Tired of Gatsby? Get a Change of Literary Pace

This February we’re asking our community to read or re-read The Great Gatsby during The Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts-funded initiative to restore reading to the center of American culture. If you want more of the style, setting and characters found in Gatsby, you’ve clicked into the wrong blog post. Try here for Gatsby read-a-likes.

This here post is about books that are nothing like Gatsby, books on the opposite end of the literary spectrum (which leaves a lot of room for interpretation, I know). Whether you are ready for a change of pace or maybe had no intention of picking up Gatsby in the first place, we just want you reading. Check out one of these librarian-recommended titles today and leave your own reading recommendations in the comments below.

Calling Me Home
Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister asks a big favor of her hairdresser Dorrie, a young black single mom. Dorrie leaves her own family’s problems behind for a few days and drives Isabelle from her home in Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. Along the way, Isabelle reveals that as a teenager she secretly fell in love with the son of her family’s black housekeeper. Dorrie doesn’t know whose funeral they are attending when they get to Ohio, but she listens with great patience and curiosity as Isabelle share stories from her past. Told through flashbacks to the late 1930s and early 1940s, Isabelle’s love story is woven carefully into Dorrie’s more modern day concerns. This debut novel by Julie Kibler is an historical romance, a contemporary romance, and a compelling issues novel about civil rights and women’s rights.
Read more in this review written by Lissa Staley

The Pornographer’s Poem
Michael Turner’s debut novel, The Pornographer’s Poem, is neither pornographic, nor a poem, but there are passages in the book that achieve the poetic and the pornographic.  It’s one of those narratives where if someone saw you reading it and asked what it was about, a simple recounting of the plot would be meaningless.  You could possibly say that it’s the coming of age story about a teenage boy, nameless but slightly reminiscent of Holden Caulfield, who starts making amateur porn films after spying on his neighbors and their Great Dane, but then gets sucked into the dangerous world of drugs, gangsters, and commercial porn. The Pornographer’s Poem is a dreamlike, startling and brooding exploration of the awakening of childhood/adolescent sexuality versus the facade of upper-middle class suburban life in the 1970’s. It is also about the crossroads of art, pornography, and commerce.
Read more in this review written by Tanya Walsh

The Pecan Orchard
Even though Peggy Allen was young, tiny, and bow-legged from rickets, she was still expected to do her share of field work. After all, as the twelfth of thirteen children born to a poor, black sharecropping family in southern Alabama, the few pennies Peggy earned from picking pecans, hoeing corn, picking cotton and harvesting strawberries were as welcome to her family as the larger contributions from her siblings. About the only work that Peggy didn’t help with was the family’s surest and steadiest form of income: moonshine.In The Pecan Orchard: Journey of a Sharecropper’s Daughter, Peggy Allen shares the memories and stories of her youth – the hard work, colorful characters, and strict but loving parents who successfully raised thirteen children despite poverty and discrimination.
Read more in this review written by Julie Nelson

The Lady in Gold
This nonfiction book by Anne-Marie O’Conner is a wonderfully written tale of suspense. O’Connor divides this book between art patron, Adele Bloch-Bauer, the artist Gustav Klimt and his unforgettable masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. O’Connor introduces us to Adele Bloch-Bauer, a dazzling Jewish society figure that doesn’t quite fit in. As her niece Maria Altermann notes “Adele was a modern woman, living in the world of yesterday.” O’Connor dives into the Bloch-Bauer family and this support of the artist Gustav Klimt. With O’Connor’s help we discover that the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, took three years to paint, was inspired by the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna and that Adele was the only model to sit twice for Gustav Klimt. But what I found most exciting was the history of the painting itself.
Read more in this review written by Zan Popp

First off, this isn’t a novel about zombies, despite the deceptive title. Brains by Daniel Breezefollows a professional Chicago trivia team, the Philosophers, on their quest for the Brains Bowl championship. The story begins just as a new player is recruited to fill the gap in the lineup after their history specialist has a mental breakdown.
Read more in this review written by Lissa Staley

Lisa is a former employee and shared the library story in many of her posts.