Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Meeting of June 27, 2016

This month's book was Betty's choice A House in the Sky - A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.  It is an account of Canadian independent journalist Amanda Lindhout's kidnapping in Somalia. Our host Linda had wonderful pinwheel sandwiches, cheese and crackers with smoked salmon.  Red and white wine of course, and a very nice New York style cheesecake with tea and coffee. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.

Ms. Lindhout has been in the news lately because one of her captors has been arrested in Canada by the RCMP and she has also given support to Alison Azer, the Canadian woman whose children were taken to Iran by her former husband.  Betty gave us a synopsis of the press articles that have recently appeared.  For example, Ms. Lindhout agrees that governments should not pay ransom money but she feels that family who choose to raise the money should not be harassed.

We had a very animated discussion about this memoir.  We agreed that the book was very well written, a page turner and as she recounted her experiences, there was not a feeling of "woe is me". It was written with clarity and power. Sara Corbett steered the writing style well.

However, we all felt that Amanda made several poor choices throughout her travels that finished with the worst choice she made when she went to Somalia despite being discouraged by several people including her mother and seasoned journalists.  We all felt that she was naive at best and stupid not to heed the opinions of others.  We disagreed somewhat on the reasons why she kept choosing more and more dangerous countries in her travels. Several were irritated and angry by her poor choices and lack of forethought. Some of us felt she had no real guidance as a child from her mother or her father.  Chaos, violence and uncertainty were the norm in her childhood. Her refuge was found in the National Geographic magazines that she read and she dreamt of seeing the world. For whatever reason, she chose countries that were more and more unstable as if she was convincing herself that nothing would go wrong.

We also discussed her on and off boyfriend, Nigel Brennan.  Few of us liked him, some did, but even though he was older than Amanda, we all felt he had a weak personality and easily manipulated.  He lied several times to avoid conflict with Amanda and other women in his life.  Nigel wrote a book in 2011, The Price of Life, co-written with his sisters.

During her captivity, Amanda was very resourceful and clever.  She used everything available to her to survive, to influence her kidnappers, to stay sane and to allow her to tolerate the indignities, the violence and cruelty she endured.  She convinced Nigel early in their captivity that it was to their benefit to convert to Islam. She requested English versions of the Koran for herself and Nigel. She learned the required prayers.  Until they were separated, she and Nigel befriended the young guards, learned about their life, their goals.  However when they were separated, the guards' attitude towards her changed. She was kept in a dark room, she could no longer read. Any small pleasures she had such as scented soaps, were taken away and Amanda was raped and beaten.  During this period she coped by making mental lists of good experiences she had had; it is at this time that she created "The House in the Sky"  where she could mentally go and find herself with her mother, friends and family.

Amanda and Nigel spent 460 days in captivity and were finally released when their families, with the help of a private organisation, managed to raised enough money to satisfy the kidnappers.  Amanda created the Global Enrichment Foundation that provides Somalian women and girls with the opportunity to empower themselves through education and training.  Amanda spends a lot of her time raising money and awareness for the Foundation.

It is not a book that you "enjoy" however one that allowed us to become aware of the dangers journalists and travelers confront in countries such as Somalia.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Winners of the best book of the year - Academy Award of the Muse & Views Bookclub

Jane’s choice of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Beth's choice of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Betty's choice of Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Betty's choice of The Book Thiel by Markus Zusak

Shirley's choice  for Secret Daughter by Shilpi Soraya Gowda

Shirley's choice for The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Colette's choice for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Michèle's choice for A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Linda's choice for City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

Jolene's choice for No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Meeting of May 30, ,2016

The book this month was No Relation by Terry Fallis, Linda's choice.  We met at Michèle's new home and she served a fig and walnut dip with vegetables, pear, chèvre and procuitto tarts and a pâté. In honour of Marie Antoinette in the novel, we had a fancy chocolate cake.  Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda and Michèle were present.

The author Terry Fallis is a Canadian from Toronto who was educated as a mechanical engineer but never practiced.  He developed a career as a political strategist working with politicians both at the federal and provincial levels.  He maintained a blog mainly as a political pundit and at one point decided to try his hand writing a novel.  His first novel, The Best Laid Plans, he self-published and it was later picked up and published by McLelland & Stewart. It won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and won the Canada Reads competition in 2011. He has written to date, 5 novels and is presently working on a 6th novel.

