May 9th, 2012
May book club meetings had us discussing two very different books.
Book Club Number One read “Mr.Pip” by Lloyd Jones, an author from New Zealand. This book is set in the Solomon Islands during the conflicts of the early 1990′s. As all foreign nationals leave the island, one white man stays behind. This is a story written through the eyes of Matilda, a young teenager whose father now works in the mines in Australia. Mr. Watts takes on the teaching of the remaining children using one of the only remaining books on the island, “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. Mr. Watts reads the book to the class over the course of a number weeks while conflict and war rages on around them. The youngsters start to identify strongly with young Pip, particularly Matilda. Soon fiction and reality become melded together. Thankfully, a few of us who had not read “Great Expectations” for some time had recently caught a televised version of it on Masterpiece Theatre. Group members were not wowed by the book but a good discussion ensued about the relationships between the children in the early 1990′s Solomon Islands and 19th century London.
The Namesake by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri is a wonderful book read by Book Club Number Two. This is the story of a young Bengali couple’s move to 1970′s America and the life of their family, with a particular focus on their son Gogol. Gogol is named after a Russian author, the favourite of his father Ashoke. Ashoke was clutching the author’s works when he was involved in a disastrous train wreck. Gogol goes through life hating his name and later changing it. While this all sounds rather simplistic, the story revolves around the power of a name and the role of culture and identity in America. Heavy territory but a great read. All the members present enjoyed the book and it offered so many themes for our conversation.
At the June meetings we will be discussing “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and “The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B” by Sandra Gulland.
March 16th, 2012
It has been a while since I’ve written an entry. In March we read two totally different books at each of the book clubs. Book club number one read Philippa Gregory’s “The Other Queen” while the second group read “Sweetness in the Belly” by Camilla Gibb. “The Other Queen” refers to Mary Queen of Scots, the tale taking place in the 16th century. “Sweetness in the Belly” takes place in 1970′s and 1980′s London, England and Ethiopia.
“The Other Queen” was a decent read but not necessarily a great one. The surrounding discussion was more about the historical figures than the quality of the book. The story is actually quite historically accurate and it did inspire me to learn more about the life of Mary Queen of Scots. The style of writing was quite repetitious and the book was perhaps around 50 pages too long.
“Sweetness in the Belly” was well received by the group and stimulated a very interesting conversation about what it means to be an outsider. The main character was a white British girl orphaned at a young age but raised Muslim in Ethiopia. Later, she moves to London, England and struggles to find a sense of belonging. This well-written book by Canadian author Camilla Gibb is highly recommended for book clubs.
Next month we will be reading “In the Skin of a Lion” by Michael Ondaatje and “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri.
December 30th, 2011
It is the end of the year and we are finishing up our list of titles to read in 2012. Each year both groups mull over suggestions from both members and myself to create a list for the next six months to a year. We will be reading a few titles by such Canadian authors as Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence in our second book club. As someone who never read Margaret Laurence in high school I look forward to finding out whether or not the rumours are true! Are her books as dry and difficult to read as many have told me over the years? Other choices include some book club standards like “The Book Thief” but also choices by authors such as Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler. “People of the Book” and “Mr. Pip” come well recommended by a staff member affectionately referred to as “Super Tech”. There are also books like “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith that I have recommended numerous times over the years. I am excited to finally get a chance to read it with the group.
Group number one read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khalid Hosseini. Group number two read “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery. As these meetings were a few weeks ago I won’t get into details of each book as my memory would not do each story justice. Both books were well-received by each group. “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” in particular was a book that has really stuck with me. It was one of those titles that inspires and makes you want to learn its lessons and reform yourself. Unfortunately habit, or human nature, has not allowed this to happen for me yet! This is the story of a concierge in an upscale French apartment building and her two unlikely friendships. The discussion was lead by a member who initially recommended the title and was inspired to join the group so she could have the opportunity to discuss the book!
In January we will be reading “The Robber Bride” by Margaret Atwood and “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. The latter book was recently read by the other book club just a few months ago. I am curious to see the perspective of this different compliment of people.
If you’d care to read along with us you can find our reading lists at www.newmarketpl.ca/whats-hot/book-clubs.
November 2nd, 2011
I have not written a blog post in a while. I was unable to attend one of our October meetings as I was on vacation. The book we read for Book Club Number One is now, unfortunately, a complete blur!
Last night a small group was in attendance to discuss “Cranford”. While the group may have been small, the laughter was large. I even heard from staff members outside of the room that we seemed like a lively bunch! This is not to say that “Cranford” is a comedy but it certainly does have its lighthearted moments.
Many know of “Cranford” through the BBC television production staring Judi Dench. Gaskell’s work was originally published in Charles Dicken’s magazine “Household Words”. The book takes place in the mid-nineteenth century in a small English village mainly populated by single women. The central characters are two middle-aged sisters, Miss Matty and Miss Deborah. The book is comprised of a series of semi-independent chapters surrounding the lives of the sisters and day-to-day life in the town of Cranford.
All the members who were in attendance really enjoyed the book. We did hear from a few members that could not make it that they did not enjoy the book. This was a bit of a departure for our group so I am not surprised that the response was mixed. I have just started reading “North and South” by Gaskell and can say that I for one have become a fan of this author’s work.
Next week Book Club Number Two will discuss “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen.
September 16th, 2011
Tonight Book Club #2 met to discuss “Hominids” by Robert Sawyer. This was the first science fiction book we’ve read to date in either book club. Hominids is Volume One of the Neanderthal Parallax. Hominids is not science fiction as those who are not fans of the genre may think of as science fiction. There are no modern worlds, no robots. The story centres around two parallel universes and what happens when they collide. What would have happened if Neanderthals had not died out but had taken the place of Homo Sapiens? Neanderthal Physicist Ponter Boddit accidentally finds himself in modern day Sudbury. The reaction to his presence on earth and the efforts back in his home universe make up the story.
