Saturday, March 3, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation - from The Beauty Myth to No Great Mischief

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is the starter book. The book cover says, ‘How images of beauty are used against women’. It's the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society's impossible definition of "the flawless beauty."

The first link might be Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion.

Make a left turn here to a memoir by Tony Judt with his Memory Chalet. The memoir is presented as a series of essays which chart some experience or remembrance of his past and is simply and beautifully arranged as a Swiss chalet - a reassuring refuge deep in the mountains of memory.

The next link might be The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew. This is a moving memoir of a father-son reconciliation. Invoking hope, healing and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond.

Moving to an autobiographical fictional memoir, Ru by Kim Thuy, blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction. Ru is the story of one woman's life as she leaves a privileged life in Vietnam with her family, survives the harrowing experiences of a refugee camp, and finally immigrates to Montréal.

In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt looks back on his childhood with humour and compassion. His story begins with, “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

From Irish immigrants to Scottish immigrants, we might link to Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief, the story of a fiercely loyal family and the tradition that drives it. The MacDonalds face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. And through these lovingly recounted stories-wildly comic or heartbreakingly tragic-we discover the hope against hope upon which every family must sometimes rely.

So there is our meme for this month.  This is our 11th contribution to Six Degrees of Separation (click on the link to see what others have contributed) and we are still using only books we have read.  Shirley is responsible for this month's work and there are no repeats this month.   

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meeting of February 26, 2018

We met this evening at Janet's home to discuss Carla's choice, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Shirley and Michèle via Skype from sunny Florida.  As the book is set in France, Janet had some wonderful French cheese, pâté, French wine and for dessert, tarte aux pommes with crème chantilly.

Everyone enjoyed The Nightingale. This is the second book we have read by Kristin Hannah, so those who would like some information on this author can click on the link.  This story is about two sisters in France during World War II and how each coped with the tragedy and events of war.  Vianne, married and living with her daughter in a small village while her husband is fighting endures the humiliation of Nazis living in her home and overtaking the village. Isabelle, the younger single sister who lives in Paris with her father, eventually finds her calling helping those of the resistance escape from France once they are denounced.

The character development of the two sisters is excellent.  We really get know each sister and understand in each of their circumstances how and why they react to events in their life.  Vianne, a mother, will do anything to protect her own child and finds a way to protect and keep her best friend Rachel's, son.  Though her sister Isabelle does not understand how Vianne can allow a Nazi to live under her roof, Vianne knows the consequences of refusing and finds ways to live with it and protect her daughter. She accepts the food and gifts from the first officer so her daughter can eat properly and she endures repetitive rape by the second officer to protect her daughter from the same fate.  Isabelle, younger more of a rebel and without the responsibilities of a family, finds a way to help her countrymen in the Résistence.

Many of us enjoy historical novels that allow us to learn and this novel packs it in. We learn about how the Nazis with the help of some French collaborators rounded up Jews not only in big cities such as Paris and Lyon but also in small villages.  Though we did learn about the the French fleeing Paris in Suite Française by Irène Nemirovsky, there are different aspects and details in this book. In All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr we learned about the Résistence and in The Nightingale, Isabelle's involvement gives us more information.   Kristin Hannah's research for this book was extensive.

Thank you Carla for choosing this book and Shirley for recommending it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation - from Lincoln at the Bardo to Orphan Train

There are a surprisingly large number of books that the tragic death of a child is the catalyst for a story.  Muse & Views Book Club has not read Lincoln in the Bardo but over the years we have read several that include the tragic death of a child. Like one of our members said, there is a lot of sadness in this meme.

Beginning book – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders tells the story of tragedy, the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son and a spin into the supernatural.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – from the violent death of Susie Salmon, we learn how she died and the tragic effects on her family from her seat in heaven.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – The death of a child has an impact not only on parents but also on the surviving children.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – The discovery of the skeleton of a child in a hidden closet is the catalyst for this horror story coming from historical realities of World War II.

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards – In this story the tragic accidental death of a child is a catalyst to the story of poverty, envy and hatred in a small town.

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton – the tragic accidental death of a child this time, reveals how idealism and unrealistic dreams of life on a farm takes a mother to the brink of depression and its tragic consequences on her life, her family and the community that has not accepted them in their fold.

Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline – Children finding themselves orphaned when poverty-stricken parents die of influenza and other epidemics, some taken by train towards western states and provinces to be adopted by farm families die of neglect or from violent encounters.

