Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I do believe this is the "most trendy" book we have read as a group.  Meaning:  Right now people are reading it, wanting to read it, talking about how much they liked seems to be everywhere.  We're cool girls, don't get me wrong.  But our meandering literary path took us very mainstream this month.  Having said that, everyone really enjoyed this book.

A large number of our regular attenders were out of town, so we welcomed a few new faces to make up for it!  They fit right in.  Rabbit-trailing like pros.  *wink*  It's a beautiful thing.  Balancing fellowship with jabbering and managing to fit a meaning discussion about the book in as well. 

We talked about the characters and their voices.  We talked about racism, self-esteem, social dynamics, and choices.  We talked about the bravery of Skeeter and her friends.  And we talked about how sometimes the brave thing and the right thing may cause waves, but leave things pretty much unchanged, and yet somehow still be the right thing to do.  (That was actually something that bothered me a little bit.  How nothing was really different at the end of the book.) We talked about how class distinctions in any form don't have to be inherently degrading.  And we talked about how these issues, prejudices, and mindsets might be reinterpreted in the years to come.  Will we be able to recognize flawed thinking and injustice when we see it?  Will we have the courage to listen, to stand up, and to tell the meaningful story...even if there's a chance it won't change anything?  I enjoyed listening to Anna and Lynn share stories about the beautiful houses of West Annapolis and the families that make homes.  Good discussion indeed.

And of course there was chocolate pie for all.  No extra ingredients included of course!

So...Lynn and Anna, welcome!  Erinn and Amanda, thanks for holding down the fort.  Everyone else, you were missed.  I hope to see you soon.

Next up:  The Hunger Games by Suszanne Collins.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In My Hands by Irene Opdyke

This month's gathering marked a first for me:  it was the first time I hadn't read the book.  (Shame on me!)  In my defense, I honestly thought I was going to miss the meeting.  I loaned my copy out to one of the other girls.  I made arrangements for us to meet at Panera Bread instead of our normal living room.  I was resigned to my fate. And then my hindrance dissapeared and I happily joined everyone for the discussion. All I have to say is this: Thank goodness that this book was based on a real life!  I was able to do some research on the real facts of Irene Opdyke's life (the truth really is better than fiction), and I was able to engage in the conversation.

What a woman!  Her story gave us so much to talk about.  How much a person can change in 5 years.  How some people become heroes and legends by simply responding to the situations in front of them.  It could be said that all Irene did was rise to the opportunity.  But we talked about how there are thinkers, and there are doers.  Some people would have weighed and pondered and re-weighed every consequence.  Irene just looked at things and said, "this is what I can do." 

We talked about hard choices.  About how sometimes people are forced into supporting a system they don't agree with.  How does a person deal with that?  Respond to it?  Fight the system even while 'supporting' it? 

One of our amusing side conversations was on languages.  Irene knew a few, and her friend (fiance was it?) knew several more.  Most of us were lamenting that we are still fighting to learn a second.  But then we decided to divide up the globe, so no matter where we travel someone will know the local tongue.  (Krisitn has Spanish and she'll have to take Portuguese for the team, Erinn has Russian, Mandie has German, I'm all about Arabic and Hindi....).  How is this a bad plan?

I'm looking forward to actually finishing this book.  From what I understand, this book is very easy to read.  It's inspiring.  It's true.  And it's worth keeping around.  It was a delightful way to end our WWII theme on a hopeful note, and we highly recommend this book to others.

Up Next:  The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This month, we continued with our theme and decided to read Dick's Hugo Award-winning 1962 alternative history, which considers the question of what would have happened if the Allied Powers had lost WWII.

Of the four people who came to the meeting, only one had read the book completely.  One was nearly done and finished the last 20 pages during our discussion.  One had only attempted a few chapters.  And one wasn't able to start at all (though she brought amazing cupcakes.  All is forgiven. *grin*).

For all the praise this book is given, we all thought it was dry, uninteresting, a bit disjointed, and...strange.  Even by the end of the novel, the reader still has large questions about what Dick was trying to communicate.  We chatted for a while about the different voice Dick tried to portray for different parts of the country -- based on whether the states had been controlled by Japan or Germany after the war.  We chatted about the use/misuse of the I Ching throughout the book's plot.  We chatted about some of the main characters.

And then we abandoned the strange book and played Dutch Blitz while we watched Glee.

Dutch Blitz is a card game that is part Solitaire, part Skip-Bo, part Speed, and part "Egyptian Rat Screw."  The latter is what makes my sister so dangerous.  She didn't join the Dutch Blitz game until the 4th or 5th round, but when she did she proceeded to stomp us.  Soundly.  (Which was mostly ok.  Grrr.  *wink*)

Imagine all that insanity with Glee as a backdrop.  For one of us, it was her first Glee episode ever.  She started out looking at us like we were all insane.  "What?" And ended by laughing with delight that Neil Patrick Harris would guest star on an upcoming episode. "What?!"

Good times (and delicious cupcakes) were had by all.

Next month we will conclude our WWII theme with the book:  In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Opdyke.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Night of C.S. Lewis

Instead of having a specific book this month, we had a specific author:  C.S. Lewis.  We each chose whatever book by Lewis that we wanted. 

These were the books represented last night:
  • Regina - Screwtape Letters
  • Kristin - Pilgrim's Regress
  • Kate - The Dark Tower and Other Stories
  • Amanda - The Magician's Nephew

A few of our other members were reading Lewis's non-fiction works, but last night it was all about his imagination and storytelling.

