Really Cool Women\'s Book Club

The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure Hardcover by Jack Handey on September 19th at Marci’s apartment August 14, 2013

Filed under: Books,Past Meetings — Susan @ 3:51 pm

stenchAre you a fan of books in which famous tourist destinations are repurposed as unlivable hellholes for no particular reason? Read on!

Jack Handey’s exotic tale is full of laugh-out-loud twists and unforgettable characters whose names escape me right now. A reliably unreliable narrator and his friend, who is some other guy, need to get out of town. They have a taste for adventure, so they pay a visit to a relic of bygone days-a travel agent-and discover an old treasure map. She might have been a witch, by the way. Our heroes soon embark on a quest for the Golden Monkey, which takes them into the mysterious and stinky foreign land of Honolulu. There, they meet untold dangers, confront strange natives, kill and eat Turtle People, kill some other things and people, eat another thing, and discover the ruins of ancient civilizations.

As our narrator says, “The ruins were impressive. But like so many civilizations, they forgot the rule that might have saved them: Don’t let vines grow all over you.”

Advertisements
 

Books and Rotation for Fall 2013

Filed under: dates and places — Susan @ 3:46 pm

The votes are in!

The Stench of Honolulu:  A Tropical Adventure by Jack Handey on September 19th at Marci’s apartment

Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell on October 24th (one week early to avoid Halloween) at Susan’s house

Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes on December 12th at Susie’s house

 

 

Time to Vote! August 12, 2013

Filed under: Nominated Books — Susan @ 4:56 pm

Please go to the survey monkey link below and vote for 3 titles by August 16th.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VWK3MNW

Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro

Benediction by Kent Haruf

 Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes 

Life Goes On by Hans Keilson 

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winde

Prague Winter by Madeline Albright 

Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s

The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny 

 The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins

The Stench of Honolulu:  A Tropical Adventure by Jack Handey

Then They Came For Me by Maziar Bahari

They Eat Puppie, Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro

“A glimpse into a frightening subculture unlike anything that a typical American has ever experienced. . . . With crackling prose, Faleiro provides an intense, disconcertingly entertaining [look] into the shadowy corners of a foreign culture; the fast-paced narrative, while undeniably journalistic, reads like a thriller. But what ultimately gives the book its resonance is Faleiro’s empathy and love for her fully developed subjects. In lesser hands, these young people could have come off as clichés, but the author makes sure we care for them and root for them to survive a life that most will never understand. Gritty, gripping, and often heartbreaking—an impressive piece of narrative nonfiction.”—Kirkus Reviews 

Benediction by Kent Haruf

 Kent Haruf writes about small towns and regular people, but don’t underestimate his ambition. He is writing about life, and to do that he has returned again and again–first with Plainsong, later with Eventide–to the small town of Holt, located on the eastern plains of Colorado. In Benediction, Haruf introduces us to Dad Lewis, a 77-year-old hardware store owner who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The experience of reading Haruf is a slow burn, but as we meet the people who gather around Dad Lewis in his final days we begin to see that this is a book about community, about the things that bind us, as well as the secrets we keep to ourselves. Haruf writes with a tense, quiet realism that elevates life and death, granting both a dignity that touches on poetry. –Chris Schluep 

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

At every turn, Wilson’s history of the technology of cooking and eating upends another unexamined tradition, revealing that utensils and practices now taken for granted in kitchen and at table have long and remarkable histories. The knife evolved from primitive humans’ need to reduce food to manageable portions. Thermometers helped make home ovens practical. Some of the first pleas for animal rights arose from the use of caged dogs to turn spits in front of kitchen hearths. Most societies weigh recipe ingredients, but Americans continue to measure ingredients by volume. Wilson traces this deviation back to the difficulty of lugging scales westward across the frontier. Wilson’s book teems with other delightful insights, laying to rest such questions as what Chinese parents say to their children to persuade them to finish their food, since they can’t employ the typical American admonition about children starving in China. (Answer: Don’t disrespect the sweat of the hardworking rice farmer.) –Mark Knoblauch

