Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Dig by John Preston - November 22, 2021

Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  We discussed Beth's book choice, The Dig by John Preston.

John Preston is an English journalist and novelist. He has written 7 books, three that are novels.  He was the Arts editor at the Evening Standard and The Sunday Telegraph.

The Dig is a fictionalized account of Britain's most important archeological find, Sutton Hoo.  Beth referred us to the British Museum website that has several photos of the Dig and of the treasures that were found. 

Most but not all our members had not only read the book but had also seen the movie, so we had a good conversation about the differences between the two.   We all appreciated learning about Sutton Hoo and the treasures that were found.  Edith Pretty, the owner of the property where the mounds were wanted to honour her husband who died before they could investigate what may be buried in the mounds. She hired an amateur archeologist Basil Brown to begin the dig. When the local museum in Ipswich finds out what Mr Brown has discovered, they and the British Museum get involved.   

Most of us found the book very readable, "lovely" how some of us described it. There is no great drama but you want to know what happens between Basil Brown and his wife May, between Peggy the young newly married woman and Rory the photographer.  Some found the pace of the book a bit slow, it is definitely not a page-turner.  We all agreed however, that the text was very well written and there were some beautiful passages such as the description of the nightingales' song that evoked more than just the song.

...The nightingale waited for a response. but there was nothing, only silence.  After a few minutes, the singing started up again, both louder and more passionate than before. Bubbles of sound streamed up into the night sky.

 The sound was sadder than anything I had ever heard before. Full of yearning and desperation and the proximity of regret....  page 197.

 All of us found that learning about the archeological find Sutton Hoo was well worth the read. Thank you Beth for the book choice and the reference to the British Museum website that explain and shows through photographs, what was found. 


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell - October 25, 2021


Present were Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  We discussed Jane's book choice Hamnet or Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O'Farrell.   

Maggie O'Farrell was born in Northern Ireland and lived in Wales and Scotland.  She presently lives in Edinburgh with her husband, author William Sutcliffe and her children.  Ms O'Farrell has won several awards for her 8 novels.  She has also written a memoir called I am, I am, I am: Seventeen Brushes with Death.

Hamnet is the story of William Shakespeare's son who dies of the plague at 11 years old.  Shakespeare had three children, Susanna and twins Hamnet & Judith, with Anne Hathaway known in this book as Agnes.  The novel is briefly about Hamnet but the main character is his mother Agnes who is strong, well known in the village as a free spirit and a herbalist sought after by the villagers.  Village life is well described, the buildings, the people, merchants and those who have been to Stratford-upon-Avon felt almost as if they were there in the village. It is really the story of 17th century life, of grief and marriage. 

Most of us enjoyed the book and found the storyline, the descriptions, the characters well written.  Like a Jane Austen book you could easily be engrossed in the story,  some described it as a page-turner.  The description of Agnes preparing her son Hamnet for burial was so real you could feel her grief. Shakespeare is never named, he is the husband, the father, the Latin tutor.  Their marriage is well described, the absences as their each dealt with the grief of the death of Hamnet, the love that existed between them.  We almost all found the book fascinating.  

Thank you Jane for an excellent book choice.  For those who wonder why there are two titles for this book, it seems as if in Canada, published by Penguin Books, it was titled Hamnet & Judith and in the UK and the USA it was published by Alfred K. Knopf as simply Hamnet. 

Becoming - Michelle Obama - September 27, 2021

Present at our first meeting since summer are Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  The book to be discussed was Colette's choice, Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Most of us enjoyed the book and found that it was written as if she was talking to friends about her life. It was easy to read. Those of us who listened to the audio version read by Michelle Obama herself found it to be especially evident. She talked about her life as a child with her parents and brother, life on the east side of Chicago, the support she received from her parents and family, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Being close to family and neighbours in a mostly black neighbourhood, when she went on to university and found herself in the minority, with few students who were black, it was difficult for her to participate in social activities.  We found her description of campaigning fascinating and it was obvious she did not enjoy it but she described how Barack, her husband relished the challenge of the race.  She described life in the White House a bit like living in a fish bowl.  Nothing could be done on the spur of the moment, everything had to be planned and their security detail was always present.

It was easy to admire her as a person; strong, energetic, kind, and supportive of her kids and her husband.  We would have liked to know more about life after the White House.  What were her plans? What is she doing now?  One member who read both this book and Barack Obama's book thought this one was more enjoyable.  We did find that there was some repetition in the book, about her dislike of politics and we found that she described many of life's experiences as black and white, or black vs white?

Thank you Colette for suggesting this interesting autobiography. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Books and Meetings 2022

 This list will be updated as members make their book choices.

January 24 - Carla's choice The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett,  Marg hosting

February 28 - Betty's choice, A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson,  Jane hosting

March 28 - Beth's choice. The Company We Keep by Frances Itani, Carla hosting.

April 25 - Marg's choice,  Colette hosting.

May 30 - Michèle's choice, Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, Shirley hosting.

June 27 - Janet's choice, The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles,  Michèle hosting.

September 26 - Jane's choice,  Beth hosting.

October 24 - Linda's choice,  Betty hosting.

