December 21, 2017

November and December

There were just four of us in November and not one of us had finished the book. Why? Were we all just being slackers? Were we all just swamped with our lives and had not time to read? Some of both, I suspect, but primarily it was because Stacy Schiff's The Witches is one slow (ok, very, very slow) read. The long list of characters at the beginning should be a good clue that this one's going to be trouble to keep up with but all of us agreed that Schiff had put together her research in such a way that it made it even more difficult to wade through. Linda had tried listening to the audiobook and felt like she got more out of it that way. Lisa has since finished the book by going the audiobook route and agrees that the narrator does a terrific job of making the book feel more interesting and alive.

We spent some time talking about what had really caused all of the trouble that lead to a community killing so many people and we were all amazed that so few people even voiced the notion that a group of teenaged girls might be lying. The idea that so many people could get sucked into the frenzy, and the ways that it was impossible to disagree with the consensus because they always had a response that invalidated contradictory ideas, were of interest to us. Ultimately, we all found the book interesting but wish it had been less muddled, formatted differently, so that it was a more enjoyable reading experience. We would not recommend this book for book clubs unless your book club is looking for a real challenge.

It was our first time meeting at Nancy's house and she outdid herself with delicious food and drink, even finding ways to tie in all of the goodies to the book.

In December we talked about The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress. For about fifteen minutes total. It wasn't because those of us who had read the book didn't enjoy it; we did. But we had a bigger group and about half of us hadn't read the book. Makes it tough to keep on subject. Also, because there were members we hadn't seen in a while, we got off track catching up. We had a visitor and we're not sure yet if we scared her off our not!

Those of us who did read the book, felt like Ariel Lawhon had done a great job of immersing readers in the time and setting of the book. Because the book moves back and forth in time and place, when, in the end, Lawhon reveals that the wife, the maid, and the mistress might have been in cahoots, so to speak, it was hard for us to figure out how and when, exactly, that fit into everything else. Lisa was excited to find Shelby, Iowa show up in the book; Shelby is the very small town in Iowa where her mom grew up. Always a good way to help a reader connect to a book. We would recommend this book for book clubs, especially if your members will read the books!

October 29, 2017

2018 Book Club Selections

Good grief, can you even believe that 2018 is just around the corner? Knowing Ann, she'll be ready to read the book for January before you know it so I thought I'd better get our list put together for 2018. I played around with a theme, like we've had for the past couple of years; but, in the end, I've decided our goal next year is just to read interesting books that will give us a lot to talk about and, hopefully, stretch our knowledge of the world a bit.

January: Kitchens of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
February: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (our classic)
March: Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
April: News of The World by Paulette Jiles
May: The Women In The Castle by Jessica Shattuck
June: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
July: open to leave us some flexibility
August: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
September: Eleanor and Hick by Susan Quinn (our nonfiction)
October: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
November: The Wangs Versus The World
December: open for possible movie night

As always, our schedule will be somewhat flexible to allow for things like a great Omaha Reads book or something one of you thinks would make a great choice. I have left a couple of open spots, one for a planned movie night but we won't know when that will be until a movie of interest comes out.

These choice were all made based on reviews and feedback from my blogging friends but I have not read any of them. In 2018, my plan is to read the books a couple of months ahead of time. Once I've read the book, then I'll know for sure if we'll stick with that book. I don't want a repeat of Behind Closed Doors!

August, September and October

In August, we had our, now annual, trip to the theater to see the movie adaptation of a book we've read. Three of us and a guest went to see The Glass Castle, the adaptation of the book by the same name by Jeanette Walls, a book the club read before any of us had even joined the group. Only one of us had actually read the book; Lisa thought the filmmakers had done a great job, although it may even have been softened a bit. The others in attendance all thought they would not have been able to finish the book if they had started to read it; it is so hard to imagine someone growing up the way the Wall children grew up.

In September we read George Saunders' Lincoln In The Bardo, which recently won the Booker Prize. This is Lisa's favorite book of the year and a huge favorite of the critics, but it was not as universally loved by book club members. Ann didn't care for the structure of the book while Linda and Lisa thought that was one of the great things about the book. It did raise a lot of questions: how much of the "factual" narrative was, in fact, excerpts from real books, what is "the bardo," why could some of the people in the bardo move on and others couldn't. Despite some people having problems with the book's structure, it was still a good choice with a lot to discuss.

For October, we talked about Jonis Agee's The Bones of Paradise. This book was the choice of the Omaha Public Library for the Omaha Reads book for 2017. While all of us had problems with different aspects of the book, we all did enjoy it and there was a lot to talk about. Ann expressed a real interest in books set in the West in this time period (duly noted!) and we all learned a lot about the Wounded Knee Massacre. The dynamics of family, what is the value of land to a person, were there surprises in the book, the structure of this book (as it moved back and forth in time, in particular), and what we thought of the characters' character were all topics of discussion. Cheryl hosted this month and found a couple of books for us to look through that related to the novel that added a nice extra touch to our reading. We definitely recommend this book as a book club choice, even with its flaws.

July 23, 2017

June and July

 We're searching for a new home for our meetings since our favorite spot closed down and in June we met on the patio of Lazlos, a local brew pub. The sun and gnats, a new member, and some personal drama all contributed to our not talking about J. Courtney Sullivan's The Engagements as much as we might have. It's not a brilliant book but there is a lot of material for book clubs - a lot of different kinds of women and relationships, the history of the diamond ad campaign, women's roles, and that ring. Of those who read it, everyone seemed to have their favorite story line; Ann's favorite was Delphine's. We were interested in knowing the history behind the adverting phrase "A Diamond Is Forever" and liked how Sullivan had taken the story of its creator as a running thread throughout the book. We did all agree that having so many different storylines and characters really made the book hard to follow.
In July we read B. A. Paris' Behind Closed Doors. We used to have a rule that we wouldn't read a book unless someone had read it first and could vouch for it. But when Lisa picked this one, it was solely based on reviews. Yikes! Only Grace really liked the book. Otherwise, we really, really didn't like this one at all. Ann had read it the month before and had already told us that she didn't like it. We could have scratched it then and picked up something else. But Lisa S pointed out that sometimes books that aren't universally loved make for great discussion. Turns out to be true about books that most people didn't like as well. We actually spent more time taking about this book than we do most of our books! We talked a lot about whether or not we found any of it believable. We talked about how hard it was to read about a woman being abused. We talked about that ending (which, we must admit, was fairly satisfying). Movie rights have actually been optioned and we talked about whether or not we thought we would like the story more as a movie and if we thought it would be more believable in movie form.

In August we'll be headed to the movie theater to watch the film adaptation of Jeanette Wall's The Glass Castle.

**Those of you who were in the club when Mari was leading it may notice that I've removed Bookworm With A View from the lists of sites we love. Mari's blog no longer goes by that title and it now more about other things than books. Also, that link went to an entirely different site, which seemed odd!

May 3, 2017

Our Future

Life is busy; I get it. But with only three people at the meetings the past couple of months, I'm wondering if we need to make some changes. I'm wondering if everyone is still interested in being a book club. 

One change we'll definitely be making is a change in venue. As you all know by know, Upstream will be closing the end of June. We've got two months left of having our own room with comfy furniture and our favorite bartender. Then where do we go? Cheryl and I have been talking about it; Cheryl's been asking everyone we meet if they have any suggestions. What about you guys - any idea where we might go that might work at least somewhat as well? Is it time to go back to hosting in our homes?

While we're at it, we've been the Omaha Bookworms for a long time. The reason we're the Omaha Bookworms was so that we could get free books from publishers. Our original founder felt that publishers wouldn't be as likely to send free books to groups with cute names or names with alcohol in the name. But since we're no longer beholden to read the books a publisher thinks we'll like, we can be whatever we want to be. If we're going to stay together going forward, what do you think about a new name to go with our new venue?

**Assuming we're going forward, you'll see that in September we're reading George Saunders' Lincoln In The Bardo. If you're a library person, you'll want to get your request in now to make sure you have a chance to read it by September.

Last, but not least, I've been leaning us heavily on literary fiction critic favorites. We're going to shake things up a bit in the next few months - some nonfiction that should be not too heavy, a mystery, I'm looking at something light for the summer, and we'll have a movie night in December. That may be in a theater or we may rent something and watch in someone's house. Where we can drink for less and eat real food.

March and April - My Brilliant Friend and The Turner House

So we're kind of back to where we were a couple of years ago with book club. There were only three of us at the meetings in March and April.

