Really Cool Women\'s Book Club

Books and places for late summer and fall 2016 July 13, 2016

Filed under: dates and places — Susan @ 4:57 pm

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson on August 4th at Marci’s house (?)

The Monopolists by Mary Pilon on September 15th at Susan’s house

A thousand naked strangers by Kevin hazard on October 27th at Danda’s house

 

Time to vote for new books July 3, 2016

Filed under: Nominated Books — Susan @ 8:13 pm

Sorry I am a little behind with this but here are the picks for summer and fall. If you can all go to the survey monkey link in the next week I will get the picks out to you quickly.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Q29N67M

Blessed: a history of the American prosperity gospel by Kate Bowler
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage
Gene by siddhartha mukhergee
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright
A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage
A House in the Sky by Amanda Linkhout and Sara Corbett
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Monopolists by Mary Pilon
On Looking: A walker’s guide to the art of observation by Alexandra Horowitz
Operation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre
Paper: Paging through History by Mark Kurlansky
Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And other lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
A thousand naked strangers by Kevin hazard
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Blessed: a history of the American prosperity gospel by Kate Bowler

The most controversial aspect of the so-called prosperity gospel is “its radical claim to transform invisible faith into financial rewards.” Poverty and illness are signs of spiritual malaise, for God wants us to be wealthy, healthy, and live to our full potential in victory here on earth. Preached by Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and others, the prosperity gospel teaches that Jesus’ death and resurrection overcame not only sin and death but also poverty and disease. Believers, therefore, may claim wealth and health as part of their divine inheritance. Bowler argues the allure is actually optimism, not financial success. The message of the prosperity gospel channels America’s can-do spirit and its belief that the future can be changed for the better through hard work. Her book is an important account of an audacious contemporary religious phenomenon, albeit one that scandalizes many. It also serves as an invitation to reflect upon the relationship of religion and money.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

“ A National Book Award’s Loneliest selections and NYT bestseller, this story set in war-torn Chechnya deals with the transcendent power of love. Eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods after watching men take her father and burn down her house. Ahmed, a neighbor, takes her to an abandoned hospital where he feels she will be safe with the last remaining doctor, a gifted surgeon named Sonja. Over the next five days, the lives of the three characters connect in astounding ways in this amazing tour de force.”

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Computer expert Randy Waterhouse spearheads a movement to create a safe haven for data in a world where information equals power and big business and government seek to control the flow of knowledge. His ambitions collide with a top-secret conspiracy with links to the encryption wars of World War II and his grandfather’s work in preventing the Nazis from discovering that the Allies had cracked their supposedly unbreakable Enigma code. The author of Snow Crash (LJ 4/1/92) focuses his eclectic vision on a story of epic proportions, encompassing both the beginnings of information technology in the 1940s and the blossoming of the present cybertech revolution. Stephenson’s freewheeling prose and ironic voice lend a sense of familiarity to a story that transcends the genre and demands a wide readership among fans of technothrillers as well as a general audience. Highly recommended.
An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage

More than simply sustenance, food historically has been a kind of technology, changing the course of human progress by helping to build empires, promote industrialization, and decide the outcomes of wars. Tom Standage draws on archaeology, anthropology, and economics to reveal how food has helped shape and transform societies around the world, from the emergence of farming in China by 7500 b.c. to the use of sugar cane and corn to make ethanol today. An Edible History of Humanity is a fully satisfying account of human history.
Gene by siddhartha mukhergee

In 2010, Siddhartha Mukherjee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Emperor of All Maladies, a “biography” of cancer. Here, he follows up with a biography of the gene—and The Gene is just as informative, wise, and well-written as that first book. Mukherjee opens with a survey of how the gene first came to be conceptualized and understood, taking us through the thoughts of Aristotle, Darwin, Mendel, Thomas Morgan, and others; he finishes the section with a look at the case of Carrie Buck (to whom the book is dedicated), who eventually was sterilized in 1927 in a famous American eugenics case. Carrie Buck’s sterilization comes as a warning that informs the rest of the book. This is what can happen when we start tinkering with this most personal science and misunderstand the ethical implications of those tinkerings. Through the rest of The Gene, Mukherjee clearly and skillfully illustrates how the science has grown so much more advanced and complicated since the 1920s—we are developing the capacity to directly manipulate the human genome—and how the ethical questions have also grown much more complicated. We could ask for no wiser, more fascinating and talented writer to guide us into the future of our human heredity than Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright

“National Book award Finalist Lawrence Wright offers a balanced and thorough account of an extremely secretive religion. Through massive research that included over 200 interviews with current and former Scientologists, the author reveals the secret workings of the organization. He provides a portrait of L. Ron Hubbard, its founder, and his successor David Miscavige, as well as an explanation of the religion’s special language and rituals. This compelling book covers everything, from Scientology’s incredible riches to celebrity followers such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.”
A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage

Starred Review. Standage starts with a bold hypothesis—that each epoch, from the Stone Age to the present, has had its signature beverage—and takes readers on an extraordinary trip through world history. The Economist’s technology editor has the ability to connect the smallest detail to the big picture and a knack for summarizing vast concepts in a few sentences. He explains how, when humans shifted from hunting and gathering to farming, they saved surplus grain, which sometimes fermented into beer. The Greeks took grapes and made wine, later borrowed by the Romans and the Christians. Arabic scientists experimented with distillation and produced spirits, the ideal drink for long voyages of exploration. Coffee also spread quickly from Arabia to Europe, becoming the “intellectual counterpoint to the geographical expansion of the Age of Exploration.” European coffee-houses, which functioned as “the Internet of the Age of Reason,” facilitated scientific, financial and industrial cross-fertilization. In the British industrial revolution that followed, tea “was the lubricant that kept the factories running smoothly.” Finally, the rise of American capitalism is mirrored in the history of Coca-Cola, which started as a more or less handmade medicinal drink but morphed into a mass-produced global commodity over the course of the 20th century. In and around these grand ideas, Standage tucks some wonderful tidbits—on the antibacterial qualities of tea, Mecca’s coffee trials in 1511,

A House in the Sky by Amanda Linkhout and Sara Corbett

“Growing up in a violent home, the author dreamed of traveling far away. As a waitress in Canada, she saved her money in order to backpack around the world. After traveling through Latin America and India, she continued on to Syria and Afghanistan, where she began working as a television reporter. Then in August 2008, she was to Somalia with a former lover, and they were kidnapped by a group of men. Held captive for over a year, they converted to Islam in order to survive, and face countless challenges before ultimately escaping. Her story is elegantly written, wrenching yet redemptive.”
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

“This incredibly original novel features a woman named Ursula Todd who, throughout the course of her life, dies and is reborn over and over again, from 1910 through World War II. The daughter of a British banker and his wife, Ursula suffers a variety of demises, from crib death to drowning to being beaten to death by a brutal husband; but every time she is reincarnated, she returns as herself. The book explores the many turns that any individual life could take, given a slightly altered circumstance or two. It’s a thought-provoking story that makes a wonderful book club choice.”

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

The Monopolists by Mary Pilon

The Monopolists reveals the unknown story of how Monopoly came into existence, the reinvention of its history by Parker Brothers and multiple media outlets, the lost female originator of the game, and one man’s lifelong obsession to tell the true story about the game’s questionable origins.

Most think it was invented by an unemployed Pennsylvanian who sold his game to Parker Brothers during the Great Depression in 1935 and lived happily–and richly–ever after. That story, however, is not exactly true. Ralph Anspach, a professor fighting to sell his Anti-Monopoly board game decades later, unearthed the real story, which traces back to Abraham Lincoln, the Quakers, and a forgotten feminist named Lizzie Magie who invented her nearly identical Landlord’s Game more than thirty years before Parker Brothers sold their version of Monopoly. Her game–underpinned by morals that were the exact opposite of what Monopoly represents today–was embraced by a constellation of left-wingers from the Progressive Era through the Great Depression, including members of Franklin Roosevelt’s famed Brain Trust.

A gripping social history of corporate greed that illuminates the cutthroat nature of American business over the last century, The Monopolists reads like the best detective fiction, told through Monopoly’s real-life winners and losers.

On Looking: A walker’s guide to the art of observation by Alexandra Horowitz

It is charming to take a walk with Horowitz. Engaging, amusing, and relatable, the psychology professor guides readers through 11 urban walks in the company of various experts. Beyond simply looking, this is about what makes up the world around us and the foundations of human perception. Horowitz brings the same attention to the human brain as she brought to our canine companions in Inside of a Dog (2010). She makes cognitive functioning eminently understandable by unraveling the role expectation plays in limiting what we see. The experts she walks with, from scientists to a toddler and a dog, reveal the underpinnings of a wide range of urban phenomena, such as the uncanny ability of rats to avoid traps. The descriptions of the walks are detailed but not overlong, with just enough information to give a taste of a geologist’s or typographer’s expertise. Even when relying only on your own inexpert eyes, you will look at the world with more attention after reading these fascinating essays, though it’s likely you still won’t be able to find millennia-old worm tracks or recognize the fishlike behavior of pedestrians.

Operation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre

London Times writer-at-large Macintyre (Agent Zigzag) offers a solid and entertaining updating of WWII’s best-known human intelligence operation. In 1943, British intelligence conceived a spectacular con trick to draw German attention away from the Allies’ obvious next objective, Sicily. The bait was a briefcase full of carefully forged documents attached to the wrist of Major William Martin, Royal Marines—a fictitious identity given to a body floated ashore in neutral Spain. Making the deception plausible was the task given to two highly unconventional officers: Lt. Comdr. Ewen Montagu and Squadron Leader Charles Cholmondeley. Macintyre recounts their adventures and misadventures with panache. The body was that of a derelict. Its costuming included the underwear of a deceased Oxford don. An attractive secretary provided the photo of an imaginary fiancée. The carefully constructed documents setting up the bogus operation against Greece and Sardinia convinced even Hitler himself. The Sicily landings were achieved as almost a complete surprise. And the man who never was entered the history and folklore of WWII.

Paper: Paging through History by Mark Kurlansky

Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art; it has formed the foundation of civilizations, promoting revolutions and restoring stability. One has only to look at history’s greatest press run, which produced 6.5 billion copies of Máo zhuxí yulu, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Zedong)―which doesn’t include editions in 37 foreign languages and in braille―to appreciate the range and influence of a single publication, in paper. Or take the fact that one of history’s most revered artists, Leonardo da Vinci, left behind only 15 paintings but 4,000 works on paper. And though the colonies were at the time calling for a boycott of all British goods, the one exception they made speaks to the essentiality of the material; they penned the Declaration of Independence on British paper.

Now, amid discussion of “going paperless”―and as speculation about the effects of a digitally dependent society grows rampant―we’ve come to a world-historic juncture. Thousands of years ago, Socrates and Plato warned that written language would be the end of “true knowledge,” replacing the need to exercise memory and think through complex questions. Similar arguments were made about the switch from handwritten to printed books, and today about the role of computer technology. By tracing paper’s evolution from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the contributions made in Asia and the Middle East, Mark Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology’s influence, affirming that paper is here to stay. Paper will be the commodity history that guides us forward in the twenty-first century and illuminates our times.

Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett

The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In “Ship Fever,” the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history’s most tragic epidemics. In “The English Pupil,” Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in “The Littoral Zone,” two marine biologists wonder whether their life-altering affair finally was worth it. In the tradition of Alice Munro and William Trevor, these exquisitely rendered fictions encompass whole lives in a brief space. As they move between interior and exterior journeys, “science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material”

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And other lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty―a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre―took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of
cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices. Surfacing is a work permeated with an aura of suspense, complex with layered meanings, and written in brilliant, diamond-sharp prose. Here is a rich mine of ideas from an extraordinary writer about contemporary life and nature, families and marriage, and about women fragmented…and becoming whole.
A thousand naked strangers by Kevin hazard

former paramedic’s visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta’s mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Kevin Hazzard felt that something was missing from his life—his days were too safe, too routine. A failed salesman turned local reporter, he wanted to test himself, see how he might respond to pressure and danger. He signed up for emergency medical training and became, at age twenty-six, a newly minted EMT running calls in the worst sections of Atlanta. His life entered a different realm—one of blood, violence, and amazing grace.

Thoroughly intimidated at first and frequently terrified, he experienced on a nightly basis the adrenaline rush of walking into chaos. But in his downtime, Kevin reflected on how people’s facades drop away when catastrophe strikes. As his hours on the job piled up, he realized he was beginning to see into the truth of things. There is no pretense five beats into a chest compression, or in an alley next to a crack den, or on a dimly lit highway where cars have collided. Eventually, what had at first seemed impossible happened: Kevin acquired mastery. And in the process he was able to discern the professional differences between his freewheeling peers, what marked each—as he termed them—as “a tourist,” “true believer,” or “killer.”

Combining indelible scenes that remind us of life’s fragile beauty with laugh-out-loud moments that keep us smiling through the worst, A Thousand Naked Strangers is an absorbing read about one man’s journey of self-discovery—a trip that also teaches us about ourselves.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Mayes’s favorite guide to Northern Italy allots seven pages to the town of Cortona, where she owns a house. But here she finds considerably more to say about it than that, all of it so enchanting that an armchair traveler will find it hard to resist jumping out of the chair and following in her footsteps. The recently divorced author is euphoric about the old house in the Tuscan hills that she and her new lover renovated and now live in during summer vacations and on holidays. A poet, food-and-travel writer, Italophile and chair of the creative writing department at San Francisco State University, Mayes is a fine wordsmith and an exemplary companion whose delight in a brick floor she has just waxed is as contagious as her pleasure in the landscape, architecture and life of the village. Not the least of the charms of her book are the recipes for delicious meals she has made. Above all, her observations about being at home in two very different cultures are sharp and wise.