At first glance, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette might not seem like it would merit four weeks of discussion. The novel has a bright cover, featuring a sunglasses-bedecked woman and blurbs from the New York Times and young adult author John Green. “Divinely funny” and “A moving, smart page turner . . . the funniest novel I’ve read in years,” these two sources respectively proclaim. A “funny” story told from the perspective of a fifteen-year old girl, Where’d You Go, Bernadette seems like it is more appropriate for a day at the beach than a law firm’s meeting space or a college course.
And yet, the novel is much more than a coming-of-age comedy. What can popular literature teach us about self-reflection and connection with others?
In May of this year, Cyrus Copeland won the Chautauqua Literary Prize for his book, Off the Radar: A Father’s Secret, A Mother’s Heroism, and a Son’s Quest. Part memoir, part history, part cultural exploration, Copeland recounts his father’s quiet 1979 imprisonment in Iran in the lee of the American Embassy hostage crisis. An American academic and Westinghouse contractor accused of smuggling and spying, Max Copeland’s life was skillfully saved by his brilliant Iranian wife, the first female “lawyer” in an Islamic court. Alternatively told through four sets of eyes – mother Shahin, father Max, contemporary Cyrus and adolescent Cyrus – this unassuming search to understand whether his late father was a CIA agent, and to better know the man whose full persona had eluded him, is gripping and entertaining. And strangely familiar.