December 30, 2016

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald - January 2, 2017

We will meet at Kerry's house on Jan. 2, 2017 to discuss H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

Supplemental materials, below. As always, please let me know if you find anything good to add to this list.
  • Video, Hunting Pheasants with Goshawks in Ireland (can see so many things that Macdonald describes - bells, game bag, transponder searching, the walking and walking)
  • Discussion questions, Lake Forest Library
  • Discussion questions, Durham County Library
  • Video, talk by Helen Macdonald, 5x15 (16 min)
  • Video, BBC interview with Macdonald (3 min), interesting answer to question about how open she is in the book
  • Video, reading and Q/A by Helen Macdonald at a bookstore, Politics and Prose (60 min)

November 28, 2016

Jane Eyre - November 28, 2016

We're meeting at Steph's house on November 28 to discuss Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Supplemental materials:

  • PBS discussion questions
  • Victorian Web discussion questions 
  • Exclusive Books discussion questions
  • Washington Post piece comparing Rebecca and Jane Eyre
  • Inquiries Journal piece comparing Rebecca and Jane Eyre
  • Jane Eyre Wikipedia entry
  • Charlotte Bronte Wikipedia entry

November 4, 2016

My head just exploded - RBG was a student of Nabokov's

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had Nabokov for a college professor:
But perhaps [Nabokov's] best known pupil, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has paid him tribute many times, telling The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing in 2011, “I attribute my caring about writing” to Nabokov, who “was a man in love with the sound of words. He taught me the importance of choosing the right word and presenting it in the right word order.” 
Ginsburg, who studied under Nabokov as an undergraduate in the early fifties, still sings his praises over sixty years later. “He was magnetically engaging,” she told The Culture Trip this week. “He stood alone, not comparable to any other lecturer.” And last month, the Supreme Court Justice wrote a New York Times Op-Ed titled “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living.” Second on the list, “teachers who influenced or encouraged me in my growing-up years.” Her first example, Nabokov, who “changed the way I read and the way I write.”
From Open Culture

October 25, 2016

Slate for 2016-2017 and all pitches

Here's our slate for 2016-2017:

Nov. 28 - Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Jan. 2 -   H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
Jan. 30 - Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Feb. 27 - The Feast of Love, Charles Baxter
Mar. 27 - Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Apr. 24 - The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante
May 22 - Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
June 26 - The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton
July 24 - The Sunken Cathedral, Kate Walbert
Aug. 28 - The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson
Sept. 25 - Building Stories, Chris Ware

And here are all the pitches and votes:

Classics (classics vote/regular vote)
Nineteen Eighty Four - Connie - 16/3
Jane Eyre - Karen - 24/24
Souls of Black Folk - Katherine - 23/5
Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Steph  - 27

The Feast of Love - Katherine - 42
H is for Hawk - Suzanne - 40
Between the World and Me - Julie - 39
The Architecture of Happiness - Suzanne - 30
Building Stories - Steph - 25
The Story of a New Name - Katherine - 23
Americanah - Connie - 23
The Sunken Cathedral - Suzanne - 22
The Orphan Master's Son - Steph - 17
Go Set a Watchman - Julie - 15
Round House - Connie - 13
Citizen - Kerry - 12
The Birchbark House - Kathy - 11
Black Boy - Karen - 7
The New Jim Crow - Kathy - 5

October 7, 2016

Long Lists - October 2016

BOOK-PICKING night is October 24 at Steph's house!

Here are our long lists -- books that we are thinking about pitching.

Please send me the titles you're thinking about pitching, and I'll add them.  No need to wait until you have a complete list! Send a description if you want to; otherwise, I'll piece something together from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, reviews, Wikipedia, and accolade lists.

Check back occasionally, as this post grows!

Use these long lists to give feedback to the person considering pitching the book, like "I would like to read that!" or "I have read that before, so won't vote to read it again."  Also, use the lists to do your own research -- if that's your thing -- to know what you want to vote for.  

Members are listed in alphabetical order.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates - See the entry under Julie's list

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

1984 is a dystopian novel by English author George Orwell published in 1949. The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government's invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged elite of the Inner Party, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as "thoughtcrime."

