Holiday Break Reading Recommendations

Before Augustana heads out on holiday break, we friendly library folk thought we would share some of our reading recommendations, many of which are available in our leisure reading section. The list is in alphabetical order by author’s last name.  Enjoy your break, and happy reading!

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Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, by Alison Arngrim

The Little House on the Prairie was a tv staple in my childhood home, and Nellie Oleson was the character we loved to hate.  In this biography, Alison Arngrim shares her childhood experiences of being Nellie, dealing with the secret trauma of her childhood home, and how she grew into a strong woman and advocate for AIDS education and prevention. It is unflinching, humorous and amazing to discover that such a loathsome character was played by a lovely person. (recommended by Christine Aden)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by C. Alan Bradley

I am enchanted by the entire series of Flavia de Luce books, but I’ve listed Sweetness simply because it is the first book of the series and sets you up for what comes next.  Flavia is a highly precocious pre-teen with a flair for chemistry and a heart made for intrigue and solving mysteries.  This is convenient, as she finds a dead body in her back yard.  She’s cynical, sassy, and yet not prickly or hard to love (unless, of course, you are one of her sisters, who are frequent targets of her experiments).  If you like this book, there are three more books to explore.  (recommended by Christine Aden)

The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt

This novel follows the stories of a number of families — an author of children’s stories and her banker husband and their children, their cousins who live in London, the Keeper of Metals at the new Victoria and Albert Museum and his children, as well as a runaway boy who becomes an apprentice to a potter, and his original and adoptive families — from the late Victorian era through the end of the first World War. The characters are very well-drawn, everything is meticulously researched, and the language is beautiful. I found myself having to be very careful of my writing while I was reading this novel, as all my sentences tended to some out with Byatt-like emphases in them. And while you might think that the number of characters would be overwhelming and confusing, it’s quite easy to keep track of everything going on. Byatt is at home in the Victorian era, and the discussions of politics and women’s roles ring true and timely. The wonderful first two sections of the book tell the story of the children’s childhoods, and the ending is immensely brave. (recommended by Sarah Horowitz)

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Love it or hate it, you will want to talk about it. (recommended by Ann Miller)

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography, by Rob Lowe

I confess to being a closet celebrity watcher, and to having a crush on Rob Lowe when I was a teenager. This book explores the craziness of sudden celebrity, the pitfalls of early success, and what brought Rob Lowe back from the brink.  It is told in a very conversational style, shows a lot of humor, and is a fun, light read. (recommended by Christine Aden)

Solar, by Ian McEwan

McEwan has such a knack for prose that is simultaneously ornate and enthralling, and for finding the wry humor in the downward spiral of his ridiculous but sympathy-inducing antihero (in this case, a Nobel-winning physicist whose inner and outer life are grossly out of step). (recommended by Lucas Street)

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick

I loved Selznick’s first book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, so I was both excited and a little worried about picking up this one. Since his first novel was so original and unique, could Selznick pull it off again? Or would it seem like a retread of an earlier idea? Once again, Selznick combines words and images (but not on the same pages, so it isn’t really a graphic novel). But this time, he tells two intertwined stories, one of which starts out totally as text, the other of which starts out being told entirely in pictures. It is only in the third section, when the two stories intersect, that we see pictures from the first story and hear the characters in the second speak. Well, they don’t actually speak, they write, because the two protagonists are both deaf. On top of everything else, Wonderstruck explores both Deaf culture and history and the history and importance of museums. The two don’t seem like would they have anything in common, but they fit together remarkably well. This is an amazingly constructed, well-written, moving novel. (recommended by Sarah Horowitz)

Please Look After Mom, by Kyung Sook Shin

This South Korean novel was a million-plus-copy best-seller in its original language, and for good reason. This vivid, heart-wrenching novel tells the story of a family whose mother inexplicably vanishes one day in a subway station. Her husband and adult children take turns narrating the events and remembering her profound presence in their lives. This book is written in the second-person, a rarity for a piece of literature. The result is an astonishing, beautiful, and piercing story that will haunt you well after you’ve finished it. (recommended by Amanda Makula)

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

A good precursor to the upcoming film adaptation.  Not a cheery subject, but an intriguing premise with believable characters. (Recommended by Ann Miller)

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