Read Global, Buy Local: Reading Group Highlights

The following list represents some of the better highlights from over ten years of discussions from the Book Beat reading group. Our emphasis has been on World Lit and the list has been arranged according to the author’s country of origin. I’m constantly amazed at the wealth of great literature across the globe and we have only begun to scratch the surface. We hope to continue to expand and explore this field of differences and similarities across the world. Suggestions for future book title discussions are always welcome.

We meet at 7 PM on the last Wednesday of every month (except in December) at the Goldfish Teahouse in Royal Oak. It is best to call ahead at 248-968-1190 to confirm the book selection, time and place. A selection of recommended books are available in our online catalog: Reading Group  Books. If you are already in a book club or have an interest in starting one, we’d love to help – stop by soon to see our shelf of recommended reading, or check into the following list from past Book Beat discussions:

(Argentina) Borges, Jorge Luis. The Aleph and Other Stories. “He has lifted fiction away from the flat earth where most of our novels and short stories take place.”—John Updike

(Canada) Anne Michaels
. Fugitive Pieces. An incandescent, heartbreaking and finally joyful first novel by one of Canada’s foremost poets.

(China) Ha Jin
. Waiting. “captures the poignant dilemma of an ordinary man who misses the best opportunities in his life simply by trying to do his duty–as defined first by his traditional Chinese parents and later by the Communist Party.” –Publishers Weekly

(Columbia) Marquez, Gabrial Garcia
. Of Love and Other Demons. Compact and dense novel of magic realism and forbidden love. (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1982)

(Egypt) Mahfouz, Naguib
. The Journey of Ibn Fattouma. A short, provocative fable by the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian author of the Cairo Trilogy that ponders the question: What is the best way to organize a society? (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1988)

(Finland) Hamson, Knut
. Hunger. Probes the depths of consciousness with a frightening and gripping power, one of the most influential of 20th  century novels. (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1920)

(France) Allain, Marcel and Souvestre, Pierre. Fantomas. A serialized novel and popular mystery series from the early 1900s that had a massive following and influenced the surrealists.

(France) Huysmans, Joris-Karl. Against Nature: ‘A Rebours’ The original handbook of decadence, Against Nature exploded “like a grenade” (in the words of its author) and has enjoyed a cult readership from its publication to the present day.

(France) Kaufmann, Jean-Paul
. Angel of the Left Bank: The Secrets of Delacroix’s Parisian Masterpiece. “A passionate narrative . . . [a] quiet and insightful meditation on the human skirmish with divinity.”—Los Angeles Times

(Germany)  Sebald, W. G. Austerlitz. A meditative novel of a child’s identity and memory about Holocaust and its aftermath.

(Germany) Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. One of the great critical thinkers and essayists of the 2Oth century.

(Germany) Suskind, Patrick. Perfume. Dark novel of identity, mystery and murder based on a true story, set in 18th century France.

(Holland) Buruma, Ian
. Murder in Amsterdam. Exploration of the tension between the Dutch natives and the Muslim immigrants living in Holland during the 2004 murder of media personality Theo van Gogh.

(Iceland) Laxness, Halldor
. Under the Glacier. “A marvelous novel about the most ambitious questions…  one of the funniest books ever written.” –Susan Sontag (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1955)

(India) Naipal. V. S
. Half a Life. “one of those rare books that stands as both a small masterpiece in its own right and as a potent distillation of the author’s work to date, a book that recapitulates all his themes of exile, postcolonial confusion, third world angst, and filial love and rebellion while recounting with uncommon elegance and acerbity the story of the coming of age of its hero, Willie Chandran” – New York Times (NOBEL LAUREATE, 2001)


(Iran) Strapi, Marjane
. Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood. wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. (graphic novel)

(Ireland) Joyce, James
. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  A semi-autobiographical early novel that pioneers Joyce’s modernist techniques later used in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake.

