Check It Out Category: Fiction

Asked at the Desk: Classic American Novels

Picture of Fiction/AV/Teen desk

When we receive the same question twice in one week, we take note! Here’s what two of your neighbors recently asked:

I haven’t read more than one or two of the classic American novels. Now I’m ready, but I don’t know which are most important. Also, do you have them as audiobooks?

We understand this can be overwhelming. Not only are there differing opinions about the most essential, there are different definitions of classic! Here we’ll suggest American classics in three categories to help you find your gateway.

Shorter American Classics

If delving into classic literature is new for you, try one that is not only short in length but also accessible in story and writing:

Great Gatsby book coverThe Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fahrenheit 451 book coverFahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
John Steinbeck

 

American Classics by Authors of Color

Too many lists of classics limit the rosters to those authored by white men. Make the choice to invest in other perspectives.

Invisible Man book coverInvisible Man
Ralph Ellison
Their Eyes Were Watching God book coverTheir Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
W.E.B. Du Bois

 

Most Cited American Classics

If your goal is to be familiar with books likely to be referenced in conversation or in other writing, here are three to know:

J.D. Salinger

 

Audiobooks are a great way to experience the classics! Let a talented voice actor bring great writing to life for you. Click for a sampling of American classics on audio. Lists of British classics and World classics are also available.

Interested in more suggestions? Stop by Fiction/AV/Teen Services on the second floor to ask at the desk yourself, or ask online to visit our virtual desk.

Staff Pick: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Cathleen from Fiction/AV/Teen Services suggests Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed book coverIf you know anything at all about William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, you likely know that it takes place on a remote island buffeted by supernatural storm. So, the idea of translating this story to a literacy program in a present-day county prison may not be an obvious one.

In Margaret Atwood’s brilliantly envisioned Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold, a very specific play is staged both as class project and as personal vendetta for a director once ousted from a prestigious festival. Watching the action unfold in a clever remix of showmanship, we the audience are treated to parallel dramas that are equally riveting in their creativity, humor, and compassion. To paraphrase a line from the original play, “O brave new world, that has such stories in it!”
 
 
For more contemporary tales infused with Shakespearean theatricality…

Calibans Hour book coverCaliban’s Hour
by Tad Williams

In a fantasy sequel to The Tempest, one that also echoes Beauty and the Beast, the hag-seed Caliban takes Prospero’s daughter Miranda captive and insists she listen to his story.

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

Because they believe that “survival is insufficient,” a traveling Shakespearean troupe brings art to those who remain after a global pandemic destroys civilization as it was once known.

 

Gap of Time book coverThe Gap of Time
by Jeanette Winterson

In the first of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, A Winter’s Tale is contemporized as the aftermath of the 2008 recession, following flawed but driven characters from London to the American New Bohemia.
Dead Fathers Club book coverThe Dead Fathers Club
by Matt Haig

An eleven-year old boy is charged with avenging his father’s death, possibly by his own uncle, in a clever and poignant re-imagining of Hamlet.

Sings and Arrows DVD coverSlings & Arrows
(DVD)

Each season of this brilliant Canadian television series showcases the staging of a Shakespeare play that finds its themes oddly paralleled in the current cast’s shenanigans.

 

Book Discussion Questions: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Elegance of the Hedgehog book coverTitle:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author:  Muriel Barbery
Page Count: 325 pages
Genre:  Literary, Fiction in Translation
Tone:  Introspective, Quirky, Bittersweet

Summary:
Renée, the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, is easily overlooked due to her appearance and her demeanor. Resident twelve-year-old Paloma is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her and decides to end her life on her next birthday. Both will have their lives transformed by the arrival of a new tenant.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

  1. 1. We usually make a point of not beginning discussions with this question, but in light of Paloma’s writing

With her it’s as if a text was written so that we can identify the characters, the narrator, the setting, the plot, the time of the story, and so on.  I don’t think it has ever occurred to her that a text is written above all to be read and to arouse emotions in the reader.  Can you imagine, she has never even asked us the question: “Did you like this text/this book?”  And yet that is the only question that could give meaning to the narrative points of view or the construction of the story…  (153)

Did you like this book?  Why or why not?  And do you agree with Paloma that this question is central to discussing or thinking about a book?

