November 29, 2012

November - Book Club, What Book Club?

That book? The one there to the left? That's the one we were supposed to be discussing in November. The problem was that I threw a meeting and nobody came. After a disappointing turnout in October, I made the decision to not ask anyone to host in November so no one had to prepare food, buy wine, and clean their house only to have just two people come. The problem with this plan, a problem that occurred to me about an hour before the November meeting was scheduled to begin? What if no one shows up and I'm sitting in a bar by myself? Yeah, well, that is exactly what would have happened if I had not called Linda to see if she was coming - reminding her that we were having book club. She came, we enjoyed drinks and conversation, including a call to Mari. But we didn't talk about the book because neither of them had read the book.

So here's where we're at ladies: do we even have a book club any more? Or are we just a group of friends who meet once a month to talk, laugh, and spend a little bit of time discussing what we've read? I'm fine with that - it would certainly save me some time and effort!

If we're still a book club, I think we really need to talk about what it's going to take to get people to read the books that are selected, how we can get new members, and how we want to handle meetings moving forward. If there are books you think would make good choices, by all means let me know and we can read them. I would like to ask that if we're reading a book you've selected, I'd like you to be the person to step up and lead the discussion. We stay on task better if we have some questions ready. I'm working on putting together choices for the first half of the year, but I'm more than willing to change things up if there's something you really want to read.

In December, our selection is The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman; Mari highly recommends this one. In January, I've selected Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, a book about growing up British in Africa as the countries on that contact begin to revolt against British rule. For February we'll be reading Cathy Marie Buchanan's latest novel, The Painted Girls. This one is just coming out in January so get your requests into the library soon because we'll be talking to Cathy (we Skyped with her before when we read The Day The Falls Stood Still).

October 5, 2012

September - Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

What a great meeting we had in September! A huge thank you to Cheryl for not only suggesting "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand (the story of Olympian Louis Zamperini's experiences during World War II) but also for coming up with the idea to invite guests. Thanks to Jill's mom and Lisa's parents for joining us and to Robyn for hosting us.

All of us enjoyed the book and Hillenbrand's writing style. Lisa's dad did wonder if some of the details had been embellished; it does seem that it would be difficult to recall things such as what was eaten on the 31st day of being adrift on the ocean. It was also brought up that the book lacked some introspection (we rarely got a chance to see into Louie's mind) but all felt that the book had enough going for it that it succeeded even without this.

We spent a lot of time talking about man's capacity for cruelty as well as man's capacity for survival and for forgiveness. Hillenbrand gives a good explanation of why the Japanese seemed to be particularly cruel to their prisoners. Even so, it seemed to us that alone could not explain the extreme cruelty some of the guards displayed. While Zamperini was eventually able to forgive his captors, we agreed that we can't imagine being able to do that. Lisa said that even as she was reading about it, she remained angry for Louie and gained an understanding of her dad's reluctance to buy Japanese cars for decades after the war. Turns out he was not the only father who felt that way.

The failure of the military and the medical profession to deal with the mental aftermath of the war was another topic of discussion that really got us going. The fact that World War II followed so closely on the heels of World War I could have had an impact in that there was no time to really concentrate on what might have been learned from that war. On the other hand, it seemed to us that having so recently had to deal with men suffering in the same way, doctors should have learned something. Then again, we still don't seem to do a very good job helping returning soldiers deal with the mental aspect of what they've seen and done.

With guests and a list of questions, we definitely did a better job of staying on task, although we made plenty of time to talk about how the war affected our own families. Jill's mom had recently listened to a Vietnam vet who has written a book talk about his experiences. She was surprised about his ability to laugh and tell jokes about the things they had done. It was interesting to compare the two wars and the difference in the way people treated returning soldiers.

We had such great fun having guest with us - we'll definitely be looking for a book for next year to span the generations! Thanks to Lisa's dad for using his computer magic to give us a picture that includes all of us!

July 10, 2012

I Know It's Only July, But...