(Israel) Yehoshua, A. B.
Open Heart. “The irrational, untamable power of love becomes almost palpable in Israeli novelist Yehoshua’s intense novel of forbidden passion, obsession and spiritual yearning.” – Publisher’s Weekly

(Japan) Akutagawa, Ryuosake
. Rashoman and 17 Other Stories. “For the sublimity of life culminates in the most precious moment of inspiration. Man will make his life worth living, if he tosses a wave aloft high into the starry sky, o’er life’s dark main of worldly cares, to mirror in its crystal foam the light of the moon yet to rise.” – Akutagawa

(Japan) Kawabata, Yusunari
. The Old Capital. “The sexuality is embedded so deeply that it seems barely there, as subtle as the symbolic association among the (feminine) cherry trees, Chieko, the art of the kimono, and Kyoto itself. All epitomize Kawabata’s ideal of beauty, and all are threatened by change.” –New York Times (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1968)

(Japan) Kawaguchi, Matsutaro
. Mistress Oriku: Stories from a Tokyo Teahouse. The story of the sensitive, compassionate and indomitable Mistress Oriku, formerly involved in the pleasure trades of Tokyo, Oriku leaves that life behind to run an elegant teahouse on the city’s outskirts.

(Japan) Murakami, Haruki
. After Dark. “A bittersweet novel that will satisfy the most demanding literary taste. . . . Murakami’s fiction reminds us that the world is broad, that myths are universal-and that while we sleep, the world out there is moving in mysterious and unpredictable ways.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

(Japan) Yoshimura, Akira. Shipwrecks. Yoshimura’s exactness is also a passionately concentrated way of investigating the question of what it means to be free — and that breeds tension and finally horror. – New York Times

(Morocco and USA) Bowles, Paul
. The Sheltering Sky. A physical and psychic journey across the North African desert that explores a failing marriage and cultural identity.

(Poland) Shulz, Bruno.
The Streets of Crocodiles is a fluid dreamlike and mystical collection of inter-woven short stories – an enlightening classic.

(Poland) Joseph Conrad.
The Secret Agent is a prophetic examination of terrorism and black satire on English society.

(Portugal) Saramago, Jose
. Baltasar and Blimunda.  A love story set in the 18th century, Saramago is a brilliant contemporary writer exploring magic realism, surrealism and the disparities between royalty, peasants and the Church. (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1998)

(Russia) Babel, Issaac. Red Cavalry and Other Stories. Brilliant short stories that relate directly to Babel’s experience as a journalist in the Red Army.

(Russia) Bulgakov, Mikhail.
A Dead Man’s Memoir. “There is nothing worse, comrades, than cowardice and lack of faith in oneself.” — Bulgakov

(Russia) Bulgakov, Mikhail.
The Master and Margarita. One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, as well as one of the foremost Soviet satires, directed against a suffocatingly bureaucratic social order.

(Russia) Turgenev, Ivan.
Spring Torrents. Autobiographical novel about man’s inability to love without losing his innocence and becoming enslaved to obsessive passion.

(Russia) Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. A masterwork of  dystopian Soviet fiction that directly inspired Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.

(South Africa) Coetzee, J. M
. Waiting for the Barbarians.  A novel of race and redemption. The impossible situation of a sensitive person who is a part of an oppressive system – can one man make a change ?  (NOBEL LAUREATE, 2003)

(Spain) Lafort, Carmen
. Nada. A dark and wonderful novel about Barcelona after WWII and a young girl’s return to college and her dysfunctional family.

(Spain) Martel, Yann.
Life of Pi.  A post-modern fable-like novel/adventure Winner of the Booker prize.

(Switzerland) Hesse, Herman. Steppenwolf. A beautifully constructed philosophical text which has a vast number of literary and cultural allusions – not a novel in the usual sense of the word. (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1946)
(UK) Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber. A series of interrelated short-story fairytales for adults.

(UK) Fitzgerald, Penelope. The Bookshop. Exquisite short novel about the effects of a bookshop in a small English village.

(UK) Pye, Michael.
The Drowning Room.  Vivid  historical setting in  the 17th century and the woman Gretje Reyniers and her adventurous life between Holland and early New York.

(UK) Shelly, Mary.
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus.  Phenomenal novel written in 1818 when the writer was 19 years old – has influenced entire genres (horror, science fiction) and raises many issues linked to today’s society.

