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Book Discussions at the Library February 2011

January 24, 2011 by Reader's Connection

Three January discussions are still coming our way.

Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Thursday, January 27th at 6:00 p.m.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

So you want a revolution? If your foe is an ayatollah, try reading Jane Austen.So exiled writer and scholar Nafisi instructs in this sparkling memoir of life in post-revolutionary Iran. A modest dissident during the shah’s regime, a member of a Marxist study group like so many other Iranian students abroad (“I never fully integrated into the movement. . . . I never gave up the habit of reading and loving “counterrevolutionary’ writers”), Nafisi taught literature at the University of Tehran after the revolution. After running afoul of the mullahs for having dared teach such “immoral” novels as The Great Gatsby and such “anti-Islamic” writers as Austen, she organized a literary study group that met in her home. Fittingly, the first work her group, made up of seven young women, turned to was The Thousand and One Nights, narrated by that great revolutionary Scheherazade. “When my students came into that room,” Nafisi writes, “they took off more than their scarves and robes. . . . Our world in that living room became our sanctuary, our self-contained universe, mocking the reality of the black-scarved, timid faces in the city that sprawled below.” — Kirkus Reviews


Patricia Wood’s novel Lottery will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, January 31st at 6:30 p.m.


By choosing to tell the story of Perry L. Crandall, a 31-year-old man with an IQ of 76, from Perry’s viewpoint and in his own voice, debut author Wood has set herself quite a challenge. Although getting used to Perry’s narrative takes a bit of time, the technique ultimately succeeds. Perry’s life in a small coastal town is radically changed by two events early in the novel: the death of his caretaker grandmother and his winning $12 million in the Washington State Lottery. Soon, Perry’s relatives–who’d only just cheated him out of the inheritance he was due on his grandmother’s death–are holding out their hands for money. Wood keeps the reader guessing as to how the story will end, and the resolution is satisfying. She meets her goal of portraying a mentally challenged person as a fully realized, functioning human being. Perry’s worldview is so charming and fair that by the end, you might think he’s the smartest character in the whole book. — Library Journal


The Pike Library will host a discussion of Jessamyn West’s novel Massacre at Fall Creek on Monday, January 31st at 6:30 p.m.

Massacre at Fall Creek

A dramatic, sweeping saga of life on the Indiana frontier in 1824, based on actual historical events. The Fall Creek Massacre was a unique occurrence-the first recorded instance of whites being formally charged with murder for killing Indians. Five whites were accused, tried by jury, convicted, and executed. West uses this historical record as the source for a fictional account of the events of the massacre and trial. — Publisher’s note






valentineAnd now on to February.




In This House of Brede



Central Library will host a discussion of Rumer Godden’s novel In This House of Brede on Tuesday, February 1st at 6:00 p.m.








Per Petterson’s novel Out Stealing Horses will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, February 3rd at 10:30 a.m.

Out Stealing HorsesThree years after his wife’s accidental death, Trond Sander, 67, settles into an isolated cabin near Norway’s southeastern border with Sweden. It’s where he last saw his father at the end of summer 1948. Then 15 and full grown, Trond helped harvest the timber . . . He also suddenly lost his local best friend, Jon, when, after an early morning spent “stealing horses”–that is, taking an equine joyride–Jon inadvertently allowed a gun accident that killed one of his 10-year-old twin brothers and guiltily ran away to sea. When that summer was over, Trond went back to Oslo, but his father stayed with Jon’s mother, his lover since they met in the Resistance during World War II. . . . The novel’s incidents and lush but precise descriptions of forest and river, rain and snow, sunlight and night skies are on a par with those of Cather, Steinbeck, Berry, and Hemingway, and its emotional force and flavor are equivalent to what those authors can deliver, too. — Booklist

Barbara Ehrenreich´s Nickel and Dimed : On (Not) Getting by in America will be discussed at the Franklin Road Library on Monday, February 7th at 6:30 p.m.

