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The Tortilla Curtain

2006 Selection

"Afterward, he tried to reduce it to abstract terms, an accident in a world of accidents, the collision of opposing forces – the bumper of his car and the frail, scrambling hunched-over form of a dark little man with a wild look in his eye – but he wasn’t very successful.” The first sentence of T.C. Boyle’s controversial novel propels the reader into a conflict that is one of the most current issues at the forefront of the political arena, the controversy over illegal immigration. Topanga Canyon is home to two couples; one searching for their vision of the American Dream, the other trying desperately to save it.
 

Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an ordered sushi-and-recycling existence in an exclusive, hilltop neighborhood overlooking the canyon. Camped out in the ravine, Mexican illegals Candido and America Rincon desperately search to find work and an apartment before their baby is born.

From the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact, these four and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragicomedy of error and misunderstanding. T.C. Boyle confronts not only immigration but social consciousness, environmental awareness, crime, and unemployment in a tale that raises the curtain on the dark side of the American dream.

—From the book jacket of The Tortilla Curtain and ReadingGroupGuides.com

Read the winning entries from "The New American Dream" essay contest 

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

2007 Selection

"Some people will tell you this is a book about 9/11. It's not. Others will tell you that there's no way this eight year old narrator is believable. They're missing the point. Foer believes that "Sometimes you have to tell certain lies of reality in order to tell certain truths of emotion." That Oskar is occasionally a little wise beyond his years should not distract readers from the crux of the story: how does one cope with a devastating loss? After Oskar's dad was killed in the WTC attacks, Oskar finds a mysterious key, one that he thinks may be part of a treasure hunt game they used to play. This quest to find one last link to his father is the heart of this remarkable novel.

Now that he has two books out, I can see a style emerging: quirky, loveable narrators, humorous yet wrenching storylines, and his own way of looking at the world. For above all, Foer is a lover of language; he sees potential in the mundane, and transforms those words into glorious images all his own. I read this book in one sitting - no lunch, no bathroom breaks, just little Oskar and me, wandering around the streets of New York, searching for answers."

—Dana Schulz, Snowbound Books

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The Shadow of the Wind

2008 Selection

"Barcelona, 1945—just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly."

—Penguin Books

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The Things They Carried

2009 Selection

The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves.

With the creative verve of the greatest fiction and the intimacy of a searing autobiography, The Things They Carried is a testament to the men who risked their lives in America's most controversial war. It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity. Ultimately The Things They Carried and its myriad protagonists call to order the courage, determination, and luck we all need to survive.

—Random House, Inc

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The Sparrow

2010 Selection

A man returns to Earth—sole survivor of an interplanetary expedition—horribly disfigured and guarding a shocking secret. What happened to Emilio Sandoz on the planet Rakhat?  What happened to the others that went with him?  And why?  This story is essentially about the destruction that can result when one culture steps into another culture, even with the best of intentions.

The plot centers on a Jesuit mission to another planet, but it is neither science fiction nor overly religious.  Rather, it is a beautifully written novel that forces us to take a hard look at our society, its history and its values, and what it means to have faith in something.

Russell's PhD in anthropology helps her create worlds, species and societies that are believable and shocking; her talent as a writer helps her people the book with funny and intelligent characters. Much more than a fascinating tale of first contact, The Sparrow reaches beyond genre fiction into an examination of morality, belief and what it means to gain, question, or even to lose, one's faith.

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The Lazarus Project

2011 Selection

As fears of the anarchist movement roil 1908 Chicago, the chief of police guns down Lazarus Averbuch, an eastern European immigrant Jew who showed up at the chief's doorstep to deliver a note. Almost a century later, Bosnian-American writer Vladimir Brik secures a coveted grant and begins working on a book about Lazarus; his research takes him and fellow Bosnian Rora, a fast-talking photographer whose photos appear throughout the novel, on a twisted tour of eastern Europe (there are brothel-hotels, bouts of violence, gallons of coffee and many fabulist stories from Rora) that ends up being more a journey into their own pasts than a fact-finding mission.

Sharing equal narrative duty is the story of Olga Averbuch, Lazarus's sister, who, hounded by the police and the press (the Tribune reporter is especially vile), is faced with another shock: the disappearance of her brother's body from his potter's grave. (His name, after all, was Lazarus.) Hemon's workmanlike prose underscores his piercing wit, and between the murders that bookend the novel, there's pathos and outrage enough to chip away at even the hardest of hearts.

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A Mountain of Crumbs

2012 Selection

A Mountain of Crumbs is the moving story of a Soviet girl who discovers the truths adults are hiding from her and the lies her homeland lives by. Elena’s country is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars, but a nation struggling to retain its power and its pride. Born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, Elena finds her passion in the complexity of the English language—but in the Soviet Union of the 1960s such a passion verges on the subversive. Elena is controlled by the state the same way she is controlled by her mother, a mirror image of her motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. In the battle between a strong-willed daughter and her authoritarian mother, the daughter, in the end, must break free and leave in order to survive. Through Elena’s captivating voice, we learn not only the stories of Russian family life in the second half of the twentieth century, but also the story of one rebellious citizen whose curiosity and determination finally transport her to a new world. It is an elegy to the lost country of childhood, where those who leave can never return.

