The big news is that Coleen told us that the Paper Plains Literary Festival is April 8 and 9 in Lawrence. Keynote author talks, which can be viewed in-person at Liberty Hall, or virtually, feature Angeline Boulley (The Firekeeper’s Daughter), Sarah Smarsh (She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs), and Colson Whitehead (Harlem Shuffle). All Paper Plains Literary Festival events are FREE and open to the public; a limited number of VIP Passes can also be purchased. For more information visit: <paperplains.org/events>. Thank you for the heads up, Coleen!
Sadly, Susan has taken a turn for the worse. Rodney reports that the cancer has spread to numerous areas of her body. The good news is that Barbara was able to join us once again via Zoom after an absence of several months. We did miss Michael though.
Also in attendance were Coleen and David, our hosts, along with Peggy, Cynthia, Rodney, and myself.
St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes were provided. Unfortunately, I believe my piping skills are in remission. There was enough left over that Cynthia was able to take a container to share with her apartment building. Rodney, with great willpower, declined to eat a cupcake, as he is increasing his cabbage intake these days. Peggy was acknowledged on her 11th Mensa-versary, as was David for his 42nd year in Mensa. He still has his personalized license plate from when he first joined; it looks great! It used to adorn David’s red Ford Torino fastback. Says David, “Time flies when you’re having smarts.”
On to books…
Barbara read The Personal Librarian, by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. Named one of the Best Books of 2021 by The Washington Post, this is the fascinating story of J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, a Black American woman who was forced to hide her identity and pass as white. Both Peggy and Coleen have visited Morgan’s library.
Barbara also finished Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead, the two˗time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. She really liked this book.
Finally, Barbara is just about finished reading My Year Abroad, by Chang-rae Lee. Sounds like another intriguing novel; looking forward to the report next month.
Peggy read Interior Chinatown, a 2020 National Book Award Winner for Fiction, by Charles Wu. The book is laid out like a movie script, including the typeface. All the characters are Asian actors but are relegated to background roles. The protagonist has played Generic Asian Man, Background Oriental Making a Weird Face, Disgraced Son. Is that the most respected role he can obtain?
Peggy also read The Good Wife of Bath, by Karen Brooks, a story of what women have to do to survive. Peggy really enjoyed this read.
Peggy’s mystery of the month was Murder at Queen’s Landing, by Andrea Penrose. This is book 4 of 6 in the Wrexford & Sloane mystery series. It is a combination of regency romance and mystery, with some science thrown in.
Cynthia’s only book this month was Network Effect by Martha Wells, the fifth book in the Murderbot series and the only full novel. Security Unit self-named Murderbot and a Preservation survey research team are hijacked by renegades that have taken over Perihelion, the transport vessel that first appeared in Artificial Condition. It takes killing off the bad guys and restoring ART (A**hole Research Transport control system) to discover the purpose of the hijack: to rescue ART’s crew, who are probably being held captive on the renegades’ planet, one which a Corporate Rim business is staking out for its own. There are complications. The stories of all major characters are advanced. The universe of Murderbot opens up more opportunities for an independent SecUnit. Enjoyable, but at times I needed a diagram to keep track of everyone. Recommended for sci-fi lovers. This was a Best of 2020 pick from NPR, and was also the winner of the 2021 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards.
David returned to science fiction with Nemesis Games, the fifth book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. This is also a show on Amazon Prime.
Also read was Salvation, by Peter F. Hamilton, the first of three books in the Salvation Sequence series. Cutting-edge technology of linked jump gates has rendered most forms of transportation — including starships — virtually obsolete. Every place on Earth, every distant planet humankind has settled, is now merely a step away from any other. All seems wonderful — until a crashed alien spaceship of unknown origin is found on a newly located world eighty-nine light-years from Earth, carrying a cargo as strange as it is horrifying. To assess the potential of the threat, a high-powered team is dispatched to investigate. But one of them may not be all they seem.
Coleen is in the middle of two reads, The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist, by Anthony Amore, and a book that Michael reported on last month, Permanent Parisians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of Paris, by Judi Culbertson & Tom Randall.
The Woman Who Stole Vermeer is the true story of Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist. Born into extreme wealth, Dugdale abandoned her life as an Oxford-trained Ph.D. and heiress to join the cause of Irish Republicanism. She spearheaded the first aerial terrorist attack in British history and pulled off the biggest art theft of her time. In 1974, she led a gang into the opulent Russborough House in Ireland and made off with millions in prized paintings, including works by Goya, Gainsborough, and Rubens, as well as Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid by the master Johannes Vermeer.
Permanent Parisians is a guide to the burial places of writers, heroes, and others in the cemeteries of Paris; it includes brief biographical sketches of these permanent residents. Coleen said it is a good book to dip into, not something to just sit down and read.
Rodney reported on four books this month.
The Flying Dinosaurs, written by paleontologist Philip J. Currie and illustrated by Jan Sovak, is meant for eighth graders and up (which apparently includes Rodney). This plentifully illustrated volume describes all the known flying dinosaurs as of 1991 and offers the likeliest family tree connecting all of them to birds—a group which of course includes ostriches and penguins as well as songbirds. One reptile in Currie’s book, not particularly prominent that year, would become world-famous with Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie Jurassic Park — the velociraptor.
The second book was by Edmund Pearson, Studies in Murder, published by Modern Library in 1938. Pearson, a librarian by trade, in his career turned to writing about crime and found his readership greatly expanded. The most prominent crime investigated here describes how “Lizzie Borden, with an axe, gave her mother [actually, her stepmother] forty whacks,” and you know the rest—or do you? An 1893 jury found Lizzie innocent, because in a Victorian world no one could believe that a woman could do such a thing. Rodney has now collected over 450 volumes from the Modern Library series.
Next was The Black Death and the Transformation of the West, by David Herlihy (Harvard University Press, 1997). A ponderous title for a book which, excluding footnotes and the introduction, is just sixty pages in length. Offered here are three lectures otherwise left unpublished by the time of Herlihy’s untimely death.
Rodney strongly recommends The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes, by Conevery Bolton Valencius (University of Chicago, 2013). Its thesis is that the view that the incredible events of 1811–12 — most notably, the Mississippi River flowing backwards, however temporarily — were so astoundingly counterintuitive that later audiences tended to disbelieve the original witnesses. But close, nay, videotaped observations of other earthquakes worldwide have corroborated much of that testimony, showing us all the niftiest tricks of a tectonically active planet. If you only have time for one book about Missouri’s most famous contribution to geology, this should be that book.
Once again, I only completed one book this month, Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. It took me three months to complete this book. I detested every bit of it until the final chapter, which was simply exquisite.
I’m also this close to finishing The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, a fascinating story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the daring female aviators who helped the United States win World War II, and the struggles they faced overcoming prejudices against women pilots.
Book Lovers SIG meets the 2nd Sunday of each month. If you join us in person, please wear a mask. General chat begins at 2:00 p.m. Book discussion begins at 2:30 or when Peggy rings the bell. If you live out of town or don’t feel like making the drive, we also simulcast on Zoom.
If you would like to join our literary chat fest, please email me so I can add you to the invite list for the April Book Lovers SIG. Mini Bundt cakes will be on the menu. ~Brad Lucht