ALA Notable Books for Adults for 2016

25 very good, very readable, and at times very important fiction, non-fiction, and poetry books for the adult reader. Selected by a 12-member team belonging to the American Library Association, since 1944
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In the Country

by Mia Alvar

About the book:  These nine globe-trotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again. A pharmacist living in New York smuggles drugs to his ailing father in Manila, only to discover alarming truths about his family and his past. In Bahrain, a Filipina teacher drawn to a special pupil finds, to her surprise, that she is questioning her own marriage. A college student leans on her brother, a laborer in Saudi Arabia, to support her writing ambitions, without realizing that his is the life truly made for fiction. And in the title story, a journalist and a nurse face an unspeakable trauma amidst the political turmoil of the Philippines in the 1970s and ’80s. In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s powerful debut collection explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. Deeply compassionate and richly felt, In the Country marks the emergence of a formidable new writer. From the Hardcover edition.


Notes:  Exploring the Filipino experience spanning decades and continents, these fully rendered tales express wonder and sadness leavened with humor.

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The Sellout

by Paul Beatty

About the book:  Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction Named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times Book Review and the Wall Street Journal A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant. Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.


Notes:  Poking the underbellies of many sacred cows, this biting social satire examines race, culture and politics in modern America.

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Did You Ever Have a Family

by Bill Clegg

About the book:  This book of dark secrets opens with a blaze. On the morning of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s house goes up in flames, destroying her entire family – her present, her past and her future. Fleeing from the carnage, stricken and alone, June finds herself in a motel room by the ocean, hundreds of miles from her Connecticut home, held captive by memories and the mistakes she has made with her only child, Lolly, and her partner, Luke. In the turbulence of grief and gossip left in June’s wake we slowly make sense of the unimaginable. The novel is a gathering of voices, and each testimony has a new revelation about what led to the catastrophe – Luke’s alienated mother Lydia, the watchful motel owners, their cleaner Cissy, the teenage pothead who lives nearby – everyone touched by the tragedy finds themselves caught in the undertow, as their secret histories finally come to light. Lit by the clarity of understanding that true sadness brings, Did You Ever Have a Family is an elegant, unforgettable story that reveals humanity at its worst and best, through loss and love, fracture and forgiveness. At the book’s heart is the idea of family – the ones we are born with and the ones we create – and the desire, in the face of everything, to go on living.


Notes:  The aftermath of a tragedy and its rippling effects in a small Connecticut town.

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Delicious Foods

by James Hannaham

About the book:  WINNER OF THE 2016 PEN/FAULKNER AWARD FOR FICTION FINALIST FOR THE 2016 DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE FINALIST FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES PRIZE FOR FICTION NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR: New York Times, Washington Post A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: NPR, Kirkus, BuzzFeed, National Post, Kansas City Star TOP 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Publishers Weekly TOP 15 BOOKS OF THE YEAR: BookPage Held captive by her employers--and by her own demons--on a mysterious farm, a widow struggles to reunite with her young son in this uniquely American story of freedom, perseverance, and survival. Darlene, once an exemplary wife and a loving mother to her young son, Eddie, finds herself devastated by the unforeseen death of her husband. Unable to cope with her grief, she turns to drugs, and quickly forms an addiction. One day she disappears without a trace. Unbeknownst to eleven-year-old Eddie, now left behind in a panic-stricken search for her, Darlene has been lured away with false promises of a good job and a rosy life. A shady company named Delicious Foods shuttles her to a remote farm, where she is held captive, performing hard labor in the fields to pay off the supposed debt for her food, lodging, and the constant stream of drugs the farm provides to her and the other unfortunates imprisoned there. In Delicious Foods, James Hannaham tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them. Through Darlene's haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, through the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, and through the irreverent and mischievous voice of the drug that narrates Darlene's travails, Hannaham's daring and shape-shifting prose infuses this harrowing experience with grace and humor. The desperate circumstances that test the unshakeable bond between this mother and son unfold into myth, and Hannaham's treatment of their ordeal spills over with compassion. Along the way we experience a tale at once contemporary and historical that wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom, forgiveness and redemption, tenacity and the will to survive.


Notes:  Themes of race, addiction, wage slavery and corporate greed coalesce in this startling, darkly comic coming of age odyssey.

