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Book Discussions at the Library December 2010

November 24, 2010 by Reader's Connection

We have a couple more gift suggestion lists coming your way, but we’re pausing to announce next month’s book discussions. And we first need to remind you of three discussions that are scheduled for the last two days of November.

If you get stuck at an airport over the Thanksgiving weekend, you’ll be primed to discuss Dear American Airlines, a novel by Jonathan Miles, at Southport Library on Monday, November 29th at 6:30 p.m.

Dear American Airlines

Bennie is en route from New York, where he shares a cramped apartment with his stroke-disabled mother and her caretaker, to L.A., where he will attend his daughter Stella’s wedding. He gets stranded at O’Hare when his connecting flight–along with all others–is unaccountably canceled. In the long, empty hours amid a marooned crowd, Bennie’s demand for a refund quickly becomes a scathing yet oddly joyful reflection on his difficult life, and on the Polish novel he is translating. Bennie writes lightly of his “dark years” of drinking, of his failed marriages, about his mother’s descent into suicidal madness and about her marriage to Bennie’s father, a survivor of a Nazi labor camp. Bennie’s father recited Polish poetry for solace during Bennie’s childhood, inadvertently setting Bennie’s life course; Bennie’s command of language as he describes his fellow strandees and his riotous embrace of his own feelings will have readers rooting for him. By the time flights resume, Miles has masterfully taken Bennie from grim resignation to the dazzling exhilaration of the possible. — Publishers Weekly


Wallace Stegner’s celebrated novel Crossing to Safety will be discussed at the Pike Library on Monday, November 29th at 6:30 p.m.

Crossing to Safety

Called a “magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage. — Publisher’s note








James L. Swanson’s Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer will be discussed at the Franklin Road Library on Tuesday, November 30th at 6:30 p.m.

Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

Small wonder that Manhunt has been optioned as a major motion picture. In this fast-paced, hour-by-hour account of the 12 days following Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, Swanson allows the reader to ride along with the Union cavalry and federal agents through the streets of the nation’s capital and the wilds of Maryland and Virginia in pursuit of John Wilkes Booth, his coconspirators, and the host of rebel enablers who constituted a viable Confederate underground railroad. Swanson’s eye for detail and his excellent thumbnail sketches of the figures involved bring the chronicle alive. There was the simultaneous assassination attempt on Secretary of State William Seward, and Secretary of War Stanton’s pivotal role in keeping the nation together during the unrest, stoked by an irresponsible press, following Lincoln’s death. — Library Journal

 On to December


Marcus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, December 2nd at 10:30 a.m.

The Book Thief

When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as “an attempt–a flying jump of an attempt–to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.” When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor’s wife’s library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel’s experiences move Death to say, “I am haunted by humans.” How could the human race be “so ugly and so glorious” at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it’s a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important. — Kirkus Reviews


The Wayne Library will host a discussion of Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay on Monday, December 6th at 6:30 p.m.
Sarah's KeyDe Rosnay’s U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vlodrome d’Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tzac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vl’ d’Hiv’ roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand’s family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers–especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive–the more she uncovers about Bertrand’s family, about France and, finally, herself. [Sarah’s Key] It beautifully conveys Julia’s conflicting loyalties, and makes Sarah’s trials so riveting, her innocence so absorbing, that the book is hard to put down. — Publishers Weekly


If you wish to experience Visions of Sugar Plums, be at the Brightwood Library on Tuesday, December 7th at 6:00 p.m.

Visions of Sugar Plums

This magical little sweetmeat is clearly a Christmas present from Evanovich to the legions of fans of Stephanie Plum, Trenton bounty hunter. It begins just before Christmas, when a tall, long-haired blond in boots and jeans materializes in Stephanie’s kitchen. Really–the door and windows are locked. He says his name is Diesel, and he needs Stephanie’s help to find someone. She’s looking for someone herself, a toy maker named Sandy Claws who has skipped his court appearance. Crazed elves (really little persons with fake ears), the inevitable blown-up car, and the latest in Grandma Mazur’s boyfriends form a counterpoint to Stephanie’s incompetence at getting it together for the holidays, her sister Valerie’s possible pregnancy by the unfortunately named Albert Kloughn, and a small, boxed gift from Morelli . . . If you don’t know the characters, you’d be pretty confused, but if you do, you can surrender to the hint of fantasy and the heavenly scent of Christmas cookies from the Plum kitchen. — Booklist


Ernest Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast will be discussed at Central Library on Tuesday, December 7th at 6:00 p.m.

A Moveable Feast


There are reviews of this wonderful book on the web, but they’re too long and difficult to excerpt, or too caught up in the controversy surrounding the 2009 “restored edition”, to be of much use here.

I’ll just say that you should read the book, even if Hemingway has never meant as much to you as he was supposed to. Put all that aside. A Moveable Feast is a loving account of life in Paris after World War I, and you should give it a chance.








The Irvington Library will host a discussion of Jean Shepherd’s classic A Christmas Story on Thursday, December 9th at 1:30 p.m.

A Christmas Story

This edition of A Christmas Story gathers together in one hilarious volume the gems of autobiographical humor that Jean Shepherd drew upon to create [the 1983 holiday film of that title]. Here is young Ralphie Parker’s shocking discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine; his mother and father’s pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; the unleashed and unnerving savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the show with the odious bullies Scut Farkas and Grover Dill; and, most crucially, Ralphie’s unstoppable campaign to get Santa—or anyone else—to give him a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle. Who cares that the whole adult world is telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”? The pieces that comprise A Christmas Story, previously published in the larger collections In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, coalesce in a magical fashion to become an irresistible piece of Americana, quite the equal of the film in its ability to warm the heart and tickle the funny bone. — Publisher’s note


The Other, a novel by David Guterson, will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library on Thursday, December 9th at 1:30 p.m.

