The ADULT BOOK CLUB meets on the first Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. unless noted otherwise. Join by contacting Sarah Kyrie, library director, at 534-3193. Copies of the selected book are requested and held at the library for the members.
BOOK REVIEWS FROM THE ADULT BOOK CLUB
The Adult Book Club provides book summaries after their meetings. The summaries are posted here for your reading pleasure. You will want to read the book after reading what they have to say. Stop at the library or contact us and we will hold a copy for you so you can read the book yourself.
For reviews on previously read books . . .
Meeting on Nov. 2, 2017
“Lafayette in the Somewhat United States” by Sarah Vowell
The book is a biography of Lafayette. The author describes the relationship between George Washington and Lafayette which at times was like a father-son relationship as Lafayette was only 19 when he first came to colonial America.
The bickering between the continental congress and the continental army and the infighting among the army officers is described. It was interesting to learn how important French assistance was during the revolution, especially at Yorktown where the presence of the French fleet and the French ground troops were crucial in attaining victory. The author interposes the story of Lafayette with descriptions of her visits to historical sights such as Brandywine and Yorktown. The author, on a few occasions, makes comparisons between the political infighting among the colonials to that of the present day politicians. Hence the inclusion of the word “somewhat” in the title.
Seven members of the book club were present of which two had read only part of the book, finding it difficult to get into. The other members enjoyed the book.
Meeting on July 6, 2017
“In the Unlikely Event” by Judy Blume
“In the Unlikely Event” is a work of fiction based on real-life events that the author, Judy Blume, lived through. She grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and was a teenager in 1952 when three separate plane accidents occurred within the space of three months, killing passengers and people on the ground. Judy Blume’s father, a dentist, was called in to help identify the charred, mangled bodies. Now in her late 70’s, Blume has said that she buried memories of the accidents so deeply that she never spoke about them to her husband or her children — not even when her daughter became a commercial airline pilot herself.
The story follows 15 year old Miri Ammerman and her family and friends as they cope with the shock and trauma of three plane crashes and the aftermath. Each chapter is introduced by an extract from the local paper, the Elizabeth Daily Post, several written by Henry Ammerman, Mimi’s uncle, a reporter for the paper.
Many characters were introduced in the early chapters of the book which was confusing for some of us. But the author showed how the character’s lives were interconnected as they struggled to adjust and move on. “Life goes on” became the mantra of Miri’s grandmother and others.
Judy Blume has been a prolific author of books for young readers and children as well as adults and there were qualities of a young-adult novel that some in our group did not care for. Much of the story is seen through the eyes of teenagers. On the other hand, we did enjoy getting a glimpse of life in the early 1950’s and talked a bit about cigarettes, fluoroscope machines, atomic bomb explosions, and advertisements for airlines stewardesses.
Ten members attended the meeting at the EMS building. Thanks Barb for suggesting the change of location and for making the arrangements for us. Thanks to Victor for providing treats. Our next selection for August 3rd will be “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by Caitlin Doughty which looks at death and the funeral industry with a bit of humor. Jean-Margret and Bob will bring refreshments. Hope to see you soon!
Thursday, May 4, 2017
“The Shell Seekers” by Rosamunde Pilcher
This 1987 novel, set in Cornwall and London, tells the story of Penelope Keeling, the daughter of unconventional parents (an artist father and his much younger French wife), examining her past and her relationships with her adult children. When the novel opens, Penelope is in her 60’s and has just left the hospital after an apparent heart attack. Penelope’s life from young womanhood to the book’s present (early 1980’s) is revealed in pieces, from her own point of view and those of her children. Much of the forward impetus of the novel involves the work of her father, including a painting called “The Shell Seekers,” given to Penelope as a wedding present. (Wikipedia)
This is a realistic story about families and the intense relationships between a mother and her children, as well as how adult children face their mother’s imminent death. (Bookrags)
Eight members attended our May meeting. This author had been recommended as a writer of good stories about strong, older women and the group agreed with this description. Although the horrors of war were part of the story, they were not as brutal and devastating as other books we have read. Also contributing to the story being a lighter read was the character development. Most characters were understood to be either likable or not so much.
A couple of the less admirable characters in Penelope’s life were her husband and her son Edwin. Penelope compared her marriage to Ambrose as having been like looking after another person’s dog. He had been a compulsive gambler.
Edwin had offered to clean his mother’s attic in order to secretly hunt for some rough oil sketches done by his grandfather. He had hoped to convince his mother to sell the paintings quickly so he could raise some cash to support his own extravagant lifestyle.
However, throughout her life, Penelope had found ways to cope with adversity, had learned to make the best of things, and had refused to admit defeat. She made some surprising yet appropriate decisions based on her own values and experiences without letting her children bully her final choices.
Thanks to Janet and John for a delicious snack of tea and scones.
Next month we will be discussing “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis which was written in the 1930’s but has relevance for today’s political climate. Barb has signed up to bring refreshments. Happy reading!
Book Club April 2017
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Eight members met Thursday, April 6 to discuss The Light Between Oceans, which is is set in Australia after WWI. Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock off the western coast of Australia and had served as on officer in WWI. He and his young wife, Isabel, have endured two miscarriages and a stillborn birth, when a boat with a dead man and a live baby washes up on the island. Tom and Isabel’s seclusion and their previous life experiences made for an emotional, morally complex story as they began to raise the baby as their own.
Our group enjoyed the author’s character developments and felt that almost all of the characters elicited our sympathy and compassion. We also enjoyed getting a taste of Australia’s culture and dialect. One major story theme we noted was that of living with honesty and trusting our instincts. Another theme was of the power of forgiveness, as the baby’s real mother tried to choose a path she thought her deceased husband would have followed. Overall, this book received a strong thumbs up recommendation from our group.
Thanks to Peg for providing delicious refreshments this month. John and Janet will be providing treats next time. The Shell Seekers, the book selection for May can be picked up at the library. Happy reading!
6 members in attendance
Seven members of the Argyle Book Club met on Thursday, March 2nd to discuss “Jewelweed” by David Rhodes. This novel is set in the small town of Words, a place the author had brought to life in his previous work “Driftless.” The jewelweed of the title refers to an inconspicuous wild plant, known for its healing properties. Jewelweed is also the name of a mysterious wild child who seems to live in the countryside around Words.
Rev. Winnie Helm, a character we first read about in “Driftless,” helps arrange for the release of Blake Bookchester from prison after he has served 10 years for a drug delivery. Blake has endured his prison sentence by reading and had become especially interested in the philosopher Spinoza. As Blake tries to adjust to life outside of prison, we meet a variety of characters whose lives are connected to Blake’s or become connected in surprising ways.
Some of our discussion focused on the author’s depiction of the prison system and how power can change people. One of the prison guards who had been known for his cruelty towards the prisoners, was also shown caring for an aging, alcoholic mother outside of work. Blake’s parole officer almost seemed to stalk him, waiting and watching for the chance to send him back to prison for even a small infraction of the law. Even Winnie felt that the power she had over her small congregation was changing who she was and how she behaved and was contributing to her own spiritual crisis.
