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!