November 28 - Shirley's choice,  Linda hosting.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Lightkeeper's Daughters by Jean Pendziwol -June 28th, 2021


Present at are hopefully last Zoom meeting were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  The book to discuss was Shirley's choice The Lightkeepter's Daughters by Canadian author Jean Pendziwol.  We were fortunate to be able to welcome Ms. Pendziwol who joined our Zoom meeting.  

Ms Pendziwol is a Canadian author who lives in Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior.  This book is her first adult novel and she is a well loved children's book author.  On her website you will find information about all her books, a blog that is interesting to read and recipes.  She also has on the side bar a poem written in honour of International Women's Day. It is worth listening to the poem.   

The story of this novel is narrated by two characters, Elizabeth who once lived on Porphyry Island and now lives in a retirement home and Morgan a young woman who is completing community work at the retirement home.  When Elizabeth receives her father's journals that he kept as a lightkeeper, she enlists Morgan's help to read them to her.  As Morgan reads the journals we are taken back to the Island and the life of the two sisters.  Morgan is fascinated by the story in the Journals and it becomes evident that there is a connection between Elizabeth and Morgan.  

Ms Pendziwol had a slide presentation for us that showed us the location in Lake Superior, of Porphyry Island and several photos of the structures on the Island and the flora and fauna. It helped us visualize aspects of the novel.  

We very much enjoyed Ms. Pendziwol's participation and appreciated her input in our meeting.  Thank you very much!  

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Frankenstein - May 31, 2021

 Present at our Zoom meeting were Betty, Beth, Carla, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley. The book discussed this month was Betty's choice, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. The book was recommended by Marnie, a friend of several of the Muse and Views members.  

Our discussion was quite lively, not only about the story itself but also about Mary Shelley.  She was born in 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist activist Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her mother died shortly after her birth and she was raised by her father who encouraged her to adhere to his political theories but she also read her mother's political theories.  Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and is now considered a pioneer of women's rights.  

In 1814 when she was only 17, Mary began a romance with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and along with Mary's stepsister moved to France with him. As Shelley was already married, they lived ostracized from society. In 1816 they married after the death of Shelley's first wife and the death of their first child. One stormy night when they were staying with Byron and other friends, Byron suggested they should see who could write the scariest ghost story.  Though all started, Mary Shelley was the only one who persisted and the story of Frankenstein was conceived.  It was published in 1818.  Shelley edited it more than once and published an edited version in 1831 that was for a long time the more popular version but in modern times the earlier 1818 version has become the version that is read and studied.  

Mary Shelley's character, scientist Victor Frankenstein, is convinced he can create a real life by connecting different body parts he acquires. He succeeds but the creature is not of his liking and he abandons it.  The creature teaches himself to read and write and wants to feel love and companionship. He feels abandoned and pursues Victor and demands that he create a mate for him. Victor agrees and secludes himself to create a female creature but before completing it he is horrified by the the possible consequences of his work and destroys the unfinished female creature. His original creature vows revenge.

This novel is considered a gothic novel and many see it as the beginning of science fiction.

Some found the older literary style difficult to read but several of us were surprised at how much we enjoyed the book. Shelley has written a story that makes us question the meaning of being human, the emotions that are complex, the needs we have as humans and our need for love and companionship as is seen by the creature's demand that Victor create a mate for him. The story examines learned behaviors, how the fear of the unknown and the fear of  'otherness' guides mankind. One of our members  expressed the view that though the creature is often referred to as the monster (as is seen most Hallowe'en nights), it is Victor himself who was the monster, unfeeling, abandoning his own creation. 

We talked about the different interpretations of Frankenstein that have been made into movies, both as serious horror and as comedy, many of which are described in this National Post article that Beth found. It is worth the read.  Janet had us listen to Monster Mash.  Thank you to Betty for the book choice, it generated a lot of discussion.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

Born a Crime - April 26, 2021

It is Zoom again this month!  Present were Betty, Carla, Colette, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  The book discussed this month, Marg's choice, was Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.  

Trevor Noah, born in Johannesburg South Africa during Apartheid to a black Xhosa mother and a white German Swiss father. He is considered in South Africa, a coloured person.  He was raised by his mother with little influence from his father.  His mother Patricia raised him with her mother in Soweto where her family lived.  During the first years of his life when Apartheid still existed he was kept mostly indoors to keep away from the eyes of the authorities. Trevor began his education in a private catholic school amongst mainly white children.  He soon realized that the best way to blend in with different groups was to know their language and he taught himself practically every language spoken in South Africa.  In his late teens he began a career in South African radio and television as a comedian and actor.  One of his television appearances was seen by Jon Stewart, previous host of The Daily Show, an American night time show.  He was offered the opportunity to replace Jon Stewart.  He moved to New York City in 2011.  

All members enjoyed the book and learned a lot about life in South Africa both during Apartheid and after  South Africa was liberated from white rule.  Trevor's experiences as he recounts them plunged the reader into the realities of Apartheid, poverty, violence and inequality.  With his mother who believed in grasping all opportunities, post-Apartheid gave them the chance to live more freely and Trevor embraced every opportunity he had.  

All of us admired Trevor's mother who pushed him to have an open mind and see all the opportunities the world offered.   Thank you Marg for a good book choice that allowed us to learn about South Africa.