Category Archives: Book Club Reading List

How The Story Ends

Leaflets

At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Despite the many awards and accolades, I don’t know that I would have read this book if it hadn’t been on the Book Club list. Blind girl and young German soldier meet in WWII, nothing automatically compelling in this boiled down description. (But isn’t it completely unfair to reduce any story down to so little?) What I’m trying to say is that I am grateful to Book Club for encouraging me to read this because I enjoyed it immensely.

The story that is told and the structure of how it is told are both mesmerizing.

I have a sense that Mr. Doerr’s characters came to life for him and told him how their story ended. As I read the final page there were parts I wanted to change, just a few minor revisions so this character or that character had a different outcome. But life doesn’t work that way, bad/sad things happen to decent people who don’t deserve those endings. I think it is a testament to writing skill that it feels as though the author didn’t give himself permission to rewrite his characters’ story so that all the good guys had happy endings, he wrote it the way it happened. Or the way it would have happened if these people had existed outside of his imagination.

This is the book we will be discussing Sunday and I’m so looking forward to it!

 

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Why Haven’t I Finished It?

Today is Book Club. The book we’re reading is well-written, well-reviewed, on David Bowie’s favorite 100 books, is a bestseller, has won awards (right on the cover it says “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize”), and is getting the better of me. I am on page 175 (of 335) of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I started reading it back in January, before I read The Martian and before I even considered reading Born Standing Up. When I sit down to read I am immediately drawn in, but once I set the book aside for the evening I seem to have a difficult time making the time to go back to it.

I think that will be my discussion point at Book Club today: why haven’t I finished this book?

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Brooklyn Books 2016 List

February:  The Martian by Andy Weir. Host: Edie

March:  The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz. Host: Deb

April:  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Host: Betsy

May:  The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. Host: Nancy M.

June:  Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates. Host: Sharon

July:  Jazz by Toni Morrison. Host: Sara

August:  Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Host: TBD

September:  H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Host: Kathryn

October:  A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnik. Host: Kathleen

November:  When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Abraham Verghese (Memoir). Host: Adrienne/Vanessa

December:  Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon by Nicole Brossard. Host: Bettie










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Why We Meet

Emma Washburn watched the small figures across the mouth of the river. There was no change. Not that she could see from where she stood in the front room, which served as dining and sitting room for the Pines.

Prudence by David Treuer

 

We’ve agreed to only bring one (or one and a back-up in the event your one is suggested by someone else) suggestion to next month’s meeting to select our 2016 Brooklyn Book Club reading list. As one of the people who brought more than a dozen ideas last year (and the year, and the year before that…), I’m taking this need to winnow down my list very seriously. It has me wondering about what sort of a book makes the best Book Club read? I don’t expect it is the same for all groups, so I should be more specific, what is the best type of book for us? Non-fiction that makes us think, perhaps even debate? Light novels that result in friendly conversation? Heavy stories that we want to know how they impact other readers? Books that will result in philosophical discussion or ones that will make us all start reminiscing about our childhoods (this has happened more times than you’d think in our group)?

For example, I would recommend Prudence because I have questions that my Brooklyn Book Club co-members might be able to help answer. I’m going to attempt to phrase these in a way so they aren’t spoilers, but if you haven’t read it and you want to know nothing going in to a story, don’t keep reading.

Why did the author spend most of the first 153 pages on a particular character that didn’t make an appearance in the other 100 pages? What happened to Emma and Jonathan; did Mr. Treuer expect us not to care or to be able to assume the rest of their story line?

The prologue starts with this sentence: Everyone remembers that day in August 1952 when the Jew arrived on the reservation. It seems likely that the Jew was the stranger who visited Gephardt, but I didn’t understand that entire section so knowing that didn’t help me understand the significance to the mention of the Jew. Unless it was about secrets; although Gephardt doesn’t show up until page 215 and I didn’t care about his secrets.

Did Prudence die (this is revealed in the 4th sentence of the prologue) because she realized Billy was telling the truth about Frankie?

 

A funny thing happened as I wrote this post, I think I understand the story more than before I wrote it. In fact, I had to change the questions because as I wrote them I gained understanding of the story and answered the original questions myself.

So I may not be able to bring a dozen different titles to book group next month, but I’ll still have this blog to help me sort through any book I read.

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Follow Up to 8/16 Meeting

This message is going to my entire Book Club list, if you never want an email on this subject again, do let us know! Remember, whether you’ve read the book or not, come once, a dozen times, or never before – you are always welcome. (And if I missed someone, please share this with them and let me know).

We had a very nice gathering in Sara’s lovely garden today and I promised to send an email to recap a few decisions/reminders. All of the meeting times mentioned below are 4:00 to 6:00pm.

1 – Next meeting is September 13 at my house (Brooklyn Street), the book being discussed will be Moonwalking with Einstein : the art and science of remembering everything / Joshua Foer I just put it on hold at the library and I’m now 2nd of 2 holds for 38 copies.

2 – Following is October 11 at Kathleen’s (Brooklyn Street), the book is The world without us / Alan Weisman. The library has 15 regular book copes, I’m 4 of 4 holds.

3 – November will be at Sharon’s (not on Brooklyn), I expect the 8th but as I write this I am reminded that I am always out of town on the second Sunday of November and I may put out the idea that this be moved to the 1st or 15th because I’m looking very forward to discussing Astoria : John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s lost Pacific empire : a story of wealth, ambition, and survival / Peter Stark (library has at least 38 copies and today I ordered a used hardback copy for $5 from Amazon).

4 – We’ll end the year at Adrienne’s (Brooklyn Street) on December 13 with The book of Genesis / illustrated by R. Crumb. The library has 14 copies. I’m wondering if I can read my copy of The Brick Testament instead.

5 – January we’ll have our annual “what shall we read this year…” meeting. We did agree today that everyone will limit themselves to 2 titles to recommend, it was either that or agree to not be too polite to remove a book from consideration (too many books, not enough meetings…). That location is TBD, though I expect it will be January 10th (2nd Sunday of the month).

As I said, if you don’t want another Brooklyn Book Club email, do let us know (and if you already did and I lost it, I’m sure after reading the September book I’ll be able to remember in the future).

Looking forward to all of it,




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That Time of Year Again

Today we meet to select next year’s reading list. What recommendations will I bring?

How to Build a Girl: A Novel

“Vivid and full of truths…. There’s a point in midlife, when you’re already built, as it were, when the average coming-of-age story starts to feel completely uninteresting. But Moran is so lively, dazzlingly insightful and fun that “How to Build a Girl” transcends any age restrictions.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales

“Witty and frequently biting … this book’s stories offer characters a chance to put their own understandings of gallantry, courage and revenge to the test, in ways both mundane and extraordinary.”
—The New York Times Book Review


Everything I Never Told You: A Novel

Lydia is dead. From the first sentence of Celeste Ng’s stunning debut, we know that the oldest daughter of the Chinese-American Lee family has died. What follows is a novel that explores alienation, achievement, race, gender, family, and identity–as the police must unravel what has happened to Lydia, the Lee family must uncover the sister and daughter that they hardly knew. There isn’t a false note in this book, and my only concern in describing my profound admiration for Everything I Never Told You is that it might raise unachievable expectations in the reader. But it’s that good. Achingly, precisely, and sensitively written. –Chris Schluep


The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel

“Alice Hoffman employs her trademark alchemy of finding the magical amid the ordinary in her mesmerizing new novel.…If you’re looking for an enchanting love story rich with history and a sense of place, step right up to The Museum of Extraordinary Things.” (USA Today)


Delicious!: A Novel

“Its title strikes me as perfectly apt. . . . The novel presents a whole passel of surprises: a puzzle to solve; a secret room; hidden letters; the legacy of James Beard; and a parallel, equally plucky heroine from the past, who also happens to be a culinary prodigy.”—The New York Times Book Review

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April’s Book

April 13th we meet at Nancy’s to discuss The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. I should start reading it, but the “general description” Bettie has included in the reading list says “Fiction: Armenian genocide.”

Sometimes I feel like the weakest link in the book group. The one who wants to read escapist fiction. A murder mystery occasionally, a little Stephen King to keep it lively, a memoir with moments of heartbreak – I can take all of that. But genocide? No matter how well written it is purported to be, regardless of any claims that story is uplifting or life-affirming, this will not be an easy book.

Many of the material choices have been a challenge for me. I won’t admit how many I haven’t finished. But I will always at least START the book, I will sincerely work at it.

After all, that’s why I’m here.

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