Friday, May 29, 2009

Books for our Fall meetings

Because the list of books for 2009 is getting far down in the blog, I have chosen to repeat those for our Fall meetings here:

Monday September 28

Carla's choice  Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See at Colette's home

Sitting Quietly

I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died”—a widow, eighty years old. Without my husband, the days are long. I no longer care for the special foods that Peony and the others prepare for me. I no longer look forward to the happy events that settle under our roof so easily. Only the past interests me now. After all this time, I can finally say the things I couldn't when I had to depend on my natal family to raise me or rely on my husband's family to feed me. I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend.

I am old enough to know only too well my good and bad qualities, which were often one and the same. For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me—as a girl and later as a woman—to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life. I dreamed that my mother would notice me and that she and the rest of my family would grow to love me. To win their affection, I was obedient—the ideal characteristic for someone of my sex—but I was too willing to do what they told me to do. Hoping they would show me even the most simple kindness, I tried to fulfill their expectations for me— to attain the smallest bound feet in the county—so I let my bones be broken and molded into a better shape.

Monday October 26

Linda's choice The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning at Beth's home


"She leans forward and rummages in the hatbox, knowing that she is being hooked by its sweet smell. She tips reading glasses from her head, settles them on her nose, unfolds a paper and presses it to her face. She breathes deeply. What is it? Lately she finds herself in a peculiar state, slowed, as if floating without impulsion, in which she examines her own feelings. There's a familiar, disturbing stab in her heart that she remembers from when, as a child, she laid her head on Shepton's prickly pillows, or lifted the lids of stoneware crocks or opened the games cupboard under the stairs. It's a small ache, a presage of grief, evoked by the distilled smell of age. It's a reminder, she thinks, of joy's sorrow-edge. Of how every moment tilts on the edge of its own decline. There's something else, though. Responsibility to the past. And flight from its demands. The feelings she's come to recognize, holding in her hand, say, a small pin that Tom was once given at a ceremony in Ottawa for "service to the arts." How, she chastises herself, during her process of dispossession, could she think of parting with this piece of silver? Doesn't she have the responsibility of memorializing Tom?"

©copyright Beth Powning

Monday November 23

Betty's choice Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin at Michèle's home

In Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time , Greg Mortenson, and journalist David Oliver Relin, recount the journey that led Mortenson from a failed 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to successfully establish schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. By replacing guns with pencils, rhetoric with reading, Mortenson combines his unique background with his intimate knowledge of the third-world to promote peace with books, not bombs, and successfully bring education and hope to remote communities in central Asia. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world—one school at a time.

Meeting of May 25, 2009

This month's meeting was at Linda's home. She provided us with a lovely plate of cold cuts, cheese and dip. We also had an excellent lemon cake with our coffee.  Beth, Betty, Carla, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and ShirleyItalic were present.

This month's book was Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. It is her first novel. Ms. Blum has written articles and worked for the Stephen Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. The interviews she conducted at the Foundation gave her the idea and incentive for her novel. 

All thought the book was very well written, the character development was excellent and the physical description of the characters allowed you to easily imagine them, especially the Obersturmführer.  She paid attention to details, description of the weather, of rooms, such as the rooms of the bakery, the hotel she stayed for the weekend with the Obersturmführer. 

The title of the book Those Who Save Us is well represented in the story in many ways some that are obvious because they relate to the idea of "saving" someone from horrible situations and others that come from our tendency to use the word "save" in our everyday conversations. 
  • Max the good Doktor "saves" Anna's dog
  • The Doktor is grateful to Ann for rescuing him from Frau Rosenberg (page 13)
  • Anna "saves" Max by hiding him in the servant's quarters of her father's house
  • Mathilde the baker "saves" Anna from the wrath of her father by sheltering her when she discovers she is pregnant
  • Mathilde and Anna "save" the prisoners at Buchenwald Camp by providing bread that she hides in a tree trunk for them and also by getting information out to the Resistance
  • The Obersturmführer tells Anna "Do you know, you alone save me. Your purity, your values - our shared values -..." (page 271)
  • All that Anna did in Germany, with the Obersturmführer was to "save" her daughter Trudie
  • Jack "saved" Anna and Trudie by marrying Anna and taking her back to America
There are many other incidents that refer back to the title.  The novel is complex and leads to an excellent discussion; about Anna relationship with the Obersturmführer, the impact on Anna's ability to love, the relationship between Anna and her daughter Trudy; about the impact on Trudy's life and her inability to be happy; how much would we do to protect and "save" ourselves and our children, how far would we go. 

We also had a good discussion about Anna's refusal to talk about the past. When Trudy says that she wants Saint Nikolaus instead of Santa on Christmas Eve of 1945, their first year in America "I said you will not speak of him. He no longer exists. He belongs to the past, to that other place and time, and all that is dead. ....The past is dead, and better it remain so."  She says it other times also, she does not see how talking of the past can help.  We discussed how reality shows and programs such as Oprah, Dr. Phil encourage people to discuss every part of their life as if it can help.  We wondered if it is really necessary to analyze everything and why many feel it necessary to tell all. 

Several other books were suggested:  Elie Wiesel's "Night" that asks many questions and helped inspired "Those Who Save Us". It is not a novel but rather Mr. Wiesel's memoirs of his experience in the concentration camps.  Hannah Arendt wrote many books and reports about the War and in particular  "Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil"  Christabel Bielenbergh wrote two books about her experience in Germany as an expatriate married to a German man. "The Past is Myself" and "The Road Ahead". 

This book was a difficult book to read for many of our members but it was an excellent Book Club choice that generated a lot of discussion and thought. Thank you Shirley. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Suggestions for summer reading

There were several suggestions for summer reading for those of us going on a leisurely vacation with time to read or spending some warm summer days sitting in the shade.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
Promises in Death by J.D. Robb
Suite 606 by J.D. Robb
Salvation in Death by J.D.Robb
You´ve been Warned by James Patterson
The Senator´s Wife by Sue Miller
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
Belong to Me by Marisa De Los Santos
Marley & Me by John Grogan
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
The Halifax Connection by Marie Jakober

All are welcome to add other titles.

Meeting of April 27, 2009

This month´s meeting was at Jolene´s home. She provided us with excellent appetizers including a wonderful cheese and ham pastry. We had almost full attendance this month, Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Joan, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. Our book choice this month is Beth´s, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor.

Beth informed us that the author Elizabeth Taylor was one of several British authors, well known in the 1950´s to 1970´s who wrote about women´s lives. Ms. Taylor was not a sentimental writer but rather wrote with considerable detail about everyday challenges in women´s lives. Beth compared this book to Margaret Laurence´s The Stone Angel. The subject matter is about coping with ageing and the limited options as we grow old. The subject matter had all of us thinking of our own mothers and their situations. Janet mentionned the movie The Curious case of Benjamin Button that begins with the main character being old and depicts the limited options that he has because of age.

All liked the book, however many found the subject matter depressing. There was however considerable discussion and comparison of our own parents´ situation and of our own futures. We also discussed the differences between the book and the movie that most of us saw. Jolene installed the DVD on her new large screen and we were able to watch one scene in particular, that is the first evening meal, that set the tone for the atmosphere at the Claremont Hotel.

Jolene noted that the author seems to have inserted herself in the novel on page 136 of the paperback version when Mrs. Palfrey talks to ¨Miss Taylor¨ at the Library.

We all agreed that this was a good choice and thanked Beth. Our next meeting is on Monday May 25 at Linda´s home and the book choice is Shirley´s Those who Save Us by Jenna Blum.