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Book Discussions at the Library October 2011

September 26, 2011 by Reader's Connection

October´s book discussions feature a Scott Turow novel that isn´t a courtroom drama; a Jeannette Walls “true-life novel” that is a sort of follow-up to her popular memoir; a novel by Andre Dubus III that, judging by the reviews, must be more convincing than the movie version; and two memoirs by parents who lost their children.

Scott Turow´s novel Ordinary Heroes will be discussed at the Franklin Road Library on Monday, October 3rd at 6:30 p.m.

Ordinary HeroesMoving away from legal thrillers and nonfiction, Turow has penned a searing story of World War II interwoven with a personal family drama. Stewart Dubinsky is not especially close to his father, David Dubin. Even their names are different, yet David´s death prompts Stewart to try and find out more about this enigmatic man. He uncovers some startling information: that his father was engaged to another woman before his mother, and that he was court-martialed during the Battle of the Bulge. Dubinsky decides to write a family history, starts digging, and uncovers a manuscript his father wrote about his war experiences that is alternately moving and horrifying, vindicating, and vilifying and shines light on a side of his parents that he never knew. While some of the historical facts presented are not 100 percent accurate, the book’s emotional wallop more than justifies the literary license and should secure its place in the canon of World War II literature. An extraordinary, unforgettable novel, which Turow notes was inspired by his own father’s military experiences. — Library Journal


House of Sand and Fog, a novel by Andre Dubus III, will be discussed at the Wayne Library on Monday, October 3rd at 6:30 p.m.

House of Sand and FogReeling from her husband’s abrupt departure, Kathy is living alone in the modest California bungalow she inherited from her father and has few material or emotional resources upon which to draw when a pair of sheriff’s deputies appear like creatures in a nightmare and evict her. It’s all a mistake, but before Kathy, a personification of fog, can straighten things out, Colonel Behrani, an exiled Iranian air force officer forced to work menial jobs to support his family, snaps up her home at auction for a third of its value, moves in, and prepares to resell it at a profit. Obdurate and full of fury and pride, Behrani is sand, and Dubus has set up a microcosmic conflict of profound cultural implication and tremendous dramatic impact. Narrating from both points of view, he renders each character utterly compelling and sympathetic. All Kathy wants is her home; Behrani cannot give up his dream . . . Dubus writes gorgeous prose with a noirish edge, holding his readers spellbound. — Booklist 


A collection of essays by David Sedaris, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, will be discussed at Central Library on Tuesday, October 4th at 6:00 p.m.

When You Are Engulfed in FlamesSedaris, king of the poignantly absurd, triumphs in this sixth essay collection. There is less focus here on the Sedaris clan as a whole, though the various members make memorable and often hilarious appearances. In “The Understudy,” the Sedaris siblings band together to battle the odious babysitter Mrs. Peacock, while in “Town and Country,” Sedaris and sister Amy discuss what their father would be most offended to find on his daughter’s coffee-table (hint: The Joy of Sex comes in a distant second). Leaving America behind, Sedaris also regales readers with his experiences around the globe, from sitting in a Parisian doctor’s office wearing only his underwear in “In the Waiting Room” to warding off birds in the French countryside with record albums in “Aerial.” In the collection’s longest essay, “The Smoking Section,” Sedaris recounts his three-month stay in Tokyo, where he successfully quits smoking and unsuccessfully attempts to learn Japanese. Sedaris records in “Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?” his more glaring mistakes in life, but he should be satisfied with the knowledge that this latest endeavor is anything but. — Publishers Weekly 


Daniel Black’s novel Perfect Peace will be discussed at the Brightwood Library on Tuesday, October 4th at 6:00 p.m.
Perfect PeaceIn his third novel, Black revisits the small Arkansas town of Swamp Creek, also the setting of They Tell Me of a Home. This is the heartbreaking tale of Perfect, the seventh child born to Gustavus and Emma-Jean Peace in 1941. What should be a joyous occasion is clouded by Gus’s conflict over having another mouth to feed. And Emma-Jean has an overwhelming desire to have a girl after giving birth to six boys. Deciding to deceive her family and others, Emma-Jean makes the decision to raise Perfect, born a boy, as a girl for the first eight years of his life. When circumstances force her to reveal the truth, everyone involved has to grapple with the consequences. VERDICT Black courageously delves into such sensitive issues such as sexuality, racism, and family dynamics and enchants readers with strong pacing and Southern imagery. Those who enjoy rich and complex works of literary fiction will be provoked to discuss this novel’s many layers. — Library Journal