With our 2012 reading schedule set (assuming any of you are even reading the selections any more), I'm already looking forward to 2013. There are so many great books out there, it's hard to narrow it down to just twelve, plus they need to be twelve books that are discussion worthy (assuming again that any one has read the book to be able to discuss it!).

Linda has suggested we read something by the author Sarah Vowell. Her most recent book is Assassination Vacation but she's written a number of books, anyone of which would give us a lot to talk about. Vowell is a regular contributor to NPR's "This American Life" and she's both a bright and funny lady.

I've read a lot of books this year that I think would make great book club choices, including Amir Towles' Rules of Civility, Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone, Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins and my most recent 5 star read Ami McKay's The Virgin Cure. McKay's name may sound familiar to you - we read her book The Birth House several years ago and it was probably the best discussion we ever had. Although I can never think of that book without thinking of Eleanor. Our discussion brought us around to talking about our own childbirth experiences and Eleanor had experienced three entirely different circumstances. It was fascinating to hear her talk about them.

THE book making the most buzz on book blogs, radio, and in newspaper book reviews is Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. I think this is one we definitely need to add to next year's list.

Mari's most recent "loved it" book is Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers. This would be an entirely different kind of read for us in some ways but it is a story about women that sounds intriguing.

Have you read anything or heard about anything that you think would make a great selection for book club?

June 21, 2012

June Selection - Generation A

We're sure on a roll for picking books that no one really likes! Only two of us had finished the book and recommended that anyone who hadn't not bother. Generation A by Douglas Coupland has an interesting enough premise: all of the bees on earth disappeared five years ago when suddenly five young people spread all over the planet are stung by bees. Why did they disappear, where did these bees come from, and why these people? Linda found the characters somewhat charming but Lisa thought they were all awful people. Linda and Lisa agreed that the plot got very muddled as the book progressed and Coupland tried to answer the above questions. Ellen pointed out the book is shelved with the adult fiction but Lisa felt that the book struggled as an adult work, with the writing feeling much more like a young adult book, except there were too many things that were utterly inappropriate for young people. Still, Linda and Lisa agreed that it was good to try something different.

What really got us excited was the idea of a multi-generational book club month. We agreed that Unbroken by Laura Hildebrand would make a good choice for a book to share with our parents. This required some tweaking of the schedule to move Unbroken into our September slot and we'll need to find a weekend date for the meeting. Cheryl suggested we make it a tea party which should be fun; maybe Linda will make some cucumber sandwiches! See the list of books for the rest of the year for the changes.

June 2, 2012

May Meeting - So Much For That

That title pretty much sums it up. Three of us were at the meeting and none of us had finished the book. Lisa got the furthest but her copy had been thrown across the room repeatedly. Sure there is a lot to talk about in this book but mostly we talked about how little we liked it. Too much going on, too much whining, too much anger. Was Shriver trying to stir up emotion, to intentionally make her readers angry? Or did she really just not research her topics well enough to be accurate?

Glynnis' attitude as she dealt with cancer and treatments, while understandable, was hard to read. It made it hard to empathize. It also gave us a much greater appreciation for the grace and strength Eleanor showed throughout her own battle with cancer. Where Glynnis was unceasingly bitter and difficult to be around, Eleanor was truly an inspiration.

May 20, 2012

April Meeting - The Coffins of Little Hope

Our April book was Timothy Schaffert's The Coffins of Little Hope. Almost everyone had read it, or most of it, and all enjoyed it. Schaffert's writing style was very popular and his characters were a hit with the readers. Was Lenore real or not? We came to no conclusion. One of Lisa's favorite passages when she read the book a year ago was on the opening page and it turned out to be one that really grabbed Linda as well. She read it aloud:

"I still used a manual typewriter (a 1853 Underwood portable, in a robin's-egg blue) because the soft pip-pip-pip of the typing of keys on a computer keyboard doesn't quite fit with my sense of what writing sounds like. I need the hard metal clack, and need those keys to sometimes catch so I can reach in and untangle them, turning my fingertips inky."
It was great to hear the passage read aloud. Made an excellent point for "reading" this one on audio!

