Sure we’ve all read about Freedom and Mockingjay but we likely have a book we wish would get more attention by book bloggers, whether it’s a forgotten classic or under marketed contemporary fiction. This is your chance to tell the community why they should consider reading this book!
I did my part for this cause earlier this year when I co-hosted a Read-Along of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow with Heather J. and Rebecca. Since I’d read it before, it’s ineligible to be chosen as my Book of the Year, but because that earlier reading was pre-blog, I was able to review it here and give it the 5/5 rating it deserves. I’ll just restate the case I made for it then:
There aren’t many books that I’m an evangelist for. I’ll tell you what I like, and I’ll make suggestions and recommendations, but I don’t often state outright that “You HAVE to read this.” I will go out on that limb for The Sparrow, though. You have to read this.
This is a very hard book to pigeonhole. You may not care for science fiction; this is SF free of technobabble. While the primary plot concerns interplanetary exploration and first contact with a non-human species in another solar system, the focus is on character and the setting doesn’t require contortion of the imagination. You may be wary of fiction with religious overtones; this novel prominently features several Jesuit priests among its characters, but the last thing it does is preach. The novel explores Big Ideas of faith and God and humanity and Meaning in the way that many of us would – in far-ranging conversations with friends – and doesn’t beat you over the head with them. You’d never guess that this is Mary Doria Russell’s first novel (previously, she wrote scientific articles and technical manuals); the writing is very accomplished, and yet it doesn’t call attention to itself at all. What other arguments can I shoot down for you?
The Sparrow is a page-turner that will make you think critically, make you feel deeply…and make you want to talk about it, which is why we built a Read-Along around it.
However, since I’ve already talked (at length) about why you should read The Sparrow, I thought I’d mention a couple of other books that I think deserve more attention than they’ve received from the book-blog community.
Intuition, by Allegra Goodman (2007, 4.5/5): This not-at-all-dry novel about a group of scientists on the verge of a potential cancer-research breakthrough is smart, suspenseful, and thought-provoking. Even more than the science, though, Intuition concerns such themes as scientific ethics and office politics, and Allegra Goodman doesn’t provide easy answers. She employs the perspectives of multiple characters, and doesn’t draw a lot of stark lines. She leaves spaces in the characterizations to be filled in by the reader, and while that can sometimes annoy me as a reader who cares about character development, she’s skilled enough to make it work for me, and I thought that the primary players were well-drawn, distinct and complex. There’s ambiguity in the character relationships and the storytelling, and not all the questions get answered, but it doesn’t feel like things are left unsettled or hanging in the end.
I reviewed this book in March 2008, and don’t recall seeing it get much attention at all from book blogs. If you’re waiting to read Goodman’s latest, The Cookbook Collector, this can keep you busy in the meantime – or if you’ve already read that and want more of the author, add Intuition to your TBR!
The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald (2010, 4/5): This novel is built on an unlikely but fact-based premise – it was inspired by the “practice baby” programs operated by some college home-ec departments in the mid-20th century, and explores the effects of a
succession of short-term “practice mothers” on one particular (fictional, non-representative) child. Lisa Grunwald builds a compelling and compassionate story around a bit of recent history that seems very hard to grasp from our modern, child-centric, post-feminist perspective. From where we stand now, the pitfalls and difficulties of the practice-house arrangement seem obvious, but they probably weren’t then, and I found them fascinating. Grunwald shifts narrative viewpoints at times and the perspective doesn’t fully belong to the title character until well into the story, but the other voices provide an effective framework for his early life. It’s not hard to believe that Henry House becomes the person he is given the upbringing he had, and while his behavior is often unsympathetic, I never found his character to be. He’s one of the most memorable, unique characters I’ve encountered in a while. Any woman who’s ever been attracted to that not-fully-available guy will understand why a variety of female characters are drawn to him, but what makes him particularly interesting is that he doesn’t exactly want to be that guy.
I had the opportunity to read and review this compelling novel earlier this summer, thanks to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program, and I’ve been disappointed that it hasn’t gotten more notice from book bloggers – it’s one of my top reads of the year.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you have a favorite “forgotten treasure” of your own?