On Thursday, October 6th at 10:30 a.m. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia will be discussed at the Warren Library.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and IndonesiaGilbert, author of The Last American Man and a well-traveled I’ll-try-anything-once journalist, chronicles her intrepid quest for spiritual healing. Driven to despair by a punishing divorce and an anguished love affair, Gilbert flees New York for sojourns in the three Is. She goes to Italy to learn the language and revel in the cuisine, India to meditate in an ashram, and Indonesia to reconnect with a healer in Bali. This itinerary may sound self-indulgent or fey, but there is never a whiny or pious or dull moment because Gilbert is irreverent, hilarious, zestful, courageous, intelligent, and in masterful command of her sparkling prose. A captivating storyteller with a gift for enlivening metaphors, Gilbert is Anne Lamott’s hip, yoga-practicing, footloose younger sister, and readers will laugh and cry as she recounts her nervy and outlandish experiences and profiles the extraordinary people she meets. — Booklist



The East 38th Street Library will host a discussion of Hillary Jordan’s novel Mudbound on Monday, October 10th at 6:00 p.m.

MudboundJordan’s beautiful debut carries echoes of As I Lay Dying , complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer’s wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry’s brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons’ son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they’ve seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators. — Publishers Weekly

 On Tuesday, October 11th at 6:00 p.m., College Avenue Library ‘s Sugarbook Club will discuss Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

Just Like HeavenMarcus Holyrod is a man of his word. He promised Daniel Smythe-Smith, his best friend in the world, that he would not let Daniel’s sister Honoria marry an idiot. Since Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith seems hell-bent on acquiring a husband–and since Daniel is currently sojourning in Italy due to a dueling contretemps–it would seem that it truly is up to Marcus to keep Honoria from marrying the wrong man. Of course, if Marcus keeps eliminating candidates for the position of the future Mr. Honoria Smythe-Smith, Honoria is going to be left with very few options, other than considering marrying Marcus himself. Few romance writers are as skilled at choreographing the complicated dance of romance as Quinn, and with her latest irresistibly clever Regency historical, the Busby Berkeley of romance fiction sweeps readers off into an exhilaratingly witty waltz of words they won’t soon forget. — Booklist



Fannie Flagg’s novel Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven will be discussed at the Irvington Library on Thursday, October 13th at 1:30 p.m.

Can't Wait to Get to HeavenReturning to Elmwood Springs, Mo., (where her sprawling 2002 novel, Standing in the Rainbow, chronicled the small town’s inhabitants over five decades), Flagg keeps this outing much more tightly-focused; most of the novel takes place over a few days. Octogenarian Elner Shimfissle falls off a ladder after accidentally disturbing a hornets’ nest while picking figs. After she dies at the hospital, the novel’s bite-size chapters alternate between funny and touching vignettes showing how Elner’s death and life has affected dozens of people in town, interspersed with scenes of Elner’s laugh-out-loud assent into the hereafter. From there, the plot offers readers a series of delightful surprises. Perhaps Flagg’s funniest novel since her debut, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, she’s created a charming, life-affirming tale and a full cast of memorable characters, including Elner’s late sister, Ida, who greets her in heaven still carrying her purse and a grudge about the bad hair styling she got for her funeral. Flagg is an expert at balancing pathos with plenty of Southern sass. — Publishers Weekly


Lisa Genova’s Still Alice will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library on Thursday, October 13th at 1:30 p.m.

Still AliceIn a highly readable form of bibliotherapy, first-time novelist Genova, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience, meticulously traces the downward spiral of a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer s disease. In September of 2003, 50-year-old Alice Howland leads a very busy, productive life as a psychology professor at Harvard, the spouse of a biology professor, and the mother of two grown daughters. But a series of memory problems, ranging from forgetting where she put her Blackberry to becoming disoriented on her daily run, sends her to the doctor. She learns that she is suffering from Alzheimer s, and the subsequent months and years see a steady decline in her abilities. By September of 2005, the accomplished professional can barely remember her own daughters names. Still Alice, however, is far from bleak as it depicts both the unalterable course of the disease and the various ways family members can cope with it. Clearly explaining the testing, treatment options, and symptoms of the disease within the context of an absorbing family drama, Genova has written an ideal primer for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s — Booklist


Making Toast, a memoir by Roger Rosenblatt, will be discussed at the Pike Library on Monday, October 17th at 6:30 p.m.

