Redstar Book Club

The books I love most introduce or transport me to foreign cultures, broadly defined.  The Black Album is about a British Pakistani college student who has an affair with an older, white woman during the time of the fatwah against Salman Rushdie.  Middlesex features a hermaphrodite among a Greek-American family in Michigan.  The Poisonwood Bible is about a missionary family in Africa.   Prep is about boarding school.  Richard Ford’s Independence Day and The Sportswriter are about a middle-aged, divorced man in New Jersey.   Runaway – stories set in British Columbia; Ha Jin’s work is in China.  These are dramatically oversimplified summations, but in virtually all of them I’m left understanding a new place, person or experience. 

One of the worst aspects of being in school is not having time to read for pleasure, and I find my preferred scholarly works are ethnographies – which are essentially in-depth studies of communities or cultures, usually gleaned by living in/with the research subject.  Academic literature, basically.  Eventually, I hope to have a list of those to keep company alongside the books below that have introduced me to the world beyond my borders so far.  Insufficient summaries of the rest of the books resumes below (especially cryptic at times when I can no longer remember the plot and only shades of key characters, plot accessories, etc.  e.g., A Fine Balance), but remains incomplete.  This post is a work in progress. 


My Favorite Fiction (& a couple memoirs)

The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (Memoir)

– a writer’s life; married for 40+ years to another writer who unexpectly dies; the life I covet, actually, minus the sudden death


On Beauty, Zadie Smith

– mixed race family in a Massachusetts town for which Cambridge must be the model; the youngest son gets mixed up with Haitian activists and street peddlers from Roxbury; the protagonist’s foil is a conservative British Jamaican scholar; the wife is an African-American from Florida (set in an academic town and a university, this one actually hit a little close to my potential new home – rich in description of the Ivory Tower’s silly, insular world)


The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (Despite the Oprah seal of approval, which implies it’s horribly depressing)

The Cider House Rules, John Irving

– abortion and medicine and orphanages and migrant workers in rural New England


Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld

Anything by Richard Ford (In Independence Day, I discovered a male character – written by a male author – to whom I could relate in in a way previously reserved for only women writers and/or female characters.)

Runaway, Alice Munro

Anything by Ha Jin (I love his writing, and also that he went to Brandeis, which he mentions in his biography in all his books.)

Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho

– a young Slovenian woman is institutionalized in a mental hospital, based on what seems to be typical early twenties ennui and confusion about life


A Fine Balance, Rohan Mistry (Oprah’s not wrong about this one, it’s horribly depressing)

– India, sewing machines, Kashmir, crippled man and life-long friend, gruesome death and dismemberment


The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

– I first read an excerpt of this in The New Yorker. Disfunctional, distant Midwestern-roots family.  Overcompensating, materially successful eldest son; artist daughter in Philly; floundering, deadbeat writer son in NYC.  Deteriorating, old bastard of a dad. 

Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

– short stories of Indians in Massachusetts. 


The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier & Klay, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon


Half & Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural, Claudia O’Hearn (ed.; essays)

The Shipping News, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, E. Annie Proulx

The Women’s Room, Marilyn French

Smila’s Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg

The Flanders Panel, Arturo Perez-Reverte

Kids/Young Adult

All of a Kind Family (series), Sydney Taylor

Tell Me if the Lovers Are Losers, Cynthia Voigt

The Long Secret, Louise Fitzhugh (This is my favorite book of all time.)

Cheaper by the Dozen, Frank B. Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Anything by Lois Lowry

The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case, The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder

The Bed Book, Sylvia Plath

What the Moon Brought, Sadie Rose Weilerstein

The Great Brain (series), John D. Fitzgerald

Danny, the Champion of the World; James & the Giant Peach (mostly the early scene where the peach grows and flattens his mean relatives – I think – and how they eat the peach to survive), Roald Dahl 


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