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Essays are small windows into a writer’s mind. They can be personal, but many times essays are the author’s commentary about the world around them. Concentrated in topic, but expansive in emotions these small entries can have a powerful punch. The well written essay can make you laugh out loud, wince in pain, squirm in embarrassment, or smile with recognition. The best linger with you long after you have read them.
Here are some of my favorite collections:

Lots of candles, plenty of cake by Anna Quindlen – While examining her own life, Quindlen brings her unique viewpoint to issues most women face — aging and mortality, becoming more comfortable with ourselves, stepping aside for the next generation. Her essays sparkle with style and grace as well as insight.

I feel bad about my neck : and other thoughts on being a woman by Nora Ephron – Known for her sweet, funny screenplays such as When Harry met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You Got Mail, Ephron has written a book full of the silly, wonderful, and not-so-wonderful thoughts that pass through the sharp witted scribe. The chatty breezy style makes for enjoyable reading about subjects such as how hair dye has revolutionized the perception of aging, or how to divorce your once-loved apartment.

I can’t complain : (all too) personal essays by Elinor Lipman – The word that comes to mind is …. quirky. Or maybe smart. Or charming. Or just plain outlandish. But the word that explains Lipman’s essays the best is intimate. She lets you in to her perspective on the world and you just never want to leave that funny, zany place.

What the dog saw and other adventures by Malcolm Gladwell – Complied from essays appearing in the New Yorker, Gladwell adroitly explores the vicissitudes of American life — from looking at the marketing genius of Ron Popeil to a new take on the homelessness problem. He not afraid of tackling complex subjects, like the financial card shuffle that lead up to the Enron collapse, but there is always the human interest story at the center of his writing.

My nest isn’t empty, it just has more closet space : the amazing adventures of an ordinary woman by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Scottoline Serritella – Inspired by their weekly column “Chick Wit”
for the Phildelphia Inquirer, this author mother and her daughter tag-team their way through their dates, diets and dogs (as well as a couple of cats.) You can find Lisa’s perspective of having an adult daughter who doesn’t want her help, just her company or Francesca realizing that she may have lost data when her computer crashes, but not the really important things in her life. This book is like a conversation with your girlfriend over a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream — fun and delish!

Helen Freeman

Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.

Nightstand Books

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.

Fabulous Friendship Reads

Over the years I’ve read a lot of stories about friendships. There’s something about these novels that draw me in and make me think about my own friendships that have come and gone. What makes a friendship last? Laughter, trust, love, good times…….What makes them end? Lies, betrayal, deceit, scandal……here are some of my favorites:

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – An interesting story of new friendships gone awry. Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal…A murder… a tragic accident… or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three new friends, each at a crossroads. It is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

China Dolls by Lisa See – Loved this novel of the ups and downs of friendship, set in the “Chop Suey Circuit” of San Francisco right before World War II. In 1938, Ruby, Helen and Grace, three girls from very different backgrounds, find themselves competing at the same audition for showgirl roles at San Francisco’s exclusive “Oriental” nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace, an American-born Chinese girl has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family who have deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese. At times their differences are pronounced, but the girls grow to depend on one another in order to fulfill their individual dreams. Then, everything changes in a heartbeat with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly the government is sending innocent Japanese to internment camps under suspicion, and Ruby is one of them. But which of her friends betrayed her?

Looking for Alaska by John Green – A story of young friendship that you will never forget! Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – International historical fiction brings to light the types different types of friendships. In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – A contemporary classic about lifelong friends. After being drawn together by the shadows of their past, four women start meeting every week in San Francisco to engage in hobbies they all enjoy. After one of the four members dies, her daughter takes her place to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. After the revelation of a secret, the women are forced to think back to their pasts and remember the sometimes painful events of their lives.


               Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.

staff picks winter2

The Animal Connection

Animals can enrich the lives of the young and the old, the healthy and the sick, the lonely and the connected. While they are dependent upon us, we can learn so much about ourselves through their devotion and their own existence.