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Black River

by S. M. Hulse

About the book:  An Indie Next Title • An Indies Introduce Title • Long-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize “Impressive . . . [A] tough, honest novel by a surprisingly wise young writer.” — Washington Post “A complex and powerful story—put Black River on the must-read list.” — Seattle Times Wes Carver returns to his hometown—Black River, Montana—with two things: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the parole board. The convict who once held him hostage during a prison riot is up for release. For years, Wes earned his living as a corrections officer and found his joy playing the fiddle. But the riot shook Wes’s faith and robbed him of his music; now he must decide if his attacker should walk free. With “lovely rhythms, spare language, tenderness, and flashes of rage” (Los Angeles Review of Books), S. M. Hulse shows us the heart and darkness of an American town, and one man’s struggle to find forgiveness in the wake of evil. “Artful . . . Hulse evokes the Montana landscape in lyrical, vivid prose.” — Boston Globe “Hulse believes that grace happens in a look between two people, or a moment of holding back. A powerful elegy.” — Guardian


Notes:  This modern literary Western explores a man's redemptive journey and the possibility (and cost) of forgiveness.

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Fortune Smiles: Stories

by Adam Johnson

About the book:  WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION 2015 WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION 2013 WINNER OF THE SUNDAY TIMES EFG SHORT STORY AWARD 2014 By the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner of THE ORPHAN MASTER'S SON - for fans of international literary fiction, especially Hanya Yanigahara, Jonathan Franzen and Anthony Doerr. 'Unputdownable is an overused word, but at their best these stories are completely gripping.' Sunday Times 'Ironic, witty, super-intelligent' - The Times Adam Johnson takes you into the minds of characters you never thought you would meet – a former Stasi prison warden in denial of his past, a refugee from North Korea unsettled by his new freedom, a UPS driver in hurricane-torn Louisiana looking for the mother of his son. These are tales of love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. Tender, wry, utterly compelling, they show us humanity where you might least expect it.


Notes:  Humanity: quirky, disturbing, endearing, striving, resigned and fascinating.

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Prophets of Eternal Fjord

by Kim Leine

About the book:  From the swarming streets of Copenhagen to the frozen villages of Greenland, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord is a grand, magisterial story of epic proportion. Earning rave reviews and scores of readers across the world, Kim Leine's masterpiece sweeping across the sea in a whaler and scurrying, panicked, from the Great Fire of 1795 arrives on American shores erupting with pathos, lust, faith lost and found, and a cast of characters clinging to life amidst persecution and calamity. Idealistic, foolhardy Morten Falck, the hapless hero, is a newly ordained priest sailing to Greenland in 1787 to convert the Inuit to the Danish church. He's rejected the prospect of a sleepy posting in a local parish and instead departs for the forsaken Sukkertoppen colony, where he will endeavor to convert the locals. A town battered by unremittingly harsh winters and simmering with the threat of dissent, it is a far cry from the parish he envisioned; natives from neighboring villages have unified to reject colonial rule and establish their own settlement atop Eternal Fjord. A bumbling and at times terrifically destructive mix of Shakespeare's Falstaff and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Arthur Dimmesdale, he's woefully ill prepared to confront this new sect. Torn between his instinctive compassion for the rebel congregation perched atop Eternal Fjord and his duty to the church, Falck is forced to decide where he belongs. His exploits in this brutal backwater include an accidental explosion after a night curled around a keg, a botched surgery, a love affair with a solitary and fatalistic widow, and an apprenticeship with an eager young scholar that ends in tragedy. Based on authentic events in the 1780s and '90s, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord moves from the quiet rooms of the Copenhagen bourgeoisie to the stark, hardscrabble village of the Fjord where Falck finds himself surprisingly at home. Kim Leine's textured, earthy prose evokes the sting of the cold, the itch of the wool, and the burn of the roughest swig of aquavit. In gritty detail, Leine reveals the corrosive effects of colonial rule both on the colonized, bitterly ground down as they are, and on the colonizers, compromised and corrupted by their baseless power. In rich, Dickensian descriptions, Leine charts the tragic events that intertwine seemingly disparate lives, illuminating the brutal and tender impulses of those seeking redemption and the shifting line between religion and mysticism. The Prophets of Eternal Fjord is a visceral panorama of a fragile colony caught in the throes of history, marking the American debut of a major international writer."


Notes:  An epic and evocative tale of colonialism in Greenland; translated from the Danish.

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The Tsar of Love and Techno

by Anthony Marra

About the book:  From the New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena—dazzling, poignant, and lyrical interwoven stories about family, sacrifice, the legacy of war, and the redemptive power of art. This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.


Notes:  Beauty and humanity are found in the darkest and grimmest of places in these interconnected pieces.

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The Sympathizer

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

About the book:  A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.


Notes:  A half-French, half-Vietnamese man serves as a double agent after the war, and struggles with the contradictions of his identity and loyalties.

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This Is the Life

by Alex Shearer

About the book:  Two estranged brothers come together when one of them discovers he has a brain tumor and the other emerges as his caretaker.