Nickel and Dimed : On (Not) Getting by in AmericaThis is social critic Ehrenreich’s twelfth book, an on-the-job study of how a single mother (or anyone else) leaving welfare could survive without government assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, and housing and child-care subsidies. To find the answers, Ehrenreich left her home in Key West and traveled from Florida to Maine and then to Minnesota, working in low-paying Jobs. Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.D. in biology, resolved not to fall back on any skills derived from her education or usual work and to take the cheapest accommodations in motels and trailer parks as long as there was “an acceptable level of safety and privacy.” The “working poor,” Ehrenreich concludes, “are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high.” — Booklist

I ate a ton of corn last year? Holy smoke. The Omnivore’s Dilemma : A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan will be discussed at the Wayne Library on Monday, February 7th at 6:30 p.m.

The Omnivore's Dilemma : A Natural History of Four Meals

A fascinating examination of the myriad connections along the principal food chains that lead from earth to dinner table. The author identifies three: the one controlled by agribusiness; the pastoral, organic industry that has sprung up as an alternative to it; and the very short food chain Pollan calls “neo-Paleolithic,” in which he assumes the role of modern-day hunter-gatherer. He demonstrates the dependence of the agribusiness system on a single grain, corn, as it passes from farm to feedlot and processing plant. The meal that concludes this section is takeout from McDonald’s and includes among other foods a serving of Chicken McNuggets. Of the 38 ingredients that make up McNuggets, 13, he notes, are derived from corn. This fact bolsters an earlier, startling statistic: Each of us is personally responsible for consuming a ton of corn each year. Pollan’s exploration of the pastoral food chain takes two roads. Investigating “industrial organic,” he assembles a meal composed entirely of ingredients from a Whole Foods supermarket. But he also visits a single, relatively small farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where . . . cattle, chickens and pigs are raised through management of the natural ecosystem . . . In the final section, he learns how to shoot a wild pig and how to scavenge for forest mushrooms . . . Revelations about how the way we eat affects the world we live in, presented with wit and elegance. — Kirkus Reviews

The Sugarbook Club at College Avenue Library will discuss J. D. Robb´s mystery Indulgence in Death on Tuesday, February 8th at 6:00 p.m.

Indulgence in Death

NYPD lieutenant Eve Dallas might have been on holiday, but as she knows all too well, murder never takes a vacation. No sooner does Eve return from Ireland with her husband, Roarke, than she is back on the job looking into the death of a limousine driver who has been shot with a crossbow. The very next day, a high-priced licensed companion is stabbed to death in an amusement park horror house. The only connection between the two killings is the choice of weapons: the second involved an antique bayonet. As Eve and her team scramble to find more clues, Eve begins to think she is on the track of a thrill killer. When it comes to finding a killer, the smart money is always on Eve Dallas. The latest addictive addition to Robb’s long-running series features spiky humor; a cleverly constructed, adrenaline-raising plot; and the requisite amount of sexy passion between Eve and her soulmate, Roarke. — Booklist

The Irvington Library will host a discussion of Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees on Thursday, February 10th at 1:30 p.m.

The Secret Life of Bees

Lily [Melissa Owens] is a wonderfully petulant and self-absorbed adolescent, and Kidd deftly portrays her sense of injustice as it expands to accommodate broader social evils. At the same time the political aspects of Lily’s growth never threaten to overwhelm the personal. The core of this story is Lily’s search for a mother, and she finds one in a place she never expected…. She finds her Madonna in a woman named August Boatwright, the proprietor of a honey farm that’s a harbor of quiet civility. August and her sisters, June and May, are no mere vehicles for Lily’s salvation; they are individuals as fully imagined as the sweltering, kudzu-carpeted landscape that surrounds them. —  New York Times Book Review

Also on Thursday, February 10th at 1:30 p.m: Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library.

The Help

Set in Stockett’s native Jackson, MS, in the early 1960s, this first novel adopts the complicated theme of blacks and whites living in a segregated South. A century after the Emancipation Proclamation, black maids raised white children and ran households but were paid poorly, often had to use separate toilets from the family, and watched the children they cared for commit bigotry. In Stockett’s narrative, Miss Skeeter, a young white woman, is a naive, aspiring writer who wants to create a series of interviews with local black maids. Even if they’re published anonymously, the risk is great; still, Aibileen and Minny agree to participate. Tension pervades the novel as its events are told by these three memorable women. Is this an easy book to read? No, but it is surely worth reading. It may even stir things up as readers in Jackson and beyond question their own discrimination and intolerance in the past and present. — Library Journal

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel will be discussed at the East 38th Street Library on Monday, February 14th at 6:00 p.m.

