In honor of our INseperable initiative, we’ve curated an INseparable book collection for our Novel Conversations lending library. The collection explores urban, rural and suburban dynamics in Indiana, the Midwest and the country at large. While the titles approach these geographic boundaries from all different angles and genres, they are rich for discussion about how we relate to each other, what unites and divides us and how we perceive shared differences across the lines.
Starting April 1, we will have at least 15 copies of each title that you can check out for free to read with your book club. Here’s an introduction to the 12 titles and an excerpt from each that we think elucidates the spirit of INseperable.
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
We selected this National Book Award finalist as our One State / One Story selection for INseparable. The book explores the last few decades of the 20th century in America through the lens of one rural Iowan family, who struggles to find their place in a rapidly changing country. As the siblings struggle with staying or leaving the place they have called home, they confront a variety of issues—the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the farm crisis, alcoholism, and economic changes.
“The Great State of Alienation. It stretched from sea to shining sea. Everybody in America is one of two things, either in or out. His wife was right, they’d worked so hard and were so proud to be on the outside of everything they’d grown up with. But they were inside of nothing but themselves.”
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Written by Yale Law School graduate J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy recounts the author’s experiences growing up in a poor Rust Belt town during the late 20th century. With memorable characters, humor, tragedy and heartbreak, the memoir examines the poverty and disintegration of the white working class, what it means to escape that experience and how upward mobility only comes with sacrifice.
“I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”
Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James and Deborah Fallows
Documenters of Our Towns, husband and wife team James and Deborah Fallows have traveled across the United States for the last five years in a single-engine prop airplane to discover the country’s complexities, contradictions, dysfunctions and determination. Later this month, the Fallowses will be joining Indiana Humanities in several locations for conversations about what thriving towns and cities have in common, who’s trying new ideas that work and how Hoosiers are working through differences to solve local problems. Learn more here.
“Through America’s history, its people have been in motion, by choice and by necessity, for reasons good and bad. Its communities have prospered, and have shrunk and suffered. The nation has been buffeted and surprised, it has been pushed backward and has found an uneven way forward.”
The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1918, Indiana author Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons tells the story of a prominent and powerful Midwestern family at the end of the 19th century, who meet their demise when they fail to adapt to increasing urbanization and industrialization. Though admittedly dated, the book addresses a number of issues that are still relevant today as Hoosiers consider our response to change and progress.
“There aren’t any old times. When times are gone they’re not old, they’re dead! There aren’t any times but new times!”
The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior
In this collection of essays, St. Louis-based journalist Sarah Kendzior provides an account of the often overlooked American heartland. She examines the ways that labor exploitation, race relations, gentrification and media bias have helped shape the current political landscape. In doing so the book opens up room for genuine and honest dialogue about the ways America might fix its problems.
“Americans should not fear riots. They should fear apathy. They should fear acquiescence. They should not fear each other. But it is understandable, now, that they do.”
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Taking place in the affluent, progressive Cleveland suburb Shaker Heights, Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel recounts the intertwining stories of a suburban family and two new tenants, who disrupt and threaten their carefully ordered life. Filled with complex family dynamics and community politics, the book explores class, race, motherhood, privilege and the power of the past to shape the future.
“All up and down the street the houses looked like any others—but inside them were people who might be happy, or taking refuge, or steeling themselves to go out into the world, searching for something better. So many lives she would never know about, unfolding behind those doors.”
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
Written by Indianapolis author Jay Coles, Tyler Johnson Was Here tells the story of a teenage boy whose life gets torn apart by police brutality, when his twin brother goes missing. This young adult novel is a powerful and moving portrait of grief and brotherhood that highlights current societal issues including gun control, drug use, the Black Lives Matter movement, and systemic racism.
“Hate is too ugly of a thing for some people to acknowledge, but the thing about hate is you can’t throw it on someone else without getting a little bit on yourself.”
Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana by James Madison
Preeminent Indiana historian, James Madison, takes a realistic view into the state’s complicated history, seeking to understand, rather than condemn or praise, the Hoosier past’s strengths, ambiguities and shortcomings. With a sweeping scope that begins with the Ice Age and ends with forward-looking considerations toward the 21st century, Madison recounts Indiana’s historical and current place in a rapidly changing world—including discussions of the growth of cities and suburbs, sobering aspects of our troubling racial history and a variety of other relevant political and social topics.
“Nearly gone too was the rural, agrarian Indiana celebrated in James Whitcomb Riley’s poetry, T.C. Steele’s landscapes, and the state song, ‘On the Banks of the Wabash.’ Such magical marks of the past persisted in memory, along with Indiana’s best traditions, but they did not stop the winds of change.”
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior tells the story of a small, tightly-knit farming community that suddenly rethinks their relations to each other and their environment when thousands of beautiful butterflies mysteriously appear in a nearby wood. As the topic of one of our INseparable Speakers Bureau talks by Pamela Carralero of Purdue University, the book is an appropriate entryway into discussions of why and how we value the Indiana environments we live within and also prompts consideration of how we might build relations with Hoosier communities beyond our own to ensure the health of regional relations, livelihoods and ecologies.
“They couldn’t close out the whole world, maybe, but they could sure find something on their TV or radio to put scientists or foreigners or whatever they thought he was in a bad light… If people played their channels right, they could be spared from disagreement for the length of their natural lives. Finally she got it. The need for so many channels.”
Run by Ann Patchett
Taking place in just 24 hours, Ann Patchett’s Run explores issues of politics, race and class through the lens of one family, whose life is changed by an unexpected accident. The book shows two completely different worlds, just blocks apart—the Doyle family in their affluent suburban home and a mother and daughter’s poverty-ridden urban tenement. When these strangers are thrown together, seemingly by chance, each one begins to question what it really means to be family.
“Politicians never mentioned the details of life because of course the details that appealed to one person could repel another, so what you wound up with in the end were a long string of generalities, stirring platitudes that could not buy you supper.”
Map to the Stars by Adrian Matejka
In this collection of poetry, Indiana Poet Laureate Adrian Matejka writes about what it was like to grow up as a young black boy in Indianapolis in the 1980s. The narrator of the poems finds himself in urban Indianapolis and an unnamed suburb but longs to escape to the cosmos. In a time of space shuttles and the Strategic Defense Initiative, Star Trek and Sun Ra, the stars both guide and obscure the earthly complexities of race, poverty, masculinity and migration.
“Now this is living, the dad says,
Standing on the front step next to his dogs, fallen
leaves loitering along the insistently demarcated
property lines. Fences & more fences blocking off
bits of land below the expanding sky map while
the rest of the roundabout worlds try to keep up.”
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
A National Book Award Finalist, Angela Flournoy’s debut novel explores a changing community through the lens of one house and family on the east side of Detroit. As the community shifts outward toward the suburbs, the matriarch of the family must grapple with her home’s fallen property value. Her children return home to help her decide the home’s fate and are confronted with the past and its shaping power on their family’s future.
“Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time… We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone.”
The post was written by Bronwen Carlisle, who manages Novel Conversations, our free statewide lending library. Indiana Humanities lends more than 700 titles, primarily fiction and biography, to reading and discussion groups all over Indiana, free of charge. We also have books available in several other genres, including nonfiction, mysteries, plays, poetry and young adult.