We gathered in the cool house to converse about books. Peggy was not here, so Cynthia did the honors and rang the bell to start our discussion of books.
Cynthia started us off with I Am America (So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert. She said it was very crazy and fun. Her other book was Neither Yavne nor Antioch: Recovering Nazarene Judaism, by Joel Heller. Joel is her ex-husband. Looked interesting.
David read one of his picnic auction selections — Visions from the Twilight Zone by Arlen Schumer. Pictures and summaries of some of the most memorable episodes. He had also read The Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague de Camp. The author examines various things that were built long ago and discusses the construction principles involved. Interesting and good for expanding vocabulary.
Coleen read The Ripper’s Shadow by Laura Joh Rowland. Set in London in 1888 during the time of Jack the Ripper’s exploits, it is an interesting story but a little improbable in several ways. However, the author did come up with an interesting conclusion as to the identity of the Ripper. Another selection is Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey, second in her Rei Shimura series. Rei is a young Japanese American woman living in Tokyo and building a business selling antiques. She buys a chest for the owner of a Zen temple that turns out to be a fake. Then the man who sold it to her is murdered. She needs to find out who killed him. A variety of characters fill in the story — a young martial artist, an aspiring rock singer, an elderly antiques mentor, and a Scottish lawyer are all involved. The last selection is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Always enjoy reading Jane Austen. Michael mentioned a modern parody of the story, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. It’s on my list to read.
Michael was able to join us via Zoom. He had read several interesting books starting with Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, set in 1960s Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Next was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The setting for this book is a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2020. He also read The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. This is a family saga set in Vietnam during the war. Family members suffer from trauma and PTSD. A humorous take on parenting is found in Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. A woman takes care of a pair of children for a friend. The catch is that these children burst into flames when they are agitated. Michael had read three books about dystopic societies by Margaret Attwood for another book group he belongs to. In The Heart Goes Last there is a reversal in that the lawful citizens end up joining closed communities (prisons?) while the lawless run free. The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments are both set in the same world. Most women in this world have become infertile. Any woman who is fertile is forced to bear children for the elites. Interesting parallels to some current events.
Rodney brought a stack of books. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is probably more historical fiction than nonfiction. Interesting, nonetheless. Of course, people in this area may be more interested than most since it took place in Kansas. Rodney was researching the Etruscan language. Although the Etruscans were very early residents of Italy, no one has really been able to identify where the language fits in. Some now think it is related to the language spoken in Ancient Troy. Next up is A Preface to Paradise Lost by C. S. Lewis, which examines the style, content, structure, and themes of Milton’s masterpiece. Going further back in literature, he read The Satyricon of Petronius. This is a satirical novel of daily life in Ancient Italy. Interesting because it has dialog of normal people. This is the second most fully preserved novel of the time and was probably written in the mid-1st century CE. And yes, this is where the word satire comes from. He also brought Satyrica, a newer translation from 1994. From Rodney’s Modern Library collection, he read Great Tales of the American West edited by Harry E. Maule. A modern classic, Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther, tells the story of the author’s son as his health declines and he ultimately dies from a brain tumor. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History by Robert Darnton relates the tale of employees who thought their employers treated their cats better than the employees, so they had a mock trial, convicted the cats, and sentenced them to death. This might presage the French Revolution a few decades later. A biography of the “hanging judge,” Isaac C. Parker by Michael J. Brodhead, tells the story of this U.S. District Court Judge in the last half of the 1800s. The book refutes his reputation of being a bloodthirsty monster. He was portrayed in the book and movie True Grit.
Brad read No Way by S. J. Morden, sequel to One Way from last month. Raven Rock: The Story of the U. S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die by Garrett M. Graff was Brad’s next book. Apparently, if you are in the government and are important enough, you will be saved in case of disaster. You will have a special ID card that lets you into the safety zone. I remember something like this in several recent TV shows, some science fiction, some political fiction. Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring by Richard Gergel relates the incident and court case that eventually convinced Truman to desegregate federal offices and the military two years later. The reasoning in this case was used in Brown v. Board of Education and several other cases. Now for a couple of librarian books. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray tells of Belle da Costa Greene. Greene became the personal librarian for J. P. Morgan in 1905. She was responsible for growing and maintaining his collection of books, manuscripts, and art. She was the librarian until she retired in 1948. What make her so interesting is that she was not Portuguese, but a Black passing as White. Sounds like an interesting book. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is a place where there are multiple versions of one’s life. It has been described as a cross between It’s a Wonderful Life and Groundhog Day. Another Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 1973 is The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty. Brad did not enjoy this book at all. The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit by Ron Shelton tells the story of how the author managed to make the movie Bull Durham as a first-time director. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a reimagining of Homer’s Iliad. Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris is a continuation of the story started in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Cilka had skills that were helpful to the Germans running the camp. After the Russians liberated Auschwitz, they tried Cilka for espionage and sentenced her to 15 years hard labor in the Gulag. She was released after Stalin died.
We had a wide variety of books this month. I want to read almost all of them! Too little time, too many books! Come see us next month on the 2nd Sunday at 2:00 p.m. for visiting, 2:30 p.m. for book talk.