Friday, October 5, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from The Outsiders to Unbowed

 The Outsiders 
The Book ThiefThe Kite RunnerA Thousand Splendid Suns
Half of a Yellow SunInfidelUnbowed: A Memoir

The Outsiders, a novel by S.E. Hinton, is considered a Young Adult novel but read widely. 

The Book Thief  by Markus Zusack is a novel about children coping with the ravages of war and is also considered a Young Adult novel and it was also read widely. 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is also a novel about children coping with the ravages of war. Going with another novel by the same author is the next linked book, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

There are many titles that include the earth’s star,  the sun; Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a prime example. There are several excellent women authors from Africa as is Ms. Adichie, one of which is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali’s memoir Infidel has also been read by our book club.

Infidel being a memoir that chronicles Ms Hirsi Ali pursuit of justice through the political system as a woman of colour, we might connect with Unbowed, a Memoir by Wangari Maathai in which she recounts her life as a political activist, feminist and environmentalist in her native Kenya. 

From a young adult’s life of survival to a woman of colour and political survival.  

If you would like to see how other avid readers and participants have done, go to Six Degrees of Separation 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Meeting of September 24th, 2018

The September meeting of Muse & Views was hosted by Michèle. Present were Beth, Colette, Janet, Linda and Michèle.  We were served some wonderful hors d'oeuvres, a fig and walnut spread, spicy olives, small rolls of salami and mini-pizzas, red and white wine of course.  Shirley's wonderful Pot à la crème was served after our discussion with tea for everyone.

This month's book presented by Colette was They Left us Everything by Plum Johnson.  This is a memoir that Ms. Johnson writes as she is emptying the family home after the death of her parents, her father and then her mother.  A process that she thought would take 6 weeks eventually took 16 months. She writes about the toll 20 years of taking care of her parents took on her life, the resentment she felt that it was left to her, the constant trips to the family home from her own home in Toronto to see to her parents needs and whims.  As she goes through each room of her family home, she catalogues everything and she describes life as it was growing up.  We learn of her parents' relationship, the ups and downs, her parents' characters and the impact of their many moves before they settled in the Oakville home.

All of us talked about our own experiences with parents and what they have left us.  Several of us understood her attitude before the death of her parents, the resentment she felt and appreciated the feelings she had while she was slowly going through the house, cataloguing, throwing away, selling her parents' possessions.  Some of us regretted not using the time before to allow our parents and older family members tell of of their lives and putting it on paper so it remains with us and our children and relatives.

We talked of all the articles and advice books that have appeared in the last years on how to deal with aging parents, illness, finances, how to encourage family members to downsize, to get rid of "stuff". Yet this memoir They Left us Everything,  shows how often parents gave us everything, family life, memories, our history.  Ms. Johnson came to appreciate the chance to relive memories of their family life as she cataloged, sold and threw out parts of her family life in the 16 months it took her to finally close the house and sell it.

Many of us saw the house itself as one of the characters as Ms. Johnson went through the house we were able to visualize it both inside and outside.  As she described family gatherings, weddings, parties that were held in the home and in the garden, we could "see" the home as it existed with the family.

We all enjoyed the book, found it brought back memories for some and gave some of us with living parents an new perspective, different that what is usual.  Books may give us ways of dealing with illness, downsizing, finances but our family memories are in our family homes and possessions they have collected.

Thank you Colette for a good recommendation that came originally from Sharon.

Meeting of June 25th, 2018

The June meeting of Muse & Views was hosted by Linda.  Present were Beth, Betty, Colette, Jane, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  This month's book, Brooklyn by Colm Tobin was presented by Beth.

Colm Toibin is an Irish writer currently a professor of Humanities at Columbia University in New York. He is also Chancellor of the University of Liverpool.  He worked several years as a journalist and has written six novels, published two books of short stories and has also published non-fiction books and poetry.  Several of his books reflect on life in Ireland and he has relatives, his grand-father and uncle, who were members of the IRA.

Brooklyn his sixth novel, tells the story of a young woman who is encouraged to move to Brooklyn in the United States so she may have a more productive life.  She battles severe homesickness but eventually adapts, working, taking bookkeeping classes and participating in a social life. She meets an Italian young man and eventually falls in love with him.  When her sister suddenly dies in Ireland, Eilis goes back to Ireland to mourn and eventually finds herself in a dilemma.  Should she stay in Ireland or go back to Brooklyn to Tony who she secretly married before leaving?

Our members all enjoyed the book, found it to be a good enjoyable read.  Mr. Toibin describes well life in a small Irish town, the jealousies, the despair, the limits that were part of many European countries in the 1950's after the war.  When Eilis immigrates to Brooklyn, she lives in a rooming home owned by an Irish woman and much of her life is still rooted in Ireland.  However when she meets Tony who comes from an Italian family, she is exposed the the opportunities of life in America.

We found that Eilis really let life happen to her rather than being proactive.  Her sister arranges for her to meet the priest who will convince her to move to America, she lets her sister make the decision for her.  In America she is influenced by Father Flood and eventually by her boyfriend Tony.  She is easily manipulated not a decisive person.

Colm Toibin's writing is not overly descriptive, he gives us enough information and description of life for us to easily imagine the difficulties of life after the war in Europe and the opportunities of life in America that encourage people to immigrate.  The story was a good read.  It was made into a movie in 2015 and was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Thank you Beth for an excellent choice,

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from Atonement to Crow Lake

 Commonwealth To Kill a Mockingbird ebook by Harper Lee Mansfield Park
Deafening Rush Home Road Crow Lake 

This month’s starter book is Atonement by Ian McEwan which, once again, is not a book read by the Muse & Views book club. Atonement begins on a hot summer day in 1934 when thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives.

In Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, a moment’s flirtation at a neighbourhood party begins the story of an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changing two families’ lives.

This brings to mind Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird which takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.

Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park is a subtle examination of social position and moral integrity which is an easy link to Harper Lee’s book. As a study of kindness and cruelty which can take many forms, in Deafening by Frances Itani, we see how deafness in a family can cause rifts and misunderstandings. A magnificent tale of love and war, Deafening is finally an ode to language-how it can console, imprison, and liberate, and how it alone can bridge vast chasms of geography and experience.

We might next connect with Rush Home Road, written by Lori Lansens, which is a story about the redeeming power of love and memory, and about two unlikely people who transform each other's lives forever.

The final link might be Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. The story set in the rural “badlands” of northern Ontario, Canada, where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape. In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, of resentments harbored and driven underground, Lawson ratchets up the tension with heartbreaking humor and consummate control, continually overturning one’s expectations right to the very end.

If you wish to see how other avid readers and participants fared this month please go to Six Degrees of Separation.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from Tales of the City to Divine Secrets of the Yahoo Sisterhood

Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #1)

 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil  Death Comes to Pemberley  Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice  Longbourn  The Help  Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood  

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin is our beginning book this month.  Having researched Mr. Maupin as an author, we are surprised that Muse & Views Bookclub has never discussed one of his books. This first of a series book takes place in the city of San Francisco and though we have not read this book, it is our impression that the character of San Francisco is a big part of the story.

The character of the city of Savanah also has a significant role in the John Berendt book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  A murder is the central part of this book and so it is in Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.  Staying in the same era and with the same characters, and another book that is a sequel from Pride and Prejudice not written by Jane Austen, is Mr. Darcy Presents is Bride by Jane Halstead.  Staying with books of the Jane Austen era is Longbourn by Jo Baker. In this “sequel” to Pride and Prejudice we read the stories of the help, the servants of the kitchen and bedrooms, their dramas, love stories and scandals. Skipping several generations and a couple of centuries, the dramas, love stories and scandals in The Help by Kathryn Stockett in 20thcentury southern America are eerily similar to 18thcentury England.  And finally staying in the South of the good old USA, our last link is Divine Secrets of the Yahoo Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, family drama that is often as hilarious as it is sad.  

We began in 1980’s San Francisco with the starter book Tales of the City traveled to 18thcentury England and finished in the 20thcentury southern America with Divine Secrets of the Yahoo Sisterhood.  We are still using only books that Muse & Views have read.  How long can we last??

If you wish to see how other avid readers and participants fared this month please go to  Six Degrees of Separation

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from The Tipping Point to La Prisonnière

     Front Cover
The starter book is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, not at all a book that Muse & Views has read. Surprisingly, although we claim to read a wide variety of books, other than memoirs, we rarely read non-fiction. This is a book about change and how one idea, one thing, one person, one incident can generate change. Like Gladwell says, there are incidents such as one sick person that might generate a flu epidemic. An incident in a person’s life can cause dramatic changes in a life, turn a person’s life into a completely different direction.

So in our first linked book, Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, one split second of inattention while Sarah is driving to work causes her to lose control of her car and the consequences change not only her life but her whole family’s life and forces her to change how she lives her life, to slow down, to accept her limitations, to see life in a different light.

