What a lovely Sunday we had.
Peggy was there in person, with a bad back and all. And Kat was able to rejoin us after breaking her arm for the second time. Out of the sling once again and going through a second round of physical therapy.
There was plenty of homemade guacamole to go around, plus I made mini loaves of banana bread, so everyone got to take something home with them.
The library hosted their inaugural Heartland Book Festival the evening before, so we were able to score some free book bags and books that were leftovers. Such a bonus!
Beth, Michael, Coleen and David joined us online. Coleen says she misses seeing everyone in person. David is now officially retired but is busy making acrylic angels for his church’s annual fundraiser, Red and Gold, Chiefs colors. He is looking forward to playing Father Christmas once again. I hope someone takes a picture!
And Jim was back! He had been really busy organizing his 50th high school reunion, but now that is done, he is back to reading. It was great to see him again.
For the second month in a row one of Stina’s many book clubs rescheduled their meeting to conflict with ours, but she did pass on what she has been reading; so, thank you, Stina.
Linda was also unable to attend but was kind enough to share her list as well.
In all, 56 books were discussed/reviewed. The full list can be found here:
Book Lovers SIG always meets the second Sunday of each month; in this case November 12. We meet in person in the Chairman’s Office at the main branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The room is immediately to your left as you enter the library. Parking is free in the garage located west of the library, but make sure you use the garage’s 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, more or less, 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
Remember, Book Lovers 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.
The Armor of Light by Ken Follet — latest book in the Kingsbridge/Pillars of the Earth series. The earliest book in the series is from 1000, when the bridge is built that defines the town. Pillars of the Earth covers the building of the cathedral and the Stephen/Maud political struggles. In this book, 1800 brings us to the early days of the Industrial Revolution and Napoleon. As always, the people are very good or very bad.
The Vaster WIlds by Lauren Groff — a novel set in Jamestown, Virginia, in the Starving Times. A young girl, variously called Lamentations or Zed, runs away from the colony and survives in the natural world. Some parts I find unbelievable (she seems to know the germ theory of disease and stays away from the Native Americans to avoid killing them), but it is beautifully written. I would recommend all her works — especially Matrix, the story of a 12th century nun, and Fates and Furies, a portrait of a marriage from both husband’s and wife’s points of view.
A Chateau Under Siege by Martin Walker. A Bruno, Chief of Police novel. The latest books in the series have been too much about domestic terrorism for my taste, and thus don’t spend enough time with Bruno cooking dinner for his friends and solving more domestic and small-town mysteries.
Translation State by Ann Leckie — another science fiction novel set in the Imperial Radch universe. The alien Presger species creates semi-human translators to communicate with humans. Qven and Reet, for different reasons, don’t fit in with the other Translators. Will they match, or won’t they? Leckie’s first Ancillary books were a challenge for me to read because the default gender pronouns were she/her, but now her gender choices seem more familiar.
The Flight of the Maidens by Jane Gardam. British author, two-time winner of the Whitbread Prize. She tends to write short, almost novellas, about a tightly controlled group of people. Set shortly after the end of the Second World War, this is about three seventeen-year-old girls and their last summer together with their friends and families before escaping to university. Really good. Will make you think, and remember, with nostalgia.
The Fell by Sarah Moss. Another British author. One of the first Covid novels to come out. A bunch of people locked in their homes during the first days of the hard Covid lockdown. One woman escapes her home, climbing on the Fell and falls. Then the community must come together, while apart, to rescue her. Less realistic but more compelling than Flight of the Maidens. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, which Kat found intriguing.
Star Crossed: A True WWII Romeo and Juliet Love Story in Hitler’s Paris by Heather Dune Macadam and Simon Worrall. A Jewish woman and a Christian man fall in love, but on the eve of their marriage his family, who are prominent in Paris, inform on her and her entire family gets rounded up by the Nazis. A book about elites and their travails. Really good.
The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks. ***** How the sausage (movies) is made. Fiction, but great behind-the-scenes insight into movie making. Not just the big names (actors, directors), but also the “little people” that keep the wheels greased. I really enjoyed this book.
Sand/Across the Sand by Hugh Howey. ** I finished the Silo series last month, and pretty much enjoyed it, so added these two to my reading list.
The second book was written eight years after the first, only this time it became a YA novel. Not my cup of tea. Four siblings find themselves scattered and lost. Their father was a sand diver, one of the elites few who could travel deep beneath the desert floor (scuba, only in sand) and bring up the relics and scraps that keep their people alive. Ugghh. Didn’t really care for the whole concept. Not recommended. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction (2014).
