September 23, 2017

Summer 2017

We were very fortunate to have some special events this summer.  We had an enjoyable evening with poet Dave Lucas, and Karen was very kind to offer her house for a lovely evening on the Cedar Point chausee. Looking forward to seeing what fall has to offer.

We discussed:

Girls on Fire - Robin Wasserman
Startup: A Novel - Doree Shafrir
Pancakes in Paris - Craig Carlson
Movie: California Typewriter
The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka
Gwendy's Button Box - Stephen King
What You Break - Reed Farrel Coleman
Elements of Style - Strunk & White
Some Writer! - Melissa Sweet
Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
Camino Island - John Grisham
Watch Me Disappear - Janelle Brown
The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff
The Little Book of Hygge - Meik Wiking
The Best They Could Be (Cleveland Indians) - Scott Longert
No Money No Beer No Pennants - Scott Longert
Spoonbenders - Daryl Gregory
On Turpentine Lane - Eliot Lipman
The Hours Count - Jillian Cantor
The Muralist - B. A. Shapiro
Dangerous Minds - Janel Evanovich
Late Show - Michael Connelly
Nothing's Sacred - Lewis Black
Carrying Albert Home - Homer Hickam
A Closed and Common Orbit - Becky Chambers
Foundation - Peter Ackroyd
Mrs. Fletcher - Tom Perrotta
Dave Barry's columns
Rum Run - R. C. Durkee
A Body in the Bathhouse - Lindsey Davis
Suddenly - Barbara Delinsky
Mary's Journals - Mary Warren
Why Buddhism is True - Robert Wright

From our sister club in OK:

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why.
Boylan, Clare. Emma Brown, a Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Bronte.
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Color Kittens.
Enger, Leif. So Brave, Young, and Handsome.
Gary, Amy. In the Great green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown.
** Mann, Charles C. 1493: Discovering the New World Columbus Created
Milburn, George. Catalogue: A Novel.
O’Donnell, Edward T. Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum.
* Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Walker, Martin. The Dark Vineyard
Worthen, John. Robert Schumann: Life and Death of a Musician.
Yuknavitch, Lidia. The Book of Joan.

* More about Henrietta Lacks: (1998 BBC documentary)
Cameron University Festival X: American Identities in the 21st Century
** Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493; Thursday, 28 September, 7:30 pm, Cameron University Theatre; . Free, but must request tickets at
Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma *** Theme: The Oklahoma Experience: From Wilderness to Metropolis. Readings illuminate the development of community in Oklahoma, from Washington Irving’s description of the empty prairie in the 1830s to the changing metropolis of Oklahoma City in the 1970s. Books: A Tour on the Prairies by Washington Irving; Sand in My Eyes by Seigniora Russell Laune; Catalogue by George Milburn; Briarpatch by Ross Thomas. Third Thursday of the month, 6:00 pm, Cameron University Library.

Boylan, Clare. Emma Brown.
Brook, Rhidian. The Aftermath.
Brown, Sandra. Deadline.
Enger, Leif. Peace Like a River.
Gautreau, Norman. Elodie.
Harden, Blane. Escape from Camp 14.
Harris, Robert. Archangel.
Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies.
Koontz, Dean. The “Odd Thomas” series
Laune, Seigniora Russell. Sand in My Eyes.
Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.
Remnick, David. Life Stories: Profiles from the New Yorker.
Thurber, James. The Thurber Carnival.
Walker, Martin. Bruno, Chief of Police.

The Best of Ernie Kovacs (collection on VHS)

From Mary Lou in MD:

Bret Baier, Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission (2017). On January 17, 1961, three days before the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, President Eisenhower delivered his farewell speech to the nation. Of his accomplishments as presidents, the general cites only peace. He looks to the future and warns against placing partisanship above the national interest, excessive government budgets (especially deficit spending), expansion of the military-industrial complex, and the increasing political power of special interests. This fascinating book presents in vivid detail the biographical and historical experiences that led Eisenhower to the wisdom expressed in his speech. Ike began work on this speech at the beginning of his second term. Chapter by chapter, Baier tells the story of Ike’s life, especially the experiences that informed specific passages and concepts of the speech. Eisenhower is revealed as one of our greatest and most thoughtful presidents.

Donna Ball, A Year on Ladybug Farm (2009). Cici, Lindsay and Bridget are 50-something women who have been the best of friends for more than 20 years in their comfortable suburban neighborhood. Cici and Lindsay are divorced and Bridget’s husband has just died. The children are grown and moved away and their careers are flagging. The women are ready for new challenges and adventures and decide to move in together and pursue their life dreams. After internet browsing and a few trips, they fall in love with a hundred-year-old farmhouse in the Shenandoah valley. They sell their homes, pool their resources, and enter into a joint venture agreement for the period of one year. The property is in worse shape than they realized but their resilience and good humor carry them through the many challenges and adventures in their year on Ladybug Farm. This is a delightful novel.

