April 30, 2017

April 2017

We're a group that appreciates interesting vocabulary, and we learned a few new words in our last meeting:
eraunophilia, an attraction to thunder and lightning
cymophilia, a fascination with waves and waviness
sapiophilia, an erotic enchantment with intelligence

We also discussed:

A Man Called Uve - Fredrick Backman
God Bless John Wayne - Kinky Friedman
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders
House of the Spirits - Isabelle Allende
Hillbilly Elegy - JD Vance
When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi
Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson
Code of Silence - Tim Shoemaker
Landmarks - Robert Macfarlane
Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson
Muslim Girl - Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
In the Country We Love - Diane Guerrero
Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult
Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls
Commonwealth - Ann Patchett
Bettyville -  George Hodgman
And Every Morning..Longer - Fredrick Backman
Dvorak in America - Joseph Horowitz
Blue Nowhere - Jeffery Deaver
Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith
Seinfeldia - Jennifer Armstrong
Sissinghurst - Vita Sackville-West
Art of Racing the Rain - Garth Stein

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence - Ken MacLeod
Blade of p'Na - L. Neil Smith
Email to the Universe and Other Alterations of Consciousness - Robert Anton Wilson.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
Too Like the Lightning - Ads Palmer.
Angeleyes - Michael Z. Williamson.
The Corporation Wars: Insurgence - Ken MacLeod

From Mary Lou in MD:

Booknotes Laura March 2017

James MacManus, Midnight in Berlin (2016). This historical novel is set in Berlin in 1939 and the major characters are actual historical figures. Colonel Noel Macrae is the military attaché to the British Embassy in Berlin. His responsibility is to assess and report on German rearmament and military capabilities. He clearly sees that Hitler is pushing toward war, but the ambassador is committed to Chamberlain‘s policy of appeasement. Macrae’s reports to the ambassador and to London are disregarded, much to his frustration (and ours). Meanwhile, his wife is increasingly interested in Berlin social life, including a German officer. Macrae is intrigued by a Jewish woman blackmailed into becoming a Nazi courtesan. Our knowledge that Macrae is correct in his assessment of Hitler’s intentions does not lessen the suspense of the novel.

Fredrik Backman, Britt-Marie Was Here (2014; trans. 2015). Backman is a Swedish novelist and this is his third novel. Britt-Marie is obsessively tidy, socially awkward, and committed to the cleansing power of baking soda. A cold January morning finds her at the unemployment office. The social worker doesn’t regard 40 years of keeping house for her husband and his children as marketable job experience. Nevertheless, after a few days she refers Britt-Marie to a temporary job as caretaker of the condemned recreation center in the withering town of Borg. The Borg center of activity is a dilapidated Pizzeria, which also functions as corner store, post office, and general gathering place. Britt-Marie has no understanding of how to function in the world outside her home and the Borg residents have little understanding of Britt-Marie. Their conversations with Britt-Marie are mind-boggling and hilarious. Somehow, with this depressed setting and inept cast of characters, Backman presents a tale of hope and kindness. Britt-Marie is revealed as a force of nature and we cheer her all the way.

Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning (2016). It is a joy to return to the village of Three Pines, Quebec, and the investigations of retired homicide Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, assisted by his wife Reine-Marie and the colorful villagers. Gamache has come out of retirement to become head of the Surete’s training academy. This seems an odd choice until we learn that he is still pursuing corruption within the Surete. His attempts to change the culture of the academy meet with considerable resentment, especially from the third-year cadets. He gives four of the cadets the assignment to discover the meaning of a peculiar old map that was discovered within the walls of the Three Pines bistro. A professor is murdered and the map and the cadets are somehow relevant. Gamache himself comes under suspicion. The plot of this novel is as delightfully intricate as any in the series. Descriptions of meals are as tantalizing as always.

Barry Maitland, Chelsea Mansions (2011). This is one in a series of London police novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector David Brock and Detective Inspector Kathy Kolla. The action begins with two grey-haired American tourists at the Chelsea Flower Show. One of them, Nancy Haynes, is thrown under a bus and killed. DI Kolla begins her investigation in Cunningham Place, at the Chelsea Mansions Hotel. This somewhat decrepit lodging seems a peculiar choice for two elderly tourists. It adjoins the posh residence of a wealthy Russian oligarch who is murdered in the garden a few nights later. Kathy is convinced that the deaths are related, but no one in Scotland Yard, MI5 or MI6 want her to pursue that line of inquiry. The question that must be answered is why Nancy Haynes chose the Chelsea Mansions Hotel.

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). The 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.

From our sister group in OK:


Cather, Willa. My Antonia.

Chernow, Ron. Hamilton.

Florey, Kitty Burns. Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog.

Greenburg, Michael M. Peaches and Daddy: A Story of the Roaring 20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media, and the Courtship that Captured the Hearts and Imaginations of the American Public

Henry, Marguerite. Misty of Chincoteague.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

Koontz, Dean. Odd Thomas.

Millard, Candice. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

Miller, Sylvia. The Northern Lights.

Penny, Louise. A Rule Against Murder; The Cruelest Month.

Schumacher, Michael. Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fizgerald.

Smith, Tom Rob. The Secret Speech.

Troost, J. Maarten. Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu.

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