December 16, 2015

December - Everything I Never Told You

Oh my goodness, but did we like this book! Even though it broke our hearts.

So much to talk about - starting with that opening line "Lydia is dead." Nancy admitted that she almost gave up on the book right then. After all, she wondered how Ng might be able to keep the book interesting when she had already told us that Lydia was going to die.

A couple of people who hadn't finished talked about how sad the book was. Those of us who had finished warned them that it was going to get even sadder.  Which is a trick considering that we already know that, in the end, a teenaged girl will be dead. But finding out how she died ends up being the saddest part of all.

We talked about the relationship between James and Marilyn and how their entire marriage was built on misconceptions and miscommunication. They both thought they were getting what they needed in the other but neither bothered to tell the other what it was that they needed. In fact, there was a lot they never bothered to tell each.

Lisa said she often would forget the time setting of the book and have to remind herself that the story takes place 40 years ago when things were much different for both minorities and women. This lead us on a discussion of Nancy's and Cheryl's own parent's recollections on racial issues after the WWII, the time James would have grown up in. We also talked about what it would have been like for Marilyn but Lisa pointed out that it surprised her that Marilyn didn't push to go back to school given that it was so important to her not to be nothing more than a housewife. Even given her desperation not to end up like her mother, we couldn't imagine walking away from our families just to make our own dreams come true.

Poor Hannah - we felt so sorry for her. Nancy talked about how hard it was to read about her tucking herself under the table so she could be near but no one noticing her. She was invisible. But she wasn't the only child to feel sorry for: Lydia who made a promise to always say "yes" to anything her mother ever asked even though it meant her entire life was built on a lie; Nath who was such a disappointment to his father for being exactly like his father. James lived with the guilt of doing that but Marilyn never even knew what she was doing to her daughter until it was too late.

Ladies - want to hop in and talk more about the book? Just leave an comment below (you just sign in as anonymous). What are your thoughts on the differences or similarities between Marilyn and her mother as both a wife and a parent? What about the misunderstanding between Jack and Nath at the pool that ended up coloring Nath's opinion of Jack for the next ten years? Do you think the experience of today's Muslims echoes this family's experience in their neighborhood?

November 24, 2015

2016 Reading List - Our Year of Love and Learning

The Bookworms have always been eclectic readers and willing to challenge themselves and 2016 will be no exception. In 2016, though, we are going to change things up a bit. First of all, you'll notice that our books all fit into a theme - Love and Learning. We'll be reaching out into the world to learn about new cultures, finding out what it's like to be someone other than a white woman in the suburbs, and looking and marriage and motherhood.

We'll travel to Sweden, India, Syria, St. Thomas, France, and Ireland. We'll pair a nonfiction read with a fiction read to learn more about India. We'll venture into new territory for us when we read two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which will also allow us to open the group to other generations. We'll peek into an historical marriage, meet a couple of tough ladies, and read some award-winning books.

January and February are the result of requests from members. Bear in mind that if you have something you really want to read that would make a good book club choice, nothing on the schedule is set in stone. However, one of the goals in setting the schedule for the coming year was to steer a bit away from "the latest thing." They are tougher to get from the library and we don't want anyone to feel like they have to buy a hardcover book. As scheduled, there should be enough lead time (other than maybe January) to get to books in time at the library.

The schedule is posted in the left column. The summer schedule may be tweaked so that we might work in something lighter - keep your eyes out for something that might work. You know, in the vein of The Rosie Project or Where'd You Go Bernadette, something that is lighter but still gives us something to talk about.

November 19, 2015

November - Lila

Sorry, Marilynne Robinson, this one was not a hit with our group. We know it's up for a lot of awards but for the life of us, we can't quite figure out why. As easy as last month's long book was to read, this book, at just 190 pages, was much more difficult. Not one chapter break, not a lot of dialogue, not much at all to break up the read. Plus it moves back and forth in time constantly. For those who were at the meeting who had not read the book yet, those of us who had told them to just skip it.

For those of us who had read Robinson's Gilead, this book made some more sense, if only for the fact that you came away from that one knowing that Lila would stay, at least while John was alive. Here, Robinson gets all the way to the end and, even though we know that Lila loves John, we are still not sure what will become of her and her son. Yes, yes, we get that Robinson is saying that sometimes we can't overcome our past. And it's clear that Lila never really fits into Gilead, as much because of her past as because she just really doesn't seem to want to do that.