The tyranny is epitomised by Big Brother, the Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality but who may not even exist. The Party "seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power." The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue in Newspeak), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. The instructions that the workers receive specify the corrections as fixing misquotations and never as what they really are: forgeries and falsifications. A large part of the ministry also actively destroys all documents that have been edited and do not contain the revisions; in this way, no proof exists that the government is lying. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker but secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother. Orwell based the character of the heroine of the novel, Julia, on his second wife, Sonia Orwell.

As literary political fiction and dystopian science-fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic novel in content, plot and style. Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and memory hole, have entered into common use since its publication in 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four popularised the adjective Orwellian, which describes official deception, secret surveillance and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state. In 2005, the novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 13 on the editor's list, and 6 on the readers' list. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 8 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.

The Round House, Louise Erdrich

  • National Book Award winner for fiction.

One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. Review: Likely to be dubbed the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird, Louise Erdrich’s moving, complex, and surprisingly uplifting new novel tells of a boy’s coming of age in the wake of a brutal, racist attack on his mother. Drawn from real-life statistics about racially inspired attacks on our country’s reservations, this tale is forceful but never preachy, thanks in large part to Erdrich’s understated but glorious prose and her apparent belief in the redemptive power of storytelling.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

From Booklist: To the women in the hair-braiding salon, Ifemelu seems to have everything a Nigerian immigrant in America could desire, but the culture shock, hardships, and racism she’s endured have left her feeling like she has “cement in her soul.” Smart, irreverent, and outspoken, she reluctantly left Nigeria on a college scholarship. Her aunty Uju, the pampered mistress of a general in Lagos, is now struggling on her own in the U.S., trying to secure her medical license. Ifemelu’s discouraging job search brings on desperation and depression until a babysitting gig leads to a cashmere-and-champagne romance with a wealthy white man. Astonished at the labyrinthine racial strictures she’s confronted with, Ifemelu, defining herself as a “Non-American Black,” launches an audacious, provocative, and instantly popular blog in which she explores what she calls Racial Disorder Syndrome. Meanwhile, her abandoned true love, Obinze, is suffering his own cold miseries as an unwanted African in London. MacArthur fellow Adichie (The Thing around Your Neck, 2009) is a word-by-word virtuoso with a sure grasp of social conundrums in Nigeria, East Coast America, and England; an omnivorous eye for resonant detail; a gift for authentic characters; pyrotechnic wit; and deep humanitarianism. Americanah is a courageous, world-class novel about independence, integrity, community, and love and what it takes to become a “full human being.”

The Book Thief, Markus Musak

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Review:  “Brilliant and hugely ambitious…Some will argue that a book so difficult and sad may not be appropriate for teenage readers…Adults will probably like it (this one did), but it’s a great young-adult novel…It’s the kind of book that can be life-changing, because without ever denying the essential amorality and randomness of the natural order, The Book Thief offers us a believable hard-won hope…The hope we see in Liesel is unassailable, the kind you can hang on to in the midst of poverty and war and violence. Young readers need such alternatives to ideological rigidity, and such explorations of how stories matter. And so, come to think of it, do adults.” - New York Times, May 14, 2006


Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—“Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer under- standing and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.

Washington Post:  “A significant aspect of this novel is that it asks us to see Atticus now not merely as a hero, a god, but as a flesh-and-blood man with shortcomings and moral failing, enabling us to see ourselves for all our complexities and contradictions.”

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY:  The New York Times Book Review • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Washington Post • People • Entertainment Weekly • Vogue • Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • New York • Newsday • Library Journal • Publishers Weekly

Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history by “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States” (The New York Observer)

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it."

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’s journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.”—Toni Morrison


The Feast of Love
, Charles Baxter

The Feast of Love is a sumptuous work of fiction about the thing that most distracts and delights us. In a re-imagined Midsummer Night's Dream, men and women speak of and desire their ideal mates; parents seek out their lost children; adult children try to come to terms with their own parents and, in some cases, find new ones.

In vignettes both comic and sexy, the owner of a coffee shop recalls the day his first wife seemed to achieve a moment of simple perfection, while she remembers the women's softball game during which she was stricken by the beauty of the shortstop. A young couple spends hours at the coffee shop fueling the idea of their fierce love. A professor of philosophy, stopping by for a cup of coffee, makes a valiant attempt to explain what he knows to be the inexplicable workings of the human heart. Their voices resonate with each other--disparate people joined by the meanderings of love--and come together in a tapestry that depicts the most irresistible arena of life.

