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By Daniel Griffin

Now that winter has come and the holidays are upon us, it’s time for a little reflection on the books to catch up on before the New Year arrives.

But what’s that, life passing you by, don’t have time to keep or stay relevant with all that is new in the world of literature? Feeling insecure at your local roasting establishment as visiting family and friends flex their nuanced perspectives on all that is trendy among the true, devoted readers? You’ve come to the right place.

But what will it be this holiday break: fiction or nonfiction? What’s your preferred escape? Here at the Nantucket Atheneum, we give you both options.

Nantucket Atheneum staff members understand what it takes to stay relevant as reader; there are a lot books out there. The library staff has created a list of the Nantucket Atheneum’s top six requested books in 2019 in fiction and nonfiction.

All of the books listed are available at the Nantucket Atheneum. As always, come by in person or feel free to utilize the online resources provided to all Nantucket Atheneum patrons.

Fiction

Where The Crawdads Sing

One of 2019’s most popular, not only here at the Nantucket Atheneum, but across the country as well, Delia Owens novel was published in 2018 and  remained one of the most popular novels for all of this year. A New York Times Fiction Best Seller for 20 non-consecutive weeks, Where The Crawdads Sing was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club in September 2018 and for Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2018.

If a sense of place is what you’re after, this is the book for you. Owen’s takes the reader into the life of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marsh of North Carolina from 1952-1969, while intertwining another timeline that follows a murder investigation of Chase Andrews, who hails from the fictional coastal town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina.

This novel is a must read for those wanting a conversation piece; chances are the other person has read it too.

Disappearing Earth

One of the more emotional investments on the list, Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth depicts the effects an abduction of two girls has on the women of a tight-knit community located on the Kamchatka peninsula. After a failed police investigation turns up nothing, the women within the isolated community must deal with the vulnerabilities brought to light by the disappearances.

Spanning a year on Kamchatka – currently a trendy place for adventure seekers, think Alaska, but even more remote in terms of population – the novel takes place in an ethnically diverse population with racial tensions, where the “Natives” are often suspected of the worst. Phillips takes the reader through the complexities of a tightly bonded community, using suspense to drive home the emotion, while wrapping the mind’s eye with densely wooded forests, open tundra, eclipsing volcanoes and mirroring seas.

The New York Times Book Review named Disappearing Earth one of the top ten books of 2019. Again, this novel is not your heart felt, wrap yourself up next to the fire piece; but rather a, “don’t bother me, I’m anxious and have to finish this chapter,” selection.

The Silent Patient

Ahhh, The Silent Patient, not a “who done it,” but a “why’d she do it?”

Depictions of English society both past and present tend to be popular with Nantucket Atheneum patrons. If this is true for you, and you also like a good psychological thriller produced through a murder mystery, Alex Michaelides’ novel won’t disappoint.

Michaelies begins by taking the reader into the life of Alicia Berenson, who lives a privileged life of all that society tells us we should want; the trophy partner paired with the envy invoking house that has the eight figure view dreams are made of. But one day, Alicia’s husband, Gabriel, comes home only to unexpectedly receive five shots to the face from none other than Alicia herself, starting the psychological thriller decent intended by Michaelies.

“An unforgettable—and Hollywood-bound—new thriller… A mix of Hitchcockian suspense, Agatha Christie plotting, and Greek tragedy.”

—Entertainment Weekly

City of Girls

Elizabeth Gilbert is heralded for her ability to express a nuanced perspective on human connectivity and desires. Narrated by an 89-year-old Vivian Morris, City of Girls is a love story woven with one young woman’s self-discovery during 1940s New York.

An outcasted, 19-year-old Morris arrives in New York to work at her Aunt peg’s Manhattan theater, the Lily Playhouse, where she encounters eccentric and captivating characters, who prove to be the catalysts to her own rebirth as a woman unbound.

A Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller, selected as a summer read by the Independent, Grazia, Vogue, Cosmopolitan and ES Magazine, City Girls is the rare love story that inspires its readers to question the norms of society.

“At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” – City of Girls.

The Most Fun We Ever Had

Having lots of family visit this holiday season? Need a book to remind you that yours is not the only family with dysfunction, which is somehow still bonded by memories of joy? Take a peek at Claire Lambardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had. 

I’ll digress on providing a summary, the publisher has produced its own. But I will say this, it’s a story that just might provide a reader with that little bit of perspective needed this holiday season.

“When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that’s to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants by a man she’s not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents’. As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt – given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before – we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons’ past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.”–Publisher description.

