In a big surprise, Caroline joined us for the first time in many years. She plays the church organ on Sundays, which keeps her very occupied, but this time she was able to break away. The BIG NEWS is that Caroline is now a nun! Had the habit, the tunic, the whole nine yards. Neither Peggy nor I recognized her when she first walked into the room. It was nice catching up on what had been going on in her life.
Peggy was the only other person to attend in person. Kat has fallen, again. And broke her arm, again. And had surgery, again. She is now back in a cast and arm sling, starting over from scratch. We may not see her for a while.
Online regulars Linda and Beth were there, plus Michael was back with us for the second month in a row. David and Coleen also joined us. David’s health seems like it is improving. He is getting ready to start on his annual “Christmas Angels” project, AND it looks like he is going to officially retire by the end of September. Congratulations!
Jim was unable to attend, as he was attending his 50th high school reunion, but he said he has been reading a bunch and it feels great!
Stina had a scheduling conflict, but passed on her reading, as did Ben.
In all, 61 books were discussed/reviewed.
Book Lovers SIG always meets the second Sunday of each month; in this case October 8th. We will meet in person in the Chairman’s Office at the main branch of the Kansas City Public Library. Parking is free in the garage immediately to the west of the library, but use the east entrance. Just bring your parking ticket into the library to be validated.
14 West 10th St., Kansas City, MO 64105
We generally chat for a bit, starting around 2 pm, then book discussions begin around 2:30 pm or when Peggy says, “Let’s talk about books!”.
To join us on Zoom, simply click on the link shown below:
You can also open your Zoom app and use these parameters:
Meeting ID: 946 0436 4344
Please note: Book Lovers SIG is an ideal way for members who do not live in large metropolitan areas or who can’t make it to local events to get more out of their Mensa membership.
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is a domestic drama about a woman whose family runs a cherry orchard in Michigan. All 3 of her daughters are home for the picking season because of COVID, and she tells them more of her romance long ago with a famous actor. But you as the reader also get to know the things she doesn’t tell them.
Somebody’s Fool by Richard Russo, the third book of the North Bath Trilogy, follows the working class town and its failures and tragedies. Russo also wrote Straight Man, a very funny novel about academic life.
Cleopatra’s Daughter: From Roman Prisoner to African Queen by Jane Draycott. The story of what happens after Anthony and Cleopatra die. Cleopatra Selene went from an Egyptian princess to a Roman prisoner to an African queen.
Please see the August report for the books Caroline discussed.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It begins with an actor, at the end of his career, having a heart attack during a Shakespeare play. A man in the audience leaps to the stage and tries, to no avail, to revive him. And then the whole story goes off into untold different directions. There is a plague that hit the city (and the world) the same night. Then we learn the backstory of the actor. And his three wives. And their backstories. And the backstory of the audience member. And then all their future stories. And the story of the young girl on stage who witnessed the actor die of his heart attack. And on and on.
This is one of those food processor books. The author takes the story, puts it in the blender, chops it up nice and good, then randomly puts it back together. I don’t have a lot pf patience for this style of storytelling.
Interesting though, that the story predates the Covid pandemic by almost a decade.
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fiction (2014).
Dust (Silo #3) by Hugh Howey. Last of the Silo series. One silo rebels. They tunnel to another silo, where only a few inhabits remain. When Silo 1 discovers this, they pump poisons’ gas into the offending silo to kill them all. But they escape to the outside, and discover the world isn’t the barren wasteland they had been led to believe.
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction (2013)
Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth by Dr. Avi Loeb. Dr. Loeb was our August Theodore Talk speaker. This book touches on his investigation and theories relating to the extraterrestrial object ‘Oumuamua, which led to Loeb’s founding of the Galileo Project, an effort to bring the search for technological signatures of Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations (ETCs) from accidental or anecdotal observations and legends to the mainstream of transparent, validated, and systematic scientific research. Loeb is a fascinating man. Raised on a small farm in Israel, he grew up reading existential philosophy books provided by his mother. Yet by the age of 24 he had earned his Ph.D. in Plasma Physics. He has published over 1,000 papers is now the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris. Set in the small town of Old Ox, Georgia, shortly after the end of the Civil War. Two freedmen brothers agree to assist a landowner who believes his son had died to the war. This upsets the town greatly, as they feel the job should go to soldiers returning home from the war. BUT! It turns out the son didn’t die; he was held in prison camp and has returned, to rekindle his love affair with the son of the town’s leading patrician. Sound controversial enough for you? Very well written. Recommended.