A few members felt that the final celebration in the book was too much of a “Hallmark movie” finale. But it also showed how important community was to the people of Words, and as one of our members explained so well, the theme of the book is one of redemption through belonging. The individuals of Words took responsibility for each other and for helping Blake adapt to life outside of prison again.
The Wisconsin State Journal wrote that “Jewelweed” was “a deeply moving meditation on the resonance of each individual life on a small Wisconsin town.” Most of us agreed and hope that David Rhodes can continue to write about small town life.
For our April meeting, we will be reading “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman. There are books available at the Library. If you would like to suggest a book for future discussion, please bring your ideas to our next meeting. Happy reading!
Feb. 2, 2017
10 members attended
The 1993 novella “Montana 1948” by Larry Watson was the book chosen for our February 2017 meeting. Ten members attended and we welcomed Kay Wiegel to our group.
This coming-of-age story is told by the adult David Hayden looking back to events of the summer when he was 12 years old. David’s father was a small town sheriff, his uncle was the local doctor and a war hero, and David’s grandfather was a dominating ranch owner who had been the previous sheriff. David’s housekeeper and babysitter was a young Sioux woman who was considered part of the family but who was also subjected to a form of racism within the home.
Some of the themes we discussed in this short story were about racism, family loyalty, sexual abuse, and the power of a family name within a small town. Though the setting was shortly after World War II, present day examples of some of these problems were brought up during our discussion.
This book was the winner of The Milkweed National Fiction Prize of 1993, but was also considered a banned book for a time in Wisconsin. The author, Larry Watson, had been a professor at UW-Stevens Point for 25 years. Another of his novels, “As Good As Gone,” was recently read on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Chapter a Day.
Thank you to Sarah and Finn for providing delicious refreshments. Next up will be “Jewelweed” by David Rhodes, another Wisconsin author.
January 5, 2017
6 members attended
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The title, Goldfinch, refers to a 17th century Dutch masterpiece painting. The main character of the book, 13 year old Theo Decker, acquires the painting under tragic circumstances. The book follows Theo through adolescence and into adulthood. Theo maintains a secret possession of the painting, fearing the consequences, if the authorities learn that he has it. As an adult Theo enters into a world of dealing in dubious antiques and artwork.
The book can be considered a mystery/suspense novel as the ultimate fate of the Goldfinch and Theo is open to question.
The members who read the book liked it with reservations. Many of the characters in the book were unlikeable. Theo, in particular, had many character faults.
December 1, 2016
8 members attended
The Little Paris Bookshop
The book is about a man, Jean Perdu, whose bookstore is in a barge on the Seine River in Paris. He considers himself to be a literary pharmacologist who can by talking to a person prescribe the proper books to satisfy the person’s emotional and spiritual needs.
However Jean cannot heal himself as he is still grief stricken by the loss of a woman who he deeply loved, 25 years, previously.
The book is about Jean’s physical and spiritual journey to overcome his grief and reclaim the ability to love and to be loved.
All of the book club members enjoyed the book, although most of them liked the first half of the book which takes place on the barge as it travels up the Seine River, through various canals and then down part of the Rhone River. The latter part of the book was, as one member put it, a bit like a romance novel.
January 7, 2016
Dog Days by Jon Katz
Ten members met to discuss this book. Jon Katz has written 16 books, he cohosts “Dog Talk” on public radio, freelances for a veriety of newspapers and magazines, and operates Bedlam Farm in upstate New York, sometimes with his wife, but always with dogs, chickens, sheep and a few donkeys and cows. I found this review which best describes the story. Katz shares with us his dream of leaving the city for the country. He shares the unpredictable adventure of farm life. The border collies, the sheep, the chickens, the cat, the ram, and one surprisingly sociable steer named Elvis all contribute to the hum and roar of Bedlam. On timeless summer days and in punishing winter storms, Katz continues his meditation on what animals can selflessly teach us and what we in turn owe to them. With good neighbors, a beautiful landscape, and tales of true love thrown in, Dog Days gives us not only marvelous animal stories but a rich portrait of the harmonious world that is Bedlam Farm. Another reviewer wrote, “Anyone who has ever loved an animal, who owns a farm or even dreams of it, will read Dog Days with appreciation and a cathartic lump in his or her throat.” Our members recommend it.
May 7, 2015
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Nine members met to discuss this book, first published in 1899. The story is set in New Orleans on the Gulf coast at the end of the 19th century. Edna Pontellier struggles to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the American South at the turn of the century. Edna is married and has two sons, but she spends a lot of her time with her good friend Adele who consistently reminds Edna of her duties as a wife and mother. But, after a new love interest breaks off their secret relationship, Edna’s shifting emotions between maternal duties and her desire for social freedom force her to reassess her priorities. Deciding to take a more active role in her own happiness, Edna isolates herself and withdraws from traditional duties and the society who has judged her. She reaches out to a musician, Mademoiselle Reisz, who she admires. M. Reisz represents the independence Edna longs to achieve. She sees her as an inspiration to her own “awakening.” Her rebellion against conventional expectations allows her to discover her own identity, independent from her traditional role. This story is a perceptive focus on human behavior and the complexities of social structures. The original title of this book was A Solitary Soul probably because it highlights the different ways in which a woman could be in solitude due to the expectations of motherhood, ethnicity, marriage, social norms and gender. Edna’s separation from society and friends is seen as individually empowering, but she faces the risks of self-exploration and subsequent loneliness. Edna’s journey ultimately leads her to take control over what she still can: her body and her self.
April 9, 2015
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Eleven members met to discuss this book. This 1937 novel follows Janie Mae Crawford from her grandmother’s plantation shack in West Florida to Logan Killick’s farm, to all-black Eatonville, to the Everglades, and back to Eatonville. Under “a blossoming pear tree” sixteen-year-old Janie dreamt of a world that will answer all her questions and waits “for the world to be made.” But Nanny, who has raised her from birth, arranges Janie’s marriage to an older local farmer. Caught in a joyless marriage to Killick, she meets Joe Starks and spends the next twenty years with him. “Kept in her place” by Joe, Janie continues to cope, hope and dream. When Joe passes, she is once again “ready for her great journey,” which begins when she meets Tea Cake, who engages not only her heart but also her spirit. Janie blossoms, life is joyful, but tragedy follows her with the passing of Tea Cake. Janie returns to Eatonville and tells her story to her best friend. “She has been to the horizon and back.” Janie has learned what love is and has experienced life’s joys and sorrows. But she has come home to herself in peace. Our members loved this book.
March 5, 2015
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Ten members gathered to discuss this book. This story is set in 1970’s Iowa. The first half of the book is lazy and casual, “like laying down in tall grass, staring into the sky and just listening to the sounds around you.” Then, quite unexpectedly, things start to fall apart. Larry, our farmer father, decides he needs to divide his 1000-acre farm between his three daughters before he dies. What follows his decision is despair, wickedness, and betrayal. The author writes with a compelling pen and keeps us interested until the inevitable end. It is difficult to imagine a family of such complex characters, but the author masterfully develops the plot and intertwines the consistent and predictable family members so brilliantly that we must continue reading. The layers of family resentment, jealously, and humility are peeled away revealing long-buried secrets. “The fact is that the same sequence of days can arrange themselves into a number of different stories.” Many of our members believe that our author must have certainly experienced some of these life challenges and tragic events on a personal level. She displays great insights into the moral complexities of human behavior.
