March Book Clubs!

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               Raise your hand if you’re already feeling teased by Spring. The last few days of warmth and sunshine had me all excited, and today’s drizzly start had me drained of all hope... but now the sun is out again! Who knows if we are actually out of the dark and cold for good, but at least the new month brings more new reads for our book clubs!

               We’re starting the month with a book that really lives up to the “Instant Classic” name. This bestseller racked up the awards, winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, as well as being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and being named one of the best books of 2016 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, HuffPost, Esquire, Minneapolis Star Tribune. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is our Instant Classics book club choice for March.

“Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood--where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him. In Colson Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman's will to escape the horrors of bondage--and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.”

Come chat about this recent phenomenon with Maddie on Wednesday, March 7th at 6:30 pm.

               Next is our Graphic Content book club, exclusively for lovers of graphic novels and comics! This month we’re reading a graphic adaption of a novel, Voices in the Dark by Ulli Lust!

“Germany, in the final years of the Third Reich. Hermann Karnau is a sound engineer obsessed with recording the human voice in all its variations--the rantings of leaders, the roar of crowds, the rasp of throats constricted in fear--and indifferent to everything else. Employed by the Nazis, his assignments take him to Party rallies, to the Eastern Front, and into the household of Joseph Goebbels. There he meets Helga, the eldest daughter: bright, good-natured, and just beginning to suspect the horror that surrounds her...
Based on an acclaimed novel by Marcel Beyer, Voices in the Dark is the first fictional graphic novel by Ulli Lust, whose award-winning graphic memoir Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life appeared in English in 2013. It is the story of an unlikely friendship and of a childhood betrayed, a grim parable of naivete and evil, and a vivid, unsettling masterpiece.”

Voices in the Dark by Ulli Lust is based on a novel by Marcel Beyer, translated by John Brownjohn, translation adapted by Nika Knight, with English lettering by Kevin Cannon.

Hang out with Jordan and the Graphic Content book club on Monday, March 12th at 6:30 pm.

               Ah, to be young again. While some students are preparing for Spring Break this month, our Wilde Readers book club is reliving the high school days with Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.

“Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he's pushed out--without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he's never met. Incredibly funny and poignant, this twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming out story--wrapped in a geek romance--is a knockout of a debut novel by Becky Albertalli.”

This Young Adult novel is the subject of a film adaption being released this month, so read the book and chat with Matty and Wilde Readers on Tuesday, March 13th before you see the movie.

               Known for choosing fresh English translations of stand-out fiction from around the world, our Found in Translation book club is reading a story collection with a local connection this month. Osama Alomar, author of The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories (translated by CJ Collins), was born in Damascus, Syria but now lives in Chicago!

“Personified animals (snakes, wolves, sheep), natural things (a swamp, a lake, a rainbow, trees), mankind's creations (trucks, swords, zeroes) are all characters in The Teeth of the Comb. They aspire, they plot, they hope, they destroy, they fail, they love. These wonderful small stories animate new realities and make us see our reality anew. Reading Osama Alomar's sly moral fables and sharp political allegories, the reader always sits up a little straighter, and a little wiser.”

Hang out with Devon and the Found in Translation book club on Thursday, March 15th at 6:30 pm.

               The Tell Me How It Ends book club choice for the month of March tells a story that began 37 years ago, and the lingering effects of that story on today’s race relations: The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer.

“In March 1981, Henry Hays and James Knowles, members of the United Klans of America, the largest and most dangerous Klan organization in the United States, picked up nineteen-year-old Michael Donald on the streets of Mobile, Alabama. They were seeking retaliation after a largely black jury failed to convict a black man accused of murdering a white policeman. Hays and Knowles beat Donald, cut his throat, and left his body hanging from a tree branch in a racially mixed residential neighborhood. Arrested, charged, and convicted, Hays was sentenced to death--the first time in more than half a century that the state of Alabama had given that penalty to a white man for killing a black man.

Morris Dees, the cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, saw the case as an opportunity to file a lawsuit against the UKA. His colleagues said his lawsuit was impossible to win and a folly. But Dees had heard that before. On behalf of Michael's grieving mother, Mrs. Beulah Donald, Dees filed a first-of-its-kind civil suit and charged the Klan organization and its leaders with conspiracy. He proceeded to put the Klan leaders on trial, which produced some of the most audacious testimony of any civil rights case--as well as a stunning and precedent-setting verdict. Dees destroyed the UKA and created a weapon that the SPLC used time and again against other racist organizations.

The Lynching is a suspenseful true story that takes us into the heart of darkness, but in the end shows that Michael Donald and other civil rights martyrs did not die in vain.”

Jordan and the Tell Me How It Ends book club will meet on Monday, March 26th at 6:30 pm.

               In a recent book club meeting, I let slip that I’ve never read one of the supposed masters of the short story form, Raymond Carver. The audible, heart-stopping gasp that escaped the mouths of some of the In Brief book club crew made it quite obvious it was time to include him in our rotation again. So, this month’s book club choice is What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

“In his second collection, including the iconic and much-referenced title story featured in the Academy Award-winning film Birdman, Carver establishes his reputation as one of the most celebrated short-story writers in American literature. Carver's characters are peripheral people--people without education, insight or prospects, people too unimaginative to even give up. Carver celebrates these men and women. A haunting meditation on love, loss, and companionship, and finding one's way through the dark.”

Skipped over Carver like Matty, or consider him a master? Join the In Brief book club on Tuesday, March 27th at 6:30 pm to talk it out.

John Darnielle, the Mountain Goats’ singer/composer turned novelist, is back after his hit debut, Wolf in White Van, which was nominated for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. This month the Weird & Wonderful book club is reading his new book, Universal Harvester.

 “It's the late '90s, and you can find Jeremy Heldt at the VideoHut in Nevada, Iowa--a small town in the center of the state. The job is good enough for Jeremy, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a carwreck. But when a local school teacher comes in to return her copy of Targets--an old movie, starring Boris Karloff--the transaction jolts Jeremy out of his routine. "There's something on it," she says as she leaves the store, though she doesn't elaborate. Two days later, another customer returns another tape, and registers the same odd complaint: "There's another movie on this tape."

In Universal Harvester, the once-placid Iowa fields and farmhouses become sinister, imbued with loss and instability and foreboding. As Jeremy and those around him are absorbed into tapes, they become part of another story--one that unfolds years into the past and years into the future, part of an impossible search for something someone once lost that they would do anything to regain.”

Come get weird with the Weird & Wonderful book club on Wednesday, March 28th at 6:30 pm.

That’s our lineup for March! There’s no need to sign up for our book clubs, just show up ready to chat. Get your copy here for a discount, and feel free to email our booksellers with any questions or suggestions. If you’ve got a book club of your own and need a place to meet, or want to get your books at a discount – email matt@citylitbooks.com for more info!