LEAVING VAN GOGH by Carol Wallace

Vincent Van Gogh had lived only seventy days in the small community of Auvers-sur-Oise, Northwest of Paris, since arriving in early May. He had been released from an asylum in the South of France and come North to be nearer his brother Theo, who supported him financially. In an astonishing feat of creativity, he dashed off luminous canvases at the rate of one or more per day, until his darkness returned and he went out into a field and shot himself. Carol Wallace’s novel is an account of those seventy days, as told by the person who was the reason for Vincent’s choice of Auvers: Dr. Paul Gachet.

April 19, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, France

PYM by Mat Johnson

Chris Jaynes has just been fired from his position as the token black professor at a prestigious liberal arts college, and retaliates by visiting the president and snatching off his red bow tie. This none-too-subtle reference to the preferred attire of Leon Botstein, president of Bard College where author Mat Johnson also taught, launches the book as a satire, but gives little hint of the likability of its hero or the fascination of the study of race that will follow. Johnson turns the subject inside out, standing it on its head, looking at race with an outrageous accuracy whose aim falls on black and white alike. Forgive me, therefore, if I set the comedy aside for the moment and concentrate on the book’s intellectual underpinnings.

Much of the debate concerns the nature of blackness itself, beginning with the protagonist’s own racial identity.

April 3, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Class - Race - Gender, Contemporary, Humorous, Satire, Unique Narrative


Struggling writer and coffee barista, Ian Minot, is frustrated and depressed. For one thing, he just can’t seem to write the kind of stories that will get the publishing world’s attention. After all, Ian knows, his life isn’t as glamorous as his Romanian’s girlfriend’s Anya Petrescu, whose travails under Ceausescu, has landed her an attractive publishing contract. In a snide reference to the New Yorker’s 40 Under 40 list, Ian points out that “Anya had recently been named one of American Review’s ‘31 Most Promising Writers Under 31.’ This year, I was too old to qualify,” he adds.

August 26, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Humorous, Literary, New York City, Thriller/Spy/Caper


The “American girl” in the title of this novel refers to Eveline Auerbach, who, when the book opens, is a junior in high school. The novel is set in the late 70’s in East Hampton, New York.

Evie (as she is often referred to) suffers two big blows right off the bat. A strong maternal figure in her life, Maman, dies from cancer. Incidentally Maman’s daughter, Kate is a close friend of Evie’s. Second, Evie is raped by two high school classmates (for those squeamish about this, there is no graphic description here).

June 14, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Contemporary, Debut Novel, NE & New York, Reading Guide

NOTHING TO ENVY by Barbara Demick

There is much earthy wisdom in the saying: “One death is a tragedy; a thousand is a statistic.” By narrating the life stories of six North Korean defectors and their daily struggles, author Barbara Demick underscores this point beautifully. Her moving book NOTHING TO ENVY: ORDINARY LIVES IN NORTH KOREA, lets us look at the human angle behind the news headlines.

March 27, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Korea, National Book Award Finalist, Non-fiction, y Award Winning Author

THE BIG MACHINE by Victor LaValle

THE BIG MACHINE is a genre-busting romp through the fields of good and evil. Part mystery, part science fiction, part philosophy, and part theology, this book takes us on a heady journey from underneath the earth’s surface to the wonderment of the universe.

March 26, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, Mystery/Suspense, Speculative (Beyond Reality), Thriller/Spy/Caper