2011 Great Group Reads
The 2011 Great Group Reads list is our first list to feature 20 books!
All selections are books with strong narratives peopled by fully realized characters; books which perhaps have flown under the radar of reviewers and reading groups overwhelmed by the sheer number of new releases each year.
We hope you’ll read as many books as you can and enjoy them as we do. If you talk about them on social media, use #GreatGroupReads.
And if you are looking for a book club to join, the Bookwoman Book Club exclusively reads books from the GGR lists.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these fantastic reads!
The Beauty of Humanity Movement
by Camilla Gibbs
Publication Date: March 17, 2011
Categories: literary, historical, war, artist, cultural heritage, coming-of-age, Asian
April 2011 Indie Next List
The acclaimed author of Sweetness in the Belly journeys to Vietnam in this rich and tantalizing new novel.
Raised in the United States but Vietnamese by birth, Maggie has come to Hanoi seeking clues to the fate of her father, a dissident artist who disappeared during the war. Her search brings her to Old Man Hu’ng’s pho stall. The old man once had a shop frequented by revolutionary artists, but now Tu’, a hustling young entrepreneur, is his most faithful customer. Maggie, Hu’ng, and Tu’ come together during a highly charged season that will mark them forever.
Exploring the indelible legacies of war and art, as well as love’s power to renew, The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a stellar achievement by a globally renowned literary light.
Birds of Paradise
by Diana Abu-Jaber
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Categories: literary, family, women, psychological
At thirteen, Felice Muir ran away from home to punish herself for some horrible thing she had done — leaving a hole in the hearts of her pastry-chef mother, her real estate attorney father, and her foodie-entrepreneurial brother.
After five years of scrounging for food, drugs, and shelter on Miami Beach, Felice is now turning eighteen, and she and the family she left behind must reckon with the consequences of her actions — and make life-affirming choices about what matters to them most, now and in the future.
The Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Categories: literary, historical, immigration, women, racism, family, cultural heritage, Asian American
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award For Fiction ; National Book Award Finalist; Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Lit. Award; Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war.
Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.
by Aine Greaney
Syracuse University Press
Publication Date: April 8, 2011
Categories: general, Irish
A year after her husband’s death in a sailing accident off Martha’s Vineyard, Ellen Boisvert bumps into an old friend. In this chance encounter, she discovers that her immigrant husband of almost fifteen years was not an orphan after all. Instead, his aged mother Jo is alive and residing on the family’s isolated farm in the west of Ireland.
Faced with news of her mother-in-law incarnate, the thirty-nine-year-old American prep school teacher decides to travel to Ireland to investigate the truth about her husband Fintan and why he kept his family’s existence a secret for so many years.
Between Jo’s hilltop farm and the lakeside village of Gowna, Ellen begins to uncover the mysteries of her Irish husband’s past and the cruelties and isolation of his rural childhood. As Ellen reconciles her troubled relationship with Fintan, she discovers a way to heal the wounds of the past.
Day of Honey
by Annia Ciezadlo
Publication Date: February 1, 2011
Categories: memoir, cooking, Middle Eastern; Lebanese
American Book Award Winner; Winner of Books for a Better Life Award (First Book); James Beard Foundation Award Nominee; March 2011 Indie Next List
In the fall of 2003, as Iraq descended into civil war, Annia Ciezadlo spent her honeymoon in Baghdad. For the next six years, she lived in Baghdad and Beirut, where she dodged bullets during sectarian street battles, chronicled the Arab world’s first peaceful revolution, and watched Hezbollah commandos invade her Beirut neighborhood. Throughout all of it, she broke bread with Sunnis and Shiites, warlords and refugees, matriarchs and mullahs. Day of Honey is her story of the hunger for food and friendship during wartime — a communion that feeds the soul as much as the body.
In lush, fiercely intelligent prose, Ciezadlo uses food and the rituals of eating to uncover a vibrant Middle East most Americans never see. We get to know people like Roaa, a young Kurdish woman whose world shrinks under occupation to her own kitchen walls; Abu Rifaat, a Baghdad book lover who spends his days eavesdropping in the ancient city’s legendary cafés; and the unforgettable Umm Hassane, Ciezadlo’s sardonic Lebanese mother-in-law, who teaches her to cook rare family recipes (included in a mouthwatering appendix of Middle Eastern comfort food).