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2021), Nominee for Best Debut Novel (2021).
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. A story of slavery, beginning in Africa in the 1780s. It follows the story of two half-sisters, one sold into slavery, one sold to a German officer to become his wench. Then we follow the ancestors of their families through the present day, both in Africa and the United States. Many, many generations. Many, many stories. Very well written. Recommended.
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2016).
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah. Another slavery story out of Africa. Two boys, one sold into the colonial war to fight for the Germans against rival African tribes, the other sold as a slave to serve in the same war as a manservant to a German officer. The Germans lose the war to the British, the British become the new colonial masters. But soon a World War looms. Again, kind of an historical narrative of what happens to the men and their resultant families. Well written. Recommended.
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson. *** Typical murder mystery, in the Agatha Christie tradition of people isolated in a place where they don’t normally live. There are multiple killings and multiple murderers. Pretty average. [I found it a little bit more engaging than Linda.]
Run by Ann Patchett. ***** Story about mixed race family. Surprises turn up. She liked it a lot; emotionally very satisfying.
The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz. **** Set four or five thousand years in the future. There is a lot of genetic manipulation that has happened over the centuries; human-level intelligence has been inserted into animals. For example, there is a talking, flying moose. There are political maneuvering about this planet and what its future is going to be. Pretty good as far as science fiction goes.
Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions by Temple Grandin. ***** Grandin is a college professor at Colorado State and is known for designing compassionate handling mechanisms of agricultural animals, especially cows. She also happens to be autistic. The book is really fascinating. Gives a lot of insight the kinds of people that don’t necessarily think in language, but more in pictures.
The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee. ***** Linda finds North Korea fascinating. The author went through unimaginable hardships to be able to get out of that country, then did the same thing to get her mother and brother out. It’s unbelievable what she went through.
Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld. **** Chick Lit. Kind of fluff, but it was really well done. Set, oddly enough, in Cincinnati.
Cupcakes, Lies, and Dead Guys (Annie Graceland Mystery #1) by Pamela DuMond. *** Another mystery. More fluff. Forgettable.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams. ***** Boy did she love this. Perfect for people in a book club. Just lovely.
I really liked all four of these “optional” books this month. As opposed to Archaeology and Spider Textbooks.
The Red Sphinx: A Sequel to The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (translation by Lawerence Ellsworth). This is the second book of The Three Musketeers as translated by Lawrence Ellsworth. Ellsworth explains that he tried to capture the spirit in which Dumas wrote, which is not how he got translated by English translators in the Victorian era. It really took a long time to realize that the Musketeers were not serious young men, they were playing at being soldiers, although they played very well. According to Ellsworth, Dumas was writing adventure stories against the background of the 17th century, with its different kinds and personal levels of violence, but the same type and quantity of political double dealing and adding in the framework of the hereditary ruling classes (can we spell Kennedy, Bush, Clinton?) and the overarching authority of the church (Christian nationalism anyone?). It took me a while to get into the swing of it, and now I am hooked on these as fun reads. There are three more books after The Red Sphinx: Twenty Years After, Blood Royal, and Between Two Kings, all at the top of my pile.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver moves her family from Tucson to her husband’s old homestead in western Virginia, and they launch themselves, after much preparation, into living as locavores for a year. This means eating things that are produced sustainably within 100 miles of where they live. Each chapter describing their journey is interspersed with commentary on the effects of corporate agriculture. It has actually gotten me to think about trying to live like this. It takes a lot of habit changing. Asking for and seeking out grass raised meat (no feedlots), local produce (easier, but not easy yet) and changing what I am eating, and where I am buying stuff. It has a website and gobs of support and information websites. Start with <animalvegetablemiracle.com>. The 10th anniversary edition came out in 2017. Probably going to buy it, just for the references.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Finally finished, after having to take breaks when it got to the era of modern violence and destructive politics. The gist of the book is looking at world history as a record of trade, and how different cultures benefitted, or suffered, as the trade routes from Europe/Northern Africa and eventually the Americas to the global east ebbed and flowed. It assumes that you know the received history of wars and kings and money and skips the parts that aren’t conducive to the story. It isn’t love that makes the world go round, it’s trade.