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time (2016). Through a series of soul-searching internal monologues, this novel presents the struggles of Dmitri Shostakovich to maintain some degree of personal and artistic integrity under intense totalitarian pressures. We first meet him in 1936, huddled near the elevator outside his apartment, awaiting arrest and exile or execution because Stalin has denounced his latest opera. In 1948, he is sent to a cultural conference in New York and coerced by “Power” to deliver a speech praising the Soviet Union. In 1960, “Power” bullies him into joining the Party. In all of these crises, he tries to wriggle out of “Power’s” plans to exploit him and his art and chastises himself because it is impossible to resist and live to continue composing. Ultimately, he can only hold to the faith that the truth of his music will survive into the future. This is a painful account of one artist’s struggle against oppression.

Timothy Findley, Famous Last Words (1981). Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (of the Ezra Pound poem) is a wealthy Canadian journalist and author who spends the 1930s and 1940s in the nomadic and artistic expatriate set in Europe. His encounters include Hemingway, Pound, Lindberg, and British aristocrats including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He gradually becomes drawn into a secret (and doomed) right wing political plot. At the end of the war he takes refuge in a decaying grand hotel in the Austrian Alps, where he writes his memoirs on the walls. The chronology of the novel alternates between the last days of the war (and Mauberley’s life) and his experiences of the preceding decade. The form of the novel is frame and tale, with the U.S. Army “liberators” of the hotel discovering his body and gradually deciphering his writings, thereby revealing the horrible political intrigue in which he became entangled.

Booknotes Laura June 2017
Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (2016). This in-depth history of the military and political events of 1776 to 1780 presents the thoughts, personalities and motivations of these famous generals in novelistic detail. There are maps and pictures and battle diagrams, 50 pages of notes on the chapters, and a 25-page bibliography. There is no doubt that the research was meticulous, but it doesn’t intrude on the flow of the narrative. It is clear that structural flaws of the Confederation, including the personalities of the political leaders and the lack of a national funding mechanism, are greater threats to military success than the British army. Excerpts from journals and letters of political and military leaders and ordinary soldiers provide a sense of immediacy to the narrative. General Washington is did not always lead wisely and General Arnold was not always a traitor. Valiance and ambition evolve differently in the lives of these two men. Philbrick increases our understanding and respect of both men. We think we know the story but we come to realize we did not know these famous men.

John Sanford, Escape Clause (2016). Someone stole a pair of Amur tigers from the Minnesota Zoo. Virgil Flowers is skinny-dipping with his girlfriend Frankie in the spring-fed pool on her farm when he gets the call. The press and the citizenry are outraged and State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is feeling the pressure. The case is starting to get complicated when Frankie is beaten up, introducing the subplot. Virgil’s attention is diverted temporarily from the tiger case, which just keeps getting more bizarre. Dismembered bodies begin to appear. As usual with a Sanford novel, we know who (and how nasty) the bad guys are from the beginning and we’re rooting for Virgil to figure it out. Of course he does, and of course he narrowly escapes death the process. The resolution is extremely satisfying. I think this is the best Virgil Flowers novel yet.

Timothy Findley, The Wars (1977). The structure is frame and tale. The narrator is researching the life of Robert Ross, a Canadian World War I veteran. We get glimpses of Robert’s boyhood and family and the tragedy in Spring 1915 that sent him to Kingston, Ontario, to enlist. The narrator pieces together Robert’s war experiences from his letters home. His training takes him west and assigns him to work with horses. He is trained as an artillery officer, takes a troop transport to Europe, and arrives in England just after Christmas 1915. Shipboard conditions are deplorable, but life in the trenches is horrific. Robert strives to remain honorable and do his duty. He endures several deployments to the front and finally suffers a sort of crisis of conscience. We are left to make our own evaluations of his actions. This is a moving novel that challenges our assumptions about honor, heroism, patriotism, and warfare.

Linda Greenlaw, The Hungry Ocean (1999). This is captain Linda Greenlaw’s account of the day-to-day details of one of her month-long sword-fishing trip to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the Hannah Boden. She also recounts her many learning experiences on other swordboats, first as crew member and then as captain. There are challenges of navigation, seamanship, fishing strategies, marketing, provisioning, leadership, competition and cooperation with other swordboats in the Gloucester, MA fleet, and the exhausting round-the-clock routine of long-line fishing. Even if you have no interest in fishing or the ocean, this account will hold your attention.

Booknotes Laura May 2017
Karen White, A Long Time Gone (2014). This novel is set in the delta cotton farmland of Indian Mound, Mississippi. It opens with Vivian Walker Moise returning home in 2013 after an absence of some years and a devastating divorce. The narrative shifts intermittently to the stories of Vivian’s mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all of whom couldn’t wait to leave Indian Mound. Vivian is following the tradition of Walker women abandoning their children, whether by suicide or flight, and only returning home when they have nowhere else to go. The body discovered under the cypress tree in the back yard is only one of the mysteries that Vivian and the reader must solve. The jumping of the narrative from one generation to another drove me to make a list of the Walker women and their birthdates: Adelaide 1907, Bootsie 1922, Carol Lynne 1945, and Vivian 1986. Additional well developed and sympathetic characters include Tripp the local coroner, Vivian’s farmer brother Tommy, and her goth step-daughter Chloe. I will look for other novels by this author.

