Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti 2011 Theme: What makes life worth living?
It did not seem like a challenging theme, in fact, it seemed easy! However, the screening committee discovered, that in fact, to pick three books on this topic was very challenging. There were the usual guidelines that had to be considered (see book selection); and all ‘self-help’ and ‘spiritual’ type books were immediately dismissed to avoid any idea of proselytism. Each one of us holds a special view on ‘what makes life worth living’ – love, relationships, family, survival, good books, good food, and even, death.
Below is a list of the books (excluding the three suggested to the selection committee) that were read, or suggested, to consider for the 2011 Reads.
Reviews and/or summaries have been taken from a variety of sources, (Amazon, Ann Arbor District Library catalog, Barnes and Noble, NYT, Publishers Weekly, and San Francisco Chronicle).
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia. Viking, 2006. ISBN: 0143118420
Gilbert’s travels and adventures to three different countries after a bitter divorce.
Rodriguez, Deborah and Ohlson, Kristin. The Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil. Random House, 2007. ISBN: 1400065593
Rodriguez's account tells the story of one Michigan woman's quest to help women in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban the best way she knows how: by opening a beauty school.
Thayer, Helen. Walking the Gobi: A 1,600 -mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair. Mountaineer Books, 2007. ISBN: 159485064
Thayer (age 64 at the time) and her husband, (age 73) trek across the desert and tell the story of the people, the history and the flora and fauna of the Gobi.
Vollers, Maryanne and Nielsen, Jerri. Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole. Hyperion Books, 2007. ISBN: 0786866845
The story of Dr. Jerri Nielsen’s year at the pole where she was the lone doctor for 41 research scientists and their support group. Ice Bound is not only the story of how Dr. Nielsen discovers her tumor and medical crisis, but it also is the story of the how the “Polies” live together, the conditions, and the beauty of the South Pole during the winter.
Back to top
Hirsch, Edward. The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration. Harcourt, 2002. ISBN: 0151005389
What is the ineffable force that drives artists, writers, and musicians to create? Poet and critic Edward Hirsch (How to Read a Poem) looks for answers in this book, an erudite exploration of the creative process.
Kimmelman, Michael. The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa. Penguin Press, 2001. ISBN: 1594200556.
As chief art critic for the New York Times, Kimmelman has developed a relaxed and welcoming approach to explicating art that makes this aptly unpredictable consideration of the role accidents and serendipity play in the making of art as pleasurable as it is enlightening. Kimmelman is interested in "how art transforms lives," and in how a life lived artistically can itself be seen as a masterpiece, and the examples he cites open up many new vistas of thought.
Back to top
Krouse Rosenthal, Amy. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. Three Rivers Press, 2005. ISBN: 978-1400080465
Rosenthal likes lists: of low points in her life, codes that people memorize, sounds that seem loud though they're actually quiet.
Back to top
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Bantam Books, 1981. ISBN: 0553210351
The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a worldly careerist, a high court judge who has never given the inevitability of his death so much as a passing thought. But one day death announces itself to him, and to his shocked surprise he is brought face to face with his own mortality. How, Tolstoy asks, does an unreflective man confront his one and only moment of truth?
Back to top
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. One Amazing Thing. Hyperion, 2010. ISBN: 9781401340995
A group of nine diverse people are trapped in the basement of an Indian consulate in an unidentified American city after an earthquake.
Gamble, Terry. Good Family: A Novel. Harper Perennial, 2006. ISBN: 0060737956
Gruen, Sara. Water for Elephants. Algonquin Books of Chapel, 2006. ISBN: 9781565125605
If you ever wanted to join the circus, here is your chance.
Hantover, Jeffrey. The Jewel Trader of Pegu. HarperCollins Publishers, 2008. ISBN: 9780061252716
Jewish jewel trader Abraham, a widower at 28, leaves Venice in 1598 for Pegu, a Burmese kingdom halfway around the world, where he is to settle and acquire high-quality gems for the family business. ... He evokes the lush setting and gives clear voice to Abraham's doubts, fears and passions.