2. The story is presented through the interplay of two narrators. Would it have been as effective (or more, or less) if we had only one POV?  Why not Kakuro Ozu as well?  Would you have liked to experience his voice more directly?

3. What do Paloma and Renée have in common? Each has a secret life and a desire to stay hidden.  How so and why?

4. What did you think of Renée’s double life?

5. In the passage from which the title is taken, Paloma writes

Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog; on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary—and terribly elegant.  (143)

Would you agree with her description?  Would Ozu?

6. Were there any of Paloma’s “Profound Thoughts” or “Journal of the Movement of the World” entries to which you found yourself especially responding?

7. What do Paloma and Renée teach each other? Does Ozu teach and/or learn as well from them?

8. In what ways is Paloma still a child? Would you say she is neglected?

9. What of Paloma’s family? What roles do they play in the story?  (mother, sister, father)

10. How is social class reflected in this book?

11. What is the “goldfish bowl” and how is it important to the story?

12. How is identity also a theme throughout The Elegance of the Hedgehog? Think about how Renée might define herself as well as Paloma’s observations about the people around her.

13. Is Ozu a fully-realized character, or is he primarily a catalyst for the two women?

14. How did Renée’s backstory (her husband, her sister) contribute to her understanding of herself? To our understanding of her?

15. Is this a romantic story?

16. How did you react to the shocking event at the end? Why do you think the author chose this development and had it unfold in this way?

17. Would you have preferred a happier ending?

18. Did any of Renée’s parting words resonate with you? What of Paloma’s epiphany and, similarly, her last paragraph?

19. Did the book inspire you to explore literature, art, film, music, manga, language, or philosophy?

20. Would you describe either the book or the characters as pretentious?

21. Did the book surprise you at all? In what ways?

22. This book has been translated into over 30 languages. What do you think accounts for its popularity?  Did the fact it is a translation affect your reading of the book?

23. Where is humor brought into the story? Is it well-chosen?  Ill-chosen?  Distracting?  Needed?

24. Have you seen the film The Hedgehog? How successful is it as an adaptation?  Did you have any reaction to the casting or directorial choices?

25. How might you describe or recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog to others? What other works might you recommend to one who liked it?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

interview with author Muriel Barbery
The Elegance of Muriel: An Author Profile of Muriel Barbery” via Publishers Weekly
New York Times book review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog
LitLovers discussion guide
France’s Iconic ‘Concierge’ — a Dying Breed?
video: Critic and educator Robert Adams lectures on The Elegance of the Hedgehog
movie trailer for the adaptation The Hedgehog

READALIKES:

Skylight book coverSkylight
by José Saramago

Cleaner of Chartres book coverThe Cleaner of Chartres
by Salley Vickers

Novel Bookstore book coverA Novel Bookstore
by Laurence Cossé

Staff Picks: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Jennifer from Community Services suggests The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is basically the story of two Myfanwy, rhymes with Tiffany, Thomases. The first one we never officially meet: she exists in the letters (a suitcase full) that she writes to the second Myfanwy, the one who wakes up with two black eyes and her memory scrubbed. Myfanwy has the information she needs at hand, If only she can read the letters fast enough.

The story is an urban fantasy, of sorts, in that it is set in modern day London. However, the supernatural agency that Myfanwy works for exists in its own little world with posh offices and an elaborate boarding school that churns out a devoted army of supernatural agents ready to defend the world against all otherworldly threats.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way the story was told from the alternating perspectives of Myfanwy’s letters and the real-time Myfanwy trying to sort out her bizarre circumstances. This is a book with dragons and vampires and people with tentacles and tear-gas emitting sweat. It’s complex, original, sometimes violent and altogether satisfying. The minute I was done with it I wanted to sit back down and read it again.