Now if we stay with Mr. Gladwell’s theories, more specifically the “broken windows theory” that neglected neighbourhoods generate more crime, we would then link to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Ove believes that their community must be kept as neat and clean as possible to prevent and discourage crime. 

Change, one idea can change a life completely. Such is the case in Voyage of the Northern Magic by Diane Stuemer.  This is a memoir of a family of five living in a suburb of Ottawa, Canada’s capital, who completely change their lives and the future trajectory of each of them when they decide to sell everything to sail around the world. 

Again using Mr. Gladwell’s theory that one incident in a person’s life can cause dramatic change, in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Harold writes a letter to a long-lost friend and colleague and leaves home to put it in the mailbox at the end of his street. Instead of putting the letter in the box he just continues to walk until he arrives at the letter’s destination. Harold is retired and has a mundane life, nothing changes from day to day but in one split second he changes his life, his habits, meets new people and delivers his letter in person.

In The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, the pilot's wife, Kathryn Lyons, receives word that a plane flown by her husband, Jack, has exploded near the coast of Ireland. In that instant she must confront the unfathomable as she sets out to learn who her husband really was, whatever that knowledge might cost. 

While Muse & Views rarely reads non-fiction, we do read memoirs as in the case of La Prisonniere by Malika OufkirMalika Oufkir was born into a proud Berber family in 1953, the eldest daughter of the King of Morocco's closest aide. She was adopted by the king to be a companion to his little daughter, and at the royal court of Rabat, Malika grew up locked away in a golden cage, among the royal wives and concubines. But when Malika was eighteen, in 1972, her father was arrested after an attempt to assassinate the king. General Oufkir was swiftly and summarily executed. Once again we see how Gladwin’s theory of change, how one incident can generate change as Malika, her beautiful mother and her five younger brothers and sisters were seized and thrown into an isolated desert jail for fifteen years with no contact with the outside world, in increasingly barbaric and inhumane conditions. A definite Tipping Point.

If you would like to see the Six Degrees memes of others, go to Six Degrees of Separation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Meeting of May 28, 2018

The May meeting of Muse & Views was hosted by Shirley.  Present were Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle, Sharon and Shirley. Shirley prepared a wonderful picnic for us with vegetable, cheese and salami skewers and tea chicken sandwiches.  For dessert she prepared her wonderful lemon pot de crème (you can find the recipe here at the end of the post) and she presented wonderful "picnic cookies" made by a friend.  Of course we had the usual wine and tea.

This month's book presented by Linda was Flee, Fly, Flown by Janet Hepburn.  Ms. Hepburn is a Canadian poet and author. This is her first novel.   She comes from Port Dover, Ontario,  the best place in Ontario for fish and chips according to two of our members!

The story is about two elderly women, Lillian and Audrey who live with Alzheimers in a home for seniors in Ottawa.  Lillian is particularly tired of the boring life she lives, everything being a routine from when she can eat, what she can eat, when she can sleep and even when, as she says, she can poop!  They decide together to go on a vacation and plot how they will get out without being noticed, how they can get a car and money.  Once they have a car, it does not take them long to realize that they have no way of knowing how to get out of the city and what road to take to eventually get to the west coast.  They meet a young homeless man and Audrey convinces him to drive them west.  The story is their adventures as they drive out towards the mountains.

It does not happen often that everyone loves a book we read.  We all felt that the main characters, Lillian, Audrey and the young man Rayne as they call him are well developed.  Several parts of the book are Lillian's thoughts, her struggles to concentrate and remember who she is with, where she is and what she must remember.  She keeps a notebook and writes in notes to hopefully help her, "vacation", "taxi phone number", anything that she think will help jog her memory.  It was a realistic portrayal of thoughts helping us understand what is in a person's head, it was well done.

There were some parts that made us giggle, many parts and the book in general that made us sad.  There were some very poignant periods. As we each talked about our impressions of the book, most of us could relate to the story because of persons we knew who are or had lived with dementia.  It is evident that it is quite prevalent in today's society and since the "baby boomers" are now pretty well over 60, it will become more relevant to us all.

Many of us reflected on the life we subject our seniors to in homes.  We discussed different innovative living arrangements that are being tried here in Canada and elsewhere.  In the Netherlands there is Hogeweyk, a "dementia village" that allows clients with dementia to have a more normal life while still being properly supervised.

An excellent choice Linda, one that we all liked and one that gave us the opportunity for discussion.