Really Cool Women\'s Book Club

Aug 10th, 2011 at Marci’s house. The Zookeepers wife by Diane Ackerman August 11, 2011

Filed under: Past Meetings — Susan @ 3:53 pm

Cool Women in Attendance:

  • Marci, Lori, Susan, Heidi, Karen

Menu:

  • Pasta with tomato and basil
  • Great bread!
  • Peach Pie!!

Memorable Moments:

  • Karen joined us! Welcome!
  • We will vote on past books but just pick 2 and then go back to nominating new ones
  • The book was well liked by those who read it
 

Time to Vote August 10, 2011

Filed under: Nominated Books — Susan @ 7:26 pm

Please go to survey monkey link below and vote on your top 3 by August 15th.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/7B9SFVK

  •  Good Dog Stay by Anna Quindlen
  •  Jamestown by Mathhew Sharpe
  •  Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
  • Pope Joan by Donna Cross
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  • The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie
  • The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  • Post Office by Charles Bukowski
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

 

Good Dog Stay by Anna Quindlen

 

Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist and novelist Quindlen has recently met with tremendous success in the realm of short nonfiction with an inspirational and motivational bent. Recounting the life and death of her beloved Labrador retriever, Beau, she follows the same pattern. Quindlen masters a calm, thoughtful radio-essay style of delivery that nicely fits the introspective nature of her material, which includes some powerful ruminations on aging and mortality. Yet as a 45-minute stand-alone offering, the recording lacks the weight of a dramatic center, since Quindlen devotes such a large chunk of the fleeting allotment of time to setting the stage on the front end and offering reflection in conclusion. Somehow, it seems as though a two-for-one arrangement similar to the 2005 audiobook release pairing Quindlen’s Being Perfect and A Short Guide to a Happy Life might have allowed for a broader and more fully realized sense of her unique gift for deeply personalized narrative.

 

Jamestown by Mathew Sharpe

 

On the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, you won’t want to confuse Matthew Sharpe’s new novel by that name with the many commemorative histories that are coming out alongside it. In this gleefully anachronistic and deeply scatological tale, history repeats itself in a post-apocalyptic future that’s as violent as the past. Sharpe connects many of the familiar historical dots (Pocahontas saves Captain John Smith and falls for John Rolfe, for example), but his settlers don’t arrive from across the Atlantic in search of new land for tobacco: they flee a Manhattan where the Chrysler Building has just collapsed and the water is poison, driving an armored bus down the ruins of I-95 in search of the supplies of gas and clean food that they hope the territory of Virginia might provide. Amid the gore and smut, you’ll find a surprisingly touching love story, starring a restless, de-Disneyed, and thoroughly charming Pocahontas, and thrillingly inventive language on every page that skims from Elizabethan archaism to IM slang and back, often in the same sentence.

 

Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller

 

In 1934, Caroline Miller’s novel Lamb in His Bosom won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It was the first novel by a Georgia author to win a Pulitzer, soon followed by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind in 1937. In fact, Lamb was largely responsible for the discovery of Gone With the Wind; after reading Miller’s novel, Macmillan editor Harold S. Latham sought other southern novels and authors, and found Margaret Mitchell.

Caroline Miller was fascinated by the other Old South not the romantic inhabitants of Gone With the Wind, but rather the poor people of the south Georgia backwoods, who never owned a slave or planned to fight a war. The story of Cean and Lonzo, a young couple who begin their married lives two decades before the Civil War, Lamb in His Bosom is a fascinating account of social customs and material realities among settlers of the Georgia frontier. At the same time, Lamb in His Bosom transcends regional history as Miller’s quietly lyrical prose style pays poignant tribute to a woman’s life lived close to nature the nature outside her and the nature within.

Pope Joan by Donna Cross

 

Cross makes an excellent, entertaining case in her work of historical fiction that, in the Dark Ages, a woman sat on the papal throne for two years. Born in Ingelheim in A.D. 814 to a tyrannical English canon and the once-heathen Saxon he made his wife, Joan shows intelligence and persistence from an early age. One of her two older brothers teaches her to read and write, and her education is furthered by a Greek scholar who instructs her in languages and the classics. Her mother, however, sings her the songs of her pagan gods, creating a dichotomy within her daughter that will last throughout her life. The Greek scholar arranges for the continuation of her education at the palace school of the Lord Bishop of Dorstadt, where she meets the red-haired knight Gerold, who is to become the love of her life. After a savage attack by Norsemen destroys the village, Joan adopts the identity of her older brother, slain in the raid, and makes her way to Fulda, to become the learned scholar and healer Brother John Anglicus. After surviving the plague, Joan goes to Rome, where her wisdom and medical skills gain her entrance into papal circles. Lavishly plotted, the book brims with fairs, weddings and stupendous banquets, famine, plague and brutal battles. Joan is always central to the vivid action as she wars with the two sides of herself, “mind and heart, faith and doubt, will and desire.” Ultimately, though she leads a man’s life, Joan dies a woman’s death, losing her life in childbirth. In this colorful, richly imagined novel, Cross ably inspires a suspension of disbelief, pulling off the improbable feat of writing a romance starring a pregnant pope.