“Superb—a near-perfect book, as deep as it is broad in its humaneness, comedy and wisdom.”–The Washington Post Book World

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
  • Man Booker Prize - longlisted
  • #1 NYTimes Bestseller
A simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the tender relationship between mother and daughter in this extraordinary novel by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys.

Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois

One of the most influential books ever published in America, W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk is an eloquent collection of fourteen essays that describe the life, the ambitions, the struggles, and the passions of African Americans at the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. The first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Du Bois was a sociologist, historian, novelist, and activist whose astounding career spanned the nation’s history from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement. In The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903, Du Bois argued against the conciliatory position taken by Booker T. Washington, at the time the most influential black leader in America, and called for a more radical form of aggressive protest—a strategy that would anticipate and inspire much of the activism of the 1960s. Du Bois’s essays were the first to articulate many of Black America’s thoughts and feelings, including the dilemma posed by the black psyche’s “double consciousness,” which Du Bois described as “this twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings . . . in one dark body.” Every essay in The Souls of Black Folk is a jewel of intellectual prowess, eloquent language, and groundbreaking insight. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the struggle for Civil Rights in America. - Barnes & Noble

Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

America’s first psychological novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a dark tale of love, crime, and revenge set in colonial New England. It revolves around a single, forbidden act of passion that forever alters the lives of three members of a small Puritan community: Hester Prynne, an ardent and fierce woman who bears the punishment of her sin in humble silence; the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a respected public figure who is inwardly tormented by long-hidden guilt; and the malevolent Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband—a man who seethes with an Ahab-like lust for vengeance. The landscape of this classic novel is uniquely American, but the themes it explores are universal—the nature of sin, guilt, and penitence, the clash between our private and public selves, and the spiritual and psychological cost of living outside society. Constructed with the elegance of a Greek tragedy, The Scarlet Letter brilliantly illuminates the truth that lies deep within the human heart.


Citizen, Claudia Rankine
  • Winner of the 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Award
  • Winner of the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry
  • Winner of the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Collection
  • Winner of the 2015 PEN Open Book Award Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry
  • Winner of Poets and Writers' Jackson Poetry Prize
  • One of the Guardian's Best Politics Books of 2015
  • One of the Guardian's Readers' Books of the Year for 2015
  • One of Entropy's Best Nonfiction books of 2015
  • One of MPR's, The Atlantic's, the Guardian's, Pioneer Press, Bitch Media's, Subtext Bookstore's Best Books of 2015
  • Featured in the Millions "Year in Reading 2015" by Angela Flournoy and Katrina Dodson
  • Finalist for 2014 National Book Award in Poetry
  • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
  • One of the Millions' Most Anticipated Books
  • Featured in Literature Works' Christmas Wish List of 2015 by Kathryn Simmonds
  • Featured in the Conium Review's Best of 2015by James R. Gapinski
"Marrying prose, poetry, and the visual image, Citizen investigates the ways in which racism pervades daily American social and cultural life, rendering certain of its citizens politically invisible. Rankine's formally inventive book challenges our notion that citizenship is only a legal designation that the state determines by expanding that definition to include a larger understanding of civic belonging and identity, built out of cross-racial empathy, communal responsibility, and a deeply shared commitment to equality."—National Book Award Judges' Citation


The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Named one of the best books of the year by Washington Post, NPR, Chicago Tribune, others
"Kazuo Ishiguro is a remarkable novelist, both for the quality of his work…and because he does not ever write the same novel, or even the same type of novel, twice. In The Buried Giant…he begins with clear, unhurried, unfussy language to describe the England of some 1,500 years ago, in a novel as well crafted as it is odd…Fantasy and historical fiction and myth here run together with the Matter of Britain, in a novel that's easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy…The Buried Giant does what important books do: It remains in the mind long after it has been read, refusing to leave, forcing one to turn it over and over…Ishiguro is not afraid to tackle huge, personal themes, nor to use myths, history and the fantastic as the tools to do it. The Buried Giant is an exceptional novel…" (New York Times Book Review)

