December 16, 2014

December: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I think it's safe to say that this book scared all of us. It certainly had our jaws dropping and our tears flowing. Most importantly, it had us talking.

Ann's mom, who also read the book, asked Ann to find out what we all thought of Alice's husband, John. He would certainly not win a husband of the year award from any of us, but there were varying degrees of understanding where he was concerned. Grace pointed out that John never changed throughout the book - he was a man in no way prepared to deal with Alice's diagnosis. Not only that, we decided, he had in his head, and he may have been right, that Alice, as she was before Alzheimer's, would have wanted him to accept that job that would pull him away from her when she most needed him to help. Still, we couldn't help but be frustrated by a husband who would walk away from his wife in need and leave her to their children to be cared for.

While much of the book was depressing, scary, and even shocking, we enjoyed watching the relationship change between Alice and her children, especially between Lydia and Alice. Even though Lydia was first child Alice began forgetting, the disease seemed to bring them closer. It was touching to see the girls caring for their mother, even though by the end of the book she referred to them as "The Actress" and "The Mother."

We talked a lot about how accurate the book was. Given Genova's training and experience, it seems reasonable to assume that it is relatively true to one possible course the disease might take. Of course,  this also sparked a lot of discussion about the people we all have known who suffered from the disease and the way it impacted the people who cared for them.

Of course, Genova chooses to end her book while Alice is still able to talk and care for herself (although she needs round the clock attention). It allowed her to end on Alice's story while there was something positive yet to say; the reality is that, had the book continued, Alice would have gotten much worse. We all agreed this was a hard enough book to read as written. But it certainly does make a good book club choice.

November 22, 2014

November - The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain came highly recommended as a book club selection but when Cheryl started reading it she was less than impressed with it as a book and we began to wonder if it was a good choice for us. Still, she said there would be enough of interest for us to read it so we stuck with it as our choice for November. Were we ever glad we did! I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say that we would add our recommendation of The Paris Wife as a wonderful book club selection. This is particularly true if you have members who have read works by Hemingway (A Moveable Feast especially) or know something of his history. Linda was very familiar with Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gelhorn, which allowed us to compare his wives.

Although all of us have been working moms, many of us career women, none of us had a problem with Hadley Richardson devoting her time with Ernest Hemingway being his support system. We felt that it may have been a decision she made for a number of reasons: she felt so strongly about his potential and skill and she had watched her own parents' marriage suffer because of her mother's feelings about marriage being a burden. We found Hadley to be amazingly self-aware - she knew she wasn't modern in a city that was all about being modern, but she never tried to be something she wasn't.

The question was raised, was Hemingway incredibly egotistical or incredibly insecure? In this book, and throughout his life, he seemed more than willing to abandon people who cared about him when they were no longer willing to build him up in the way he needed to be. When Pauline came along and fawned over him, he threw away the person of whom he later said, "I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her." Lisa had just recently read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's last book, and was struck by how much he clearly still cared about Richardson and squarely took the blame for the demise of their marriage. On that front, we also talked about how the marriage seemed to have taken a turn when Hadley lost a valise filled with all of Ernest's work. Although it was agreed that this was an accident, we also agreed that it showed that Hadley may not have understood the value of Ernest's work despite that being the sole purpose of their lives.

We were all struck by how, even while protesting that they were so desperately poor, the Hemingways always seemed to have the funds to travel, to dine and drink out, and to have someone come in to cook meals and care for their son. None of us could fathom living as they did regularly only to be able to spend months away from home.

Unrelated to the story itself, we were all confused by the cover of this book. Why a photo of a woman wearing clothes from decades after the time this book takes place? Did the publisher not feel that a more appropriate cover wouldn't aid the the sales of the book?

Book clubs - read this book, use it as a tool to research the Hemingways and the time period, and read McClain's interviews about the book. We guarantee you'll have a great discussion.

October 23, 2014

October: The Good House by Ann Leary

This turned out to be a great choice - thanks to those who had recommended it! It gave us a lot to talk about and has so many universal themes that, even when we got off topic (which we always do!) there was some way to bring us back to the book from what we were talking about.

Lisa likened Hildy to Olive Kitteridge but everyone else found Hildy to be much more likable, even though she kept making terrible choices. Of course, her "jackpots" got us all talking about our own memorable and not-so-memorable experiences with alcohol. Definitely some funny stories but we all knew that, like Hildy, we were lucky to have survived.

The ending was a hit with everyone. We loved that Leary had Hildy make the choice to go back to rehab but to leave it open ended so as to leave readers wondering if she would have more success that way. Because Hildy was such an unreliable character, we were also left wondering what was the truth, what she had imagined, and what she glossed over.

We spent a lot of time talking about Hildy's interaction with the other characters. Lisa wondered if she might have been in love with Rebecca but Ann felt it was more of a kinship. We all got a kick out of her relationship with her daughters. And Frankie! We all liked Frankie and found it interesting, as I'm sure Leary intended, that the townsfolk had such respect for Hildy, who was such a mess, but so little respect for Frankie, who was indispensable to all of them.