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin. I don’t know how this eluded me for the nine years since it came out, I must have been working too hard. This is sci-fi based on quantum physics that looks at the problems of dealing with a solar system that has three suns. It eventually gets to the first contact point, and then things get interesting, as it looks at the assumptions humans have made about the nature of first contact, or even the real possibility of first contact. Be aggressive, defensive, talk softly and carry a big stick? Based in China starting in the cultural revolution in the 60s and 70s, it is also a peek into life under Mao. It assumes you are somewhat conversant with recent Chinese history (it was written in China in 2006 and not translated into English until 2014). There are two more books in the series, as well as some spin off books. This author has written a number of other titles. Great hard sci-fi.
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell.
The Four Wise Men by Michel Tournier.
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (Translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier).
Women Talking by Miriam Toews. Movie is great.
Gemini by Michel Tournier.
Homo Sapiens Rediscovered by Paul Pettitt. Exploration of art in archaeology and human dispersal.
The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin, Pulitzer Prize winner.
Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris. Jewish diaspora from Spain to New Mexico.
Tomorrow Perhaps the Future: Writers, Outsiders, and the Spanish Civil War by Sarah Watling. Women writers from the Spanish Civil War.
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong. Effects of bacteria in the world.
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis. Time traveling historians. In Blackout a historian goes back to 1348 England when the plague hits and she becomes trapped. All Clear has the same plot, only this time a group of historians are investigating London during WWII. Once again, the machine breaks down and they all get stranded. So, the whole rest of plot is how do you find these people and how do you get them back. Although it is 1150 pages long, she is such a great writer it never gets bogged down and it keeps moving right along. Willis wrote this as one book, but her publisher insisted on splitting it in half.
Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. Three men fin a boat go from Oxford up the Thames River and then come back down, just for something to do. It is a lightweight, fun sort of read.
Aniara by Harry Martinson. A long poem, 104 cantos, 260 pages long, and it’s science fiction. The Earth is trash; they’re trying to migrate humanity off to Mars and Venus using 18 huge spaceships. Anjara is the name of one of these spaceships; it holds 8000 people. On their way to Mars they get hit by a meteor, which knocks out their propulsion and fuel, leaving them to drift in space … forever. It’s a hard read, but it’s interesting. If you’re interested, watch the movie first.
Martinson won the Nobel prize for literature in 1974.
The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie. A play mentioned in one of the Connie Willis books. Barrie, of course, was the author of Peter Pan.
The Belle of Amherst by William Luce. A play based on the poems and letters of Emily Dickinson.
The Little Book by Selden Edwards. Strange … really don’t know what’s going on. The main character is a baseball player who becomes a rock star, then somehow travels back in time to 1897 Vienna. He’s about halfway through and has no idea of where it is going.
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman. Rather explicit. A 17-year-old boy has a crush on a graduate student. Almost all interior dialogue, thoughts, and impressions of the main character.
[There may have been other books David discussed, but we went through a short spell at the library where the internet slowed below a crawl, then disappeared completely.]
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. A deceptively simple book. There is a lot covered, but none of it is sensationalized; it’s all very matter of fact.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It has interesting premises. The reader is told that Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11 pm. There are eight days and eight witnesses to inhabit (?). You will only be allowed to escape once you identify the name of the killer. It sounds interesting, but Coleen is finding it tedious. She normally doesn’t have a problem with non-linear timelines, but this was too much.
Ben continues has continued to read The Three-Body Problem series and finished Death’s End (3rd book in the trilogy). He also read a graphic novel called Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio (by Derf Backderf). I was born in 1989 and only knew that the events at Kent State were a tragedy. This graphic novel is really well researched and goes into all the background and details of events leading up to the massacre using source material from interviews, eyewitnesses, and survivors. In other words, I learned a lot more about it and it’s a really sad story but well worth the read to understand the political tensions of the time. There honestly is a lot of parallels to the Black Lives Matter movement with police brutality and senseless violence that I feel history repeated itself a bit.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I never read this in school, and finally got around to reading it, and saw why it is on the banned books list. It seemed quite a bit like On the Road (Jack Kerouac) and in that style. It seemed “very stream of consciousness like”. I can’t say that I see what was so great about it, though. Banned-wise, there is swearing on every page, references to sex and drinking and lots of made up on the fly lies/stories. I can say that I’ve read it but can’t see the redeeming social value in it.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I don’t know how this showed up in my house, but it did. I had never read it before. I’m very glad that I have now. What horrible things humans to each other. I may have to read it again. I did see references to Simon Legree. My parents referenced him, but I had no idea that he was in this book.