It was actually a really interesting evening.  Kate started by telling us about the short stories in her book. Her ability to summarize is quite fantastic.  Her conversation flowed well into the themes I loved in the Screwtape letters, which led into the Pilgrim's Regress, which led.... needless to say, we could all see Lewis's personality and philosophy in all his works.  Displayed differently of course, but it was all there.  It would have been interesting to see how they were echoed in his non-fiction works.  But we'll just have to catch up with those girls later.

We discussed the power and effectiveness of analogy -- a tool C.S. Lewis used very often.  We also discussed time and perspective.  Lewis wrote Pilgrim's Regress at the beginning of his Christian life.  He included a forward (or afterword...I can't remember) that he wrote several years after he wrote the initial book.  In it, he says that looking back, he can see all his book's flaws, but he still stands by it.  That sentiment reminded me of a forward that Tolkien wrote for Lord of the Rings.  We wondered last night if the two were related.  After all, Lewis and Tolkien were friends.  Perhaps after of banter and growth they both felt compelled to both acknowledge their flaws, but to embrace them and stand by what they did.  In the case of Lewis, his honesty is one of the reasons his books have had so much staying power. 

One of the prompt questions I found asked:  What part of this book inspired you in some way?  While it was supposed to be for a non-fiction book, we were all able to identify thoughts in Lewis's works that we found inspiring.  This was especially true for me.  I've tried to read Screwtape Letters several times in the past, and haven't made it past page 30.  But this time, I couldn't put it down.  There was so much that I wanted to mull over.  As I shared with the girls last night, maybe this was just the right book for the right time.

All in all, it was a wonderful night.

Next month: We continue our WWII theme with an alternate reality - The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Hands down, "The Book Thief" was one of the best books we've read.  It's unique.  It's engaging.  And we all decided that it actually lives up to the praise on it's cover:  "BRILLIANT and hugely ambitious...It's the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING."

It's set during WWII, narrated by Death, and centers on Liesel Meminger - a young German girl with a huge heart, an indomitable spirit, and a love of books and words. 

We were amazed by the structure of the story, the depth of the characters, and the obvious intention that went into putting this whole book together. 

Read it.  Savor it.  You won't be disappointed.

After reading "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" and "The Book Thief", we've decided to stay with the WWII theme for a while.  Next month, we're trying something new.  Everyone is picking a book by C.S. Lewis, and we'll share our collective thoughts and reactions during April's meeting.  Then we'll conquer a WWII fantasy, and alternative history, and a memoir.  We'll conclude our theme with a trip to D.C. to visit the Holocaust Museum.  I'm really looking forward to the next several months. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I fell in love with this month's read while I was traveling in Europe.  After a very busy week, I was ordered to sit and watch the world go by, armed only with a view of the Irish coast, and the delights of this book.  In a letter to my friends at home, I described it as deliciously engaging and refreshing.  Needless to say, it was immediately put it on the Paige Turner's "To Be Read" list. 

And after our meeting on Monday, I can happily report that the other members enjoyed it as much as I did.  *whew!*  In fact, several ladies said it was one of their favorites from all the books we've read together as a group.  High praise indeed!

Getting everyone together this month was no small feat.  We had to cancel our original meeting because of Snowmageddon.  And with so much snow remaining on the side streets, we were worried about having enough extra space to park in our normal neighborhood location.  Enter our solution: invade Panera Bread.  It was our first non-livingroom gathering, but I think it worked rather well.  I'd definitely be open to meeting at an eatery again.

In any case, on to the book!  We talked about what it was like to read an epistolary novel.  We thought that the authors -- Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows -- did a wonderful job of capturing so many different voices.  We talked about the characters, the ones we loved and the ones we loved to hate.  I thought it was interesting that one of our members commented that she didn't feel very connected to the main character, Juliet.  We talked about how that might have been because most of the letters are from her (sharing about others), or to her (again, sharing about others).  There were very few letters that gave an outside glimpse of Juliet, sharing anecdotes, etc. 

We talked about the different stories shared through the books letters - what life was like, how the war impacted people from both side, how the experiences of the war changed those who lived through them, and impacted those who came after.  For example, could you imagine having to decide in one day between sending your child away to live in a foreign country or choosing keep them close knowing the invading army is on it's way?  What would you do?  How would you handle it?  

We hope that this novel will survive it's current popularity and become a modern classic.  It's smart, funny, clever, and warm and still finds a way to share important bits of the WWII era throughout the book. 

Let's hope for warmer weather and clearer roads in March.  Our next book continues the WWII theme.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

P.S. - If you'd like to read what the Storie Delle Sorelle book club thought of the Potato Peel Pie Society, click here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

We started the new year off with a new location, and a new friend!  (Plus, it was great to have Sarah back with us.  She doesn't get to come often, but when she does it's always a treat.)

The book for this month was "A Change of Heart."  For some of us (myself included), it was our first trip into the land of Jodi Picoult.  I enjoyed how the book had many narrators, and how the characters and plot developed.  With that being said, I found myself not really engaged in the book until about halfway through.  Not everyone had that experience, but it was that way for me.

We talked about the core subject matter:  muscle-memory and how that may impact organ donation.  We talked about parenting, forgiveness, revenge and faith.  We talked about how Picoult -heavily- borrows from the movie "The Green Mile," but how you almost excuse her for it.  (We thought she was clever to acknowledge the influence by one character giving the nickname "Green Mile" to another.  *wink wink nudge nudge*)  We talked about the many 'changes of heart' that emerged through the book.  ...We talked a lot!

And we also did a lot of laughing and catching up and rabbit trailing.

It was a good month, and a great way to start the year!  Thanks to Katie for suggesting this one.  I think I'd like to read more by Picoult. Any suggestions?  I've been told that "My Sister's Keeper" and "Handle with Care" are particularly good.

Next up: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows