So begins Upstream, a collection of essays in which revered poet Mary Oliver reflects on her willingness, as a young child and as an adult, to lose herself within the beauty and mysteries of both the natural world and the world of literature. Emphasizing the significance of her childhood “friend” Walt Whitman, through whose work she first understood that a poem is a temple, “a place to enter, and in which to feel,” and who encouraged her to vanish into the world of her writing, Oliver meditates on the forces that allowed her to create a life for herself out of work and love. As she writes, “I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.
*Recommended by Sharon
The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu’s secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu’s generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu’s soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy.
*Recommended by Stephanie
Spirit Lake is not far from Hotel Paradise; it’s a small lake, neglected, partly covered with water lilies and overhung by tall, blowing grass. To those who have lived in the town for a while, it’s also notorious because a small child drowned there over forty years ago – a death that no one has ever been able to explain. Puzzled by questions that don’t appear to have occurred to the adults around her, a local twelve-year-old girl has become increasingly obsessed with this death. Inquisitive and intelligent, she talks frequently to sheriff Sam De Gheyn and her friend Maud Chadwick about it. A second death at the lake raises suspicion, and with her innocent knack of encouraging adults to reminisce, she begins to put together the pieces of a past and present puzzle. And in doing so realises that there are some mysteries that can never be wholly solved.
*Recommended by Hannele
When Laurel Estabrook is attacked while out riding her bike one Sunday afternoon, her life is changed forever. She begins work at a shelter for the homeless and there meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box full of photos he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies suddenly, Laurel discovers that he was once a successful photographer, and her fascination with his former life begins to merge into obsession, not least because some of the photos are of the very same forest trail where she was attacked and nearly killed. Laurel becomes convinced that his photos reveal a deeply hidden, dark family secret. Her search for the truth leads her further from her own life and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.
*Recommended by Karen
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain.…
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown…to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
A writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision, Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable. As he did in Anathem, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, and Reamde, Stephenson explores some of our biggest ideas and perplexing challenges in a breathtaking saga that is daring, engrossing, and altogether brilliant.
*Recommended by Mike
To eight-year old Bunny Morison, his mother is an angelic comforter in whose absence nothing is real or alive. To his older brother, Robert, his mother is someone he must protect, especially since the deadly, influenza epidemic of 1918 is ravaging their small Midwestern town. To James Morison, his wife, Elizabeth, is the center of a life that would disintegrate all too suddenly were she to disappear.
Through the eyes of these characters, William Maxwell creates a sensitive portrait of an American family and of the complex woman who is its emotional pillar. Beautifully observed, deftly rendering the civilities and constraints of a vanished era, They Came Like Swallows measures the subterranean currents of love and need that run through all our lives. The result confirms Maxwell’s reputation as one of the finest writers we have.
*Recommended by Sia
A Seattle knitting store brings together four very different women in this earnest tale about friendship and love. Lydia Hoffman, a two-time cancer survivor, opens the shop A Good Yarn as a symbol of the new life she plans to lead. She starts a weekly knitting class, hoping to improve business and make friends in the area. Well-heeled Jacqueline Donovan, who chooses to ignore her empty marriage, disguises her disdain for her pregnant daughter-in-law by knitting a baby blanket. Carol Girard joins the group as an affirmation of her hopes to finally have a successful in vitro pregnancy. Alix Townsend, a high school dropout with an absentee father and a mother incarcerated for forging checks, uses the class to satisfy a court-ordered community service sentence for a drug-possession conviction for which her roommate is really responsible.
*Recommended by Jen