(Staff Favorites) Sheila’s Picks
THE MERMAID AND MRS. HANCOCK
Imogen Hermes Gowar
Set in London during the height of the Georgian era, this is the story of a shipping merchant, who has made a fortune exhibiting an alleged mermaid corpse, and the most famed courtesan in the city, who woos him at the behest of her madam, who wants to exhibit the corpse in her brothel. Things get complicated in their romance when one of the merchant’s ships captures a real mermaid off the coast of Scotland and brings it home. It is a richly detailed historical fiction with a glaringly ahistorical element – a true mermaid. If you’re weary of the proliferation of young-women-in-peril fiction and despairing political non-fiction, try this unique and and absorbing novel. -Sheila
This may be the most life-changing book that you will read or give this year. Gawande argues that medicine must improve life as we age, giving comfort and enhancing our experience event till the end. It is disturbing but ultimately hopeful, full of eye-opening research and riveting stories.
WE ARE NOT OURSELVES
Destined to be a classic, this moving multigenerational debut novel of an Irish-American family is nothing short of a masterpiece. Through the Leary family, Thomas charts the story of the American Century with its promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity. This is one of the finest and most unforgettable novels of 2014.
This is one of the most relevant, powerful and moving books in years: A true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us and a clarion call to fix our broken justice system. Reviewers are already calling for a Pulitzer.
CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY
The store is full of inspirational titles, but this is the ne that made me want to change. Saunders, author of Tenth of December and , is critically acclaimed, hip, funny and wise. He has written a book, not just for those starting out, but for anyone who needs to take stock and remember what is really important. I want to give a copy to everyone.
The brilliant chronicler of Native Americans transports readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota where the fallout from a tribal woman’s vicious attack raises moral and legal problems which will haunt her son. At once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery and a tender, moving novel of family and culture, it is the 2012 National Book Award winner.
THE BARBAROUS YEARS
Pulitzer winner Bailyn gives us a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Europe and Africa to British North America, their involvement with each other and their struggles with indigenous peoples of the eastern seaboard. Later generations would gentrify this peopling of the first colonies, but there was nothing genteel about it. Bailyn shows that it was horrifically brutal, not only between the Europeans and native peoples and Europeans and Africans, but among Europeans themselves. This is a fresh account of the history of the British North American population in its earliest, bitterly contested years.
Nasaw was granted unrestricted access to the founder of the twentieth century’s most famous political dynasty. The elder Kennedy’s seemingly limitless ambition took him from an East Boston outsider to the first irish American Ambassador to Britain, where his antiwar position made him the subject of White House ire and popular distaste. The tragedies that befell his family marked his final years with unspeakable suffering. Nasaw addresses the questions that have haunted the legend of the patriarch: Was he an anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer? Why did he have his daughter lobotomized? Did he push his second son into politics and then buy the election for him? Always fascinating, occasionally repugnant, this is a look at a supremely influential man.
THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER
Diaz’s first novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won him the Pulitzer and established him as a major writer. Now Diaz turns his remarkable talent to the impossible power of love, obsessive, illicit, fading, and maternal love. He lays bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the heart in prose that is dazzling and memorable.
Ian McEwan’s first female protagonist since Atonement, Serena Frome, is a MI5 British Agent in 1972 London. The Cold war is far from over and England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversion by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth” and Serena is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer. This is a masterfully told story of betrayal and intrigue.
TURN OF MIND
The best literary thriller since Presumed Innocent. The narrator is a hand surgeon who has dementia, though she experiences lucid moments. She is also the prime suspect in the murder of her best friend, who was found with her fingers surgically removed. She doesn’t know whether she did it. This is a page-turning thriller and a moving and fascinating glimpse into the deteriorating mind of a tightly controlled, intelligent woman, who is slowly succumbing to her disease. Alzheimer’s works brilliantly as a literary device, revealing family secrets, tragedies and an ending you won’t expect.
THE RULES OF CIVILITY
Towles has written a good old-fashioned novel of manners with overtones of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is set in New York City, 1938, with a bright, first-generation heroine who rises from secretary to a power in the publishing world. The Gatsbyesque hero, Tinker Grey, is an investment banker with “a smile on his face that could have lit every lamp in the North pole.” One of the charms of the novel is the re-creation of the period, still mired in the Depression, on the verge of a bloody war, with a class structure struggling to preserve its elegance and boundaries, and is just about to collapse.
THE GLASS CASTLE
Try reading the first pages of this hilarious, shocking and very moving memoir of the most unconventional childhood, and plan on calling in sick tomorrow. Walls is a Barnard graduate, a resident of Park Ave., and a reporter for “New York Magazine” and MSNBC. How she got there from her childhood of foraging in dumpsters for food makes one of the absolutely can’t-put-down books. –Sheila