Book choice for June 2011

The Handmaid's Tale [suggested by Cate Bale]

front cover

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs

The Handmaid's Tale belongs to a genre that I normally leave well alone. A good story and science fiction rarely go hand in hand together with such astounding success. The world depicted in the book is a fictional one but it COULD happen, it's almost too easy to imagine it and this is what makes the tale so fascinating and so terrifying. The character Offred is a normal person in an utterly abnormal and artificial situation, and we gain unique insight into the way she deals with it; with losing her husband and her daughter and trying not to lose her mind. She can rely on nothing and no-one but herself. Even so, she builds some kind of existence for herself. She manages to adapt to an incredible existence and makes a (sort-of) life for herself from nothing. The overwhelming impression left by this book is the idea of man's adaptability, how he struggles to survive under the most horrendous circumstances, and how he can triumph if only hope remains. [anonymous review on Amazon]

The Handmaid's Tale also has a Wikipedia page and has been made into a film of the same name, which has both a Wikipedia page and an IMDb entry.

About the Author

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children's literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen™.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

The above biographical notes are taken from Atwood's website. See also her Wikipedia page.

 

Shortlisted for this month

Book selectors can bring one, two or three books for selection, although it's usual to bring three. This month Cate's other selections were:

Pies & Prejudice

Pies & Prejudice

(not to be confused with another book of the same name with the subtitle The Mother-Daughter Book Club #4, by Heather Vogel Frederick)

A Northerner in exile, Stuart Maconie goes on a journey in search of the North, attempting to discover where the clichés end and the truth begins. He travels from Wigan Pier to Blackpool Tower and Newcastle's Bigg Market to the Lake District to find his own Northern Soul, encountering along the way an exotic cast of chippy Scousers, pie-eating woollybacks, topless Geordies, mad-for-it Mancs, Yorkshire nationalists and brothers in southern exile.

The book is heavily reviewed on Amazon and also has its own page on the author's website.

About the Author

Stuart Maconie is a TV and radio presenter, journalist, columnist and author.

He is the UK's best-selling travel writer of non-TV tie-in books and his Pies and Prejudice was one of 2008's top selling paperbacks. His work has been compared with Bill Bryson, Alan Bennett and John Peel and described by The Times as a 'National Treasure'.

He co-hosts the Radcliffe and Maconie Show on BBC Radio 2 every Monday-Thursday evening, as well as [several other shows].

[Stuart has appeared on] Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and his other books include the acclaimed official biographies of both Blur and James.

His music memoir Cider with Roadies was published in 2004.

He lives in Birmingham and Cumbria, and is happiest when fell-walking with his dog, Muffin.

The above abridged from the "about Stuart" pages on his website and there's the usual Wikipedia entry.

The Help

The Help

(First suggested in November 2010)

What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it.
From Publishers Weekly - Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

There's also a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Kathryn Stockett has not been around long as an author and consequently online resources are limited.

She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter. The Help is her first novel.

The above is taken from her website and naturally she also has a Wikipedia entry.

 

Previous Months' Book Choices

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