Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break – March 2018

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Ratings:
The book received ratings between a 0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.43.

Review:
This novel was selected for many reasons.  A primary reason was this club’s real love for Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove.  This was, without exception, a club all-time favorite.  Additionally, selections are made by the facilitator with potential discussions in mind.  This club had never explored the role of sports in the US. The facilitator presented the TIME magazine (August 24, 2017) article entitled, “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry.” The article states, “Across the U.S., the rise in travel teams has led to the kind of facilities arms race once reserved for big colleges and the pros. Cities and towns are using tax money to build or incentivize play-and-stay mega-complexes, betting that the influx of visitors will lift the local economy.”  This is the backdrop of Beartown with the addition of a sexual assault which changes the dynamics of the town and its people.

Positive comments:
Many members have fond memories of their children and grandchildren participating in sports.  Sports were a part of family bonding and life-long lessons were imparted. Sports offered real opportunities for teachable moments.  Several members recall their own pathetic partnership with sports. The members came from an era, where girls sports did not count and many are glad to see that girls have equal opportunities in this arena.

Members felt the author did a wonderful job describing the area—the member saw the winter scenes in their minds.

Negative comments:
Members felt the writing was choppy and uneven.  Members wondered if part of the problem was the translation from Swedish to English. The members felt the book was in desperate need of editing.  One member felt 200 pages could be cut—members thought there was too much information presented about hockey. Facilitator shared that Fredrik Backman relayed information about his writing process. “Maybe I could put it like this: I have learned to build a box for me to play within.  Which means I decide the world my character gets to explore, and the limits of it, and I try to write a beginning and an ending to the story first of all. That way I’m free to have new ideas within it, but I have certain boundaries that force me to actually finish the story at some point.  Otherwise I would probably just keep on going and every novel would be 60,000 pages long.” Members laughed aloud as they could barely read his 400+ pages let alone 60,000 pages.

Members thought Backman used too many characters and they felt the characters were underdeveloped.

For the most part, members were not that interested in a novel that revolved around sports, particularly hockey.

Several members disliked the constant use of profanity throughout the novel.  Some members wonder whether young adults really talk like they are portrayed in the novel.  

Members would not recommend this novel to others.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The group discussed what hockey means to the people of Beartown and what kind of community has been built by the people of Beartown.  
  • Discussion about the presentation of social classes in Beartown and the ways hockey can cut through class distinctions or reinforce them.
  • We discussed the pressures applied to the hockey team by the town and the parents.  We discussed what hockey demands from the boys. We discussed which parents were most successful at preparing their children for the real world.
  • The group discussed the portrayal of several marriages in the novel and the views of various characters regarding working mothers.  
  • The group discussed the role of secrets in the novel.
  • The author often chooses to not use first names, and we discussed how this decision affected our opinion of the various characters.
  • In reading the novel, we saw that playing on a sports team teaches young people values like loyalty, responsibility, and commitment and it can also promote exclusion, aggression, and entitlement.  We discuss whether there are behaviors that are rewarded in a sports competition but considered inappropriate in real life. We talked about which characters had difficulty navigating these behaviors.
  • We discussed how Maya’s final act shapes her future and Kevin’s future. We talked about the characters who find the courage to go against the grain of the tight-knit Beartown community.  
  • We discussed whether the tradition of the Beartown Hockey Club will continue and if it will change going forward.

Resources:

Barnes and Noble interview with Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman’s website which includes an interesting Q & A courtesy of Shelf Awareness:
http://fredrikbackmanbooks.com/about-fredrik-backman.html

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Fredrik Backman, please click here.

Read-a-Likes:

Beartown

Everyone who attend both Books and Bagels & Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups appreciated delving deeply into the current pulse of small town America.  The groups explored the plight of “brain drain” through reading the following literature; Nobody’s Fool, Everybody’s Fool, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, and Beartown.  It was a pleasure to explore this matter in a deeper way and make literary connections to current events.

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Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Book and Bagels – March 2018

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Books and Bagels Book Discussion on
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Ratings:
The book received ratings between a 4.0 and 5.0. The average rating was 4.33.

Review:
Many members have stated they are not nonfiction readers and with that in mind, they stated they were not looking forward to this memoir.  Some members thought the story would be too depressing to read. Once the members starting reading, they couldn’t put the book down.  The members found Vance’s story both enlightening and engaging. For many members, this journey was unfamiliar and therefore interesting and informative.  Life-long learners found this to be engaging new information. Several other members were looking forward to reading this memoir, as it had been on their personal reading list for some time.

Several members have Scots-Irish backgrounds, so they were able to connect with the culture on some level.  These members also shared positive contributions and stories from this culture. The members felt this memoir used accessible language and they thought this could be required reading for high school students.