Notes:  Spare prose mixes with heart-wrenching humor in this gem of a story about two brothers coping with terminal illness.

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The Book of Aron

by Jim Shepard

About the book:  Warsaw, Poland, 1939. My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done or What Were You Thinking. Aron is a nine-year-old Polish Jew, and a troublemaker. As the walls go up around the ghetto in Warsaw, as the lice and typhus rage, food is stolen and even Jewish police betray their people, Aron smuggles from the other side to survive. In a place where no one thinks of anyone but himself, the only exception is Doctor Korczak; children's rights activist and embattled orphanage director. They call the Doctor a hero. Aron is not a hero. He is not special or selfless or spirited. He is ordinary. He is willing to do what the Doctor will not.


Notes:  The perspective of a boy whose only goal is to live another day gives a sharp edge to the mind-numbing tragedies of the Warsaw Ghetto.

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A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

About the book:  NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST SHORT-LISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers. When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever. In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance. From the Hardcover edition.


Notes:  A visceral, provocative story of four New York City lives marred by ambition, abuse and addiction.

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The Interstellar Age

by Jim Bell

About the book:  *Chosen as one of Amazon's Best Books of 2015!* *An ALA Notable Book of 2015* The story of the men and women who drove the Voyager spacecraft mission— told by a scientist who was there from the beginning. The Voyager spacecraft are our farthest-flung emissaries—11.3 billion miles away from the crew who built and still operate them, decades since their launch. Voyager 1 left the solar system in 2012; its sister craft, Voyager 2, will do so in 2015. The fantastic journey began in 1977, before the first episode of Cosmos aired. The mission was planned as a grand tour beyond the moon; beyond Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and maybe even into interstellar space. The fact that it actually happened makes this humanity’s greatest space mission. In The Interstellar Age, award-winning planetary scientist Jim Bell reveals what drove and continues to drive the members of this extraordinary team, including Ed Stone, Voyager’s chief scientist and the one-time head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab; Charley Kohlhase, an orbital dynamics engineer who helped to design many of the critical slingshot maneuvers around planets that enabled the Voyagers to travel so far; and the geologist whose Earth-bound experience would prove of little help in interpreting the strange new landscapes revealed in the Voyagers’ astoundingly clear images of moons and planets. Speeding through space at a mind-bending eleven miles a second, Voyager 1 is now beyond our solar system's planets. It carries with it artifacts of human civilization. By the time Voyager passes its first star in about 40,000 years, the gold record on the spacecraft, containing various music and images including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” will still be playable. From the Hardcover edition.


Notes:  An enthusiastic account of our reach for intergalactic space -- and the people who made it possible.

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Give Us the Ballot

by Ari Berman

About the book:  On the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, a riveting and alarming account of the continuing battle over the right to vote The adoption of the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965 enfranchised millions of Americans and is widely regarded as the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement. And yet fifty years later we are still fighting heated battles over race, representation, and political power--over the right to vote, the central pillar of our democracy. A groundbreaking narrative history of voting rights since 1965, Give Us the Ballottells the story of what happened after the act was passed. Through meticulous archival research, fresh interviews with the leading participants in the ongoing struggle, and incisive on-the-ground reporting, Ari Berman chronicles the transformative impact the act had on American democracy and investigates how the fight over the right to vote has continued in the decades since. From new strategies to keep minorities out of the voting booth, to cynical efforts to limit political representation by gerrymandering electoral districts, to the Supreme Court's recent stunning decision that declared a key part of the Voting Rights Act itself unconstitutional, to the efforts by the Justice Department and grassroots activists to counter these attacks, Berman tells the dramatic story of the pitched contest over the very heart of our democracy. At this important historical moment, Give Us the Ballot brings new insight to one of the most vital political and civil rights issues of our time.


Notes:  A sobering and impassioned popular history of the fight for universal suffrage in the United States.

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The End of Plenty

by Joel K. Bourne Jr

About the book:  An award-winning environmental journalist introduces a new generation of farmers and scientists on the frontlines of the next green revolution. When Malthus famously outlined the brutal relationship between food and population, he never imagined the success of modern agriculture. New seeds, chemicals and irrigation, coupled with free trade, drove the greatest global population boom in history — but left ecological devastation and an unsustainable agro-economic status quo in their wake. Now, with a greater number of mouths to feed than ever before, tightening global food supplies have spurred riots and reform around the world. Joel K. Bourne Jr. takes readers from his family farm to international agricultural hotspots, searching for new solutions that can sustainably feed us all. He visits young corporate farmers trying to restore Ukraine as Europe’s breadbasket, a Canadian aquaculturist channelling ancient Chinese traditions, the agronomist behind the world’s largest organic sugar-cane plantation, and many other people and groups, large and small, who are racing to stave off a Malthusian catastrophe. Part history, part reportage, part advocacy, The End of Plenty is a wake-up call for anyone concerned with what the coming decades will hold for our planet and its inhabitants if we don’t take action.