1000 Signs by Taschen. A mostly photo book showing road signs from around the world. It’s amazing what one picture can convey!!! It’s also interesting to see the variations and the similarities.
Dharma by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I got this when I visited the local Hare Krishna temple recently. I enjoyed seeing how Hindu thought and customs are layered and influenced by different literatures. It was a good supplement to my regular education in Hindu scriptures.
The Vedas by Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. I am just starting to read these, starting with Rig Veda. It is 900 pages of small print on a wide page. Difficult for my eyes, so I have to take frequent breaks and use a ruler to keep my eyes focused on the current line.
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott. A long book on a difficult subject (case study of an at-risk Black girl) but very much worth it. Read for the Old Town Library’s book club.
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen. An excellent examination of a subject that doesn’t get much attention. Read for Stranger Than Fiction. Heads-up that one of the members took exception to Chen’s presentation of feminist issues.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley. Read for the Fucked-Up Book Club. It wasn’t all that fucked-up, at least from our American perspective. It’s a story about violent people visiting violence upon each other in northern England. I really liked it, but I do think it’s one of those books you need to be in the mood for.
Booked by Becky Clark. The first novel in the Sugar Mill Marketplace Mysteries series. Read for the Sisters in Crime-Colorado book club. I know Becky has a big collection of trilogies all mapped out for this series, but I still found the dangling plot threads a little distracting.
The Only One Left by Riley Sager. Read for the Literally Dead Book Club. This was Todd Ritter’s last chance to win me over and he failed. Not as many continuity problems as in Home Before Dark, but still extremely sloppy writing. And the editor who let him make every single thing and person “shimmy” needs to find another line of work.
Harry the Cloud by Nick Wigram. Read for a challenge to read a book with a word in the title that you would find in the sky. I had two “stars” books on my TBR and didn’t get to them in time, so I snagged this off of Hoopla at the last minute. Very strange story of a young cloud with behavioral problems, and the vocabulary seemed more appropriate for a middle grade book than a children’s picture book, but I thought the illustrations were fun.
Tea and Dark Chocolate by Debbie Manber Kupfer. A strange little collection of flash fiction, poetry, and excerpts from longer works. None of them are about tea or chocolate. But there is a little logic puzzle. It’s not challenging, but hey, logic puzzle.
Abandoned: Hauntingly Beautiful Deserted Theme Parks by Seph Lawless. Some of the photographs are stunning even on a phone app, but most of them really need a larger format. The brief histories of the parks were interesting, and this felt like a deeply personal exploration for Lawless. Read for Shorty September.
The Caiman by Maria Eugenia Manrique, illustrated by Ramon Paris. I was surprised to discover that this was a memoir, not a fictional story, about a man who adopted and raised a baby caiman that was very popular with the neighborhood children, including Manrique. Read for Shorty September.
Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess. A prayer of a poem that Gaiman wrote for his pregnant friend Tori (Amos, I presume). Sweet, inspiring verse with absolutely gorgeous illustrations. Read for Shorty September.
A Twisted Love Story by Samantha Downing. Read for the Sleep When I’m Dead book club. The ending felt like Downing lost a lot of fights with her editor, but otherwise I loved it. I am very much in the minority. Everybody I know hated the whole thing. I will say that it is marketed incorrectly as a domestic suspense thriller kind of thing. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t that.
Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle. This is the first Tingle offering that sounded interesting to me, and I’m glad I picked this up for The Midnight Society. It tells a social horror story from the perspective of a devout young autistic woman whose sect (sort of a mashup of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, and Amway) runs a suspiciously successful gay conversion camp.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was relieved that this memoir of an abusive same-sex relationship was not as difficult a read as I anticipated. Maybe because I listened to it? Read for Stranger Than Fiction.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. This was the Martin Jarvis narration of the 2hr19min abridged version, so it counts for Shorty September. I just needed enough of the story to understand Demon Copperhead, which is on next month’s TBR. I liked it, which is unusual because Dickens and I do not get along. I do have an unabridged edition I will read some other time, and maybe I will learn that I should just stick with the abridged editions.