When it comes to books, so much captures my interests that I have a hard time deciding how to spend my limited recreational reading hours. So my number-one source for recommendations is my unusual and amazing book group, which includes published authors, editors, a literary agent, a librarian, and two counselors. We’ve meeting for more than ten years, and I respect their opinions above most. Most of what I read comes from their diverse recommendations.
Quiet by Susan Cain
Publication Date: January 24, 2012
What it’s about:
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quietshows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.
Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts–from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a “pretend extrovert.”
This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
Erin’s Comments: Big surprise: I’m an introvert. This non-fiction title about “the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” was all the buzz a couple of years ago, and I’m interested how much of her research and insights overlap with my own individual experience. And maybe the part of me that’s always hungry for affirmation is looking for some warm fuzzies, too.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
What it’s about:
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?
Erin’s Comments: I was attracted to this novel for its crazy device, which I hear readers either love or hate: in this story of a woman’s life, she dies again and again. But in a revised telling of events, she lives because one small detail has changed. I’m expecting a tale about what might seem to be the seemingly haphazard and capricious nature of life. Or maybe not.
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bojhalian
Publication Date: July 9, 2013
What it’s about:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.
1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.
1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.
Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.
Erin’s Comments: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I have yet to read a Bojhalian book. It’s time. In this one, set in Italy in the 40s and 50s, an investigator tries to stop a serial killer who is targeting members of an old noble family. I like what I hear about his ability to tell exciting tales that showcase the complexity of human nature.
The Confessions of Frances Godwin by Robert Hellenga
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
What it’s about:
The Confessions of Frances Godwin is the fictional memoir of a retired high school Latin teacher looking back on a life of trying to do her best amidst transgressions–starting with her affair with Paul, whom she later marries. Now that Paul is dead and she’s retired, Frances Godwin thinks her story is over–but of course the rest of her life is full of surprises, including the truly shocking turn of events that occurs when she takes matters into her own hands after her daughter Stella’s husband grows increasingly abusive. And though she is not a particularly pious person, in the aftermath of her actions, God begins speaking to her. Theirs is a deliciously antagonistic relationship that will compel both believers and nonbelievers alike.
From a small town in the Midwest to the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome, The Confessions of Frances Godwin touches on the great questions of human existence: Is there something “out there” that takes an interest in us? Or is the universe ultimately indifferent?
Erin’s Comments: This is our club’s July pick, which we chose because, as we are in summertime, it was the most lighthearted but still intelligent of the titles up for a vote. Retired high school Latin teacher Frances describes herself as “a lapsed Catholic” who is trying to lead as sin-free a life as she can, with limited success. When her daughter’s husband becomes abusive, Frances’s life and faith take an unexpected turn.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
What it’s about:
This #1 New York Times best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.
Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?
Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).
With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.
Erin’s Comments: I’m suspicious of the title, which overpromises. But I’m also desperate, living among the clutter accumulated through twenty years of marriage, two children, and self-employment. So it will be really nice if it turns out she can change my life. Insofar as moving around in my house goes, anyway.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
What it’s about:
The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards—some strange and otherworldly—but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight—each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories.
Sometimes savage, sometimes mysterious, always intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade tells a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.
Erin’s Comments: I loved Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, though he is perhaps best known for The Remains of the Day. I want to read The Buried Giant on credentials alone. This one is a mythical fantasy set in a declining Briton. The descriptive copy says it is “a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.” The New York Times says that the novel “is as well crafted as it is odd.” Which means I’ll find something to admire about it, one way or the other.