Li, Yiyun. The Vagrants. Random House Publishing, 2009. ISBN: 9780812973341
Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of unforgettable characters that are forced to make moral choices, and choices for survival, in China in the late 1970s.
Messer, Susan. Grand River and Joy. University of Michigan Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780472116997
Grand River and Joy, named after a landmark intersection in Detroit. This is a story about the intersections between races, classes and religions exploding in the long, hot summers of Detroit in the 1960s.
Shaffer, Mary Ann. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Random House Publishing, 2008. ISBN: 9780440337973
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society no ordinary book club. Rather, it was formed as a ruse and became a way for people to get together without raising the suspicions of Guernsey's Nazi occupiers. Written in the form of letters (a lost art), this novel by an aunt-and-niece team has loads of charm, especially as long as Juliet is still in London corresponding with the society members.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. Penguin Group, 2009. ISBN: 9780399155345
Set in Stockett's native Jackson, MS, in the early 1960s, this first novel adopts the complicated theme of blacks and whites living in a segregated South.
Tyler, Anne. Noah’s Compass. Random House Publishing, 2010. ISBN: 9780345516596
A story about a schoolteacher who has been forced to retire at sixty-one, coming to terms with the final phase of his life.
Zaslow, Jeffrey. The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship. Gotham, 2009. ISBN: 978-1592404452
This is the story of eleven childhood friends who formed a special bond growing up in Ames, Iowa and who built an extraordinary friendship.
Back to top
Bourdain, Anthony. A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal. HarperCollins Publishers, 2002. ISBN: 9780060012786
Inspired by the question, "What would be the perfect meal?" Tony sets out on a quest for his culinary holy grail, and in the process turns the notion of "perfection" inside out. From California to Cambodia, A Cooks' Tour chronicles the unpredictable adventures of America's boldest and bravest chef.
Bullock-Prado, Gesine. My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting over, One Cake at a Time. Broadway. Crown Publishing Group, 2010. ISBN: 978-0767932738
Bullock-Prado’s (sister of actress Sandra Bullock) memoir follows one day in a busy baker's life, from waking at three a.m. to prepare the batter (croissants, scones, sticky buns) and bake before opening shop at seven; through the hectic lunch (focaccia); and the three p.m. tea time.
Powell, Julie. Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. Little, Brown and Company, 2009. ISBN: 978-0316042512
Before the movie, there was a book! Powell became an Internet celebrity with her 2004 blog chronicling her yearlong odyssey of cooking every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Ziegelman, Jane. 97 Orchard Street: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement. Smithsonian Institution, 2010. ISBN: 9780061288500
Jane Ziegelman explores the culinary life that was the heart and soul of New York's Lower East Side around the turn of the twentieth century—a city within a city, where Germans, Irish, Italians, and Eastern European Jews attempted to forge a new life.
Back to top
Purdy, Jedediah. A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom. Vintage, 2005. ISBN: 978-1400095841
Purdy, who teaches law at Duke, surveys the ways in which the ideals of individual liberty, dignity and fulfillment have made and remade America. He offers both a searching critique of America's ideology of freedom and an affirmation of the millions of small declarations of independence from hierarchy, constraint, and fear it has inspired.
Back to top
The Immigrant Story
Cleave, Chris. Little Bee: A Novel. Simon & Schuster, 2008. ISBN: 978-1416589648
A haunting novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers—one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.
Kidder, Tracy. Strength in What Remains. Random House, 2010. ISBN: 9780812977615
This book is global in outlook, addressing issues of immigration, world poverty, and violence -- again, by zeroing in on one man, a charismatic, sympathetic Burundian medical school student who survived Tutsi-Hutu massacres in his native Burundi and genocide in neighboring Rwanda.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake: A Novel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. ISBN: 9780618485222
Indian newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli emigrate to Cambridge, Mass. in 1968.