In March, it kind of worked because all three of us had read the book and it was nice to be able to discuss everything about the book, start to finish. My Brilliant Friend was a hit right up to the point where we found out it ended with a cliffhanger, ala an hour-long t.v. drama. We want to know what happens with the two friends whose friendship we'd just spent hours reading about and more than the usual amount of time discussing. Which one was the brilliant friend? How do you keep up a friendship when there jealousy and secrets are a part of your relationship? We loved learning about Naples, we were startled by the matter-of-fact violence of the neighborhood. In short, we might well have been happy reading the next three books in the series for the next three months of book club.

But...we didn't. In April we read The Turner House. And by "we," I mean two of the three of us that made the meeting. One of us couldn't stay long and didn't like the book. She had been expecting more about the house itself. The other one of us did enjoy the book but didn't necessarily think it was one of the best books of the last year, even though it found itself on many of the best-of lists. We did talk about how, through the story of one family, we see the rise and fall of Detroit and how we enjoy when a city or setting of a book becomes one of the characters.

March 5, 2017

February: Childhood Favorites

This turned out to be a fun and unexpected discussion about the books that have remained with us since childhood. "Childhood" is a bit of a nebulous term - we are children from the time we are first chewing on board books until the time we are first reading the same kinds of books that our parents are reading.

 Nancy shared with us that her favorite book growing up was Winnie The Pooh which her sister read to her as a young girl. She can, remarkably, still recite long passages! We all remembered being charmed by Pooh growing up but talked about how much of the wisdom in those books stands true into our adult lives as well.

 Lisa W. said that her favorite childhood read was Gone With The Wind. She has never reread it but thought it might be time to see how it held up to a reread. We were all impressed that she had made her way through such a big book at such a young age. The combination of action and love story were a big appeal. We talked about why we liked Scarlett O'Hara despite her obvious character flaws; she is, after all, someone who did everything in her power to hold her family together and to hold on to her family's heritage.

 Ann had reread Little House On The Prairie and might have loved it even more as an adult than she did as a child. She was so impressed by how happy Ingalls Wilder's family was, despite the hardships they faced, how content they were with what they had, and how well they managed to keep themselves entertained with very little. We talked about how Ingalls Wilder wrote the books at a time when money was tight and how that and our tendency to recall the best of our pasts might have colored her stories. But we agreed that those who lived a simpler life did learn to make themselves happy with less.

 Lisa S. brought the copy of Little Women she had been given for Christmas in 1968, when she was just eight. It's a book that has held up for her through several rereads, despite some faults she can see in it as an adult that she didn't see as a child. We talked about which of the March girls we identify with. Lisa said that she has always wanted to be like Jo, as so many girls do, but acknowledged that she is probably more like mousy Beth.

 The biggest surprise was Grace's choice of The Old Man and The Sea which she had read in fifth grade. She said she had never been a big reader of "girly" books and liked the adventure and struggle in the book. She did say that she couldn't really remember books that she'd read much from the time before that.

 We definitely recommend this idea for other book clubs - it gave us a great chance to rethink what we loved to read as young people and to learn a lot about each other and the readers (and people) we were growing up.

January 21, 2017

January - The Interestings

So, only two of us finished this book and we both liked it. Several of you tried and just couldn't get into it. One complaint was that nothing much happened, at least not out in the open. Some felt the writing about sex was just awkward and uncomfortable. Although, on further reflection, sex IS often awkward and uncomfortable! We wondered why Ash ever invited Jules into the teepee in the beginning, although one person suggested that maybe she really did just need a friend.

The problem with a book that only two of six people have read is that it's all but impossible to discuss the book. We didn't get to talk about the rape, about Ash and Ethan marriage filled with lies, about mental illness as addressed by Wolitzer, or about the weight of money on lives.

Books that everyone doesn't love actually make better books to discuss than books were we gather, say "we loved it" and then we are done. But, this is a book that people, in general, either seem to love or hate. Which is why I wouldn't encourage you to power your way through this one.

In February, we'll each have chosen our own books to read. You'd think that would make it hard to have a discussion. It won't be. In part because everyone should have been able to finish the book since they chose it. In part because there's a good chance that many of us will have, at one time or another, read the other people's books. Also, because there is already a list of questions and we'll be trying something a little different to keep things going.

In March, we'll begin a new schedule, which will allow time to discuss the book for those who have read it and want to talk about it and also plenty of time for a group of friends to gossip, laugh, and catch up, and exchange stories.