When last we left Unwin(e)d, we were wrapping up a year of great books, discussion, and some chocolate and wine. Thanks to the generous support of the Friends of the Libraries, Unwin(e)d will be back in the 2014-2015 academic year with four more books to discuss. As we did last year, we’ll be focusing on debut literary fiction. The goal is to find new authors with fresh voices, with each of the four books bringing its own unique perspective. Part of the process in picking out the books that we’ll read for the year is, of course, weeding out the books that we won’t be reading, so I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months reading through lots of new, sometimes not-yet-published books to find the best ones to discuss. I know…not exactly a horrible burden, right?
One of our regular Unwin(e)d attendees has asked me about the books that didn’t make the cut. Some of them were really, really good but were too similar to one of the other titles that we’ll be reading (notably, dead children/children dealing with death/unsolved death seems to be a big theme in literary debuts right now. I thought too much of that might be a bit…much). Others didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had for them and/or just didn’t have enough to really merit a long discussion. Sometimes, they just didn’t keep my attention and, while they might be fascinating books to others, I couldn’t see myself trying to convince other people to spend time reading and talking about a book I couldn’t even finish. So, what books are we not going to read? Here are a few that I strongly considered, followed by a brief list of some of the others I read. (Note that I’ve hidden the reasons why I didn’t choose them. They’re not spoilers, but this gives you the option in case you want to read them before hearing what I thought of them.)
F: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Carol Janeway - This German novel isn’t by a debut author. In fact, Daniel Kehlmann has won several awards for his previous work. I still considered this, though, because he’s not well known in the US. F is the story of three brothers and the lasting effects of their father’s abandonment of them after an encounter with a hypnotist. As adults, the three brothers are, respectively, a priest who believes more in his Rubik’s Cube than in God, a businessman with a fear of ghosts and being caught in his Ponzi scheme, and an artist who turns to forgery to hide his crisis of confidence. I’ve been told that my preference for darkly comic family dramas is apparent in some of my book choices, and this certainly fits that category. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? Ultimately, I had to narrow down to four and this just didn’t fit in. I definitely recommend this book, though. It’s due to be published in August, so watch for it!
Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey - Over the course of twelve 30-second electroshock therapy sessions, we are introduced to the world of Greyson Todd, a movie executive who has bipolar disorder. The story jumps between three different times, from Greyson’s childhood to his first bipolar experiences, to his time as a husband and father in Hollywood. Garey has a great narrative voice and I’ll be interested to follow her in the future. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? This was another one that I really considered. There’s a lot of room for discussion here – female author writing from a male perspective. Trying to understand the experiences of someone with bipolar disorder. Different times, locations, and family relationships. When it got down to it, though, there just wasn’t enough to make me want to keep coming back to it to explore it more.
The First True Lie by Marina Mander - This is one of the many books about children dealing with death to come across my desk while selecting books. In this English-language debut by Italian author Mander, 10-year-old Luca discovers his chronically depressed single mother dead in their apartment. Fear of having to live in an orphanage keeps him from reporting her death. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? It’s possible that I was just overwhelmed with stories that revolved entirely around death at the time I read this. I already knew that I wanted to pick another book that has to do with the death of a child, so this felt like it would’ve been overdoing it. I do like Mander’s writing, though, and will be interested to follow up on her work in the future.
I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy was another death-of-a-family-member book that I really considered. A successful lawyer is found murdered in his family’s rental beach home. Suspicion lays with his wife…and his second wife…and his third wife. Their motive? They were all married to him at the same time. An intriguing literary thriller. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? Again, another dead family member book. Also, I thought the ending was a little predictable and that’s not as much fun.
The Bear by Claire Cameron - Told from the perspective of a five-year-old girl whose parents are eaten by a bear while the family camps on a remote Canadian island. The girl is responsible for getting herself and her younger brother to safety. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? Yes, another dead family member book. It got a little overwhelming. I’ve shared with some of you my thoughts about books written from a child’s perspective. This was one of the less successful attempts, in my opinion. Cameron was great at eliciting an emotional response, but once that passed, it was far too difficult to suspend disbelief.
Assembler of Parts by Raoul Weitzman - Truly, this was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend it. Want to know why I didn’t choose it? I recommended this book at the last Unwin(e)d meeting of 2013-2014 and I didn’t want to choose a book I’d already recommended. Also, at some parts, this is so staggeringly, beautifully sad that I wasn’t sure I could in good conscience recommend it to people without a major caveat that it is rather heartbreaking. Still, if you can handle being very emotional from reading a book, give it a try.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tearce -Fair warning: This is not a PG rated book. By any stretch.
Does this leave you wondering what books we will be reading? Tune in next week for the (much shorter) list of what we’ll books we’ll discuss as we Unwin(e)d in 2014-2015.