Welcome to the Club: OutreachNC’s 2019 Book Club Picks

Each year, one of my first resolutions is to read more. In particular, I want to read more books. I read a fair amount online each month, scrolling through my phone or glued to a computer screen, but sometimes I miss the texture and depth of a good, old-fashioned book. This year, I am committing to reading more offline than I do online, to sitting beside the fireplace with a book in hand, to turning on the bedside lamp and picking up a hardcover, to chatting with friends not about the latest Facebook dog video but about whether or not I loved Where the Crawdads Sing or what I thought about Barbara’s Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

Who doesn’t want to talk about that? 

To this end, we’ve decided over here at ONC to establish a book club and invite readers along as we dish on everything from Kent Haruf’s tale of two widows finding love to Nora Ephron’s reflections on life, to Leslie Jamison’s hard look at the story of addiction. A mixture of fiction and non-fiction, 2019’s ONC Book Club has stories of all kinds including memoirs, a collection of short stories, bestselling novels and award-winning nonfiction.  

We hope you’ll join us as we explore all of these different stories, choosing our favorites, trying to mask disdain for stories we secretly (and no-so-secretly) hate and stopping our friends on the street to say, “You’ve got to read this book!”  

To keep it even-Steven, we’ve created a list of 10 books that are as new to us as they may be to you, so we’re all in this literary boat together. Below are minimal plot descriptions and thoughts of each book, as we’re aware that giving a story away before the reading kills some of the joy in picking up a new book without any notion other than the tingle of excitement as we open the cover and dip our toes in the water. With that note in mind, in the order to be read, OutreachNC’s 2019 Book Club picks are:

1. Our Souls at Night – Kent Haruf (February) 

Set in fictional Holt, Colorado (the beloved home of Haruf’s extraordinary Plainsong), Addie Moore and Louis Waters are neighbors and widows. Having known each other for decades, they find themselves with the opportunity to learn more about each other, themselves and their own histories as their lives unfold in unexpected ways during this poignant novel of family, loss and the love that exists between it all. As his last novel, Our Souls at Night is a brilliant finale and homage to Haruf’s own personal love story. Having read Plainsong and Eventide, and having loved each of them, we’re excited to head back to Holt and experience the richness of Haruf’s characters juxtaposed against the stark landscape and social backdrop of small town America. 

2. Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer – Barbara Ehrenreich (March) 

Ehrenreich’s New York Times bestseller explores the wellness industry, the inevitability of death and the price we pay when we focus on living longer rather than better. Ehrenreich explores how our bodies age, how much control we really have over the aging process, the illusion of control we’re given through powerful industries (beauty, wellness, fitness) and how we prepare for the final years of our lives. Ehrenreich is the author of more than a dozen titles including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed, an exploration on the idea of making ends meet on minimum wage in America. She writes with sharp wit and social commentary, so we’re looking forward to what Ehrenreich has to say about aging in a culture obsessed with the concept of avoiding growing older.  

3. The Little French Bistro – Nina George (April) 

From Nina George, the New York Times bestselling author of The Little Paris Bookshop, The Little French Bistro is the charming tale of Marianne, a woman stuck in an unhappy marriage. At midlife, Marianne decides to leave the comfort of what she’s known and strike out on her own, leaving Paris for Britanny, where she meets a collection of colorful characters and is able to find the room again to explore the parts of herself which have been dormant for so many years. We’re going into this novel knowing it’s light-hearted reading with an uplifting message. If we love it, we may go back and read The Little Paris Bookshop for another jolt of easy reading and lovely imagery. 

4. I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections – Nora Ephron (May) 

From 2011, Nora Ephron’s book of reflections, observations and wisdom was her first since the wildly popular I Feel Bad About My Neck. With chapters including ‘Who Are You?’, ‘My Life as an Heiress’ and ‘I Just Want to Say: The World is Not Flat’, Ephron promised to entertain us, provoke thought and cause us to question truths about our own lives we’ve not before considered. The slim book reads like a quasi-memoir, logging in at a mere 135 pages and ends with a chapter titled ‘The O Word’. Who can resist that? We’re looking forward to the conversations that come up around the office while reading this one. 

5. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens (June) 

First things first, this novel is set in North Carolina. How could we not read it? And…it’s a New York Times bestseller….and it’s on Reese Witherspoon’s own book club list. Did we have a choice? Where the Crawdads Sing is described as perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels, so count us in. Delia Owens tells a story of a mythical ‘Marsh Girl,’ a young woman raised by nature, looking for love and suspected of murder. Intrigued? We are. We’re feeling like Where the Crawdads Sing is the perfect pick to start off summer in full-swing. 

6. The River Runs Through It and Other Stories – Norman Maclean (July) 

Norman Maclean’s collection of stories is described by the Chicago Tribune as, “As Beautiful as anything in Thoreau or Hemingway.” Are those not compelling comparisons? Short stories don’t get enough love in modern fiction, but there is a simple, tight, tense beauty in the craft of short story when it’s done well, and by all accounts, Maclean does it well. His title novella, A River Runs Through It, is recognized as an American classic and Maclean as one of our finest writers. Jeeves is especially excited about this pick, as he knows a thing or two about the wild. We’re excited to hear how Jeeves feels about Maclean’s descriptions of fly-fishing, logging and the beauty of life beyond our front doors. Also, Robert Redford writes the foreward. Need we say more? 

7. The Light of the World: a Memoir – Elizabeth Alexander (August) 

Yet another New York Times bestseller, Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir is described as brave, beautiful and full of grace. Poet and Yale University professor, Alexander writes a memoir describing the existential crisis she faced after the unexpected death of her husband. Left with two sons for whom she must care, Alexander writes of her marriage, life after her husband’s death and the ultimate blessings of life even in the experience of loss. We’re excited to read what we hope proves to be a thoughtful, inspiring memoir of survival and hope. 

8. Who Is Vera Kelly? – Rosalie Knecht (September) 

After all of this thought and reflection, we felt a good ol’ mystery was called for. Who is Vera Kelly? gets heaps of praise. Described as hilarious, subversive and a page-turner, we’re not quite sure what to expect with Knecht’s mystery, which is what makes it all the more exciting to dig into this book. Set in New York City in 1962, Vera Kelly is enlisted by the CIA for all sorts of Cold War antics. As the edgiest, most renegade choice on our list, this might be the book we love most or the one about which we have to answer to Jeeves. We’ll see! 

9. The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath – Leslie Jamison (October)

The Recovering questions what we know, believe and think we understand about addiction. Writer Leslie Jamison (novelist, essayist and frequent contributor to The Atlantic, Harper’s and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine) explores addiction from the perspective of someone who has been through it and as a member of a society in which it is rampant. She writes about class, culture, illness, criminality and the stories we tell, both individually and collectively, about addiction. Addiction, like all things, has a story, and Jamison gets to the heart of what that is. We’re excited to read The Recovering, even bearing in mind it may be difficult but hopefully rewarding. 

10. Beneath a Scarlet Sky: a Novel – Mark Sullivan (November) 

Mark Sullivan’s novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, has over 21,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. Set during World War II, and based on a true story, Sullivan’s hero is a young teenage boy named Pino who wants nothing to do with war and only wants to continue his peaceful, quiet life in Milan. When his home is destroyed by bombing, he’s forced into a world he never imagined, a tangle of events that leads him to the position of driving one of the Third Reich’s top commanders. A story of war, love, loyalty and ultimately triumph, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is just the sort of book we need to end on – strong, beautiful and already fully vetted by 21,000 other readers! Also, word on the street is, if you enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale or Unbroken, you’ll love this one. We’re excited to get lost in this story and bracing ourselves for tears. Kleenex boxes will be at the ready. 

That’s it. Those are our 10 choices for the year, giving us some breathing room for the holidays and hopefully enabling heaps of thoughtful discussion, critique and plain old good reading fun. We can’t wait to hear what you all think about the choices, the characters, the stories and the ideas explored in each of the books. 

Here’s to a year of more reading, more adventure and more time soaking in a hot bath and turning yet another page.