Book Club Lists

Some book clubs are getting organized for next year with reading lists. Others prefer to make decisions monthly, targeting newer books. Whatever your preference, lists of books are always a good way to reevaluate your own reading and sometimes provide new ideas for good reads.

The Honolulu Museum of Art cleverly connects books with their art collection, with the discussion led by a knowledgable docent, followed by a tour of the art. The books on their list for the next two months include:

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
  • Circe by Madeleine Miller
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

I have had Circe in my ebook collection since it was published.  This might be a good time to finally read it.

Celebrities like to promote book lists and sometimes offer online book club discussions.  I try to avoid Oprah’s suggestions, but I do like picks from Reese Witherspoon.  Her November selection is Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. Other books on her list include:

  • Fair Play by Eve Rodsky
  • The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
  • The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda
  • Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
  • The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

My local book club has its list for next year:

  • Molokai by Alan Brennert  
  • Origin by Dan Brown – 5th in the Robert Langdon series 
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson – historical fiction
  • The Salt Path by Raynor Winn – biography/memoir
  • Poisoned Palms: The Murder of Mrs. Jane Lathrop Stanford by Buckingham-murder mystery
  • America’s First Daughter by Dray and Kamoie – historical fiction
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – biography/memoir
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

 

And my favorite book club has Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House next on the agenda.

What is your group reading?

 

The Novels That Shaped Our World

When the Sunday New York Times “By the Book” section asks someone, usually a writer, to identify books they are reading or one with a powerful impact on their lives, I feel so connected to the person when a book I know is named. If it’s a book new to me, I usually look for it in the library.  Like many of you, I love finding book lists and recommendations.

So, when the BBC decided to ask a panel of leading writers, curators and critics to choose “100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives,” I could not wait to review the list. “These English language novels, written over the last 300 years, range from children’s classics to popular page turners. Organized into themes, they reflect the ways books help shape and influence our thinking.”

I was equally surprised by the books on the list I had read, the books I had not read, and those I had never heard of. Some were predictable, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Some seemed fun to read but below the mark, like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary. Others were tempting to find, just by the title and author’s reputation, like Ali Smith’s How to Be Both.

I’ve read only about a third on the list, some as required reading in my past life, but I was pleased to see a newer book – Homegoing.

My top ten from the list include these I’ve read – and still remember:

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  6. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  7. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
  8. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  9. The Witches by Roald Dahl 
  10. Rebecca by Dapne du Maurier

If you are interested in checking out the complete list, you can find it at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/494P41NCbVYHlY319VwGbxp/explore-the-list-of-100-novels-that-shaped-our-world 

My next read should be fun – discovered from the list:

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse  

Free from Gutenberg Press but I want the pictures, so I’ve ordered it from my library.

 

 

The Giver of Stars

Where do you get your books? Imagine your librarian delivered them personally to your door as JoJo Moyes’ Kentucky packhorse librarians do in her latest novel – The Giver of Stars.

Chronicling the real story of Appalachian women in the WPA (Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration), Moyes creates a tale about five women, who ride mules and horses to deliver books to outlying areas in the Kentucky hills. Drunk moonshiners, coal barons, and the general attitude of men in the nineteen thirties make their job much harder, but the women persevere to bring literacy to unlikely places and to provide backwoods women with important armor besides their shotguns – the ability to read books.

Although not as compelling as some of her former novels, The Giver of Stars offers all the same components – adventure, romance, and breathtaking drama. The women each have a burden to overcome but they manage to persevere through prejudice, family restrictions, physical hardship, and, of course, the men. Not all the men are villains, however. Moyes has two love interests who manage to not only respect but also aid the women when they most need help.

Van Cleve, the controlling wealthy owner of the lands he is destroying with his coal mining, is the villain. As the story progresses, it seems likely he will prevail. If you have read any of Moyes’ books, you know she can be counted on for a happy ending, so I am not offering a spoiler to tell you she comes through again in this one, but the solution is almost at the end of the book and seems contrived.

In researching the novel, I found an uncomfortable note about another author claiming to have written a very similar novel published not long before this one. Author Kim Richardson’s novel – The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – also about the packhorse women of Kentucky, was published a few months before Moyes’ novel. Her imagined characters face many of the same issues and incidents as Moyes’ women. Although Richardson brought her concerns to the publisher, the company decided no legal action on copyright infringement was warranted, and Richardson has declined to sue on her own. 

