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Past Staff Picks
These are books that stepped aside for our newest loves, but if you haven’t read them yet, you’re missing out.
The core of this story is a friendship between women. It's so well written, you'll miss the characters when you close the book. Another strong element is its sense of place (several of them). But, if you think "Hillbilly Elegy" is all there is to say about Appalachia, you've got another think coming.
The hardcover (shown) is in stock at the store at a discount. To order the paperback, click here.
When you hear the broad outlines of the plot, it’s all about unfairness, injustice, and race relations. It sounds like one of those books that people frown over and call “important.” But this is, at its core, a book about the relationship between a man and his wife. And her best friend. And the prison system. Reading it is a joy, not a chore, so don’t be put off by its heavy subject matter.
Celestial and Roy are a young, newly married, upwardly mobile couple living in Atlanta. While visiting Roy’s parents in rural Louisiana, Roy is accused of a crime and jailed. This is the New South, right? This isn’t supposed to happen to wealthy suburbanites, even if they are African American. Although the underlying injustice propels the plot, it’s the fully realized characters who make the book sing. Jones draws us into both characters so that it’s impossible not to see both sides of the mess they find themselves in. Should Celestial wait for Roy? Should he even ask her to? Celestial is a successful artist with her own full life. Even though she knows Roy is innocent, she can’t help feeling resentful.
An American Marriage is a gut-wrenching and thought-provoking portrait of a modern marriage. I found myself taking both sides in the conflict between Celestial and Roy, and the fact that there’s no clear winner in the end makes it a novel that sticks with you. Jones leaves the reader wondering, “What would I do?” - Angel
Johnny MacKinnon is a Scottish expat living happily in Jacksonville, Florida, where he and his wife run her family’s ice business. But the threads of his life start to unravel as he approaches middle age. With a possible brain tumor, the threat of OSHA fines at work, and painful estrangement from his son, Johnny travels to Scotland to attempt to reconcile with his only child. After all, the brain tumor just might be the end of him, and he’s never even met his granddaughter.
Since he’s under doctor’s orders not to drive, he takes along his 17-year-old neighbor, Chemal, as his driver. Chemal turns out to be my favorite character in the book, and the two men share an adventure worthy of a buddy movie. Although it takes a little while to get to know all of the well-drawn characters (including Johnny’s dachshund), I really enjoyed this book once it gained momentum. The strength of the book is in its characters, including MacKinnon’s first wife, the workers at the ice plant, Johnny’s current wife, Pauline, and her infamously racist father.
It’s written with a light touch, and there are laugh-out-loud funny moments throughout. --Angel
The last chapter of this book is the most perfect thing I've read in awhile, which is saying something. It captures the role of race in the South as well as anything I've ever read. I feel that, as a white woman born in upstate South Carolina, I'm just beginning even to ask the right questions about race. I'm not sure I will ever get to the answers, but Grooms' novel provides rich context for the essential work of being better human beings in relationship with each other. It is easier to think of race relations as a struggle between good people and bad people. But, as Grooms tells the story, it is an entire worldview that is at fault, a worldview as old as the Georgia mud. Progress is so much more difficult than just converting or erasing the "bad people."