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Book Discussions at the Library September 2012

August 26, 2012 by Reader's Connection

In the nonfiction department, we’ll be discussing a man who pretended to be a Rockefeller, and another man who wanted to be a baseball star and ended up wrongly accused of murder. Our fictional characters include a reimagined Rhett Butler and a mentally handicapped guy who wins the state lottery.


Central Library will host a discussion of David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris on Tuesday, September 4th at 6:00 p.m.

The Greater Journey: Americans in ParisOne of America’s most popular historians and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, McCullough has hit the historical jackpot. Travelers before the telephone era loved to write letters and journals, and McCullough has turned this avalanche of material into an entertaining chronicle of several dozen 19th-century Americans who went to Paris, an immense, supremely civilized city flowing with ideas, the arts, and elegance, where no one spit tobacco juice or defaced public property. They discovered beautiful clothing, delicious food, the art of dining (“The French dine to gratify, we to appease appetite,” wrote John Sanderson). Paris had not only pleasures but professional attractions as well. Artists such as Samuel F.B. Morse, Whistler, Sargent, and Cassatt came to train. At a time when American medical education was fairly primitive, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and other prospective physicians studied at the Sorbonne’s vast hospitals and lecture halls–with tuition free to foreigners. Authors from Cooper to Stowe, Twain, and James sometimes took up residence. McCullough mixes famous and obscure names and delivers capsule biographies of everyone to produce a colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris. — Publishers Weekly


Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, September 6th at 10:30 a.m.

Rhett Butler's PeopleIn this authorized reimagining, Rhett, disowned son of a cruel South Carolina planter, is still a jaunty worldly-wise charmer, roguish but kind; Scarlett is still feisty, manipulative and neurotic; and the air of besieged decorum is slightly racier. (Rhett: “My dear, you have jam at the corner of your mouth.” Scarlett: “Lick it off.”) But it says much about the author’s sure feel for Margaret Mitchell’s magnetic protagonists that they still beguile us. McCaig broadens the canvas, giving Rhett new dueling and blockade-running adventures, and adding intriguing characters like Confederate cavalier-turned-Klansman Andrew Ravanel, a rancid version of Ashley Wilkes who romances Rhett’s sister, Rosemary. He paints a richer, darker panorama of a Civil War-era South, where poor whites seethe with resentment, and slavery and racism are brutal facts of life that an instinctive gentleman like Rhett can work around but not openly challenge. McCaig thus imparts a Faulknerian tone to the saga that sharpens Mitchell’s critique of Southern nostalgia without losing the epic sweep and romantic pathos. The result is an engrossing update of GWTW that fans of the original will definitely give a damn about. — Publishers Weekly


As I Lay Dying

 I have attended the Shared Reading Group twice, now, at the Spades Park Branch, and I love it. Facilitator Anja Saak read first, on Friday, as she always does, and others took turns. I even read aloud, myself. A very short chapter. We discuss each chapter when it has been read.

William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is opening up to me in new ways. I said I would bring refreshments, this week (August 31st), and I’ll bring a couple of extra scones in case you show up.

We meet on Friday mornings from 10:00 to 11:30. We plan to be upstairs at Spades on September 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.

Spades Park’s regular monthly book discussion will be held on Wednesday, September 26th and is listed below. 


Bill Bryson’s At Home will be discussed at the East 38th Street Library on Monday, September 10th at 6:00 p.m.

At HomeBryson lives in a Victorian parsonage built in 1851. He uses the old house with its long history and mundane domestic items to explore the evolution of the home. His detailed tour is a seamless meandering from room to room, subject to subject, with fascinating digressions. He touches on how the hall evolved from a grand room, the most important in the house, to just a place to “wipe feet and hang hats”; how rooms developed based on changing notions of utility and privacy; how the development of the fireplace led to the development of the second floor. He offers historical and cultural origins of the names of rooms and common household items: table, chair, cookware, bedchamber, closet, study. He details how the development of different materials–bricks to make chimneys and coal for fuel–changed housing construction. The chapter on the kitchen prompts a discourse on food contamination, ice and mason jars, cookbooks and measuring utensils. A beautifully written ode to the ordinary and overlooked things of everyday life in the home. — Booklist


On Monday, September 10th, Conor Grennan’s Little Princes: On Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal will be discussed at the Franklin Road Library at 6:30 p.m.

Little Princes: On Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of NepalGrennan, who once worked at the East West Institute in Prague, embarked on a round-the-world trip in 2006, starting with a stint volunteering for an orphanage six miles south of Kathmandu. The orphanage, called the Little Princes Children’s Home, housed 18 children from the remote province of Humla, rescued from a notorious child trafficker who had bought the children from poor villagers terrified of the Maoist insurgents eager for new recruits; the parents hoped to keep their children safe, but the children often ended up as slaves. Grennan was stunned by the trauma endured by these children, who he grew to love over two months, and after completing his world tour, returned to the orphanage and vowed not only to locate seven Humla orphans who had vanished from a foster home, but also to find the parents of the children in the orphanage. This required starting up a nonprofit organization in America, Next Generation Nepal, raising funds, buying a house in Kathmandu for the children’s home, and trekking into the mountains of Humla to locate the parents. Grennan’s work is by turns self-pokingly humorous, exciting, and inspiring. — Publishers Weekly


Paula McLain’s novel The Paris Wife will be discussed at the Wayne Library on Monday, September 10th at 6:30 p.m.

