So many book talk emails have come to me lately with book titles that include body parts. You can probably think of true crime titles with bones and blood or romance novels using heart and hands, but I’ve found that body part titles cross all genres. Of the first 100 books our club read, 45 percent were modern fiction, 30 percent historical fiction, 10 percent classics, another 10 percent nonfiction and the remaining 5 percent is split between short stories, mysteries, fantasies and science fiction. I mention those numbers because it’s very likely that you’ll find the same kind of distribution in the titles I collect for each of my themes.
That opening paragraph was written back in 2018 and at that time I had a list of prospective books that we would choose from to do a year of Anatomy reads — books with a body part in the title. Much of the selection changed by the time I asked my book club friends to vote. At that time of the original post, I said I’d only toyed with the idea of handing out a mock Operation Game for this theme but was really thinking of using an anatomy poster. But in November of 2021, I gave the girls Operation game seen below:
The game board is a combination of the original Operation game and the Happy Meal sized version that McDonald’s made available in a series of anthropomorphized games. I knew I didn’t have the skills to do an electrical buzzer, so I opted for the magnets that slide into place. As it turned out, I required the assistance of my KidsFest friend, Chris Monley, to accomplish even the magnetic version. The girls will tell you that Chris and I manufactured these to toy with their sanity, because the magnetic books tend to stack together and refuse to separate!
Below is the list of titles from which the girls chose — 12 body parts for 12 months with at least three choices for each. Originally there were two categories for heart (there are SO many titles that include the word heart) and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with that but luckily enough one of the winners in the heart categories was Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, enabling me to use it for the knee instead of a second heart! Those listed without summary are books we didn’t consider either because we thought the others were stronger or because many of us had already read a title.
First the Head:
A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch (1961) A novel about the frightfulness and ruthlessness of being in love Martin Lynch-Gibson believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional reeducation. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendor at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. As his Medusa informs him, “this is nothing to do with happiness.” “Beautifully and wittily written . . . [Murdoch is] a poetic novelist of great gifts.” —The New York Times 3.74, 204p.
Just Above my Head by James Baldwin (1979) The stark grief of a brother mourning a brother opens this novel with a stunning, unforgettable experience. Here, in a monumental saga of love and rage, Baldwin goes back to Harlem, to the church of his groundbreaking novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, to the homosexual passion of Giovanni’s Room, and to the political fire that enflames his nonfiction work. Here, too, the story of gospel singer Arthur Hall and his family becomes both a journey into another country of the soul and senses–and a living contemporary history of black struggle in this land. “The work of a born storyteller at the height of his powers… glimpses of family life in Harlem, rapturous music-making in the churches, moments of uneasiness in even the most casual meetings between whites and blacks–scenes that Baldwin seems preternaturally gifted in understanding.”–The New York Times Book Review 4.41, 584p.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (2018) Sometimes, a voice comes around that is so singular, so funny, so wholly original, that you go back and reread each story once you finish it. Such is the case of Nafissa Thompson-Spires and her debut short story collection, Heads of the Colored People. In one story, two competitive mothers communicate by slipping letters in the others’ daughter’s backpack; in another, a young man attending a cosplay convention can dress up, but cannot escape the color of his skin. In each of these humorous, intelligent vignettes, Thompson-Spires explores aspects of being Black and middle-class in today’s America.. *Winner of the PEN Open Book Award* *Winner of the Whiting Award* *Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award and Aspen Words Literary Prize* *Nominated for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize* *Finalist for the Kirkus Prize and Los Angeles Times Book Prize* Included in Best Books of 2018 Lists from NPR, HuffPost, Vanity Fair, Bustle, and the Chicago Tribune.
The Complete Talking Heads by Alan Bennett (1988)
Next, a Face
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (2020) A riveting debut novel set in contemporary Seoul, Korea, about four young women making their way in a world defined by impossibly high standards of beauty, secret room salons catering to wealthy men, strict social hierarchies, and K-pop fan mania.”Even as a girl, I knew the only chance I had was to change my face… even before a fortune-teller told me so.” Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood. Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies. Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace. And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy. Together, their stories tell a gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah (2020) A Palestinian American woman wrestles with faith, loss, and identity before coming face-to-face with a school shooter in this searing debut. A uniquely American story told in powerful, evocative prose, The Beauty of Your Face navigates a country growing ever more divided. Afaf Rahman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is the principal of Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. One morning, a shooter—radicalized by the online alt-right—attacks the school. As Afaf listens to his terrifying progress, we are swept back through her memories: the bigotry she faced as a child, her mother’s dreams of returning to Palestine, and the devastating disappearance of her older sister that tore her family apart. Still, there is the sweetness of the music from her father’s oud, and the hope and community Afaf finally finds in Islam. The Beauty of Your Face is a profound and poignant exploration of one woman’s life in a nation at odds with its ideals.
