Book choice for March

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink [suggested by Susan Owens]

front cover

Originally published in Switzerland and gracefully translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway, The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, reading and shame in post-war Germany.  Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman.  He never learns very much about her and when she disappears one day, he expects never to see her again.  But, to his horror, he does.  Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime.  As Michael follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: what should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust?  "We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable...  Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt?  To what purpose?"

The Reader, which won the Boston Book Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, wrestles with many more demons in its few, remarkably lucid pages.  What does it mean to love those people - parents, grandparents, even lovers - who committed the worst atrocities the world has ever known?  And is any atonement possible through literature?  Schlink's prose is clean and pared down, stripped of unnecessary imagery, dialogue and excess in any form.  What remains is an austerely beautiful narrative of the attempt to breach the gap between Germany's pre and post-war generations, between the guilty and the innocent and between words and silence.  (Synopsis from

The Reader has been an Oprah Winfrey book club choice

Bernhard Schlink was born in Germany in 1944.  A professor of law at the University of Berlin and a practising judge, he is the author of the major international best-selling novel The Reader as well as several prize-winning crime novels.  He lives in Bonn and Berlin.

For more information see his Bibliography at fantastic fiction or his Wikipedia entry.


Shortlisted for this month

Only Forward [suggested by Jane Hately]

Only Forward

We'd like to introduce you to a guy called Stark...  Oh, and by the way, good luck... Stark is the hero the future is waiting for - God help it - smart, cool, and with great taste in shirts.  He's a trouble-shooter in The City, a lawless sprawl of Neighbourhoods which covers the country from coast to coast.  Each AI-enhanced Neighbourhood is totally dedicated to fulfilling the desires of its inhabitants - whatever they may be. Stark accepts a job from Zenda Renn, the human face of the can-do Action Centre - the Neighbourhood for people who have to be doing something all the time.  She's under-supervisor of Really Hustling Things Along, in the Department of Doing Things Especially Quickly - and she's got a big problem... Stark is forced to confront both his past and a present which has become a living death - for at the heart of Only Forward's polymorphic imagination lies a story of love lost and friendship betrayed.  It takes him to places where dreams live, where they can come true, for better or for worse.  Where they can kill you. In a world where past and future, reality and nightmare meet up and have a fistfight, Stark is the only man who can make the difference.  Time's running out, and there's no going back... only forward. (synopsis from the author's website)

About the Author

Michael Marshall (Smith) is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter.  His first novel, ONLY FORWARD, won the August Derleth and Philip K. Dick awards.  SPARES and ONE OF US were optioned for film by DreamWorks and Warner Brothers.  The Straw Men trilogy - THE STRAW MEN, THE LONELY DEAD and BLOOD OF ANGELS - were international bestsellers.  He is a three-time winner of the BFS Award for short fiction, and his stories are collected in two volumes - WHAT YOU MAKE IT and MORE TOMORROW AND OTHER STORIES (which won the International Horror Guild Award).  His new novel - THE INTRUDERS - will be available in 2007. He lives in North London with his wife Paula, a son and two cats.

All the above information is lifted from Michael Marshall Smith's website and naturally he also has a page on Wikipedia.


American Gods [suggested by Jodie Shard]

American Gods

This is the story of Shadow, who is released from prison following his wife's death and finds himself in the employ of a man named Wednesday. As Shadow and Wednesday travel across America, another world is revealed.  Scraping a living among the people of the modern world are old gods, brought to America in the beliefs of settlers and slaves.  These ancient gods, their power waning as they are forgotten, find themselves threatened by the young gods of modern America, gods of TV and technology.  This is a book which meanders, and Gaiman clearly feels that the journey is far more important than the destination.  In this case I agree, but if you don't, then don't worry because despite its meandering, the book builds towards the battle between the old gods and the new.  Of the new gods, my favourite element was the spooks, sinister Men-in-Black type characters who represent the height of modern mythology.  However, it is Shadow's encounters with the old gods that makes for the most compelling reading.  They range from Odin to the spider-god Anansi to the Egyptian gods of death and the underworld.  I was only sorry that my insufficent understanding of mythology meant that I didn't understand some of Gaiman's more subtle references.  There are also some brilliantly written interludes which reveal how some of these older gods first arrived in America, telling stories of Viking explorers, stone age nomads, African slaves and Cornish thieves.  In short, this book contains its own mythology, whilst being about the concept of that mythology itself. (synopsis from

About the Author

Bestselling author Neil Gaiman has long been one of the top writers in modern comics, as well as writing books for readers of all ages.  He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers, and is a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama.  His New York Times bestselling 2001 novel for adults, American Gods, was awarded the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, SFX, and Locus awards, was nominated for many other awards, including the World Fantasy Award and the Minnesota Book Award, and appeared on many best-of-year lists.

The above much-abridged version of his biography is taken from Neil Gaiman's website.


Previous Months' Book Choices

February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006