Cheryl listened to the book and highly recommended the audio version.

Next month, we'll ready Paula McLain's The Paris Wife. We spent some time talking about how we choose books and what we read. Since we have delved into some of the books we were looking at for next year already, there will be several slots open for suggestions. Lisa reminded everyone that it's best to have someone have already read the book so we know if it will make for good discussion.

September 19, 2014

2015 - Revisiting Familiar Authors and Other Choices

Seriously, can you believe I'm already putting together ideas for 2015? I am! For 2015, we'll be revisiting several authors we've previously read and enjoyed, leaving a couple of spots open for that book that everyone is reading, reading our annual classic and choosing from books that have garnered high praise as book club selections.

Authors We'll Be Revisiting:

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (if you remember our call with Miss Mandel, take comfort - we will NOT be calling her again!)
2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
3. Big Little Lie by Liane Moriarty
4. The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

Two spots will remain open for last minute choices and one will remain open for whichever 2014 prizewinner sounds like the best choice for us.

In February, in honor of Black History Month, for our classic we'll choose between:

1. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
2. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zola Neale Hurston

For our last three spots, we'll choose between:

1. Still Alice by Lisa Genova which will be coming out in a movie soon
2. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
3. The Good House by Ann Leary
4. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
5. The Life Boat by Charlotte Rogan
6. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Your thoughts? Any books that you'd love to see added to our choices?

*Well, we've already read three of these books for 2014! Calling Me Home is on the schedule but that still leaves us a couple of choices.

August 20, 2014

Summer Reads - On The Island, The Invention of Wings, The Husband's Secret, and Once Upon A Town

May: One The Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
We read this one along with the Manic Mommies book club and joined them in a conference call with the author, Tracey Garvis Graves. Talking with the author always gives a reader a greater understanding of the writing process, inspiration and reasons for story and characters choices. Which we needed with this one because, otherwise, this one was not a favorite for any of us. It's a book that is very different from the kind of thing we usually read for book club and from anything most of us usually read on our own. We had real problems with the way the relationship between the two main characters developed and would have liked to see more development of the story once they were off of the island.

June: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Linda gets props for recommending we read this selection - everyone really liked it and there is a lot to talk about in it. Only one of us was aware before reading this that Sarah and Angelina Grimke were real women who were, in fact, abolitionists and suffragettes. The relationship between Sarah, who early on knew that slavery was wrong but was part of a slave-owning family, and Hetty "Handful" generated a lot of conversation as did the relationship of all of the slaves with the Grimke family and each other. It was interesting to us to read of the troubles the Grimke women had with the suffragettes and the abolitionists because of their work on behalf of the other group and Sarah's trouble with the Quakers. The Invention of Wings is definitely a thought-provoking work.

July: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Lies, secrets, infidelity, murder, revenge, jealousy - oh my goodness there was a lot to discuss in this book! A lot of questions were raised and not all of the answers were cut and dried. It turns out there are a lot of grey areas. One thing that stuck true with all of us - mother's will do whatever they have to to protect their children.

Surprisingly, we found a lot to make us laugh in this book as well. A bit of food stuck on a lip that couldn't be ignored, Tupperware as an apology for the unthinkable - Linda had made notes on a lot of things that made her chuckle in this book.

August: Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene
We chose this book because it is the One Book One Nebraska selection for 2014. Greene introduces his reader to the little known story about how one town (and about 124 small communities nearby) fed every single soldier who passed through North Platte, Nebraska, on their way across the country. Every train, every day, for five years these girls and women (with help from their husbands) made sure the young men who were serving their country had a free meal, a little reading material, and a lot of love.

It's a fascinating part of history that we weren't sure Greene did justice to. Every soldier he spoke with gave essentially the same story - they would never forget the kindness they found in North Platte and it almost always made them cry to remember how much it meant to them. Which is, of course, part of the reason the story remains so compelling. But we would have like less of what has happened to North Platte since the trains came through and more about how the operation was organized. Even given people's compunction to help in that time, it is still amazing to think that thousands of people were willing to give so much of their time, make long journeys and give up their own rations to provide ten minutes of kindness for up to 7,000 soldiers in a day. While we enjoyed reading about the North Platte Canteen, all of us wish the book had focused more on the Canteen itself and less on what's been lost.

August 19, 2014

March & April - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

So many great books last year - so many great long books last year. We knew we wanted to read one of them but getting through 700 or 800 pages just wasn't going to happen in one month for most of us. So we split Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch into two months which worked really well. It gave people a little wiggle room but also encouraged everyone to try to keep up so that nothing got ruined in a book there was still 400 pages to get through. Also, it made for two great months' of discussions.

We were feeling pretty smart that the book we chose out of all of those great books from 2013 ended up winning the Pulitzer!

On the likability scale, this one ranked all over the place for our group. Much of that depended on how much more editing we thought was needed. Most of us agreed that at least a good 50-100 pages could have been cut without much loss in the story or the message. Vegas  - we're looking at you!

On the other hand, we were in universal agreement that Tartt's writing was really impressive. While we found most of the characters not very likable, including poor Theo who never did recover from the loss of his mother. But, like so many people, Boris was our favorite character and we did have a bit of a soft spot for Mrs. Barbour who turns out to be a decent person.