Listen to Public Radio 90's interview with Elena Gorokhova while she was on campus.

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The Age of Miracles

2013 Selection

Spellbinding, haunting, The Age of Miracles is a beautiful novel of catastrophe and survival, growth and change, the story of Julia and her family as they struggle to live in an extraordinary time. On an ordinary Saturday, Julia awakes to discover that something has happened to the rotation of the earth. The days and nights are growing longer and longer, gravity is affected, the birds, the tides, human behavior and cosmic rhythms are thrown into disarray. In a world of danger and loss, Julia faces surprising developments in herself, and her personal world—divisions widening between her parents, strange behavior by Hannah and other friends, the vulnerability of first love, a sense of isolation, and a rebellious new strength. With crystalline prose and the indelible magic of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker gives us a breathtaking story of people finding ways to go on, in an ever-evolving world.

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Detroit: An American Autopsy

2014 Selection

Back in his broken hometown, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff searches the ruins of Detroit for clues to his family’s troubled past. Having led us on the way up, Detroit now seems to be leading us on the way down. Once the richest city in America, Detroit is now the nation’s poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass-production, blue-collar jobs, and automobiles—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, dropouts, and foreclosures. With the steel-eyed reportage that has become his trademark, and the righteous indignation only a native son possesses, LeDuff sets out to uncover what destroyed his city. He beats on the doors of union bosses and homeless squatters, powerful businessmen and struggling homeowners and the ordinary people holding the city together by sheer determination. Detroit: An American Autopsy is an unbelievable story of a hard town in a rough time filled with some of the strangest and strongest people our country has to offer.

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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

2015 Selection

Clay is an out-of-work graphic designer who finds a job on the night shift at a San Francisco bookshop. Soon after, he and several high tech friends are engaged in a quest to solve a centuries-old mystery involving codes, a medieval typeface, and the search for immortality. Mr. Penumbra’s is a fun and magical book wherein friendship, perseverance, intelligence, imagination and Google optimistically link old and new technology and speak to our desire for permanence in the digital age.

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The Round House

2016 Selection

One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.

Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love MedicineThe Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich's The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.

The Round House won the National Book Award for fiction.

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Wolf's Mouth

2017 Selection

The novel features a WWII Italian officer in a Prisoner of War camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the ruthless camp commandant, and the officer’s adventures with an American woman after his escape to postwar Detroit.  Caught between American justice and Nazi vengeance, Officer Francesco Verdi/Frank Green gives voice to the hopes, fears, and hard choices of a survivor as he strives to escape the ghosts of history.

Watch John Smolens' presentation on the research process he used in investigating the history for this book and his other novels!

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Harborless

2018 Selection

A collection of poems informed by Great Lakes shipwrecks, is part history and part reinvention. The poems explore tragic wrecks in rivers and lakes, finding and forming artistic meaning from destruction and death. Each poem begins in a real, historical moment. Harborless is a 2018 Michigan Notable Book and winner of the 2017 Moveen Prize in Poetry. Cindy Hunter Morgan teaches creative writing and book arts at Michigan State University. She is also the author of two chapbooks: The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker, which won The Ledge Press 2011 Poetry Chapbook Competition, and Apple Season, which won the Midwest Writing Center's 2012 Chapbook Contest. 

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The Living Great Lakes

2018 Selection

The story of an epic journey on The Malabar, a two-masted schooner the author helped sail from Lake Michigan to Bar Harbor, Maine. Battling storms and internal strife, the crew of five navigate the lakes and their connecting waterways, traverse the Erie Canal and a flooding Hudson River, and make their way around Manhattan to Long Island Sound and up the Atlantic coast to Maine. Awards include the 2004 Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, the Best Book of the Year from the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and 2004 Michigan Notable Book. Dennis’s essays, poems, and short fiction have appeared in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, Smithsonian, Audubon, American Way and Gray’s Sporting Journal. His many books cover topics ranging from fishing and canoeing, to ice caves, animals and ecosystems.

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To The Copper Country

2020 Selection

In 1886, eleven-year-old Mihaela embarks on a journey from Europe to the Keweenaw Peninsula, also known as Michigan’s Copper Country. Mihaela’s papa had made the trip two years beforehand in order to work the copper mines so that he could send money back home. But a painful eye disease has left him vulnerable in a new land and in need of the skills of his wife, an expert healer. And so Mihaela, her mother, and two younger brothers leave their family farm in Croatia for what they assume will be a brief visit to America, only to find themselves faced with a great many challenges and a stay that will not be temporary after all. To the Copper Country—Mihaela's Journey is based on the author's family history. The book was selected as the Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA), Winner, Children’s Fiction 2018 and for the Historical Society of Michigan, State History Award for Outstanding Michigan History Publication, Children and Youth 2018

 

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The Women of the Copper Country

2020 Selection

In July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements had seen enough of the world to know that it was unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and had barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite, and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle. In Annie’s hands lie the miners’ fortunes and their health, her husband’s wrath over her growing independence, and her own reputation as she faces the threat of prison and discovers a forbidden love. On her fierce quest for justice, Annie will discover just how much she is willing to sacrifice for her own independence and the families of Calumet.
 
Listen to a sample

Watch Mary Doria Russell's presentation to Two Books Two Communities audiences