Building Stories, Chris Ware
  • The New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year
  • Time Magazine, Top Ten Fiction Book of the Year
  • Publishers Weekly, Best Book of the Year
  • 2013 Lynd Ward Prize, Best Graphic Novel of the Year
  • 4-time 2013 Eisner Award Winner, including Best Publication, Best Writer/Artist and Best Graphic Album
  • Newsday, Top 10 Books of 2012
  • Entertainment Weekly, Gift Guide, A+
  • Washington Post, Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2012
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune, Best Books of the Year
The New York Times Book Review:  Chris Ware's magnificent new graphic novel…[is] so far ahead of the game that it tempts you to find fault just to prove that a human made it…Ware is remarkably deft at balancing the demands of fine art, where sentimentality is an error, and those of storytelling, where emotion is everything. He rejects the possibility of showing his hand in his (notably handmade) artwork, but that watertight visual surface lets him get away with vast billows of existential torment. Quiet desperation is just about the best anybody can hope for in Ware's world. To be fair, this time he doesn't punish all of his characters for having the temerity to be in his story. A lengthy, wordless pamphlet about the florist's love for her daughter may be the tenderest thing Ware has ever published. —Douglas Wolk

“I have now spent a week in sloppy communion with Building Stories and am ready to declare it one of the most important pieces of art I have ever experienced. I also sort of want to kill myself...What makes Building Stories monumental isn’t its unorthodox format. It’s Ware’s ruthless and tender pursuit of undisguised emotion. His work is brutal in the way all great art is. I can’t wait to experience it again.” –Steve Almond, The New Republic

The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson
  • Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, 2013
  • National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
  • Dayton Literary Peace Prize Winner
  • American Library Association's Andrew Carnegie Medal - longlisted
  • NYTimes Bestseller
  • Named one of the best books of the year by: The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Stephen King,The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and others
An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master's Son follows a young man's journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world's most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master's Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.

“An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.”—Pulitzer Prize citation

“All of these elements—stylistic panache, technical daring, moral weight and an uncanny sense of the current moment—combine in Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, the single best work of fiction published in 2012. . . . The book's cunning, flair and pathos are testaments to the still-formidable power of the written word.” —The Wall Street Journal

Doc, Mary Doria Russell

Born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday arrives on the Texas frontier hoping that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Soon, with few job prospects, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally with his partner, Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung, classically educated Hungarian whore. In search of high-stakes poker, the couple hits the saloons of Dodge City. And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and a fearless lawman named Wyatt Earp begins— before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.

"If I had a six-shooter…I'd be firing it off in celebration of Doc, Mary Doria Russell's fantastic new novel about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Since winning top honors for her science fiction 15 years ago, Russell has blasted her way into one genre after another, and now she's picked up the old conventions of the Wild West and brought these dusty myths back to life in a deeply sympathetic, aggressively researched and wonderfully entertaining story." —The Washington Post

The Dust That Falls From Dreams, Louis de Bernieres

he Edwardian era has just begun, and in the idyllic countryside outside of London, young Rosie McCosh and her three sisters are growing up inseparable from their neighbors, the two Pitt brothers and the three Pendennis boys. But twelve years later, the outbreak of World War I brings their days of youthful camaraderie to an abrupt end. In the years that follow, these childhood pals will be scattered across Europe—from the trenches of France to the British hospitals where the McCosh sisters serve. Some will lose their lives, some their loved ones, some their faith—and all of them will lose their innocence. At the center of their stories, always, is Rosie—in love with one of her childhood friends and beloved by another—facing the collapse of the world she has always known, and the birth of another from its ashes. A sumptuous, sweeping, powerfully moving work of fiction, The Dust That Falls from Dreams is a story of profound loss and indelible hope.

11/22/63, Stephen King

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

I Refuse, Per Petterson

In his signature spare style, Petterson weaves a tale of two men whose accidental meeting one morning recalls their boyhood thirty-five years ago. Back then, Tommy was separated from his sisters after he stood up to their abusive father. Jim was by Tommy's side through it all. But one winter night, a chance event on a frozen lake forever changed the balance of their friendship. Now Jim fishes alone on a bridge as Tommy drives by in a new Mercedes, and it's clear their fortunes have reversed. Over the course of the day, the life of each man will be irrevocably altered.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, Franz Werfel

"This stirring, poignant novel, based on real historical events that made of actual people true heroes, unfolds the tragedy that befell the Armenian people in the dark year of 1915. The Great War is raging through Europe, and in the ancient, mountainous lands southwest of the Caspian Sea the Turks have begun systematically to exterminate their Christian subjects. Unable to deny his birthright or his people, one man, Gabriel Bagradian—born an Armenian, educated in Paris, married to a Frenchwoman, and an officer doing his duty as a Turkish subject in the Ottoman army—will strive to resist death at the hands of his blood enemy by leading 5,000 Armenian villagers to the top of Musa Dagh, "the mountain of Moses." There, for forty days, in the face of almost certain death, they will suffer the siege of a Turkish army hell-bent on genocide.