March 22, 2012

March Meeting - The Sun Also Rises

Well, then...for a book that only three people showed up to discuss and only one person finished (well, at least in the past decade), we managed to have quite a good discussion about this one. Cheryl had, by way of no one else voicing an opinion, chosen this one but she found it so boring that she gave up and decided just to do some research on the internet about it. Linda had read the book thirty years ago and clearly had not enjoyed it enough to give it a re-read! 

We talked quite a bit about Hemingway's writing style and how it changed the way books were written. For Lisa, who is also currently reading Charles Dickens, this one was quite a change. It was pointed out that Hemingway, especially when there are only two characters involved in a dialogue, doesn't let the reader know who is speaking. It really does force the reader to pay attention.

Hemingway has something of a reputation for being a misogynist, so it was surprising to Lisa to find that the only lead female character, Brett, was really the only character who seemed to feel any remorse for any of her actions (although she certainly was amoral). Cheryl said this was something that she had found in her research as well. Frankly, none of the characters were people to like ... but they didn't provoke much of a response one way or the other which was a disappointment.

We talked about the way in which Hemingway wrote about black characters, being Jewish, and even being gay. Very derogatory and, in this day and age, a bit surprising. It would cause quite a stir to write a book like this today.

We talked some more about what we're going to read in the coming months. Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" was added to the list - Cheryl has been raving about this one for years. We've got two months still open yet so we're looking for suggestions. We also talked about having Timothy Schaffert join us in April; we can't ask him to do that, though, if we don't make sure we're going to have a good turnout of people who have read the book.

February Meeting - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

We had a good turnout for our February meeting and even got to have Barb join us via Skype. As usual, it was hard to keep us on track but we still managed to have an interesting discussion about the book. Robyn, in particular, had a lot to say about the feelings the book brought up for her. The ethics involved in using cells and other parts of bodies, without their knowledge or even with it, really got us talking. This one was definitely a hit with the group. This one allowed even those that didn't make it through the book to have plenty to contribute without risking any spoilers.

We had a good chance to talk about some possible suggestions for the remainder of the year and a about what everyone is reading outside of book club. Ellen had just finished a Wendy Wasserstein autobiography that got everyone interested in both it and the subject of memoirs and biographies.

February 13, 2012

Some Suggestions For The Last Six Months of 2012

Here are a few suggestions that have come up as books we might consider reading in the final six months of the year. Let's discuss them on Tuesday and be sure to bring us any other suggestions you might have!

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there's an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers. Providence is giving Lenka and Josef one more chance. From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit- and the strength of memory.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Death Comes to Pemberley: A Novel by P. D. James

A rare meeting of literary genius: P. D. James, long among the most admired mystery writers of our time, draws the characters of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice into a tale of murder and emotional mayhem.

It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball.

Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.

Inspired by a lifelong passion for Austen, P. D. James masterfully re-creates the world of Pride and Prejudice, electrifying it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted crime story, as only she can write it.

February 6, 2012

January Meeting: Well That Was A Bust!

Four of us met in January to discuss Nicole Krauss' The History of Love and I think I'm the only one that even liked it - no, I know I'm the only one that even liked it! Poor Jill took it with her on a trip to Colorado. It was the only book she took and she just had to force herself to read it!

It was unanimously felt that the book was difficult to follow and those of us that finished the book thought the ending was odd. I wondered, at the end, if Bruno was even a real person or a figment of Leo's imagination. Anyone read this who wasn't at the meeting and have a thought on this? I really liked Leo, I felt so sorry for him. Here was a man who went out everyday just to make sure someone would notice that he was alive that day. No one else really connected with any of the characters.

Everyone seemed to be looking forward to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for February. There is so much to discuss in this one. The story of the family, the amazing science, the writing, the ethics. Hope you all get a chance to read this one and join us to discuss it. We're going to try to do some Skyping; Barb wants to join us. She has a friend from work who will, hopefully, be joining us!