On My Reading List – September 2018 through June 2019…

Early each year I pick out the books I’ll be reading with my Book Discussion Group for the coming year. We read nine books from September through June, three nonfiction and six fiction. After reading reviews, getting opinions from readers I trust, and scanning classics I might have missed, here are the titles I’ve come up with and the reasons they made the cut…

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser was written in 1900 and listed at number 33 on The Guardian’s 100 best novels of all time. It takes on the subject of the American Dream and, in its day, was considered a game-changer.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles was recommended by a former member of our group who moved away and still keeps an eye on what we’re up to. It’s fiction, the time period is 1922, and I thought it might be interesting to pair it with a nonfiction piece [see below] set in Moscow some 30 years later.

The Professor and the Madman; A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester was recommended by two readers in our group and the title is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever stumbled on.

Happiness TM by Will Ferguson. I love Louise Penny’s mysteries and she recommended this title, a first novel by a fellow Canadian. Penny claims the book made her happy and I lean toward heavy, somber titles so I thought it might give the group an ever-so-brief lift.

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. McDermott is a great writer, I haven’t read one of her novels for years, and thought it was time to get back to her. The setting here is a cloister and most of the characters are nuns…slightly dangerous territory that leaves me curious to see what awaits.

The Mayor of Mogadishu by Andrew Harding. Who would seek out this job?? That question, along with good reviews in Foreign Affairs and The New York Review of Books, drew me like a magnet.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. This is one I passed over in 2017. The idea of chattering spirits surrounding the crypt of Lincoln’s dead son seemed very weird to me but the book provoked so much interesting chatter I decided to circle back to it.

Improvement by Joan Silber. This one I’ll call my “challenging” read of the season. The New York Review of Books claims Joan Silber has “been quietly stretching our understanding of how stories can be told.” Sometimes being stretched is uncomfortable or baffling or even downright infuriating but as my mother always told me: Suffering builds character.

The Year I was Peter the Great: Khrushchev, Stalin’s Ghost, and a Young American in Russia by Marvin Kalb. The second title on the list with a Moscow setting (this one nonfiction) follows a naive 25-year-old American to the Soviet Union to serve as translator in the U.S. embassy in 1956. I like the idea of seeing key events in the Cold War through such young eyes.

Look for my reviews of these titles, month by month, starting in September 2018!

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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