Wednesday, October 5, 2016

2016 Recaps (thus far)

The Turner House
A stately house in Detroit is all but abandoned, but the thirteen children who lived there with their parents are determined to save it in spite of the value.  The dwelling is the center of the story of the siblings, their parents and a snapshot of life in modern Detroit.  ChaCha is the oldest of the siblings and is determined to find out if his haint (apparition) is real.  The youngest sister is a portrait of the struggle to be an adult and face the consequences of your own actions. 

A Man Called Ove
Give the curmudgeon in your life a second look.  Maybe he’s soft and squishy on the inside or at least worthy of the effort to befriend.  Ove is cranky, holds a grudge and likes things just so.  He's not the first cranky old man we've read about but he may be our favorite.

Girls & Sex
The seven of us think we are pretty aware of how things go these days when it comes to sexual awareness and experiences of women.  However, we learned a lot while reading this study of young college aged women and their sexual interactions.  The first take away for us was that the sex-ed classes we got in the 1980’s hasn’t changed much, it is very focused on the male sexual response, and reproduction.  Sounds good right, but no one talks to girls/women about their sexual response, what they can and should expect?  Sex Ed for girls still has a shame factor and has lots of repercussions as girls turn into women who have sexual interactions with others (or themselves). 

We were shocked to read that many of the women interviewed reported that they used oral sex as a way to end a date with someone they didn’t want to have sex with.  WHAT!?  How is that better? 
The discussion over dinner went on and on and on, and when our hostesses’ family came home the teenagers ran for the safety of their own spaces and their dad joined us for a brief moment before realizing we were in deep on topics that weren’t really meant for mixed company.
This book has been characterized by us as a horror genre.  We clearly have a lot of work to do to help our own daughters as they grow up. 

The Sellout, Paul Beatty
An alternate version of the modern day inner city community as told thru the voice of a black small businessman who somehow becomes a slave owner in an attempt to save his corner of Los Angeles.  The language is uncomfortable, the story telling is humorous and awkward, but the lens Mr. Beatty uses to explain this “fake” world says more about how we live today than an academic study of racism or poverty. 

The story has an arc, but each chapter is a contained exploration of a thought, experience or topic the author wants to explore.  It isn’t always easy to see where that chapter might lead, but we were happy to go.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
A sweeping plague, survivors and actors oh my!  If you set aside the extreme unlikeliness of survivors having being connected (even tenuously) in the pre-plague world this is a fantastic book.  The concept is dark to be sure, how could it not be with the majority of people on earth being dead but unlike The Walking Dead, or Camus’ The Plague, or even Blindness the worst of humanity is not the primary result of all the loss.  Ms. St. John Mandel finds hope and connectivity as our band of survivors make their way to Station Eleven.  There is loss, there is the brutal reality of what one might need to do to survive but it is not a lord of the flies situation. 

Little Failure, Shteyngas, Gary
A humorous look at the life of a Russian immigrant.  (Have to admit – didn’t finish it.  This was not a failing on the book, but a lack of time management.)

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Because we loved the book Inside Alice we gave this novel a try.  She so adeptly explored early onset Alzheimer’s that the impact on a large family when the father’s Huntington’s disease progresses.   

For the most part, we all finished the book and had a robust conversation about the story, the characters but our discussion revolved around the difference in the story telling between Alice and the O’Briens.  Inside Alice really brought us into the headspace, fear and uncertainty of Alice as her illness progressed, the story of the O’Briens was far more focused on the family and their relationship with the father than the impact of the illness.    

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

2015 Book List

(not in order)
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
A tale for the time being, Ruth Ozeki
The Door, Magda Szabo
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jaqueline Woodson
Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk,
Reading Like A Writer, Francine Prose
Asunder, Close Ardjis
The Short Tragic Lift of Robert Pace
Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Dinaw Mengetsu
Boys In The Boat

Favorite: A Tale for the Time Being
2nd:Boys in the boat & Billy Lynn 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2014 Booklist

2014 Book List

Sense of an ending
American Wife
House in the sky
Orphan Master's Son
The Painter

Book of the Year:
Orphan Master's Son

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2 for 1

Ok, I'm super behind again.

During the annual weekend away, an accounting was done of the books from this year and it turns out I missed the write up for The Snow Child.  So here we go:

The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey

Fiction is so wonderful when it can make you set aside what you know to be real and allow you to live in a world where anything is possible.  It's Alaska in the 1920's and Jack and Mabel are barely making it.  He works and works and works to keep their Alaska homestead alive and she's doing her part but lonely and heartbroken for the child they didn't have.  They find a moment to play in the snow and form a snow child.

Either through magic or fortune soon they encounter Faina, a lovely girl with blonde hair and a fox for a friend.  Faina saves them, or they save her - either way it's charming and regardless of all the evidence it's never really clear if she's real.

Among our group there was great debate upon the meaning of the ending of this tale, which leads me to believe that the ending was intentionally misleading. Consensus was positive on this particular book.

Weekend away!

Every year we try to plan two extra curricular activities.  The first is the spouse dinner.  This is a challenge to find a night when fourteen people can gather at one time and child care can be obtained for eleven shorties.  We've managed it for the last four years and will keep booking it.

The other event is even harder to arrange.  A weekend where we ladies zip away from our broods and gather in a cozy cottage to dine on chocolate and other yummy foods, hike, do some yoga and of course, talk about the book du jour.   Last year, we were warned away from our hosts cabin in Leavenworth because of late season fires and terrible air quality and this year an early winter storm kept us on the west side of the state.  Lucky for us, our group has some great connections and we fell into comfortable lodgings both times.   This year found us in a charming water front cabin on Vashon Island that snuggly sleeps twelve or very comfortably sleeps seven.


One of the things about the cabin that added to its wonderfulness is that you can't simply drive to the door.  There is a group parking lot and then you have to walk about a third of a mile to the 11th house on the shore.  The walk was quiet and with each step the hustle of life "on land" faded away.

Our book for discussion was "How To Be a Woman".   Part memoir, part stand alone essays on feminism it opened the door for a lengthy discussion on topics that we ladies seldom get into with each other.

I'm sure it would be an easy thing to assume that when gals get together and shut the door they talk about body hair, dating and their weight.  We really don't delve into those areas very often.

Filled with funny moments and a rather long discussion about what to name your vagina (Oh yes, I went there.) this isn't the Susan B. Anthony women's suffrage version of feminism.  It's a straight forward look at our lives today and what it means as we navigate a world where we have to balance people like Kim Kardashian who are famous for goodness knows what, and Nancy Pelosi who is demonized for I'm not sure what maybe being a prickly woman with opinions and being moms, women who have serious jobs.  We're told that we're equal, but the tend to typically fill the board room in the Communications and Human Resources positions.

While the book evoked a long discussion that lasted well into Sunday, we soundly didn't think we liked the author.  The tone of the book was chatty and casual.  Perhaps that's her way of balancing the deep topics she was tackling.

I do give her kudos for not shying away from an unpopular topic.  She and her husband chose to terminate a pregnancy after they had other children.  She writes about this with complete openness and acknowledgement that her decision will be (was) questioned and reviled by many.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Still Alice

As food themes go, I'd like some credit for finding a wine called "Educated Guess" for a story about a Harvard professor with early-onset Alzheimer disease.

With that out of the way, let's talk about this book.

Heartbreaking, amazing, moving, scary and thought provoking.  These are just some of the comments from last nights discussion.

Alice is a respected and beloved Harvard professor who is asked to speak all over the world.  She notices that her reliance on her notes is becoming critical, so she gets it checked out.  The diagnosis, early onset Alzheimer's.

We follow her through the journey of telling her husband, her kids, having to step down at work and the shrinking of her social and physical world.   We are equally frightened of the truth regarding her situation and the terrible impact to Alice and her family.

Because the story is told from her perspective, as things become confusing or 'new' to her our understanding of the narrative shifts.  At first Alice is giving us the nuanced details of a complicated mother & daughter dynamic which eventually devolves into her describing her daughter as that woman with the baby.

Some of us powered through this book in a couple sittings and were moved to tears (me publicly on an airplane) and others were so torn apart by the devastation that they had to read it in small chunks just to not be brokenhearted.

Our appreciation for the research and effort put into this book is great.  We can understand why it is recommended to the caregivers of patients with early-onset Alzheimer's.  

This type of Alzheimer's has a high probability of being genetic, and if you have the gene the likelihood of developing the disease is almost certain.  The author explored the implications of these facts with Alice's three children.  Would you want to know?  It's hard to say.

Our discussion moved to assisted suicide, to estate planning and to the dreaded question of 'who will raise our kids if we're gone.  So many real life issues.

 The book was so well done that it is easy to think of it as non-fiction.  That's a compliment Miss Lisa Genova.  Good work!

Albert of Adelaide


If you want to sound like a crazy person, please describe the book Albert of Adelaide to someone.

Well, it's about this platypus who escapes from a zoo and heads to the Australian outback and along the way is embroiled in an old western shoot out, makes friends with a wombat and has to deal with a gang of kangaroos, thieves and deadly dingoes.  Yes, a gun slinging platypus.

It's been a while since we've read a western, and this one is superb.  The author Howard Anderson has written a fun, and engaging novel.

Our discussions ranged from surprise over the depth of appreciation for the story and the depth of character development to the nuances of social norms and mythical stature that grows when you only know one dimension about an individual.


And The Mountains Echoed

Khaled Hosseini has produced a third book that is equally worth reading.  Author of the Kite Runner and A thousand splendid suns, Hosseini tells us a winding story of intersecting lives that spans continents, generations and families.

Each chapter is told from a different persons point of view and slowly the truth about a father's dreadful choice becomes known and the broad impact unfolds.

We enjoyed this book and I'm sorry to have to admit that it's been 3 or 4 months since our discussion and any remarkable or notable comments from the group have been pushed aside in my memory.

We did note that the style of story telling was remarkably different than his other two novels, and that it took a while for some of us to realize that he was never going to circle back and repeat a narrator.  Freed of that expectation, the story began to crystallize as the characters started overlapping into the chapters and the overall story became clear.