The Good SoldiersA success story in the headlines, the surge in Iraq was an ordeal of hard fighting and anguished trauma for the American soldiers on the ground, according to this riveting war report. Washington Post correspondent Finkel chronicles the 15-month deployment of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Baghdad during 2007 and 2008, when the chaos in Iraq subsided to a manageable uproar. For the 2-16, waning violence still meant wild firefights, nerve-wracking patrols through hostile neighborhoods where every trash pile could hide an IED, and dozens of comrades killed and maimed. At the fraught center of the story is Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, whose dogged can-do optimism–his motto is “It’s all good”–pits itself against declining morale and whispers of mutiny . . . Finkel’s keen firsthand reportage, its grit and impact only heightened by the literary polish of his prose, gives us one of the best accounts yet of the American experience in Iraq. — Publishers Weekly

Wench, a novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, will be discussed at the Flanner House Library on Monday, February 14th at 6:30 p.m.

WenchIn her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history, chronicling the lives of four slave women–Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu–who are their masters’ mistresses. The women meet when their owners vacation at the same summer resort in Ohio. There, they see free blacks for the first time and hear rumors of abolition, sparking their own desires to be free. For everyone but Lizzie, that is, who believes she is really in love with her master, and he with her. An extended flashback in the middle of the novel delves into Lizzie’s life and vividly explores the complicated psychological dynamic between master and slave. Jumping back to the final summer in Ohio, the women all have a decision to make–will they run? Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez’s ability to bring the unfortunate past to life. — Publishers Weekly

Laura Bush’s autobiography Spoken from the Heart will be discussed at the Lawrence Library on Tuesday, February 15th at 10:15 a.m.

Spoken from the Heart

Our notion of what a first lady ought to do with herself has refined itself over time, though it’s now generally agreed that she ought to have causes complementary to, but apart from, her husband’s politics. What all this suggests is that the real nature of the contemporary first lady’s role is defined by the nature of her marriage. Indeed, part of what makes former First Lady Laura Bush’s open, deeply felt and engrossing memoir “Spoken From the Heart” genuinely memorable is its portrait of her marriage to George W. Bush. Whatever one thinks of his presidency, anyone who reads this rather remarkable book will count him fortunate in his choice of wives. — Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet will be discussed at the Pike Library on Monday, February 21st at 6:30 p.m.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians–even those who are American born–targets for abuse. Because Henry’s nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko’s family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. — Library Journal

The Spades Park Library will host a discussion of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises on Thursday, February 24th at 6:00 p.m.

The Sun Also Rises

Published in 1926 to explosive acclaim, The Sun Also Rises stands as perhaps the most impressive first novel ever written by an American writer. A roman à clef about a group of American and English expatriates on an excursion from Paris’s Left Bank to Pamplona for the July fiesta and its climactic bull fight, a journey from the center of a civilization spiritually bankrupted by the First World War to a vital, God-haunted world in which faith and honor have yet to lose their currency, the novel captured for the generation that would come to be called “Lost” the spirit of its age, and marked Ernest Hemingway as the preeminent writer of his time. — Publisher’s note

Anchee Min’s biographical novel Pearl of China will be discussed at Southport Library on Monday, February 28th at 6:30 p.m.

Pearl of China

Pearl S. Buck, who grew up in China and became the first American woman writer to win the Nobel Prize . . . first appears as a bright, inquisitive girl who conceals her blond, curly hair beneath a black knit cap to be less conspicuous in the Chinese town of Chin-kiang, where she lives with her courageous American missionary parents. We get to know Pearl through her best friend, Willow–impoverished, smart, plucky, and Chinese–as they share mischievous and harrowing adventures, a disastrous mutual love for the famous poet Hsu Chih-mo, and a string of tragedies yoked to the paradoxes and horrors of the Boxer Rebellion, China’s civil war, and Mao’s catastrophic rule. Exiled and heartbroken, Pearl achieves world renown by writing about China, while journalist Willow is brutally punished for remaining loyal to her “imperialist” friend. Ardently detailed, dramatic, and encompassing, Min’s fresh and penetrating interpretation of Pearl S. Buck’s extraordinary life delivers profound psychological, spiritual, and historical insights within an unforgettable cross-cultural story of a quest for veracity, compassion, and justice. — Booklist


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