February 5, 2015
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Ten members met to discuss this book. The majority of members thoroughly enjoyed it though they unanimously agreed that it was a difficult one to describe and had many layers to discuss. Ozeki provided perspectives, letters, emails, and commentary from a plethora of characters though seamlessly wove them together. Ruth Ozeki herself and her husband served as main characters; as well as Nao, a Japanese teenager whom the reader knows through a found diary; Old Jiko, Nao’s Buddhist monk grandmother; Haruki #1, a peace and poetry-loving WWII kamikaze pilot; and Nao’s father, who grapples with depression and suicide. Readers who had done research noted that both Ruth and her husband Oliver, were depicted as their real selves and many projects and experiences discussed in the book can be evidenced on the Internet. The book, however, is labeled fiction and thus leaves a gray area between the place where Ozeki’s imagination begins and ends. A Tale for the Time Being journeys between the shores of British Columbia and Japan, floatsom from the tsunami bringing both objects and information with the tide. At one point, characters even vacationed in Driftless, Wisconsin. Ozeki is first and foremost a document film maker and notes that this background informs her writing. She feels most comfortable creating “scenes” and snippets to be edited together. The style works. Argylian readers noted how the integration of Zen Buddhism to the story resulted in lots of contemplation and surprising meditative moments within the storyline. Environmental themes warning of global warming also threaded throughout the tale but without being preachy. Ozeki created a unique and rich novel that we enjoyed reading and kept the discussion rapidly moving.
December 4, 2014
Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie by Lauren Redniss
Twelve members met to discuss this book. One of the fascinating aspects of this book is that the cover actually glows in the dark, making it extremely easy to locate during late-night reading. But, this mid-19th century Paris biography offers us, on the broader scope, the history of two scientists who fell in love and expanded the periodic table when they discovered two new elements, e.g. radium and polonium. This book mixes text and art so brilliantly. It is full of mystery and magic. Even the pages without text vividly portray the emotion, the scandal, the passion, the adventure, and the tragedy of their lives. Through their research a new science was in the course of development. But would this new science benefit mankind? “It could even be thought that radium could become very dangerous in criminal hands.” Could exposing this secret of Nature become the means of terrible destruction on the planet? The Curie’s accomplished their dreams, won the Nobel prize for Physics in 1903, and went on to create excitement for other uses of radioactivity, frequently carrying radium with them, unaware of its poison to the body. Pierre died in 1906. Marie continued her work, fell in love with a married scientist, and won a second Nobel prize in 1911 (this time in Chemistry). Our author allows to follow her as she fuels the debate for both sides of the benefit/danger issue. She interviews Hiroshima survivors and radiation treatment oncologists, Nevada test site weapons specialists and Nuclear Energy research centers for space exploration. And with this book she encourages her readers to open their minds to the unknown and to the invisible materials which do exist in our world, the same world which excited Marie and Pierre in Paris at the turn of the century.
November 6, 2014
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Eight of our members met to discuss this book. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Our reviews were mixed. Many of us believed the story to be too frightening to imagine. A world without books could only be a world of emptiness and melancholy. This futuristic classic is a sobering vision of a future where firemen don’t extinguish fires–they start them in order to burn books. One reviewer described this time as “a place where trivial information is good (TV, songs, movies), and knowledge and ideas are bad.” Guy Montag is a book-burning fireman who enjoys his job but his empty life is challenged through conversations with a young next-door neighbor who finds wonder and excitement from the ideas she finds in books and what she can see in the world around her. Montag is also shaken by an incident where a woman opts to burn along with her books as the firemen helplessly watch. “There must be something in books, things we cannot imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there,” he ponders. And, so he begins hiding books, his wife reports him, and to avoid arrest he runs. “It took someone perhaps a lifetime to put his thoughts down on paper, and then I come along in two minutes and boom! It’s over.” Montag soon connects with a group of scholars who convince him that censorship can create havoc. The members of this group have kept the contents of the long-gone books in their heads, waiting for the time when society will once again need the wisdom of literature. There is so much symbolism in this book and it contains many wonderful statements which encourage its readers to open their minds and help save the beauty of spontaneity and creativity. Everyone must leave something behind when he dies; something his hand has touched. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it. Although it is a difficult story to read, you will love this book for the insight it gives to an unwanted future and how it clarifies our role in the attempts to stop it.
October 2, 2014
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
Sixteen members discussed this book, which is part of the Armand Gamache series by this author. This story takes place in a Quebec monastery of Gilbertine monks. A murder has shattered the solitude and harmony of the 24 residents on this remote island. Although the monks in this community have taken a vow of silence, they are world-famous for their glorious voices and rendition of the ancient Gregorian chants which astound and amaze all listeners so profoundly that the hypnotic effect is known as “The Beautiful Mystery.” Their normal life is filled with raising chickens, growing vegetables, making chocolate and living in peace and prayer. When the renowned choir director’s body is found, the monks must not only trust and allow outsiders into their sanctuary but also break their vow of silence to the chief inspector and his deputy who arrive to determine who among them killed a fellow monk. Many of us felt the whodunit plot to be captivating and clever, even though we felt the clues were evident early on. And, for those of us who are currently not familiar with the Gamache series, the story delivered irrelevant characters and narratives which diverted our attention. Howe3ver, the author writes with intelligence and compassion about complex emotions, while at the same time interjects humor to illuminate the darkness. Several of our members expressed interest in reading other books in this series. We know you will enjoy this one.
September 4, 2014
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
Ten members met to discuss this book. This author has previously been declared a favorite among many of our members. And this book does not disappoint. During this particular summer, “Lindbergh flew, the Yankees soared, the Midwest rivers flooded, Al Capone reigned (for a short 18 months), and America prospered. It was a summer that was vibrant and wild and only two years from the Great Depression and despair.” We learned some of the amazing back stories of the well-known and the not-so-well-known characters who drew the attention of America and the world during the months of May through September in 1927. Who knew that summer was sprinkled so liberally with the antics of maniacs and mobsters? Bryson writes about the era of Prohibition and argues that “it introduced a new level of danger to American life.” It spurred the rise of gangsters and corruption. And, if you thought you knew everything about Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, and Henry Ford, you might want to rethink that. Bryson shows us the full view of our heroes, not always modest, virtuous, and good. This was a fateful season for America, on the cusp of potential greatness and glory. Bryson captures it in this narrative before the world changed. We encourage you to read this one.
August 7, 2014
Postville by Stephen G. Bloom
Thirteen of us gathered to discuss this book. From the jacket, this book “…seems like a story from America’s past: a group of pioneers strikes out for America’s heartland, seeking their fortune and a new way of life. But this is contemporary America, and neither the pioneers nor the outcome is what you might expect.” In 1987, a group of Hasidic Jews from New York opened a kosher slaughterhouse outside of Postville, Iowa (the clash of cultures was obvious from the start). This small town of under 1500 people saw its economy revived and the business became a worldwide success. However, within 10 years, the initial welcome reached a boiling point with a division so great that a referendum was scheduled to annex the property in order to force these brash, assertive Jews to either leave or adapt to the community taxation, rules, and traditions. Our author, a secular Jew himself, makes many visits to the town and interviews those on both sides of the annexation vote. Bloom said Postville was a social laboratory. He immerses himself and us into the middle of the tension and in-fighting which escalates toward the day of the vote. Trying to convert Bloom to their Orthodox ways, the Hasidic Jews welcome him into their home to share the Sabbath, but eventually expose him to their worst traits. This books isn’t just about Postville. It is a sample of what is occurring in other communities across our country where small stronger groups are changing the landscape of cities and towns, leaving a stain in their wake. This story will give you a chance to examine your own prejudices and make you question how responsible we should be to our own community in the midst of diversity. It is a fantastic read.