My knowledgeable librarian who has read Richardson’s book tells me it has more of a science fiction vibe, but uses the same historical premise as Moyes. Richardson’s book is in my library system, and I have ordered it to compare notes myself. 

From volunteering at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Hawaii, I know amazing librarians who give personalized service to the blind, identifying books they might like, chatting on the phone with patrons to discover their interests in reading, and mailing large print books or books on tape to their doors.  Librarians are among my favorite people, and literacy is among the issues I hold dear, so there can’t be enough books about both topics for me.

 

 

Historical Diversions: Chevalier and Jewett

  A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier has the talent to inform while entertaining, and her latest historical novel – A Single Thread – is a well researched testament to the “surplus women” of the nineteen thirties, caught between two major wars.

With Winchester Cathedral as the backdrop, Chevalier uses the broderers, women who created the embroidered kneeling cushions, and the cathedral bellringers, usually consisting of men only, to tell her story with a little romance, some drama, and a wealth of enlightening information. Based on the work of Louisa Peel and Winchester Cathedral embroidery, Chevalier creates a lovely story full of history few readers will know.

As an ardent embroiderer, I relished some of the intricacies of her descriptions, but I also appreciated the revelations, and will be looking for fylfots among the flowers.

Read the NPR review for more details:  https://www.npr.org/2019/09/21/762825554/a-stitch-in-time-saves-a-life-in-a-single-thread

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

I found this old treasure on a list of recommended classics. The only copy in my library system was in large print – all 150 pages – and I was curious about the Thoreau of Maine and the precursor of Elizabeth Strout (“Olive Kitteridge”).

The novella is a series of vignettes describing the narrator’s summer in a fictional coastal town in Maine at the turn of the twentieth century. Each short chapter builds on a sense of peace and quiet, as she describes open fields, dark woods, and rocky shores. She booked rooms in the house of an old herbalist, expecting to shut her self away in solitude but Mrs. Todd and the villagers tempt her out.  She spends most of her time in the village with its elderly citizens, carefully cataloguing their mannerisms and stories. With wit and astute observation, Jewett brings old Maine to life.  She leaves at the end of the summer with a refreshed mind and a sense of nostalgia. 

“…there are paths trodden to the shrines of solitude the world over -the world cannot forget them, try as it may; the feet of the young find them out because of curiosity and dim foreboding; while the old bring hearts full of remembrance…”

Jewett’s writing has been described as realism, but sometimes it seems like poetry. 

 

 

The Most Fun We Ever Had

Claire Lombardo’s family saga – The Most Fun We Ever Had –  has all the drama of a television series (“This Is Us” comes to mind), as she follows the Sorensons through their lives.  Although Marilyn Connelly and David Sorenson anchor the family with their seemingly perfect married life, and their unlikely unending passion, their dysfunctional daughters command most of the action. Lombardo uses the catalyst of a long lost teenager’s sudden appearance after having been secretly given up at birth for adoption, to explain the family dynamics.

The title is misleading; the story is not the most fun you will ever have, as you follow each character in turmoil, yet it is compelling – and long – over five hundred pages. Marilyn is the stereotypical matriarch who married young and supported her husband through medical school, while having babies and burying her own ambitions, which reappear later. Wendy, the eldest daughter, never quite recovers from having competition in her bright younger sister Violet, born in the same calendar year, followed soon after by Liza.  The youngest, Grace, born later and referred to as the “epilogue” feels left out, despite her parents hovering.  As adults, they morph into a widow; a stay-at-home mom with a law degree; a tenured professor facing parenting alone; and a recent college graduate caught up in an embarrassing lie

Lombardo follows the family through major events but not in order.  She begins the story with the wedding of the eldest, Wendy, and proceeds to explain the cryptic clues she initially drops through flashbacks involving births and deaths, sibling rivalries and secrets, and lots of lies. Sometimes it’s not clear at first who is speaking.

A few surprises kept me reading, wondering if another would appear – it did – and the rivalry between the older daughters could probably have been a book by itself.  The story is absorbing but also exhausting – and maybe just a little too long.