Books In A Bar – November 2020
Our Books In A Bar book group is currently on vacation! We are currently evaluating ideas for our next selection of books, location options, and times for our group to meet. Look for more information on our plans in September.
Shown below are summaries of the books we read this spring!
The Library Book (Simon & Schuster) by Susan Orlean
On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. The fire was disastrous: it reached two thousand degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library–and if so, who?
Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a “delightful…reflection on the past, present, and future of libraries in America” ( New York magazine) that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.
Jar City (Picador USA) by Arnaldur Indridason
When a lonely old man is found dead in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl’s grave. Inspector Erlendur discovers that many years ago, the victim was accused, but not convicted, of an unsolved crime, a rape. Did the old man’s past come back to haunt him? As Erlendur reopens this very cold case, he follows a trail of unusual forensic evidence, uncovering secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man.
Jar is another book in the Inspector Erlendur series. Indridason is a two-time winner of the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel. The Books In A Bar group read Voices, another book in the Erlendur series, in 2019.
Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road (Dey Street Books) by Kate Harris
As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she craved–to be an explorer, equal parts swashbuckler, and metaphysician–had gone extinct. From what she could tell of the world from small-town Ontario, the likes of Marco Polo and Magellan had mapped the whole earth; there was nothing left to be discovered. Looking beyond this planet, she decided to become a scientist and go to Mars.
In between studying at Oxford and MIT, Harris set off by bicycle down the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel. Pedaling mile upon mile in some of the remotest places on earth, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Forget charting maps, naming peaks: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds. The farther she traveled, the closer she came to a world as wild as she felt within.
Lands of Lost Borders, winner of the 2018 Banff Adventure Travel Award and a 2018 Nautilus Award, is the chronicle of Harris’s odyssey and an exploration of the importance of breaking the boundaries we set ourselves; an examination of the stories borders tell, and the restrictions they place on nature and humanity, and a meditation on the existential need to explore–the essential longing to discover what in the universe we are doing here.
The Paragon Hotel (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) by Lyndsay Faye
The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James has just arrived in Oregon with a bullet wound, a lifetime’s experience battling the New York Mafia, and fifty thousand dollars in illicit cash. She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of home and who saves Alice by leading her to the Paragon Hotel. But her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be an all-black hotel in a Jim Crow city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises.
As she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she understands their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers–burning crosses, electing officials, infiltrating newspapers, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice and her new Paragon “family” are searching for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the woods. To untangle the web of lies and misdeeds around her, Alice will have to answer for her own past, too.
A richly imagined novel starring two indomitable heroines, The Paragon Hotel at once plumbs the darkest parts of America’s past and the most redemptive facets of humanity. From international-bestselling, multi-award-nominated writer Lyndsay Faye, it’s a masterwork of historical suspense.
Bowlaway (Ecco Press) by Elizabeth McCracken
From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the turn of the twentieth century–nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin, and fifteen pounds of gold on her person–Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. She has no past to speak of, or at least none she is willing to reveal, and her mysterious origin scandalizes and intrigues the townspeople, as does her choice to marry and start a family with Leviticus Sprague, the doctor who revived her. But Bertha is plucky, tenacious, and entrepreneurial, and the bowling alley she opens quickly becomes Salford’s most defining landmark–with Bertha, its most notable resident.
When Bertha dies in a freak accident, her past resurfaces in the form of a heretofore-unheard-of son, who arrives in Salford, claiming he is heir apparent to Truitt Alleys. Soon it becomes clear that, even in her death, Bertha’s defining spirit and the implications of her obfuscations live on, infecting and affecting future generations through inheritance battles, murky paternities, and hidden wills.
In a voice laced with insight and her signature sharp humor, Elizabeth McCracken has written an epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America. Bowlaway is both a stunning feat of language and a brilliant unraveling of a family’s myths and secrets, its passions and betrayals, and the ties that bind and the rifts that divide.
The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between (Random House) by Hisham Matar
When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Hisham would never see him again, but he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. Twenty-two years later, he returned to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father’s disappearance. The Return is the story of what he found there.
The Pulitzer Prize citation hailed The Return as “a first-person elegy for home and father.” Transforming his quest for answers into a brilliantly told universal tale of hope and resilience, Matar has given us an unforgettable work with a powerful human question at its core: How does one go on living in the face of unthinkable loss?