We are adding 10 new titles to the library’s Book Group in a Bag collection this year. We’re excited about adding new titles to our collection, but it’s always hard to narrow down our list to just 10 titles.
That’s where you come in. Please take our survey and help us narrow down our choices to the top 10 most popular titles. We love getting this feedback from readers.
What’s Book Group in a Bag? It’s a way for book groups to check out a bag with 10 copies of the book their group wants to read. The bag also has a notebook with discussion questions and lot of other helpful information for the discussion leader.
Here are descriptions of the books that are under consideration for 2018. To vote, go to our online survey or print out this paper version of the Book Group in a Bag 2018 Survey and return it to one of our service desks.
The survey will close at midnight on Sunday, May 27.
Here are detailed descriptions of the titles under consideration:
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
Fiction | 2012 | 384 pages
A reluctant centenarian much like Forrest Gump (if Gump were an explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it’s not too late to start over…
After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he’s still in good health and in one day he turns 100. A big celebration is in the works, but Allan really isn’t interested (and he’d like a bit more control over his vodka consumption). He decides to escape. Allan climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey involving, among other surprises, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some unpleasant criminals, a friendly hot-dog stand operator and an elephant (not to mention a death by elephant).
It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the 20th century, but he actually played a key role in them. Starting out in munitions as a boy, he somehow finds himself involved in many key explosions. Allan travels the world, sharing meals and more with everyone from Stalin, Churchill and Truman to Mao, Franco and de Gaulle. Quirky and utterly unique, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has charmed readers across the world.
“This quirky novel is a sly, satirical look back at international relations in the 20th century through the eyes of an old man who has seen it all.” —Library Journal
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Fiction | 2017 | 448 pages
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. When Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, she breaks free and heads to London determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies,” who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.
“…this fast-paced story offers courageous heroines, villains you love to hate, and dramatic life-or-death stakes.” —Library Journal
Beartown: A Novel by Fredik Backman
Fiction | 2017 | 336 pages
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. In that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.
“Lest readers think hockey is the star here, it’s Backman’s rich characters that steal the show, and his deft handling of tragedy and its effects on an insular town.” —Publishers Weekly
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Fiction; 2001; 304 pages
Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.
A movie adaptation is currently in post production; release date TBD.
“Patchett proves equal to her themes; the characters’ relationships mirror the passion and pain of grand opera, and readers are swept up in a crescendo of emotional fervor.” —Publishers Weekly
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science Humanism and Progress by Steven Pinker
Non-Fiction | 2018 | 528 pages
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In 75 jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.
Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature–tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking–which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious or romantic ideologies fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.
With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.
“My new favorite book of all time.” —Bill Gates
The Girl Before by JP Delaney
Fiction | 2017 | 320 pages
Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life. The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.
EMMA: Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.
JANE: After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people and experiences the same terror as the girl before.
“Immediate guarantee: You will not be able to put this book down. . . . Fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train will realize that there’s not only more where that came from, but it’s also more thrilling.” —American Booksellers Association
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Non-Fiction | 2016 | 340 pages
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating more than 40 years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. It is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.
“You will not read a more important book about America this year.” —The Economist
If The Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss
Fiction | 2016 | 340 pages
Sadie Blue has been a wife for 15 days. That’s long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby.
Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia a ticket out of town is hard to come by and hope often gets stomped out. When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline…if she can just figure out how to use it.
This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek. With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, If the Creek Don’t Rise is a debut novel bursting with heart, honesty and homegrown grit.
“Writing with a deep knowledge of the enduring myths of Appalachia, Weiss vividly portrays real people and sorrows. A strong, formidable novel for readers of William Faulkner and Cormac -McCarthy.” —Library Journal
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Non-Fiction | 2017 | 252 pages
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.
As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
“A spellbinding book about the largest serial murder investigation you’ve never heard of, which will be enjoyed by fans of the Old West as well as true crime aficionados.”—Library Journal
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Fiction | 2017 | 368 pages
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved 11 year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president said at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.
From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
Winner of the Man Booker Prize
“A stunningly powerful work, both in its imagery and its intense focus on death, this remarkable work of historical fiction gives an intimate view of 19th-century fears and mores through the voices of the bardo’s denizens.”—Library Journal
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Fiction | 2017 | 480 pages
Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At 14, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.
Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. For the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.
Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
Non-Fiction | 2017 | 320 pages
From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves “workampers.”
On frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs, Jessica Bruder meets people from all walks of life: a former professor, a McDonald’s vice president, a minister, a college administrator and a motorcycle cop, among many others―including her irrepressible protagonist, a onetime cocktail waitress, Home Depot clerk and general contractor named Linda May.
In a secondhand vehicle she christens “Van Halen,” Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying Linda May and others from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy―one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable “Earthship” home, they have not given up hope.
“A must-read that is simultaneously hopeless and uplifting and certainly unforgettable.”—Library Journal
The Pearl The Broke It’s Shell by Nadia Hashimi
Fiction | 2014 |464 pages
A luminous and unforgettable tale of two women, destiny and identity in Afghanistan.
Kabul 2007: The Taliban rule the streets. With a drug-addicted father and no brothers Rahima and her sisters can rarely leave the house or attend school. Their only hope lies in the ancient Afghan custom of bacha posh which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a son until she is of marriageable age. As a boy she has the kind of freedom that was previously unimaginable. Freedom that will transform her forever. Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier her great-great-grandmother Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life in the same way. The change took her on a journey from the deprivation of life in a rural village to the opulence of a kings palace in the bustling metropolis of Kabul. Crisscrossing in time The Pearl That Broke Its Shell interweaves the stories of these two remarkable women who are separated by a century but share the same courage and dreams.
“Hashimi succeeds in crafting a novel that incorporates gripping stories of survival with passionate tales of motherhood and inner strength throughout.”—Library Journal
The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
Fiction | 2017 | 480 pages
Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.
As Beatrice explores the evidence further, she uncovers the journal and paintings of the 14 century artist Gabriele Accorsi. When she finds a startling image of her own face, she is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.
Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.
The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.
“Lovers of meticulously researched historical fiction and time-travel narratives will be swept away by the spell of medieval Siena”—Library Journal
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
Fiction | 2015 | 480 pages
After seeing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14 year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin’s grandfather. In this town of Medgar, Kentucky, a peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods.
The town is beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin’s grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the “company” and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. But when Buzzy witnesses a brutal hate crime, a sequence is set in play that will test Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains.
“Scotton’s novel nonetheless makes for compelling reading when the action grows intense-managing, like the landscape it describes, to be simultaneously frightening and beautiful.”—Publisher’s Weekly
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Fiction | 1994 | 405 pages
Meet Dolores Price. She’s 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Beached like a whale in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally rolls into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she’s determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before really going belly up.
In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. At once a fragile girl and a hard-edged cynic, so tough to love yet so inimitably lovable, Dolores is as poignantly real as our own imperfections. She’s Come Undone includes a promise: you will never forget Dolores Price.
“This relentless parade of disasters makes for interesting reading.” —Publishers Weekly
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Fiction | 2017 | 288 pages
Jojo is 13 years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another 13 year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an unforgettable family story.
Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.
“Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love, and this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it.” —Buzzfeed
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Fiction | 2014 | 272 pages
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city and within weeks civilization as we know it came to an end.
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. As the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.
“This is a brilliantly constructed, highly literary, postapocalyptic page-turner.” —Library Journal
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Fiction | 2016 | 304 pages
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. 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.
Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
“The story is literature at its finest and history at its most barbaric. Would that this novel were required reading for every American citizen.” —Publishers Weekly
The Yard by Alex Grecian
Fiction | 2012 | 320 pages
Victorian London—a violent cesspool of squalid sin. The 12 detectives of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad are expected to solve the thousands of crimes committed in the city each month. Formed after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure in capturing Jack the Ripper, they suffer the brunt of public contempt. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own.
A Scotland Yard Inspector has been found stuffed in a black steamer trunk at Euston Square Station, his eyes and mouth sewn shut. When Walter Day, the squad’s new hire, is assigned to the case, he finds a strange ally in Dr. Bernard Kingsley, the Yard’s first forensic pathologist. Their grim conclusion: this was not just a random, bizarre murder but in all probability, the first of 12.
The squad itself it being targeted and the devious killer shows no signs of stopping. But Inspector Day has one more surprise, something even more shocking than the crimes: the murderer’s motive.
“If Charles Dickens isn’t somewhere clapping his hands for this one, Wilkie Collins surely is.” —The New York Times Book Review