Books ©Patrick Tomasso,

The Literary Circle Archive 2022

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Working as an intern for a Manhattan fashion magazine in the summer of 1953, Esther Greenwood is veritably on the brink of a brilliant future. That said, she also tightropes the edge of a psychic darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal, causing Esther's visions of the world to flit from the day-to-day trials of metropolitan life to the even more uncertain entanglements of a sexual neophyte to the never-ending nightlife of New York City. Sylvia Plath's only novel, The Bell Jar, is partially based on the gifted poet’s own life and continues to be celebrated for its razor-sharp portrait of 1950s society.

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis, the first American writer to become a Nobel laureate, was awarded the Pulizter Prize for Arrowsmith, the fictive account of a man passionately devoted to science. As an intellectually curious boy in the rural Midwest, Martin Arrowsmith spends his free time in old Doc Vickerson’s office avidly reading scores of medical texts. Destined to become a physician himself, he discovers that the societal forces of ignorance and greed can be as life-threatening as the plague. Part satire, part morality tale, the novel traces, with uncanny aptness to our own time, the vicissitudes of scientific integrity in a small-minded world. 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

During the late nineteenth-century, London traveled to the Klondike region of northwestern Canada to strike it rich in the gold rush. Set in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon territory, The Call of the Wild is a story embodied with a realism indicative of London’s prospecting experience. The tale follows Buck, the pampered pet of Judge Miller and his family, who is snatched from his genteel home in California’s Santa Clara Valley. Stolen by a gardener’s assistant to finance gambling losses, Buck is faced with both an arduous journey to the faraway frontier and the brutal realities of life as a sled dog.

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong

The Book of Salt is a novel narrated by Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Viewing his famous mesdames and their entourage from the kitchen at 27 rue de Fleurus, Binh observes their domestic entanglements while seeking his own place in the world. In recounting this tale of yearning and betrayal, writer Monique Truong explores Paris from the salons of its artists to the dark nightlife of its outsiders and exiles. She also takes us back in time to Binh's youth in colonial Saigon and life as a galley hand to his fateful encounters in Paris with Paul Robeson and Ho Chi Minh.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals details the gut-wrenching truth about the price paid by various social and ecological environments—not least the animals themselves—in order to put meat on our tables more quickly and conveniently than ever before. A novelistic account of an intellectual journey, Eating Animals is a fresh look at the ethical debate around meat-eating, including a valuable exploration of options, for those so inclined, to do so more responsibly, making this an important book not just for vegetarians but for all those mindful about the significant consequences of their dietary choices.

The Empress of Weehawken by Irene Dische

Electing to omit her narrow escape with her husband from the Nazis and their immigration to New Jersey, Elisabeth Rother is writing her memoirs. The subject that consumes her is the waywardness of her daughter, Renate, and her granddaughter, Irene: Renate performs autopsies on the bodies of politicians whom death has harvested in the nighttime arms of their mistresses; Irene drops out of school to roam the world, refuses to correct her nose with plastic surgery, and shows alarming signs of enjoying sex. What, Elisabeth ponders, is to be done with such women? With the love between mothers and daughters at its heart, The Empress of Weehawken is a novel that expertly mines the veins of comedy and tenderness.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people. Winner of the National Book Award in 2009, Let the Great World Spin is a dazzlingly rich vision of the passion, pain, and promise of New York City in the 1970s.

I Hate the Internet: A Novel by Jarett Kobek

Set nearly a decade ago in San Francisco as billions of dollars fuel the city’s spectacular gentrification and the human wreckage piles up, a group of victims of the digital boom considered newly useless in a world that savagely despises the pointless and unprofitable experience the blunt hand of market forces. In this first novel, Jarett Kobek tackles the pressing questions of the so-called singularity. Why do we applaud the enrichment of CEOs at the expense of the weak and the powerless? Why are we giving away our intellectual property? Why is twenty-first-century activism nothing more than a series of morality lectures typed into devices built by slaves? 

Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson

George Washington Carver was determined to help the people he loved: Born a slave in Missouri, he left home in search of an education, eventually earning his master's degree. When Booker T. Washington invited Carver to start the agricultural department at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute, Carver truly found his calling. He spent the rest of his life seeking solutions to the poverty among landless Black farmers by developing new uses for soil-replenishing crops such as peanuts, cowpeas, and sweet potatoes. This award-winning biography is told lyrically through the exquisite poetry of Marilyn Nelson.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. After a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything―instead, they "check out" obscure volumes tucked away in the corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele's behavior with the help of motley crew of friends. When they eventually share their findings with Mr. Penumbra, they learn that the shop’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

In this magically evocative novel, William Maxwell, a legendary editor of fiction at The New Yorker, explores the enigmatic gravity of the past, which compels us to keep explaining it even as it makes liars out of us every time we try. On a winter morning in the 1920s, a shot rings out on a farm in rural Illinois: A man named Lloyd Wilson has been killed, and the tenuous friendship between two lonely teenagers—one privileged yet neglected, the other a troubled farm boy—has been shattered. Fifty years later, one of those boys tries to reconstruct the events that led up to the murder. Out of memory and imagination, the surmises of children and the passions of their parents, Maxwell creates a luminous American classic of youth and loss.

Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of a Life by Lulu Miller

When NPR reporter Lulu Miller first heard, in passing, about the seemingly obsessive life of David Starr Jordan—a taxonomist who lost his life’s work to lightning, fire, and even the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—she thought she had found a cautionary tale of hubris (or denial). But, as her own life slowly unraveled, she began to wonder whether he was, instead, a model for how to go on when all seemed lost. Indeed, what Miller would eventually unearth about Jordan would transform her understanding of history, morality, and the very earth beneath her feet. Why Fish Don’t Exist is an ode on how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.