Suggested One Read: In the Shadow of the Banyan

Book cover for In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner“This is the best book I have ever read.”

These are the words of the reader nominating “In the Shadow of the Banyan” by Vaddey Ratner to be the 2013 One Read selection. Our nominator continues: “The language of this book is exquisite. Radner explores her childhood in this autobiographical novel set in Cambodia during the regime of the Khmer Rouge. History personalized touches readers in a way that dry facts cannot. Older readers remember this time, and younger people may be introduced to an era with which they are unfamiliar.”

Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this novel is based on the author’s personal story. For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood, the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. (From the publisher’s description.)

Want to know what books others in your community have read and loved? See other readers’ nominations for One Read 2013.

Suggested One Read: Arcadia

Book cover for Arcadia by Lauren GroffComing-of-age stories make great choices for book discussions, and Lauren Groff’s “Arcadia” is no exception. The reader nominating this title for One Read explains, “This book follows a ‘hippie’ child from his utopian commune upbringing until his adulthood in New York. It is relevant right now because as he grows up, global climate change becomes a reality and the consequences are frightening and make for fascinating reading.” Groff’s lyrical, beautiful prose and richly detailed storytelling earned this title many starred reviews.

Want to know what other books people in your community are discussing? View all of the nominated titles we have highlighted here at so far, and find your next good read!

Suggested One Read: The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain

Book cover for The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain by Barbara StrauchGood news! The middle-aged mind is more flexible and capable than previously thought. The nominator of Barbara Strauch’s “The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-aged Mind” simply states that this highly readable and well-researched book is “perfect for ages 20-100.”

Science writer Strauch explores the latest findings that demonstrate, through the use of technology such as brain scans, that the brain reorganizes and improves many important functions in middle-age. By detailing exactly the normal, healthy brain functions over time, Strauch also explains how its optimal processes can be maintained.

Older is better! How refreshing!

Want more reading recommendations? See other books nominated for One Read 2013.

Suggested One Read: The Cat’s Table

Book cover for The Cat's Table by Michael OndaatjeWe received two nominations for “The Cat’s Table” by Michael Ondaatje. One nominator shared her writing group’s fondness for this “beautiful and poetic” novel: “Universally, they loved the book, language and fascinating storyline.”

Ondaatje, author of the critically acclaimed “The English Patient,” tells the story of 11-year-old Colombo who boards a ship bound for England in the early 1950s. Looking back from adulthood, the narrator relates a tale about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a sea voyage. Another nominator wrote, “There is much to discuss in this book: coming-of-age, loss of innocence, childhood experiences and their effects on an adult’s identity. Plus, an ocean journey!”

See other readers’ nominations for One Read 2013.

Suggested One Read: How to Read the Air

Book cover for How to Read the Air by Dinaw MengestuCritically acclaimed author Dinaw Mengestu describes the immigrant experience in hauntingly lovely prose in “How to Read the Air,” our next One Read nomination. This is the story of Jonas, who leaves behind his marriage and job in New York to recreate his mother and father’s road trip taken 30 years previously. Along the way he weaves together a family history that will take him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents’ youth to his life in the America of today.

Our nominator writes, “In gorgeous language, Mengestu explores the disintegration of relationships, the effects of abuse, the difficulties of immigration and the loss of one’s culture.”

Thank you to everyone who suggested books to be considered for the 2013 One Read program. As the reading panel begins its work, we will continue to highlight nominated titles so you can learn what others in the community are reading and discussing.