July 3, 2014
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Ten members gathered on July 3rd to discuss this book. I am confident to report that all in attendance loved it. Not only did we like the story, but we liked the writing. The author’s words are haunting, yet poetic and profound. His narrator is Death himself who overshadows every page in war-torn Nazi Germany (1939-1943) and tauntingly hints of fates yet unknown. Liesel is a nine-year-old orphan who lives with her foster parents. She is our book thief. And, she learns to read the first book she ever encounters, “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”, which she discovers left in the snow near her brother’s grave. Her foster father, Hans, teaches her to read during every stolen moment and at night when her nightmares shock her from sleep. The author writes with amazing artistry and paints pictures of emotions very difficult to describe. Liesel’s foster parents give protection to a young Jewish man who is the son of a dear friend from WWI. Hiding in their basement, Max writes a beautiful story for Liesel over white-washed pages of “Mein Kampf”. We readers all knew what was coming at the end, but we still read it anyway. It isn’t a typical WWII story. It grabs you at the start and releases you on the last page wishing for more. And, believe it or not, this books is cataloged as a Young Adult title and a quick read. However, we suggest you slow down to savor it because it is a book about the power of words and language. Some of us have read this book more than once.
June 5, 2014
Letters from a Nut by Ted L. Nancy
Seven of our members met to discuss this book. It delivers a wild ride into the madcap mind of our author who writes ridiculous letters to hotel chains, corporate CEO’s, celebrities, heads of state, politicians, and other unsuspecting “victims” with questions, complaints, praise, and bizarre requests to see who and how they will respond. In many of the cases, the responses are equally hilarious. These letters should actually be read aloud for the full benefit of craziness, In one letter, Nancy is a concerned hotel guest in search of his lost tooth. In another, he is the “genius inventor of the six-day underwear.” And, in yet another, he writes to the Baseball Hall of Fame to see if he can donate Mickey Mantle’s toenail clippings. Most of our members feel this book borders on silly and that the author is truly Jerry Seinfeld, but in recent interviews he reveals that the real man behind the letters is Barry Marder, a comedy writer. This is very light reading, but could be a true delight for those of you looking for some laugh-out-loud material when you want to put serious matters aside.
May 1, 2014
The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris
Eight members met on May 1st to discuss this book. In this memoir, the author tells us what she discovers in her own family history and the evolving attitudes about race as she entered adulthood. This book encourages us to ask the same questions of racial bias in our own history. How were we raised? What was never spoken? “Her father’s aversion to conflict and his compulsive need for calm are what got us through the roughest patches and it also got him through his darkest days.” Norris uncovers long-buried secrets after her parents are gone, including the fact that her grandmother worked as a traveling Aunt Jemima wandering through the Midwest. Her own mother was ashamed to talk to her about it but allowed her to “write about it after I’m gone.” There are gaps in the author’s history that cannot be filled, but the many documented stories of struggle, obstacles and shame are enough to help her understand, without judgment, just how tangled the landscape of their family was. Her father was a Navy veteran, raised in Birmingham before civil rights arrived. He was so determined not to be judged differently that he woke early on snowy days to shovel the driveway and sidewalk before his white neighbors looked outside. Her mother was a fourth-generation Minnesotan who came from the only black family in a small northern town. Norris learns that her father was wounded in a scuffle with police in 1946, but he never spoke of it. The author says, “Here is the conundrum of racism. You know it’s there, but you can’t prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, how it colors a particular situation.” She accepts that her parents kept their stories to themselves to spare her from shame, but she also comes to understand that innocence carries its own burdens and that the cost of secrecy outweighs the gift of silence. We know you will like this story and we encourage you to read it.
April 3, 2014
Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene
Eleven members discussed this book on April 3rd. The author brings us a true story of something remarkable that happened in North Platte, Nebraska: something that has been all but forgotten, something many of us want this country to become, a nation trying to make things better. On Christmas Day 1941, something amazing awaited our WWII troop train as it rolled into the railroad depot at the North Platte Canteen. It was welcomed with smiles, hugs, food, beverages, magazines, music and the warmth of a grateful nation. Each day of the war, every day of the year, all uniformed military personnel were allowed off the train for ten or twenty brief minutes to experience a display of generosity which affected them and their families for the remainder of their lives. Bob Greene visited the area of North Platte almost 60 years later to interview some of the few residents and soldiers who remain. What he found was a depth of emotion and compassion for the people from 125 communities surrounding North Platte who gave so much of themselves for nearly five years, every day and every night, from 5 a.m. until midnight, to provide kindness and companionship to approximately six million homesick soldiers as they traveled on their way to war in Europe or the Pacific. This was the other side of the war, the side which normally doesn’t get mentioned: the displays of civilian support and the knowledge of just how good people really can be. These were people who went beyond good intentions or good ideas. They actually made it happen.
March 6, 2014
The Land Remembers by Ben Logan
Fourteen members met on March 6 to discuss this book. A majority of those in attendance expressed how much they enjoyed reading this memoir and shared stories with us of their own relationships with the land and life in rural America. Ben Logan shares his deep attachments to all of his boyhood experiences on the farm, including the late night discussions with his brothers, mother and father under the maple tree which stood for decades in their yard. How far away are the stars? How do you determine when the earth was ready to plant? How do you fool a hen in order to locate her hidden nest of eggs? If you had to guess the time of day, you could tell by how fast the veterinarian drove, when the mailman came, and when the neighbor’s cows were out and down at the creek. How do you tell when summer finally arrives? It is the sound of the whippoorwill, of course! On the farm, nothing ever ended and nothing was ever completed. Each day of hay season was filled with agonizing decisions. And when growing oats each summer, farmers prayed for miracles to see the harvest through. Ben Logan said, “We boys hurt each other, made up, and played again. To hate and not love again was to be locked up forever in the lonely silence of oneself. A day could not be saved for later, such as a perfect flower pressed between pages. So we pursued a day, chasing it, reaching for it, and running as it sped ahead of us in the swiftly moving shadows of the sun.” In the author’s afterword, he gives us these thoughts. “As the changing seasons carry me forward in time, a stubborn part of me keeps reaching back to preserve, unbroken, my linkage with the land. Partly I reach back to find myself at some age of innocence when the land was my whole world. Partly, I try to recapture those taken-for-granted persons I called Mother and Father. The land cradles all life. It outlives us all. We are all bound together with it into an immense circle of life. It forever remembers us and writes an epitaph for the good and evil we do to it.” A New York Times reviewer said he was “puzzled by his own reaction to this book.” How could he be feeling nostalgic for things that never happened to him? “It’s not nostalgic for my own past that this book made me feel. It’s nostalgic for a world the author makes me wish I had known.” Our book club recommends this book to all readers.