Notes:  An agricultural revolution supported our booming population in the twentieth century, but we’ll need another one to sustain us in the years to come.

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Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

About the book:  Winner, Kirkus Prize for Non-Fiction, 2015 In the 150 years since the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, the story of race and America has remained a brutally simple one, written on flesh: it is the story of the black body, exploited to create the country's foundational wealth, violently segregated to unite a nation after a civil war, and, today, still disproportionately threatened, locked up and killed in the streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer those questions, presented in the form of a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son the story of his own awakening to the truth about history and race through a series of revelatory experiences: immersion in nationalist mythology as a child; engagement with history, poetry and love at Howard University; travels to Civil War battlefields and the South Side of Chicago; a journey to France that reorients his sense of the world; and pilgrimages to the homes of mothers whose children's lives have been taken as American plunder. Taken together, these stories map a winding path towards a kind of liberation—a journey from fear and confusion, to a full and honest understanding of the world as it is. Masterfully woven from lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me offers a powerful new framework for understanding America's history and current crisis, and a transcendent vision for a way forward. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story 'The Case for Reparations'. He lives in New York with his wife and son. ‘Coates offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son's life...this moving, potent testament might have been titled Black Lives Matter.’ Kirkus Reviews ‘I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.’ Toni Morrison ‘Extraordinary…Ta-Nehisi Coates…writes an impassioned letter to his teenage son—a letter both loving and full of a parent’s dread—counselling him on the history of American violence against the black body, the young African-American’s extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration.’ David Remnick, New Yorker ‘A searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today…as compelling a portrait of a father–son relationship as Martin Amis’s Experience or Geoffrey Wolff’s The Duke of Deception.’ New York Times ‘Coates possesses a profoundly empathetic imagination and a tough intellect...Coates speaks to America, but Australia has reason to listen.’ Monthly


Notes:  Framed as a letter to the author’s teenage son, this chronicle of race in America works as memoir, meditation, and call to action.

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The Gay Revolution

by Lillian Faderman

About the book:  The sweeping story of the struggle for gay and lesbian rights based on amazing interviews with politicians, military figures, and members of the entire LGBT community who face these challenges every day The fight for gay and lesbian civil rights, the years of outrageous injustice, the early battles, the heart-breaking defeats and the victories beyond the dreams of the gay rights pioneers is the most important civil rights issue of the present day. Lillian Faderman tells this unfinished story through the dramatic accounts of passionate struggles with sweep, depth and feeling. Against the dark backdrop of the 1950s, a few brave people began to fight back, paving the way for the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and beyond. Faderman discusses the protests in the 1960s; the counter reaction of the 1970s and early eighties; the decimated but united community during the AIDS epidemic; and the current hurdles for the right to marriage equality. The Gay Revolution paints a nuanced portrait of the LGBT civil rights movement. A defining account, this is the most complete and authoritative book of its kind.


Notes:  An authoritative, affecting account of the effort to establish and solidify legal rights and cultural acceptance in the United States.

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Romantic Outlaws

by Charlotte Gordon

About the book:  Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and her daughter Mary Shelley (1797-1851) have each been the subject of numerous biographies by top tier writers, yet no author has ever examined their lives in tandem. Perhaps this is because these two amazing women never knew each other--Wollstonecraft died of infection at the age of 38, a week after giving birth to her daughter. Nevertheless their lives were closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other: both became famous writers; both fell in love with brilliant but impossible authors; both were single mothers and had children out of wedlock (a shocking and self-destructive act in their day); both broke out of the rigid conventions of their era and lived in exile; and both played important roles in the Romantic era during which they lived.


Notes:  From A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to Frankenstein, this dual biography provides fresh insight about these groundbreaking authors.

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Dead Wake

by Erik Larson

About the book:  #1 New York Times Bestseller From the bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.


Notes:  A race to the finish, even though we know it won’t end well.

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The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough

About the book:  On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot. Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did? David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly human story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, who encouraged their studying. As individuals they had differing skill sets and passions but as a team they excelled in any given task . That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no patron to open doors to their desires, never stopped them in their goal to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed, or, at the very least, maimed. In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers' story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.


Notes:  A strong work ethic and keen observation fueled the quest to conquer manned flight.

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