Book Discussion Group Title List 2011

January 2011

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. She finds it in a letter from a man she's never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society's members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.


February 2011

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK
By Geraldine Brooks

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed manuscript, which has been rescued once again from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with figurative paintings. When Hanna discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair she becomes determined to unlock the book's mysteries. As she seeks the counsel of scientists and specialists, the reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book's journey from its creation to its salvation.

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author.


March 2011

MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND
By Helen Simonson

As the novel opens, Major Ernest Pettigrew is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun part of a set that the boys' father split between them, but which Bertie's widow doesn't want to hand over. As he frets over the guns, the major's friendship with Jasmina Ali the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner takes an unexpected turn. The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as the author nudges the Major and Jasmina further along a romantic path and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy.


April 2011

THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG
By Muriel Barbery

Renee Michel is the dumpy, nondescript, 54-year-old concierge of a small and exclusive Paris apartment building. She is also an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured woman who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated "super" to avoid suspicion from the building's pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich.

The two discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Rene's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.


May 2011

MUSEUM: BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
By Danny Danziger

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a grand, inviting, and endlessly inspiring treasury of art from nearly every culture onearth. Right in our backyard, aside New York City's magnificent Central Park, the Met, founded in 1870, is the second largest museum in the world, following the Louvre, and draws four million internationalvisitorseach year. Much has been written about the museum's vast holdings and rise to prominence but this book captures the spirit of the living museum in a fresh and intimate oral history portraying 52 out of2,000 full-time employees. Readers will meet a 30-year information-desk veteran; the museum's gifted florist; the librarian; ardent curators who wax eloquent about their collections, from tapestries to baseball cards to Vermeers to musical instruments; the security chief; a cleaner; a waitress; and the director. Each offers intriguing disclosures both personal and institutional, and all marvel at their good fortune. This book is unique, highly enjoyable and will appeal to anyone from the generalist to the specialist interested in an intimate and rare view of the Metropolitan.


June 2011

CLAUDE AND CAMILLE
By Stephanie Cowell

Claude & Camille is a wonderfully absorbing and romantic novel, the story of Claude Monet's passion for his painting and his equally passionate love for a woman who is as elusive as the water lilies that he strove to capture on canvas. The novel offers a fascinating look at nineteenth-century Paris, the bohemian lives of the Impressionists, and their struggle to create a new way of seeing the world. The author paints an unforgettable portrait of Claude Monet and the two passions that framed his life: his beautiful, tragic wife, Camille, and his pursuit of art. With elegant prose that blends color, light, and shadow to perfection, much as Monet did in hiscanvasses, Stephanie Cowell offers us a gorgeously rendered tale of love, genius, andhaunting loss set against the dramatic backdrop of a world on the verge of inescapablechange.


July 2011

THE HELP
By Kathryn Stockett

White ladies playing bridge and sipping ice tea. Colored maids cooking, cleaning, and loving the white babies. The separate, intertwined paths of these worlds are going to collide. Stockett focuses on the fascinating and complex relationships between vastly different members of several households.

Skeeter, a tall, ungainly young woman and an aspiring journalist decides to interview several maids about the experience of working for white families in Mississippi in 1962. With the reluctant assistance of Aibileen and her feisty friend, Minny, Skeeter manages to interview a dozen of the city's maids, and the book, when it is finally published, rocks Jackson's world in unimaginable ways. With pitch-perfect tone and an unerring facility for character and setting, Stockett's richly accomplished debut novel inventively explores the unspoken ways in which the nascent civil rights and feminist movements threatened the southern status quo.


August 2011

DRIFTLESS
By David Rhodes

In this pleasantly overstuffed novel we make the acquaintance of newly-minted pastor Winifred Smith, whose cryptic spiritual epiphany starts to inform every aspect of her life; of July Montgomery, who mysteriously showed up some 20 years ago and whose quiet devotion to farming conceals a tragic past; of Graham's sister Gail, who works in the local plastics factory and plays bass in a band; and of sisters Violet and Olivia Brasso, the latter an 89-pound invalid who's emotionally rescued by roughneck Wade Armbuster through the unlikely medium of dogfighting. Things happen in Words, but in a decidedly slow way. Cora gets fired from her job, Winifred tries to explain the nature of her spiritual awakening. Most importantly, people learn to overcome their reticence, occasionally even opening themselves to the possibility of falling in love. Encompassing and incisive, comedic and profound, Driftless is a radiant novel of community and courage.


September 2011

The Amateur Marriage
By Anne Tyler

Pauline is pretty, impulsive, and touchy, and although she and the far more deliberate and reticent Michael fall instantly in love, they are also immediately at odds. They marry precipitously, move into the cramped apartment above the store with his mother, rapidly produce three children, and consistently make each other miserable. Tyler ranges over 60 years of American experience from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the anniversary of that day in 2001 as she tracks the couple's domestic disturbances. Her writing is beautifully accurate, more often than not with a glinting vein of humor. Throughout, as each of the competing voices bears witness, we are drawn ever more fully into the complex entanglements of family life in this wise, embracing, and deeply perceptive novel.


October 2011

CUTTING FOR STONE
By Abraham Verghese

This is a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. It begins with the birth of conjoined twins to an Indian nun in an Ethiopian hospital in 1954. The likely father, a British surgeon, flees upon the mother's death, and the (now separated) baby boys are adopted by a loving Indian couple who run the hospital. Bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics their passion for the same woman that will tear them apart.

The author creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. Verghese plays straight to the heart in his first novel, which will keep you in its thrall.


November 2011

JULIET
By Anna Fortier

American Julie Jacobs travels to Siena in search of her Italian heritage--and possibly an inheritance--only to discover she is descended from 14th-century Giulietta Tomei, whose love for Romeo defied their feuding families and inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Julie's hunt leads her to the families' descendants, still living in Siena, still feuding, and still struggling under the curse of the friar who wished a plague on both their houses. Julie's unraveling of the past is assisted by a Felliniesque contessa and the contessa's handsome nephew, and complicated by mobsters, police, and a mysterious motorcyclist. Lovers of adventurous fiction will lose themselves in Fortier's exciting, intricately woven tale.