February 6, 2014
The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
Twelve members met on February 6 to discuss “The Lost Painting” by Jonathan Harr. This book is a nonfiction retelling of the discovery of a lost painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio. While some of us felt the book took some effort to grab our interest, due to the author’s lengthy “setting the stage” narrative for the true art history lovers, the best of the story begins in an Italian village on a hilltop near the Adriatic coast when a young graduate student from Rome, Francesca Cappelletti, stumbles onto some clues while meticulously researching documents in a dusty palazzo basement in the 1990’s. These clues are the catalyst for other Caravaggio scholars to search for a painting which has been lost for almost two centuries. Caravaggio was a genius and a master, but his personal failings, drunkenness, and unbridled rage led him to commit murder and to leave Rome a hunted man. Some estimates indicate that between 60 and 80 of his works are still in existence today, but countless others have been lost. So many have been copied, which adds to the tremendous work involving so many people to find the originals. When Francesca meets Sergio Benedetti, an art restorer in Ireland, the hunt for the lost piece, “The Taking of Christ” quickly escalates. The author offered us fascinating descriptions through the process of identifying and restoring these great works of art. If you are a student of art history, you will most certainly love this book. However, if you are not, you will still find this to be a suspenseful tale of an intriguing and tedious scavenger hunt for a lost 17th century treasure. We will certainly look more closely at art now that we have read this book. A masterpiece could be gathering dust and forgotten somewhere or perhaps hanging in a small church, mistaken for a copy.
January 2, 2014
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
On January 2, thirteen members met to review “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham. This book was a hilarious look at the madness and mayhem that has become a part of our holiday tradition. Luther Krank is fed up. Believing that all of the joy has been replaced by chaos, frenzy, and hassle (not to mention the $6100 average amount of spending), Luther convinces wife Nora that this is the year to make some changes. “Let’s take a cruise!” he announces. Their only child will be spending a year in Peru and won’t be home anyway, so why not do something different, go somewhere warm, soak up the sun and take a break from the norm. Hesitantly, Nora warms to the idea. But sticking to their plan becomes increasingly more difficult as the community responds to them with a mixture of disgust and envy. Luther is not a Scrooge nor a Grinch. In some ways you may even sympathize with him and believe his neighbors have no business getting so overly emotional regarding his decision. When their daughter decides to come home for Christmas at the last minute with her soon-to-be husband, Luther and Nora know she expects the traditional holiday parties, tree, and gift-giving which she has so long enjoyed. You will soon learn how the community and the neighbors respond to assist them in making that happen. As Luther and Nora (standing there glowing with their tanning booth bronzed bodies in preparation for their now-cancelled trip) greet their daughter and her beau, she is led to believe it all fell into place naturally and normally. So many parts of this book are fun and humorous with close-to-home moments and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It is not John Grisham’s usual legal thriller nor courtroom drama, but just a quirky look at how skipping Christmas isn’t always easily achieved or if it should be at all.
December 5, 2013
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
On December 5th, eleven members met to discuss “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. Reviews were mixed but most of us enjoyed this best seller. But some of us had to admit initial hatred for the “despicable characters” we met. This murder thriller “takes a look at the common marital concerns over money, in-laws, job loss, and parenthood” and “turns them into toxic waste” for Amy and Nick Dunne. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears, leaving behind a pool of blood and overturned furniture. The author gives up very few clues, but just enough to keep us hanging on. Then she slams us with a 180 revelation that changes everything we thought to be true. What is real and what is not? Is there such a thing as a “soulmate” or are we just a collection of personality traits in relationships where everyone is play-acting? How well do we really know our spouse? This marriage, between a narcissist and a sociopath, isn’t pretty and the language is raw and harsh. Most of us found very little sympathy for Amy and Nick or for any of the characters actually. They all seem a bit off-center, but the story is gripping and horrifying and crazy. Perhaps the author has to be a little bit off-center too in order to so cleverly fool and astound her readers. The ending was a surprise for almost all of us and yet was it really an ending? For those of you who love suspense stories and think you can easily predict the whodunnit of almost any mystery in the earlier chapters, think again.
November 7, 2013
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
On November 7th, eleven members met to discuss Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior”. The author wrote this book after returning to southern Appalachia in 2004, embracing her roots, drawing from this area for the backdrop of this fictional story. Feeling alone and empty and believing that she had sacrificed so many of her dreams, Dellarobia Turnbow saw what she believed to be a sign to rethink her attempts to leave her current life. “A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.” But she changes her course, re-examines her life, and finds that change can be good. Her moment of realization began during a trip to the top of the mountain where she sees (without her glasses) a “flaming forest of unearthly beauty”, “a valley of lights”, and “it looked like the inside of joy.” The mountain was ablaze with millions of Monarch butterflies here in Feathertown, Tennessee, seeking a place of safety when their natural habitat is changed dramatically by weather or altered permanently by humans. As we suspected, the underlying issues of global warming and human disruption of the environment permeate this story, but have we ever compared this type of flight behavior to our own? What happens when we are not where we should be? But the people of Feathertown show us that there are several ways to define and respond to the arrival of the Monarchs. Our reviews of this book were mixed. Several discussions surfaced regarding where we stand on environmental issues locally or globally. And some of us felt the pages were laden with disposable characters, which didn’t seem to enhance the purpose. But, there are many pages with humor and many more with compassion and substance. And, there was also a message that everyone, at some point in life, searches for his or her “best place to be.”
October 3, 2013
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trailby Cheryl Strayed
On October 3rd, thirteen members of our group met to discuss Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”. This vivid and compelling memoir kept some of us on the edge of our seats, riveted to every page, holding our breath at every threatening noise or crackle of twigs on every inch of the trail. And, yet, for some of us Cheryl’s behavior was annoying, impulsive and irrational. Her bad-girl decisions kept us from being totally sympathetic. The author wrote this story of her solo 1100-mile adventure 20 years after she completed it. She had no experience or training to attempt such a journey, but at the age of 22, she thought she had nothing more to lose. After the death of her mother, the end of her marriage and the scattering of her remaining family members, she embarked on an attempt at self-discovery, redemption and healing. She said, “And finally, once I’d actually gone and done it, walked all those miles for all those days, there was the realization that what I’d thought was the beginning had not really been the beginning at all. That in truth my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail hadn’t begun when I made the snap decision to do it. It had begun before I even imagined it, precisely four years, seven months, and three days before, when I’d stood in a little room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and learned that my mother was going to die.” Many of us were held captive by her ability to tell this story with enough warmth, suspense, humor and inspiration. We could feel her need for water and food, her pain from blisters and the weight of her load, her moments of terror from rattlesnakes and snowstorms, and all those things which a young woman would face alone over the course of several months from the Mojave Desert to the state of Washington. Her mental challenges became as difficult to bear as the physical ones. But, no matter how perplexed, terrified, or lonely she became, she had no escape or room for denial. The trail gave her two options: continue moving forward or go back the way she came. The author herself said “I know if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear is born of a story we tell ourselves, so I chose to tell myself a different story….that my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.”