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Rene is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building. She maintains a carefully constructed persona as someone uncultivated but reliable, in keeping with what she feels a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Rene: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Rene lives with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbors will dramatically alter their lives forever. By turns moving and hilarious, this unusual novel became the top-selling book in France in 2007.

The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

Renaissance Florence’s artistic zenith and Mughal India’s cultural summit—reached the following century, at Emperor Akbar’s court in Sikri—are the twin beacons of Rushdie’s ingenious latest, a dense but sparkling return to form. The connecting link between the two cities and epochs is the magically beautiful hidden princess, Qara Köz, so gorgeous that her uncovered face makes battle-hardened warriors drop to their knees. Her story underlies the book’s circuitous journey.A mysterious yellow-haired man in a multicolored coat steps off a rented bullock cart and walks into 16th-century Sikri: he speaks excellent Persian, has a stock of conjurer’s tricks and claims to be Akbar’s uncle. He carries with him a letter from Queen Elizabeth I, which he translates for Akbar with vast incorrectness. But it is the story of Akbar’s great-aunt, Qara Köz, that the man (her putative son) has come to the court to tell. The tale dates to the time of Akbar’s grandfather, Babar (Qara Köz’s brother), and it involves her relationship with the Persian Shah. In the Shah’s employ is Janissary general Nino Argalia, an Italian convert to Islam, whose own story takes the narrative to Renaissance Florence. Rushdie eventually presents an extended portrait of Florence through the eyes of Niccolò Machiavelli and Ago Vespucci, cousin of the more famous Amerigo. Rushdie’s portrayal of Florence pales in comparison with his depiction of Mughal court society, but it brings Rushdie to his real fascination here: the multitudinous, capillary connections between East and West, a secret history of interchanges that’s disguised by standard histories in which West discovers East.Along the novel’s roundabout way, Qara Köz does seem more alive as a sexual obsession in the tales swapped by various men than as her own person. Genial Akbar, however, emerges as the most fascinating character in the book. Chuang Tzu tells of a man who dreams of being a butterfly and, on waking up, wonders whether he is now a butterfly dreaming he is a man. In Rushdie’s version of the West and East, the two cultures take on a similar blended polarity in Akbar as he listens to the tales. Each culture becomes the dream of the other.

The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley

Even in his genre fiction, which includes mysteries (the Easy Rawlins, Fearless Jones and Socrates Fortlaw series) and SF (Blue Light, etc.), Mosley has not been content simply to spin an engrossing action story but has sought to explore larger themes as well. In this stand-alone literary tale, themes are in the forefront as Mosley abandons action in favor of a volatile, sometimes unspoken dialogue between Charles Blakey and Anniston Bennet. Blakey, descended from a line of free blacks reaching back into 17th-century America, lives alone in the big family house in Sag Harbor. Bennet is a mysterious white man who approaches Blakey with a strange proposition-to be locked up in Blakey’s basement-that Blakey comes to accept only reluctantly and with reservations. The magnitude of Bennet’s wealth, power and influence becomes apparent gradually, and his quest for punishment and, perhaps, redemption, proves unsettling-to the reader as well as to Blakey, who finds himself trying to understand Bennet as well as trying to recast his own relatively purposeless life. The shifting power relationship between Bennet and Blakey works nicely, and it is fitting that Blakey’s thoughts find expression more in physicality than in contemplation; his involvements with earthy, sensual Bethany and racially proud, sophisticated and educated Narciss reflect differing possibilities. The novel, written in adorned prose that allows the ideas to breathe, will hold readers rapt; it is Mosley’s most philosophical novel to date, as he explores guilt, punishment, responsibility and redemption as individual and as social constructs. While it will be difficult for this novel to achieve the kind of audience Mosley’s genre fiction does, the author again demonstrates his superior ability to tackle virtually any prose form, and he is to be applauded for creating a rarity, an engaging novel of ideas.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave–“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”–wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

 

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

“It began as a mistake.” By middle age, Henry Chinaski has lost more than twelve years of his life to the U.S. Postal Service. In a world where his three true, bitter pleasures are women, booze, and racetrack betting, he somehow drags his hangover out of bed every dawn to lug waterlogged mailbags up mud-soaked mountains, outsmart vicious guard dogs, and pray to survive the day-to-day trials of sadistic bosses and certifiable coworkers. This classic 1971 novel—the one that catapulted its author to national fame—is the perfect introduction to the grimly hysterical world of legendary writer, poet, and Dirty Old Man Charles Bukowski and his fictional alter ego, Chinaski.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

