Millions of American soldiers, many of whom had never left their hometowns before, crossed the nation by rail during the years of World War II on their way to training camps and distant theaters of battle. In a little town in Nebraska, countless thousands of them met with extraordinary hospitality--the "miracle" of veteran journalist Bob Greene's title. LP, E
The Other Wes Moore: the story of one name and two fates. Wes Moore.
Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? E
Out Stealing Horses. Per Petterson.
In this quiet but compelling novel, Trond Sander, a widower nearing seventy, moves to a bare house in remote eastern Norway, seeking the life of quiet contemplation that he has always longed for. A chance encounter with a neighbor—the brother, as it happens, of his childhood friend Jon—causes him to ruminate on the summer of 1948, the last he spent with his adored father, who abandoned the family soon afterward. Trond’s recollections center on a single afternoon, when he and Jon set out to take some horses from a nearby farm; what began as an exhilarating adventure ended abruptly and traumatically in an act of unexpected cruelty. LP
Over the Earth I Come. Duane Schultz.
December 26, 1862. On the day after Christmas, in Mankato, Minnesota, thirty-eight Indians were hanged on the order of President Lincoln. This event stands today as the greatest mass execution in the history of the United States. In Over The Earth I Come, Duane Schultz brilliantly retells one of America's most violent and bloody events--the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862.
The Pact: A Love Story. Jodi Picoult.
Popular high-school swimming star Chris Harte and talented artist Em Gold bonded as infants; their parents have been next-door neighbors and best friends for 18 years. When they fall in love, everyone is ecstatic. Everyone, it turns out, except for Em, who finds that sex with Chris feels almost incestuous. Her emotional turmoil, compounded by pregnancy, which she keeps secret, leads to depression, despair and a desire for suicide, and she insists that Chris prove his love by pulling the trigger. The gun is fired in the first paragraph, and so the book opens with a jolt of adrenaline.
Patty Jane’s House of Curl. Lorna Landvik.
Maybe Patty Jane Dobbin should know better than to marry a man as gorgeous as Thor Rolvaag. Soon, with a baby on the way, Thor is gone. It’s a good thing Patty Jane has her irrepressible sister, Harriet, to rely on. Before long, the sisters have opened a beauty parlor, a place where women
Peace Like a River. Leif Enger
Hailed as one of the year’s top five novels by Time, and selected as one of the best books of the year by nearly all major newspapers, national bestseller Peace Like a River captured the hearts of a nation in need of comfort. Enger tells the story of eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy who has reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and father, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw older brother who has been controversially charged with murder. LP The Pearl. John Steinbeck.
A fisherman finds the great pearl, only to lose it again.
A Pearl in the Storm: how I found my heart in the middle of the ocean.Tori Murden McClure.
In June 1998, Tori McClure began rowing across the Atlantic Ocean solo in a twenty-three-foot plywood boat with no motor or sail. Within days she lost all communication with shore but decided to forge ahead -- not knowing that 1998 would turn out to be the worst hurricane season on record in the North Atlantic. When she was nearly killed by a series of violent storms, Tori was forced to signal for help and head home in what felt like disgrace. But then her life changed in unexpected ways. She was hired by Muhammad Ali, who told her she did not want to be known as the woman who "almost" rowed across the Atlantic. This is the Gustavus Common Read for 2013. E Pope Joan. Donna Woolfolk Cross.
One of the most controversial women of history is brought to brilliant life in Donn Woolfolk Cross's tale of Pope Joan, a girl whose origins should have kept her in squalid domesticity. Instead, through her intelligence, indomitability and courage, she ascended to the throne of Rome as Pope John Anglicus.
Population 485: Meeting your neighbors one siren at a time. Michael Perry
Being a volunteer EMT is no small challenge, even in a town as small as New Auburn, Wisconsin. Perry mixes his tales of heroic rescues with his stories of small-town life. His book opens with his team attempting to rescue a teenage girl from a disastrous car wreck on a dangerous bend of road. As part of the volunteer fire department, Perry--along with his brother and mother-- pulls people from mangled cars and answers 911 calls from critically ill people. Tragic at times, funny at others, Perry's memoir will appeal to anyone curious about small-town life.
Power of the Dog. Thomas Savage
A Major rediscovery! This gripping domestic drama set in the 1920s Montana is the finest, most powerful work by a much-admired (and unjustly overlooked) novelist of the American West. It tells the story of two brothers – and a woman and her son, whose arrival on the brothers’ ranch shatters an already uneasy peace.
Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said this lady to him one day, ‘have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?’” A
The Princess Bride. William Goldman.
Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that's home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.” Prodigal Summer. Barbara Kingsolver.
In a beautiful hymn to wildness, Kingsolver celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature and of nature itself. Over the course of one humid summer, as the urge to procreate takes over the countryside, the novel’s characters find their connections to one another in the forested mountains of southern Appalachia. E
Purgatory Ridge. William Kent Krueger.
This narrative opens with a bang, as Karl Lindstrom's lumber mill explodes in the early morning hours, killing Ojibwe elder Charlie Warren. The local Native Americans are up in arms over Lindstrom's plan to cut down Our Grandfathers, a grove of old-growth white pines sacred to tribal lore. Outside conservationists have also descended on the town, eager to save the 300-year-old trees. When a person identifying himself as the Eco-Warrior, soldier of the Army of the Earth, claims responsibility for the bombing, the Native Americans are suspected of collusion.
The Reader. Bernhard Schlink.
The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, reading, and shame in postwar Germany. Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. He never learns very much about her, and when she disappears one day, he expects never to see her again. But, to his horror, he does. Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past, and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. As Michael follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: What should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust?
Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi.
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. A
Red Earth, White Earth. Will Weaver.
Unresolved relationships with his family and friends and a heritage of farming come into focus when Guy Pehrsson, a California computer entrepreneur, returns to Minnesota 12 years after he ran away at age 18. His childhood ``blood brother,'' Tom Little Wolf, a Chippewa Indian, is now a tribal lawyer intent on reclaiming farmlands mishandled in past treaties, lands which include the Pehrsson's homestead. This conflict tests but never breaks the bond between the two men.
River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. Candice Millard.
A year after Roosevelt lost a third-party bid for the White House in 1912, he decided to chase away his blues by accepting an invitation for a South American trip that quickly evolved into an ill-prepared journey down an unexplored tributary of the Amazon known as the River of Doubt. The small group, including T.R.'s son Kermit, was hampered by the failure to pack enough supplies and the absence of canoes sturdy enough for the river's rapids. An injury Roosevelt sustained became infected with flesh-eating bacteria and left the ex-president so weak that, at his lowest moment, he told Kermit to leave him to die in the rainforest.
The Road. Cormac McCarthy.
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless
bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food-—and each other. A Rock Island Line. David Rhodes.
Raised in an idyllic Iowa town, young July Montgomery is rocked by the tragic death of his parents. Fleeing to Philadelphia, he fashions a ghostly existence in an underground train station. When a young woman appears to free him from his malaise, they return together to the Iowa heartland, where the novel soars to its heartrending climax.
Room. Emma Donoghue. In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. LP, A, DA
Sarah’s Key. Tatiana de Rosnay.
De Rosnay's U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv' roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. LP, A
The Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The harsh world of seventeenth-century Puritan New England is revealed in Hawthorne's story of adultery, revenge, and redemption.
Secret Life of Bees. Sue Monk Kidd. Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the town’s fiercest racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina – a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to the mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love – a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come. LP, A, DA, E
The Sex Lives of Cannibals. J. Maarten Troost.
Troost’s chronicle of his two-year sojourn in a forgotten world is a comic masterwork of travel writing and a revealing look at a culture clash.
The Shack. William P. Young.
Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. LP, A
A Smile as Big as the Moon: A special Education Teach, His Class, and their Inspiring Journey through U.S. Space Camp. Mike Kersjes and Joe Layden.
A high school special education teacher in Michigan, Kersjes faced enormous odds when he decided that he wanted his class to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, AL, a program aimed at providing simulated astronaut training for gifted students. His 20 students had a wide range of learning and emotional disabilities and were stigmatized by other students and teachers. Readers will be genuinely moved by the many funny, sad, irritating, and even frustrating scenes.
Snow Child. Eowyn Ivey. Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. E
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Linda See.
In nineteenth century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "old same," in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The two women exchange messages written on silk fans and handkerchieves using nu shu, a unique language that women created in order to communicate in secret, sharing their experiences, but when a misunderstanding arises, their friendship threatens to tear apart. A, E
Someone knows my name. Lawrence Hill.
Kidnapped as a child from Africa, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan she becomes a scribe for the British, recording the names of blacks who have served the King and earned freedom in Nova Scotia. But the hardship and prejudice there prompt her to follow her heart back to Africa, then on to London, where she bears witness to the injustices of slavery and its toll on her life and a whole people.
Still Alice. Lisa Genova.
