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?