A sinister, funny, moving tale of demonic possession, murder and religious fanaticism Sunday Telegraph Barmy and scary and predating Jekyll and Hyde. And written by a shepherd who barely read any books. A Scottish classic, a world classic, yet hardly anyone, writers excepted, has actually read it Observer A strange and disturbing novel written by a self-educated Highland shepherd. A gripping and pioneering work that deals with the nature of good, evil and religious fanaticism Daily Express That peerless drama of divided selves and doppelgangers Observer One of the great English gothic novels. Some would say, simply, that it is one of the great novels Daily Mail An extraordinary, irreducible fantasy Observer

 

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman at Marci’s house on Aug 10th, 2011 August 8, 2011

Filed under: Books — Susan @ 3:03 pm

Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) tells the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina, who, with courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina’s diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles’ revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization that rescued Jews. Ackerman reveals other rescuers, like Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews pass, giving lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice. Ackerman’s writing is viscerally evocative, as in her description of the effects of the German bombing of the zoo area: …the sky broke open and whistling fire hurtled down, cages exploded, moats rained upward, iron bars squealed as they wrenched apart. This suspenseful beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership.

 

June 29th, 2011 at Boltini’s hosted by Ann. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghase

Filed under: Past Meetings — Susan @ 3:00 pm

Cool Women in Attendance:

  • Lori, Ann, Marci, Danda, Susan

Menu:

  • Yummy food and liquor!

Memorable Moments:

  • Everyone agreed to go to the Shakespeare Festival in August to see Romeo and Juliet
  • General girl gossip (okay, I drank too much and forget specifics!)
 

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghase on June 29th at Anne’s house

Filed under: Books — Susan @ 2:57 pm

Starred Review. Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.

 

May 18th, 2011 at Desthil hosted by Lori. Any Human Heart by William Boyce

Filed under: Past Meetings — Susan @ 2:54 pm

Cool Women in Attendance:

  • Marci, Lori, Ann, Heidi, Danda, Susan

Menu:

  • Yummy food, beer and wine

Memorable Moments:

  • Mayors race was a hot topic
  • New member topic
    • If you have someone in mind bring them along
    • We’ll let a new member self select us
 

Any Human Heart by William Boyce on May 18th, 2011 at Lori’s house

Filed under: Books — Susan @ 2:50 pm

Surely one of the most beguiling books of this season, this rich, sophisticated, often hilarious and disarming novel is the autobiography of a typical Englishman as told through his lifelong journal. Born to British parents in Uruguay in 1906, Logan Mountstuart attends an English prep school where he makes two friends who will be his touchstones for the next eight decades. The early entries in his journal, which record his sexual explorations and his budding ambitions, provide a clear picture of the snobbery and genteel brutality of the British social system. Logan is a decent chap, filled with a moral idealism that he will never lose, although his burning sense of justice will prove inconvenient in later years. He goes down from Oxford with a shameful Third, finds early success as a novelist, marries a rich woman he doesn’t love, escapes to Spain to fight in the civil war and is about to embark on a happy existence with his second wife when WWII disrupts his and his generation’s equilibrium. He’s sent on a na‹ve spying mission by British Naval Intelligence and imprisoned for two years. On his release, he finds that tragedy has struck his family. Logan’s creativity is stunted, and he slides into alcoholism, chronic infidelity and loneliness. “I believe my generation was cursed by the war,” Logan says, and this becomes the burden of the narrative. He resorts to journalism to earn a living, specializing in pieces about the emerging stars of the art world, whom he encounters-somewhat like Zelig-in social situations. Logan’s picaresque journey through the 20th century never seems forced, however. His meetings with Picasso, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hemingway and Ian Fleming are adroitly and credibly interposed into the junctures of his life. This flawed yet immensely appealing protagonist is one of Boyd’s most distinctive creations, and his voice-articulate, introspective, urbane, stoically philosophical in the face of countless disappointments-engages the reader’s empathy. Logan is a man who sees his bright future dissipate and his great love destroyed, and yet can look back with “a strange sense of pride” that he’s “managed to live in every decade of this long benighted century.” His unfulfilled life, with his valiant efforts to be morally responsible, to create and, finally, just to get by, is a universal story, told by a master of narrative. Boyd, back in top form, has crafted a novel at least as beautifully nuanced as A Good Man in Africa and Brazzaville Beach. Logan’s journal entries are so candid and immediate it’s difficult to believe he isn’t real. And after 496 pages, it’s hard to say good-bye.