The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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ELEVENTH AND TWELFTH GRADE OPTIONS LIST, 2011

(Blurbs have been provided in most cases by the students and teachers who recommended the books.)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Partly autobiographical, this is the funny and heart-breaking story of a Native American boy growing up on a reservation outside Spokane, Washington.


The Aeneid translated by Allen Mandelbaum (PLEASE NOTE TRANSLATION)

This national epic of the founding of Rome begins with the wanderings of Aeneas and his band of exiles after the fall of Troy. The second part tells of the wars and struggles in Italy to found a new nation. The poet Virgil explores the themes of destiny, leadership, and devotion to family, country, and gods.


Affluenza by John De Graaf

What are the cultural, ethical, and ecological implications of our consumerist society? Check out this very readable book, replete with cartoons, self-tests on consumerism, and some thoughtful commentary on the direction the modern world may be heading.


The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Set among the first families and old order of New York, this is the story of Newland Archer, a young man who falls impossibly in love with the cousin of his fiancée. This sumptuous novel shows wealth and illicit passion, cultural rigidity and the advent of modern open-mindedness. It is a welcome window into the world of old New York.


Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

The recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, this account of McCourt’s growing up in poverty in Limerick is at once tragic and funny. The book has been on the New York Times Best-Seller List consistently since its publication.

Anna Karenina by LeoTolstoy

Although married to a powerful government official, the beautiful Anna falls in love with another man. In a shocking transgression of the code of nineteenth-century Russian society, Anna leaves her husband and son to live with her lover.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This one is very long, but very thought provoking and may change your way of thinking about economics and the world. The novel focuses on a fictional company’s struggle to survive in a world with increasing governmental restrictions. It challenges the reader to question what is noble and right and to examine the successes and failures of current economic and political systems.


Atonement by Ian McEwan (Ex Libris Selection)

A novel of great scope, Atonement takes in the intrigue of a jealous little sister, a tragic love affair, the human costs of World War II, and the power of forgiveness.


The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Barack Obama says that the primary goal for this book is to show "how we might begin the process of changing our politics and our civil life." He describes "a new kind of politics" that he hopes will bring the country together.



Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

This is the story of one of the remarkable lives of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, as presented in this as-told-to autobiography, is a figure of almost mythic proportions: a man who sunk to the greatest depths of depravity and rose to become a man whose life's mission was to lead his people to freedom and strength. It provides a searing depiction of the deeply rooted issues of race and class in America and remains relevant and inspiring today. (Publisher’s synopsis)


The Awakening and Selected Stories by Kate Chopin

Originally published in 1899, The Awakening is a stirring account of a woman’s growing awareness of her own needs and desires. A pivotal work in the emergence of a woman’s voice in American fiction, it is a classic a century later because it deals with issues that are still difficult for women today. Of the short stories, “A Story of an Hour” is a startling one that you’ll never forget.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie ( Ex Libris selection)

A “little gem of a book” set in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, this is the story of two teenage boys who are sent to live in a peasant village for “re-education.” They discover a hidden stash of Western literary classics in Chinese translation and use the stories of Balzac to capture the attention of the beautiful daughter of the local tailor.


Ball Four by Jim Bouton

As a player, former hurler Jim Bouton did nothing half-way; he threw so hard he'd lose his cap on almost every pitch. In the early '70s, he tossed off one of the funniest, most revealing, insider's takes on baseball life in Ball Four, his diary of the season he tried to pitch his way back from oblivion on the strength of a knuckler. The real curve, though, is Bouton's honesty. He carves humans out of heroes and shines a light into the game's corners. A quarter century later, Bouton's unique baseball voice can still bring the heat.


Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (Ex Libris selection)

A woman and her young son, victims of domestic violence, are forced to flee their home and assume new identities while always fearing that their abusive husband /father may find them.


Black Boy by Richard Wright

This autobiography, published in 1945, gives graphic and sometimes horrifying details of Richard Wright’s childhood and youth in the Jim Crow South.

Black Ice by Lorene Cary (Ex Libris selection)

Imagine it is 1971 and you are a minority student at an upper-class, prestigious New Hampshire prep school. You are among the first blacks and the first females to attend the previously all-male St. Paul’s School. How much of your former self, your racial and cultural identity, must you sacrifice in order to be successful in this new environment? Lorene Cary eloquently tackles these questions in her autobiography.

