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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I’ll Finish It On My Next Trip

…Dear Committee Members, Over the past twenty-odd years I’ve recommended god only knows how many talented candidates for the Bentham January residency – that enviable literary oasis in the woods south of Skowhegan: the solitude, the pristine cabins, the artistic camaraderie, and those exquisite hand-delivered satchels of apples and cheese… Well, you can scratch all prior nominees and pretenders from your mailing lists, because none is as provocative or as promising as Darren Bowles.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

From the book flap:

“…this droll and inventive novel uses to tell (the) tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that he is endlessly called upon by this students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.”

As a fan of ‘inventive’ story-telling, I had to pick this up, and I’m betting it is as good as all the reviews say but I can’t say yet if that is true. This isn’t a book to be read slowly and savored, a chapter (or a letter) a night; it should be read in one sitting or, at most, over one weekend.

I read the first 5 letters with great enjoyment, but then it was a few days before I had time to read again and starting with the 6th letter after even that short period of time, wasn’t working. Therefore, I am considering this book for 2017 Brooklyn Book Group recommendation as well as a top choice for my next flight.

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History As It Should Be Taught

On the evening of May 19, 1903, in the University Club in San Francisco, a group of well-to-do men were sharing drinks and conversation. The talk centered on President Theodore Roosevelt’s political fortunes, recent flooding along the Mississippi River, and the changes that the Boston Pilgrims might take the pennant in the brand-new American league. Then the discussion turned to another topic: the future of a new machine that only recently had been showing up on the streets of major American cities – the automobile.

Horatio’s Drive America’s First Road Trip by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns

This is the companion book to the documentary film of the same name. Thanks to Netflix and Amazon prime, I am able to indulge my love of documentaries on almost any topic and that is how I ended up watching the film and then reading the book.

I thought I would end up just skimming the book, after all I had already seen the documentary, but both the story and the writing grabbed my attention and I read every word of it.

Horatio’s Drive took me back 113 years with the adventures of the two men, Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker (Horatio’s mechanic), along with a bulldog named Bud that they picked up early on the trip. Much of the story is told from Jackson’s letters to his wife, which, because I did see the documentary, I read in Tom Hanks’ voice.

A fun and easy read, I only wish all history could be learned with books like this!


 

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The Risk For The Girl On The Train

She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I had forgotten about the first two pages; if you had asked before I looked back at the beginning of the book, I would have told you the first sentences were these:

There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth – a shirt, perhaps – jumbled up with something dirty white.

Reading the real first sentence, even a week after I finished the book, reminds me that, damn, that was a good book!

There is always a danger to reading a book that “everyone” is saying is great, just as there is in seeing the movie or eating at the restaurant that “everyone” is talking about, anything placed on a pedestal is in danger of falling, of failing to live up to expectations.

Perhaps I was saved from this disappointment by a celebrity comment that she thought the book was just ok?

Or, more likely, I wasn’t disappointed because the story really is that good, and because it had my all-time favorite type of ending: I didn’t see it coming but it made perfect sense.

I expect to see this made into a movie, and I hope they do a really good job of it because it’s going to be really easy to be disappointed if it isn’t great!

 

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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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What Was I Reading?

Hi!

My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

A Tale For the Time Being A Novel, by Ruth Ozeki

Have you ever picked up a book you’ve been reading a felt like you were reading a completely different story than the one you remembered?

Not like when you’ve put a book down for a long time and don’t remember it clearly, but just a day later.

Not a twist as in Gone Girl or the movie Sixth Sense.

Somewhere in the last 10% of the A Tale For the Time Being there was, for me, a 180 degree shift in the storytelling.

But don’t take that as a criticism as my reaction is that I need to read the book again. With so little time to read I do sometimes let too many days go by between pages, and there are times I fall asleep while reading.

Perhaps there is a shift between the two stories I read in the one book and now that I know where I’m going, I will see that bridge more clearly.

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Memory

“A homeless woman, let’s call her my mother for now, or yours, sits on a window ledge in late afternoon in a working-class neighborhood in Cleveland, or it could be Baltimore or Detroit.”

Mira Bartok, The Memory Palace

I heard Ms. Bartok interviewed about this book and was intrigued by what I heard about the choice between no medication and being yourself both creatively and dangerously vs. taking medication and being socially acceptable but not yourself and sort of dulled. I was disappointed because I didn’t find this addressed in the book, so I went back and read the transcript of the interview. There is absolutely nothing in that interview that addresses or even alludes to that question. How very odd.

Having recently read a book about using the memory palace technique for Book Club, it was interesting to have it as a framework for this memoir. Even with that technique, however, in the first chapters I frequently felt skeptical about how much detail Ms. Bartok seems to remember from her early childhood.

It was an interesting story, from my point of view more successful as an indictment of how the United States deals with our mentally ill than a memoir. Either way, I’m glad I read it.

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