Lila is a woman whose had a very tough life, no doubt, which is bound to leave scars. But Ann found her very unlikable and, therefore, hard to care about. Lisa and Cheryl agreed that she is hard to care about. Even though she's clearly looking for someone to love her, she's always incapable of trusting someone enough to love them fully.

As a book club choice? While there's plenty here to discuss, clubs might find it hard to convince people to read it. Cheryl and Lisa both, though, highly recommend Gilead which is lovely and spiritual and talks a lot about religion without seeming to be overly religious. Lila seemed to get weighed down in scripture.

October - All The Light We Cannot See

Just three of us were able to get together in October but all of us had read the book and enjoyed it. We were all surprised about what a fast read it is at 530 pages. Lisa had read that Anthony Doerr had intentionally written the book to have a lot of "white space" to help make it a best seller. Apparently publishers think readers don't want to have to work too hard. But that also made it easier to read about something of the difficult things that happened in the book.

We talked about what the light we cannot see means - the radio signal, the way  Marie-Laure is able to see so much more than those with sight can, the way Werner is blind to what is going on to him for so long, the darkness that envelops Werner when he is trapped in the basement toward the end. We talked about Werner and how he got swept up in the war machine. Lisa pointed out a couple of passages where Doerr does a good job of explaining how an orphan could easily be pulled in when he finally has a place to belong.

We all felt it was interesting to look at the war through a German's point of view and to think about the way that ordinary German's got caught up in the "cause." At our November meeting, a couple more of us were ready to talk about the book and they echoed how it was important for us to remember that not all Germans were bad guys who chose to do terrible things. Something that feels particularly important to remember with current world events.

We were all impressed with how Marie-Laure's father had prepared her to survive even before he had any notion what would happen, between teaching her Braille and building her the mockups of the cities she was in.

At the October meeting we spent a lot of time talking about what happened to Werner at the end of the book. Did he go back for the stone? Did he intentionally destroy it? Did he just take the house and the stone was left to the sea?

Over all, although it's a long book, it's a very good choice for book clubs with a lot to discuss and a lot that is relevant today.

September 19, 2015

September - Station Eleven

We were a small group this month but all three of us had read the book so we didn't have to worry about spoilers and we were better able to stay focused that sometimes when the group is bigger (of course, we still made time to catch up and get personal!).

Ann said that this one had taken her a little while to get into but once she did she really liked it, as did Nancy and Lisa. We all agreed that even though we don't any of us particularly care for so-called dystopian fiction, this one didn't feel so much like what we think of as dystopian. We imagined this was because of the type of cataclysmic event that lead to the near extinction but also the fact that Mandel had largely skipped over the twenty years between when the virus started and the "present" time. Of course, the fact that a flu pandemic that wipes out the Earth's population isn't all the implausible made the book that much more believable...and frightening.

We talked a lot about what it would be like at first after such an event, the denial (Elizabeth's insistence that it was all going to be okay), the gridlock, the panic, and the reality, for those like Jeevan who had managed to stay isolated for several weeks, that this was a new world. One in which some people, like Jeevan's brother, would have to accept the fact that they won't survive. In which you're going to have to eventually brave it and step out of your safe place.

Nancy felt like it was a little unrealistic to imagine that the people at the airport would just happen to be able to so quickly adapt and find that they had just the people that the needed to do the things that needed to be done. But Ann pointed out that given the location of the airport, there were bound to be some people flying in that were coming home to a place where they were likely to be hunters and that there were enough people who stayed that they all fell into their niche.

Both Ann and Nancy saw the big revel about the prophet coming before Lisa but all of us were impressed with the way that Mandel had gradually started pulling all of these characters together and how all of the pieces of the story worked so well together as the book came to the end.

This got us thinking about what we would be like if (when?) something like this happened. We weren't any of us sure we'd be strong enough to survive but then we agreed that you really never know how you'll react to something until you're faced with it. Also that other circumstances surrounding us at that time would play a part in how we fared. For example, if our children were near, we all felt we'd be much fiercer in keeping ourselves alive so that we could care for them.