Elle & Coach : diabetes, the fight for my daughter’s life, and the dog who changed everything by Stefany Shaheen – Juvenile diabetes can be a tough disease. Blood sugar can range wildly with dire consequences if not monitored closely. Elle Shaheen is diagnosed at 9 years old and finds regulating her diabetes difficult until she gets a service dog. Coach can smell when her blood sugar is too low or too high and alerts Elle. This book is an up close view of how service animals can make a huge impact in the lives of those who need them.

Buddy : how a rooster made me a family man by Brian McGrory – Boston Globe columnist McGrory is a once divorced city guy who falls for his beloved dog’s veterinarian, Pam. Into his life then follows a trek out to suburbia, two young girls and a menagerie of animals, including a white rooster. While Buddy is adored by the girls and admired by the neighbors, his relationship with McGrory leaves a lot to be desired. How McGrory deals with Buddy and the rest of the upending of his peaceful single life is funny and moving.

The soul of all living creatures : what animals can teach us about being human by Vint Virga – A leader in veterinary behavioral medicine, Dr. Virga examines the behavior of a wide variety of animals – from cats to whales – and finds commonality and insight into human relationships. This is a fascinating look at animals and at ourselves.

When Fraser met Billy : an autistic boy, a rescue cat, and the transformative power of animal connections by Louise Booth – Fraser is a British three year old autistic boy who has anxiety and behavioral issues. Looking for any relief, his parents adopt a shelter cat, Billy, just hoping to provide some companionship for their son. But Billy exceeds their wildest expectations, helping Fraser to calm and concentrate, as well as providing motivation to overcome some of his physical disabilities. A heartwarming story to charm any animal lover.

Saddled : how a spirited horse reined me in and set me free by Susan Richards – A battered wife with a drinking problem, Richards’ life is in tatters. The only stable force in her life is the need to care for her beloved horse, Georgia. The horse leads Richards to establish a safe and sober life, but more importantly, helps her face her demons from her nightmarish childhood and grow into a healthy adult.

Helen Freeman

     Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.

staff picks fall

Vote! The World of American Politics

If anyone hasn’t already had their fill of politics, or is still undecided on who to vote for, here are some of the latest books:

Hillary’s America by Dinesh D’Souza – Very interesting book about Hillary Clinton and the democratic party. Regardless of political point of view the book will make you think about the politics of the United States.

Year of Voting Dangerously by Maureen Dowd – A noted political columnist traces the psychologies and pathologies in one of the nastiest and most significant battles of the sexes ever, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Intimidation Game by Kimberley A. Stassel – Excellent explanation of just some of the recent ways our government runs amuck. It is disturbing in its examples and in its implications. Although Strassel focuses on the Left, I will not be surprised if the Right makes a comeback and in a few years a liberal is able to write an equally disturbing volume about abuses on the other side. Big Data, sadly, will be abused by all.

Why the Right Went Wrong by E.J. Dionne – Dionne’s book is a history of the right from Goldwater to the present that also parlays into the Clinton and Obama presidencies.

Great Again : how to fix our crippled America by Donald J.Trump – Love him or hate him this book peers into the mind of Trump. His accomplishments and media savvy have brought him international recognition and he is unquestionably a one man phenomenon.

Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton – To her surprise, HRC was asked to serve as Obama’s Secretary of State after he was elected president in 2008. This is a narrative of Clinton’s foreign policy successes, and failures during Obama’s first term.


 Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.

staff picks fall

Icelandic Literature

In Iceland, one out of ten people will publish a book. An astonishing 93% of the population read a book every year (roughly 75% of Americans will.) They have the most bookstores per person, and for its size imports and translate more literature than any other nation. Its mark on literature is indelible.

The Sagas of the Icelanders by various authors – The Sagas tell the stories of the early Icelanders that came from across the Norse world, from Norway to Sweden to Ireland. The sagas are generally realistic, with some fantastical embellishment, and tell of feuds, romances, and voyages into unknown lands. Eiríks Saga Rauða tells the story of the first European discovery and settlement in North America. The word “Saga” today still is used to describe epic literature.

Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson – The most complete accounting of European pre-Christian religion comes from these medieval writings from Icelandic poet, politician, and historian Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda tells us of Thor, Odin, and Freyja, and Snorri’s other writings were also instrumental in later centuries for establishing Norwegian and later Icelandic national identity as they struggled for independence from Denmark.

Independent People by Halldór Laxness (Born Halldór Guðjónsson) – Halldór won a Noble Prize for literature in 1955, and picking just one of his works is a tall task. Independent People is a tale of the desperate poverty many Icelanders lived in during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The book tells the tale of a sheep farmer, destitute and struggling, but still proud and resilient.

Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason – Part of the popular Detective Erlendur series, Arnaldur is perhaps the most well-known contemporary Icelandic author today outside of Iceland. He writes compelling crime fiction, mostly taking settings from the Icelandic landscape. His novels often examine issues of racism, sexism, environmental issues and the underworld of Icelandic society.

Lewis Parsons

Lewis Parsons is a librarian in Research and Information Services at the Sawyer Free Library.

staff picks summer

Fiction Addiction

I can vividly remember the quiet tears after my seventh birthday party. It was a wonderful party with my favorite spice cake with brown butter frosting and lots of good toys. But no one gave me a book. And not having a new adventure in reading waiting for me on my bookshelf brought on unexpected seven- year- old melancholy. I feel the same way whenever I leave for a plane or crawl into bed and don’t have a book in hand. I love the assurance that a good book is waiting for me. Here are a few newer titles that have recently helped feed my fiction addition.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – This is the story of a grumpy curmudgeon. He likes routine and order. He doesn’t smile and give compliments but he’s an honest man and a man with integrity. As the story opens Ove is fifty-nine years old, forcefully retired, bitter, alone and unsure how to fill his days. But behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. One November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door. Thus begins an unexpected friendship and a transformation that shakes Ove and his entire neighborhood to its foundations. Backman’s style succeeds in being life-affirming yet not sentimental. A wonderful read.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – ‘A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we wake from dreams.’ — Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Those who have read and loved Atkinson’s Life after Life will recognize Teddy, the protagonist of her new novel. Teddy is Ursula Todd’s beloved younger brother who flew for the RAF. During the perils of his bombing career, he never expected to have a future. Living into that future turned out to be his biggest challenge. In Life after Life the author plays with time and creates several possible narratives for Ursula, the book’s protagonist. A God in Ruins is more straightforward but the chapters still move back and forth in time. This is not a chronological narrative of Teddy’s life but rather a collection of memories. Like all lives, Teddy’s has had its ups and downs. People’s lives are often defined by tragedy. Many of those people strive to make the best of their lives despite tragedy. Kate Atkinson writes beautifully and explores the familiar themes of the fragility of life, the certainty of death and the redemptive power of love in her singularly elegant, thoughtful and somewhat quirky way.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich – Louise Erdrich is a literary icon. She won the National Book Award with The Round House and her newest book is just as beautiful as her previous award-winners. Set in a Native American reservation in North Dakota, this story unfolds when a man accidentally shoots his neighbor’s young son and gives his own son, LaRose, to the grieving family. Pushed forward by the deep and complex emotions that surround grief and inheritance, this novel will take you on a phenomenal ride.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – Stephanie Danler’s first novel is one of the breakout bestseller surprises of the year. Tess is a 22-year-old waitress in a Union Square restaurant. She’s new to the Big Apple and has a huge, infection appetite for life. She soon finds herself attached to two servers: Jake, a quiet, handsome bartender, and Simone, an older woman who takes her under her wing. As the year unfolds, Tess learns that finding yourself often involves learning some hard lessons.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – The legendary star-crossed friendship between Truman Capote and New York socialite Babe Paley lies at the core of this work of historical fiction. Babe’s husband was CBS titan Bill Paley and Capote soon became the couple’s favorite weekend guest at their home in the Hamptons. Capote could always be counted on for both gossip and a sympathetic ear. Over their twenty year friendship, Capote became Babe’s most trusted friend as well as analyst. Their friendship ended in a tragic betrayal inaugurated by a Vanity Fair article Capote published. All of these facts are well-documented in NYC’s social history. Benjamin explores the inner workings the friendship between Capote and Babe, her loveless marriage to Paley, and a brief time in New York City when a small caderie of socialites — “the swans of Fifth Avenue” – reigned over the social scene.


