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Book Discussions at the Library February 2012

January 23, 2012 by Reader's Connection

Happy Chinese New Year! To get the Year of the Dragon started, we have a novel about Pearl S. Buck, a biographical work about Galileo and his daughter, a novel about slavery and another about segregation in the 1960´s. And we’re featuring “one of the few English books written for grown-up people.” (That’s what Virginia Woolf said about Middlemarch.)


On Thursday, February 2nd, Kathryn Stockett´s novel The Help will be discussed at the Warren Library at 10:30 a.m.

The HelpSet 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


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

Pearl of ChinaPearl 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


The Wayne Library will host a discussion of Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter on Monday, February 6th at 6:30 p.m.

Galileo's DaughterAll have heard of Galileo, but not many have heard of Galileo’s daughter, Virginia, who, born out of wedlock, was entrusted to a nunnery. Suor Maria Celeste, as she came to be called, was pious and bright, affectionate, and dedicated to her father. Father and daughter corresponded regularly through letters, though they lived not too many miles apart. They wrote to each other on matters of significance as well as trivialities. Her fond letters soon became a source of immense strength for her genius-father, especially in his later years. Only the daughter’s missives have survived; the father’s have perished beyond a trace. In this fascinating book, written with much grace, intelligence, and erudition, writer Sobel recreates for the reader, through the letters, the science and related conflicts of the time, and the social conditions and the ecclesiastic adamancy surrounding Galileo. The letters reveal that the great scientist was also a deeply sensitive man of faith, who had the intelligence to know that if reason and observation spoke differently about the world, that was a greater revelation from God than any ancient texts holy because of age. The letters also show the deep love and caring that Suor Celeste had for her aging father. The world of scholarship is indebted to Sobel for bringing to light one more human side of Galileo. — Choice   


George Eliot’s classic novel Middlemarch will be discussed at Central Library on Tuesday, February 7th at 6:00 p.m.

MiddlemarchIt is not a romantic novel, though it is a very passionate one. It is anti-romantic. It does not lead from frustrated love to fulfilled love to climactic marriage. It begins with the mistaken marriage choices of its “heroine” and “hero” and shows the inexorable workings of their coming to terms with their folly . . . When I was younger it was fashionable to criticise Eliot for writing from a god’s eye view, as though she were omniscient. Her authorial commenting voice appeared old-fashioned. It was felt she should have chosen a limited viewpoint, or written from inside her characters only. I came to see that this is nonsense. If a novelist tells you something she knows or thinks, and you believe her, that is not because either of you think she is God, but because she is doing her work – as a novelist. We were taught to laugh at collections of “the wit and wisdom of Eliot”. But the truth is that she is wise – not only intelligent, but wise. Her voice deepens our response to her world. — A. S. Byatt, writing in The Guardian   


And at Brightwood Library on Tuesday, February 7th, Breena Clarke’s novel Stand the Storm will be discussed at 6:00 p.m.

Stand the StormClarke returns with a bittersweet slavery-era saga, partially set–like her smash 1999 Oprah-pick, River, Cross My Heart –in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown. On Ridley Plantation in rural Maryland, Gabriel Coats picks up his mother Annie’s seamstress skills with remarkable ease, but is sold at age 10 to established Georgetown tailor Abraham Pearl. For eight years, Gabriel works hard and keeps an eye on freedom for his family as the Washington abolitionist movement gains momentum. Master Ridley’s nephew Aaron begins overseeing the tailoring shop, and Gabriel and Annie busily create sartorial masterpieces as war steadily approaches. By the time freedom becomes a reality, only a few of the Coatses emerge with their pride and abilities intact. Clarke gets the details–emotional, political, domestic, religious–right across the board and crafts complex and appealing characters. Her knowledge of the period and the novel’s dense, deliberate narrative create a poignant story about the intricacies of human bondage and its dissolution, built around a family’s unshakable faith in one another. — Publishers Weekly   


Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones will be discussed at the Fountain Square Library on Thursday, February 9th at 1:30 p.m.