It is a daunting task to elicit sentiments of nostalgia or even regret for the demise of a social class that owed its elite status to birth rather than merit. Smith, a historian and former analyst of Russian affairs for the State Department, succeeds admirably in this wide-ranging and often moving account of the fate of the Russian nobility, from the Bolshevik Revolution to the Stalinist era. His narrative moves seamlessly from a general survey of the nobility to the deeply personal and tragic story of two noble families, the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns. Smith portrays the nobility as a class as being surprisingly diverse, encompassing non-Russians, religious minorities, and relatively impoverished families. He demolishes the facile caricature of the idle, decadent abuser of peasants, since many nobles had admirable records of service to the state in the military and in government bureaucracy. This is a superbly written and emotionally wrenching ode to a class doomed by the flow of history. –Jay Freeman

Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes

 Hedwig (Hedy) Kiesler may be one of the greatest unsung heroes of twentieth century technological progress. An opportunistic Austrian immigrant driven by curiosity and a desire to make it as a Hollywood actress in the early years of World War II, Hedy worked with avant-garde composer George Antheil to create the technology that we depend upon today for cell phones and GPS: frequency hopping. Though Richard Rhodes presents details about everyone involved in the separate experiences that the two inventors drew upon to make their breakthrough in Hedy’s Folly, the invention itself takes center stage, driving the remarkable story with precision. Rhodes skillfully weaves together all the disparate parts of the story, from how Hedy learned about Nazi torpedoes to why George’s knowledge of player pianos was key to the invention, in order to create a highly readable genesis of the technology that influences billions of lives every day. –Malissa Kent

Life Goes On by Hans Keilson 

In this autobiographical first novel, Keilson captures the mood of Germany after WWI as the country’s economy collapses, its politics turn ugly, and the prospects for its citizens darken. Herr Seldersen returns unharmed from the Great War to continue operating his textile shop only to find his customers losing jobs and his trade dwindling. Despite his strict financial management, the shopkeeper’s business continues in a downward spiral, and his despair deepens. Meanwhile, Seldersen’s son, Albrecht, a university student in Berlin who suffers with his parents and watches the repeated failures of his best friend, feels adrift in the world and comes to believe that his only escape from a sense of shame is to become political. Banned in Germany in 1934, the year after it was published, this novel is unrelentingly depressing in describing the climate in which Nazism began to flourish. Together with Keilson’s other two novels (Comedy in a Minor Key,1947, and The Death of the Adversary, 1959), reprinted in English translation in 2010, this book illuminates the entire life of the renowned author, who died, at age 101, in 2011. –Michele Leber 

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winde

 

On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at “the intellectual fashion magazine” Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorke rand ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Pain, Parties, Work—the three words Plath used to describe that time—shows how Manhattan’s alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her all-too-short life.

Thoughtful and illuminating, this captivating portrait invites us to see Sylvia Plath before The Bell Jar, before she became an icon—a young woman with everything to live for. 

Prague Winter by Madeline Albright 

Before Madeleine Albright turned twelve, her life was shaken by the Nazi invasion of her native Prague, the Battle of Britain, the near-total destruction of European Jewry, the Allied victory in World War II, the rise of communism, and the onset of the Cold War. Drawing on her memory, her parents’ written reflections, interviews with contemporaries, and newly available documents, Albright recounts a tale that is by turns harrowing and inspiring.

In Prague Winter, Albright reflects on her discovery of her family’s Jewish heritage many decades after the war, on her Czech homeland’s tangled history, and on the stark moral choices faced by her parents and their generation. At once a deeply personal memoir and an incisive work of history, Prague Winter serves as a guide to the future through the lessons of the past—as seen through the eyes of one of the international community’s most respected and fascinating figures.

Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell

A good storyteller can engage, provoke and intrigue in a few pages or a matter of moments. A great storyteller can accomplish all that while reflecting on something as mundane as an Italian dessert or a Midwestern bridge. A regular on Public Radio International’s This American Life, Vowell (Radio On: A Listener’s Diary) proves to be the latter in this quirky collection of thoughts, ramblings and memories that charmingly cohere into a full picture of American life. While she occasionally attempts to tackle larger political and historical issues, her talent lies in making small details bright and engaging. Especially sharp are her explorations of topics that might at first seem tired and overplayed, such as the Godfather movies (from which she draws the book’s title), road trips, Disney and Sinatra. She displays her knack for insight during both her journalistic quests, as when she writes histories of New York’s Chelsea Hotel and Chicago’s Michigan Avenue Bridge, and her personal journeys, as when she describes a courtship conducted by exchanging cassette tapes. The essays, which rarely reference each other, stand on their own as snippets from the mind of a pop culture maven Taken together, however, they form a vivid autobiographical portrait: Vowell’s description of growing up a gunsmith’s daughter in Oklahoma complements another essay about road tripping with her sister down the Trail of Tears, and makes an ensuing piece on a visit to Disney’s planned town, Celebration, even funnier. Vowell’s writingAa blend of serious observations and bouncy remarksAmakes for rich commentary on America, and for great stories.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a 2013 crime fiction novel by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
A brilliant mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide.

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.
 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Readers in that sizeable group of people who think The Great Gatsby is the Great American Novel will be delighted with Robbins’s subtle, brainy and immensely touching new reading. There have been audio versions of Gatsby before this-by Alexander Scourby and Christopher Reeve, to name two-but actor/director Robbins brings a fresh and bracing vision that makes the story gleam. From the jaunty irony of the title page quote (“Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!”) to the poetry of Fitzgerald’s ending about “the dark fields of the republic” and “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” Robbins conjures up a sublime portrait of a lost world. And as a bonus, the excellent audio actor Robert Sean Leonard reads a selection of Fitzgerald’s letters to editors, agents and friends which focus on the writing and selling of the novel. Listeners will revel in learning random factoids, e.g., in 1924, Scott and Zelda were living in a Rome hotel that cost just over $500 a month, and he was respectfully suggesting that his agent Harold Ober ask $15,000 from Liberty magazine for the serial rights to Gatsby. 

The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel, left uncompleted because of the author’s death, tells the story of Monroe Stahr, a hotshot Hollywood producer facing his mortality and longing for a second chance at love. The Hollywood sections, which were informed by the time Fitzgerald spent as a screenwriter, are wonderful, featuring the snappy dialogue and fast pace of a screwball comedy from the 40s. The prose in the romantic parts is a bit overheated and sappy, but no doubt that would have been improved by the author had he lived. A brilliant scene near the end, in which three children encounter the wreckage of a plane crash, makes me ache to read the novel that will never be.

The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny 

When New York’s 120-plus-year-old mental institution Willard State Hospital was closed down in 1995, New York Museum curator Craig Williams found a forgotten attic filled with suitcases belonging to former inmates. He informed Penney, co-editor of The Snail’s Pace Review and a leading advocate of patients rights, who recognized the opportunity to salvage the memory of these institutionalized lives. She invited Stastny, a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker, to help her curate an exhibit on the find and write this book, which they dedicate to “the Willard suitcase owners, and to all others who have lived and died in mental institutions.” What follows are profiles of 10 individual patients whose suitcase contents proved intriguing (there were 427 bags total), referencing their institutional record-including histories and session notes-as well as some on-the-ground research. A typical example is Ethel Smalls, who likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her husband’s abuse; misdiagnosed and institutionalized against her will, she lived at Willard until her death in 1973. While the individual stories are necessarily sketchy, the cumulative effect is a powerful indictment of healthcare for the mentally ill. 25 color and 63 b&w photographs.

