It took Mary Doria Russell five years of research to write her WWII novel A Thread of Grace. The book showed how the Italians took in and hid 45,000 Jews, resisted the Nazi's, and struggled to survive. The story was very compelling and interesting, but also very difficult to keep track of. There were many characters, and many characters who were the same person with two or three and sometimes more names. Each work on WWII that I read, I learn something new of the horrors and the humanity of that time. For each terrible crime people committed against each other, there were also those who risked everything they had to help others, just because it was the right thing to do. Those are the people who should be revered and honored. They could easily have turned their backs, but did not because they knew it would make them no better than the gestapo. Russell shows us in her book the risks the Jews took going over the Alps into Italy and the Italians that helped them along the way and hid them once there. Priests and Rabbis working together to defeat the Nazi's, which is beautiful.
Atul Gawande's book, Being Mortal should be required reading, not just for medical students, but for everyone. This book was so enlightening, and so important, I am so glad I read it. It was not always easy to read, the subject matter is not pretty and fun, but it is a reality we will all have to face at one time. I feel that going into it with knowledge and understanding, rather than being blindsided is a much better way to go about it. The book goes into the history of nursing homes, assisted living, hospice, and how we have become a country that has gone away from taking care of our elderly at home. Gawande goes into a number of his patients with terminal illnesses and their treatment, and the conversations to have when it is the end. He also discusses his father and the options he was given when he was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. He talks about the different approaches doctors can take in relating to their patients, and the how important it is for the elderly to have choices right up until the end. Their quality of life is of the utmost importance, and the best thing you can do is to find out, what that means for each individual person. What are they willing to live with/without, before it is too late to have that conversation. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I also recommend his other books; Better, A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, The Checklist Manifesto, and Complications, A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. Here is a link to an interview with Dr. Gawande and at the end of the interview is the documentary movie that Frontline did on the book Being Mortal:
Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last was, like her other novels, a work of dystopian fiction. The book started out plausible and believable, but as you read on, the plot becomes more and more twisted and surreal. In discussing the book, we came up with some questions about some of the characters and their placement in some of the scenes and their involvement in the overall book. We came to realize it was more intricate and more going on behind the scenes than you may realize when you first read the book. There is definitely some humor - some even a little over the top! For someone in her late seventies to be still writing books that you don't want to put down because you cannot wait to see what happens next, I say, she deserves the utmost praise. Not everyone loves her books, her writing style, or her subject matter, but I found it fun, something to contemplate. Atwood definitely made me think, and that is the mark of a good author in my opinion.
Best Boy is a book about Todd, an adult man with autism who has lived in a group home setting for most of his life. A couple of major changes at the center where Todd lives has caused him turmoil. The book, shows how he deals with these adjustments, as well as his interactions with the rest of the people in the community, and his family. The book is narrated in the first person, from Todd's perspective. I felt it was very well written, and very interesting. Anything I had read or known about autism, before this book, was about children, or teenagers. Seeing the world of autism through an adult's eyes gave me a whole new frame of reference. I applaud the author, Eli Gottlieb for writing such an engaging book, and bringing the important subject of autism to light. His own brother is autistic, so he writes with an insiders knowledge of the subject.
We have read and discussed two books since I last wrote in this blog! In January we read The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, it was a book about Catherine the Great. Although the book dealt more with her childhood, castle life, and a lot about her mother in law, the Empress Elizabeth, I did manage to learn things I had not known about Catherine the Great. For one thing, I had not realized, that in fact, Catherine was really German and her given name was Sophie. Some people in the group really enjoyed the book, while others found it a bit tedious with all of the court drama. If court intrigue is your thing, I personally found it fascinating, and I would definitely recommend it. There is a sequel as well, Empress of the Night, which continues the story of Catherine and her reign as Queen of Russia.
In February we read Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin, a book on Transgender Teens. This was a very powerful book, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. I learned so much reading this book, as did all of the members of the group. The teens stories are each unique, but they all have the same sense of not feeling like they belong in the bodies they were given. Reading these very personal accounts, and some of the things they have faced and dealt with was very emotional and eye opening. It made me realize all the more that you can never know what another person is feeling and should never judge someone by their appearance.
After we discussed Relish, one of our members suggested we go around and talk about other books we had recently read and would recommend to each other. This is what the group came up with:
Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler “Calling Me Home" is a tenderly wrought story of love and secrets, heartbreak and healing, and the remarkable power of friendship to heal two women who find each other across the lines of time, generation, and race. Julie Kibler has written an original and moving debut novel that will linger with you for a long, long time.
Wright Brothers by David McCullough his newest nonfiction blockbuster story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly—Wilbur and Orville Wright.
Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman One of the books it seems everyone is talking about...An extraordinary and heart-rending book about good people, tragic decisions and the beauty found in each of them.
