Vote for Contemporary books to read and discuss in 2011! (Message 1 of 2)

From: Anthony
Sent on: Sunday, October 31, 2010 7:49 PM
17 suggested Contemporary books were submitted to the Organizer. Pick the 6 books that you are most interested in reading and send them to the Organizer via e-mail. If you change your mind on any votes you make, you may replace a vote for one book with a vote for another.

The 9 books that receive the most votes will be placed on next year?s reading schedule. In the event of a tie, the Organizer will provide tie-breaking votes.

Book Selection Poll #1: Contemporary Books (The first 13 of the 17 books)

Title: Check Raising the Devil by Mike Matusow, Amy Calistri, and Tim Lavalli
Genre: Nonfiction ? Biography
Summary: Mike Matusow is a famous and very successful professional poker player. This is the story of his "poker life," including his struggles with bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It narrates his use of street drugs in an attempt to self-medicate his psychological issues, followed by his fall, incarceration, and recovery. The book provides an insider's look at both the world of high-stakes poker and the insular world of bipolar depression.
Suggested by: Tim L. (one of the authors of this book)

Title: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Genre: Fiction ? Medical
Summary: Cutting for Stone is a story about twins who are born in a charity hospital in Ethiopia and are as inseparable as children. Their personalities and lives diverge, only to come together again when one reaches a crisis. The fact that author Abraham Verghese is a doctor and a writer is clearly established. The practice of medicine is made germane to the storytelling process and to the overall narrative, resulting in medical detail that is stunning but never overwhelms the humane and narrative aspects of this moving and ambitious novel.
Suggested by: Cynthia

Title: A Death in the Family by James Agee
Genre: Fiction ? General
Summary: A Death in the Family is an autobiographical novel based on events that occurred in 1915 when the author?s father went out of town to visit his own father who had a heart attack. On the return trip, the author?s father was killed in a car accident. The novel provides a portrait of life in Knoxville, Tennessee, showing how such a loss affects a young widow, her two children, her atheistic father, and the dead man?s alcoholic brother. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1958.
Suggested by: Pam N.

Title: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jeremy Leggatt
Genre: Nonfiction ? Memoir
Summary: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a translation of the French memoir Le scaphandre et le papillon by journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby. On December 8, 1995, Bauby, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. He awoke 20 days later, mentally aware of his surroundings but physically paralyzed except for some movement in his head and eyes (locked-in syndrome). The entire book was written by Bauby blinking his left eyelid, four hours a day for ten months. Each word required an average of two minutes to blink, and it took approximately 200,000 total blinks to write the entire book, which chronicles various everyday events from the point of view of someone with locked-in syndrome.
Suggested by: Whitney H.

Title: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Genre: Fiction ? Science-Fiction
Summary: Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion. The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis's understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering, and the indomitable will of the human spirit.
Suggested by: Julianne C.

Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Genre: Fiction ? General
Summary: This book takes place in Paris, France and features three very different, yet very alike characters. Ren?e conforms to every stereotype of the concierge - fat, cantankerous, addicted to television - yet, unbeknownst to her employers, she adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. There's also Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius who has decided to end her life on her 13th birthday on June 16th. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Ren?e's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Suggested by: Deborah D.

Title: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Genre: Fiction ? General
Summary: Freedom captures the temptations and burdens of liberty, from the thrills of teenage lust to the responsibility of privilege. Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul, Minnesota, doing their part to build a better world. But now the Berglunds have become a mystery. What has happened to their teenage son? Why has Patty, the bright star of Barrier Street, become "a very different kind of neighbor? As the story explores love, it also tackles our tenuous relationship with nature, with Walter fighting to preserve a habitat for an endangered bird and a troubled history that threatens to topple everything he believes about truth and illusion.
Suggested by: Sue D.

Title: Gilead by Marilyn Robinson
Genre: Fiction ? General
Summary: The narrator, John Ames, is 76, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. He is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. Author Marilyn Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man.
Suggested by: Ken

Title: The Greek Passion by Nikos Kazantzakis
Genre: Fiction ? Cultural
Summary: The Greek Passion, published in 1948, is set in Greece during the last days of the Turkish occupation, probably in the early 1920s. On Easter Sunday morning, the "notables" of the small and remote village of Lycovrissi gather and plan to hold a live passion play on the next Easter, selecting villagers for the key roles of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the apostles. The villagers are to prepare for this honor by living lives which will bring them close to their characters during the coming year. In clever twists on the theme, the selected villagers do more than prepare. They fully become their characters, and the passion is played out in bloody existential detail.
Suggested by: Charlie K.

Title: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Genre: Fiction ? Surreal
Summary: This strange and dreamlike Japanese novel, published in 1985, features chapters that alternate between two narratives. ?Hard-Boiled Wonderland? centers on Calcutec, a human data processor/encryption system who has been trained to use his subconscious as an encryption key. The Calcutecs work for the quasi-governmental System, as opposed to the criminal Semiotecs who work for the Factory and who are generally fallen Calcutecs. In the ?End of the World,? the narrator is in being accepted into the Town surrounded by a perfect and impenetrable wall, and his shadow has been "cut off" such that it lives in the "shadow grounds.? The two storylines converge as they explore concepts of consciousness, the subconscious, and identity.
Suggested by: Curtis

Title: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Fiction ? African-American
Summary: Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is home from college in 1962 and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to write about what disturbs her. The budding social activist begins to collect stories of the black women on whom the country club sets, relies, and mistrusts. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams.
Suggested by: Jen G.

Title: Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre
Genre: Fiction ? General
Summary: Lake Overturn is a multifaceted tale of small town America. Set in Eula, Idaho, the story's title refers to a real scientific phenomenon that occurred in a lake in Africa in the 1980s killing thousands of people. Two of the novel's characters, Gene and Enrique, tackle the Lake Nyos disaster for a science project, trying to figure out exactly what happened. As the story explores the lives of other Eula residents, things are not always as they seem. McIntyre manages to weave a classic tale that touches on larger issues ? racism, homosexuality, death of a loved one, religion, extramarital affairs, addiction, isolation ? and yet still works as one coherent whole.
Suggested by: Fabio B.

Title: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Genre: Fiction ? General
Summary: Colum McCann has a deeply compassionate soul to match his gorgeous prose. Let the Great World Spin, a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award, is centered around Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk between the New York World Trade Center's Twin Towers in 1974 and a group of New Yorkers watching that day in August. The wonderfully wrought characters, whose lives are unrelated when the story unfolds, become intimately and unexpectedly interrelated as the story progresses over the following years. It's also a stunning and loving portrait of New York City in the 1970s.
Suggested by: Ellen C.

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