A year's worth of books worth talking about
Readers who joined last year's Utne Book Club in the Caf? Utne online community know that these wide-ranging discussions featuring Utne staffers and many enthusiastic book lovers -- sometimes with the book's author putting in a cameo appearance -- take the excitement of reading to a whole new level. Starting in January, a new round of discussions of great new books begins.
You Shall Know Our Velocity!
by Dave Eggers (Vintage)
Is he a staggering, heartbreaking genius? Whatever you think of America's hottest young writer, Eggers' combination of irony and seriousness, done up in colorful prose, generates debate. In his latest, a couple of friends travel the world giving away money.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
by Dai Sijie (Anchor)
This story follows two boys who relive the rigors of Maoist re-education in the Chinese countryside by secretly reading a cache of forbidden Western classics. Dai, a filmmaker who experienced brutal Communist re-education firsthand, writes in a breezy, cinematic style that has helped propel this first novel to international acclaim.
The Razor's Edge
by Somerset Maugham (Vintage)
First published in 1943, The Razor's Edge was an immensely popular novel by an immensely popular writer. Maugham's main character, Larry Darrell, is a 'Dharma bum' years before Kerouac -- a young seeker who rejects his past in search of spiritual meaning on travels around the world.
by Diana Abu-Jabar (Norton)
Centered on the love affair between Sirine, a beautiful Arab-American chef, and Hanif, a college professor exiled from Iraq, Crescent shows Arabs as human beings rather than symbols of American fear. Far from being didactic, however, Abu-Jabar's novel is charming and romantic, with themes of food, love, and longing entwined in a sensuous narrative.
Break Any Woman Down
by Dana Johnson (Anchor Books)
Johnson's outsider characters -- porn stars, punkers, alienated nerds -- all struggle with the contradictions between who they are, who they want to be, and who others want them to be. This collection of short stories -- Johnson's first book -- reflects her journey from black, blue-collar Los Angeles to the literary life.
by Penelope Lively (Viking)
In the opening pages of Lively's 13th novel, Glyn Peters stumbles across 'the photograph,' which depicts his late wife holding hands with another man. His obsession with uncovering the story of her unfaithfulness leads him into a painful past.
The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir
by Norman Manea (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Novelist Norman Manea recounts his childhood in fascist Romania, his return visit in 1997, and his experiences -- in Romanian concentration camps and in exile from Communist strongman Nicolae Ceau?sescu's regime -- during the intervening years.
Theater of the Stars: A Novel of Physics and Memory
by N. M. Kelby (Theis/Hyperion)
Lucienne Kundera, an astrophysicist teaching in a small American college, is suddenly confronted by the mysteries surrounding her mother's escape from the ravages of World War II -- and turns her scientifically trained deductive powers to untangling this personal riddle.
All Over Creation
by Ruth Ozeki (Pan Macmillan)
Another witty topical novel from the documentary filmmaker-novelist whose My Year of Meats took readers behind the scenes in the meat industry. In her latest, Japanese-American Yumi Fuller returns to the Idaho family farm she ran away from at age 14. There she discovers a brewing conflict involving genetically modified potatoes, heirloom seeds, and her father as the unlikely hero of a group of environmental activists.
Hungry for the World: A Memoir
by Kim Barnes (Anchor)
The daughter of a devout Pentecostal father, Barnes grew up in rural Idaho, bookish and yearning for the wider world. This is the story of her bold departure from her home town just after her high school graduation in 1976. With no skills and no prospects, she fared forth anyway, armed only with determination and a desire to live her own life.
by Randy Taguchi (Vertical)
Taguchi's brusque prose style and heady mix of sex, spirituality, and mystery have made her a household name in her native Japan, where all three of her novels have been bestsellers. Outlet follows the adventures of Yuki, who discovers a strange talent for sexual healing while searching for the truth about her brother's suicide.
by Pat Barker (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)
This history teacher turned writer won the Booker prize in 1993 for her stunning Regeneration trilogy, among the best World War I novels ever written. Since then, Barker has explored contemporary themes. In this deft psychological novel, a burned-out war reporter retreats to a small town in search of respite and instead uncovers a sinister mystery.