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. ****1/2 Great story about the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. This would have been a great book if Larson had left it at that. But you can tell that, while doing his research, he came across the true story of a psychopathic mass-murderer who lived in Chicago at the same time, as well as the story of delusional young man who assassinated the mayor of Chicago at the end of the fair. Both these side stories distracted from what I found interesting, how Chicago and many of the nation’s greatest architects came together to build the fair. PLUS! The origin story of George Ferris and his Ferris wheel, conceived to out-do the Eiffel Tower, the main attraction of the previous world fair, which was held in Paris. The Ferris Wheel became the top attraction of the Chicago World’s Fair.
The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis. This is a good, funny story about what would happen if the aliens really did show up in Roswell. This is a comedy scifi.
Against the Grain by James C. Scott. Proposes an explanation as to how we got cities: slave labor. It doesn’t address the question of where the enslavers came from and why some ended up being the enslavers and some the enslaved. I think religion/shamans/spirit guides run amok were probably in there somewhere, and it still points to the psychopath gene pushing some people to play the King in king of the hill. Then when that doesn’t work out after the “king” dies, everyone drifts away again (dark ages) because fixed field agriculture and city living is really miserable.
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul & Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, both by Douglas Adams. When things are too much, a little Douglas Adams is always good for the soul. As far as I can tell, Douglas Adams answered most of life’s questions in “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy“. The answer of course is 42, but it’s how he got there that is the important part.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translation by Ken Liu. First Contact and lots of physics. Set in China starting in the 60s during the Cultural Revolution. This is about how civilizations respond to their environment and the philosophy of threading the needle of curiosity vs self-preservation (please define self) when faced with the real possibility of first contact.
Hitch-22 A Memior by Christopher Hitchens. Hitch thinking about his life, including another look at the horrid institution of English boarding schools and how his thinking changed through the years. Some interesting insights on some of the multitude of his friends and subjects.
CrossTalk: A Novel by Connie Willis. A fun romp through telepathy. A woman gets a brain chip with her fiancé to make them able to read each other’s emotions. Things go sideways immediately.
Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu. A collection of stories that imagine a disaster or a new technology, taken to its conclusion. Interesting and dark.
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. Kind of fun.
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut. This book is special to Michael, because back in the 70’s he was in immigration jail in Bangkok. A friend of his asked him to put up a visitor at his place, and Jim said sure. Unbeknownst to Jim, this person was a drug dealer and Interpol was hot on his tail. They arrested him and threw him in jail, but because Jim had let him stay at his house, they pulled him in too. Jim was teaching at university at the time; his students would come to see him in the jail every day and they would bring him blankets, pillows, food and candy, and one of them started bringing him books, including Welcome to the Monkey House, which he found both thoughtful and funny. Basically, a bunch of Vonnegut’s short stories that were initially published elsewhere (Atlantic Monthly, Ladies Home Journal, etc.). Some of them are quite funny, some are serious, and some are just weird.
Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. A book of really, really short stories, almost like flash fiction. Glimpses of stuff that he saw that meant something to him.
Another short story by Kawabata that Michael read was The Dancing Girl of Izu. A good story about Japan’s sexist culture. Other very short stories by Kawabata that Michael read were The Pomegranate and The Jay.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. A movie based on the novel is coming out soon on Netflix.
Tinkers by Paul Harding. Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Stream of consciousness of a dying man. Michael found it to be disorganized and disjointed. He didn’t like it and neither did his other book club.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. The Martin Scorsese movie is coming out in the next few weeks. A horrifying story about how people with money murder Indians who own the land rights to oil discovered on their land. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best History & Biography (2017).
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Fictionalized account of a story about a small village in Scotland during the Black Plague, whose members chose not to travel in order to prevent the spreading of the disease, knowing that this decision would cost them their lives.
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. The original trilogy was written between 1942 and 1953. Books are Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. Two prequels and two sequels have now been added. David hasn’t gotten through those yet. Classic Science Fiction, but on the philosophical side rather than the action side.
Portofino by J. P. O’Connell. Set in 1920s Italian, an English family opens a hotel on the Italian Riviera. Adventures with their clients and the local Fascists make for a good story. It has been dramatized on PBS Masterpiece. David is hoping for another installment soon!
Coleen shared that she read a couple of books that were much more enjoyable than her recent reads.
And Then You Were Gone by P J. Jacobs. The crime involves vaccine research and the heroine is bipolar. She found it interesting and unpredictable enough to keep reading!
Girls Save the World in This One by Ash Parson. Teenage girls attend a Zombie convention featuring the cast of a TV show whose characters are fighting zombies. Think of a very small Comic Con type of event. And they do save the world when real zombies show up at the convention and start attacking the humans. Lots of action, teenage angst, and humor. She found it a lot of fun. It brought to mind a quote from a long time Mensan Marilyn Schwalm. After seeing the Jaws movie where the aquarium underwater tunnels start collapsing, Marilyn said she noticed a trend in movies of the time. Anytime there is a disaster, the only people keeping their heads and helping get everyone to safety are teenage girls!
