Utne Book Club 2004

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.

January
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.

February
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.

March
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.

April
Crescent
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.

May
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.

June
The Photograph
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.

July
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.

August
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.

September
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.

October
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.

November
Outlet
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.

December
Double Vision
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.

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