From dinner in downtown Beirut to underground book clubs in Baghdad, Day of Honey is a profound exploration of everyday survival — a moving testament to the power of love and generosity to transcend the misery of war.
The Good Sister
by Drusilla Campbell
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Categories: women, family, mental health, psychological
Roxanne Callahan has always been her younger sister’s caretaker. Now married, her happiness is threatened when beautiful and emotionally unstable Simone, suffering from crippling postpartum depression, commits an unforgivable crime for which Roxanne comes to believe she is partially responsible. In the glare of national media attention brought on her sister, Roxanne fights to hold her marriage together as she is drawn back into the pain of her troubled past and relives the fraught relationship she and Simone shared with their narcissistic mother.
At the same time, only she can help Simone’s nine year old daughter, Merell, make sense of the family’s tragedy. Cathartic, lyrical, and unflinchingly honest, The Good Sister is a novel of four generations of women struggling to overcome a legacy of violence, lies and secrecy, ultimately finding strength and courage in their love for each other.
The Hand That First Held Mine
by Maggie O’Farrell
Publication Date: January 26, 2011
Categories: literary, historical
May 2010 Indie Next List
From the best-selling author of The Vanishing of Esme Lennox comes a spellbinding novel that shows there are no accidents, in life and in love.
Frustrated with her parents’ genteel country life, Lexie Sinclair plans her escape to London. There, she takes up with Innes Kent, a magazine editor who introduces her to the thrilling, underground world of bohemian, postwar Soho. She learns to be a reporter, comes to know art and artists, and embraces her freedom fully. So when she finds herself pregnant, she doesn’t hesitate to have the baby on her own. Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood and finds she can’t remember giving birth, while her boyfriend Ted is flooded with memories and images he cannot place.
As their stories unfold — moving in time and changing voice chapter by chapter — a connection between the three of them takes shape that drives the novel towards a tremendous revelation. Praised by The Washington Post as a “breathtaking, heart-breaking creation,” The Hand That First Held Mine is a gorgeous and tenderly wrought story about the ways in which love and beauty bind us together.
If You Knew Then What I Know Now
by Ryan Van Meter
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
Categories: memoir, essays, LGBTQ+
The middle-American coming-of-age finds new life in Van Meter’s coming-out, made as strange as it is familiar by acknowledging the role played by sexuality.
If You Knew Then What I Know Now reinvents the memoir with all-encompassing empathy. This is essay as an argument for the intimate, and an embrace of all the skinned knees in our stumble toward adulthood.
The Memory Palace
by Mira Bartok
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Categories: memoir, illness, mental health, women, family
The National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Best Autobiography; February 2011 Indie Next List
In the tradition of The Glass Castle, two sisters confront schizophrenia in this New York Times bestselling poignant memoir about family and mental illness. Through stunning prose and original art, The Memory Palace captures the love between mother and daughter, the complex meaning of truth, and one family’s capacity for forgiveness.
“People have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you’ve been through,” Mira Bartók is told at her mother’s memorial service. It is a poignant observation about the relationship between Mira, her sister, and their mentally ill mother. Before she was struck with schizophrenia at the age of nineteen, beautiful piano protégé Norma Herr had been the most vibrant personality in the room. She loved her daughters and did her best to raise them well, but as her mental state deteriorated, Norma spoke less about Chopin and more about Nazis and her fear that her daughters would be kidnapped, murdered, or raped.
When the girls left for college, the harassment escalated — Norma called them obsessively, appeared at their apartments or jobs, threatened to kill herself if they did not return home. After a traumatic encounter, Mira and her sister were left with no choice but to change their names and sever all contact with Norma in order to stay safe. But while Mira pursued her career as an artist — exploring the ancient romance of Florence, the eerie mysticism of northern Norway, and the raw desert of Israel — the haunting memories of her mother were never far away.
Then one day, a debilitating car accident changes Mira’s life forever. Struggling to recover from a traumatic brain injury, she was confronted with a need to recontextualize her life — she had to relearn how to paint, read, and interact with the outside world. In her search for a way back to her lost self, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where she believed her mother was living and discovered that Norma was dying.