The Vedas by Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. Long and dull: mostly odes of praise to the gods. I haven’t gotten to the good parts yet.
The Noticer Returns by Andy Andrews. An interesting book style. A writer in search of something to write about, finds that he needs to write about his quest for something to write about. The Noticer is a person that keeps showing up in his life at crucial times. The story is about how the Noticer influences everyone he comes in contact with to live their best life.
Language In Thought and Action by S.I. Hayakawa. I read this book for 10th grade English class and wanted to reread it. It shows how specific language constructs (connotation, denotation, etc.) are used to influence others. This is very timely for me to read again as the social environment has been influenced by toxic, intentional use of language to divide people. I highly recommend reading this for a refresher in how to read behind the lines!!!
Jim is also looking forward to reading:
Weird Sports by Sol Neeman. Photos and descriptions of weird sports around the world. For example: Log Riding, Cheese Rolling, Barbie Jeep Racing & Kaiju Big Battel (iykyk).
Chinese Menu by Grace Lin. The stories of how Chinese foods came to get their names. See book review by Elisabeth Egan in the New York Times.
Monstrilio by Gerardo Samano Cordova. Bizarre 4-part study of grief, parenthood, transgressive behaviors, and individual expression. Quite a bit of gore and body horror. Not my cuppa at all but excellent writing, so if you go in for that sort of thing, give it a read. Read for Literally Dead Book Club.
The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson. Technically it’s a murder mystery, but as the reader is privy to three perspectives in two timelines, you get an idea of what really happened pretty quickly. The story focuses on the wives of a pair of brothers and the daughter of one couple, and it’s a slow burn look at the hazards of being a woman in the middle of the 20th century in America. Read for the Sleep When I’m Dead readathon.
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco. Victorian teen forensic examiner trainees go chasing the infamous serial killer. Lots of YA romantic suspense tropes and doesn’t really do anything fresh in the genre, but I was reasonably entertained. I probably would have loved this 35 years ago.
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell. Very interesting look at how “cults” use language for community and control, but it pulled its punches a lot.
Compulsory by Martha Wells. A Murderbot prequel short story. Nice little snack to get back into the universe before reading Network Effect. The next four books were read for Space Opera September.
Network Effect by Martha Wells. The first full-length novel in the Murderbot Diaries. I underestimated how hard it would be to hit the SHTF midpoint where I’m used to a Murderbot novella being all wrapped up, but it was worth it. The next novel drops on November 14th, and the release event will be in Fort Collins. Check the Old Firehouse Books website for ticketing info.
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. Classic SF by a Grand Master. Interesting look at the language of poetry and logic, but very 1966 in oh so many ways.
Envoy: A Captain Sulu Adventure by L.A. Graf. This story did not feel true to Sulu’s character, and Takei’s narration seemed correspondingly unenthusiastic. The alien singing would have been a cool addition if the sound engineering had been halfway competent.
A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card. A muddled take on freedom of religion as Ender Wiggin’s classmates rebel against Battle School prohibitions of holiday celebrations.
Star Trek Cats by Jenny Parks. Super cute gallery of TOS scenes with cats in the character roles.
Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Not my favorite Hawthorne story, and the Anne Lee narration wasn’t great, but I’m glad to have finally read this.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. Romeo and Juliet, but it’s the zombie apocalypse. Neat concept, very uneven execution. There’s a movie adaptation on Netflix but I haven’t watched it yet. Read for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s book club.
Love Me Or Else by John Leister. I needed something set in the 1980s for GenreLand and plucked this PI story off of Hoopla. It was short but not short enough to forgive the awful writing.
The Women in the Castle by Deckle Edge. *** Historical fiction about a group of women who survive WWII together. Read for my neighborhood book club.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. **** Future fiction — NY city is partially underwater due to sea level rise.
Widowland, Queen Wallis by C. J. Carey. **** Two-part series. Alternative history — WWII never happened because England formed a “pact” with Nazi Germany and America remained neutral. Edward and Wallis came back to the throne. English women are sorted into castes.
Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson. **** Family drama about wealthy people in Brooklyn. Soapish but well written, interesting characters. Chick lit maybe.
An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn’t by Judy Jones. This was in my bookcase, but I don’t remember reading it before. Lots of info on many subjects. Got a little tedious in places.
The Thursday Murder Club (Thursday Murder Club, #1) by Richard Osman. Old people solving murders. Fun characters.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. **** The only Jane Austen I hadn’t read before (though I love the movie). I may have lost my patience for her convoluted sentences. Anyone want to buy a very nice slipcase complete works?
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird. *** I wanted to read it because I had trouble with the audio in the movie and probably missed some nuances. I think both the book and movie would benefit from about a 30% reduction. Discussion of minor characters, and who was or wasn’t a Communist party member, got very old. I was mainly interested in the story of the bomb development.