I must admit that I was quite hesitant to read this book as were a number of the members! The story was fairly interesting, particularly envisioning how life would have been like had the Neanderthals continued to exist. Members of the group generally thought it was ‘better than they thought it would be’ though few are rushing out to read part two of the series. One member discussed how the movie Star Wars had skewed most people’s view of what constituted Science fiction and I must say I agree. Having read this book I feel ever-so-slightly more ready to take on another ‘sci fi’ book sometime in the future.
August 11th, 2011
The August book club choice for our newest group was Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Just as with The Book of Negroes for our first club, I took this month off from book club picks to focus on my own reading.
Years ago Franzen generated some buzz for his book The Corrections. At that time Oprah tried to make it one of her Oprah Picks but was turned downed by the author, something that NEVER happens. Fast forward to Freedom, we find Oprah once again circling around Franzen but this time he bites. Freedom gets the Oprah seal of approval! (Insert potential dollars here.) This seal means more to some readers than it does to others.
I won’t get into the plot here having not read the book. The discussion was a lively one but even those who enjoyed the book were not really sure they could recommend the book to others. Was it a satire? Were any of the characters remotely likeable or believable? Could this possibly be the great American novel? Well, one certainly hopes not but I will be a closed minded reader in this case and hope I never find out!
September 2011: Hominids by Robert Sawyer
August 5th, 2011
Book Club number one continues to go strong after a number of years together. It is always great to see a good turnout, especially in the summer. This month the group discussed “The Book of Negroes” by Lawrence Hill. This was uniformly enjoyed by all members of the group. One of our newer members even suggested that it may have been her favourite book we’ve read so far.
I must confess that I took a break from both August book club books to concentrate on my own reading. After hearing such positive feedback I must add it to the top of my reading list. Because I did not read it I will not try to go into the plot. Many found the book heart-wrenching and had to set it aside during a few rough passages. It was hard for members to believe what people have had to endure throughout history at the hands of other humans. All agreed that the message of “The Book of Negroes” was a powerful one.
Next Tuesday Book Club number two tackles (and I do mean tackles!) “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen.
August 2nd, 2011
Our original group met to talk about Ian McEwan’s Saturday. One week later book club #2 read “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan. I won’t talk about that book here because the original group discussed that very book a few months back.
I don’t know if this says more about me or the book but there is not a lot I can remember about Saturday. The group liked the book overall, but a few members lost interest early on and did not complete it. The plot centres around a day in the life of a London doctor. The day starts with what looks to be a terrorist event in an airplane over the skies of London. It turns out to simply be a fire on a cargo flight. He later gets involved in a skirmish on the street that ends up on his doorstep. While this book is a quick read, it was not one of our more exciting book club picks.
May 11th, 2011
April and May brought a bit of change to the NPL book club world. Due to a commitment to attend one of our adult programs, I was not able to go to the April book club meeting. This almost happened again for the May meeting but that evening’s program was cancelled a few days before it was to take place. While I was pleased to be able to attend, I must confess that I did not read our book for that month, “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd.
“The Mermaid Chair” was well liked by most of the members. Most of the group liked the author’s style of writing more than the plot. A few years ago we read another book by Sue Monk Kidd, “The Secret Life of Bees”, and it was also well received by the group. As I was unable to read the book I won’t go into the plot line here. Sometimes when I have not finished a book but learn more about it at the meeting, I am tempted to read it. I must admit that this was not the case with “The Mermaid Chair”! I was not drawn to the book by the description and conversation that surrounded it. I think this has more to do with the plot line and struggles of the main character than anything else. A main character married over twenty years, feeling stuck in her life…this type of story line does not necessarily hit me where I live.
On another note, I have recently started a 2nd book club here at the NPL. This club meets on the second Tuesday of each month and our book choices will usually differ from the original group. Our first title is “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens and our first formal meeting took place last night. We are currently looking for a few new members for this group.
Next book club picks for June:
Club #1: “Saturday” by Ian McEwan
Club #2: “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan
March 15th, 2011
Our March book club pick was Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. This book was recommended to me last year by someone who raved about it as a potential book club choice. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book!
We were lucky to have the person who recommended the book attend our meeting. She enjoyed the book so much she was curious to hear a new group discuss it once again. The Frank mentioned in the title is Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect. While fiction, the book is based loosely on his real life and romance with a woman outside of his marriage, Mamah Borthwick. Together they travelled to Germany and Japan and carried on an intense love affair. Their actions were deemed so scandalous at the time that they became the stuff of sensational newspaper fodder.
Borthwick left her husband and two children to run off to Europe with Frank. The discussion in our group was rather heated about the role of women (mothers in particular) in society. Some members could not fathom leaving one’s children for a man. Others could sympathize with how an educated, enlightened woman at the turn of the 20th century might find the conditions in her life rather stifling. Mamah was definitely not a typical woman of the time. She believed that she could be of more value to her children by not adhering to the strict confines for a mother that were laid out by society. Mamah later became an advocate and translator for a famous Swedish feminist author.
This book so intrigued me that I have recently started reading a true life account of the romance of Frank and Mamah and the construction of Taliesin, the house he built for her. There is no way to even touch on the big event of the book without giving away the plot. Rest assured that it will take you by surprise. Some members found it a little too much of a surprise, but it is a moment from the actual history books. Take the advice given to me: read the book and do not read any reviews before you get started.
April Book Club Pick: The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd