Literary Links: Get to know the books on this year’s One Read shortlist – Columbia Daily Tribune

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Each month, the Columbia Public Library offers selections from its collection related to a current bestseller or hot topic. Adult and Community Services Manager Lauren Williams compiled this month’s selections.

If you could trade two dollars and a little DNA to know your life’s true potential, would you do it?

This year’s community-wide reading selection, “The Big Door Prize” by M.O. Walsh (Putnam, 2020), explores this question and more. This offbeat and charming novel about small-town life, relationships and the power of dreams narrowly beat out the exuberant work of historical fiction “Deacon King Kong” by James McBride (Riverhead Books, 2020).

Before the public vote on the 2022 One Read title, a panel of community members considered a varied list of finalist books, from works of historical fiction to books exploring a range of marginalized identities.

A gorgeous meditation on love, grief and destiny, the novel “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 2020) tells the moving story of the death of William Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son and the years leading up to the production of the tragedy Hamlet, largely through the keenly observant eyes of his wife Agnes.

“The Indigo Girl” by Natasha Boyd (Blackstone, 2017) likewise fictionalizes the life of an actual historical figure, this time in 18th-century South Carolina. Teenager Eliza Lucas, defying expectations of her age and sex, runs her family’s plantations and discovers they might lose everything. Refusing the prison of marriage, she further flouts social norms (and laws), making a risky pact with a slave: teach Eliza the secret steps to make indigo dye, the production of which she believes will keep her family from ruin, and she will teach the slaves to read. 

From a historical perspective on class and race, we move to a contemporary look at race and privilege in “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid (Putnam, 2019). Emira is a young Black babysitter for a white upper-class family. In a racially-charged incident, she is accused of kidnapping when she takes the toddler into an upscale market. Her well-intentioned but clueless employer and her white boyfriend attempt to advise her in different ways about how to handle the incident, as well as her career and her future, while Emira fights to define her own path.  

Introverted Black and gay biochemistry student Wallace faces a similar struggle in “Real Life” by Brandon Taylor (Riverhead Books, 2020). This intensely introspective novel takes place during a single, turbulent weekend at a Midwestern university where Wallace, the only person of color in his group of friends, is steeped in loss and loneliness after his father’s death and the ruin of months of research and data. Even unexpected romantic sexual encounters, tinged as they are with violence, don’t pierce his solitude; and Wallace contemplates his place in this graduate program, this community, this life.

“Homeland Elegies” by Ayad Akhtar (Doubleday, 2020) blends fiction, essays and memoir as the central character Akhtar, a scholar and child of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, meditates on his place and identity in a post-9/11 America. His father, initially an ardent supporter of Trump and America; his mother, homesick for Pakistan and critical of America’s materialism; and Akhtar himself all question whether they will ever truly feel at home.

Rather than bias based in race and religion, Judith Heumann battles against discrimination based on physical disability. In her engaging autobiography, “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” (Beacon Press, 2019), Heumann describes her fight for education, employment and societal inclusion, as well as her role in advising the Carter administration to help create the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The main characters in “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf, 2020) struggle in different ways to define their places and identities. The novel is a beautifully constructed tragedy in which somewhat aimless bartender Vincent enters the “kingdom of money” after becoming the pretend trophy wife of an older financier. Lyrical and atmospheric, this novel about personal moral compromises and a collapsing Ponzi scheme that ruins a number of intersecting lives and fortunes, highlights the startling unintended consequences that can result from careless actions.

We’ll end with a warm hug of a book and delightful fantasy: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by T.J. Klune (Tor, 2020). Solitary Linus Baker is a case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, responsible for inspecting orphanages housing these children. His latest, highly-classified assignment lands him at the Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside, including a gnome, a sprite and the rumored son of Satan. A charming fantasy about chosen family and celebrating differences.

Join the library and the One Read Task Force in September as we explore the topics and themes — including our own identities and potential — in “The Big Door Prize” through art, music, discussions, films and more. Visit www.oneread.org later this summer for details.

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