by Lauren Williams, Public Services Librarian
Originally published by Columbia Daily Tribune .
For the first time in the 12-year history of our communitywide reading program, the public has chosen a work by a local author as our One Read selection. However, Keija Parssinen’s “The Ruins of Us ” (Harper Perennial, 2012) will take readers on a journey far from Mid-Missouri. This intimate and fast-paced novel is set in the Middle East and tells the story of a family in crisis made more complicated by cultural differences. Rosalie, an American expatriate, discovers that her wealthy Saudi husband has taken a second wife. His betrayal threatens her sense of family, identity and love for her adopted country.
“The Ruins of Us” beat out “The Call ” (Harper Perennial, 2011) by Yannick Murphy, a quirky year-in-the-life story of a large-animal veterinarian who saves some animals and doesn’t save others, ponders nature and time, worries about the economy, waits for his son to wake from a coma and discovers what it means to be a family.
Before the public vote, a panel of community members  considered 10 finalists, selected from more than 140 nominations made by area readers. Here is an overview of the remaining titles, some of which, like our winner, take us on journeys overseas. Others portray more personal trips and interior migrations, from a healing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail to an imagined exploration of Earth long after human life has ended.
Perhaps the most universal journey of all is the trip we take from childhood into adolescence. Lauren Groff’s “Arcadia ” (Hyperion, 2012) portrays growing up as a heartbreaking loss of innocence. Bit Stone, born into a commune of idealistic youths, witnesses his beloved community’s expansion and eventual disintegration. “Childhood is such a delicate tissue,” Groff writes, and its rending shapes Bit’s whole life. Michael Ondaatje’s similarly lyrical novel, “The Cat’s Table ” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), tells a coming-of-age tale as magical as Groff’s story is haunting. Eleven-year-old Michael’s journey by sea from Ceylon to London gives him three weeks of unchaperoned adventure as he and two other boys freely roam the ship. They learn about everything from literature and jazz to women and beauty from the eccentric collection of adults with whom they dine at the cat’s table of the title — the table farthest from that of the captain.
Just as Ondaatje’s tale makes you feel the ship’s deck underfoot, Ann Patchett’s lush prose carries you to the Amazon valley in “State of Wonder ” (Harper, 2011). Marina Singh, a researcher for a pharmaceutical company, is thrust from the familiar confines of her lab into the jungle. She must find a research team gone rogue while studying the Lakashi tribe for development of a fertility drug—the female tribe members bear children until the ends of their lives. Patchett skillfully combines adventure with well-crafted characters and meditations on big questions—medical ethics, morality and spirituality—in this page-turner.
The next stop on our One Read travels: Iraq. Kevin Powers’ gritty and intense novel “The Yellow Birds ” (Little, Brown, 2012) focuses on the inner turmoil of Pvt. John Bartle after he returns home from war, where he failed to save Murph, a young soldier he promised to protect. Powers’ poetic and artful language makes the battle scenes and Bartle’s internal struggles more vividly felt and more bearable, as if the beauty of his prose holds the horrors described at arm’s length.
Internal struggles and psychological wounds also are the territory of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail ” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Divorce, drug use and profound grief over the loss of her mother leaves Strayed searching for healing and leads to a an ill-conceived and hastily planned solo hike from California to Washington along the PCT. Strayed’s honest voice and detailed descriptions make this book an engaging tale of transformation.
In Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl ” (Crown, 2012) we are taken on a journey into the frightening mind of a skilled storyteller. Amy Dunne goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, and her philandering husband, Nick, becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance. Excerpts from Amy’s diary interspersed with Nick’s first-person narrative propel this roller coaster of a book into unexpected places. As the characters reveal themselves, the reader’s sympathy shifts, and it becomes clear something much more than murder is going on.
In “The World Without Us ” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007) by Alan Weisman, not just one person goes missing—the entire human race vanishes. Weisman conducts a fascinating thought experiment, detailing what would happen in various locales—from New York City to Moscow—if people disappeared. In just days, the subway tunnels in Manhattan would flood, but underground malls with their piles of plastic would endure. This is a provocative and informative look at humans’ long-term environmental impact.
If all of this traveling has you feeling stressed, pick up a copy of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking ” (Crown, 2012) by Susan Cain. A self-described introvert, Cain celebrates the great contributions of contemplative, solitary types and cautions against this country’s near idealization of extroversion.
Please join the library staff and One Read task force  in September as we explore the topics and themes in “The Ruins of Us” through discussions, panel presentations, art and more. Visit the One Read website  for more details.