Best bets for book clubs
This month's new paperback releases include several excellent titles in fiction and nonfiction. We recommend the following selections as good choices for reading groups.
By Dalton Conley
This wise, timely memoir is an account of the author's childhood in a predominantly black and Puerto Rican neighborhood in Manhattan. Conley, whose bohemian parents traded their well-heeled lives for an artsy inner city existence, was one of the few white boys in the projects, a place ruled by race and class where violence was close at hand - a world where whites, for once, were the minority. Richly evocative of 1960s and '70s New York, filled with unforgettable incidents and characters from the author's childhood, including his offbeat parents, Honky is an unusually insightful memoir. Conley, now a professor of sociology at New York University, offers a unique perspective on ethnicity and class. A reading group guide is available at www.vintagebooks.com/read.
By Mark Salzman
Salzman's best-selling novel is the story of Sister John, a middle-aged nun who lives in a Carmelite monastery in Los Angeles. Intense, recurring visions of God are a source of spiritual fulfillment for Sister John, but they come with a price, arriving with electrifying headaches that force her to seek medical attention. When her doctor hints that illness may be the cause of her gift, Sister John must make a choice: cure the headaches and perhaps lose her special connection to the spiritual world, or carry on with the visions, knowing they may not be real. A brief novel that tackles weighty themes, Salzman's latest is small and exquisite, a convincing portrayal of a society rarely seen. A reading group guide is available at www.vintagebooks.com/read.
The Sheep Queen
By Thomas Savage
Back Bay is thankfully re-issuing this western epic, a family saga set in Idaho that was originally published in 1977. Emma Sweringen, known as the Sheep Queen of Idaho, is at the center of this taut, expertly crafted novel. As matriarch of the Sweringens - a sheep-ranching clan - she contends with the politics of family life: a worshipful son, a disappointing daughter and a granddaughter, long ago given up for adoption, who spends years making her way back to the family. When she finally finds the Sweringens, she changes their lives forever. Savage, a woefully overlooked writer who made the West his narrative territory, is the author of 10 novels and a Guggenheim Fellow. A reading group guide is included in the book.
The Heartsong of Charging Elk
By James Welch
Charging Elk, an Oglala Sioux and member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, travels with the troupe to Marseille, France, where - after an injury - he is left behind in a hospital. As the show travels on without him, he must make a life for himself in a strange land. Unable to speak French or English, Charging Elk adapts as best he can, eventually falling in love, but memories of life on the Plains are ever-present, and a sense of isolation haunts him. Loosely based on true events, the novel is a skillful re-imagining of history. Welch - who is of Blackfoot-Gros Ventre descent - gives new dimension to the American Indian experience in this beautifully executed, award-winning book. A reading group guide is available online at www.anchorbooks.com.
Crooked River Burning
By Mark Winegardner
Winegardner's second novel is as much about place as it is about people. Cleveland, Ohio, is the setting for this work of historical fiction that traces the life of the city and two of its inhabitants throughout the 1950s and '60s. A pair of ill-fated teenage lovers from different sides of the tracks, David Zelinsky, who was raised on Cleveland's blue-collar West Side, and Anne O'Connor, the daughter of a wealthy political boss, fall in love, and their romance has unforgettable repercussions. Although David marries another woman and Anne makes a career for herself in TV news, their relationship spans 20 tumultuous years, during which history works its changes upon the city. Blending fact and fiction la E. L. Doctorow, the author brings real-life figures like Elliot Ness and Satchel Paige into the novel, making this a many-layered portrait of a more innocent America. A reading group guide is included in the book.