A passionate warning against the dangers of racism and scapegoating, and prefiguring the ethnic horrors of World War II, this important novel from the early 1930s remains the only significant treatment, in fiction or nonfiction, of the first genocide in the twentieth century's long series of inhumanities. It also continues to be today what the New York Times deemed it in 1933—"a true and thrilling novel ... a story which must rouse the emotions of all human beings." "Musa Dagh gives us a lasting sense of participation in a stirring episode of history.... Magnificent."—The New York Times Book Review" -- Description is from where it has a super-high 4.38 reader rating.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A man returns to the town where a baffling murder took place 27 years earlier, determined to get to the bottom of the story. Just hours after marrying the beautiful Angela Vicario, everyone agrees, Bayardo San Roman returned his bride in disgrace to her parents. Her distraught family forced her to name her first lover; and her twin brothers announced their intention to murder Santiago Nasar for dishonoring their sister. Yet if everyone knew the murder was going to happen, why did no one intervene to stop it? The more that is learned, the less is understood, and as the story races to its inexplicable conclusion, an entire society—not just a pair of murderers—is put on trial.

Chronicle is not nearly so fantastic as Garcia Marquez's earlier novels. It contains a powerfully plausible plot - a dream-like detective story, really, that pursues the questions of why and how two young men have undertaken a brutal murder that they actually had not wanted to commit....I found Chronicle of a Death Foretold by far the author's most absorbing work to date. I read it through in a flash, and it made the back of my neck prickle. -- Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
  • #40 on the Modern Library's List of  100 Best Novels
  • On Time Magazine's list of ALL-TIME 100 Best Novels (from 1923-2010)
He felt the loyalty we all feel to unhappiness—the sense that there is where we really belong. Nobody could do abjection like Greene. And no one could parse moral dilemmas with quite his eye for the subtle ways that Satan persuades the righteous. Henry Scobie is one of his supreme creations, a British colonial police officer stationed during World War II in a damp, vulture-ridden West African town. A Roman Catholic mindful of his duties to God, Scobie thinks of himself as incorruptible, but he has not counted on the power of his own excesses of pity to beguile him. To deliver his wife from unhappiness he is led into complicity with smugglers; to save a young woman from despair — but no less to save himself — he is drawn into adultery; to rescue them both from his misjudgments he is led to betray his God. A man for whom humility becomes a kind of perverse pride arrives at a place where he wills his own damnation as the one means to escape his earthly predicaments. - Richard Lacayo, Time Magazine

"Graham Greene saw The Heart of the Matter as dealing with the issue of pity. He illustrates this theme by describing Scobie, the main character of the book, as "a weak man with good intentions doomed by his big sense of pity". He further says in the preface, "I had meant the story of Scobie to enlarge a theme which I had touched on in The Ministry of Fear, the disastrous effect on human beings of pity as distinct from compassion. I had written in The Ministry of Fear: 'Pity is cruel. Pity destroys. Love isn't safe when pity's prowling around.' The character of Scobie was intended to show that pity can be the expression of an almost monstrous pride."   Bergonzi, Bernard (2006). A Study in Greene, p. 124. Oxford University Press.

Light in August, Faulkner
  • Ranked #54 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 Best English-language novels of the 20th Century.
If the book club enjoyed As I Lay Dying, I might pitch this.  It's described as Southern gothic and we have always enjoyed books in the gothic and Southern gothic genres.