For more intrigue with elements of fantasy or paranormal, try…

Angelmaker
by Nick Harkaway
London Falling
by Paul Cornell

 

The Troupe book coverThe Troupe
by Robert Jackson Bennett
Alif the Unseen book coverAlif the Unseen
by G. Willow Wilson
Borderline book coverBorderline
by Mishell Baker

Asked at the Desk: Book Discussion Ideas for New (and Old) Groups

Picture of Fiction/AV/Teen desk

We love supporting book groups in any way we can! Recently, one of the requests we received for help was…

I’m looking for book ideas for the book discussion group I am just starting. We all have a lot of different tastes and we are in our late twenties and early thirties. What should we read?

We broke our suggestions down into four different categories to help the group choose. While every book group is different, some of our suggestions to this individual may strike ideas for your personal reading or your own discussions.

Modern Day Setting, Filled with Drama, Meaty Discussion Opportunities

 

The Nest book coverThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab after a drunken driving incident. The resulting accident has endangered the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

 

 

 

 

Crazy Rich Asians book coverCrazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan 

Envisioning a summer vacation in the humble Singapore home of a boy she hopes to marry, Chinese American Rachel Chu is unexpectedly introduced to a rich and scheming family that strongly opposes their son’s relationship with an American girl. What Rachel doesn’t know is that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, she might as well have a target on her back.

 

 

 

Younger Person Striking Out on Their Own

 

sweetbitter book coverSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Twenty-two, and knowing no one, Tess leaves home to begin her adult life in New York City. Thus begins a year that is both enchanting and punishing, in a low-level job at “the best restaurant in New York City.” Grueling hours and a steep culinary learning curve awaken her to the beauty of oysters, the finest Champagnes, the appellations of Burgundy. At the same time, she opens herself to friendships—and love—set against the backdrop of dive bars and late nights

 

 

The Circle book coverThe Circle by Dave Eggers

Hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful Internet company, Mae Holland begins to question her luck as life beyond her job grows distant, a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, and her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public.

 

 

 

Favorites of 2016

 

The Mothers book coverThe Mothers by Brit Bennet

The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community – and the things that ultimately haunt us most. It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, 17-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance – and the subsequent cover-up – will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth.

 

 

Behold The Dreamers book coverBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy.

 

 

 

Suspense

 

All the Missing Girls book coverAll the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

A nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse. It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

 

 

the secret history book coverThe Secret History by Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

 

 

 

For book discussion how-to’s and questions check out our resource page! Interesting in having suggestions designed personally for your group? Email us at readers@mppl.org or talk to us at the Fiction/AV/Teen Services desk.

 

 

Staff Pick: Embassytown by China Miéville

Picture of CathleenThe world-building in Embassytown is meticulous yet subtle, and it is a fascinating backdrop for a narrative in which an indecipherable language plays a central role in the dynamic between human colonists and the complicated beings on a distant planet. Complex, graceful, and perhaps perfect for any Arrival fans eager for next-level storytelling.

List: Your Novel is Too Long. It’s Also Great.

Today in the Tournament of Books (You are following, right? If not, let us remind you why you should) the post-judgment debate included advice to authors that no matter what it’s about, “Your novel is too long,” but after further consideration concluded, “Write it anyway.” This made us brainstorm lengthy-but-great books of our experience, and these are a sampling of those that must be mentioned:

Nix book coverThe Nix by Nathan Hill

2016. 625 pages.

Astonished to see the mother who abandoned him in childhood throwing rocks at a presidential candidate, a bored college professor struggles to reconcile the radical media depictions of his mother with his small-town memories and decides to draw her out by penning a tell-all biography.

 

 

1Q84 book cover1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

2011. 925 pages.

An ode to George Orwell’s 1984 told in alternating male and female voices relates the stories of Aomame, an assassin for a secret organization who discovers that she has been transported to an alternate reality, and Tengo, a mathematics lecturer and novice writer.

 

 

11_22_63 book cover11/22/63 by Stephen King

2011. 849 pages.

