- Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
Take a journey to Egypt in the 1940s, where Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz’s novel, Midaq Alley, spotlights a hustling, teeming back alley of Cairo. Meet Zaita the maimer-for-a-fee; Kirsha the hedonistic cafe owner; Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love; Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley; and an array of waiters and widows, politicians, pimps, and poets. This portrait of one small street serves as a microcosm of the quest for freedom and modernity in a country still scarred by the brutalities of colonialism.
- The Master by Colm Toibin
A novel about novelist Henry James. From Goodreads: “Colm Tóibín’s beautiful, subtle illumination of Henry James’s inner life” (The New York Times) captures the loneliness and hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably fail those he tried to love. Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America’s first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers. With stunningly resonant prose, “The Master is unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist: artful, moving, and very beautiful” (The New York Times Book Review). The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting. (less)
- Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
A harsh New England winter. An unhappy marriage. A forbidden love. Ethan Frome may be Edith Wharton's most widely read novel. Differing in tone and theme from her other work, Wharton casts a poor farmer as the main character in this novella. Come read a literary masterpiece with us. From Goodreads: Ethan works his unproductive farm, and struggles to maintain an existence with his suspicious and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena's cousin enters their household as a "hired girl", Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.
- The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
Want to read climate change fiction? An apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novel? A story with giant iguanas? Then come join us as we read a science fiction novel that has all that and more! From Goodreads: First published in 1962, J.G. Ballard's mesmerizing and ferociously prescient novel imagines a terrifying future in which solar radiation and global warming have melted the polar ice caps and Triassic-era jungles have overrun a submerged and tropical London. Set during the year 2145, the novel follows biologist Dr. Robert Kerans and his team of scientists as they confront a surreal cityscape populated by giant iguanas, albino alligators, and endless swarms of malarial insects. Nature has swallowed all but a few remnants of human civilization, and, slowly, Kerans and his companions are transformed--both physically and psychologically--by this prehistoric environment. Echoing Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness--complete with a mad white hunter and his hordes of native soldiers--this "powerful and beautifully clear" (Brian Aldiss) work becomes a thrilling adventure and a haunting examination of the effects of environmental collapse on the human mind.
- Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Before the internet was born and Yahoo! became a search engine, there were the Yahoos met by Lemuel Gulliver in his voyages to remote parts of the 18th century globe, which also brought him in contact with the now-famous little people of Lilliput and the giants of Brobdingnag. From these travels he acquires important philosophical insights such as "when people are met together, a short silence does much improve conversation." Come be a tourist with us as we read one of the great satirists of English literature. From Goodreads: Shipwrecked and cast adrift, Lemuel Gulliver wakes to find himself on Lilliput, an island inhabited by little people, whose height makes their quarrels over fashion and fame seem ridiculous. His subsequent encounters - with the crude giants of Brobdingnag, the philosophical Houyhnhnms and the brutish Yahoos - give Gulliver new, bitter insights into human behaviour. Swift's savage satire view mankind in a distorted hall of mirrors as a diminished, magnified and finally bestial species, presenting us with an uncompromising reflection of ourselves.
- Hardy: "The Hand of Ethelberta - A Comedy in Chapters"
A Hardy comedy? Thomas Hardy's output (approx[masked]) was prolific, consisting of 18 novels, about 8 collections of poetry, and too many short stories to count. Some consider him a "Victorian realist," concentrating on themes of society prevalent at the time. But his imagery is often anything but realistic. At any point in a story one might encounter bleeding trees, references to pagan rites, foreboding forces that seem to be lurking unseen in the background. The poet Philip Larkin has this to say about his Style: "What is the intensely maturing experience of which Hardy's modern man is most sensible? In my view it is suffering, or sadness, and extended consideration of the centrality of suffering in Hardy's work should be the first duty of the true critic for which the work is still waiting [. . .] Any approach to his work, as to any writer's work, must seek first of all to determine what element is peculiarly his, which imaginative note he strikes most plangently, and to deny that in this case it is the sometimes gentle, sometimes ironic, sometimes bitter but always passive apprehension of suffering is, I think, wrong-headed." Another key element of Hardy's Style is his use of plot twists. No one can pack so many into a story so successfully. To see him weave plot pieces back and forth between his characters and take us to new places in the narrative is to watch a master painter at work. For this reason it is highly advised: DO NOT READ ANYTHING ABOUT THE PLOT BEFORE YOU READ THE BOOK ! (~450 pp)
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Apologies to Tolstoy, but the best first sentence in literary fiction was written by John Irving: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” Ranked #26 in The Great American Read program on PBS, come discuss one of the great American novels with us.
- Mother's Milk by Edward St. Aubyn
The book is almost always better than the film or TV show, right? The ShowTime series may have Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose, but we have the original words written by author Edward St. Aubyn. Come join us as we discuss this novel that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. From Goodreads: The once illustrious, once wealthy Melroses are in peril. Caught up in the wreckage of broken promises, child-rearing, adultery and assisted suicide, Patrick finds his wife Mary consumed by motherhood, his mother in thrall to a New Age foundation, and his young son Robert understanding far more than he should. But even as the family struggles against the pull of its ever-present past, a new generation brings a new tenderness, and the possibility of change
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Want to impress your friends with your erudite musings about Russian classics? Need literary geek street cred? Earn bookworm bragging rights by reading the 1200+ pages of War and Peace. From Goodreads: War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. As Napoleon's army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds--peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers--as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming one of the most moving--and human--figures in world literature.
- The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen
From Goodreads: One of Elizabeth Bowen’s most artful and psychologically acute novels, The House in Paris is a timeless masterpiece of nuance and construction, and represents the very best of Bowen’s celebrated work. When eleven-year-old Henrietta arrives at the Fishers’ well-appointed house in Paris, she is prepared to spend her day between trains looked after by an old friend of her grandmother’s. Little does Henrietta know what fascinations the Fisher house itself contains–along with secrets that have the potential to topple a marriage and redeem the life of a peculiar young boy. By the time Henrietta leaves the house that evening, she is in possession of the kind of grave knowledge that is usually reserved only for adults.