March 13, 2011

March 2011

March can be so dreary:  in like a lion and out like a lamb and all that.  Good thing we had this night to take the chill off.  We covered all things British and presidential.  So it goes without saying we had some laughs.  And we were even treated to a reading of “It’s a Book!” at the end.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Now on with the show:

The Charming Quirks of Others – Alexander McCall Smith
Deliver Us from Evil – David Baldacci
Port Mortuary – Patricia Cornwell
So Shelly – Ty Roth
The Other Family – Joanna Trollope
From Fields of Gold – Alexandra Ripley
Bedpans and Bobby Socks – Barbara Fox
Rachel and Leah Women of Genesis – Orson Scott Card
The Killer of Little Shepherds – Douglas Starr
All Things are Lights – Robert Shea
Death of a Chimney Sweep (Hamish MacBeth) – M.C. Beaton
Still Life – Louise Penny
Live Free or Die – John Ringo
Darkship Thieves – Sarah Hoyt
Freefall (Tunnels Book 3) – Roderick Gordon
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
The King’s Speech movie
The Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor – Donald Spoto
Decision Points – George W. Bush
The Lady and the Poet – Maeve Haran
Falling Home – Karen White
Books by Anita Shreve:  Rescue, The Pilot’s Wife, Fortune’s Rock
Downton Abbey  TV series
Gosford Park movie
Any Human Heart series
Duchess of Windsor – Diana Mosley
It’s a Book – Lane Smith

Dwight in Florida says he’s slowing devouring Mark Twain’ autobiography.

Mary Lou in Maryland hasn’t been gardening yet so still has time to read:

Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs (2003).  This wryly comic novel is written in the voice of linguistic scholar Professor Dr. von Ingelfeld.  He and his fellow professors inhabit a world of academic jealousy, pomposity, and delusion.  There is no end to the preposterous distortions of reality resulting from the professor’s painstaking, ambivalent, and wrong-headed analyses of situations and events.   This is the first novel of a trilogy of delicious satires of academia featuring the professor.

Thomas Keneally, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1972).  Keneally is the author of Schindler’s List and an Australian.  Jimmie is a half-breed raised in tribal society but influenced by the ambitions and values of the white world as presented to him by the Methodist minister of the mission near his tribal home.  Jimmy sets off into the white world to make his fortune.  Instead, racial misunderstandings, exploitations and stereotypes are disastrous to all concerned. 

Patricia Gaffney, The Saving Graces (1999).  This novel tells the story of the friendship of four women, Isabel, Emma, Rudy and Lee, who are the saving graces of the title. No matter what else is happening in their lives, they meet twice a month for dinner.  They have been doing this for 10 years.  The novel’s point of view shifts back and forth as successive chapters are narrated by each of the four women.  Through this shifting narration we groan over the particular delusions of each of the characters and finally we cheer for them as they courageously tear down these delusions.  It is a powerful yet humorous novel.  

David McCullough, 1776 (2005).  From the historian who writes like a novelist, this is an entertaining and informative story of General George Washington and his opponent General William Howe during the first year of the Revolutionary War.  It begins in the fall of 1775 with the Washington’s army laying siege to Boston, where Howe and King George’s troops are ensconced.  We then proceed to the battles of Brooklyn and New York, and finally to the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  Many Colonials saw the hand of Providence in the weather phenomena that covered the retreats of Washington and his army from what would have been annihilation if Howe had pressed his advantages at crucial moments.  At the beginning of the conflict, Washington is revealed as a much more skillful politician than he was ha general, but he learned from his mistakes. Given that we think we know the story, the book is remarkably suspenseful.  It is a wonder that the United States of America ever came to be. 

Anne Bartlett, Knitting (2005).   This novel tells the story of Sandra, who has lost her husband, and Martha, who has lost her mind.  They meet by chance when they stop to assist a homeless man who has fallen in the street.  Martha is a very gifted knitter and Sandra is an academic anthropologist who develops an interest in knit garments, especially those made for the soldiers of WW I and WWII.  The two women collaborate on a show, a crisis emerges, and in the course of their efforts they each are healed.  The novel is set in South Australia with its history of sheep herding and wool production.

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (2010).  Major Pettigrew is a very British retired army gentleman and widower living in the small Sussex village of Edgecombe St. Mary.  He lives in a lovely English cottage, Rose Lodge, inherited from his parents, were a series of village spinsters threaten his pleasant solitude.  He is very attentive to social convention and good manners, sometimes critical of his neighbors’ deficiencies in that regard, and repeatedly appalled by his son Roger’s self-absorbed rudeness and materialism.  Then circumstances impel the Major into an unconventional friendship with Mrs. Ali, the lovely Pakistani owner of the village convenience store.  Roger and the villagers are variously aghast at this “unsuitable” alliance and the Major learns that social convention is only a thin disguise for outrageous insensitivity, discourtesy, and racism.  Although these are but some of the serious themes of this novel, it is also a satiric masterpiece in the vein of a Jane Austin comedy of manners.  Read this book. 

Ken Follett, Night Over Water (1991).  The events of this suspense novel occur in the days immediately preceding and following Britain’s September 1939 declaration of war against Nazi Germany.  A very diverse group of characters leave Southampton on the Pan American Clipper Flying Boat, bound for New York City with fueling stops in Ireland, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick.  Passengers include a British Nazi and his family, a jewel thief, a German nuclear scientist, and several pairs of lovers.  It takes a skillfully intricate plot to weave these characters into a unified tale. 

Richard Russo, Empire Falls (2001).  Empire Falls is a small town in central Maine, left to die by the closing of the textile mills.  The town is dominated by the widow Whiting, who owns everything, including Miles Roby’s Empire Grill, the setting for many of the interactions in the novel.  Surrounded by a whole range of abusive characters, both male and female, Miles declines to be baited, even by the blowhard who is planning to marry his about-to-be-ex-wife.  Through the eyes of Miles’ daughter Tick (Christina), we see that the sons are even more abusive than their fathers.  Most abusive of all is Mrs. Whiting, with her devotion to power, control and revenge.  Miles’ and Tick’s path to personal freedom and enlightenment is tortuously complex, ultimately assisted by the Knox River’s cleansing flood. 

Gore Vidal, Washington, D.C. (1967).  This dark historical novel presents the politicians and their powerful backers who bitterly oppose Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal policies.  From the aging Senator to his ambitious aide to the corrupt publisher, there is not an attractive character among them.  What keeps you reading is the hope that they will get what they deserve.  And they do.

Our sister group in Oklahoma had one of their best discussions ever about:

Siberian Huskies
What My Dog Does
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter.
Sutree by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
Peter the Great by Robert Massie
NPR Interview with Dorothy West
The Wedding by Dorothy West
Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson
Case of the Missing Person: How Finding Jesus of Nazareth Can Transform Communities and Individuals by R. Earle Rabb
The Jesus Seminar (Organization – please google)
Jefferson Bible by Thomas Jefferson
Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First Century Palestine by Scott Korb
Night Fires by George Stanley
Movable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway
Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Fannie’s Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook by Christopher Kimball
A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates
NPR Interview with Joyce Carol Oates
“Widow’s Story” New Yorker, December 13, 2010 p.70+

Susanna Fennema added: The Amazon review of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian says to "imagine the imagery of Sam Peckinpah and Heironymus Bosch as written by William Faulkner." Think that is a terrific statement - and I cannot get beyond the Peckinpah and Bosch who illustrate hellish worlds.

See you next time when Ty Roth will talk about his book So Shelly.

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