 The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins

This book is a great rip-roaring summer read. I loved the suspense of the murder mystery along with the carefully researched details that made late-Victorian era New York come to life. The yellow journalism tabloid war was just icing on the cake, as it broadened my understanding of how journalism in that era reported and made the news. When I started this book, I could hardly put it down and devoured it over a three day period. I love history books such as this that also provide the suspense and excitement that I would normally expect from a fictional novel rather than an historical account.

The Stench of Honolulu:  A Tropical Adventure by Jack Handey

“I recently humiliated myself in the prestigious Pump Room restaurant by laughing out loud, to the point of tears, while reading The Stench of Honolulu. Jack Handey is the funniest writer in America. And his funny is a very particular, sublime, kind of funny-it builds and builds and is related to his supreme control of language. It is witty, minimal, subversive and also strangely sweet. Read this book, and you will feel better, period.”

Then They Came For Me by Maziar Bahari

Mr. Bahari’s account of events surrounding the 2009 Iranian presidential election and his subsequent imprisonment and torture by the Iranian regime is an astoundingly good read. This gentleman is a skilled writer and unwinds his story so deftly that I, well, couldn’t put the darn thing down. Ever since I read Orwell’s 1984 as a kid, I find little scarier than the abuse of state power. This manages to be both a horrifying and weirdly endearing book. Very highly recommended.

They Eat Puppie, Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley

In his latest novel of bull’s-eye political satire, Buckley (Supreme Courtship, 2008) skewers our adversarial yet symbiotic relationship with China, along with the corruption endemic to lobbying, weapons manufacturing, and media spin. Walter “Bird” McIntyre, lobbyist for an aerospace behemoth, is instructed to “whip up . . . anti-Chinese fervor” to help secure government funding for a new secret weapon. Hapless and endearing, Bird divides his time between the condo he calls the Military-Industrial Duplex and the country estate he dubbed Upkeep, home to his equestrian wife, Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother, and freeloading brother Bewks, a Civil War reenactor, while writing egregiously clichéd thrillers. Bring on sexy-scary hawk and neocon Angel Templeton, and Bird is in more trouble than he concocts for his tough-guy heroes. Vicious confrontations break out on Chris Matthews’ Hardball, the Dalai Lama is in peril, and the eminently reasonable president of China can talk with his trusted aide only in the bathroom with the water running full blast to foil their enemies’ listening devices. Buckley balances bayonet humor and tenderness in this canny and diverting send-up. –Donna Seaman

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At age 26, following the death of her mother, divorce, and a run of reckless behavior, Cheryl Strayed found herself alone near the foot of the Pacific Crest Trail–inexperienced, over-equipped, and desperate to reclaim her life. Wild tracks Strayed’s personal journey on the PCT through California and Oregon, as she comes to terms with devastating loss and her unpredictable reactions to it. While readers looking for adventure or a naturalist’s perspective may be distracted by the emotional odyssey at the core of the story, Wild vividly describes the grueling life of the long-distance hiker, the ubiquitous perils of the PCT, and its peculiar community of wanderers. Others may find her unsympathetic–just one victim of her own questionable choices. But Strayed doesn’t want sympathy, and her confident prose stands on its own, deftly pulling both threads into a story that inhabits a unique riparian zone between wilderness tale and personal-redemption memoir.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Henry VIII’s challenge to the church’s power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century Europe. Mantel boldly attempts to capture the sweeping internecine machinations of the times from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the lowborn man who became one of Henry’s closest advisers. Cromwell’s actual beginnings are historically ambiguous, and Mantel admirably fills in the blanks, portraying Cromwell as an oft-beaten son who fled his father’s home, fought for the French, studied law and was fluent in French, Latin and Italian. Mixing fiction with fact, Mantel captures the atmosphere of the times and brings to life the important players: Henry VIII; his wife, Katherine of Aragon; the bewitching Boleyn sisters; and the difficult Thomas More, who opposes the king. Unfortunately, Mantel also includes a distracting abundance of dizzying detail and Henry’s all too voluminous political defeats and triumphs, which overshadows the more winning story of Cromwell and his influence on the events that led to the creation of the Church of England.

Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Starred Review. The person and work of Jesus of Nazareth has been a topic of constant interest since he lived and died some 2,000 years ago. Much speculation about who he was and what he taught has led to confusion and doubt. Aslan, who authored the much acclaimed No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, offers a compelling argument for a fresh look at the Nazarene, focusing on how Jesus the man evolved into Jesus the Christ. Approaching the subject from a purely academic perspective, the author parts an important curtain that has long hidden from view the man Jesus, who is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. Carefully comparing extra-biblical historical records with the New Testament accounts, Aslan develops a convincing and coherent story of how the Christian church, and in particular Paul, reshaped Christianity’s essence, obscuring the very real man who was Jesus of Nazareth. Compulsively readable and written at a popular level, this superb work is highly recommended.

 

August 8th, 2013 Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler at Ko Fusion (hosted by Ann)

Filed under: Books,Past Meetings — Susan @ 4:49 pm

z

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler

The Jazz Age revisited through the tumultuous and harrowing life of Zelda.

Fowler’s Zelda is all we would expect and more, for she’s daring and
unconventional yet profoundly and paradoxically rooted in Southern
gentility. (Her father, after all, was a judge in Montgomery, Ala.)
Once she meets the handsome Scott, however, her life takes off on an
arc of indulgence and decadence that still causes us to shake our
heads in wonder. The early years are sublime, for both Scott and Zelda
are high-spirited, passionate and deeply committed to each other.
There’s even a touching naïveté in the immoderation of their lives, a
childlike awe in their encountering the confection of Paris for the
first time. With the success of This Side of Paradise, Scott quickly
becomes lionized, and life becomes an endless series of parties.
Fowler reminds us of the astonishing social circle within which the
Fitzgeralds lived and moved and had their being—soirées with Picasso
and his mistress, with Cole Porter and his wife, with Gerald and Sara
Murphy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound and Jean
Cocteau. Scott’s friendship with Hemingway verges on a love affair—at
least it’s close enough to one to make Zelda jealous. We witness
Zelda’s increasing desperation to establish her own identity—rather
difficult when Scott “claims” some of her stories as his own. She also
studies ballet and gets an invitation to join a dance company in
Italy, but Scott won’t allow her to leave. He bullies her, and she
fights back. Ultimately, both of these tragic, pathetic and grand
characters are torn apart by their inability to love or leave each
other.

Fowler has given us a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book

 

June 27th, 2013 Crooked letter, Crooked letter: A Novel by Tom Franklin at 301 Mongolia hosted by JoLynne

Filed under: Books,Past Meetings — Susan @ 4:47 pm

crooked

Crooked letter, Crooked letter: A Novel by Tom Franklin

Edgar Award-winning author Tom Franklin returns with his most accomplished and resonant novel so far—an atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi. In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas “32″ Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.

More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they’ve buried and ignored for decades.

 

May 16th, 2013 Pure Drivel by Steve Martin at Karen’s housePure Drivel by Steve Martin at Karen’s house

Filed under: Books,Past Meetings — Susan @ 4:41 pm

Pure Drivel

Pure Drivel by Steve Martin

Steve Martin’s talent has always defied definition: an actor who’s kept us riveted for over 25 years, a razor-sharp screenwriter, an acclaimed playwright. In this ingeniously funny collection of humorous riffs, those who thought Martin’s gifts were confined to the screen will discover what readers of “The New Yorker” magazine already know: that Martin is a master of the written word.

Hilariously funny and intelligent in their skewering of the topic at hand, the audiobook’s pieces, some of which first appeared in “The New Yorker,” feature Martin at his finest.

With a playwright’s ear for dialogue, a sense of irony only Steve Martin could muster, and a first-class comic ability to perfectly time the punch line, “Pure Drivel” will have listeners crying with laughter, and marveling at the fact that in addition to all of his many talents, Steve Martin is also a superb writer.