Everyone enjoyed this book, the second novel we have read by Terry Fallis.  It is a funny, insightful novel that tells the story of a man who shares his name with the American author Ernest Hemingway, with a slight difference in spelling Earnest Hemmingway.  He forms a self-help group with other persons who have names of famous persons and together they help each other out with their frustrations that come from sharing a name with a well-known person.  A camaraderie and close friendship develops between the members of the group and their experiences make for funny and often poignant situations.  There is also a second story in this novel about Earnest's family business called Hemmingwear that adds to the complexity of the novel.  All agreed that the book was very enjoyable, easy to read and interesting giving us chuckles and out right belly laughs.

Jolene was intrigued by the cover design that has a bear and a person dressed in a bear costume facing each other.  After some discussion we came to the conclusion that it must represent Ernest Hemingway, the American author who was a bit of a bear in stature and look and who apparently had a real bear as a friend and the principle character of this novel Earnest Hemmingway.

Thank you Linda for a great read!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Meeting of April 25th 2016

Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle, Shirley were all present, all members of our Book Club were with us. Jane hosted and we had some wonderful cheese, a nice variety of crackers, wonderful compotes and jellies.

Our book this month was The Memory Chalet By Tony Judt, Michèle's choice.  Tony Judt was born London in 1948 of secular Jewish parents who were British Citizens.  He did a B.A. at  Cambridge, then a year at l’École Normale  Supérieure in Paris and then obtained a Ph.D. in History from Cambridge in 1972 specializing in French History.  He taught at several colleges and universities in England and the U.S. before settling in New York in 1987.  He is known for his academic books, essays and he was also a frequent New York Review of Books.

In early 2008 he was diagnosed with ALS and he died in late 2010,  two years after being diagnosed. The Memory Chalet was published after his death.  The book is a memoir,  some saw it as a diary, of his most vivid memories of childhood and life as a student and a young professor. Since ALS robbed him of the ability to write or even type, he would during the night write whole stories in his head and "park" them in one of the rooms of a Chalet he had been to with his parents as a child. In the morning he would retrieve them and dictate them to an assistant.  The idea came to him from Jonathan Spence's book The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci in which Spence describes a method used by European scholars for centuries. Matteo taught the Chinese the Western memory technique which was to associate ideas with images and locate those images in fixed spatial relation to one another.  Hence the Memory Chalet with different rooms that could be filled with memories. 

Most liked the book and found Judt's excellent writing allowed us to visualize the experiences he was describing such as his neighbourhood Putney; Paris as a student in the late 1960's when students were protesting everything and anything; his experience in a kibbutz and his reflections on the positive and negative impact on his life.   He was very honest about and insightful about his life and experiences. We were impressed by the detail of the information he was able to provide, all from memory.  We felt that the preface was just long enough to allow us to understand ALS and how it affected him and then he barely mentionned it through out the chapters describing different aspects of his life.  He finishes with a reference to trains, his favourite mode of transportation.
"We cannot choose where we start out in life, but we may finish where we will. I know where I shall be going nowhere in particular on that little train, forever and ever."
Several of us reflected on the idea that it was his way of seeing eternity. Trains were his favourite place to be.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Meeting of March 21, 2016

Our book this month was The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, Jolene's choice. We met at Carla's home. She served a lovely array of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, topped off the evening with Pavlova and fruit, in honour of Australia, Simsion's home. Shirley, Beth, Carla, Janet, Colette, and Jolene attended.

Simsion has had quite a varied career, ranging from information systems consultant to wine distributor. He holds a PhD in data modeling. He has won several literary awards and is currently finishing a new novel, The Best of Adam Sharp. He and his wife Anne are planning to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, to research a joint book. 

The Rosie Effect picks up where The Rosie Project left off, telling the story of Don Tillman, his wife Rosie, and their friends and family. This time, Rosie is pregnant, and Don gets into all kinds of mishaps as he misreads social cues in his attempt to learn how to be a good father. Problems in his relationship with Rosie abound because he fails to communicate with her, all in a misguided effort to keep from stressing her during her pregnancy. 

Club opinions about the book were evenly divided. On the negative side, some were disappointed with it, especially after enjoying the first book so much. Comments were that this story was frustrating, even stressful, more contrived, less convincing, especially the communication breakdown between spouses. On the positive side, others felt that it was perhaps a mistake to over-analyze the story, that it was more appropriate to enjoy the comic elements and to appreciate Don as a charming, guileless romantic hero with a good heart. All of us were able to connect the characters and events to our own lives to a certain degree, though critics thought the Asperger's elements were overdone, especially in the first half of the novel.

