Five Good Reads

This week’s list of suggested titles was compiled by Randi Spray, Page Designer for the Juneau Empire.


“Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller

This lovely book, winner of the Orange Prize, tells, or rather re-tells, the story of Achilles and Patroclus. You may have dozed off during “The Iliad” in high school but you won’t have that problem with Miller’s prose. Miller masterfully makes the characters of Homer’s epic human again and their inevitable choices become pressing dilemmas.

“The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins

I picked this novel up because I was intrigued by its claim to be a bridge between Gothic romances and modern day detective novels, a so-called suspense novel. But I’m sucker for a good Victorian novel. I love their gloomy settings, their meticulous plots, their obsession with domestic affairs and the dark secrets that lie beneath a veneer of propriety. And this book had all of the above and more. Its size (my copy was 617 pages) might put off some, but I was glued to the last page.

“Kindred” by Octavia Butler

As a fan of science fiction, I worship Octavia Butler and want everyone to experience her preeminent writing. However, I recognize not everyone wants to read about aliens, or telepaths, or vampires. For those people I present “Kindred,” at once a work of science fiction, a historical novel and the best fictional treatment of America’s slave-owning past I have ever read. This book centers around the modern-day Dana who keeps being transported back in time to the 19th century plantation where her ancestors worked. She finds herself unprepared for the reality of slavery and the compromises she’ll have to make to stay alive.

“Out” by Natsuo Kirino

I’ll admit I bought this book because of its pretty cover, and I was greatly rewarded. After Yayoi kills her husband, her three workplace friends help her cover up the deed – and begin a side business in dismembering and disposing of unwanted corpses. Kirino’s crime fiction is the most realistic, uncompromising and literary work you’ll read all year.

“The Fat Years” by Chan Koonchung

The reviews of Chan’s The Fat Years necessarily mention its likeness to “A Brave New World” and “1984” -- and rightly so. But it has strengths where those classics are weak. The characters are so believable you can imagine running into them on the streets. And instead of an abstract of an imaginary authoritarian government, this book shows you the many shades of the current Chinese version. Published in 2011 and set in 2013, it more often reads as a contemporary novel than as a prediction of the future.

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Area students pursuing artistic excellence may apply for scholarships as part of the Margaret Frans Brady Fund.

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