"In a loose, unstructured modernist narrative style that draws from Christian allegory and oral storytelling, Faulkner explores themes of race, sex, class and religion in the American South. By focusing on characters that are misfits, outcasts, or are otherwise marginalized in their community, he portrays the clash of alienated individuals against a Puritanical, prejudiced rural society. Early reception of the novel was mixed, with some reviewers critical of Faulkner's style and subject matter. However, over time, the novel has come to be considered one of the most important literary works by Faulkner and one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century." - Wikipedia

Update 10/21/16 - I've decided against pitching several of these:

  • Light in August - the group didn't enjoy As I Lay Dying (but I loved As I Lay Dying and am so grateful to Kerry for pitching it)
  • Dust That Dares to Fall From Dreams - started it and was so disappointed. Not the same level of craft as Birds Without Wings or Corelli's Mandolin
  • 11/22/63 - too long - about 850 pp
  • Forty Days of Musa Dagh - too long - almost 900 pp
  • Buried Giant - I read it and enjoyed it a lot. The beginning and ending are stellar, portraying a lifelong marriage in an intensely poignant interesting complicated way.  But the middle is a journey and hunt for a dragon, and the group doesn't typically love the fantastic.  So I won't pitch it, but do recommend it.


A Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy

The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about the American girl abroad, but it was Elaine Dundy’s Sally Jay Gorce who told us what she was really thinking. Charming, sexy, and hilarious, The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living.

“I had to tell someone how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream, and guffaw (which, incidentally, is a great name for a law firm).” –Groucho Marx

 "[The Dud Avocado] is one of the best novels about growing up fast..." -The Guardian

“Basically, if you were to set Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady near the Sorbonne, untangle the sentences and add more slapstick, sex and champagne cocktails, you’re getting close.” - Rosecrans Baldwin, NPR's "All Things Considered"

"Already singled out in O the Oprah Magazine and named an 'mover and shaker,' this edition will...introduce a new readership to the unforgettable Sally Jay Gorce, described by one reviewer as a cross between Carrie Bradshaw and Holden Caulfield." —Los Angeles Times

"Before Bridget Jones, deeply sweet and recklessly intimate Sally Jay Gorce trolled for love (Parisian style) in novelist (and sometime wife of theater critic Kenneth Tynan) Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado, a madcap read from 1958 that's finally back in print in the United States." —O Magazine

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald (memoir)
  • One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year
  • ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle (Top 10), Miami Herald, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Top 10), Library Journal (Top 10), Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Slate, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, Amazon (Top 20)
The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald's story of adopting and raising one of nature's most vicious predators has soared into the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. Fierce and feral, her goshawk Mabel's temperament mirrors Helen's own state of grief after her father's death, and together raptor and human "discover the pain and beauty of being alive" (People). H Is for Hawk is a genre-defying debut from one of our most unique and transcendent voices.

My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem (memoir)
  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Harper’s Bazaar • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Publishers Weekly
Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and inspiring leader—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of her life as a traveler, a listener, and a catalyst for change.

Excerpt:  "When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel. Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts."

“Like Steinem herself, [My Life on the Road] is thoughtful and astonishingly humble. It is also filled with a sense of the momentous while offering deeply personal insights into what shaped her.”—O: The Oprah Magazine

“A lyrical meditation on restlessness and the quest for equity . . . Part of the appeal of My Life is how Steinem, with evocative, melodic prose, conveys the air of discovery and wonder she felt during so many of her journeys. . . . The lessons imparted in Life on the Road offer more than a reminiscence. They are a beacon of hope for the future.”—USA Today

“A warmly companionable look back at nearly five decades as itinerant feminist organizer and standard-bearer. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to sit down with Ms. Steinem for a casual dinner, this disarmingly intimate book gives a pretty good idea, mixing hard-won pragmatic lessons with more inspirational insights.”—The New York Times

Nora Webster, Colm Toibin (f.)

From one of contemporary literature’s bestselling, critically acclaimed, and beloved authors: a “luminous” novel (Jennifer Egan, The New York Times Book Review) about a fiercely compelling young widow navigating grief, fear, and longing, and finding her own voice—“heartrendingly transcendant” (The New York Times, Janet Maslin).

Set in Wexford, Ireland, Colm Tóibín’s magnificent seventh novel introduces the formidable, memorable, and deeply moving Nora Webster. Widowed at forty, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world to which she was born. And now she fears she may be sucked back into it. Wounded, selfish, strong-willed, clinging to secrecy in a tiny community where everyone knows your business, Nora is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her young sons, who have lost their father. Yet she has moments of stunning insight and empathy, and when she begins to sing again, after decades, she finds solace, engagement, a haven—herself.

