SR! 2013 Season News

Saratoga Reads Announces Top Five Books for Public Vote

Special event on Oct. 16 will give an inside look at top contenders

Saratoga Reads has announced that out of some 87 titles nominated by the public for this year’s book of choice, five have been selected as finalists.

The winning title will be decided by public vote, with area residents having until October 31 to cast their ballots. The selected book will be announced in mid-November.

Among the top five contenders are three novels—The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, Doc by Mary Doria Russell, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. The ballot also includes two memoirs—Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup (as told to David Wilson) and Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton.

Voters are urged to read the descriptions of the books here. Votes may be cast online at the Saratoga Reads site here or at ballot boxes available at the Saratoga Springs Public Library and at Barnes & Noble in Wilton.

“This ballot launches our ninth year of Saratoga Reads with five great books that are engaging and thought-provoking,” said Tabitha Orthwein, chair of the board of Saratoga Reads. “Each of the books has the potential to inspire great programming and discussion, and now we need the community to make the tough choice as to the top book.”

To help readers learn more about the five books, Saratoga Reads will offer a “meet the candidates” event on Oct. 16, 7-8:30 p.m., at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. The evening will include an introduction to each of the top choices, a scavenger hunt designed to give new insights into the books, and door prizes.

The event organizers are making a special effort to appeal to book clubs, in celebration of National Reading Group Month. In addition to a discussion on recommended books for reading clubs, the evening will offer as a door prize a Skype session with Nancy Pearl, author of the BookLust series, NPR book reviewer, and leading proponent of the one-city, one-book concept.

Once the winning book is announced, the public is encouraged to read the selected title and to develop and participate in a host of educational and cultural activities connected to the book’s themes. In late November, Saratoga Reads will issue a list of junior companion books on related themes for pre-K and up.

“As Saratoga Reads grows in popularity, we are making a special effort to reach out to all of Saratoga County,” said Orthwein. “Our programs have wide appeal, and we want as many people as possible to join us and to take advantage of them.”

The Saratoga Reads Selection Advisory Group, a committee of some 25 community members, reviewed the nominated titles and held a series of meetings to come up with a list of the top choices. The group determined the list based on each book’s potential to spark discussion and community programming, and on the quality of writing and appeal to a range of interests and age groups.

Saratoga Reads centers on the community-wide reading of a single book and is dedicated to creating a shared conversation and a range of events and activities for area residents. To inspire young readers, the organization each year produces a list of junior companion books for a variety of reading levels.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Cousins Josef Kavalier and Samuel Klayman dream big in this novel set against the looming backdrop of WWII. Cramped in their Brooklyn apartment, Joe, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Prague, longs to assimilate into American culture, and Sam, a polio survivor, longs to be free of his handicap and humble surroundings. Together they create a pantheon of comic book heroes, including the dashing Escapist and the voluptuous Luna Moth, who fight against Hitler and for justice. Rooted in the golden age of comic books, with themes of race, gender, religion, war, and mysticism, this is a compelling and entertaining tour de force of imagination.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson
This fascinating narrative with local ties recounts the history of Solomon Northup, a freeborn black man who was living with his family in Saratoga Springs in 1841, when two men enticed him to join their traveling circus act as a musician. Following the unscrupulous men to Washington, D.C., Northup is apparently drugged, and awakes shackled and imprisoned. From this harrowing point, the narrative follows Northup’s illegal sale into slavery and chronicles his travails as he is passed from one owner to another and the political wrangling necessary for him to regain his freedom and be reunited with his family.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell
This meticulously researched novel breathes new life into the story of dentist and conflicted aesthete John Henry “Doc” Holliday; his lover Kate, the classically educated Hungarian prostitute; and his friend, the reluctant lawman Wyatt Earp. Pre-dating the legendary events at the OK Corral, the action centers on Doc’s attempts to raise money for his legitimate dental practice by gambling, and the relationships between these larger-than-life figures. In the hands of a gifted writer who is as interested in fully developing characters as she is in telling an entertaining story, this novel simultaneously transcends and celebrates the western genre.

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
This no-holds-barred memoir chronicles the family and culinary life of the prickly chef and owner of the New York bistro Prune. Left largely to her own devices at the tender age of 13, Hamilton becomes embroiled in the seedy world of crime, drug use, and illegal restaurant work. After stints working for caterers and in summer-camp kitchens, and relying on the kindness of strangers while backpacking through Europe, Hamilton eventually enrolls in an MFA writing course, opens her own restaurant, and starts a family. Often crass, sometimes poignant, and always edgy, Blood, Bones, and Butter combines brilliant writing and colorful storytelling.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Set on the lakeside Wisconsin campus of fictional Westish College, this expansive novel centers around the interwoven stories of the college’s president, who is a distinguished Melville scholar; his adult daughter, who moves home following the breakup of her marriage; and three members of the college’s baseball team. Team captain Mike is a mentor and leader for his fellow players, yet his personal life and future are in doubt; happy-go-lucky Owen becomes the object of the college president’s affections; and shortstop Henry’s phenomenal season tanks following an accident. Full of love, baseball, and literary allusions, this is a big-hearted, ambitious book.