Tartt's ability to use her settings as a character are impressive - Vegas is bleak, empty, a bastion of sin and excess, New York is two entirely different cities as seen through Theo's changed circumstances, darker, dreary upon his return. Although some of us had a problem with the excessive use of drugs and alcohol in Vegas, others found it necessary. Although, again, we all agreed too much of the entire time period. On the other hand...not to give away any big secrets but it kind of comes back to be essential later in the book.

The book's been called "Dickensian" by almost all reviews and it truly is - an orphan, a family that takes him in all loaded with their own issues, the girl the orphan becomes obsessed with, and the scope of the story and mass of themes are all reminiscent of Dickens' chunksters.

Mostly, even those who didn't love the book were glad that they had soldiered on and read it. Some of us found it hard to say goodbye to Theo...and Boris!

February 25, 2014

February - Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Last month I called this book a "departure" for us, understanding it to be a weepy love story. But with so many rave reviews, I thought it might be a good choice for a Valentine's Day read. It turns out Me Before You is all of those things: weepy (yes, tears were shed reading this book), a love story (though not at all a traditional love story), and a very good choice for a Valentine's Day read. Also a very good choice of a book club selection - there is so much to discuss in this book.

There were only three of us at the meeting this month but all of us had finished the book so we were able to really fully discuss it. If you have not read it yet, and have plans to, you may not want to read further as our discussion spent a lot of time on spoilers.

We were all impressed with Moyes' writing, particularly how well she developed her characters. The dynamics in both Louisa's and Will's families were very real and the contrast between the two families was well developed.
"The difference between growing up like me and growing up like Will was that he wore his sense of entitlement lightly. I think if you grow up as he had done, with wealthy parents, in a nice house, if you go to good schools and nice restaurants as a matter of course, you probably just have this sense that good things will fall into place, that your position in the world is naturally an elevated one."
We talked about the title of the book - what does it mean "me before you?" Is it about Lou wanting Will to stay alive for her? Is if Will wanting to do things his way regardless of what others feel? There was no clear cut answer to this one. We talked about the pain of being as in love with someone as Lou was with Will and finding that it is not enough, that you are not enough. Did Will's gift to Lou show that he loved her even though he had never told her so or was it just another way for him to continue to push her in the way he felt she should go?
"I told him I loved him," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. "And he just said it wasn't enough." Her eyes were wide and bleak. "How am I supposed to live with that?"
The majority of our discussion, though, focused on Will's choice to die and how the people around him reacted to it. Lou's mother's reaction, in particular, was interesting to us, both in the way she felt about Will's mother and her refusal to accept Lou's decision to be with Will. She had been something of a mousy character up to that point, so accepting of what life had thrown at her. We each wondered how we would feel if our child made the decision that Will made - would we be able to support him or her no matter how painful it was for us to let our child go?

We also talked about the legal ramifications of assisted suicide and how the complications of making it legal.

Both Ann and Linda had looked up Dignitas and discovered that it is a real facility in Switzerland that provides assisted deaths for terminally-ill people. In the book, Moyes makes the facility sound very lovely and peaceful but Linda and Ann discovered that questions have been raised about their methods and their disposal of remains. That makes the discussion much more complicated, doesn't it?

February 2, 2014

January - Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Our January selection was Omaha author Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park. This is a book that's stirred up some controversy and garnered a lot of praise. The controversy has largely had to do with Rowell's use of profanity which some of us did have a problem with, particularly early on. On the other hand, some of us felt it was entirely appropriate for the characters to use that kind of language or did not find it offensive or excessive. That is about the only fault any of us had with this book. Ann and Lisa couldn't put it down and raced through it while Linda was enjoying it so much she wanted it to last longer and intentionally made it last.

All of us loved this book - the characters, the writing, the way everything about it felt so real and believable. We talked a lot about what the three words referred to at the end of the book were and ***possible spoiler alert***why Eleanor didn't write back to Park after he took her to her uncle's house. Diana wondered if it were because of her own bad luck with men. Certainly she had never had a man should could rely on.

Knowing something about Rowell's background, we wondered if she drew a little bit on her own past in creating Eleanor. Some of us had read Rowell's earlier book Attachments which was very obviously set in Omaha, referring frequently to places that were landmarks in the city at the time the book was set. Eleanor and Park is also set in Omaha but we wondered why it was so much less obvious. Lisa wondered if it was intentionally done to make the book have the feel of this city but to also give it more of a feel of any city to appeal to a larger audience. Even though of us who have lived in the city for a number of years, and Ann who grew up here, couldn't place The Flats, the area of town that Eleanor and Park live in and tried to find hints in the book to help us place it.

Books that everyone loves don't always make good books for discussion. Eleanor and Park did!

Next month we'll be reading Jojo Moyes Me Before You. It's a bit of a departure for us, being a love story, but has received so much praise we'll read it for Valentine's Day. In March/April we'll really stretch ourselves by reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, largely thought to be one of the best books of 2013.