(UK) Unsworth, Barry. Morality Play.  “ set in 14th century England.. Unsworth’s marvelously atmospheric depiction of the poverty, misery and pervasive stench of village life and his demonstrations of the strict rules and traditions governing the acting craft; underlying everything is the mixture of piety and superstition that governs all strata of society.” –Publisher’s Weekly

(UK) Woolf, Virginia. To the Light House.  Follows and extends the modernist novel — a masterpiece of  emotional observation highlighting the impermanence of adult relationships, autobiographic and poetic.

(USA) Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg Ohio. Portrait of small town America published in 1919 –a revolutionary novel that inspired Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner.

(USA) Barnes, Djuna. Nightword. A key modernist masterpiece often compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

(USA) Baxter, Charles. The Feast of Love. “Superb. . . . A near-perfect book, as deep as it is broad in its humaneness, comedy and wisdom.” –The Washington Post Book World (National Book Award finalist)

(USA) Bellow, Saul. Ravelstein. A thinly based memoir/novel of  a University of Chicago professor who glories in training the movers and shakers of the political world. (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1976)

(USA) Chevalier, Tracy. The Lady and the Unicorn, weaving fact and fiction explains an artistic mystery.

(USA) Coomer, Joe. The Loop.  Eccentric and absurd comedic novel about how an escaped ageing parrot and librarian change the life of depressed road worker.


(USA) Dick, Philip K.
Valis. A mystical novel by a visionary science fiction writer, explores the nature of existence and our relationship to God – part one of a trilogy.

(USA) Foer, Jonathan. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A contemporary post-modern novel dealing with aspects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks –shares aspects of Gunter Grass’s “Tin Drum”.

(USA) Gardner, John. Grendel.  Retelling the Beowulf legend from the monster’s point of view.

(USA) Hemingway, Ernst. The Sun Also Rises. Explores the lives and values of the so-called “lost generation” – a metaphor for the loss of innocence and optimism after World War I. (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1954)

(USA) Hurston, Zora Neal. Their Eyes Where Watching God. Hurston breathes humanity into both her men and women, and allows them to speak in their own voices. A love story and poetic classic from 1930.

(USA) Johnson, Charles. Middle Passage. “Heroic…engrossing…in the tradition of Billy Budd and             Moby Dick…fiction that hooks into the mind.” –The New York Times Book Review

(USA) Lovecraft. H.P. At the Mountains of Madness. “One of the greatest short novels in American literature, and a key text in my own understanding of what that literature can do.” –Michael Chabon

(USA) Melville, Herman.  Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno.  Two novellas by a master storyteller, Bartleby was a totem to absurdist lit and inspiration to Albert Camus. Benito Cereno centers on a slave rebellion on a Spanish merchant ship.

(USA) Morrison, Toni. Jazz. “Thrillingly written . . . seductive. . . . Some of the finest lyric passages ever written in a modern novel.” —Chicago Sun-Times (NOBEL LAUREATE, 1993)

(USA) Saphire. Push. Unforgettable story of  urban adversity and the mechanisms to cope with it. Set in contemporary Harlem, New York, written by poet with searing intensity.

(USA) Shattuck, Roger. The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France – 1885 to World War I. A picture of avant-garde France as seen through the lives of four of its most prominent artists: Alfred Jarry, Apollinaire, Erik Satie and Rousseau.

(USA) Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Chronicle of crushing poverty and oppression set in the Chicago meat packing district in the early 1900s.

(USA) Thoreau, Henry David. Waldon. Thoreau’s journal is an exquisite account of a man seeking a more simple life by living in harmony with nature.

Selected Bibliography:

Basbanes, Nicholas A., A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
______. Every Book It’s Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Change the World
Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction
Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor.
______. How to Read Novels Like a Professor
Miller, Laura and Adam Begley. The Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors
Murphy, Bruce, Ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, fourth edition
O’brien, Geoffrey. The Reader’s Catalog: An Annotated Listing of the 40,000 Best Books in Print in Over 300 Categories, Second Edition
Perkins, George and Barbara. Harpercollin’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature
Periodicals: The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The Bloomsbury Review, Guardian /Observer

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