Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Suggestions for Summer Reading 2010

Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith
Any (or all) of Guy Gavriel Kay's books

Meeting of 28 June 2010

Shirley, Janet, Jane, Beth, Colette and Jolene met at Colette's house to discuss The Book of Negroes, Shirley's choice this year. Colette served great hors d'oeuvres, with a little help from her husband, a gourmet cook.

Author Lawrence Hill was born in Toronto in 1957 and is from a famous Canadian family. His father Daniel Hill, Sr., was Ombudsman, and Dan Hill, Jr., is a well-known singer. Lawrence Hill has won many awards, including one for this book. He still lives in Hamilton, Ontario. A recent CAA magazine quotes him as saying that he once met with the Queen (a most unpretentious lady) and her corgis and found himself in the ironic position of telling Her Majesty about British archives and history. Mr. Hill has written other books, including Any Known Blood, set a little later, during the time of the Underground Railway, and told from a male point-of-view.

Shirley pointed out that the cover of our novel in Canada is from the actual Book of Negroes. In the US, the novel goes by the title Someone Knows My Name. It depicts slavery in the 1700's through the eyes of Aminata, and shows the different reactions of slaves to the same circumstances. Hill found himself relating Aminata with his own 11-year-old daughter Genevieve Aminata Hill.

Our group unanimously liked the book, for many reasons: the fact that historical figures like Wilberforce appear in this novel; the way Hill was able to tell the story from a female viewpoint so well; the tragic irony of seeing a ‘baby-catcher’ have her own baby stolen; and the strength shown by Aminata. One theme that emerged was how people in desperate circumstances come to realize their limitations but do what they can.

Next meeting will be September 27 at Shirley's, discussing Ian Brown's The Boy in the Moon, Jane's choice.

The October meeting will be at Colette's, discussing The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees, Carla's choice.

Have a great summer!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Meeting of May 31st, 2010

Muse and Views met May 31 at Linda's to discuss the Thomas Hardy book Far From the Madding Crowd (FFTMC), Beth's choice. In attendance were Linda, Shirley, Carla, Betty, Colette, Beth and Jolene. Asian food, pinwheel sandwiches, yummy cake, and a free book table added to the fun.

Beth gave us a detailed description of Hardy's background and writing passions. He lived in the late Victorian period from 1840 to 1928 and was born in Dorcester, near the area that he writes about, renamed Wessex in his books. He was an architect by trade, but once he became successful as a writer, particularly with FFTMC, he gave up his architectural career. His novels were popular even during his lifetime, and his poetry has grown in appreciation since his death. Poems like Darkling Thrush have even been set to music. Among his 10 novels are A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), from which the term "cliff hanger" may be derived, Tess of the d'Ubervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure.

Beth pointed out Hardy's fascination with architecture, ecology, Christian faith, and mystery. Ghosts, coincidence, preserving the environment and a distaste for class distinctions are frequent aspects of his writing. An intriguing question involved his burial. The executor of his will wanted him interred in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, and indeed that is where his ashes are. However, his heart was apparently taken to be buried with his first wife, with whom he had had a difficult relationship and over whom he felt remorse. Did the heart make it back to Dorset, or was it misplaced? A theme right out of Hitchcock! Finally, Linda mentioned that Hardy is held in particularly high esteem in Japan and they make pilgrimages to his home in England.

Five out of seven members in attendance liked the book. All agreed that because it was written in serialized form, it was quite it l-o-n-g. Janet added her comments via e-mail, pointing out that we all hope our daughters don't make the mistake that Bathsheba made, choosing the looks and superficial Troys over the strong and steady Gabriel Oak's in life. The lengthy descriptions typical of the period did not always appeal to our modern tastes, but the happy ending, interesting plot, and good characterization were appreciated. Those who had had the opportunity to get the movie from the library found the film helpful and close to the novel in detail. Biblical references, evident even in the names, were also interesting.

Beth and Linda had personal connections: Beth's husband has an ancestor named Richard Jeffries, who wrote a book at the same time as Hardy, and no doubt would have become just as popular, if Hardy had not stolen the limelight. :) Linda has a friend in a professor named Dr. Baker, a writer himself and avid reader, and we encouraged her to invite him to book club next May when he is in town again. Linda may pick a Sue Grafton novel for him to discuss with us.

Other business: Next meeting is at Colette's place June 28, discussing The Book of Negroes, Shirley's choice. Colette will encourage Jane to give us her September choice by the end of June, so that we can read it over the summer break. Carla has opted for The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees for October.