A Winner, No Matter What

Choosing a text for a book club is not an easy task. This summer I’ll be leading a discussion for the Oregon Council of Teachers of English. (Summer—seems so far away, right?) Last year’s pick was Tommy Orange’s There, There. I had met him at the Baltimore NCTE Convention and listened as he held us spellbound with his story. The choice was an easy one.

Maybe you can help me decide. I know OCTE members want another novel, it’s summer after all, and the Council’s recent focus has been on untold stories from voices that broaden our perspective, so that adds another layer. Right now, I am thinking of these:

What about Jess Walter’s latest novel, Cold Millions? Have you read it? It tells the story of the rise of labor unions in Spokane, Washington at the turn of the 20th century in the voice of one of the two brothers struggling to make a life. It is an immigrant story, a tale of our foundations of inequity and the quest to set it right. The characters—all of them—capture the reader, at least they did me. And while Walter disclaims it as history, there is plenty that is REAL about it.

I am also entranced with Louise Erdrich in general, and The Night Watchman in particular. Based on the story of her grandfather, this wonderful narrative filled with people that a reader wants to meet, fairly leaps off the page. The threads of lives interweave to create a tapestry of time, place, and themes. Brilliant—and of course, a perspective with heart and craft.

Have you read any of the work by Jenny Offill? I loved Department of Speculation, but her latest, Weather, is the one on my shortlist. How does she do it? There is so much information embedded in this pastiche construction, so much worth considering. It is “about” climate change, and so much more. She makes it impossible to look away, and yet, it’s only at the conclusion that I realized the cumulative impact.

Finally, I’m torn between two. There is Ruth Ozeck’s Tale for the Time Being which has the most brilliantly written adolescent character I’ve ever read—and I’ve read a lot of them (this is NOT a YA novel, and Naoke,”Nao” is NOT your typical teen, and yet…). And there is 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak. I don’t know where to begin with this one. It is the one I finished most recently and would love to discuss with…someone. Both of them are set elsewhere—outside the States, and widen the world.

That’s where I am now. Do you have any recommendations? I’ve got until June to decide. You know what? I’ll post them all, ask for additional recommendations, and see what happens. It’s a book club, after all! (I’d still love to hear your thoughts.)

11 thoughts on “A Winner, No Matter What”

  1. You’ve listed several books on my TBR. I love Louise Erdrich, but I’d pick a book by a lesser-known novelist. I’ve struggled reading novels during the pandemic and have mostly stuck to poetry and nonfiction. I did love “Mexican Gothic,” however. Honestly, it doesn’t sound as though you need help. It’s more likely you’ll be helping those who read this post,

  2. I have not read any of these books yet but plan to. Cold Millions is the first to grasp my interest. I am fond of history, although claims not to be a history book, and it hits elements that are important to me.

  3. I loved Dept of Speculation too. Weather is still sitting on my shelf unread. I keep saving it for an especially desperate reading rainy day–but then I’ve been living in a nonstop reading rainy day for months now. Maybe it’s time to pull it off the shelf! Over the past few years, I haven’t read a lot of adult fiction, but I’m adjusting my reading life to read more for pleasure rather than for work and I plan to read many more books for grown ups. Adding all of your recommendations to my list!

    1. Offill is unique and thought-provoking. Dept. of Speculation is one I actually bought after I read it—did the same for A Tale for the Time Being. That’s rare for me, but sometimes I just have to own a text, despite my commitment to end “clutter.”

  4. I haven’t read any of these, but they all sound like great reads. I just finished Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds. It’s set during the Great Depression presenting women’s perspectives in a time of struggle and isolation. There are surprisingly relatable parallels to our current pandemic situation.

    1. I haven’t read about this one yet. I just put it on hold at the library, so thanks! I loved The Great Alone about the Alaskan wilderness based on her family life. I had not known that about her and them. She is truly a fine storyteller.

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