A Bookseller Recommends - Elese - Favorite Book Club Reads

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I'm in a book club with some thoughtful, talented & interesting people, and we've read some truly excellent books. Here are my personal favorites from 10 years of book club reading. I think you'll like them, too. --Elese

The Bell Cover Image
By Iris Murdoch, A. S. Byatt (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780141186696
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Classics - December 1st, 2001

Absolutely exquisite writing. This is a book where the intricacies of the plot have faded away but certain scenes are forever imprinted on my memory. Who would have guessed a book about a convent receiving a new bell could be so engaging?

The Left Hand of Darkness: 50th Anniversary Edition Cover Image
By Ursula K. Le Guin, David Mitchell (Foreword by), Charlie Jane Anders (Afterword by)
ISBN: 9780441007318
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ace - July 1st, 2000

Before reading this Ursula Le Guin novel, I might have been as ill-informed as to tell you that I didn't much care for sci-fi. How wrong I was. The politics and cultural anthropology Le Guin imbues into this story of an ambassador's journey completely blew my mind.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555975272
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - May 26th, 2009

The story of a young man named I Am Not Sidney Poitier is about as absurdist as it sounds. Different chapters loosely draw on the plots of Sidney Poitier dinner - the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner chapter is divine - and somehow Ted Turner appears as a major character. Percival Everett is a genius and deserves to be much more widely read. Here's a great place to start.

HHhH: A Novel Cover Image
By Laurent Binet, Sam Taylor (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781250033345
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days, supply chain issues may affect these times
Published: Picador - July 23rd, 2013

HHhH - the title is derived from a German phrase that translates to "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich" - is on its face about the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, but it's also a novel about the process of writing a historical novel about the assassination of Heydrich. And somehow it's still a page-turning thriller. Translated from French. Truly spectacular.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) Cover Image
By Shirley Jackson, Jonathan Lethem (Afterword by), Thomas Ott (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780143039976
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Classics - October 31st, 2006

A wholly unsettling literary masterpiece.

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802124944
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days, supply chain issues may affect these times
Published: Grove Press - April 12th, 2016

The Sympathizer begins with a harrowing scene on an airport tarmac during the Fall of Saigon and doesn't let up from there. With almost episodic writing, this is both spy thriller and literary political commentary as we follow the story a young man from Vietnam to Southern California and back again. Even better, there's a sequel (The Committed) due out in March.

The City & The City: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345497529
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Del Rey - April 27th, 2010

I think this is officially categorized as "weird fiction" - part police procedural, part fantasy, all great.

Memoirs of Hadrian (FSG Classics) Cover Image
By Marguerite Yourcenar, Grace Frick (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780374529260
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - May 18th, 2005

Written as a letter to Hadrian's successor Marcus Aurelius, Yourcenar captures with incredible, authentic depth the likely thoughts and experiences of a 2nd century emperor's life - a time when the Roman gods were waning but before Christianity was widely established. Is it a novel? A biography? With writing this gorgeous, does it matter? (*Don't miss the author's Reflections on Composition at the end of the book!)

Sea of Poppies: A Novel (The Ibis Trilogy #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312428594
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - September 29th, 2009

For lovers of words, etymology, factoids, and asides. Set prior to the First Opium War in various locales across Asia and the Indian Ocean, this is an epic historical saga. I've read most of Ghosh's backlist and have enjoyed every one, but this might be my favorite.

Excellent Women Cover Image
By Barbara Pym, A. N. Wilson (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780143104872
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Classics - December 26th, 2006

Our book club does gravitate to some lesser-known classics, and here is another great one. This story of a 30-year-old "spinster" filling her days with church work and other "women's" labors in post-WWII London is hilarious is full of sly British wit and social commentary.

The Hearing Trumpet Cover Image
By Leonora Carrington, Olga Tokarczuk (Afterword by)
ISBN: 9781681374642
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: NYRB Classics - January 5th, 2021

Our book club has enjoyed several novels featuring the adventures of unusual older ladies (see also Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead) but possibly none quite as eccentric as this fantastic Leonara Carrington novel. We were delighted to discover NYRB Classics was publishing a new edition with an introduction by none other than Olga Tokarczuk! A surrealist tale of murder and, let's just say, bizarre happenings at an institution for the elderly.

Deacon King Kong: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735216730
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - February 2nd, 2021

Met with universal acclaim by my fellow bookclubbers, this hilarious romp of a novel that is full of more heart & humanity than most things I read showcases a writer at the top of his game.

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679728894
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - June 16th, 1990

Gorgeous, otherwordly, beautiful. Nature writing isn't usually my thing, but the way Cather describes the desert! I felt this one in my bones.

Troubles (Empire Trilogy) Cover Image
By J.G. Farrell, John Banville (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590170182
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days, supply chain issues may affect these times
Published: NYRB Classics - October 31st, 2002

An outlandishly decaying hotel full of stray cats might be considered the true main character of this novel. There's the Irish War of Independence, there's the antics of the hotel's stalwart guests, there's pigs on the squash courts, but the cats!