Receiving a horrific essay from a GED student with a traumatic past, high-school English teacher Jake Epping is enlisted by a friend to travel back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a mission for which he must befriend troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

 

Goldfinch book coverThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

2013. 771 pages. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend’s family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother; a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

 

Seveneves book coverSeveneves by Neal Stephenson

2015. 867 pages.

A catastrophic event renders the Earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity in outer space. Five thousand years later, their progeny, seven distinct races now three billion strong, embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown, to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

 

Luminaries book coverThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

2013. 834 pages. Winner of the Man Booker Prize.

In 1866, a weary Englishman lands in a remote gold-mining frontier town on the coast of New Zealand to make his fortune and forever leave behind his family’s shame. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to investigate what links three crimes that occurred on a single day, events in which each man finds himself implicated in some way.

 

2017 Tournament of Books

Picture of Tournament of Books display

“Art belongs to the beholder. But to give that beholder a mic for a second, make them test themselves out loud—whether it’s the judges or the commentariat—and then have everyone discuss it out in the open? That’s what we find interesting.”
Angela Chen

Every year The Morning News hosts The Tournament of Books. Sixteen books face off as various literary celebrity judges weigh their merits for advancement. The winner receives bragging rights and is offered the prize of a live rooster! Books considered for the bracket are fiction released in 2016 published in English. Last year the winner was The Sellout by Paul Beatty, which went on to be the first book from the United States of America to win the Man Booker Prize.

While it’s hard to narrow down some of our favorites from the sixteen, here are a few we are looking forward to hearing discussed:

 

Underground Railroad book coverThe Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead

Version Control
by Dexter Palmer

The Vegetarian
by Han Kang

 

Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi

We Love You, Charlie Freeman
by Kaitlyn Greenidge

The Mothers book coverThe Mothers
by Brit Bennett

Asked at the Desk: Mean Girls and Frenemies Fiction

Picture of Fiction/AV/Teen deskWe adore when readers ask for themed suggestions, and this question from last week sent us on a fun scavenger hunt:

Do you know of any books with ‘mean girls’-type characters written for adults? I’m in the mood for something fun and snarky, but I like darker stories, too.

Absolutely! As we started collecting titles, we realized they come in different flavors and settings. Whether you are looking for characters living the high life, time-tested classics, dishy gossip, or chilling tales, there’s a frenemy story just for you…

Coworker Drama

Devil Wears Prada book coverThe Devil Wears Prada
Lauren Weisberger

Thrillingly Tense

Dare Me book coverDare Me
Megan Abbott

Reconstructing Amelia book coverReconstructing Amelia
Kimberly McCreight

 

Domestic Divas

Big Little Lies book coverBig Little Lies
Liane Moriarty

Momzillas book coverMomzillas
Jill Kargman

Keep Your Friends Close…

Friends and Foes book coverFriends & Foes
R. Billingsley and V. Murray

Crazy Rich Asians book coverCrazy Rich Asians
Kevin Kwan

Classic Manipulations

Crucible book coverThe Crucible
Arthur Miller

Emma book coverEmma
Jane Austen

 

Confronting Childhood

Sharp Objects book coverSharp Objects
Gillian Flynn

Cats Eye book coverCat’s Eye
Margaret Atwood

 

You too can ask at the desk! Stop by Fiction/AV/Teen Services on the second floor to say hello, or ask online to visit our virtual desk. We’re ready and eager to answer your bookish questions.

Fiction: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Alledgedly book coverBy the time Mary B. Addison is sixteen she has been in jail for six years accused of killing a baby when she was nine, has been the main topic of multiple books, and is now living in a group home on her way of being reintroduced to some semblance of freedom.

However, everything may not be what it seems.

Tied to a past that only Mary knows the truth to, her efforts to look toward her future are mangled with stumbling blocks every which way.  Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson is a surprising bucket of cold water as Mary and the reader must grapple with all of the possible what ifs and should haves that come from a young girl growing up in an unstable home and the justice system.