The Other

In his fourth novel, PEN/Faulkner Award winner Guterson constructs a sensationalistic story that in other hands might have emerged as a page-turning potboiler. Here, events unfold in exquisitely refined prose, which creates a plot as believable as any quotidian workday while evoking an unforgettable sense of place in its depiction of Washington State’s wilderness. Middle-aged narrator Neil Countryman, lately the recipient of an enormous and unexpected inheritance, traces the roots of this windfall back to an equally unexpected encounter at age 16 with a fellow runner on a Seattle high school track field. Bonded by a mutual love of the outdoors, working-class Neil and wealthy John William Barry become lifelong friends despite cultural disparities. The bond holds as their adult paths diverge, Neil choosing to teach while John William retreats to a hermit’s life in remote woodlands. When Neil agrees to help his friend disappear, haunting questions of values, responsibility, and choice leave Neil–and the readers of this provocative fiction–to ponder the proper definition of a good life. — Library Journal


Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel will be discussed at the East 38th Street Library on Monday, December 13th at 6:00 p.m.

The Stupidest Angel

Most Christmas novels suffer from an overabundance of sweetness or a glut of requisite miracle making. Not Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel. In fact, Moore starts off with a tongue-in-cheek warning claiming it may not be the best gift for the grandmother or child on your list. Then again, if your intended isn’t afraid of satiric one-liners, twisted small-town goings-on and zombies intent on Christmas cheer, then maybe Moore’s latest is the best present out there. In fact, it’s more of an anti-Christmas story than anything else, meaning he does a good job of sending up the genre, shaking up all that is normally accepted–heavenly angels, red-cheeked children, eggnog by the fire–yet still creating a place and a cast of characters that is entirely festive and spirit-filled. Not for the faint of heart, The Stupidest Angel is wild in its telling (stoner lawmen, Vicodin-drenched fruitcake) and fantastical in tone (the cemetery dead trade barbs) but most definitely original and likely to join Moore’s other books on the list of cult favorites. — BookPage


The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, December 13th at 6:30 p.m.

The Christmas List

Evans’ latest heartwarming tale opens with a man reading his own obituary. Utah businessman James Keir is shocked to open the newspaper one day and find himself greeted with the erroneous news of his death. The mistake allows Keir, whose success is the result of his ruthless business tactics, to see what others really think of him. Strangers cheer his passing, friends turn on him, his girlfriend goes shopping with his credit card . . . and his only defender is Sara, the cancer-stricken wife he’s divorcing. The incident spurs him on to make amends for his wrongs. He asks his assistant to make a list of the people he’s most wronged in business and resolves to pay them each a visit. The efforts don’t go well at first–a former business rival punches Keir, and another committed suicide after Keir wrecked his dreams. Keir eventually realizes that there are people even closer to him that he’s wronged much more deeply. Fans of Evans’ work will find here what they’ve come to expect from his books: a touching story of redemption that offers hope for the future if not a pat happy ending. — Booklist


Peron Long’s The First Person will be discussed at the Flanner House Library on Monday, December 13th at 6:30 p.m.

The First Person

Mega-successful gospel artist T’Shobi Wells sings from the soul, but none of his fans—or anyone else for that matter—knows about his dark, shameful secrets. Rising up from molestation and abuse from his adoptive mother, as well as from the older boys in juvenile detention, he decides to leave the business before the ugly truth seeps out. But he takes his struggling morality with him when he tries to start over in Charlotte, North Carolina; and it isn’t long before he’s sleeping with the First Lady of his new church…and her husband, the pastor. A strained union—Justine’s been faking her marriage for thirty years, and Seth’s been on the down low for as long. But what will be the outcome when all the secrets and lies are finally revealed? — Black Expressions Book Club






The Sugarbook Club at College Avenue Library will discuss Colleen Thompson’s Touch of Evil on Tuesday, December 14th at 6:00 p.m.

Touch of Evil

Recently elected to complete her late husband’s term of office, Sheriff Justine Wofford is boxed in on all sides, investigating a series of gruesome hangings everyone else considers suicide. Hospitalized by a severe blow to the head, unable to remember the details of the attack, under fire from her own department, she reaches out to the man she’s sworn to avoid at any cost. I would say that most of my books feature “regular people” forced by horrendous, unexpected circumstance to find a hidden reservoir of strength that changes them forever. — Publisher’s note






On Tuesday, December 21st at 10:15 a.m., at the Lawrence Library, Alan Bradley’s mystery The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie will be the subject of our last book discussion of the year.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieAn 11-year-old solving a dastardly murder in the English countryside in 1950 wouldn’t seem to be everyone’s cup of tea. But Flavia Sabina de Luce is no ordinary child: she’s already an accomplished chemist, smart enough to escape being imprisoned by her older sisters and to exact revenge, forthright and fearless to the point of being foolhardy, and relentless in defending those she loves. When she spies on her father arguing heatedly with a strange man late at night and the next morning finds that man buried in the cucumber patch, she sets out, riding her bicycle named Gladys, to make sense of it all. And when her father–a philatelist and widower for a decade who still mourns his wife–is arrested, Flavia’s efforts are intensified . . . Winner of the Debut Dagger Award, this is a fresh, engaging first novel with appeal for cozy lovers and well beyond. — Library Journal


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