Nora Webster “may actually be a perfect work of fiction” (Los Angeles Times), by a “beautiful and daring” writer (The New York Times Book Review) at the zenith of his career, able to “sneak up on readers and capture their imaginations” (USA TODAY). “Miraculous...Tóibín portrays Nora with tremendous sympathy and understanding” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post).

The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton

In books like The Consolations of PhilosophyHow Proust Can Change Your Life, and On Love, Alain de Botton has explored the nature of things we thought we knew. In The Architecture of Happiness, he examines the seemingly self-evident qualities of living space, beginning with a beginner's question: What is a beautiful building? As in his other books, de Botton reassesses the familiar in unexpected ways.

The Achitecture of Happiness is a dazzling and generously illustrated journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connection between our identities and our locations.One of the great but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kinds of walls, chairs, buildings, and streets that surround us. And yet a concern for architecture is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. Alain de Botton starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be, and argues that it is architecture's task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.

“De Botton has a marvelous knack for coming at weighty subjects from entertainingly eccentric angles.” —The Seattle Times

"An elegant book. . . . Unusual . . . full of big ideas. . . . Seldom has there been a more sensitive marriage of words and images." —The New York Sun

"With originality, verve, and wit, de Botton explains how we find reflections of our own values in the edifices we make. . . . Altogether satisfying." —San Francisco Chronicle

"De Botton is high falutin' but user friendly. . . . He keeps architecture on a human level." —Los Angeles Times

The Sunken Cathedral, Kate Walbert

From the highly acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award nominee, a “funny…beautiful…audacious…masterful” (J. Courtney Sullivan, The Boston Globe) novel about the way memory haunts and shapes the present.

Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.

In a chorus of voices, Kate Walbert, a “wickedly smart, gorgeous writer” (The New York Times Book Review), explores the growing disconnect between the world of action her characters inhabit and the longings, desires, and doubts they experience. Interweaving long narrative footnotes, Walbert paints portraits of marriage, of friendship, and of love in its many facets, always limning the inner life, the place of deepest yearning and anxiety. The Sunken Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful, profoundly wise novel about the way we live now—“fascinating, moving, and significant” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post).

September 29, 2016

Survey - 2015-2016

Go here to take our survey for our 2015-2016 books by October 17!

September 19, 2016

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner - Sept. 26, 2016

Our next meeting is Sept. 26 at Julie's house to discuss As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

Supplemental materials:

  • Study guide from Chicago Humanities Festival 2010
  • Discussion questions (at LitLovers, but probably from the publisher)
  • Wikipedia entry
  • Yale course on As I Lay Dying by Professor Wai Chee Dimock  (48 min. video)
  • "A Discourse Analysis of Darl's Descent Into Madness," Shannon Terry Wiley, Southeast Missouri State
  • "Creation and Rebellion in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying," Tristan Gans, Inquiries Journal, 2011, vol. 3, no. 5.
  • "The Patterned Path: A Structuralist Analysis of As I Lay Dying," Prezi Powerpoint presenation.
  • "A Bakhtinian Reading of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying," Maria R.N. Sanchez, Universidad de Valencia/University of Sheffield. 1998.
  • Review, E.L. Doctorow, The New York Review of Books, May 24, 2012
  • Audio recording of Faulkner reading the first Tull section
  • Audio recording of Faulkner reading a Vardamon section 
  • Audio recording of Faulkner reading a Darl section
  • Trailer for the 2013 movie of As I Lay Dying (James Franco
  • Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech
As always, let me know if you come across other useful materials.

August 18, 2016

President Obama's Summer Reading Lists

We now have the last summer reading list for President Obama, here:


  • "Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life" by William Finnegan
  • "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead
  • "H Is for Hawk" by Helen Macdonald
  • "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins
  • "Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson

I haven't posted these before, so here are his earlier lists, to the extent I could find them.  If you come across any of the missing years, please send me a link.

  • The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller based in Washington, D.C.
  • Lush Life by Richard Price, a story of race and class set in New York's Lower East Side;
  • Tom Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded, on the benefits to America of an environmental revolution;
  • John Adams by David McCullough;
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a drama about the life of eight different characters living in a Colorado prairie community.