Mira and her sister traveled to Cleveland, where they shared an extraordinary reconciliation with their mother that none of them had thought possible. At the hospital, Mira discovered a set of keys that opened a storage unit Norma had been keeping for seventeen years. Filled with family photos, childhood toys, and ephemera from Norma’s life, the storage unit brought back a flood of previous memories that Mira had thought were lost to her forever.
The Memory Palace is a breathtaking literary memoir about the complex meaning of love, truth, and the capacity for forgiveness among family. Through stunning prose and original art created by the author in tandem with the text, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists — or is lost — between them.
My Name Is Mary Sutter
by Robin Oliveira
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
Categories: historical, war, Civil War, women, medical
May 2010 Indie Next List
A moving, New York Times bestselling novel about a young Civil War midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon.
Fans of Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini will love this New York Times bestselling Civil War tale. Mary Sutter is a brilliant young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Eager to run away from recent heartbreak, Mary travels to Washington, D.C., to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of two surgeons, who both fall unwittingly in love with her, and resisting her mother’s pleas to return home to help with the difficult birth of her twin sister’s baby, Mary pursues her medical career against all odds.
Rich with historical detail — including cameo appearances by Abraham Lincoln and Dorothea Dix, among others — My Name Is Mary Sutter is certain to be recognized as one of the great novels about the Civil War.
by Tayari Jones
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Categories: general, women, family, African American
June 2011 Indie Next List
With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle.
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families — the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode. This is the third stunning novel from an author deemed “one of the most important writers of her generation” (the Atlanta Journal Constitution).
The Soldier’s Wife
by Margaret Leroy
Publication Date: June 28, 2011
Categories: historical, war, WWII, women, family
July 2011 Indie Next List
A novel full of grand passion and intensity, The Soldier’s Wife asks “What would you do for your family?”, “What should you do for a stranger?”, and “What would you do for love?”
As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne.
Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship — and her family — safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger. Includes a reading group guide for book clubs.
The Summer Without Men
by Siri Hustvedt
Publication Date: March 3, 2011
Categories: literary, women
“And who among us would deny Jane Austen her happy endings or insist that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne should get back together at the end of The Awful Truth? There are tragedies and there are comedies, aren’t there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women, if you ask me. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right moment.”
Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragic comic, poet narrator of The Summer Without Men, has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mia’s husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a “pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mia’s release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old people’s home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her — her mother and her close friends,”the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband — and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own.
From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes Siri Hustvedt’s provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
by Christie Watson
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Categories: literary, family, African
When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children’s school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.
But Blessing’s grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
To Be Sung Underwater
by Tom McNeal
Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: June 2, 2011
Categories: literary, women, family, psychological
June 2011 Indie Next List
Judith Whitman always believed in the kind of love that “picks you up in Akron and sets you down in Rio.” Long ago, she once experienced that love. Willy Blunt was a carpenter with a dry wit and a steadfast sense of honor. Marrying him seemed like a natural thing to promise. But Willy Blunt was not a person you could pick up in Nebraska and transport to Stanford. When Judith left home, she didn’t look back.
Twenty years later, Judith’s marriage is hazy with secrets. In her hand is what may be the phone number for the man who believed she meant it when she said she loved him. If she called, what would he say?
To Be Sung Underwater is the epic love story of a woman trying to remember, and the man who could not even begin to forget.
Under the Mercy Trees
by Heather Newton
Publication Date: January 18, 2011
Categories: literary, family
Heather Newton’s Under the Mercy Trees tells the poignant and unforgettable story of a man forced to face his troubled past when he returns to his hometown in the mountains of North Carolina following the disappearance of his brother.
Thirty years ago, Martin Owenby came to New York City with dreams of becoming a writer. Now his existence revolves around cheap Scotch and weekend flings with equally damaged men. When he learns that his older brother, Leon, has gone missing, he must return to the Owenby farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina, to assist in the search. But that means facing a past filled with regrets, the family that never understood him, the girl whose heart he broke, and the best friend who has faithfully kept the home fires burning.
