When the weather outside is frightful, nothing beats curling up in a favorite chair, with or without a roaring fire, to enjoy a book. But what to read? You can read book reviews or check the list of best sellers. We prefer the more personal touch, however, and head to our favorite, The Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Avenue at 93rd Street. The store’s knowledgeable staff (they actually read books!) makes good recommendations for soothing the soul on a stormy day.
What makes a good read? “For me, it’s a book that has an expansive story and good character development,” says Matt McCarthy, who works at The Corner Bookstore. By the time you finish the book, “you feel like you’ve known the person.”
Here are Matt’s picks, all available at The Corner Bookstore, where you may also have your selection wrapped if it’s a gift.
Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips. Set in the 1950s in West Virginia and Korea, Phillips tells the story of Lark, 17, and her brother, Termite, who is unable to walk or talk. If you’ve read any of Phillips previous novels (Motherkind, Shelter), you know that few authors are able to create such believable characters, setting them against, what seem like, unbeatable odds. Yet, in the end, the human spirit triumphs.
The Piano Teacher, Janice Y.K. Lee. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Lee’s debut novel has all the elements that will keep you turning the pages—war, romance, intrigue, and a beautifully detailed portrait of a city. Claire Pendleton, married to a boring diplomat, finds a job teaching piano to the daughter of a wealthy Chinese couple, Victor and Melody Chen. She has an affair with the Chen’s driver, Will Truesdale, who during World War II spent time in a Japanese prison camp and made some decisions that still haunt him.
A Mercy, Toni Morrison. No one has written about slavery with more compassion and sensitivity than Morrison. Her novel, Beloved, won the Pulitzer Prize and helped further our understanding of this dark chapter in U.S. history. A Mercy continues those lessons, centering around four women, one white, one Native American, and two African American, all trapped in their own way.
The Sky Below, Stacey D’Erasmo. Abandoned as a child by his father, Gabriel Callahan spends his adolescence and young adulthood trying to make sense of himself and his life. His talent, to create still lifes from found objects, seems like a metaphor for his search. His journey eventually takes him to Mexico where he, surprisingly, begins to find answers.
The Gate House, Nelson DeMille. If you’ve never read a Nelson DeMille novel, you are in for a treat. This book picks up where one of his previous novels, The Gold Coast, ended, so you may want to read that one first. Both concern wise-cracking attorney, John Sutter, whose wife, Susan, has an affair with a mafia don. The Gate House deals with the aftermath of the affair and the dangers posed by the don’s loose canon son. DeMille excels at snappy dialogue, some of it in John’s head, particularly as he tries to deal with his snobbish ex in-laws.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It’s 1946, and author Juliet Ashton is tired of writing upbeat stories about the war. When she receives a letter from a Guernsey farmer, asking if residents there may write to her their stories of surviving German occupation, she becomes intrigued. The story is told in letters that pass between Juliet and the Guernsey residents, culminating in her visit to the seaside town.
Sashenka, Simon Montefiore. A noted historian (Young Stalin, and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar), Montefiore has made the transition to fiction seamlessly with this novel centering on Sashenka Zeitlin, an idealistic Russian Jew who, in 1916, gets caught up in the Russian revolution, but by 1939 is facing destruction by Stalin’s secret police. The story jumps to 1994, where historian Katinka Vinsky, tries to uncover Sashenka’s fate.
The Zookeeper’s Wife, Diane Ackerman. The German invasion of Poland devastated Warsaw, including its zoo. With most of their animals dead, Jan and Antonina Zabinski used the cages to hide Jews. Others hid in the Zabinski’s villa. Interspersed among the stories of the humans are stories of the animals. Ultimately, it’s the story of survival and doing the impossible during impossible times.
If you hope to read the books before seeing the movies, The Corner Bookstore also stocks Oscar picks The Reader, Revolutionary Road, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The Corner Bookstore
1313 Madison Avenue at 93rd Street