Hand Me Down WorldThe strength of maternal love overcomes obstacles in this shrewdly constructed, beautifully written novel by award-winning New Zealander Jones (Mister Pip, 2007). A young African woman employed at a Tunisian hotel becomes involved with a client and bears his son, then unwittingly signs adoption papers before the father takes the baby back to his home in Berlin. Desperate to find her child, she somehow survives a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, part of the human trafficking from Africa to Europe, and makes her way north. Much of the story is told by the people, most of them men, she encounters along the way, in what readers later learn is testimony for a trial. Then the protagonist, known as Ines Maria Luis, is given voice and her own perspective on events, which is sometimes at variance with those heard earlier. Jones’ prose is as insightful as it is lovely (e.g., describing the intimacy of a marriage of many years “that enfolds one life with another”) as he details the lengths to which a mother will go to see her child. First- and third-person accounts add depth to characters ranging from the 71-year-old blind man for whom Ines is a companion to the various men she beds to the woman who is raising her son. A memorable account of the transcendency of human bonds. — Booklist   


Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! will be discussed at the Irvington Library on Thursday, February 9th at 1:30 p.m.

O Pioneers!O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier– and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the windblasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself. At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels, O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were. — Willa Cather Foundation website   


Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations–One School at a Time will be discussed at the East 38th Street Library on Monday, February 13th at 6:00 p.m.

Three Cups of TeaSome failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse’s unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town’s first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coauthor Relin recounts Mortenson’s efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers’ hearts. — Publishers Weekly


The Flanner House Library will host a discussion of Brenda Jackson’s novel A Silken Thread on Monday, February 13th at 6:30 p.m. 

A Silken Thread

 For Erica Sanders, finding a soul mate was the easy part. Brian Lawson is the man she wants, and everyone agrees they’re the ideal couple. Almost everyone. The one exception is Erica’s mother, Karen, who prefers her daughter marry another man. Karen even hires a private detective to investigate Brian, but the truth he uncovers is the last thing she expected—a devastating betrayal that rips both families apart. Convinced that her relationship can’t be salvaged, Erica ends her engagement. Yet she has lingering doubts over her decision . . . Simon & Schuster







Abraham Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone will be discussed at the Lawrence Library on Tuesday, February 21st at 10:15 p.m.

Cutting for StoneLauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brother’s long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Verghese’s weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel. — Publishers Weekly


The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Thursday, February 23rd at 6:00 p.m.

The Other Boleyn Girl

 A rich and compelling novel of love, sex, ambition, and intrigue, The Other Boleyn Girl introduces a woman of extraordinary determination and desire who lived at the heart of the most exciting and glamorous court in Europe and survived by following her heart.When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. — From the book jacket 





Joan Medlicott’s novel The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, February 27th at 6:30 p.m.

The Ladies of Covington Send Their LoveThe three widowed 60-something women who lend “golden girl” power to Medlicott’s episodic debut would be very much at home in Jan Karon’s Mitford. Amelia, Hannah and Grace all live in a Pennsylvania boardinghouse, unhappily confronting the insults and injuries involved in aging. When Amelia inherits a deteriorating farmhouse in Covington, N.C., the three decide to move in together, gearing up to rehabilitate both the farmhouse and their lives. Although their alternately neglectful and overprotective grown children are disgruntled at their mothers’ unconventional new lifestyle, the women find the time to become themselves, enjoying a combination of companionship and independence. Between gardening, cooking and exploring photography, the spunky trio jointly weather many trials and adventures including flood, fire, a claim on their property and romance . . . Medlicott’s idea is a winner: women in their twilight years finding alternatives to large group homes or living alone. Solving an all-too-common housing dilemma, the three ladies inspire by forming a community in which they thrive and find new careers and loves, all with dignity and autonomy. — Publishers Weekly



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