Book Club Reading Lists
Brainerd Library Book Club 2018
January 24th: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope–a captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . as only a dog could tell it.
February 28th: Karen by Maria Killilea
Readers say, “It’s probably been 35 years since I first read this story, but I remember that it captured me like no other book had to that point. The true story of a baby who was born extremely prematurely, at a time when premature babies were given little hope of survival. Karen had cerebral palsy.” “Loved this book as a child and learned about perseverance in the face of obstacles. Karen and her family are/were remarkable”
March 28th Girls of Tender Age by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith articulates the wild jubilance of an extended French-Italian family struggling to survive in a post-World War II housing project in Hartford, CT. Smith seamlessly combines a memoir with the tale of a community plagued by a malevolent predator.
Smith’s Hartford neighborhood is small-town America, where everyone’s door is unlocked and the school, church, library, drugstore, 5 & 10, grocery, and tavern are all within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters—her possibly psychic mother who’s always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her adoring father, her grandfather who teaches her to catch eels in Long Island Sound, Uncle Guido who makes the annual bagna cauda, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life. And then there’s her brother, Tyler. Little Mary-Ann couldn’t have friends over because her autistic older brother, Tyler, was unable to bear noise of any kind.
Hanging over this rough-and-tumble American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menace lurks throughout this joyous and chaotic family portrait, and the havoc he unleashes one December evening in 1953 forever alters Smith’s childhood. Girls of Tender Age is one of those books that will forever change its readers because of its beauty and power and remarkable wit.
April 25, 2018 Mother Land by Paul Theroux
A richly detailed, darkly hilarious novel of a family held together and torn apart by its narcissistic matriarch
To those in her Cape Cod town, Mother is an exemplar of piety, frugality, and hard work. To her husband and 7 children, she is the selfish, petty tyrant of Mother Land. She excels at playing her offspring against each other. Her favorite, Angela, died in childbirth. The others include the officious lawyer, Fred; the uproarious professor, Floyd; a pair of inseparable sisters whose devotion to Mother has consumed their lives; and JP, the narrator, a successful writer whose work she disparages. As she lives well past the age of 100, her brood struggles with and among themselves to shed her viselike hold on them.
Mother Land is a piercing portrait of how a parent’s narcissism impacts a family. Mother Land presents for everyone an engrossing, heartbreaking, and often funny saga of a vast family that bickers, colludes, connives, and ultimately overcomes the painful ties that bind them.
May 23, 2018 Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved 11-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.
From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation.
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
Set in the mid-19th century, and written from the author’s first-hand experience, North and South follows the story of the heroine’s movement from the tranquil but moribund ways of southern England to the vital but turbulent north. Elizabeth Gaskell’s skillful narrative uses an unusual love story to show how personal and public lives were woven together in a newly industrial society. This is a tale of hard-won triumphs – of rational thought over prejudice and of humane care over blind deference to the market. Readers will find themselves absorbed as this Victorian novel traces the origins of problems and possibilities which are still challenging 150 years later: the complex relationships, public and private, between men and women of different classes.
August 22, 2018 The Obsession by Nora Roberts
“She stood in the deep, dark woods, breath shallow and cold prickling over her skin despite the hot, heavy air. She took a step back, then two, as the urge to run fell over her.”
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can’t outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes.
Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, a rambling old house in need of repair, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the kindly residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton. Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But the sins of her father can become an obsession, and, as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
A haunting account of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last 6 months of Kim Jong-il’s reign
Every day, 3 times a day, the students march in 2 straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields—except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on from the walls of every room, and where Suki has gone undercover as a missionary and a teacher. Over the next 6 months, she will eat 3 meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them English, under the watchful eye of the regime.
Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic, especially for Suki, whose letters are read by censors and who must hide her notes and photographs from her minders and colleagues—evangelical Christian missionaries who don’t know or choose to ignore that Suki doesn’t share their faith. As the weeks pass, she is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. At the same time, they offer Suki tantalizing glimpses of their private selves—their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished. She in turn begins to hint at the existence of a world beyond their own—at such exotic activities as surfing the Internet or traveling freely and, more dangerously, at electoral democracy and other ideas forbidden in a country where defectors risk torture and execution. But when Kim Jong-il dies, and the boys she has come to love appear devastated, she wonders whether the gulf between her world and theirs can ever be bridged. Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse
of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves.”
October 24, 2018
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
A book that instantly captured the hearts of readers across the country, An American Childhood is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard’s poignant, vivid memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.
Before We Were Yours
Memphis, 1939. 12-year-old Rill Foss and her 4 younger siblings on their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital, Rill is left in charge—until strangers. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption. Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.
Healthy Exchange Book Club 2018
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmund Tutu
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than 50 years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.
In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s 80th birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?
They traded intimate stories, teased each other continually, and shared their spiritual practices. By the end of a week filled with laughter and punctuated with tears, these two global heroes had stared into the abyss and despair of our time and revealed how to live a life brimming with joy.