As the mystery surrounding Leon’s disappearance deepens, so too does the weight of decades-long unresolved differences and unspoken feelings — forcing Martin to deal with the hardest lessons about home, duty, and love. Under the Mercy Trees adds the name Heather Newton to a sterling list of acclaimed authors in the Southern literary tradition that already includes Reynolds Price, Kaye Gibbons, Jill McCorkle, Clyde Edgerton, and Tom Franklin.
When God Was a Rabbit
by Sarah Winman
Publication Date: May 17, 2011
Categories: literary, LGBTQ+, abuse, family
This is a book about a brother and a sister. It’s a book about secrets and starting over, friendship and family, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it’s a book about love in all its forms.
In a remarkably honest and confident voice, Sarah Winman has written the story of a memorable young heroine, Elly, and her loss of innocence-a magical portrait of growing up and the pull and power of family ties. From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own.
With its wit and humor, engaging characters whose eccentricities are adroitly and sometimes darkly drawn, and its themes of memory and identity, When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love.
Funny, utterly compelling, fully of sparkle, and poignant, too, When God Was a Rabbit heralds the start of a remarkable new literary career.
by Nina Revoyr
Publication Date: February 8, 2011
Categories: literary, historical, family, racism, cultural heritage, African American, Asian American
Michelle LeBeau, the child of a white American father and a Japanese mother, lives with her grandparents in Deerhorn, Wisconsin — a small town that had been entirely white before her arrival. Rejected and bullied, Michelle spends her time reading, avoiding fights, and roaming the countryside with her English springer spaniel, Brett. She idolizes her grandfather, Charlie LeBeau, an expert hunter and former minor league baseball player who is one of the town’s most respected men. Charlie strongly disapproves of his son’s marriage to Michelle’s mother, but dotes on his only grandchild, whom he calls Mikey.
This fragile peace is threatened when the expansion of the local clinic leads to the arrival of the Garretts, a young black couple from Chicago. The Garretts’ presence deeply upsets most of the residents of Deerhorn when Mr. Garrett makes a controversial accusation against one of the town leaders, who is also Charlie LeBeau’s best friend.
In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird, A River Runs Through It, and Snow Falling on Cedars, Revoyr’s new novel examines the effects of change on a small, isolated town, the strengths and limits of community, and the sometimes conflicting loyalties of family and justice. Set in the expansive countryside of Central Wisconsin, against the backdrop of Vietnam and the post–civil rights era, Wingshooters explores both connection and loss as well as the complex but enduring bonds of family.
The Year We Left Home
by Jean Thompson
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Categories: literary, family
May 2011 Indie Next List
A New York Times bestseller, The Year We Left Home is National Book Award finalist Jean Thompson’s mesmerizing, decades-spanning saga of one ordinary American family that captures the turbulent history of the country at large.
Named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a People magazine “Pick of the Week,” and an Indie Next and Midwest Connections selection, The Year We Left Home is the career-defining novel that Jean Thompson’s admirers have been waiting for: a sweeping and emotionally powerful story of a single American family during the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century.
Stretching from the early 1970s in the Iowa farmlands to suburban Chicago and across the map of contemporary America, The Year We Left Home follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious and richly told, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character.
You Know When the Men Are Gone
by Siobhan Fallon
Publication Date: January 20, 2011
Categories: literary, short stories, war
Through fiction of dazzling skill and astonishing emotional force, Siobhan Fallon welcomes readers into the American army base at Fort Hood, Texas, where U.S. soldiers prepare to fight, and where their families are left to cope after the men are gone.
Powerful, singular, and unforgettable, these stories will resonate deeply with readers and mark the debut of a talent of tremendous note.
About Great Group Reads
Started as an initiative in 2009 for the Women’s National Book Association’s National Reading Group Month program, Great Group Reads is a list of recommended books perfect for shared reading. The list is released annually in time to celebrate National Reading Group Month in October.
“Booklist and the American Library Association share the Women’s National Book Association’s mission to get the word out about worthy and exciting books, and to encourage reading and book discussion. To commune privately with a book, then share the thoughts and feelings, questions and realizations that a book inspires is to expand and deepen one’s life and sense of connection. Booklist is delighted to join in the celebration of National Reading Group Month and the Great Group Reads selections.” — Donna Seaman, Editor, Adult Books, Booklist