War’s Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich, Richard Pevear (Translation), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translation) (2017) This book is a confession, a document and a record of people’s memory. More than 200 women speak in it, describing how young girls, who dreamed of becoming brides, became soldiers in 1941. More than 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in the Second World War, the most terrible war of the 20th century. Women not only rescued and bandaged the wounded but also fired a sniper’s rifle, blew up bridges, went reconnoitering and killed… They killed the enemy who, with unprecedented cruelty, had attacked their land, their homes and their children. Soviet writer of Belarussia, Svetlana Alexiyevich spent four years working on the book, visiting over 100 cities and towns, settlements and villages and recording the stories and reminiscences of women war veterans. The Soviet press called the book”a vivid reporting of events long past, which affected the destiny of the nation as a whole.” The most important thing about the book is not so much the front-line episodes as women’s heart-rending experiences in the war. Through their testimony the past makes an impassioned appeal to the present, denouncing yesterday’s and today’s fascism…
Next, the Eye:
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood (1998) Cat’s Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, and artist, and woman – but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, Cat’s Eye is a breathtaking novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knots of her life. “Nightmarish, evocative, heartbreaking—The New York Times Book Review “The best book in a long time on female friendships. Cat’s Eye is remarkable, funny, and serious, brimming with uncanny wisdom.” —Cosmopolitan. 3.92, 462p.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways. The Bluest Eye remains one of Tony Morrisons’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction. “So precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.” —The New York Times “A profoundly successful work of fiction. . . . Taut and understated, harsh in its detachment, sympathetic in its truth . . . it is an experience.” —The Detroit Free Press “This story commands attention, for it contains one black girl’s universe.” —Newsweek 4.07, 216p.
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (2007) Ever since he was small, John Robison had longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” No guidance came from his mother, who conversed with light fixtures, or his father, who spent evenings pickling himself in sherry. It was no wonder he gravitated to machines, which could, at least, be counted on. After fleeing his parents and dropping out of high school, his savant-like ability to visualize electronic circuits landed him a gig with KISS, for whom he created their legendary fire-breathing guitars. Later, he drifted into a “real” job, as an engineer for a major toy company. But the higher Robison rose in the company, the more he had to pretend to be “normal” and do what he simply couldn’t: communicate. It wasn’t worth the paycheck.It was not until he was forty that an insightful therapist told him he had the form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way Robison saw himself—and the world. “Robison’s memoir is must reading for its unblinking (as only an Aspergian can) glimpse into the life of a person who had to wait decades for the medical community to catch up with him.”—Booklist “Well-written and fascinating.” —Library Journal “Affecting, on occasion surprisingly comic memoir about growing up with Asperger’s syndrome….The view from inside this little-understood disorder offers both cold comfort and real hope, which makes it an exceptionally useful contribution to the literature.” —Kirkus Reviews 3.90, 304p.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Now the Teeth:
The Story of My Teeth by Valerie Luiselli (2015) I was born in Pachuca, the Beautiful Windy City, with four premature teeth and my body completely covered in a very fine coat of fuzz. But I’m grateful for that inauspicious start because ugliness, as my other uncle, Eurípides López Sánchez, was given to saying, is character forming. Highway is a late-in-life world traveler, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer. His most precious possessions are the teeth of the “notorious infamous” like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf. Written in collaboration with the workers at a Jumex juice factory, Teeth is an elegant, witty, exhilarating romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City and Luiselli’s own literary influences. Internationaler Literaturpreis – Haus der Kulturen der Welt Nominee (2016), BTBA Best Translated Book Award Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2016), Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (2015), National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee for Fiction (2015), Kirkus Prize Nominee for Fiction (Finalist) (2015) International
Dublin Literary Award Nominee for Shortlist (2017) 3.51, 192p.
Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair (1942) Pulitzer Prize Winner: An American in Germany fights against the rising tide of Nazi terror in this monumental saga of twentieth-century world history. In the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, Lanny Budd’s financial acumen and his marriage into great wealth enable him to continue the lifestyle he has always enjoyed. But the devastation the collapse has wrought on ordinary citizens has only strengthened Lanny’s socialist ideals—much to the chagrin of his heiress wife, Irma, a confirmed capitalist. In Germany to visit relatives, Lanny encounters a disturbing atmosphere of hatred and jingoism. His concern over the growing popularity of the Nazi Party escalates when he meets Adolf Hitler, the group’s fanatical leader, and the members of his inner circle. But Lanny’s gravest fear is the threat a national socialist government poses to the German Jewish family of Hansi, the musician husband of Lanny’s sister, Bess—a threat that will impel the international art dealer to risk his wealth, his future, even his life in a courageous attempt to rescue his loved ones from a terrible fate. “When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime, I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to [Upton Sinclair’s] novels.” —George Bernard Shaw “A great and well-balanced design . . . I think it the completest and most faithful portrait of that period that has been done or will likely be done.” —H. G. Wells 3.72, 328p
River Teeth by James Duncan (1996) At the heart of Duncan’s collection of short stories are characters undergoing the complex and violent process of transformation, with results both painful and wondrous. Equally affecting are his nonfiction reminiscences, the “river teeth” of the title. He likens his memories to the remains of old-growth trees that fall into Northwestern rivers and are sculpted by time and water. These experiences—shaped by his own river of time—are related with the art and grace of a master storyteller. In River Teeth, a uniquely gifted American writer blends two forms, taking us into the rivers of truth and make-believe, and all that lies in between. “To read River Teeth is to have a stranger’s recollections loom up out of vagary and namelessness, and to grip you as if they were your own.” —Los Angeles Times “David James Duncan is in love with water, the rivers and streams that coursed through his life. Believe me, you will be swept up by his rivers, carried downstream, and deposited in a new place. In that new place, Duncan will build a fire and tell you a bunch of stories. What else could you want?” —Sherman Alexie 4.04, 272p
In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
Then we’ll need a Neck:
I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (2008) With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself. Utterly courageous, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly moving in its truth telling, I Feel Bad About My Neck is a book of wisdom, advice, and laugh-out-loud moments, a scrumptious, irresistible treat. “Wickedly witty. . . . Crackling sharp. . . . Fireworks shoot out [of this collection].” —The Boston Globe “Long-overdue. . . . Executed with sharpness and panache . . . . [Nora Ephron] retains an uncanny ability to sound like your best friend, whoever you are. . . . It’s good to know that Ms. Ephron’s wry, knowing X-ray vision is one of them.” —The New York Times 3.71, 137p.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie (2010)
Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. In twelve dazzling stories Adichie explores the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.
In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them. John Llewellyn Rhys Prize Nominee (2009), O. Henry Award for ‘The American Embassy (2003), Dayton Literary Peace Prize Nominee for Fiction (2010) 4.24, 218p.
The Necklace and Other Stories: Maupassant for Modern Times by Guy de Maupassant, Sandra Smith (Translation) A Parisian civil servant turned protégé of Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant is considered not only one of the greatest short story writers in all of French literature, but also a pioneer of psychological realism and modernism who helped define the form. Credited with influencing the likes of Chekhov, Maugham, Babel, and O. Henry, Maupassant had, at the time of his death at the age of forty-two, written six novels and some three hundred short stories. Yet in English, Maupassant has, curiously, remained unappreciated by modern readers due to outdated translations that render his prose in an archaic, literal style. In this bold new translation, Sandra Smith—the celebrated translator of Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise—brings us twenty-eight of Maupassant’s essential stories and two novellas in lyrical yet accessible language that brings Maupassant into vibrant English. In “Tales of French Life,” we see Maupassant explore the broad swath of French society, not just examining the lives of the affluent as was customary for writers in his day. In the title story of the collection, “The Necklace,” Maupassant crafts a devastating portrait of misplaced ambition and ruin in the emerging middle class. The stories in “Tales of War” emerge from Maupassant’s own experiences in the devastating Franco-Prussian War. The last section, “Tales of the Supernatural,” delves into the occult and the bizarre. While certain critics may attribute some of these stories and morbid fascination as the product of the author’s fevered mind and possible hallucinations induced by late-stage syphilis, they echo the gothic horror of Poe as well as anticipate the eerie fiction of H. P. Lovecraft. 3.96, 336p
Choose the Hands:
The Fourth Hand by John Irving (2001) While reporting a story from India, a New York television journalist has his left hand eaten by a lion; millions of TV viewers witness the accident. In Boston, a renowned hand surgeon awaits the opportunity to perform the nation’s first hand transplant; meanwhile, in the distracting aftermath of an acrimonious divorce, the surgeon is seduced by his housekeeper. A married woman in Wisconsin wants to give the one-handed reporter her husband’s left hand—that is, after her husband dies. But the husband is alive, relatively young, and healthy. A New York Times Notable Book. “A riveting entertainment and certainly one of the funniest novels of the year. The authoritative control of Irving’s storytelling has never been more impressive. . . . The delighted reader is powerless to look away.”—Chicago Sun-Times 3.42, 306p
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (1934) Laced with cynicism and truth, “A Handful of Dust” satirizes a certain stratum of English life where all the characters have money, but lack practically every other credential. Murderously urbane, it depicts the breakup of a marriage in the London gentry, where the errant wife suffers from terminal boredom, and becomes enamoured of a social parasite and professional luncheon-goer. Selected by Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of the century. “A brilliant satirical study of the eccentric between-wars society to which Waugh belonged.”―LIFE. 3.91, 308p.
