This beautifully written debut novel by Yaa Gyasi is a powerful work of fiction. Narrated from the perspective of one family member per generation over the span of 300 years and two continents, no other book has made the legacy of slavery feel so profoundly personal and immediate. Recommended reading for America.
Silent Book Club readers are divided on this coming-of-age tale about the cult of young women lured by Charles Manson to commit horrific acts of violence in the 1960s. Several people nominated it as the best book they read last year while others found it too unsettling to enjoy. Full disclosure: I didn’t read it myself—I was afraid it would be too disturbing.
Helen Ellis is wickedly funny as she skewers the myth of the perfect housewife in a collection of short stories that will leave you clutching your pearls and bursting with laughter from one page to the next. Her “grown-ass” ladies have run out of damns to give as they wage war over foyer décor, dumpster dive on reality TV, and gauge the fertility of a young book club recruit.
Everything I Never Told You
“Lydia is dead.” With this revelation in the opening line of Celeste Ng’s incredible debut novel, a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio must reckon with the loss of their beloved sixteen-year-old daughter. As the story unfolds from the point of view of each character, we discover that a tangled web of secrets, hopes, fears and truths can knit a family together—and tear it apart.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel
This delicious novel imagines what it was like to be part of Truman Capote’s circle in New York City during the 1960s. The story follows Capote’s rise to fame with the publication of his masterpiece, In Cold Blood is a complex portrait of an often caricatured author and the socialites he enchanted—and was enchanted by—during the dying days of Manhattan society.
Death Comes to Pemberley
P. D. James
Downton Abbey, I miss you. I tried to fill the void with period dramas—War & Peace with Lily James was an excellent distraction, and Netflix added Pride & Prejudice just in time to replace the Crawleys. But by the time the mists lifted on Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre, I had exhausted my streaming options. I turned to books. Death Comes to Pemberley was the perfect antidote to Downton withdrawal. This faux-quel to Pride & Prejudice picks up six years after Elizabeth and Darcy are married. We encounter the familiar cast of characters going about their 19th century business on a grand estate. Within a few pages we are mired in a soap opera worthy of Bates and Anna. Murder! Trysts! Drama! The prose doesn’t hold a candle to Austen, but it does make a Sunday evening without Downton bearable.
In Other Words
Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Goldstein (Translator)
Reading this book, I felt a great affinity for Jhumpa Lahiri. I, too, have a love of the Italian language that drew me, magnetically, to the country, where I lived for two years. I could relate to her struggles mastering a foreign tongue. But she reaches a level of obsession, of dedication, of mania, that I never experienced. Case in point: The book is a bilingual edition. The Italian, written by Lahiri, is on the left; the English, translated by Ann Goldstein (who is also Elena Ferrante’s translator), is on the facing page. I read exactly half of the book in Italian before I gave up on my slow progress and finished the book in English. I loved reading in Italian but I didn’t have the discipline to stick with it. And that, my friends, is why Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, and I am not. Well, that, and a boatload of talent—let’s be clear.
Not long ago we had a debate at Silent Book Club over the pros and cons of re-reading. My SBC co-founder, Laura, is a devoted re-reader. She revisits her favorites, like Franny and Zooey and Pride & Prejudice, on a yearly basis. I’m the opposite. I almost never go back to books I have read before, even if I desperately loved them the first time around. I’m in the “so many books, so little time” camp, so I tend to be picky.
One of the things I love about Silent Book Club is topping off my TBR list with books that are recommended by this passionate—and outspoken—community of readers. Everyone has different tastes and preferred genres, so it’s always a treat to discover books I might not gravitate towards on my own. And the list of recommendations is never-ending! Every day, SBC members all over the world share what they’re reading in our Facebook group, and members respond in droves whenever there’s a request for what to read next.
Here’s a brief peek at just some of what readers have been reading, and recommending, at our monthly meetups in San Francisco over the past year.
Featured image: Bekka Palmer