Rent Collector by Camron Wright The Rent Collector is a story of hope, of one womans journey to save her son and another womans chance at redemption. It demonstrates that even in a dump in Cambodia--perhaps especially in a dump in Cambodia--everyone deserves a second chance.
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens - Eskens' debut is a solid and thoughtful tale of a young man used to taking on burdens beyond his years--none more dangerous than championing a bitter old man convicted of a horrific crime
The Nix by Nathan Hill The Nix is a mother-son psychodrama with ghosts and politics, but it’s also a tragicomedy about anger and sanctimony in America
4321 by Paul Auster One of our members works at a bookstore and is lucky enough to get advanced reading copies of books. She deemed this book is fantastic: Nearly two weeks early, on March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Athletic skills and sex lives and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Each Ferguson falls under the spell of the magnificent Amy Schneiderman, yet each Amy and each Ferguson have a relationship like no other. Meanwhile, readers will take in each Ferguson’s pleasures and ache from each Ferguson’s pains, as the mortal plot of each Ferguson’s life rushes on.
Inspector Sejer Series by Karen Fossum - Critically acclaimed across Europe, Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer novels are masterfully constructed, psychologically convincing, and compulsively readable. They evoke a world that is at once profoundly disturbing and terrifyingly familiar. (I always suggest you start a series at the beginning - the first book is Eva's Eye)
The Dinner by Herman Koch A high-class meal provides an unlikely window into privilege, violence and madness…Koch’s slow revelation of the central crisis is expertly paced, and he’s opened up a serious question of what parents owe their children, and how much of their character is passed on to them. A chilling vision of the ugliness of keeping up appearances.
We would love to hear any recommendations you have to share with us on books you think are great!
We just had our discussion on our first graphic novel. We read Relish by Lucy Knisley. Some of the members were reluctant to read the book, thinking graphic novels were only for kids or teenagers, and would hold no interest for an adult reader. While many graphic novels are geared to a younger audience, there are just as many written expressly for adults. Not all graphic novel writers are also illustrators, but Knisley falls under the category of both, and her illustrations are beautiful. Her drawing is as talented as her writing. As with a "regular" book, meaning non-graphic novels, graphic novels come in a wide variety of genres. Most people tend to think Spiderman or Batman when they hear graphic novel. That may have been the case once upon a time, but now there is a wide variety to choose from. The book we read is autobiographical and focuses on food. Knisley grew up with two "foodies" for parents and she describes different experiences she has had throughout her life surrounding food, recipes, restaurants she has eaten at, and famous kitchens she has toured. Her voice is fresh, funny and very engaging. Everyone in the group thoroughly enjoyed her book, and would read her other books! I am so happy our foray into the world of graphic novels was such a success:) Here is a nice interview with Lucy about her book and how it came about: www.mtv.com/videos/interview/904954/lucy-knisley-on-relish.jhtml
I was eager to read Louise Erdrich' book The Plague of Doves until I started it...it was a book I ended up struggling through, not because it was difficult to read, but because it was difficult to navigate. There were too many characters to keep track of, they bounced all over place and time, and ultimately connected at the end, but by threads so thin, it was very hard to see how. I was not the only person to share these same sentiments when we discussed the book. I was hoping the discussion would bring a little clarity to the book. I feel like I have a bit more understanding of the book, but am still left feeling frustrated. A family tree would have been very helpful. I understand that Erdrich has done that for her later books, as a great many readers complained that they could not follow her stories without one! I am glad I read her book, I am not sure if I will read another one, I promised if I did it would be on my own time, not in book group! In this youtube video, Erdrich discusses her book:
Ian McEwan has written a lot of best sellers, a lot of which have been turned into movies. This book, The Children Act, was written in the perspective of a woman judge. It promised to be a very interesting read, but I found it lacking in depth. The premise was for the judge to rule on a case about a young Jehovah's Witness who was refusing a life saving treatment due to religious reasons. The book, unfortunately, did not stay on this case, but gave tidbits of random other cases, that were not relevant, and distracted from the main case. It also did not delve into the religious aspect and history of Jehovah's Witnesses and it seemed as if it really just scratched the surface. McEwan writes beautifully, and I was impressed with his vocabulary, but I think this book could have been better researched and the characters more flushed out. I would like to read more of his work to compare.
What a powerful and timely book! I chose the Burgess Boys over Olive Kitteridge or Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout because of the content. The Burgess Boys takes place mainly in Maine and deals with the influx of Somali refugees that have made Maine their home. There is a lot happening in this book, family relationships and dynamics, some court room drama, but the essence of the book is tolerance. I believe that Strout was able to really capture what the different cultures are going through and feeling.
Here is an interview with Elizabeth Strout about The Burgess Boys:
I have been working at the Morse Institute Library for 17 years, and running the Wednesday evening book group since February 2005.