The Topeka School

The American Midwest, a family comprising of a mother, father and son, all of whom have their own individual, successful achievements in life. The son, Adam Gordon, is a skilled debater. His mother, Jane, is a famous author; his father, Johnathan, is known for getting “lost boys” to express their emotions. Each have their own character arc defined by turn of the century societal shifts and the associated complexities.

Ben Lerner takes this family drama and builds a plot that explores adolescence, transgression, and the variables that have allowed the rise of the “New Right.”

A New York Times, Time, GQ, Vulture, and Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year, The Topeka School is a story of a family navigating their own individual faults, while relying on their strengths to combat a culture of toxic masculinity; a prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the elements of the “New Right”, and the crisis of identity among white men.

Lerner’s novel is an interesting, relevant take on some of the issues facing society as we know it today. As a conversation starter, might want to dodge that “Uncle” with this one.

Nonfiction

Becoming

An in depth depiction of a life captured by the public eye for the last decade, Becoming is Michelle Obama’s memoir to the American people – a window into all that has influenced her life; from a childhood on the South Side of Chicago, time spent as an executive, and as First Lady of the United States of America.

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, Oprah’s Book Club Pick, NAACP Image Award Winner, Becoming explores triumphs and disappointments, both private and public, giving the reader a sense of personal connection with the former First Lady.

A good read for those looking for a story of inspiration, or just some connection to a potential mentor.

The Library Book

Doubling down on this post’s theme of “being relevant,” this New York Times Book of the Year, 2018, selection does more than just explore the 1986 fire that devastated the Los Angeles Public Library, which destroyed more than 400,000 books, but also examines the history of libraries and their uncertain future in a digital world – a subject we here at the Nantucket Atheneum explore daily.

If you are someone who really appreciates the role libraries play in our lives, and the services these institutions provide, Susan Orlean’s The Library Book gives an inside look into why people should care about the future of our beloved institutions.

The Pioneers

Feel like taking an adventure while resting on the couch or recliner after a large family dinner? Allow David McCullough to be your guide. In his The Pioneers, McCullough uses a rare collection of diaries and letters to tell the story of how the Northwest Territory was settled.

After the Revolutionary War, and as part of the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain ceded the land that comprised the Northwest Territory: the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Central to McCullough’s theme are the ideas brought by the pioneers to this region, known as the Northwest Ordinances: freedom of religion, free universal education, and the prohibition of slavery.

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Pioneers is an American story of perseverance against a reality that carried with it no certainties. A great read for those that enjoy American history and its unique character of forging civility out of the wild.

Educated

Most of us have our own unique challenges we face on the daily. Some obstacles are bigger than others, some seem insurmountable. Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is a reminder that focus, and perseverance go a long way to achieving a future – statistically speaking – should be out of reach.

As a young girl, Westover never had the chance at a traditional education, instead being raised in a family preparing for the apocalypse, learning how to stew herbs into medicine and turning scrap into usefulness. Westover had never stepped foot into a classroom until the age of seventeen. Despite all of this, she would go on to graduate from Cambridge with a PhD in intellectual history and political thought. A #1 International Bestseller, Educated is a good read for those seeking some inspiration this holiday season.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will To Survive

A book almost tailor-made as a conversation piece, Stephanie Land’s Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive takes the reader from story to story covering topics such as: living on food stamps and coupons to eat, government programs that provide basic housing, halfway houses, and being called lucky to receive such services. This is a collection of not only Land’s experiences, but that of the working poor, who Land refers to as “servant” workers. The work acts as a tribute to the human spirit.

Companion guides, based on the work from Maid, can be found online, which act as discussion aids and include a wealth of information and prompts. This could be a great choice for a book club looking for its next selection.

The British Are Coming

Another top pick for our history buffs. Rick Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn, issues his first of the Revolution Trilogy intallment, recounting the first 21 months of America’s war for independence in The British Are Coming. Atkinson covers the battles at Lexington and Concord in spring 1775 to those at Trenton and Princeton in winter 1777. The tale includes Henry Knox, the bookseller with a knack for artillery; Nathanael Greene, the battle captain; and the familiar Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

What makes Atkinson’s take on this time period unique is his inclusion of the British perspective, giving the work a bit more of a compelling flavor than your typical historical recollection piece. If you are looking for a fresh take on American history, Atkinson’s first installment of the Revolution Trilogy is a good place to start.

And, there you have it. The top six picks for fiction and nonfiction here at the Nantucket Atheneum in 2019. Take advantage and place a hold on one of these selections for the holiday season. Chances are you’ll wish you had, especially when needing an excuse to take a break from all the festivities.

Daniel Griffin works as a library associate on the circulation desk as well as in the Adult Programs Department.