Best bets for book clubs
The month of August offers several great choices for reading groups. BookPage's selections, all newly published in paperback, are listed below. We hope these titles will inspire lively discussion in your book club.
The Tale of Murasaki
By Liza Dalby
Using the writings of 11th century authoress Murasaki Shikibu, who penned The Tale of Genji, the world's first novel, Dalby has composed an ingenious historical narrative that delivers in rich detail the life and times of a literary legend. To entertain her friends, the well-educated Murasaki writes stories about the bold Prince Genji and his romantic escapades. When her husband, a nobleman named Nobutaka, spreads the tales around the imperial court, they earn her attention from the emperor and empress. After tragedy befalls Murasaki's family, she is summoned to court to entertain the royal couple, and what she finds there - political plotting, sexual scheming, a complex code of customs and manners - snakes its way into her stories. Her masterpiece of a novel results, but there is no denying the disillusionment Murasaki experiences during her time at court. Meticulously crafted, Dalby's novel is a letter-perfect rendering of life in 11th century Japan. A reading group guide is available online at www.anchorbooks.com. For a printed version, ask your local bookseller.
By Molly Giles
In her first novel, Pulitzer Prize-nominee Giles tells the story of Kay Sorenson, a 40-year-old divorce who hasn't outgrown the need to please her fickle parents. Kay, a mother and librarian, gave up a promising career in music to marry her high school sweetheart, then moved back in with her parents when the relationship failed. The living arrangement proves too close for comfort: Kay's parents criticize every aspect of her life, from her taste in clothes to her taste in men. But the friction between Kay and her mother Ida is the most damaging of all. Ida, who lost both legs to diabetes, is the quintessential family matriarch: self-centered, willful, capable of wounding with a word. As Ida faces death, Kay is forced to contemplate life without her - a loss that will bring both pain and a new independence. Giles writes with wit and insight about a family forced to evaluate the ties that bind even as they come undone. A reading group guide is included in the book.
Ben in the World
By Doris Lessing
Lessing, who has written more than 40 books, continues the story she began with The Fifth Child (1988), which introduced Harriet and David Lovatt, the perfect parents of four perfect kids. Their decision to have one last child brings them Ben, a violent, troubled and unattractive boy who physically threatens his siblings and ends up in an institution. In Lessing's sequel, Ben is 18, alienated from his family and at large in an unfriendly London. His hairy, animal-like appearance places him firmly on the margins of society, where he is taken advantage of by a series of seedy characters. Ben does enjoy the company of women, who pity him, and he eventually becomes involved with a prostitute named Rita. But the relationship brings trouble from Rita's pimp boyfriend, who involves the hapless Ben in a drug deal. By setting her protagonist free in a merciless universe, Lessing has created a brutal, unflinching narrative about the ways in which those who are misunderstood so often become the world's victims. Ask your local bookseller for a reading group guide.
Change Me into Zeus's Daughter
By Barbara Robinette Moss
Moss' best-selling, critically acclaimed memoir is a brave, no-holds-barred account of her hardscrabble Southern childhood. Raised poor and proud in the hills of rural Alabama, Moss is one of eight children who suffers at the hands of an unpredictable, hard-drinking father. His abuses are balanced by the efforts of Moss' gentle mother, who instills in her children a love of art that later serves as the author's redemption. Suffering from malnutrition - a condition that leaves her features disfigured - Moss fantasizes as a young girl about a transformation that will give her the face of a goddess. Escaping from her impoverished life, she puts herself through school and braves a series of corrective surgeries that heals her ruined features. Against odds that seem unbeatable, she transcends - both physically and spiritually - her tragic past. This darkly haunting memoir has earned Moss comparisons to everyone from Frank McCourt to Rick Bragg. A reading group guide is included in the book.