Mengestu, Dinaw. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Riverhead Books, 2007. ISBN: 9781594482854
This novel is set over eight months in a gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood in the 1970s. The story is told through Sepha Stephanos who fled Ethiopia during the revolution for a new start in the United States.
Scibona, Salvatore. The End. Graywolf Press, 2008. ISBN: 9781555974985
It is August 15, 1953, the day of a street carnival in the Italian enclave of Elephant Park, Ohio, when Rocco LaGrassa receives an excruciating piece of news: his son has died in a POW camp in Korea. Against the background of immigration, broken loyalties, and racial hostility, the story presents everything Rocco sees through the eyes of various characters in the crowd.
Back to top
Cushman, Kathleen. Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery. Wiley, Johns & Sons, Inc. 2010. ISBN: 978-470-64603-8
Through the voices of students themselves, Fires in the Mind brings a game-changing question to teachers of adolescents: What does it take to get really good at something?
Grandin, Temple. Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life in Autism. Vintage, 1996. ISBN: 978-0679772897
Grandin is a high-functioning autistic, who presents linked articles on her life and her work as an animal scientist.
Kamkwamba, William and Mealer, Bryan. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. Harper Perennial, 2010. ISBN: 978-0061730337
This book will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual's ability to change his community and better the lives of those on an entire continent.
Kidder, Tracy. Strength in What Remains. Random House, 2009. ISBN: 9781400066216
An inspiring account of one man’s remarkable American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him–a brilliant testament to the power of will and of second chances. Deo arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life and eventually becomes a doctor.
Kristof, Nicholas D. and WuDunn, Sheryl. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. ISBN: 9780307267146
Two Pulitzer Prize winners issue a call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women in the developing world. They show that a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad and that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women's potential.
Mortenson, Greg. Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Viking, 2009. ISBN: :9780670021154
In this dramatic first-person narrative, Greg Mortenson ongoing efforts to establish schools for girls in Afghanistan.
Petit, Philippe. Man on Wire. Skyhorse Publishing, 2008. ISBN: 9781602393325
The basis for the motion picture with the same title.: "By evoking his youthful passion for the World Trade Center, Petit brings the towers' awesomeness back to life."
Raji Codell, Esmé. Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year. Algonquin Books, c1999. ISBN: 1565122259
Esmé's miracle is that she didn't lose faith in herself or her fifth-grade students during her first year of teaching in Chicago, battling all the ills of urban poverty and a principal who was soul mate to Dilbert's boss.
Trost, Margaret. On That Day, Everybody Ate: One Woman’s Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti. Koa Books, 2008. ISBN: 9780977333899
Following her husband s untimely death, Margaret Trost visited Haiti to heal her broken heart through service. Struggling to make sense of the extreme poverty he partners with a local community and together they develop a program that now serves thousands of meals a week to those in need.
Weiner, Jonathan. His Brother’s Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine. HarperCollins, 2004. ISBN: 006001007
The story is told through the lives of two amazing brothers: Stephen Heywood, a carpenter, who discovers he has A.L.S., and Jamie Heywood, an engineer who quits his lucrative job to start a foundation where he obsessively works with cutting-edge scientists in a race to find a cure.
Back to top
Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. Penguin Group, 2010. ISBN: 9780143117469.
A philosopher/mechanic's wise (and sometimes funny) look at the challenges and pleasures of working with one's hands.
Lennertz, Carl. Cursed by a Happy Childhood: Tales of Growing Up, Then and Now. Crown Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN: 9781616797966
Cursed by a Happy Childhood is a warm, funny, bighearted collection of one dad’s reminiscences about the kinds of lessons we all learn—sometimes the hard way, often without even realizing it—on the road to becoming a grown-up.
Firlik, Katrina. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: a brain surgeon exposes life on the inside. Random House Publishing, 2007. ISBN: 9780812973402
Katrina Firlik’s life as a neurosurgeon.
