February 12, 2011

February 2011

Despite record-low temperatures we managed to launch our first meeting for the year.  Hooray!  It’s nice to be back together.  What struck me was the mix of media we had on our table:  from first editions of John Donne’s poetry from the 1600’s to a laptop with speed-of-light access to the World Wide Web.  What an eclectic bunch we are!

Now on with the show:

My Reading Life – Pat Conroy
Rooftops of Tehran – Mahbod Sergi
Among Thieves – David Hosp 
When you’re a famous author be sure to thank your teachers.
The Lady and the Poet – Maeve Haron  (John Donne historical fiction)
The Lives of John Donne, Henry Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert – Izaak Walton, Volumes One and Two
You can read it online – interesting!  Here is the 1796 edition:
John Donne was married 15 years and had 12 children – busy!
No Man is an Island
My Remarkable Journey – Larry King (leave it to this book club to go from John Donne to Larry King)
"Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us."  From Perfumes: The Guide 
Surface Detail – Ian Banks
Kallocain -  Karin Boye
Program or Be Programmed – Douglas Rushkott
The Terror of Constaninople – Richard Blake
The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman
The Last Trumpet Project – Kevin MacArdy
The Widow’s Son – Robert Anton Wilson
Holy Blood Holy Grail – Michael Baigent & others
The Prometheus Award
The Wave – Susan Casey
Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat – John Lokacs
The Man Who Would Not Shut Up – Marvin Kitman
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
History of Christianity – Paul Johnson
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
The movie The Last Station
Room – Emma Donoghue
My Hollywood – Mona Simpson
Donald Westlake
Open – Andre Agassi
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk – David Sedaris
Till You Hear From Me – Pearl Cleage
James Herriot’s Yorkshire
Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult
Lady Macbeth
The Stieg Larsson series
The movie The King’s Speech
The new Sherlock Holmes

A little more description from Pam:
Canterbury Papers - Judith Koll Healey     This and Lady Macbeth are books I wish I'd read while I was still teaching British Lit.
Lady Macbeth - Susan Fraser King
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger         I stayed with this despite its ghost as a character. Twin girls go to London to live in a house they inherit from their aunt.
Wives Behaving Badly - Elizabeth Buchan             Minty's adventures continue. I liked it although Minty's character was far more serious than in the first book, Revenge of a Middle-Aged Woman.
Shoot the Moon - Billie Letts           DeClare, Oklahoma is the setting of this novel. Travails of Mark Albright, born Nicky Jack Harjo, seeking the truth of his past.
Thirteen Moons - Charles Frazier                 Interesting - esp. the stinging commentary about Andrew Jackson and early Washington D.C. - about the removal of the Cherokee and other Indians from the South; not as good as Cold Mountain.

Dwight read Unbound by Laura Hillenbrand:
The book left me spellbound!  This lady who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome in a major way is the author of SEABISCUIT.  Her own experiences in survival has given her such power in telling the story of a long-distance runner who competed in the '36 Olympics in Berlin and was in WWII in the Pacific as an airman and was captured by the Japanese.  His ordeal is one of great, unbelievable strength.  I hope you will read this book!

From Mary Lou:
Lisa See, Peony in Love (2007).   This is another Chinese historical novel by the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005).  Again, it details the many traditions that constrict the role of women in society.  The action occurs in the 17th century in a period of political upheaval dominated by the Manchus.  We meet the heroine and narrator, Peony, as a young woman of 16, fascinated by the 16th opera The Peony Pavilion and its story of love transcending death. She becomes one of the “lovesick maidens” and we follow her into the afterlife as envisioned in Chinese culture of the time.  Life and afterlife mirror the story of The Peony Pavilion as the novel presents a fictionalized account of the production of The Three Wives’ Commentary (1694) by Peony and her sister-wives.  The novel is in three parts:  In the Garden, Roaming with the Wind, and Under the Plum Tree.  I found the first section difficult, but once Peony enters the afterlife I was captivated by her efforts to understand her situation in the afterworld and her struggle to realize her dreams of reunion with her betrothed and completion of the Commentary.

Lisa See, Flower Net (1997).  This is See’s first novel and it’s easier reading than the two later ones I’ve read.  This is an international suspense novel with a contemporary setting.  Two law school acquaintances, now well settled in their respective law enforcement careers in Beijing and Los Angeles, are assigned by their countries years later to solve two murders.  Their efforts are life-threatening and in the course of the story we and they learn the history of Liu Hulan’s family during Mao’s tenure and thereafter.  There’s lots of description of contemporary Chinese society and also, of course, a love story.

Sue Grafton, U is for Undertow (2009).  It takes a long time to write a 26-volume series.  Do you wonder what she’ll do for X?  It’s still 1988 in Santa Teresa, Kinsey is approaching her 38th birthday, and still practicing her craft as a private eye in the world before the internet.  Her present case looks back to a child kidnapping in the 60s, along with the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll of the times.  Another strand of the story leads her to more information about her estrangement from her family, except for her mother’s sister Aunt Gin, after she was orphaned at the age of 5.  The pace is fast, the story is intriguing, and Grafton is as good as ever.

Scott Turow, The Laws of our Fathers (1996).  This murder trial mystery has an incredible number of plot twists and somehow Turow pulls it off.  Much of it is from the point of view of the judge, Sonia Klonsky, but a number of individuals from her days in 1970s in radical Berkley also feature in the plot.  The narrative shifts back and forth between the 70s and the present as we resolve the mysteries of past events in tandem with the revelations at the present-day trial.  As “Judge Sonny” struggles to be fair and impartial in keeping with her oath of office, the recurring question is who is manipulating whom.  This one will keep you guessing.

Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden (2008).  This fictional family chronology turned up in my search for novels by and about Australians.  It tells the story of Nell, who at the age of 5 is abandoned on a ship to Australia.  The voyage is traumatic and when she arrives she has is no clear recollection of her identity or early years.  A childless couple raises her as their own daughter.  Some years later, she begins raising her granddaughter Cassandra.  The novel tells the story of  Nell’s and later Cassandra’s search for the truth about Nell’s true identity, eventually leading us to the forgotten garden of the title.  The characters are finely drawn and we learn with them that “identity” is much more than name and ancestry.  The settings are compellingly described, from 1890s London to 2000 Brisbane and Cornwall.  The narrative begins in 1913 and ends in 2005 and skips about in time and place in a somewhat confusing manner.  I made myself a little cheat sheet, but this is not a criticism.  The novel is well written and thoroughly enjoyable. The author even makes a bow to Francis Hodgson Burnet and her novel, The Secret Garden.

Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster (1988).  I’m sure glad Theroux made this year-long train trip through China because I certainly would never want to do it.  He doesn’t whine about the discomforts and hardships of this trip, of which there were many. (Think of 30 below zero temperatures, filthy unheated trains and hotels, and very iffy food).  He obviously enjoyed himself and was not intimidated by the adverse conditions.  Also, he does not give in to the efforts of his various “minders” to restrict his travels or his experiences.  For anyone interested in what China was like a decade or so following the end of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, this is a fascinating book.  Theroux journeys everywhere and tells us all about the different peoples, landscapes, and cultures of this huge country in a very non-tourist manner.   His first segment of his railroad journey conveys him from London, across Europe and Siberia, to Mongolia.  From there he enters China, journeys to Peking, and branches out from there.  A very necessary map is provided as endpapers to the book. Eventually, after about a year, he ends up in snowy Tibet.  

Edward Albee, Zoo Story (1958).  Albee has recently revisited this famous play in At Home at the Zoo.  A local theatre, Arena Stage, is doing it this season.  I read Zoo Story years ago, but didn’t remember it.  I ordered it from the library so I could decide if I want to go see the new play.  (I decided that I do.)  I also read The Death of Bessie Smith (1969) and The Sandbox (1959), as they are in the same volume.  They are Albee’s first three plays and they are quite powerful.  They share the theme of failed communication that’s so prominent in Who’s Afraid do Virginia Woolf.  We will see this at Arena Stage this season also.

Jeanette Walls, Half Broke Horses (2009).  Thanks to Omni Book Club for recommending this delightful “true-life novel.”  The author’s grandmother Lily Casey is a powerful and independent woman who lived a very challenging and vigorous life of ranching and school-teaching in the American Southwest of the mid-20th century.  Lily’s narrative voice is fresh, robust, and unflinching and the other characters are drawn with a fine balance of realism and generosity. 

From our sister group in OK:

Lawton Book Bunch
January 13, 2011

Cynthia Usher, Frantzie Couch, Janie Lytle, Kim McConnell, and Susanna Fennema all made it. Judy Neale and Scherrey Cardwell joined us for the first time.

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
TED Talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design) – videos/online
B&N Nook
Lower Depths and Mother by Gorky.
Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris.
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard.
True Grit by Charles Portis. (This is the book Eve Sandstrom wishes she had written.)
True Grit – both movie versions
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Mr. Howard - movie
Black Swan – movie
The King’s Speech – movie
Color of Water by James McBride
Beautiful Jim Key by Mim Rivas.
Borges: A Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges.
Inception – movie
Memento – movie
Lawton Constitution – Special Centennial Edition.
New York: An Illustrated History by Rick Burns, James Sanders and Lisa Ades.
Polish Fairy Tales
Shelly Duvall’s Fairie Tale Theatre – video

The February 10th meeting is cancelled. (We will meet at CGs again on March 10th.) The book group will meet for dinner at the Lawton Public Schools Professional Development Center for the first Lawton presentation in the Soulful Stories series. Wallace Moore will present Henry O. Flipper, the first African American West Point graduate, who designed the drainage system at Fort Sill,

At 11:00 a.m. at Cameron’s CETES Center, Wallace Moore will speak about the Buffalo Soldiers.

Thanks, Susanna.

Here's a link to the TED Talks site:  http://www.ted.com/themes/browse  You can search by topic or speaker. 
TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design
"The annual TED conferences, in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Oxford, bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). "
Speakers range from Jane Goodall to Oliver Sacks to Julia Sweeney.  And 18 minutes isn't a huge investment in time for any one speaker.

Last night's discussion and camaraderie were fun - am looking forward to the Soulful Stories evening next month.


Correction to Kim's book: It's New York: An Illustrated History by Rick Burns, James Sanders and Lisa Ades. I've already read (and submitted for your consideration) the Edward Rutherford "New York" and I don't want you people to think I'm lazy!

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