September 5, 2013
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Eight of our members met to discuss this book at our September meeting. In the early chapters of the book, we meet John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos, two good friends who live together in the Deep South and are deaf mutes. After ten years together, Spiros becomes ill and his behavior changes so drastically that he is committed to an asylum and John Springer moves into a boarding house. It is then that he meets Biff, Jake, Mick and Dr. Copeland. These four people consider John Singer their confidant and visit with him regularly. Each seems to be longing for comfort, peace of mind, stability, and answers to help them cope in their separate worlds. “Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad, the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.” Not all of our personal reviews of this book were positive. Although we felt the character developments were outstanding, we did not feel that the characters interacted in a manner which allowed the story to flow easily. However, Tennessee Williams describes the author as “the greatest prose writer the South has ever produced.” And, Richard Wright says the author “has the ability to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness.” We did believe that this story was intended to give voice to the rejected, the downtrodden, the mistreated and oftentimes the forgotten members of a society in the 1930’s, each one yearning for escape from the lives they presently live.
August 1, 2013
Shabanu, Daughter of the Windby Suzanne Fisher Staples
Ten of our members discussed this book at our August meeting. Shabanu is a strong-willed Muslim girl whose home is the windswept Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. She and her older sister, Phulan, have been chosen to marry two of their cousins upon reaching marital age. Her family raises camels and sells them at market to pay for the wedding dowries. This book is young adult fiction written in 1989, but the story is timeless, meaningful and powerful. (Parts of it are more appropriate for older readers.) In the early chapters of the book, Shabanu is a care-free girl who would rather be outdoors in the sand dunes with her beloved camels. However, during the year-long preparations for her sister’s wedding, she matures as she deals with love, loss, and sacrifice. In the midst of these maturities, Shabanu is cautioned by Sharma (a cousin of her parents) to “keep your inner reserves hidden” and to “appreciate the joy of the moment without the sorrow”. Through tragic circumstances, Shabanu is promised to marry a different (and much older) man in a deal which would benefit her family. Shabanu must draw on her own strengths to determine if she will face her new future and uphold her family’s honor or run from it and accept the consequences of angering her father. She learns to focus on the beautiful things in her world and take them out, one by one, and then fold them away deep inside. “The secret is keeping your innermost beauty, the secrets of your soul, locked in your heart.” This book provides an incredible look into the culture and daily harsh realities of surviving today in a desert region so remote and so dangerous. The tales of frequent and deadly desert sandstorms, the pre-arranged marriages of young girls to older men, and the remarkable strength and perseverance of the tribal females will amaze.
July 3, 2013
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
Eight members gathered this evening on a warm summer evening along the banks of the Pecatonica River. Thanks to our member, Sarah, for hosting this month’s meeting! We found her porch to be the perfect place to discuss this book. The main characters, teenagers Nell and her sister Eva, live at the edge of a forest 30 miles from the nearest town in the 1990’s. In this post-apocalypse work of fiction, the author shows us how human behavior wills us to believe that things aren’t as bad as they seem, that tomorrow everything will return to normal if we keep holding on and continuing with our daily routines. Although the author doesn’t reveal what has caused the disruption in community services, the food supply, and utilities, we are led to believe that it was no single event. But rumors abound about war, a deadly virus, and continued upheaval in Congress resulting in the subsequent collapse of society. For the two sisters, the forest is discovered to be a living breathing being, full of serenity and menace, comfort and tension. It is an unchanging sanctuary no matter what. The sisters, after losing both parents, arrive into adulthood and are forced to re-examine their place in the world and their relationship to the land and with each other. To say they became survivalists without leaving their home would be understating the multitude of hardships and unforeseen events which these young girls are forced to face. Many of our members would disagree with the choices and decisions they made, and several of us were slightly disappointed in the ending, however, we found the book to be a fascinating quick read and indeed a page-turner.
June 6, 2013
Peace Like a Riverby Leif Enger
Twelve members gathered to discuss this best-selling novel. We found this to be a remarkable book and we all enjoyed it. Here is a quote which we believe summarizes our review, “Once in a great while, a book comes along that has such wonderful characters and marvelous prose, that you read it as much for the pure joy it offers on every page as to find out how it ends.” The author presents us with an 11-year-old asthmatic boy named Reuben from the Midwest in the 1960’s. Along with his younger sister Swede (a brilliant and unforgettable girl) and his father (a man of integrity, strength and wisdom), he finds himself on a cross-country search for his fugitive older brother during the harshest of winters in North Dakota. Their journey will inspire you, and through this tale of brotherhood, faith and family, you may find yourself redefining what miracles truly are. The author has an amazing gift of story-telling full of richness and clarity. You may even want to read this one out loud because there are so many memorable quotes which many of us revisited. “Where do you think you’re going?” Dr. Nokes asked of Reuben’s father. “What do you have for directions?” His father replied, “I have the substance of things hoped for. I have the anticipation of things unseen.” And, then there is this one, “Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a refusal to panic.” Based on the enthusiasm displayed at our meeting, this book will certainly be added to our list of favorites. It does not disappoint.
May 2, 2013
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Twelve members met in May to discuss this classic novel by American author Jack London. We agreed that it was a remarkable story of a dog named Buck and a tale of power, submission, strength, violence, courage and loyalty. London left college in 1897 when the Klondike gold rush first began, hoping to return home a rich man. However, all he brought back with him was the experience of adventure and frontier which he put into words, providing his readers with something far more interesting than Victorian-era fiction. This book was his most famous work. Buck, a large powerful dog, half St. Bernard and half sheep dog, was stolen, traded, and shipped to the Klondike region to fulfill the need for strong sled dogs, as the fervor for gold escalated. His new masters worked for the government and moved the mail shipments across the Yukon territory. Fierce rivalries take place between the dogs as they struggle for lead sled spots. Even as the brutal natural elements take their toll on the weakest of the dogs along the route, Buck recovers his primitive instincts and learns how to not only survive but to master his skills above all others, developing a most profound depth of loyalty ever witnessed between master and dog. This is a story of transformation and London perfectly shows us that Buck “linked the past with the present, and the eternity behind him throbbed through him in a mighty rhythm to which he swayed as the tides and seasons swayed…..deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn toward the call…” Both the civilized world he knew before and the uncivilized wilderness he now embraces have extremely different rules. It is the understanding of these rules one must follow in order to survive because slight misunderstandings and wanton behaviors of ignoring the warnings result in tragic outcomes.
April 4, 2013
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
Eight members met in April to discuss this book. The author researched and oftentimes retraced the footsteps of this young Honduran boy. She interviewed witnesses, other migrants, INS agents, family members and care-givers to illuminate the complexity of the immigration issue by giving a face and a voice to migrant children. Enrique sacrifices all he has and all he knows to reach the U.S. in search of his mother, who left him and his sister ten years earlier to seek employment. His dream is to get to know her, because all that he knows has been shown to him through photographs. Despite the gifts, the money, and the promises she offers her children during her absence, to Enrique the material things are not fulfilling and the promises are never realized. Migrant children are stalked, robbed, tortured, maimed, raped and they often die at the hands of gangsters, robbers and judicial police. And, even though many end up being deported back to the Central American homelands, the determination to attempt the journey again remains strong. Along the way, they must rely on “food-throwers”, care-givers and paid smugglers to assist them through the dangers of plotted round-ups and frequent checkpoints. Travel by foot, by train-top, by river and by truckers is hazardous and many times futile for tens of thousands of immigrant children each year. And, once they reach their mothers here in the U.S., the dreams of rekindled relationships are shattered by resentment and jealousy and rebellion. This is a very compelling story of loss, sacrifice, treachery, tragedy, compassion and family love, which readers will not soon forget.