  • The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction, chronicles the Great Migration of black Americans out of the South.
  • Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
  • Rodin’s Debutante, by Ward Just
  • To the End of the Land, by David Grossman
  • The Bayou Trilogy, by Daniel Woodrell—three crime novels set in the Louisiana swamp town of St. Bruno
  • Room

  • All That Is by James Salter
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
And here's a list of books President Obama had read as of August 2010 (partly summer read, partly others).

Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry - August 22, 2016

We'll meet August 22 at Katherine's house to discuss Family Matters, by Rohinton Mistry.

Supplemental materials:

As always, if you come across anything interesting, let me know and I'll add it.

Catching Up - April to July

I neglected our website during session, and have been slow to get back on track this year.  This is a catch-up post.  Since Rebecca in February, we've had the following meetings:

April 4:  My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante  - Katherine's house
April 25:  All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr - Connie's house
May 23:  This Side of Brightness, Colum McCann - Karen's house
June 27:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ranson Riggs - Ruth's house
July 25:  The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah  - Connie's temporary digs in St. Paul

February 14, 2016

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier - February 22, 2016

We'll meet at Kathy's house on February 22 to discuss Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.

Supplemental materials:

  • LitLovers discussion questions
  • Telegraph article, including interview with du Maurier's son, on the 75th anniversary of Rebecca's publication
  • Independent article, "Literary Greats: Rebecca - Love, Paranoia, Obsession," 2006
  • Blog post, "The Art of the Sentence,"Vishwa Galtonde, 2012 - includes a comparison of sorts to Kipling's Mandalay
  • Novel Explorer entry, including topics for discussion
  • TC Globel News, interview (video) with Kits Browning, du Maurier's son
  • Interview (video) with Daphne du Maurier, 1989(?), about Menabilly, her parent's vacation property that inspired Manderlay. Includes some footage of her at 40.
  • Obituary of du Maurier, by Richard Kelly, professor of English, University of Tennessee
  • Carol Burnett parody sketch "Rebecky" - Part 1 and Part 2

As always, let me know if you come across something interesting to add to the list.

January 18, 2016

The Children Act, Ian McEwan - January 25, 2016

We'll meet January 25 at Julie's house to discuss The Children Act.

Supplemental materials:

  • Katherine will have a lot of things for us because her dad teaches this text as part of a seminar
  • Publisher's discussion questions
  • Kalamazoo Public Library discussion questions
  • New York Times review
  • Washington Post review
  • The Guardian review
  • NPR review
  • Kirkus review
  • The Spectator review
  • Ian McEwan's web site - includes a video introduction by McEwan to The Children Act and video of a discussion between McEwan and Martin Amis
  • Transcript of an interview with McEwan about TCA on the Diane Rehm show (whoever she is)

January 2, 2016

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton - January 4, 2015

We'll meet on January 4 at Kerry's house to discuss The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

Supplemental materials:

  • Publisher's discussion questions posted at LitLovers
  • Segullah Book Club's discussion, including a couple of their own questions 
  • Mount Pleasant Public Library discussion questions
  • Julie Olin-Ammentorp's discussion questions
  • Teacher Vision's entry for The Age of Innocence, including some biographical material about Wharton
  • Novel Guide essay questions/answers
  • Masterwork study by Linda Wagner-Martin: The Age of Innocence: A Novel of Ironic Nostalgia (Thanks, Suzanne!)
  • New Yorker article from 2014 when Wharton's early letters were auctioned at Christie's. Article includes lots of biographical info about her.
  • Journal article, "Silencing Women in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence," Clair Virginia Eby, Colby Quarterly, Vol. 28, 1992
  • Critical essay, "The Ironic Structure and Untold Stories in The Age of Innocence," Kathy Miller Hadley, Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 53, 1991
  • Discussion amongst some readers on Goodreads about Newland Archer being a jerk
  • From Kathy, here are two poems that she found illuminating on the question of Newland Archer's character:  My Heart by Frank O'Hara, and I Dwell in Possibility by Emily Dickinson
As always, let me know if you come across useful materials/questions.

Steph's discussion topic: How does living amidst rigid social mores (pretend there's an accent on that e) affect a person's ability to make moral judgements? What purpose do mores serve?