main characters of “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf, 2020) struggle in different ways to define their places and identities. The novel is a beautifully constructed tragedy in which Vincent, a somewhat aimless bartender, enters the “realm of money” after becoming the would-be trophy wife of an older financier. Lyrical and atmospheric, this novel about personal moral compromises and a collapsing Ponzi scheme that ruins a number of lives and intertwined fortunes, highlights the startling unintended consequences that can result from reckless actions.
We’ll end with a warm hug from a book and a delightful fantasy: “The House in the Azure Sea” by TJ Klune (Tor, 2020). Solitaire Linus Baker is a social worker in the Department of Magical Youth, responsible for inspecting orphanages housing these children. His latest highly classified mission takes him to the orphanage on the island of Marsyas, where six dangerous children reside, including a gnome, a pixie, and the supposed son of Satan. A charming fantasy about the chosen family and the celebration of differences.
Join the One Read Library and Task Force in September as we explore the topics and themes – including our own identities and potentials – in “The Big Door Prize” through art, music, discussion, movies and more. Visit www.oneread.org later this summer for more details.