In summary, our club comments seem to reflect quite well some of the professional reviews of the book, where opinions are also varied.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Meeting of February 22, 2016

Product Details

We met at Janet's for a discussion of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Carla's choice. In honour of the Swedish setting of the book, Janet served smoked salmon, Rye-King crackers, and Swedish apple pie, along with a lovely selection of cheeses and hummus. In attendance were Shirley, Janet, Jane, Colette, Jolene, Beth, and Carla, along with Michèle for part of the evening via Skype. Oh, and canine Angel attended to see if she could snag some salmon. Blackie, the Cat Annoyance, put in only a brief appearance.

Carla gave us background on the writer, who has been at various times a truck driver, journalist, blogger, and Sweden's most successful author (according to a vote taken in 2013). Backman's sense of humour is evident in interviews. About his move to writing, Carla quoted him as saying, "I write things. Before I did that I had a real job, but then I happened to come across some information saying that there were people out there willing to pay people to write things about other people, and I thought, 'Surely this must be better than working.'...Not to mention the fact that I can sit down for a living now, which has been great for my major interest in cheese eating." See JPL's Book-in-a-Blog
In addition to A Man Called Ove, Backman has written My Grandmother Sent Me to Tell You She's Sorry and a non-fiction book called Things My Son Needs to Know about the World. In May 2016, Britt Marie Was Here is scheduled for publication, and a movie based on Ove is apparently to be released in December. 
Everyone in the group loved the book, though title character Ove would not care about our opinions since we are not Saab drivers. The novel's appeal lies in its relatability-- we all know people like Ove, who appear unsympathetic at first but can later turn out to be neighbourly "superheroes" when the layers are peeled back. Even when we fail to find redeeming qualities in our curmudgeonly acquaintances, the book reminds us that human beings are complicated, and grumpiness may have its roots in personal tragedy. 

Some in our club found the beginning of the novel a bit tedious and the epilogue unrealistic (wouldn't wife Sonja have found a use for personal wealth in her life time, perhaps helping needy school children?), but we all agreed that Backman has an uncanny knack for dealing with heavy topics, then at just the right moment, adding comic relief to make us laugh out loud. 

The character Ove was first created in a blog, as the author thought about interactions with his own father. Backman says Ove is consistent from beginning to end, a man of rigid principle, and it is the readers' opinions of him that tend to change. Backman explains that comedy arises from Ove's disproportionate reaction to everyday situations. (You might consult the Laurie Grassi interview found here: Fredrik Backman on his best.)

Despite the book's light-hearted tone, our group was prompted to discuss such heavy topics as physician-assisted suicide (an issue current in Canadian politics) and Alzheimer's disease. In the novel, Ove's one-time friend Rune is being forced from his home by White Coats, and Ove will have none of it. 

Thanks, Carla, for a wonderful read. A warm relief as we work our way through this February weather.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Meeting of January 25, 2016

Betty hosted our first book club evening of 2016 at Colette’s house. Janet, Shirley, Carla, Beth, Jolene, Colette, and Betty were in attendance, with Michèle joining us via Skype. Betty served wonderful cheeses and salty/sweet snacks, along with some yummy cinnamon buns and cookies for dessert. We also announced the winner of our favourite club read of 2015—Jane’s choice of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The book under discussion this month was 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Janet chose the book because it is considered a classic in Central and South America, written by an author who won the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature. This was Señor Marquez’s most famous novel. As a pioneer of magic realism, he wrote stories that incorporated natural and supernatural elements seamlessly, using a technique he learned as a child from his grandmother. Janet explained that 100 Years of Solitude tells the entire history of Colombia through the eyes of a dysfunctional family living in the dead-end town of Macondo. The novel’s themes of solitude, war, and violence are common to Latin American culture. The circular, rather than linear, view of time is also obvious, where history recurs over several generations, names are repeated (Aureliano some 21 times), and cultures rise and fall.

Few in the group enjoyed the book. Most found reading it hard work, with the characters unsympathetic and hard to relate to from our North American viewpoint. Some pointed out that they were able to read and analyze the novel at an earlier period in their life with much less difficulty. We did feel that the group discussion was worthwhile, however. All agreed that it is important for us to read literature that stretches us and makes us look at the world from a different cultural viewpoint from time to time; that being said, no one feels the need to re-read this novel any time soon.

To read about Magic Realism in Yann Martel's new book, click here. The High Mountains of Portugal