Beth Pocock is Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.

staff picks summer

Mind-Bending Reading

In light of the summer reading theme of “Exercise Your Mind”, I am presenting some novels that look at the world from odd angles, portray unusual viewpoints, and explore thought-provoking stories.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – What happens when the underpinnings of how life works starts to unravel? In The Age of Miracles Earth’s rotation is slowing and with it twelve-year-old Julia’s world starts to distort. The world’s governments decide to keep society on a twenty-four hour “clock-time” schedule, but some cannot or will not change, and the “real-time” people become more isolated and eventually shunned. Others, including Julia’s mother, have physical side effects. This novel looks at how fragile our civilization is, through the eyes of a young girl coming of age.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – This dystopian novel with a feminist viewpoint is a haunting, perverse portrait of male domination of women. In the near future, a war-torn United States is now the land of Gilead, where the strict theocratic government rules and nuclear waste is rendering large swaths of the population sterile. Women are reduced to three limited roles: wives of commanders, considered moral and who have limited power; “Martha”s who do the domestic work; and handmaidens, still fertile women forced to breed for the ruling class or be banished to hard labor. Offred (“of Fred”, the commander to whom she “belongs”) tells of her life as a handmaiden, and shares her memories of being a wife and a mother before the war. Written in 1985, the theme is never more relevant than in today’s world of religious extremism.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – What if you are privy to the intimate emotional life of someone without them knowing? That is the gift and the burden that faces Rose Edelstein. Biting into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake for her ninth birthday she discovers she has a magical insight to her mother’s hidden despair. Soon she has awareness of the secret emotional existence of her father and brother. Eating develops into an exercise in trying to avoid emotional mine fields, and her life becomes a world of seeing what she doesn’t want to know or knows how to deal with. This is a novel that stays with you long after you have read the final chapter.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – Time travel is notoriously difficult to write about – there are logistical holes to cover and difficulty in maintaining emotional investment in the story. Niffenegger does a fairly adept job at both. Henry has Chrono-Displacement Disorder, causing him to travel to different time periods of his life without warning. His future wife Clare first meets him when she is six and he is thirty-six; Henry meets Clare for the first time when she is twenty and he is twenty-eight. Weaving around the paradoxes and disconnects is a story of love and faith in each other.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Space travel is always fertile ground for enlarging the scope of the imagination. When a novel introduces an alien planet and mixes it with real-life science, it’s a formula for a mind expanding adventure. Mark Watney, left for dead on the Martian surface, has to find a way to survive until he can be rescued. The problem? Well, you can start with the fact that he has no way to communicate to Earth that he is still alive. Then he has to find a way to feed himself for the years it might take for him to be rescued. Clever, resourceful, and really humorous, Mark’s diary entries show the true nature of human existence in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Helen Freeman

Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.

staff picks summer

This year’s summer reading theme for adults is “Exercise Your Mind”. Since the overall summer reading theme is exercise and wellness, I combined exercising your body and exercising your brain.

How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald – This book explains the latest theory of how the brain regulates endurance performance, which is called the Psycho Biological model. It describes how conscious self-regulation of thoughts, emotions, and behavior can have a dramatic influence on endurance performance. In other words, the mind and body are distinctly connected. How Bad Do You Want It? reveals new psychobiological findings

* Mental toughness determines how close you can get to your physical limit.
* Bracing yourself for a tough race or workout can boost performance by 15% or more.
* Champions have learned how to give more of what they have.
* An important way to improve performance is by altering how you perceive effort.
* Choking under pressure is a form of self-consciousness.
* Your attitude in daily life is the same one you bring to sports.
* There’s no such thing as going as fast as you can―only going faster than before.
* The fastest racecourse is the one with the loudest spectators.
* Faith in your training is as important as the training itself.

The greatest athletic performances spring from the mind, not the body. Elite athletes have known this for decades and now science is learning why it’s true.

Trivia Quiz: The Best Family Quiz book Ever! – Trivia competitions are a fun way to exercise your mind and help keep it sharp! This book has over 4000 trivia questions. The questions cover a wide range of subjects to test the general knowledge of the most seasoned quiz fans. There are over 4,000 quiz questions on a wide variety of subjects that will appeal to all quiz fans. The book also includes an introductory section on how to run a quiz night. It has many helpful tips and ideas.

How To Think Like Einstein by Scott Thorpe – This book expands on critical thinking. It presents an appealing way to look at everyday challenges in the home and office. This book will help you challenge old ways of thinking and to improve your creative and problem solving skills. Innovator and author Scott Thorpe guides you step-by-step through the process of freeing yourself from your “rule ruts” so you can dream up amazing (and doable) solutions to the seemingly impossible. I like the steps showing how to identify and break the usual thinking patterns we automatically use, and how to come up with innovative and viable solutions by using a different point of view. With brand-new material for today’s readers, this new edition will reveal how you can solve problems in astonishing ways, including:

      • thinking like a bug
      • organizing a party
      • learning the game of poker
      • pretending you’re James Bond
      • acting like a millionaire
      • and more!

Brain power : improve your mind as you age by Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell – Virtually everyone fears mental deterioration as they age. But in the past thirty years neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is actually designed to improve throughout life. How can you encourage this improvement? Brain Power shares practical, state-of-the-evidence answers in this inspiring, fun-to-read plan for action. The authors have interviewed physicians, gerontologists, and neuroscientists; studied the habits of men and women who epitomize healthy aging; and applied what they describe in their own lives. The resulting guidance can help you activate unused brain areas, tone mental muscles, and enliven every faculty.

Brain fitness : anti-aging strategies for achieving super mind power by Robert M. Goldman – As a cofounder and director of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, Dr. Robert Goldman has at his fingertips all of the latest scientific research on what each of us can do not only to retain all our mental powers as long as we live but also to actually strengthen and improve our mind-power as we age. Now he shares that information, in a layperson’s terms, with numerous self-tests, information charts, and quizzes, so that we all can improve memory, sharpen concentration, reduce stress, learn to sleep better, and–above all–ward off the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. Goldman discusses the many nutritional supplements, vitamins, minerals, and medications that have been proved to enhance mental fitness, providing specific doses and regimens. But beyond that, he also describes particular exercises and lifestyle techniques designed to sharpen mental acuity.


            Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.

staff picks spring


The Holocaust, a horrific and nightmarish period of world history has been a popular and powerful theme for novels over the years. While the realities of our past will always remain unchanged, the following stories are poignant and heartfelt narratives that detail hope, horror, love, and despair. They are brilliantly written and extraordinarily moving.

Beach Music by Pat Conroy — Pat Conroy, America’s preeminent storyteller, delivers a sweeping novel of lyric intensity and searing truth–the story of Jack McCall, an American expatriate in Rome, scarred by tragedy and betrayal. His desperate desire to find peace after his wife’s suicide draws him into a painful, intimate search for the one haunting secret in his family’s past that can heal his anguished heart. Spanning three generations and two continents, from the contemporary ruins of the American South to the ancient ruins of Rome, from the unutterable horrors of the Holocaust to the lingering trauma of Vietnam, Beach Music sings with life’s pain and glory. It is another masterpiece in Pat Conroy’s legendary list of beloved novels.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — A contemporary classic, this story is powerful and lasting. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay — In the summer of 1942, the French police arrested thousands of Jewish families and held them outside of Paris before shipping them off to Auschwitz. On the 60th anniversary of the roundups, an expatriate American journalist covering the atrocities discovers a personal connection—her apartment was formerly occupied by one such family. She resolves to find out what happened to Sarah, the 10-year-old daughter, who was the only family member to survive. Poignant and powerful, this novel captivates the reader until the very end.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry — As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink — Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.


Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.