To see how others connected Lincoln in the Bardo to other titles, see Six Degrees of Separation

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Meeting of January 29th, 2018

As we begin the 20th year of our Muse and Views Book Club, we met at Colette’s to discuss Still Life by Louise Penny. Attending were Jane, Janet, Shirley, Colette and our newest member, Sharon (Welcome to Muse and Views, Sharon!), plus Michèle and Linda who Skyped in to join the discussion. In keeping with the theme of the book, Colette served an array of Québec cheeses, stuffed mushrooms, and croissants followed by home-made mini lemon tarts, fit for any boulangerie.
The author, Louise Penny, came to writing later in life, having previously been a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her husband, Michael, who she describes as ‘kindly, thoughtful, generous, a man of courage and integrity, who both loved and accepted love’, was her inspiration for Armand Gamache. She lives outside a small village south of Montréal, quite close to the American border, and has used the Eastern Townships for the setting of her imagined village of Three Pines and the Inspector Gamache series.
Still Life is Louise Penny’s debut novel and has garnered a number of awards; her subsequent books continue to win accolades. In 2013, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada "for her contributions to Canadian culture as an author shining a spotlight on the Eastern Townships of Quebec”. She has been compared to Agatha Christie in her writing style which features many hallmarks of the British whodunit genre, including murders by unconventional means, bucolic villages, large casts of suspects, red herrings, and a dramatic disclosure of the murderer in the last few pages of the book.
Although all felt that the book was an ‘easy read’, our reviews were mixed. The devices and red herrings used in the book seemed too obvious. Some felt that character development was weak however one of the members, who had read the entire series, explained that the characters do fully develop over the series.
The description of the very rural village of Three Pines was well done as was most instances of family dynamics. Meanwhile, the conversation Inspector Gamache had with Ben about the dwindling rights of Anglophones in Québec was off-putting and definitely one-sided. The portrayal of Gabri and Olivier, the gay owners of the bistro and bed and breakfast, was felt to be rudely stereotypical.
This month’s book discussion was as lively as usual and reading a Canadian author is never a bad thing.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Six degrees of separation -No. 1 Detective Agency to The Kite Runner

Okay, here is where Shirley went with this one - to Africa:

Starting book is No. 1 Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. From Goodreads: “Precious Ramotswe has only just set up shop as Botswana's No.1 (and only) lady detective when she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. However, the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.”

Also set in Africa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun tells the tale of Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960’s.

Moving to Kenya, Unbowed by Wangari Maathai, recounts her extraordinary life as a political activist, feminist, and environmentalist in Kenya.

On to Somalia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel is the story of one woman’s struggle to escape an arranged and forced marriage and assert her independence.

Staying in Somalia, A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout is her personal story of being abducted in Somalia, held hostage and her daring escape.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini is a chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.

Also by Khalid Hosseini, The Kite Runner is the unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant set in Afghanistan.

And thus, the Muse and Views books linked by place setting only.

If you would like to see what other participants have posted go to Six Degrees of Separation

Monday, December 4, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from It to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Well we are a little late but here is our contribution completed this month by Shirley by herself!

It by Stephen King – story of children who see that which adults do not.

Keeping with ‘children’ as a link to the books, start with No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacquelin Michard – the story of a child being kidnapped, a family in crisis.

Followed by A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton where one moment’s inattention ends with the death of a child.

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards is the next link. After pushing a friend off a church roof, Sydney Henderson makes a pact with God that he will live a life without violence providing that the boy lives.

Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok is told from young Davita's point of view and we often share her frustration as she understands that very important things are happening and all she can do is wait to be told or try to figure it out for herself. As the deprivations of war and depression take a ruthless toll, Davita unexpectedly turns to the Jewish faith.

Also by Chaim Potok, the next link might be to The Chosen. This tells of the relationship between two Brooklyn boys Danny and Reuven, the world they grow up in, and their relationship with their fathers. The two negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, and the crisis of faith.

And the final link is The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. This is the story of the third generation of a Jewish immigrant family in Montreal. Duddy is combative, amoral, scheming, a liar, and totally hilarious.

This list makes the leap from the fright-inducing stories of Stephen King’s It to the hilarious Duddy Kravitz which is more in keeping with the Muse and Views book club selections.

Thank you Shirley!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays for all!