Black Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad by William A. Owens

Written in 1953 as a historical novel, Black Mutiny is a moving historical treatise examining the key figures involved in the escape and subsequent trials of the enslaved Africans--from Cinque, the leader of the slaves, to the Spanish sovereign to the American President. The courage and convictions of all characters are brought into focus in this riveting tale of human dignity.


Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Whether she’s mystical healer or witch--una curandera o una bruja--a wise widow named Ultima guides young Antonio Marez on a haunting, disturbing journey to self-identity. This classic Chicano novel set in New Mexico immerses Anglos in the clashing worlds of priest and pagan, vaquero and farmer, good and evil. Its compelling language makes it clear why Anaya has earned the title “poet of the barrio.”



The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan (Ex Libris selection)

A new novel by Tan about mothers and daughters and family secrets, this one poignantly touches on the mother’s developing Alzheimer’s and the daughter’s attempts to deal with that and with her own personal life. As a critic says, it is “a book to read, to cherish, to remember.”

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivan Andric

This novel by Bosnian-born Nobel Prize winner Ivan Andric provides a vivid depiction of the suffering that history has imposed upon the people of Bosnia from the late

sixteenth century to the beginning of World War I. He poignantly describes the lives of everyday people who gather on the bridge, attempt to halt the devastating waves of their conquerors on the bridge, and attempt to stay connected with life on both sides of the river. The book will provide you with many insights about the courageous and enduring people of this region.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

This masterful novel is a brilliant satire of modern man and the insanity that surrounds him. Imagine a new religion based entirely on lies; this is what one must resolve himself to before becoming a Bokonist. In fact, the opening sentence in the Book of Bokonon is this: “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.” Don’t pick up this book unless you have several hours to spend in captivity.


Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

This book is an autobiographical account of the life of a fictional female contemporary artist. Through funny and sometimes poignant childhood memories and flashbacks to moments in the main character’s middle and early adulthood, the reader learns what it might take to become an artistic force.


The Chaneysville Incident by David Bradley

The Chaneysville Incident is about an African-American historian’s confrontation with his personal past, family history, and the living legacies of racism and slavery. This is a novel, but it addresses the real mystery of the runaway slaves whose graves are located near the southern Bedford County town of Chaneysville, Pennsylvania.
The Children of Men by P.D. James (Ex Libris selection)

Women push dolls in carriages through the park. Schools fade from existence and instruct only an aging society. There are no children. This futuristic tale is not a typical P.D. James mystery. In a world that has lost its ability to reproduce, a middle-aged professor questions his society’s values. An unlikely heroic figure, he leaves his sheltered life and openly defies his dictatorial government.


The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

This chilling tale involves a corrupt teacher, an insidious underground society, and one teenage boy who attempts to stand up to them.

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

Jonathan Harr chronicles the true story of a lawsuit involving two of the nation's largest corporations. He turns a complicated nine-year case into one of intrigue and compassion for the victims of environmental pollution. The young personal injury lawyer, Jan Schlichtmann, transforms from a self-absorbed individual to a dedicated advocate who sacrifices everything--home, friends, and reputation--not for money, but for what he believes in.



The Color Purple by Alice Walker

In a series of letters to God and her sister Nettie, Celie reveals why she is a survivor. A contemporary classic, this novel focuses on the tensions between men and women as well as blacks and whites.


Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This is the story of twin boys who come of age as their native Ethiopia is embroiled in political upheaval. When passion for the same woman pulls them apart, one travels to America, where he finds work as a medical intern in a woefully inadequate New York City hospital. Readers will be absorbed in the plot twists that lead the protagonist to confront his past: his estranged brother and the father who had abandoned his family years before.


Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson

Dyson evocatively conveys the thrill of a deep engagement with the world – be it as a scientist, citizen, student, or parent. Detailing a unique career not limited to his groundbreaking work in physics, Dyson discusses his interest in disarmament and even in thought experiments on the expansion of our frontiers into the galaxies.


A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

Little does Torvald know that his seemingly naïve and capricious little wife has been harboring a dark secret since the early days of their marriage. Considered controversial in its day, this drama reveals much about gender roles and social inequities in the late nineteenth century.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Although written over four hundred years ago, this Spanish classic still has enormous appeal. It is the story of a charming gentleman who is so obsessed with tales of knightly chivalry that he sets out to find dragons to slay and lovely damsels to defend. Although his companion, the practical Sancho Panza, knows full well that Quixote’s quest is but a fantasy, he faithfully accompanies his lord on his grand adventure.

Eagle Blue by Michael D’Orso

This is the story of a small-town Alaskan basketball team which gained distinction for winning six regional championships in a row. View a winning season and championship tournament from the perspective of the players, their families, and their coach as they follow their dreams across the frozen tundra in the near-total darkness of an Alaskan winter.


Eleni by Nicholas Gage

Gage, a reporter for the New York Times, tells the story of his mother Eleni, who was arrested, tortured, and shot in 1948 in her Greek mountain village. Her crime was that she had helped her children escape from the Communist guerillas during the Greek civil war.


Emma by Jane Austen

A young woman of wealth and social status, Emma can be admired for her wit, generosity, and compassion. However, her propensity for playing matchmaker creates a series of sometimes serious, sometimes comic complications.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne

Inspired by Walter Prescott Webb’s legendary book The Great Plains, Gwynne, a writer for The Dallas Morning News, has created a fascinating story of Texas history. No one who claims to be a Texan can miss this outstanding account of the Spanish (later Mexican), French, and American frontiers as all three of these forces ran headlong into the insurmountable object known as the Comanche. Tracing the origins of the nation and focusing on both the people as a broad group and as individuals (particularly the Parker family), the book examines how the Comanches completely halted the advance of European colonial empires while creating an empire based on the greatest horse culture in American, if not world, history. As the title indicates, the book explores the growth and ultimate failure of the Comanche way of life, and it concludes with a convincing argument that Quanah Parker is the first authentic American (a true original).

The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan

Written by an Indian author who is widely read at our new sister school in Hyderabad, this is a story of a teacher who has a change of heart about the meaning of teaching after he suffers a personal tragedy.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

This follow-up to Foer's extremely good and incredibly successful Everything Is Illuminated (2002) stars one Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old amateur inventor and Shakespearean actor. But Oskar's boots, as he likes to say, are very heavy--his father, whom he worshiped, perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11. In his dad's closet a year later, Oskar finds a key in mysteriously labeled "Black." So he goes searching after the lock it opens, visiting (alphabetically) everyone listed in the phone book with the surname Black.


The End of the Hunt by Thomas Flanagan

This historical novel is set in Ireland just after the turn of the twentieth century. It deals with exciting events leading up to the separation of Ireland from Britain and the ensuing Civil War in the 1920s. The central character is “the Big Fellow”--Michael Collins-- the hero of a recent film starring Liam Neeson.


The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter

This first novel by a Yale law professor has been described as “a first-rate legal thriller” and a “stunning” work of literature. It is dense with subplots that provide an inside view of Washington politics and the privileged upper-crust of Northeast African-American society.


Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario

This is the true story of a young Honduran boy who rides the rails through dangerous territory to join his mother in the United States. The author offers a different perspective on the question of immigration to this country.


Executive Orders by Tom Clancy

Clancy’s latest thriller is a continuation of Debt of Honor. A Japanese airliner has crashed into the Capitol, killing the President, his cabinet, and most members of Congress and the Senate. Having just been confirmed Vice-President, Jack Ryan immediately inherits a nation, a crippled government, and the threat of a third world war.

Foe by J. M. Coetzee

Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee reshapes the story of Robinson Crusoe into a complex parable about the harsh realities of life and the transformative power of the story teller’s imagination.


For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

An American professor of Spanish, Robert Jordan leaves the safety and security of his teaching job for the Spanish Civil War. He volunteers his services and his expertise with explosives to a group of guerillas, who are holding out against the fascists in the mountains of Spain. The book has everything one could hope for in a novel--adventure, intrigue, insight into human nature, and one of the most famous love stories in American literature.



Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This is the classic tale of a man who sells his soul to the devil.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

The protagonist is an unconventional architect whose ideology and architectural vision run contrary to the society in which he lives. The woman who loves him is one of his harshest critics. A fascinating statement on social standards, integrity, and rebellion, the novel has sparked much debate since its appearance in 1943.


Freakonomics by Steven Levitt

The publisher claims that the book “studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and turns conventional wisdom on its head.” Among Levitt’s topics are the inner workings of a crack gang, the “truth” about real-estate agents, and the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell

If you are not familiar with the recent movie based on this book, perhaps the book’s subtitle will serve as an apt description: “How a teacher and 150 teens used writing to change themselves and the world around them.”


Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Ex Libris selection)

History and fiction merge in this novel about artistic vision and coming-of-age. The heroine is sixteen-year-old Griet, whose life is transformed by her brief encounter with genius artist Johannes Vermeer—even as she is immortalized on canvas.


God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

The heir to an enormous family fortune decides to leave his position as president of the family business to move back to his childhood hometown and become a volunteer firefighter. Everyone (especially his father, a U.S. Senator) thinks he’s lost his mind, but Vonnegut implies that there are larger issues at stake in this pungent look at American capitalism.


Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien

The junior-year English anthology contains an excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s Going after Cacciato called “Night March.” In this chapter, Paul Berlin, recently drafted into the Vietnam War, tries to escape the war through mind games. But the novel begins with a more ambitious escape as Cacciato, the moon-faced soldier, goes AWOL, planning on walking to Paris. His platoon follows in chase. Much of the novel, however, takes place in the Observation Post, where Paul tries to piece together the chronology of his first few months in Vietnam. Philip Calputo calls it “the best novel about the Vietnam War.”


Goodbye to a River by John Graves

In the 1950s, a series of dams was proposed along the Brazos River in north central Texas. For John Graves, this project meant that if the stream’s regimen was thus changed, the beautiful and sometimes brutal surrounding countryside would also change, as would the lives of the people whose rugged ancestors had eked out an existence there. Graves therefore decided to visit that stretch of the river, which he had known intimately as a youth. This book is his account of that farewell canoe voyage. As he braves rapids and fatigue and the fickle autumn weather, he muses upon old blood feuds of the region and violent skirmishes with native tribes and retells wild stories of courage and cowardice and deceit that shaped both the river’s people and the land during frontier times and later. (Publisher’s synopsis)


Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Through a compilation of interviews by Pulitzer-Prize winners Kristof and WuDunn, we enter the world of women who have undergone the horrors of sexual trafficking, spousal abuse, malnutrition, and wrenching poverty. Dubbed a “call to arms,” the book outlines a deliberate plan of action to empower women through education, micro lending, and forums in which their voices can be heard.


The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

Set in seventeenth century Bavaria, this intriguing novel tells the story of long line of hangmen in Germany, of which the author is a descendant. A unique combination of mystery and historical fiction, The Hangman’s Daughter explores the hidden world of superstition in a vivid and authentic way.


The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Told from the perspective of a lonely man who just wants to be remembered and a teenage girl, this is a story about misunderstanding, love, broken friendships, and a manuscript that survives the Holocaust. See how Krauss weaves together the stories of these two very different lives.

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

When Olivia, nearly six, becomes the ward of Kwan, her adult half-sister from China, Kwan whispers secrets about ghosts. Olivia only pretends to believe Kwan’s stories. Thirty years pass, and Olivia is about to divorce her husband, Simon, after a lengthy marriage. She is certain he has never given up his love for a former girlfriend who died years before. Kwan and her ghosts believe otherwise, and they provide ceaseless advice and pleas to reconsider. In the Chinese village where Kwan grew up, Olivia confronts the tangible evidence of what she has always presumed to be her sister’s ghostly fantasies: that only through your hundred secret senses can you know that love endures.

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

This book is set in one of the most beautiful and exotic regions on the earth: the Sundarban Islands off the eastern coast of India, a region characterized by the endless fight for survival against poverty, sometimes catastrophic weather and floods, and deadly tiger attacks. The main character is Piya Roy, a young American marine biologist of Indian descent in search of a rare, endangered river dolphin. Her adventure begins when she is thrown from a boat into crocodile-infested waters and then rescued by a young, illiterate fisherman, Fokir. Although they cannot communicate verbally, Piya and Fokir share a passion for the sea, so Piya hires Fokir to help with her research. Kanai Dutt, a Delhi businessman with roots in the Sundarbans, becomes her translator. As the three of them strike out for the mysterious backwaters, they are drawn into a world that most of us will never experience.


Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

In this collection of loosely related stories, Lahiri depicts Indian-Americans struggling with their connections to their Indian heritage. Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for her artful and poignant rendering of the struggles of walking in two cultural worlds.


Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

We rely, in this world, on the visual aspects of humanity as a means of learning who we are. This, Ralph Ellison argues convincingly, is a dangerous habit. Invisible Man chronicles the travels of its narrator, a young, nameless black man, as he moves through the hellish levels of American intolerance and cultural blindness. Searching for a context in which to know himself, he exists in a very peculiar state. "I am an invisible man," he says in his prologue.


Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman

Iron and Silk is written by Mark Salzman, a Yale graduate who went to the People’s Republic of China to study Kung-Fu and teach English at a Chinese university. Mr. Salzman writes fascinating accounts of his adventures in China. Each chapter is a new episode that tells of his exciting experiences as he discovers life under Communism as well as the philosophy and secrets behind traditional Chinese martial arts.

Ironweed by William Kennedy

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, William Kennedy presents somewhat unsavory characters--street people--in a compassionate, even edifying fashion. Although the setting is 1938 Albany, New York, these characters could be the homeless of Dallas. While Francis, an ex-ballplayer, and Helen, a once-promising singer, at times raise themselves above their mean environment, one cannot readily view them in heroic terms. Perhaps our empathy and awe are over their survival--their ironweed toughness--rather than their losses and gains.


Island beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarite is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tete finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves. When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father's plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride—but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave. Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tete and Valmorain and of one woman's determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruelest of circumstances. (Publisher’s synopsis)

July’s People by Nadine Gordimer

The Smales, a white, middle-class family, flee Johannesburg during a black uprising and live with their servant July in his ancestral village nearly four hundred miles away. How they adapt to this primitive environment constitutes most of the action. But the subtly changing relationship between Maureen Smales and July, her family’s servant for fifteen years, is the most intriguing element of this apocalyptic novel.

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

This best seller by the author of The Joy Luck Club is told in first person by Tan’s mother. It is the story of her life in China during World War II and of her difficulties in settling in the U.S. She incorporates Chinese history, customs, morals, and beliefs that give the book authenticity and credibility.


The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Set in Manchester County, Virginia, twenty years before the Civil War began, Edward P. Jones's debut novel is a masterpiece of overlapping plot lines, time shifts, and heartbreaking details of life under slavery.


The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (Ex Libris Selection)

A novel of sweeping scope, The Lacuna is the coming-of-age story of Harrison Shepherd, a young man whose family circumstances take him from an unloving home near Washington, DC, to the coastal jungle of Mexico to Mexico City, where he eventually obtains a job as plaster mixer for the famed painter Diego Rivera. Lovers of historical fiction will appreciate the ways that Kingsolver weaves Harrison’s own story as a budding--and then wildly popular--novelist with the stories of historical figures (most notably, Rivera, his wife Frida Kahlo, and Russian leader Leon Trotsky) and important historical events of the early twentieth century.


Leading with the Heart by Mike Krzyzewski

In Leading with the Heart, Krzyzewski reviews the lessons he's learned as basketball coach at Duke University and tries to universalize them so they translate to any leadership position.


The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield

In 1931, a mythical golf match is arranged between the legendary Bobby Jones and the fabled Walter Hagen to promote--amid the deprivation of the Depression--a luxurious golf resort on an island near Savannah, Georgia.

Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan by Bruce Feiler

Readers will welcome this sensitive and readable account by a young American exchange teacher of his years in a junior high school system 50 miles outside Tokyo. He talks about much more than school life, however, and readers cannot help comparing the Japanese society to ours, sometimes finding ours, theirs, or both wanting.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Set in the late nineteenth century, Lonesome Dove is the story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. The drive represents for everybody involved not only a daring, even foolhardy adventure, but part of the American Dream -- the attempt to carve out of the last remaining wilderness a new life. A love story, an adventure, an American epic, the book embraces the entire West--legend and fact, heroes and outlaws, prostitutes and ladies, Indians and settlers.


A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ismael Beah

Living in Sierra Leone, Beah was once a typical child who played, listened to music, and enjoyed life. Then in an abrupt change of fortune, Beah and a group of other boys were captured by government troops and turned into soldiers--and drug addicts. Read about Beah’s escape, rehabilitation, and eventual role as an advocate for children’s rights.


Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Set in an unnamed Caribbean seaport, this is a remarkable story of the different kinds of love that we experience at different ages and in different kinds of relationships. While the many subplots and Marquez’s fantastical style may provide a challenge for some readers, the journey is well worth the effort.


Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

A beautiful and restless young woman rebels against the confines of a tiresome marriage by engaging in a series of passionate affairs with other men. Deemed scandalous in its day, the novel explores the harsh consequences of self-delusion, misplaced ideals, and betrayal.

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Souief

A massive family saga, this story draws its readers into two moments in the complex, troubled history of modern Egypt. It is a subtle and reflective tale of love that suggests that relations between individuals CAN make a difference.

The March by E.L. Doctorow

This work of historical fiction is based on Sherman's march through the South during the Civil War.


Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis

This is a great book about leadership, courage, and love during the tough times of the twentieth century. Chesty Puller was even too tough for the Marine Corps. He might be the best example of how good leadership can inspire people to do uncommon deeds.


The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

In this novel, which demonstrates Hardy’s interest in the concept of fate, a man gets drunk at a county fair and sells his wife and child to a sailor. The rest of his life he struggles with his guilt and attempts to make amends.


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Japan is changing, becoming industrialized and imperialistic, when in 1929 young Sayuri is taken from her home in a fishing village to become servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. This is a fictionalized memoir about her life and experiences in Japan before World War II.


Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)

Idealistic and intellectual, Dorothea Brooke nevertheless finds herself in a disastrous marriage to a man she had mistaken as her soul mate. The idealistic Tertius Lydgate makes an equally ill-suited match with the haughty Rosamund. Regarded as one of the masterpieces of British literature, the novel provides the modern reader with an insider’s view of nineteenth-century marriage and social conventions.


Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

On a beautiful tropical island shattered by war, an eccentric white teacher draws native students into the world of Charles Dickens’s Pip, the young protagonist of Great Expectations. Intrigued by Pip’s mysterious encounters with quirky characters, his hopeless infatuation with a beautiful but haughty young woman, and his rise from rags to riches, the teacher’s most precocious student soon finds Pip’s life a way to cope with the tragedies of her own life.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri explores the struggle to bridge the chasms between cultures and generations in this story of a family who leave their tradition-laden life in Calcutta to embark on a new life in America.


Nickel and Dimed -On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity; a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand different strategems for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.
On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

In 1872, thirteen-year-old Molly Petree deals with a post-war world gone awry by keeping a diary, which is discovered during a historic renovation in 2003. The novel is a story of love, betrayal, motherhood, and a murder trial seen through the eyes of a young self-described “spitfire.”


On the Road by Jack Kerouac

In 1957 with the publication of On the Road, Jack Kerouac became a celebrity and a spokesman for the “Beat Generation,” youth who were dissatisfied with the middle-class values and conformity of the 1950s. Looking for extraordinary experiences, the narrator of this picaresque novel sets out to hitchhike across the country. Kerouac parallels romantic aspirations -- his American dream -- to the realism of the road.

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This is a sometimes humorous but basically grim story about the beating down of a nonconformist. Set in a state mental hospital, it focuses on the power struggle between a rigid, authoritarian head nurse (the Big Nurse) and a loud, hard-living con-man named Randall Patrick McMurphy, who contrives to get himself committed to the hospital in order to escape the drudgery of a work farm. Told through the eyes of Bromden, a giant American-Indian inmate, Cuckoo’s Nest will especially appeal to the more mature students.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

It is rare that a novel emerges and is instantly given the status of myth. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the Buenida family, but the novel is more than a family chronicle. There is an element of mystical timelessness and the beauty of the land that belongs to its setting in Colombia. The New York Times said of this work, “You emerge from this marvelous novel as if from a dream, the mind on fire.”


The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

This collection of memories and reflections shows a surprisingly funny, sometimes outrageous Amy Tan as she shares anecdotes about her Chinese relatives, her role as a rock singer for the Rock Bottom Remainders, and her take on the Cliff Notes of her novels.


Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter offers a personal consideration of “moral values” as they relate to the important issues of the day. He puts forward a passionate defense of separation of church and state and a strong warning about where the country is heading as the lines between politics and rigid religious fundamentalism are blurred.


Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

This memoir, first published in 1937, examines the author’s life on a coffee plantation in Kenya during the last years of the British empire. The work is noted for its melancholic and elegiac style.



The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (Ex Libris selection)

This true story, like the storm of the century that it describes, builds up inexorably as it traces the fate of a doomed New England fishing boat. Included are gripping accounts of helicopter rescue attempts and amazing tales of physical stress and human courage.


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is, in a way, a book about seeing things with awe and wonder. The author stalks nature in her neighborhood around Tinker Creek in Virginia. Annie Dillard sees Tinker Creek the way Thoreau saw Walden Pond, a “meteorological journal of the mind.” Dillard’s lyrical prose will appeal to lovers of poetry and language as well as to future biologists.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Readers may initially be daunted by the 1000+ pages of the book, but the writers captivating plot will hook them in until they have read the whole thing. The story begins with the building of a cathedral in medieval England by a master builder named Tom, but soon turns to crooked bishops, friars, and all kinds of wild happenings.


The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. It is a beautifully written story of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa. In a compelling exploration of religion, conscience, imperialist arrogance, and the many paths to redemption, Barbara Kingsolver has written her most remarkable book yet.


A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Owen Meany is distinctly different from everyone else in the world. The first noteworthy thing he does in his life is to kill his best friend’s mother by hitting her with a fly ball during a baseball game. The two boys are bound forever. Owen, undersized and possessing an enormous, strange voice, is the reason why his best friend believes in God. This is one of John Irving’s strangest and most powerful works.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

This book transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism, or social history, though it is superb as all three. Literature professor Nafisi returned to her native Iran after a long education abroad, remained there for some eighteen years, and left in 1997 for the United States, where she now teaches at Johns Hopkins. Woven through her story are the books she has taught along the way, among them works by Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James, and Austen.

The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins

When a lonely rug merchant in New York finds out that his wife back in Iran is leaving him, he despairs. However when a young woman named Stella enters his store, he finds an unexpected source of love and understanding.


The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Schaffer

This play portrays the destruction of the Inca empire by conquistador Francisco Pizarro.


Sailing around the World Alone by Joshua Slocum

This amazing tale recounts the 46,000-mile journey of the first man to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly.


Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

In a series of heart-breaking and poignant short stories, Akpan explores the poverty, violence, loss of innocence, and hopelessness of young people in Africa.


The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is the story of a young boy grieving for his dead mother and his father, a book seller who introduces him to the book cemetery.


The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (Ex Libris selection)

Written by the 1994 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1983 National Book Award for Fiction, The Shipping News is set in Newfoundland, where Mrs. Proulx lives. It is the story of a newspaperman, age 36, who has to take over the raising of his two daughters when their mother meets a violent end. He takes a job writing the shipping news for a local newspaper, and his job and his life grow as he confronts the forces of nature and society. This book has elements of tragedy, comedy, and magic that will captivate the reader.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Ex Libris selection)

Set on an island in Puget Sound, this courtroom drama/love story concerns the mysterious death of a fisherman. In examining the evidence, the members of this small community are forced to examine their continuing prejudice against Japanese-Americans in the aftermath of World War II. Recommended for students taking American history.

The Space between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Sera, an upper-class Parsi woman, takes her faithful servant Bhima very much for granted. While Sera has generously agreed to fund a college education for Bhima’s granddaughter, she nevertheless relegates Bhima to second-class status, barring her from even using Sera’s drinking glasses. When the granddaughter’s pregnancy shatters Bhima’s dreams for a promising future, the two older women begin to view their own relationship in a whole new light.



The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Ann Fadiman

When a little Laotian-American girl is diagnosed with epilepsy, her parents, believing that spirits are at work, refuse conventional medical treatment. With great sensitivity and respect for both the American and Hmong cultures, Fadiman explores the human costs of culture clash.


Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr

Two Americans, the only foreigners in Ibarra, Mexico, live among people who both respect and misunderstand them. Gradually, the villagers--at first enigmas to the Evertons--come to teach them much about life and the relentless tide of fate.



A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Streetcar, for which Williams won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, was one of the most admired plays of its time and continues as a masterpiece of modern American theater. This harsh story of neurosis, love, and abuse is appropriately set in the heat of New Orleans.

