As many of you know, I was in New York last week for Book Expo America, where I participated on a panel at the BEA Book Bloggers Convention; attended BEA panels; and met with publishers, editors, publicists, and marketers. One of my favorite panels at BEA is the book club recommendations.
Dozens of titles were introduced at the "Hot Book Group Titles for Fall/Winter" session this year. Although many of the books made it to my must-read list, six novels struck me as having the potential to be major book club hits. Because I've read only one of these, I'll share the publishers' summaries.
Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus (Algonquin Books, January 2013)
Possible discussion topics: family, depression, culture contrasts, marriage, relationships
Thomas Tessler, devastated by a tragedy, has cloistered himself in his bedroom and shut out the world for the past three years. His wife, Silke, lives in the next room, but Thomas no longer shares his life with her, leaving his hideout only in the wee hours of the night to buy food at the store around the corner from their Manhattan apartment. Isolated, withdrawn, damaged, Thomas is hikikomori.The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Little, Brown, paperback: January 2013)
Desperate to salvage their life together, Silke hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman attuned to the hikikomori phenomenon, to lure Thomas back into the world. In Japan Megumi is called a "rental sister," though her job may involve much more than familial comforts. As Thomas grows to trust Megumi, a deepening and sensual relationship unfolds. But what are the risks of such intimacy? And what must these three broken people surrender in order to find hope?
Revelatory and provocative, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister tears through the emotional walls of grief and delves into the power of human connection to break through to the waiting world outside.
Possible discussion topics: survival, truth, morality, selfishness
Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead (Harper Perennial, October 2012)
In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying Grace and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize has exceeded capacity. For any to live, some must die.
As the castaways battle the elements and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she'd found. Will she pay any price to keep it?
The Lifeboat is a page-turning novel of hard choices and survival, narrated by a woman as unforgettable and complex as the events she describes.
Possible discussion topics: bravery, survival, doing the right thing, personal sacrifice, friendship
They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen who scrawled "V" for victory on the walls of her lycee; the eldest, a farmer's wife in her sixties who harbored escaped Allied airmen. Strangers to each other, hailing from villages and cities from across France, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazi occupiers.The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets by Kathleen Alcott (Other Press, September 2012)
Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 of these women and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, education, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie.
In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.
A Train in Winter draws on interviews with these women and their families; German, French, and Polish archives; and documents held by World War II resistance organizations to uncover a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival—and of the remarkable, enduring power of female friendship.
Possible discussion topics: friendship, marriage, relationships, family
Ida grew up with Jackson and James—where there was "I" there was a "J." She can't recall a time when she didn't have them around, whether in their early days camping out in the boys' room decorated with circus scenes or later drinking on rooftops as teenagers. While the world outside saw them as neighbors and friends, to each other the three formed a family unit—two brothers and a sister—not drawn from blood, but drawn from a deep need to fill a void in their single parent households. Theirs was a relationship of communication without speaking, of understanding without judgment, of intimacy without rules and limits.Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin Paperback, June 2012)
But as the three of them mature and emotions become more complex, Ida and Jackson find themselves more than just siblings. When Jackson’s somnambulism produces violent outbursts and James is hospitalized, Ida is paralyzed by the events that threaten to shatter her family and put it beyond her reach. Kathleen Alcott’s striking debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, is an emotional, deeply layered love story that explores the dynamics of family when it defies bloodlines and societal conventions.
Possible discussion topics: fate, social class divisions, naivete, high society
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.Carry the One by Carol Anshaw (Simon & Schuster, October 2012)
The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.
Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.
Possible discussion topics: fate, addiction, brothers and sisters, acceptance, forgiveness
Carry the One begins in the hours following Carmen’s wedding reception, when a car filled with stoned, drunk, and sleepy guests accidentally hits and kills a girl on a dark country road. For the next twenty-five years, those involved, including Carmen and her brother and sister, craft their lives in response to this single tragic moment. As one character says, "When you add us up, you always have to carry the one." Through friendships and love affairs; marriage and divorce; parenthood, holidays, and the modest calamities and triumphs of ordinary days, Carry the One shows how one life affects another and how those who thrive and those who self-destruct are closer to each other than we’d expect. As they seek redemption through addiction, social justice, and art, Anshaw’s characters reflect our deepest pain and longings, our joys, and our transcendent moments of understanding. This wise, wry, and erotically charged novel derives its power and appeal from the author’s exquisite use of language; her sympathy for her recognizable, very flawed characters; and her persuasive belief in the transforming forces of time and love.The following books are my runners-up:
- Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe (Little, Brown, October 2012)
- We the Animals by Justin Torres (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 2012)
- The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan (Voice, January 2013)
- The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar (Picador, September 2012)
- History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason (Vintage Books, November 2012)
- The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen (Norton, September 2012)