Alice Howland has a career as an esteemed psychology professor at Harvard, living a comfortable life in Cambridge with her husband, John, arguing about the usual (making quality time together, their daughter's move to L.A.) when the first symptoms of Alzheimer's begin to emerge. First, Alice can't find her Blackberry, then she becomes hopelessly disoriented in her own town. Alice is shocked to be diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's (she had suspected a brain tumor or menopause), after which her life begins steadily to unravel. LP, A
Strength in What Remains. Tracy Kidder. Tracy Kidder gives us the story of one man’s inspiring American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him, providing brilliant testament to the power of second chances. Deo arrives in the United States from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing. Kidder breaks new ground in telling this unforgettable story as he travels with Deo back over a turbulent life and shows us what it means to be fully human. This is the MSU Common Read for 2013. A, LP, DA, E
Summer of Ordinary Ways: A Memoir. Nicole Helget.
Helget's debut begins with a staggering example of her father's brutality: he mercilessly beats a cow to death for not weaning her calf. Yet Helget refuses to succumb to a "woe is me" attitude, and she layers vignettes to create a lyrical story of growing up on a Minnesota farm in the 1980s, where her mother verges on insanity, her five unruly younger sisters get underfoot, and death is a familiar part of life. E
Sweet Land: New and Selected Stories. Will Weaver.
In this paperback original, a stable of fresh stories by award-winning writer Will Weaver are complemented by a hand-picked selection of favorites from his original collection, A Gravestone Made of Wheat, to offer a fresh, vivid portrait of the changing midwestern landscape.
Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston.
Of Hurston's fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God is arguably the best-known and perhaps the most controversial. The novel follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman living in the black town of Eaton, Florida. One person the citizens of Eaton are inclined to judge is Janie, who has married three men and been tried for the murder of one of them. Janie feels no compulsion to justify herself to the town, but she does explain herself to her friend, Phoeby, with the implicit understanding that Phoeby can "tell 'em what Ah say if you wants to. Dat's just de same as me 'cause mah tongue is in mah friend's mouf." E
Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe.
Things Fall Aparttells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. A, E
The Things They Carried. Tim O’Brien
Depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O’Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy) and occasionally each other. A, E
This I Believe. Ed. By Jay Allison and Dan Gediman.
In the 1950s, the Edward R. Murrow–hosted radio program This I Believe prompted Americans to briefly explain their most cherished beliefs, be they religious or purely pragmatic. Since the program's 2005 renaissance as a weekly NPR segment, Allison (the host) and Gediman (the executive producer) have collected some of the best essays from This I Believe then and now. "Your personal credo" is what Allison calls it in the book's introduction, noting that today's program is distinguished from the 1950s version in soliciting submissions from ordinary Americans from all walks of life. A, DA, E
The Thirteenth Tale. Diane Setterfield.
When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales. A
Those Who Save Us. Jenna Blum.
An unsentimental look at the Holocaust. The narrative alternates between the present-day story of Trudy, a history professor at a Minneapolis university collecting oral histories of WWII survivors (both German and Jewish), and that of her aged but once beautiful German mother, Anna, who left her country when she married an American soldier. Ultimately, present and past overlap with a shocking yet believable coincidence. LP
A Thousand Splendid Suns. Khaled Hosseini.
An in-depth exploration of Afghan society in the three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban cruelty. Mariam, a 15-year-old bastard whose mother commits suicide, is married off to 40-year-old Rasheed, who abuses her brutally, especially after she has several miscarriages. At 60, Rasheed takes in 14-year-old Laila, whose parents were blown up by stray bombs. He soon turns violent with her. Although Laila is united with her childhood beloved, the potential return of the Taliban always shadows their happiness. LP, A
To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee.
Set in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus – three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up. LP, A A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Betty Smith.
Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely--to men, and to a brother who will always be the favored child. Francie learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. A
Tuesdays with Morrie. Mitch Albom.
The best-selling author recounts his weekly visits with a dying teacher who years before had set him straight. It reminds us of the affection and gratitude that many of us still feel for the significant mentors of our past. LP, E
The Unforgiving Minute: a soldier’s education. Craig M. Mullaney.
West Point grad, Rhodes scholar, Airborne Ranger, and U. S. Army Captain Craig Mullaney recounts his unparalleled education and the hard lessons that only war can teach. While stationed in Afghanistan, a deadly firefight with al-Qaeda leads to the loss of one of his soldiers. Years later, after that excruciating experience, he returns to the United States to teach future officers at the Naval Academy. Written with unflinching honesty, this is an unforgettable portrait of a young soldier grappling with the weight of war while coming to terms with what it means to be a man This has been selected as the MSU Reading in Common title for 2012. DA