Gilmour, David. The Film Club: A Memoir. Twelve, 2008. ISBN: 9780446199292
David Gilmour is a Canadian novelist who finally allows his tenth grade son to drop out of high school on the condition that together they watch three films a week.
Perry, Michael. Truck: A Love Story. HarperCollins, 2007. ISBN: 9780061460951.
"All I wanted to do was fix my old pickup truck," says Michael Perry. "That, and plant my garden. Then I met this woman. . . ."
Raday, Sophia. Love in Condition Yellow: A memoir of an Unlikely Marriage. Beacon, 2010. ISBN: 9780807073308
This story is about a marriage between a feminist social activist and an Oakland, CA police officer and soldier.
Waitzkin, Fred. Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess. Penguin Group, 1993. ISBN: 9780140230383
The chronicle of Fred Waitzkin and his son Josh, from the moment six-year-old Josh first sits down at a chessboard until he wins the national championship.
Back to top
Lahiri, Jhumpa. Unaccustomed Earth: Stories. Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2008. ISBN: 9781615554911
In this set of eight stories the gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised children—and that separates the children from India.
Packer, ZZ. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. Penguin Group, 2004. ISBN: 9781573223782
Z.Z. Packer's first collection of short stories is rich with unexpected turns, indelible images, and penetrating insight that belies someone so young. Her stories plunge us into the worlds of people living on the edge and to the flashpoints that make or break them, that shape their worldviews forever.
Back to top
Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Farrar, Staus and Giroux, 2008. ISBN: 9780374531263
Beah tells his story of being a boy solider in Sierra Leone, his time in a UNICEF and NGO sponsored rehabilitation center, and Beah's eventual move to the United States as a college student at Oberlin College.
Rumberg, Hester. Ten Degrees of Reckoning: A true story of Survival. Penguin Group, 2010. ISBN: 9780425232101
A remarkable true story of one woman's courage. In 1993, Judith and Michael Sleavin and their two children set out to sail around the world. Three years into their incredible journey, a nearby freighter altered its course by a mere ten degrees-and everything changed...
Wiesel, Elie. Night. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, (revised edition). ISBN: 9780374500016
Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.
Back to top
Virtues and Morals: Exuberance, Kindness, Happiness, Humor
Bennett, Alan. The Uncommon Reader: A Novella. Picador, 2008. ISBN: 978-0312427641
Popular British writer Bennett (Untold Stories; Tony-winning play The History Boys) sends Queen Elizabeth II into a mobile library van in pursuit of her runaway corgis and into the reflective, observant life of an avid reader.
Boorstein, Sylvia (Ph.D.). Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing a Joyful Life. Ballantine Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-0345481320
The whole idea of this book, she writes, is that restoring a caring connection... and maintaining it when it is present, is happiness.
Phillips, Adam and Taylor, Barbara. On Kindness. Picador, 2010. ISBN: 978-0312429744
To live the successful modern life, we are enjoined to become less kind and more selfish. That is this small but profound volume’s animating premise. It looks at attitudes toward kindness from a historical perspective, from the Stoics to Christian thought; to Hobbes, Hume, Adam Smith, and Rousseau; to Freud; and to the current day.
Redfield Jamison, Kay. Exuberance: The Passion for Life. A.A. Knopf, 2004. ISBN: 037540144
If exuberance is "the passion for life," then Jamison's enthusiasm and sense of wonder about the subject proves as fine an example as any examined in her newest work. Having in mind the simply put idea that "those who are exuberant act."
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown Publishing Group, 2010. ISBN: 9780307589385
A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty….
Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. Twelve, 2009. ISBN: 978-0446698894.
Weiner traveled to countries like Iceland, Bhutan, Qatar, Holland, Switzerland, Thailand and India to try to figure out why residents tell positive psychology researchers that they're actually quite happy. In the end, he realized happiness isn't about economics or geography. Maybe it's not even personal as much as relational.
Back to top