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell (2009) Lexie Sinclair is plotting an extraordinary life for herself. Hedged in by her parents’ genteel country life, she plans her escape to London. There, she takes up with Innes Kent, a magazine editor who wears duck-egg blue ties and introduces her to the thrilling, underground world of bohemian, post-war Soho. She learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to embrace her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it. She creates many lives–all of them unconventional. And when she finds herself pregnant, she doesn’t hesitate to have the baby on her own. Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. She doesn’t recognize herself: she finds herself walking outside with no shoes; she goes to the restaurant for lunch at nine in the morning; she can’t recall the small matter of giving birth. But for her boyfriend, Ted, fatherhood is calling up lost memories, with images he cannot place. As Ted’s memories become more disconcerting and more frequent, it seems that something might connect these two stories– these two women– something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation. Praised by The Washington Post as a “breathtaking, heart-breaking creation,” “her sure hand for psychological suspense . . . continues to be most impressive.” —Library Journal 3.93, 341p.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Now the Fingers:
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002) Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home. One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals. “Oliver Twist with a twist…Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses. A pulsating story.”—The New York Times, Book Review Booker Prize Nominee (2002),Orange Prize Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2002), 4.00, 548p.
Budha’s Little Finger by Victor Pelevin (1996) Russian novelist Victor Pelevin is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most brilliant young writers at work today. His comic inventiveness and mind-bending talent prompted Time magazine to proclaim him a “psychedelic Nabokov for the cyber-age.” In his third novel, Buddha’s Little Finger, Pelevin has created an intellectually dazzling tale about identity and Russian history, as well as a spectacular elaboration of Buddhist philosophy. Moving between events of the Russian Civil War of 1919 and the thoughts of a man incarcerated in a contemporary Moscow psychiatric hospital, Buddha’s Little Finger is a work that will delight and astonish. International Dublin Literary Award Nominee for Shortlist (2001) 4.26, 352p.
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (1997) An ingenious tour de force: an utterly compelling historical mystery with a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very last page. We are in England in the 1660s. Charles II has been restored to the throne following years of civil war and Cromwell’s short-lived republic. Oxford is the intellectual seat of the country, a place of great scientific, religious, and political ferment. A fellow of New College is found dead in suspicious circumstances. A young woman is accused of his murder. We hear the story of the death from four witnesses: an Italian physician intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion; the son of an alleged Royalist traitor; a master cryptographer who has worked for both Cromwell and the king; and a renowned Oxford antiquarian. Each tells his own version of what happened. Only one reveals the extraordinary truth. “May well be the best ‘historical mystery’ ever written.”—The Sunday Boston Globe, “[A] crafty, utterly mesmerizing intellectual thriller…Don’t miss it.” —The Washington Post Book World 3.94, 691p.
The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
Choose a Heart:
The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty (1954) Uncle Daniel Ponder, whose fortune is exceeded only by his desire to give it away, is a source of vexation for his niece, Edna Earle. Uncle Daniel’s trial for the alleged murder of his seventeen-year-old bride is a comic masterpiece. Awarded the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “A wonderful tragicomedy” of a Mississippi family, a vast inheritance, and an impulsive heir, by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Delta Wedding (The New York Times) 3.59, 156p.