Fredrik Backman, Bear Town (2016; trans 2017). I liked this novel better than other things of Backman’s I have read. The characters are credible, largely sympathetic, and portrayed in depth. Still, it is a difficult read. It treats themes of social responsibility, loyalty, courage, truth, parenting, mob psychology, and honor. Chapter 1 establishes the central tension of the book:
Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.
This is the story of how we got there.
As the plot and the characters emerge, Backman skillfully suggests many plausible answers to this riddle.

Alan Bradley, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d (2016). The title comes from the chant of the “weird sisters” in Macbeth and the novel maintains a steady stream of literary allusions. The narrator and amateur detective-heroine is 12-year-old Flavia de Luce, of the small fictitious English town of Bishop’s Lacey. She is a very capable chemist and pursues her inquiries on her bicycle, Gladys. She has a great deal more in common with Amelia Peabody than with Nancy Drew. This entertaining novel is the eighth in this frivolous series set in the 1950s.

Tara Conklin, The House Girl (2013). The novel begins with the 17-year-old house slave Josephine in 1852 in Lynnhurst, VA, determined to flee from an abusive household. Her mistress Lu Anne Belle is an aspiring artist, but she doesn’t have half the talent Josephine displays on scraps of canvas and paper. The second chronology of the novel begins in 2004 New York, where young attorney Lina Sparrow is working on a class action lawsuit seeking reparations for descendants of American slaves. Newly discovered works attributed to Lu Anne Belle have come to the attention of the art world. We realize they are likely Josephine’s work, but Lina is challenged to figure that out and to seek out Josephine’s descendants. The portrayal of slave life on a Virginia plantation is wrenching and the account of Lina’s search is suspenseful.

Booknotes Laura April 2017
Marie Benedict, The Other Einstein (2016). This is an exasperating novel. If the famous man was half as nasty to his first wife as Benedict suggests, he was a truly terrible individual. Mileva Maric met her future husband when she was the only woman studying physics at the Zurich Polytechnic Institute. She was a brilliant mathematician and some historians have suggested that she made substantial contributions to the theories and publications that made her husband famous. In addition to a fictionalized version of Mileva’s life, the novel presents a version of the historical development of modern physics beyond Newton. It also presents a bleak picture of the suppression and exploitation of 19th and early 20th century women who dared to aspire beyond the conventional roles of housewife and mother.

Charles Frazier, Nightwoods (2011). This is another captivating novel by the author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons. The setting is Appalachian North Carolina in the early1960s. Luce has chosen to move out of her small town to the abandoned somewhat decrepit guest lodge where she serves as caretaker. She is peacefully enjoying her solitary life until suddenly she inherits her sister’s orphaned children. They are mute, undisciplined and destructive. Luce is totally unskilled in childcare, but forges a relationship of sorts with them as if they were a peculiar species of wildlife. She is convinced her sister was murdered by her husband and she is afraid of what the children may have seen. Frazier creates an atmosphere of great natural beauty and chilling human menace.

Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery (2012). This events of this novel occur about midway through the series featuring Quebec Surete Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Detective Jean-Guy Beauvoir. It is set in the remote monastery of St-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, home to two dozen cloistered monks. The monastery remained in seclusion for 200 years, until a recording of their ancient pre-Gregorian chants brought them unexpected and unwanted fame. Now one of the brothers has been murdered in the monastery and Gamache is sent to investigate. He and Jean-Guy are the first outsiders permitted entry since the monastery was founded. Solving the murder requires the detectives to learn a great deal about the history of the religious community.

Wallace Stegner, Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: The Making of the American West (1948-1992; collection edited by Page Stegner, 1998). Following Wallace Stegner’s death, his son selected 15 essays not previously published in book form and the most powerful essays from some of his father’s books. The three parts of the book are titled “Home Ground,” “Testimony (defense of the earth)”and “Inheritance.” The fourth section is a novella, “Genesis.” Page’s short prefaces lead into each section. Many of the essays were published in periodicals such as Horizon, Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker. The most famous, and perhaps the most important essay is the “Wilderness Letter” (1960) from The Sound of Mountain Music. This extolls the idea of wilderness as an integral aspect of the American national character. His eloquently written essays, with their personal observations and autobiographical threads, portray the many aspects of “The West” – shortgrass plains, alpine mountains, rocky plateaus and canyons, sagebrush or alkali deserts – all sharing the common qualities of aridity and public lands. He provides a detailed history of the development of the federal policy and legislation that fostered the national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas. Despite complicated subject matter, Stegner’s descriptive powers, language, sensitivity and humor make for very enjoyable reading. It was the perfect book to accompany me to Arizona.