I always love to ask people what books are on their night stand. It’s a great way to find my next good book. When I interviewed for my position at Sawyer Free Library, one of the interviewers asked me that question and, from then on, I felt right at home. Having a good book waiting for you at the end of the day is one of life’s great pleasures. The following books are those I most happily anticipated.
Hillbilly Elergy by J.D.Vance – Reviewers have frequently dubbed this book as a cultural analysis of the crumbling status of white working-class Americans. But it’s also a tribute to loyalty and love. The author, J.D.Vance, grew up between the hills of Kentucky and the industrial towns of Ohio where many Kentuckians migrated after the coal mines closed. It is a fascinating cultural analysis. But I also found it to be a moving memoir of one struggling to escape the cycle of poverty, abuse and alcoholism resulting from this population’s loss of the American dream.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Like the TV series Lost, this book opens with a plane crash. Only two survive the crash – a young painter and a four-year-old child. Readers find themselves immediately immersed in the danger and chaos of the ocean swells and terrifying decisions facing these two. The suspense never lets up as the story behind the crash begins to unfold. With each chapter, another layer is unfolded in the mysteries behind why the plane crashed and who was targeted. I raced through this one.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Well-deserved winner of the National Book Award, The Underground Railroad is ingenious and fresh. It follows the plight of a young slave woman named Cora who works on a plantation in Georgia. Her mother’s name is legendary as the only slave to have successfully escaped this particular plantation, but her escape made Cora’s situation almost unbearable as a child left to fend for herself. The author’s conceit of having a literal underground railroad may strike some as farfetched, but it does yield an opportunity to observe the horrors of slavery in various places and stages. This one will haunt you for a while.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – Dr. Kalanithi was a brilliant neurosurgeon and writer who suddenly finds himself facing a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. He is able to see his sickness from both sides and, from this perspective, writes perceptively about the process. But he also is confronted with the question of what makes life worth living and his answers to this question as he learns to die well make this haunting, moving memoir valuable to all. I highly recommend.
The Whistler by John Grisham -Okay. This is an easy one. I’m a huge Grisham fan and he never disappoints. This one features a corrupt judge, a powerful real estate mafia, and Florida casinos. This triumvirate is being investigated by a very appealing member of the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct who is in contact with a wily whistleblower. Grisham is not only a fascinating storyteller but also a novelistic culture critic. He’s on his game with this one and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Beth Pocock is Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.