By Cathleen Towey Merenda
Reading takes us into the lives and thoughts of others and allows a reader to understand the motives and actions of a character, as well as the time and place of their story. These nonfiction and fiction books are written about interesting people who are worth understanding better.
Clementine by Sonia Purnell (Viking, 2015). If you like the era, story and style of “Downton Abbey,” you will enjoy this biography about the wife of Winston Churchill. Born into a titled family in 1885, Clementine’s early years were difficult as her parents divorced and the family struggled financially. She grew into a knowledgeable, charismatic woman and an influential and supportive wife to Winston, in spite of the fact that Clementine was a liberal to his Tory.
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet (St. Martin’s Press, 2015). In this debut novel, Lizet, the first person in her Cuban-American family to go to college, upsets her family by leaving Miami to attend a selective school in the northeast. At college, Lizet struggles to adjust to a new culture of demanding academics and students from completely different backgrounds. Ultimately she has to choose between staying true to her evolving self or returning to the familiar.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2016). Written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Olive Kitteridge. With an undiagnosed illness, a young mother ends up in the hospital, with a room with a view of the Chrysler building. Her mother, who she has not been close to, comes to visit and they rekindle their relationship with shared memories. Lucy’s childhood stories reminded me of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. The publishing date for this book is Jan. 5, 2016.
The Italians by John Hooper (Viking, 2015). This perceptive and engaging collection of essays is a thoughtful look at what makes Italians tick. Elegant, intelligent, full of life, lovers of food, family and il piacere di stare insieme (the joy of being together), this book explores their unique qualities. Readers will be enlightened by the history, geography and culture that influenced and molds the people of Italy.
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Shuster, 2015). This historical fiction book is written by talented and prolific author who grew up on Long Island. It is based on the true story of Rachel, a Jewish woman who lived on St. Thomas in the 1800’s and was the mother of the French Impressionist, Camille Sisley. Rachel makes a love match with a younger man that caused a break from her religious community on the insular island. Her strength and wisdom eventually led to her sending her gifted son to Paris to become a great artist.
Cathleen Towey Merenda is the director of the Westbury Memorial Public Library and served on the Carnegie Medal Committee for the American Library Association in 2014.