Summer of ‘49 by David Halberstam

DiMaggio, Williams, Berra, Stengel . . . names from a time when baseball was more than just a business. The Summer of ‘49 is the story of one of the all-time classic pennant races between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. If you’ve ever been in a game, or wanted to be, where every move mattered, where every decision meant the difference between winning and losing, this is the book for you.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard P. Feynman

Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, thrived on outrageous adventures. Here he recounts in his inimitable voice his experience trading ideas on atom physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek; cracking the uncrackable safes guarding the most deeply held nuclear secrets; accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums – and much else of an eyebrow-raising nature. In short, here is Feynman’s life in all its eccentric glory.



A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor’s title accurately describes its straightforward plot: spinster sisters summon their middle-aged brother home in order to save the family pride and fortune. As Taylor explores the dynamics of this rather ordinary family, the son (and the reader) gradually obtain understanding about why families evolve as they do.


This Boy’s Life: A Memoir by Tobias Wolff

Wolff’s memoir focuses on a boy’s rocky maturation with a peripatetic mother and an estranged father during the 1950s. His mother's remarriage ends their wandering, but Toby's fresh start becomes a fight for identity and self -respect against the unrelenting dominance of his stepfather. How Toby overcomes bad decisions and bad luck makes for engaging reading.


The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

This book explores the driving forces behind thriving products and patterns in consumerism. Anyone with an interest in business, inventions, or the future will enjoy Gladwell’s analysis of our society.

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, the Swedish Academy called Tortilla Flat, his first popular novel, “a welcome antidote to the gloom of the then prevailing Depression.” The setting is Monterey, California, where Danny and his fellow paisanos rationalize each action to benefit themselves. Humorous allusions to King Arthur and his Round Table suggest that these young men have heroic qualities as well.

The Ugly American by William Lederer

Published in 1958, this work of fiction provides an uncannily prescient description of the United States foreign policy in Southeast Asia in the second half of the twentieth century.


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken tells of the remarkable life of Louis Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent turned Olympic runner. While that story alone would make a good tale, Zamperini’s saga doesn’t end there. When the US enters World War II, he enlists and is shot down by the Japanese over the Pacific while serving as a bombardier. Zamperini survives sharks and starvation only to be captured and tortured by the Japanese. Clearly and lucidly written by the author of Seabiscuit, Unbroken is the fascinating story of the triumph of the human spirit in desperate times.
Waiting by Ha Jin

This is the story of Lin Kong, an officer and doctor living in China during the mid-1960s. The young Kong had followed the wishes of his parents, dutifully entering into an arranged marriage and having a daughter. When circumstances dictated by the Communist party require him to live apart from his family for long periods of time, Kong falls in love with a nursing student in the hospital where he works. After waiting eighteen years to obtain a divorce from his wife, Kong finds the love of his life within reach. Will the reality of his beloved match the dream of waiting?


What Is the What by Dave Eggers

This is the fictional account of a Lost Boy of the Sudan, who escapes the horrors of his homeland only to face the indignities of a menial job, a robbery, and a physical assault in his new home in America.


We Were Soldiers Once…and Young by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway

This moving story of the Battle of Ia Drang, the first major engagement involving American combat forces, North Vietnamese regulars, and the Viet Cong, focuses on the individual soldiers on both sides as they attempt to negotiate the obstacles placed in their paths by political and military leaders.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

British East Africa (present day Kenya) in the early 1930s is the setting of Markham’s biographical account of life in Africa. Born in England but reared by her father and African servants from the time she was four years old, she was free to pursue her unique interests, including being the first person ever to fly the Atlantic solo from England to North America.


The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Ex Libris selection)

This first novel, which has spent months on the best seller list, depicts the awakening of a low-caste Indian man to the degradation of servitude. As a once impoverished village boy without prospects, Balram Halwai is at first thrilled to become the driver for a wealthy man. Growing increasingly resentful about the inequities of class and culture, Balram plots his employer’s murder. The novel is Balram’s attempt to rationalize the murder in the context of a world of staggering poverty and injustice.


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee

George and Martha, a middle-age couple, drink and quarrel one evening in the company of a younger couple. This play, published and produced in 1962, focuses on a long, painful night of games and confrontations from which the secrets of all four characters surface.


A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

This book is refreshingly different and humorous with no heavy-duty themes. The reader becomes an armchair tourist as the British writer, Peter Mayle, describes his move to the south of France with his wife and two dogs. Take this book with you on your summer vacation and immerse yourself in the French culture.


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