March 7, 2013
Raven Speak by Diane Lee Wilson
We chose this book for March because we believed it would mirror our own desires for the end of winter and the coming of spring. This is a Viking tale from long ago and the struggle for power and survival during the months of an extremely harsh winter. The leader of the clan and most of the male members leave by ship in search of food. However, in their absence the clan storyteller, driven by evil ambition, and the daughter of the clan leader, driven to protect the seat and wishes of her father, find themselves in their own personal battle in the midst of starving and sickly women and children who are counting on them to provide for their needs. The daughter, Asa Coppermane, meets an old woman who speaks to her two pet ravens. It is apparent that this woman has power over Asa and convinces her that she must make a great sacrifice in order to save her remaining clan members. But, it is Asa who must decide how great that sacrifice must be. All of the eight members in attendance enjoyed reading this book in the hope that spring would eventually come at the end of it. We recommend it to all readers young adult and older.
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Eight members discussed this book. Some of us were not easily drawn into the story, beautifully written by this author. It is a tale of the intertwined fates of the Kashpaws and the Lamartines on a North Dakota reservation from 1934 to 1984. It is filled with complex characters covering several generations. The members who loved the story were able to work their way into it and were drawn in by the believability of the dialogue; the in-depth descriptions of the characters; and the many forms of life, love, and betrayals which were interwoven with passion and drama. One reader wrote of Erdrich, “she puts her characters through a lot”.
February 7, 2013
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Our discussion was cancelled due to weather conditions. We will discuss this book at our March 7 meeting.
January 3, 2013
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Six members met in January to discuss this book. While the story is timeless and familiar, the Argyle book club appreciated delving further into exploring Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. All appreciated the vivid descriptive language of the book, from Marley’s face like a “bad lobster in a dark cellar” to Ebenezer’s reformed attitude of “the father of a long line of brilliant laughter.” We discussed the historical contexts of a dirty coal-powered London, Dickens’ own poverty-stricken childhood, and his somewhat secular approach to the Christmas holiday. Readers admitted that in the hectic times of our own Christmas celebrations, Dickens’ words reminded us to celebrate the simple joys of good food, warm fires and family nearby.
December 6, 2012
The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy
Nine members met in December to discuss this book about a storyteller who traveled the globe collecting and telling stories that had been passed down to him through many generations. The storyteller, however, failed to grasp the true meaning and wisdom of these tales until the day he lost his ability to tell them. How can a storyteller continue on when he has lost his voice? Everything he knows begins to fall apart, until he encounters his old teacher. This is the true story of that man who finds happiness just when he thinks he has lost everything. Each chapter begins with a tale that bears wisdom and each reflects the questions we face individually, from the search for truth to the ways we cope with loss. We question whether everything that happens in life does so for a reason. We ask ourselves whether a curse can be considered a blessing and a blessing considered a curse. This book can inspire each of us to seek life’s meaning and realize that we are characters in our own stories. Have you ever asked yourself what it means to be rich? Do you answer by saying it is an appreciation of what you already have? “Sometimes you must follow your dreams very far to find that which is closest to your heart.” You will laugh, you will cry, you will probably re-read this book many times and you will definitely want your own personal copy. One reviewer wrote that this book should be a gift you give yourself so that you can refer to it whenever something in life goes wrong and whenever something in life goes right.
November 1, 2012
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
Eight members met in November to discuss this book. For those of us who grew up during the 50’s and 60’s, this book certainly took us back to those decades which followed the US involvement in WWII. These years were bustling with inventions, prosperity, community, and family. These were the times when we seemed indestructible and we had not yet heard about seat belts, smoke detectors, bottled water or labels warning us that drinking bleach was bad for us. Through this memoir and with the help of his alter ego, The Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson attempts to prove to himself that he cannot possibly be the biological son of his parents. In this book, he looks back at things as he saw them then. These include the first TV’s, baseball, vacations, strange relatives, nuclear testing drills in school, Bishop’s cafeteria, and the books of Dick and Jane. If you are a baby boomer, you will laugh out loud at some of these jogs to our memories. The author relays a story of a woman getting lost in the White House…FOR THE BETTER PART OF A DAY…wandering aimlessly about and setting small fires. No scrambled Air Force jets were summoned, no SWAT teams dropped from the ceiling and no awards were given to the heroes for finding her. She was merely taken to the kitchen, given a cup of tea and sent home to her family. Of course, the author, who grew up in Des Moines, stretched his story with sprinkles of exaggeration, especially when his Thunderbolt Kid powers were called upon, but the message was clear that we live in different times today. If you haven’t read this book yet, we certainly encourage you to do so. We believe you will find it full of nostalgia, humor, and insight into those things which made those years so different and so special.
October 4, 2012
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Four members gathered to discuss this book at our October meeting. This is a heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope. It’s a captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life….as only a dog could tell it. Enzo is a terrier/lab mix who has assumed the role of unconditional protector of the family. He understands words and has in-depth insights into the limitations and joys of both dog and man. He learns that life is like racing. It isn’t about going fast, but if one uses the same techniques as required on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals. “That which you manifest is before you.” You must become an active participant in your own future, instead of assuming that you are the victim of circumstance or fate. Enzo, who is nearing the end of his life during a major family crisis, is certain he will someday return to this earth as a man prepared and ready to live a life full of emerging possibilities. But, until then, Enzo realizes that gestures are all that he has in order to communicate with his owner. He holds in his heart the dream that Denny Swift will become a Formula One racing champion with his young daughter at his side. This is the perfect book for anyone who knows that some of our best friends walk beside us on four legs; that compassion isn’t only for humans; and that the relationship between two souls who are meant for each other never really comes to an end. We agreed that this is a good book for anyone.
September 6, 2012
Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography by Jean Baker
Six members discussed this book at our September meeting. Regardless of any former opinions we had formed, it was generally agreed that Mary Todd Lincoln lived a very tumultuous life. Amidst all of her rumored complex characteristics, she was certainly misunderstood yet strong, well-educated, outspoken and passionately interested in the politics of her time. We chose this book at a time when our nation recognizes the 150th anniversary of some of the most influential Civil War conflicts. And, during those years when our nation was suffering the agonies of war and secession on its homeland, Mary herself was experiencing her own personal tragedies. Just prior to the assassination of her husband, she lost three of her four children. And later, her surviving son initiated an insanity trial which led to her confinement in an asylum. She was born into wealth, was well-educated, and was determined to play a role in the political scene. For 25 years the Lincolns forged their opposing personal temperaments into a tolerant, loving marriage complete with the highs and lows of public acceptance and rejection. The author has given us a bounty of history, including her own opinions on how Mary Todd Lincoln’s life should be viewed. Within the pages of this book, the reader gets a very intense and sometimes tedious look at the hardships of Mary’s life, beginning in her childhood years. The book is well-researched and not only reinstates Mary Todd Lincoln to a rightful position, but also presents a portrait of 19th century America.