The Paris WifeHistory is sadly neglectful of the supporting players in the lives of great artists. Fortunately, fiction provides ample opportunity to bring these often fascinating personalities out into the limelight. Gaynor Arnold successfully resurrected the much-maligned Mrs. Charles Dickens in Girl in a Blue Dress, now Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband. Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. Hadley and Ernest traveled in heady company during this gin-soaked and jazz-infused time, and readers are treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the real star of the story is Hadley, as this time around, Ernest is firmly relegated to the background as he almost never was during their years together. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that “Hem” had “helped me to see what I really was and what I could do.” Much more than a “woman-behind-the-man” homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled. — Booklist


Lady Elect


Lady Elect by Lynnette Nikita Nichols will be discussed at the Flanner House Library on Monday, Spetember 10th at 6:30 p.m.


Check out the reviews at Goodreads. Okay, one of the reviewers hates the ending, but they’re mostly positive.





The Fountain Square Library will host a discussion of Mark Seal’sThe Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Fall of a Serial Imposter on Thursday, September 13th at 1:30 p.m.

The Man in the Rockefeller SuitWhen the story of a parental kidnapping in Boston went out over the newswires in 2008, it seemed initially like a routine family tragedy. But it took strange twists as time passed. The father, wealthy businessman Clark Rockefeller, was not who he seemed to be. In fact, no one at all knew who he was. This episode ended the long career of professional imposter and con man Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, originally from the tiny German village of Bergen. His ambition to emigrate to America and become a filmmaker took him from Boston to California and back. Charm, arrogance, and a wickedly sharp mind helped him create his personae but also enabled him to maintain his lifestyle by stealing, swindling…and maybe worse. In 1985, John and Linda Sohus, Gerhartsreiter’s roommates, disappeared, and Gerhartsreiter was charged with murdering John on March 15, 2011, 26 years after the crime. While the subject’s aloofness and arrogance keep the reader from rooting for him, one almost has to admire the chutzpah. VERDICT The talented Mr. Rockefeller could have come right out of a Hitchcock film. For crime buffs and fans of flimflam. — Library Journal


Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be discussed at the Irvington Library on Thursday, September 13th at 1:30 p.m.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe “first immortal human cells,” code-named HeLa, have flourished by the trillions in labs all around the world for more than five decades, making possible the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and many more crucial discoveries. But where did the HeLa cells come from? Science journalist Skloot spent 10 years arduously researching the complex, tragic, and profoundly revealing story of Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old African American mother of five who came to Johns Hopkins with cervical cancer in 1951, and from whom tumor samples were taken without her knowledge or that of her family. Henrietta died a cruel death and was all but forgotten, while her miraculous cells live on, “growing with mythological intensity.” Skloot travels to tiny Clover, Virginia; learns that Henrietta’s family tree embraces black and white branches; becomes close to Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah; and discovers that although the HeLa cells have improved countless lives, they have also engendered a legacy of pain, a litany of injustices, and a constellation of mysteries. Writing with a novelist’s artistry, a biologist’s expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter, Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force. — Booklist


Also at Irvington: On Monday, Sept 17th at 4:30 p.m., the teen book discussion will focus on John Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska.

A copy of the book is available for checkout from the Information Desk. This program is funded by a grant from the Library Foundation.

Looking for Alaska

The reviews tell too much of the story, as reviews often do, so I’m making do with snippets. Pudge, if you haven’t yet read the book, is the narrator’s nickname, and the Alaska of the title is a girl.

[A] mature novel, peopled with intelligent characters who talk smart, yet don’t always behave that way — Horn Book

What sings and soars in this gorgeously told tale is Green’s mastery of language and the sweet, rough edges of Pudge’s voice. Girls will cry and boys will find love, lust, loss and longing in Alaska’s vanilla-and-cigarettes scent. — Kirkus Reviews

Readers will only hope that this is not the last word from this promising new author. — Publishers Weekly


Patricia Wood’s novel Lottery will be discussed at the Pike Library on Monday, September 17th 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



Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Discussion Group, will meet at Glendale Library on Sunday, September 23rd from 1:00 to 3:00.

Their theme this month will be Shared Worlds: When Writers Share a Vision


Diane Mott Davidson’s mystery Dying for Chocolate will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, September 24th at 6:30 p.m.

Dying for ChocolateIn this perky mystery complete with toothsome hi-cal recipes, Davidson brings back Goldy Bear, the cherubic culinary sleuth with Shirley Temple curls. Fleeing her abusive ex-spouse, a physician she dubs “The Jerk,” Goldy and her teenage son Arch find a snug third-floor refuge in the Aspen Meadow, Colo., mansion of quirky Gen. Bo Farquhar, a retired munitions and terrorist pro who breezily detonates bombs while gardening and bird-watching. As the general’s live-in gourmet cook, Goldly still has time to run Goldilocks’ Catering and juggle two suitors–attractive psychiatrist Philip Miller and comfortably chubby cop Tom Schultz. Philip’s shocking death–he careens off a cliff in a BMW after munching her brunch–casts suspicion on Goldy. Which of her foes might want to frame her? And who is the critic writing vicious reviews of her cooking in the Mountain Journal ? The plot spins along in good-humored fashion, while Goldy continues to whip up goodies for events like a disastrous “aphrodisiac dinner” for eight and a barbecue at which her luscious dessert smashes on the floor. When Arch vanishes, Goldly panics, but the author makes sure that all enigmas wind up in solutions that will surprise and please. — Publishers Weekly


John Grisham’s The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Wednesday, September 26th at 6:00 p.m.

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small TownIn the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory. Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits–drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa. In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder. With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row. If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you. If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you. — Random House


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