Making ToastA father grieves over the stunning loss of his 38-year-old daughter, who died in 2007 of a rare, undetected heart condition while exercising at home.Rosenblatt, who has excelled in nearly every literary form–journalism, drama, nonfiction and fiction–now adorns the memoir genre with a graceful, slim but piercing tale of loss and its sometimes grievous, sometimes ennobling effects. The author describes his daughter, a pediatrician with three children and loving husband, in tender tones. The extended family seems remarkably cohesive and affectionate, with a fondness for irony and humor. Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, moved into their daughter’s in-law apartment in their home and assumed as many useful roles as possible. They taxied children, cooked, cleaned, ran errands, etc. The title derives from one of the author’s morning tasks–making the children’s breakfast . . . Although the flow of the text has a gentle current, it frequently shifts and bends and obeys a psychological rather than a chronological imperative. Rosenblatt employs the urgent present tense as he relates how he and the others cope, but for Amy he must use the painful past. There is plenty of hugging and tears, but thankfully no mawkishness or emotional manipulation.Through the glass of the author’s transparent style we see all the sharp and soft contours of grief. — Kirkus Reviews  


The Lawrence Library will host a discussion of Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls, on Tuesday, October 18th at 10:15 a.m.

Half Broke HorsesIn her best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle, Walls chronicled her painfully enlightening childhood. She now loops back to tell the even more gripping tale of her maternal grandmother, the formidable horse-training, poker-playing rancher and teacher Lily Casey Smith. Because she patched the story together from reminiscences, used her imagination to fill in the gaps, and decided to have Lily narrate so we could all experience her sharp-shooter’s directness, Walls wisely calls this a novel. Fact, fiction, either way, every tall-tale episode in Lily’s rough-and-tumble life is hugely entertaining and provocative . . . Flash floods, tornadoes, blizzards, drought, con men, bigots, scum, and fools, unflappable Lily courageously faces them all. And why not? She was the smartest and toughest in her otherwise inept West Texas family. As she travels across the plains–winning rodeos, selling moonshine, marrying her soul mate, raising two kids, running a ranch, and teaching in remote one-room schoolhouses–Lily, proud, uncompromising, pistol-packing, and whip-smart, finds a lesson in every setback and showdown. Walls does her grandmother proud in this historically revealing and triumphant novel of a fearless, progressive woman who will not be corralled. — Booklist 


Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, The Bean Trees, will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Thursday October 27th at 6:00 p.m.

The Bean TreesFeisty Marietta Greer changes her name to “Taylor” when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Ill. By the time she reaches Oklahoma, this strong-willed young Kentucky native with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up ’55 Volkswagen bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom. But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor’s passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does. A first novel, The Bean Trees is an overwhelming delight, as random and unexpected as real life. The unmistakable voice of its irresistible heroine is whimsical, yet deeply insightful. Taylor playfully names her little foundling “Turtle,” because she clings with an unrelenting, reptilian grip; at the same time, Taylor aches at the thought of the silent, staring child’s past suffering. With Turtle in tow, Taylor lands in Tucson, Ariz., with two flat tires and decides to stay. The desert climate, landscape and vegetation are completely foreign to Taylor, and in learning to love Arizona, she also comes face to face with its rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Similarly, Taylor finds that motherhood, responsibility and independence are thorny, if welcome, gifts. This funny, inspiring book is a marvelous affirmation of risk-taking, commitment and everyday miracles. — Publishers Weekly 


Helen Brown’s Cleo, the Cat Who Mended a Family will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday October 31st at 6:30 p.m.

Cleo, the Cat Who Mended a FamilyGrace can come in deceptively small packages. For Brown, it arrived in the form of a runt-of-the-litter kitten whom her two young sons, Sam and Rob, adored on sight. Promised as an upcoming present for Sam’s tenth birthday, it was a gift the boy never received . . . Just weeks after his birthday, Sam was killed in an auto accident, and Brown’s world changed forever. Yet when the kitten was delivered to her new home right on schedule, Brown’s heart first broke with the unfairness of it all, then gradually began to mend as little Cleo did what all kittens do: mounted a charm offensive like no other. Over the next 23 years, as Brown’s marriage ended and career blossomed, the spunky Cleo remained her constant source of comfort and inspiration. Heartfelt and open, Brown’s buoyant tale of loss and recovery celebrates the resilient patience and restorative powers of animal compassion. — Booklist



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