Hip and Well Read: Time to vote for the next books!

From: Michelle
Sent on: Monday, October 4, 2010 5:26 PM
Got a great response on recommendations. Way more than we can do right away, so will save the rest for the next vote.


The basic idea is this... the candidates are listed below, with a brief description. After you decide, go to Nov/Dec Poll to vote. (http://www.meetup.com/philadelphia-hip-and-well-read-book-club/polls/251139/)

The candidates:

1. Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh
Fired from his job with a pest control company in Queens, New York, Bob Dillon starts his own business using his environmentally friendly technique: hybrid killer insects that eat cockroaches. Meanwhile, Marcel, a broker who contracts for assassins, is looking for a reliable newcomer to complete a million-dollar hit. He advertises and Bob responds, neither understanding the nature of the other's "exterminating" business. Very shortly thereafter, ten of the most dangerous hitpersons in the world descend on Queens, which is pretty dangerous itself and more than up to the challenge.

2. Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Emma Donoghue's Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enter Room will leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time.

3. Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel by Phillip Pullman
This gospel retelling is relatively faithful in style, time line, and events to the four canonical gospels-though Pullman injects a very Pullman-like spin on it by splitting Jesus Christ into two men, among other creative twists. Twin babies are born of the virgin Mary, one called Jesus, the other Christ. After a childhood in which Christ is a goody-goody and Jesus the popular one, Jesus and Christ continue down separate but intertwined paths, with Christ sneaking around, spying on Jesus's ministry and writing down his every word and deed. Jesus becomes a philosopher-revolutionary and Christ is the politically savvy brother, who ultimately proves na?ve. Pullman's gospel version reveals how the politics and structure of the institutional church were plotted by power-hungry men, who used the renown of Jesus and his well-meaning, devoted brother Christ as pawns in their corrupt game-a critique that will be familiar to readers of His Dark Materials. This is a tale of (almost comedic) mistaken identity and good intentions gone horribly awry. Readers will find the parables, the Good Samaritan, healings, and the Sermon on the Mount, among other familiar scenes.

4. Poor Things by Alasdair Gray
Winner of the 1992 Whitbread Prize, Scottish writer Gray's ( Something Leather ) black comedy uses a science-fiction-like premise to satirize Victorian morals. Ostensibly the memoirs of late-19th-century Glasgow physician Archibald McCandless, the narrative follows the bizarre life of oversexed, volatile Bella Baxter, an emancipated woman and a female Frankenstein. Bella is not her real name; as Victorian Blessington, she drowned herself to escape her abusive husband, but a surgeon removed the brain from the fetus she was carrying and placed it in her skull, resucitating her. The revived Bella has the mental age of a child. Engaged to marry McCandless, she chloroforms him and runs off with a shady lawyer who takes her on a whirlwind adventure, hopping from Alexandria to Odessa to a Parisian brothel. As her brain matures, Bella develops a social conscience, but her rescheduled nuptials to Archie are cut short when she is recognized as Victoria by her lawful husband, Gen. Sir Aubrey Blessington. In an epilogue dated 1914, cranky idealist Victoria McCandless, M.D., a suffragette, Fabian socialist, pacifist and advocate of birthing stools, pokes holes in her late husband Archie's narrative. Illustrated with Gray's suitably macabre drawings, this work of inspired lunacy effectively skewers class snobbery, British imperialism, prudishness and the tenets of received wisdom.

5. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Bad things come in threes for Toru Okada. He loses his job, his cat disappears, and then his wife fails to return from work. His search for his wife (and his cat) introduces him to a bizarre collection of characters, including two psychic sisters, a possibly unbalanced teenager, an old soldier who witnessed the massacres on the Chinese mainland at the beginning of the Second World War, and a very shady politician.
Haruki Murakami is a master of subtly disturbing prose. Mundane events throb with menace, while the bizarre is accepted without comment. Meaning always seems to be just out of reach, for the reader as well as for the characters, yet one is drawn inexorably into a mystery that may have no solution. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an extended meditation on themes that appear throughout Murakami's earlier work. The tropes of popular culture, movies, music, detective stories, combine to create a work that explores both the surface and the hidden depths of Japanese society at the end of the 20th century.
If it were possible to isolate one theme in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that theme would be responsibility. The atrocities committed by the Japanese army in China keep rising to the surface like a repressed memory, and Toru Okada himself is compelled by events to take responsibility for his actions and struggle with his essentially passive nature. If Toru is supposed to be a Japanese Everyman, steeped as he is in Western popular culture and ignorant of the secret history of his own nation, this novel paints a bleak picture. Like the winding up of the titular bird, Murakami slowly twists the gossamer threads of his story into something of considerable weight

6. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
A band of savage thirteen-year-old boys reject the adult world as illusory, hypocritical, and sentimental, and train themselves in a brutal callousness they call 'objectivity'. When the mother of one of them begins an affair with a ship's officer, he and his friends idealise the man at first; but it is not long before they conclude that he is in fact soft and romantic. They regard this disallusionment as an act of betrayal on his part - and the retribution is deliberate and horrifying.

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