We also talked about what would be the worst thing for us about living in a world like the one Mandel imagined. Nancy said she hates the idea that she wouldn't be able to get clean - wouldn't be able to shower or wash her hands. Lisa talked about the idea of living in a world where you were surrounded by creatures - spiders, snakes, and bigger wild animals. None of us particularly liked the idea of living off the land. Although, when it came right down to it, we all agreed that the worse would be not being able to contact our loved ones. Ann imagined both of her girls being in California as they are now and she wouldn't know if they were alive or dead and how hard it would be to live with that.

For next month we'll be reading All The Light We Cannot See. Both Ann & Nancy have started it and are enjoying it.

September 13, 2015

August - Some Luck by Jane Smiley

How do we convince our very busy resident playwright to come back to book club? Let her pick the book! Ellen chose Jane Smiley's Some Luck for our August selection.

Our feelings were mixed on this one, although, through discussion, I think some of us appreciated the book more. As Ellen said, it is a book about the minutiae of life. Interestingly, that word somehow made this very detailed look at one family's life seem more intimate and, therefore, more interesting.

Linda was a big fan of this books, saying she could see why Smiley was award winning. She was especially impressed with Smiley's writing. Others of us had some issues with the writing. We were particularly put off, right from the beginning, by Smiley's choice to write from the point of view of an infant/toddler. In a book so firmly set in reality, it seemed odd to choose the point of view of a character who could not possibly have made such mindful observations.

Even those that liked the book more than others, felt like the focus sometimes slipped from where they wish it would have stayed. Although Ellen understood that Smiley was trying to show the bigger world picture by taking the book into the World War II theater, she agreed that it was a bit jarring given the focus of the rest of the book. Lisa pointed out that there would have been plenty of story to tell for that time period from the perspective of the family at home and how the war affected them.

Some Luck is the first book of a trilogy and we talked about where Smiley might take the story in the next two books. This one ended in the 1950's so there is certainly room to move forward but we also wondered if she might pick up one of the characters and move the focus to that person's immediate family. Only a couple of us indicated that they might read more of the trilogy.

July 23, 2015

June and July - The Rosie Project and Big Little Lies

So June ... and a book that a lot of us had read before June leaving us less able to speak about the details of the book and more able to just discuss the book in generalities. We all enjoyed the book which is both good and bad - no one has to read a book they'd rather not have spent the time on but then there is little to debate.

We did talk about life as someone dealing with Aspergers, including how living with someone as structured as Don might not be such a bad thing if he could, as he did, begin to structure his life in a way that fit so-called "normal" life better. None of us had much experience with Aspergers so it was difficult for us to determine how realistic Samson's story was.

With a friend like Gene, infidelity, of course, came up. We talked about what might make a woman like Claudia stay with someone like Gene and how he had mistreated Don by using The Wife Project for his own purposes.

We wondered if someone as free-spirited as Rosie would have fallen for Don and if it were realistic to think that they might have been just what the other needed. It seemed to us that they might have been.

July's discussion was much more lively - Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies was another hit and something we could all relate to what with having, once upon a time, young children. As usual, one of the highlights of our discussion was Linda's notes about the things she found particularly funny in the book. Nancy's favorite quote? "Champagne is never a mistake." Very true!

We talked a lot about what makes women care so much about the way they look - is it for men? each other? themselves? Each of the women in the book seemed to use her looks for her own purposes. Linda told how her older brother used to tell her that she was ugly and how that impacted how she felt about her life and how that caused her to decide that she would be the funny one if she wasn't going to be the pretty one. Grace shared that she had felt similarly when she was young, deciding that if she weren't going to be the thin one, she'd be the friendly one. We all agreed that the old saying "stick and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" was a complete falsehood. It hasn't been true in our lives and it certainly wasn't true for Jane.

We talked about how Celeste's and Jane's walks on the beach allowed them to become friends on an even footing and how Celeste seemed to find her wealth as much as burden as a blessing. Most people's favorite character was Madeline, appreciating her willingness to always stand up for others and to fight to right a wrong, although Lisa pointed out that she was shallow in many ways.

There was some discussion about whether or not it was plausible that Jane would not have looked up Saxon Banks in the last six years and that all of the ladies who had been fighting for so many months were able to come together so easily at the end. The last bit was easier to accept, feeling as we did that women will always side with women when a man like Perry is involved.

As much as most of us had enjoyed Moriarty's previous novel The Husband's Secret, we all enjoyed this one more. What impressed Ann and Lisa was the deft touch Moriarty has with very heavy subjects (in this case, a book full of violence). She is able to be import the gravity of the issue while utilizing plenty of humor to keep the book from getting overly serious. We all enjoyed the interview pieces that Moriarty included at the beginnings or endings of the chapter that helped keep readers guessing as to what exactly had happened at Trivia Night.

Other book clubs may talk longer about the books they read but this one has become a group of friends that can easily get off topic. Even when we weren't talking about this book, though, it lead us down trails of discussions about the ways the situations in the book happened in our own lives. We learned a lot about each other. And that can never be a bad thing.

May 21, 2015

January (yes, January) - Landline

Why, yes, I did forget to write up our discussion of Rainbow Rowell's Landline in January. You'd think that would mean I couldn't remember the discussion by now (in the same way that I can't remember what I wore to work yesterday so that I could avoid wearing it again tomorrow), but, despite the fact that no one loved the book, we had a really good discussion about it and, even though I can't remember who said what any more, I definitely remember the highlights.

When I say no one really loved this book, what I mean is that many of us really didn't even like it a little bit. The magical phone was only part of the problem. The other major problem was Georgie. Almost no one liked her.

Opinions about Neal were, on the other hand, widely divided. Many of us felt sorry for him. But several of us felt that he was in the situation he found himself because he had allowed himself to be there, because he had never done anything to make his own way. That divide of opinions had us talking over each other trying to make our point.

It was pretty unanimously decided that Rowell may have tried to add too much into the story with the storyline about Georgie's sister, who turned out to be gay. There really appeared to be no need for that storyline, it didn't contribute to the over arcing story in any way we could see other than to show another kind of love.

Some were confused about what had even happened in the book, which is, frankly, a pretty good accomplishment for Rowell in a book that is otherwise not terribly complicated. Lisa S compared it to a Mobius strip - the story line moving through time seamlessly. Several had a problem with the ending of the book, feeling it just did not feel true to the rest of the book.

Lisa S had several passages marked for the wonderful insights into parenting and marriage and we did all agree that Rowell had some real gems in the book and that, as in Eleanor and Park, Rowell's dialogue was terrific. Unfortunately, the rest of the book just didn't live up to Eleanor and Park which was a big hit with the Bookworms.

May - Calling Me Home

The blogging world made us do it. We read Julie Kibler's Calling Me Home entirely based on recommendations and praise for this one from book bloggers. So many of them said they cried. Most of them loved it. The Bookworms not so much.

Calling Me Home actually did make a good choice for a book club selection - there were a lot of things to talk about including the structure of the book and the writing in addition to the themes Kibler presented. While there were those that really enjoyed the book (and did cry) there were others that had major issues with it. Diana, in particular, couldn't get past how derivative of The Scarlet Letter it was.

By and large, we felt that the story was imbalanced, with Isabel's story and her character much more interesting. Lisa S suggested that the story would have been more interesting if the two different points of view had been Robert's and Isabel's and Ann suggested Nell's point of view instead of Dorrie's. Diana felt that Dorrie was just not interesting and that her love story felt flat, with Teague just too good to be true. We agreed that her storyline would have been more interesting if the focus had been on her relationship with her customers; Kibler even talks about Dorrie being something of an amateur psychologist for the ladies who come to her. In fact, we thought there might be a separate book there.

Lisa S felt that the dual narrative with one storyline set in the past and one set in the present has gotten old and might often be used by authors who can't figure out a better way to work into the story they want to tell. We understand why Kibler chose the two time periods as she worked to explore the different attitudes toward unmarried pregnancy and race relations; most of us just didn't feel like it was the best choice.

Still - most of us (except maybe Linda!) found something to like about the book and Lisa W said it was nice to read something that wasn't as heavy after the past two months.

April 21, 2015

March-April: I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb was our second attempt at a two-month read; it's the only way we can knock out a 900 page beastie like this one. We picked I Know This Much Is True because we wanted to read a Wally Lamb book and Ann recommend this one.

Wally Lamb came to Omaha last Saturday; the original plan was that we would all attend to tie into our reading. Then we discovered that it was a library fundraiser with $80 ticket prices. So Linda and Ann represented for the Bookworms and both agreed it was well worth the price - a good cause, good eats, and they really enjoyed Lamb's 45 minute talk. He talked about his years teaching (including working with teachers who'd taught him when he was in high school) and about the long-term relationship he'd had with a man who had written him a letter after reading Lamb's first book, She's Come Undone.

We had planned to meet twice to discuss this one but circumstances meant that we only met in April after we had finished the whole book. Which, I'm happy to say, almost every did! Feelings about the book were mixed, not necessarily in a bad way. Both Nancy and one Lisa said they would not have finished the book had it not been our selection and Lisa said she could hardly get through the first hundred pages. But Linda had two pages of notes which is a good sign; she's the best at finding the funny bits in any book! The other Lisa felt like her interest in the book waxed and waned and several of us felt that the grandfather's part of the book was too long, even though much of it tied into the present day story line. Interestingly, Ann said that Lamb reported that this is the part of the book he wrote first and built the rest of the story around it; it was the easiest writing he'd ever done. We all agreed that Lamb's writing is exceptional, even if there were things about the book itself we didn't care for. Lamb does a great job of tying together a lot of themes without hitting readers over the head with them, although some of us felt that it started to get to be too many things. And certainly too many screwed up people!

Cheryl, being an identical twin, took issue with some of the differences between the Birdsey twins; she felt that identical twins wouldn't have these particular differences. It was noted that Lamb has cited several sources for twin research. There was discussion about whether or not Dominick and Thomas Birdsey were actually biologically identical twins or merely fraternal twins who looked nearly identical but Lisa was sure that Lamb wrote that the boys had been biologically tested and found to be identical.

We talked about Dominick's ability to forgive - from an ex-girlfriend to a stepfather who had abused him. Ray would have been a man of a certain generation, a certain kind of man who would have known no other way so we thought we could forgive him much but several of us felt that because his treatment went well beyond a "heavy hand" it would be hard to forgive. We also talked about the symbolism of the monkey and the rabbit which appeared in many ways in the book but, to be honest, none of us really figured out why a rabbit and a monkey.

There's much more we could have discussed...if we hadn't gotten so wrapped up in other topics both personal and book related!

February 18, 2015

February - The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Alex Kava

Last month we talked about Omaha author Alex Kava and wondered if she might be available to talk to book clubs. When I checked her web site to see if she meets with book clubs, I was surprised to see that she'd be appearing at our local Barnes and Noble on the very night of our next meeting. So five of us met there to hear Kava talk, primarily, about her latest book, Breaking Creed, but also about her writing process, what she reads, her other characters and changing her name to further her career.

Breaking Creed pulls to the fore Ryder Creed, a character introduced to Kava's readers in a earlier book and includes Kava's best-known character Maggie O'Dell. Kava has just finished edits for a second book about Creed with plans for more. She said she learned from writing about O'Dell how to create a character for a book series and was very careful about the back story she created for Creed to that it was something she could work with in future books. She hadn't planned O'Dell's character to be recurring resulting in some issues she'd rather not have to be working around.

Afterwards, we headed out for some eats, some drinks, and some discussion about this month's book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. One of the things that made this discussion interesting was that Diana had actually read the wrong book, a biography about Malcolm X that addressed quite a lot of what was included in the Autobiography. Essentially that book said that the autobiographical work was largely a work of propaganda. Which seems entirely feasible given the way it is written, nearly 200 pages devoted to making it clear the Malcolm Little was a very, very lost sinner making his redemption ever so much more dramatic. Then long, long passages of both his speeches and those of the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. We all agreed that we wished the life of pre-Islam Malcolm had been more tightly edited so the focus could have been on his life after. It was easy to see, just in what happened with both of his parents, how Malcolm could easily have been swayed to the Nation of Islam. But even after he had cleaned his life up, we still felt like he was a hustler. It was interesting to learn that the biography's description of Malcolm's marriage and relationship varied greatly from his own. Although, given that this book is supposed to have been a piece of propaganda, I don't suppose that's surprising. Definitely an interesting book, worth reading to learn about an important piece of history.

Next month we start Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True. We'll split this 900 pager into a two month read.