16 September 2010

BBAW Forgotten Treasure: Do I have a book for you!

Some books get all the buzz, some don't for whatever reason.  Some books gain iconic/cult status; others slip away.  Here are four currently-under-the-radar books to keep in mind - three are old favorites of mine, one is a new find!

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts - This is the first book of social journalism/public health I ever read and it has always stayed with me.  Shilts brings the history and controversy of the AIDS epidemic to life; he exposes all the dirty laundry, airs nasty political secrets.  After I read And the Band Played On, it was very clear to me how prejudice, bigotry, and politics combined to place the American public in danger.  I understood what was only vaguely referenced when I was a child.  From this book I went on to read The Coming Plague and Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce but And the Band Played On is the one that stuck with me.  (I also have to recommend the HBO adaptation of And the Band Played On - well acted and directed, really illustrates how so many intelligent people just stuck their heads in the sand and did nothing.)

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood - Grace is a poor Irish serving maid convicted of murdering her employer and escaping across the US-Canada border...or is she just a victim of circumstance, mixed up with the wrong people?  Alias Grace is not as famous as The Handmaid's Tale nor as laurelled as the Booker-winning The Blind Assassin but it is my favorite Atwood novel.  Grace is a very compelling character and a tricky narrator when she tells her story to Dr. Jordan.  There's also wonderful period detail and a crazy twist as we unravel the threads of Grace's past.  I received Alias Grace as a gift back in undergrad - I liked it so much my mother threatened to take it away to force me to be sociable during a family holiday gathering (ha!).

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - I re-read Raskin's Newbery-winning book last year for my Newbery Project.  I first read The Westing Game in middle school when it was assigned for reading class and I just loved it.  On the re-read, I was surprised at how much detail I remembered because there was a twenty-year gap between readings.  Turtle is a great character - strong, resourceful, and intelligent, stubborn, too (her older sister Angela makes a great role model, too, but you have to get to the end of the book to see it).  I always recommend The Westing Game for girls looking for a great mystery - see if you can figure it out before Turtle does.

Children of the New World by Assia Djebar - Assia Djebar is a new author for me.  I "found" her when the lovely IBIS at BNBC championed Djebar's book, Children of the New World, as a selection for the "Literature by Women" group I moderate (and people wonder why I let the users nominate/vote on the reading selections -  it's so I can find new things to read, ha!).  Djebar set her novel among a village of native Algerians during the escalating guerrilla war for Algerian independence from France in the 1950s.  Children of the New World is a bit like an ensemble piece - there is no "main" character or narrative plot beyond the experience of the average person during a time of war.

The Collector by John Fowles - If anyone watched "The Fisher King, Parts I and II" from Criminal Minds then they heard about a novel from John Fowles that provided the words to a cipher.  I hope they read The Collector after watching the show because there are obvious parallels with the main storyline of those episodes.  If you haven't read Fowles's creepy novel about a meek man (Frederick) who kidnaps the object of his affection (Miranda) and locks her up in his basement then you should.  Fowles switches the narrative point-of-view halfway through the book so the reader gets the privilege of seeing into both characters' heads.

Those are a few of my "forgotten treasures" - what are yours?


  1. Oh I've heard about the HBO version of And the Band Played On but I didn't realise it was a book first (should a known). Thanks for telling us about it!

  2. wonderful choices. Alias Grace is one of my all time favorites and I wish more people wouldn't stop at the handmaid's tale when they're reading margaret atwood.

  3. All of those do sound good and you are right, I didn't hear about any of them.

  4. Someone recommended And the Band Played On to me (maybe it was you?) because I'm obsessed with the AIDS epidemic. Okay that makes it seem like I think it's really cool which is not what I'm trying to say. I'm obsessed with it like I'm obsessed with a lot of things, like trees dying. Anyway, I'm definitely going to read it though!

  5. @Zee and @Ash (it wasn't me, but...): yes, yes! "And the Band Played On" definitely needs more reading :)

    @Marie: I know! I like to recc it to people who are looking for a "ghost story" :)

    @Pam: Definitely read 'The Westing Game' - A will be old enough to read it soon :)

  6. I love The Westing Game! Alias Grace sounds really interesting, but I haven't heard much about it.

  7. Really love your title image.

    Westing Game! LOVE that book...put it on my recommended reads list!

  8. Yay, more peeps for "The Westing Game"!

    @Swapna - "Alias Grace" is a little bit historical fiction, a little bit women's issues, and a little bit paranormal. The craze for mesmerism gets a lot of attention. It was shortlisted for the Booker in 1996.

  9. Oooh...The Collector looks great, and I have watched those episodes (as well as many others). I've read most of Margaret Atwood's books, even some non-fiction, but it's true - I haven't read Alias Grace, so might just have to do so. :)

    You should check out my Forgotten Treasure post. If you like creepy and slightly scary books, then you're sure to like these Gothic novels

  10. Heard about the Collector, must red.