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (1948) In a British colony in West Africa, Henry Scobie is a pious and righteous man of modest means enlisted with securing borders. But when he’s passed over for a promotion as commissioner of police, the humiliation hits hardest for his wife, Louise. Already oppressed by the appalling climate, frustrated in a loveless marriage, and belittled by the wives of more privileged officers, Louise wants out. Feeling responsible for her unhappiness, Henry decides against his better judgment to accept a loan from a black marketeer to secure Louise’s passage. It’s just a single indiscretion, yet for Henry it precipitates a rapid fall from grace as one moral compromise after another leads him into a web of blackmail, adultery, and murder. And for a devout man like Henry, there may be nothing left but damnation. “From first page to last . . . an engrossing novel” of betrayal and espionage on a colonial outpost during World War II (The New York Times) 3.98, 272p.
Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (1938) In this piercing story of innocence betrayed set in the thirties, the orphaned Portia is stranded in the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother’s home in London. There she encounters the attractive, carefree cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and he fears her gushing love. To her, Eddie is the only reason to be alive. But when Eddie follows Portia to a sea-side resort, the flash of a cigarette lighter in a darkened cinema illuminates a stunning romantic betrayal–and sets in motion one of the most moving and desperate flights of the heart in modern literature. “A witty, lucid, and beautiful psychological novel.. . . By far her best book.” –The New Yorker “Bowen writes with both art and skillful artifice. . . . [The] quality of restraint, of the unsaid, gives her novel its curious tautness and intensity.” –The New York Times 3.68, 418p.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown (1970) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is Dee Brown’s eloquent, fully documented account of the systematic destruction of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century. A national bestseller in hardcover for more than a year after its initial publication, it has sold almost four million copies and has been translated into seventeen languages. For this elegant thirtieth-anniversary edition—published in both hardcover and paperback—Brown has contributed an incisive new preface. Using council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions, Brown allows the great chiefs and warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes to tell us in their own words of the battles, massacres, and broken treaties that finally left them demoralized and defeated. “Original, remarkable, and finally heartbreaking. . . . Impossible to put down.”―The New York Times “Shattering, appalling, compelling. . . . One wonders, reading this searing, heartbreaking book, who, indeed, were the savages.” ―The Washington Post 4.20, 509p.
Choose Another Heart — Our Body Will Have Two
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (2017) Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more. Selected one of New York Times Readers’ Favorite Books of 2017, Often quite funny, the story nevertheless has its sadness, sometimes approaching tragedy. Utterly captivating and not to be missed.” – Booklist (starred review) “With quick strokes and bitter humor, Boyne’s opening scene encapsulates the Irish church’s hypocrisy… Boyne continues his crusading ways with the quiet keening of this painful, affecting novel” – Kirkus (starred review) 4.48, 582p.
A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir, Larissa Kyzer (Translator) (2017) The past returns with a fury for a woman coming to terms with her life in this award-winning novel by an acclaimed Icelandic author making her English-language debut. Elín Jónsdóttir lives an isolated existence in Reykjavík, Iceland, making props and prosthetics for theatrical productions and Nordic crime flicks. In her early seventies, she has recently become fascinated with another loner, Ellen Álfsdóttir, a sensitive young playwright and illegitimate daughter of a famous writer. The girl has aroused maternal feelings in Elín, but she has also stirred discomfiting memories long packed away. Because their paths have crossed before. One doesn’t remember. The other is about to forget. “Atmospheric, disorienting…A dreamlike meditation on isolation and the bone-aching desire for companionship.” —Kirkus Reviews “Patience will be rewarded…unexpected connections, both literary and emotional.” —Booklist 3.61, 202p.
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2012) In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant. Winner of two Irish Book Awards – Newcomer of The Year and Book of The Year, A Library Journal Best Book of the Year for 2014, A BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 3.89, 160p.
America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo (2018) How many lives can one person lead in a single lifetime? When Hero de Vera arrives in America, disowned by her parents in the Philippines, she’s already on her third. Her uncle, Pol, who has offered her a fresh start and a place to stay in the Bay Area, knows not to ask about her past. And his younger wife, Paz, has learned enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. Only their daughter, Roni, asks Hero why her hands seem to constantly ache. Illuminating the violent political history of the Philippines in the 1980s and 1990s and the insular immigrant communities that spring up in the suburban United States with an uncanny ear for the unspoken intimacies and pain that get buried by the duties of everyday life and family ritual, Castillo delivers a powerful, increasingly relevant novel about the promise of the American dream and the unshakable power of the past. Named one of the best books of 2018 by NPR, Real Simple, Lit Hub, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Post, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Public Library 3.95, 408p.
The Way Forward is With a Broken Heart by Alice Walker, Heartburn by Nora Ephron, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things: Stories by J.T. LeRoy
Choose Your Blood:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965) On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues. As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence. “The best documentary account of an American crime ever written. . . . The book chills the blood and exercises the intelligence . . . harrowing.” —The New York Review of Books, 4.07, 343p.
Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy 9 An epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion, Blood Meridian brilliantly subverts the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the “wild west.” Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving. “McCarthy is a writer to be read, to be admired, and quite honestly—envied.”—Ralph Ellison “McCarthy is a born narrator, and his writing has, line by line, the stab of actuality. He is here to stay.” —Robert Penn Warren 4.16, 351p.
His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet In 1869, a brutal triple murder in the remote Wester Ross village of Culduie leads to the arrest of a seventeen-year-old crofter, Roderick Macrae. There is no question of Macrae’s guilt, but it falls to the country’s most eminent legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to his bloody deeds. Ultimately, the young man’s fate hinges on one key question: is he insane? The story ingeniously unfolds through a series of found documents, including police statements; the accused’s prison memoir; the account of renowned psychiatrist, J. Bruce Thomson; and a report of the trial, compiled from contemporary newspapers.
Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky, The Nature of Blood by Caryl Phillips
Choose From These Bones:
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (1998) The Farming of Bones begins in 1937 in a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti. Amabelle Desir, Haitian-born and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season. However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultra-nationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanish-speaking country. As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien’s dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure. Based on a little-known historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors. A New York Times Notable Book, ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice, ”One of the Best Books of the Year”—Publishers Weekly 4.08, 312p.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (2019) Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place. Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR. “Profoundly moving … With its abiding interest in the miracle of everyday love, Red at the Bone is a proclamation.” —The New York Times Book Review, “A treasure awaits readers who encounter Red at the Bone….A universal American tale of striving, failing, then trying again.” —Time 4.01, 196p.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Translator) (2009) Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind… WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE Named a best book of 2019 by TIME, NPR, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and BookRiot, PEN America Translation Prize longlist “A marvelously weird and fablelike mystery. . . . This book is not a mere whodunit: It’s a philosophical fairy tale about life and death that’s been trying to spill its secrets. Secrets that, if you’ve kept your ear to the ground, you knew in your bones all along.” — New York Times Book Review, 3.96, 274p.
The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan, What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
And finally, choose Your Feet:
The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie At the beginning of this stunning novel, Vina Apsara, a famous and much-loved singer, is caught up in a devastating earthquake and never seen again by human eyes. This is her story, and that of Ormus Cama, the lover who finds, loses, seeks, and again finds her, over and over, throughout his own extraordinary life in music. Their epic romance is narrated by Ormus’s childhood friend and Vina’s sometime lover, her “back-door man,” the photographer Rai, whose astonishing voice, filled with stories, images, myths, anger, wisdom, humor, and love, is perhaps the book’s true hero. Telling the story of Ormus and Vina, he finds that he is also revealing his own truths: his human failings, his immortal longings. He is a man caught up in the loves and quarrels of the age’s goddesses and gods, but dares to have ambitions of his own. And lives to tell the tale. Around these three, the uncertain world itself is beginning to tremble and break. Cracks and tears have begun to appear in the fabric of the real. There are glimpses of abysses below the surfaces of things. The Ground Beneath Her Feet is Salman Rushdie’s most gripping novel and his boldest imaginative act, a vision of our shaken, mutating times, an engagement with the whole of what is and what might be, an account of the intimate, flawed encounter between the East and the West, a brilliant remaking of the myth of Orpheus, a novel of high (and low) comedy, high (and low) passions, high (and low) culture. It is a tale of love, death, and rock ‘n’ roll.
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane (2012) Robert Macfarlane travels Britain’s ancient paths and discovers the secrets of our beautiful, underappreciated landscape. Following the tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes criss-crossing the British Isles and beyond, Robert Macfarlane discovers a lost world – a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts; above all of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations. Chosen by Slate as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years. Warwick Prize for Writing Nominee for Shortlist (2013), Orion Book Award Nominee (2013), Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction Nominee (2012), Waterstones Book of the Year Nominee (2012), The Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing Nominee for Shortlist (2014) 4.16, 433p.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (2017) A boy tries to steer a safe path through the projects in Harlem in the wake of his brother’s death in this outstanding debut novel that celebrates community and creativity. It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward. His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world. This is a book for middle grade readers but it received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Bulletin, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA and Shelf Awareness It is an ALA Notable Book and was chosen Best Book of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Shelf Awarenss. 3.93, 304p.
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C Morais, One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
And the winners are: