One Read 2009

by Doyne McKenzie, Collection Development Manager
Originally published by the Columbia Daily Tribune.

On May 19, Daniel Boone Regional Library announced this year’s One Read book, “The Air We Breathe" (W.W. Norton, 2007) by Andrea Barrett. This historical novel was chosen by public vote over the other finalist, “Unaccustomed Earth” (Knopf, 2008) by Jhumpa Lahiri, a collection of short stories about the immigrant experience of Bengali-Americans.

Before the public vote, a reading panel of community members considered 10 finalist books. The other eight books considered by the panel were divided between nonfiction and fiction titles. Here’s a quick look:

Both “Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell” (Doubleday, 1996) by Janet Wallach and “Tasting the Sky” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) by Ibtisam Barakat concern women in the Middle East. Wallach’s biography of Gertrude Bell is a strong basis for understanding the current Middle East unrest. Bell, a wealthy, highly educated English woman, spent much of her adult life in Bedouin lands in the early 20th century. As an expert on dialects, she was a valuable member of the European team that created the current political boundaries and then mentored the first king of Iraq until he gained expertise in ruling. Columbia resident Ibtisam Barakat’s memoir provides a searing account of her childhood in Palestine during and after the Six-Day War. In recounting memories of evacuation from war and separation from her family, she allows the reader to see how turmoil resulted from decisions made a half-century earlier.

Michael Pollan sets forth basic dietary rules to follow throughout “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” (Penguin, 2008), such as don’t eat anything your grandmother would not recognize as food, shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid overly processed foods. He warns against the westernization of the world’s diet and bemoans the stripping of cultural customs and socializing from mealtimes, causing us to concentrate on the latest nutrition edicts rather than shifting vegetables to the forefront with meat as a side dish.

Two of Jhumpa Lahiri’s collections of short stories were considered by the One Read panel. In addition to “Unaccustomed Earth,” the panel also read “The Interpreter of Maladies” (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). In both sets of elegantly written stories, Lahiri skillfully alternates voices and perspectives. She varies her locales between Boston and other Eastern U.S. academic settings, Seattle and Calcutta. Her studies of relationships between family members and housemates create differing yet thematically linked stories.

In “The People of the Book: A Novel” (Viking, 2008), by Geraldine Brooks, Australian book conservator Hanna Heath inspects a highly illustrated, very rare book called the “Sarajevo Haggadah.” As the reader follows Hanna’s inspection of the book, flashbacks unveil the stories of the people throughout history and in different lands who contributed to its creation.

In “The Art of Racing in the Rain” (Harper, 2008) by Garth Stein, Enzo, a Lab-terrier mix belonging to Denny Swift, is dying. Enzo relates the events since his adoption by Denny. Although both Denny and Enzo’s passion is racing cars, Denny must sideline his vocation to support his family, care for his dying wife and enter into a custody battle with his in-laws after his wife’s death. As he relates events, Enzo adds observations on human and canine life and hopes that he will be reborn as a racecar-driving human.

A Thousand Splendid Suns” (Riverhead Books, 2007) by Khaled Hosseini, this year’s Mizzou Freshman Reading selection, covers 30 years of tumult in Kabul, Afghanistan, through the story of two women. Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, marries the abusive cobbler Rasheed at the age of 15. Many years later, the educated, privileged, 14-year-old Laila joins the household as Rasheed’s second wife after her parents and home are destroyed in a bombing. The dire circumstances of the two women slowly allow them to bond and gather strength between themselves, reflecting the tragedy and resilience of the Afghan people.

Bec is a shallow, self-absorbed college student at the beginning of Michelle Wildgen’s "You’re Not You” (St. Martins, 2006). She takes a job as a caregiver to Kate, a young married woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The unattractive brashness of Bec is necessary to the story arc of Wildgen’s book, in which she evolves under the tutelage of Kate and the maturing experience of caring for an ailing charge.

Please join the library staff and One Read task force in September as we present a visit from author Barrett (on September 17) and other programs related to “The Air We Breathe” as well as a discussion of the runner-up, “Unaccustomed Earth.”

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