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Book Clubs: Catching waves
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan delivers an exhilarating account of surf culture while chronicling the ways in which the sport shaped him. As a boy in the 1960s, Finnegan moved with his family from California to Oahu, where he was an outsider among kids his own age. He took solace in surfing, finding a personal outlet in the pastime and quickly becoming addicted. In this beautifully written memoir, he recounts wave-chasing excursions to Polynesia, Thailand and South Africa during the 1970s—trips that ignited his social consciousness and his interest in journalism. Family, career and the departure of youth have failed to quell his passion for surfing, and in the book he addresses the challenges of practicing a young man’s sport at middle age. Finnegan shares colorful memories of beloved surf buddies and once-in-a-lifetime tubes, but his narrative is also an insightful meditation on the passage of time. This is an epic look at an elusive sport from one of the premier nonfiction writers working today.
Plum Kettle, the 29-year-old heroine of Sarai Walker’s smart, sly novel, Dietland, weighs more than 300 pounds. Unhappy with her physical appearance, she monitors her meals and dreams of being thin. Plum writes an advice column for a teen publication and has hopes of becoming a serious writer. But her life takes a surreal turn after she meets the controversial Verena Baptist, whose family is behind the famous Baptist diet, and who encourages Plum to approach her weight in a new way. As she experiences a personal metamorphosis, Plum finds that she’s become entangled in a plot that may involve a group called Jennifer—a radical collective that targets misogynists. Through Plum’s personal evolution, Walker probes timely issues like sexuality and the pursuit of physical perfection, while also delivering a first-rate work of fiction. Funny, rebellious and ultimately compassionate, this is a refined debut from a writer who has much to share in the way of storytelling—and in wisdom about our image-saturated world.
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is a sophisticated spy novel set at the close of the Vietnam War. The novel’s French-Vietnamese narrator, the captain, is an undercover Communist agent. Along with members of the South Vietnamese Army, who are unaware of his true sympathies, the captain escapes the turmoil of Saigon and settles in Los Angeles. There, he spies on his fellow countrymen, dispatching secret letters about their activities to a member of the Communist leadership. When the captain arouses suspicion, he must find a way to continue his mission without revealing his true identity. Meanwhile, he becomes involved in the making of a Hollywood film about Vietnam and falls in love. Nguyen juggles plot elements with remarkable ease, delivering a masterfully crafted debut that explores the legacy of war and the weight of loyalty.