- “If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin
In early 1970s Harlem, a young couple fall in love. But they and their families must deal with the consequences when he is jailed and she finds out she’s pregnant. In her review of the book in 1974, Joyce Carol Oates called it “moving,” “painful,” but “ultimately optimistic,” an affirmation not just of the love between a man and a woman but of the love between family members and the sacrifices people will make for those they love.
- “And Then There Were None” and “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”
We’ve never read mystery legend Agatha Christie here, so we’re going to focus on two of her most fiendishly clever books. “And Then There Were None” finds eight strangers gathered, by invitation, at a house on a small, isolated island. Before long, the guests start dying one by one. In “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigates the death of the title character, a wealthy man whose fiancée has recently died by suicide.
- “The Last September” by Elizabeth Bowen
Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day in March, I figured we could read an Irish author. “The Last September” focuses on the Naylor family and their circle, who gather at their country home in County Cork while British rule in Southern Ireland limps to its end. Bowen depicts the tensions between older and younger generations, tradition and independence as the Irish War for independence rages.
- “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry
In honor of Black History Month, we’re going to read “A Raisin in the Sun.” Informed by a real Supreme Court Case that Hansberry’s family was involved with, “Raisin” made the 29-year-old writer the first black woman playwright to have a play performed on Broadway. This is the story of the Younger family and their efforts to move to a house in an all-white neighborhood, as well as son Walter’s attempts to get rich and better their lives, and daughter Beneatha’s search for direction in her life.
- “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing this, and I’m giving you plenty of notice. January is the month we read Russian novels, and “War and Peace” is the ultimate Russian novel. It follows five aristocratic families through the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic occupation on tsarist society. I hope you all join me on this adventure!
- “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay
“Picnic at Hanging Rock,” considered by many to be one of the greatest novels to come out of Australia, is about the disappearance of a group of boarding school students from a picnic and the ensuing effects on the school and the surrounding town. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one for a while.
- “Advise and Consent” by Allen Drury
November is a political month, and given current events, books don’t get much more topical than this one. “Advise and Consent” follows the confirmation of Robert Leffingwell as Secretary of State. However, Leffingwell’s confirmation is endangered by evidence that he belonged to the Communist Party. How the characters respond and their efforts to spread or suppress these revelations form the basis of the novel.
- "The Castle of Otranto" by Horace Walpole and "The Monk" by Matthew Lewis
October is "Horror Month," and thus we will read two 18th century classics of Gothic horror. "The Castle of Otranto," from 1764, is considered the first supernatural English novel. It tells the story of Manfred, prince of Otranto, whose fear of an ancient prophecy prompts him to try to marry his dead son's fiancée, setting him on the road to destruction. "The Monk," from 1796, follows an abbot named Ambrosio and his descent into torture, murder and incest. The book led the House of Commons -- of which Lewis was a member -- to condemn Lewis as licentious and perverse.
- "Palace Walk" by Naguib Mahfouz
"Palace Walk" homes in on one Cairo family, ruled by a tyrannical and hypocritical patriarch, exploring their relationships with each other and the nature of authority in both the household and in wider circumstances during the run-up to the 1919 nationalist revolution. This is the first installment in 1988 Nobel winner Mahfouz's famed "Cairo Trilogy," which depicts three generations of this family from World War I until after the 1952 overthrow of King Farouk. If you're feeling ambitious, I highly recommend reading the other two installments, "Palace of Desire" and "Sugar Street" -- I've read the whole trilogy before and I'm going to try to reread it for this meetup.
- "A House for Mr. Biswas" by V.S. Naipaul
"A House for Mr. Biswas" put 2001 Nobel winner Naipaul on the map and generally is considered one of his most significant works. It follows the title character through a series of vocations as he tries to achieve success but instead finds himself subject to the vagaries of his in-laws and the colonial society in which he lives. Fun fact: "A House for Mr. Biswas" was adapted as a stage musical, and one of the songs -- "Good Sign, Bad Sign" -- was later rewritten as the James Bond theme.