August 2, 2012
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Eight members gathered to discuss this book. Our advice: Please don’t let the length of this book (nearly 500 pages) keep you from reading it. It is a book with a simple story about a young bright girl, Francie Nolan, who seeks to find beauty in her otherwise ugly, poverty-stricken life. She is able to survive and flourish despite the harsh conditions of her childhood, much like the tree which grows up through the concrete in her tenement neighborhood in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. In contrast to the dreams of her father, Johnny (an alcoholic singing waiter), her mother Katie (a strong woman of principal and commitment), her brother Neeley (the favored one), Francie vows to escape from her world of self-defined rejection and despair. The story emphasizes the value of education and reading and how those two things can overcome the most humblest of beginnings. Francie wished adults would stop telling her that some day she would thank them. And many of you who read this book will find it impossible not to be drawn into Francie’s life. “Dear God,” Francie prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life…let me be something ever blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” As you read this story, you will experience every emotion: happiness, sadness, pity, love, anger, joy and understanding. Near the end of the book, the author writes, “The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself….and you grieve because you had not held it tighter when you had it every day. Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time.” The author gives an abundance of life to each and every character, leaving the reader with a glimpse into a childhood very few of us will ever visit. It is indeed a page-turner and a story that will stay with you for quite some time. Many of us did not want the story to end. We recommend it to readers of all ages.
July 5, 2012
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Ten people gathered to discuss this book which discusses a young woman’s descent into dementia through early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice is fifty and a psychology professor at Harvard when she starts experiencing moments of forgetting and confusion. From this point, to what is usually a lengthy road to diagnosis, she loses her ability to rely on her own thoughts and memories. After also losing her position at Harvard, where she believes all of her worth and identity reside, she is soon forced to search for answers to questions as to how and where “self” is defined. The author is herself a Harvard professor of neuroscience and through her experiences with the decline of her own grandmother, she uses her access to clinical professionals, genetic counselors and dementia researchers to weave this novel into what could uniquely be the patient’s perspective and daily challenges with the disease. Although fictional, this subject has apparently touched all of us. Several of us were troubled by the way loved ones, e.g. husbands, children, and colleagues, responded so differently to the diagnosis. Alice told them, “I’m losing my yesterdays. I have no control over which yesterdays I keep and which ones get deleted. This disease will not be bargained with. I can’t offer it the names of the U.S. presidents in exchange for the names of my children. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean today didn’t matter. I am not what I say or what I do or what I remember. I am fundamentally more than that.” Our book club members, some of whom have read the book twice, suggest it to anyone who may be avoiding any discussion of dementia with their loved ones or who might already be current caregivers.
June 7, 2012
Driftless by David Rhodes
Nine of our members came together to discuss this book and, for the most part, all seemed to enjoy the tales of Midwestern life, set in the fictional community of Words, Wisconsin. The book’s title is taken directly from the named region of southwestern Wisconsin where the terrain is rugged and the glacial deposits–drift–are missing. The early settlers in this area were giants of human nature, decent hard-working people all seamlessly interacting. “The dead forever change the living”, a quote from the book in the early pages, leads us on a journey which we never saw coming. One central character, July Montgomery, presents us with a new way of looking at personal identity. Among all those who knew him, no one actually knew him fully, yet he became the central thread to bind the citizens of the community in ways they failed to grasp. Only a few hundred people lived in Words, Wisconsin. And the author provides us with an extraordinary cast of characters, all quickly presented to us in the early chapters. But we advise you to stay with it and you will find how their lives intertwine and are made richer through this interconnection. We found ourselves re-reading many of the paragraphs because the subjects ring true and are deeply felt. The characters and the impact they had on small-town society were by far the take-aways from this book and completely cancel out what it lacked. Each character surprises us and teaches us that we sometimes make inaccurate assumptions about the people around us. This was indeed a book worth reading.
May 3, 2012
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
This story leads us through a maze of characters and, in the process, tells the story of Natalia, a young doctor who had a very close relationship with her grandfather. He is also a doctor, who dies in a ramshackle settlement and no one knows why he was there. Searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, Natalia turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. The most extraordinary story of all takes place during World War II, when her grandfather was a young boy and their tiny hometown was menaced by a semi-tame tiger who had escaped from a zoo. According to legend, the animal was befriended by the butcher’s wife who fed him meat. These stories, Natalia comes to understand, run like secret rivers through all the other stories of her grandfather’s life. Our book club members all believed the author to be an extremely good story-teller; however, at times we felt parts of the book to be somewhat confusing. This selection was awarded one of the ten best books on the New York Times Book Review for 2011.
April 12, 2012
Dr. Kate: Angel on Snowshoes by Adele Comandini
At our April book club, our members were inspired by the history of Kate Pelham Newcombe. This pioneering Northwoods doctor was born in 1885 and was expected to grow up as a proper young lady in Boston. However, she was determined to be a doctor. But she never expected to serve as the only doctor in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin. After medical school, her husband’s health brought them to the clean air of northern Wisconsin, and before long Dr. Kate knew every back road and cabin in the Northwoods. She visited her patients by car, by snowmobile, by canoe and by snowshoe–whatever it took–and never sent a bill. Instead she was paid in firewood and vegetables. But what she dreamed of, more than anything, for her patients was a hospital. This is the story of how all of the children in the community got involved. They set out to collect a million pennies–$10,000–to help build a hospital. What they didn’t realize was how widespread this campaign grew. Coins poured in from countries around the globe along with letters from thousands of people cheering her on in her effort. In 1954 Lakeland Memorial Hospital opened its doors. We believe readers of all ages will be as inspired as we were by Dr. Kate’s spirit of compassion and her never-say-never attitude.
March 1, 2012
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
A lively discussion occurred during the March book club. The book is fiction, based on the years in Germany following WWI and carries you through the end of WWII. It’s the story of a WWI veteran and his daughter and how their lives and their village change as the years go by. We became part of the lives of some of the villagers in this small German town and learned how ordinary citizens barely dared to question what was happening in their country. Trudi was born to a mentally-disturbed woman and a loving father. Her mother immediately rejects her daughter and continues to do so until Trudi is a toddler. Trudi has dwarfism and learns early on that most people in her village are made uncomfortable by her physical differences. She even blames herself for her mother’s condition. She is deeply resentful of this but learns to use her uniqueness in a variety of ways to her advantage, mostly to discover the secrets of various villagers, but also to enact vengeance toward others. Other villagers seemed to believe that everything about her was small, including her joys, her pains, and even her dreams. She discovers various gifts she has from her own bravery in the face of evil and to see into people’s hearts. By the end of the story, she reflects on the positive relationships she has had and the ways in which she has contributed to her own suffering and that of others. One of our favorite quotes from the book is this one. “Once someone has been in your life, you could keep that person there despite the agony of loss, as long as you have faith that you could bring the sum of all your hours together in one shining moment.” It’s a book about wanting to belong — a book about accepting differences — a very good book that we would suggest to anyone!!