This book offers us a rare opportunity to experience their astonishing and unprecedented week together, from the first embrace to the final good-bye.
We get to listen as they explore the Nature of True Joy and confront each of the Obstacles of Joy—from fear, stress, and anger to grief, illness, and death. They then offer us the Eight Pillars of Joy, which provide the foundation for lasting happiness. Throughout, they include stories, wisdom, and science. Finally, they share their daily Joy Practices that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives.
The Archbishop has never claimed sainthood, and the Dalai Lama considers himself a simple monk. In this unique collaboration, they offer us the reflection of real lives filled with pain and turmoil in the midst of which they have been able to discover a level of peace, of courage, and of joy to which we can all aspire in our own lives.
Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence by Lisa Factora-Borchers
Dear Sister shares the lessons, memories, and vision of over 50 artists, activists, mothers, writers, and students who share their stories of survival or what it means to be an advocate and ally to survivors. Written in an epistolary format, this multi-generational, multi-ethnic collection of letters and essays is a moving journey into the hearts and minds of the survivors of rape, incest, and other forms of sexual violence, written directly to and for other survivors.
Dear Sister goes far beyond traditional books about healing, which often use “experts” to explain the experience of survivors for the rest of the world. Where other books about rape weave the voices of feminists and activists together and imagine what a world without violence might look like, Dear Sister describes the reality of what the world looks like through the eyes of a survivor. From a professor in the Midwest to a poet in Belgium, an escapee from a child prostitution ring, a survivor advocate in the Congo, and a sex worker in San Francisco, Dear Sister touches on issues of feminism, love, disability, gender, justice, identity, and spirituality.
Praise for Dear Sister: “This chilling, heartbreaking, and necessary collection consists of letters from 40 artists, activists, writers, and students, who are survivors of sexual assault and here offer counsel to ‘sister’ survivors. Every story is shadowed by the teller’s sense of shame, brokenness, depression, and pain, but at the same time, in anticipation of the addressees’ experience of sexual assault, the letters also offer comfort, solidarity, reassurance, the possibility of healing, and testimony of survival.”—Publishers Weekly
The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker
Don’t Settle for More
Most of us know we own too much stuff. We feel the weight and burden of our clutter, and we tire of cleaning and managing and organizing. While excess consumption leads to bigger houses, faster cars, fancier technology, and cluttered homes, it never brings happiness. Rather, it results in a desire for more. It redirects our greatest passions to things that can never fulfill. And it distracts us from the very life we wish we were living.
In The More of Less, Joshua Becker helps you…
• Recognize the life-giving benefits of owning less
• Realize how all the stuff you own is keeping you from pursuing your dreams
• Craft a personal, practical approach to decluttering your home and life
• Experience the joys of generosity
• Learn why the best part of minimalism isn’t a clean house, it’s a full life
Make Room in Your Life for What You Really Want
Joshua Becker realized he was spending far too much time organizing possessions, cleaning up messes, and looking for more to buy. So he and his wife decided to remove the nonessential possessions from their home and life. They sold, donated, or discarded over 60 percent of what they owned. In exchange, they found a life of more freedom, more contentment, more generosity, and more opportunity to pursue the things that mattered most. The More of Less delivers an empowering plan for living more by owning less. With practical suggestions and encouragement to personalize your own minimalist style, Joshua Becker shows you why minimizing possessions is the best way to maximize life. Are you ready for less cleaning, less anxiety, and less stress in your life? Simplicity isn’t as complicated as you think.
Driving Miss Norma by by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle
When Miss Norma was diagnosed with uterine cancer, she was advised to undergo surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. But instead of confining herself to a hospital bed for what could be her last stay, Miss Norma—newly widowed after nearly seven decades of marriage—rose to her full height of five feet and told her doctor, “I’m ninety years old. I’m hitting the road.”
And so Miss Norma took off on an unforgettable around-the-country journey in a thirty-six-foot motor home with her retired son Tim, his wife Ramie, and their dog Ringo.
As this once timid woman says “yes” to living in the face of death, she tries regional foods for the first time, reaches for the clouds in a hot air balloon, and mounts up for a horseback ride. With each passing mile (and one educational visit to a cannabis dispensary), Miss Norma’s health improves and conversations that had once been taboo begin to unfold. Norma, Tim, and Ramie bond in ways they had never done before, and their definitions of home, family, and friendship expand. Stop by stop, state by state, they meet countless people from all walks of life—strangers who become fast friends and welcome them with kindness and open hearts.
Infused with this irrepressible nonagenarian’s wisdom, courage, and generous spirit, Driving Miss Norma is the charming, infectiously joyous chronicle of their experiences on the road. It portrays a transformative journey of living life on your own terms that shows us that it is never too late to begin an adventure, inspire hope, or become a trailblazer.
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown
“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.
Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces 4 practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”
Praise for Brené Brown’s Rising Strong: “[Brown’s] research and work have given us a new vocabulary, a way to talk with each other about the ideas and feelings and fears we’ve all had but haven’t quite known how to articulate. . . . [She] empowers us each to be a little more courageous.”—The Huffington Post
The Stress Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity by Melanie Greenberg Phd
“Highly recommended for mental health professionals and consumer health readers looking to manage stress.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
Modern times are stressful—and it’s killing us. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid the things that stress us out, but we can change how we respond to them. In this breakthrough book, a clinical psychologist and neuroscience expert offers an original approach to help readers harness the power of positive emotions and overcome stress for good.
Stress is, unfortunately, a natural part of life—especially in our busy and hectic modern times. But you don’t have to let it get in the way of your health and happiness. Studies show that the key to coping with stress is simpler than you think—it’s all about how you respond to the situations and things that stress you out or threaten to overwhelm you.
The Stress-Proof Brain offers powerful, comprehensive tools based in mindfulness, neuroscience, and positive psychology to help you put a stop to unhealthy responses to stress—such as avoidance, tunnel vision, negative thinking, self-criticism, fixed mindset, and fear. Instead, you’ll discover unique exercises that provide a recipe for resilience, empowering you to master your emotional responses, overcome negative thinking, and create a more tolerant, stress-proof brain.
This book will help you develop an original and effective program for mastering your emotional brain’s response to stress by harnessing the power of neuroplasticity. By creating a more stress tolerant, resilient brain, you’ll learn to shrug off the small stuff, deal with the big stuff, and live a happier, healthier life.
*Moved to September 12, 2018
Real Food Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It by Larry Olmsted
“Olmsted makes you insanely hungry and steaming mad–a must-read for anyone who cares deeply about the safety of our food and the welfare of our planet.” —Steven Raichlen, author of the Barbecue! Bible series
“The world is full of delicious, lovingly crafted foods that embody the terrain, weather, and culture of their origins. Unfortunately, it’s also full of brazen impostors. In this entertaining and important book, Olmsted helps us fall in love with the real stuff and steer clear of the fraudsters.” —Kirk Kardashian, author of Milk Money: Cash, Cows, and the Death of the American Dairy Farm
You’ve seen the headlines: Parmesan cheese made from wood pulp. Lobster rolls containing no lobster at all. Extra-virgin olive oil that isn’t. So many fake foods are in our supermarkets, our restaurants, and our kitchen cabinets that it’s hard to know what we’re eating anymore. In Real Food / Fake Food, award-winning journalist Larry Olmsted convinces us why real food matters and empowers consumers to make smarter choices.
Olmsted brings readers into the unregulated food industry, revealing the shocking deception that extends from high-end foods like olive oil, wine, and Kobe beef to everyday staples such as coffee, honey, juice, and cheese. It’s a massive bait and switch in which counterfeiting is rampant and in which the consumer ultimately pays the price.
But Olmsted does more than show us what foods to avoid. A bona fide gourmand, he travels to the sources of the real stuff to help us recognize what to look for, eat, and savor: genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy, fresh-caught grouper from Florida, authentic port from Portugal. Real foods that are grown, raised, produced, and prepared with care by masters of their craft. Part cautionary tale, part culinary crusade, Real Food / Fake Food is addictively readable, mouthwateringly enjoyable, and utterly relevant.
Healthy Brain, Happy Life: A Personal Program to Activate Your Brain and Do Everything Better by Wendy Suzuki
A neuroscientist transforms the way we think about our brain, our health, and our personal happiness in this clear, informative, and inspiring guide—a blend of personal memoir, science narrative, and immediately useful takeaways that bring the human brain into focus as never before, revealing the powerful connection between exercise, learning, memory, and cognitive abilities.
Nearing forty, Dr. Wendy Suzuki was at the pinnacle of her career. An award-winning university professor and world-renowned neuroscientist, she had tenure, her own successful research lab, prestigious awards, and international renown.
To celebrate her birthday, she booked an adventure trip that forced her to wake up to a startling reality: despite her professional success, she was overweight, lonely, and tired and knew that her life had to change. Wendy started simply—by going to an exercise class. Eventually, she noticed an improvement in her memory, her energy levels, and her ability to work quickly and move from task to task easily. Not only did Wendy begin to get fit, but she also became sharper, had more energy, and her memory improved. Being a neuroscientist, she wanted to know why.
What she learned transformed her body and her life. Now, it can transform yours.
Wendy discovered that there is a biological connection between exercise, mindfulness, and action. With exercise, your body feels more alive and your brain actually performs better. Yes—you can make yourself smarter. In this fascinating book, Suzuki makes neuroscience easy to understand, interweaving her personal story with groundbreaking research, and offering practical, short exercises—4 minute Brain Hacks—to engage your mind and improve your memory, your ability to learn new skills, and function more efficiently.
Taking us on an amazing journey inside the brain as never before, Suzuki helps us unlock the keys to neuroplasticity that can change our brains, or bodies, and, ultimately, our lives.