One member read an editorial from a high school classmate who has continued to live in the same small town in Iowa for the past fifty years.  His letter to the editor documents the decline of this particular small town and the lack of opportunities available. This is a document of the phenomena entitled “brain drain.” Brain drain happens when educated, career-oriented people leave small towns, never to return.  

One member stated that Hillbilly Elegy was an interesting perspective from a young author, but she would like to see a memoir from Vance in thirty-five years from now.  She wonders how his individual perspective would shift.

One member complimented Vance in that he was not pompous in his rise out of poverty, but generously gave credit to all the people who assisted him on this journey.

One member reflected on her immigration to the US and the US growing pains of past generations.  This member was hopeful for the next generations and sees our current turmoil as a cycle of growing pains all generations of people must go through to achieve a better future outcome.  

Many members agreed the problems addressed in the memoir are not easily solved.  One member thought more people should follow John F. Kennedy’s advice, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  This member felt personal contributions and efforts towards problems are a must.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The group discussed the way the Appalachian culture described in Hillbilly Elegy is a culture in crisis.  The author suggests that unemployment and addiction are self-inflicted and often the culture promotes “learned helplessness.” The group contrasted this previous part of the round-table discussion with thoughts about the criticism received about Hillbilly Elegy, which includes accusations of Vance “blaming the victim” rather than providing a sound analysis of the structural issues left unaddressed by the government.  Continued discussion at this point addressed the positive values imparted by this loyal culture.
  • Discussion about Vance’s personal escape from the cycle of addiction and poverty.  We discussed the role Vance’s mother and her addiction played in the life of the author. Also, we reflected on the violence displayed by her parents and the effect this had on her life.  Discussion led to the reasons why the American Dream seems elusive for many Americans. The group discussed poverty as a nationwide epidemic and the cycle of generational poverty.
    Sadly, we discussed the drug epidemic facing America and the effects this had on Vance and those in his community.
    Facilitator passed around the current TIME magazine (February 22, 2018) which via photography documents the drug epidemic faced in America.  The entire magazine is devoted to the crisis which is entitled The Opioid Diaries. The worst addiction epidemic in America is currently claiming 64,000 lives per year.
    Vance cites a report that states well over half of working-class people had suffered at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), and over forty percent had experienced several (p. 226-7).  We discussed the implications of ACEs for Vance and others, as well as, Vance’s eventual ability to break free from such a difficult childhood. We talked about what contributed to Vance’s successful transition and how these skills could be translated to others in similar circumstances.
  • Fortunately, Vance was able to successfully navigate the Marines and eventually graduate from Yale Law School.  On one level, Hillbilly Elegy recounts Vance’s socio-economic journey and although his income bracket has shifted, his identity remains tied to his working-class roots.  In light of these factors, the members discussed whether it is possible to shift one’s identity from one social class to another. We discussed systems which discourage upward mobility and we brainstormed possible solutions.
  • In the introduction, Vance provides various reasons for writing his memoir.  The group discussed his reasons and the group was asked whether the book was more successful as a memoir, or as a cultural analysis.
  • J. D. Vance has been interviewed by many media outlets to assist in explaining the results of the 2016 election.  Members discussed whether there are challenges in using one individual’s experience to explain larger social shifts.

Resources:

J. D. Vance’s TED talk on America’s forgotten working class

Peter Robinson interviews J. D. Vance for the Hoover Institution

J. D. Vance interview with Megyn Kelly

Read-a-Likes:

Hillbilly Elegy

Amy Chua was J.D. Vance’s Yale Law School advisor and she encouraged him to write Hillbilly Elegy. Amy Chua was the best-selling author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and her newest book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, offers a prescription for reversing our foreign policy failures.

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Amy Chua, please click here.

Last month, Books and Bagels discussed Nobody’s Fool and Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo.  It was interesting to see the parallels between these fictional novels and the memoir, Hillbilly Elegy.  The erosion of small towns across America is a theme in both of these writings.  It is fascinating to witness the interplay of entirely separate and different works.

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break – February 2018

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Ratings:
The book received ratings between a 4.0 and 5.0+. One member gave the book a 2.75. The average of the ratings was 4.59.

Review:
Many members have stated they are not nonfiction readers and with that in mind, they enjoyed this nonfiction read. The members felt this narrative nonfiction read was written in a very accessible way and they thought this could be required reading for high school students. The members applauded Kate Moore for bringing the personal stories of each radium girl to life. The members thought the author helped the reader to experience all the emotions of these young girls—from exuberant joy to deep sorrow and anger.  Members are lifelong learners, so they really engage with writing that brings them new information.  Many members could not put the book down; they were entranced. The members felt rage and anger at the corporate greed and legal dysfunction.  Members were inspired by the strength of these women in the face of corporate giants. Members relayed other disasters where the disadvantaged get a raw deal; i.e. Flint, MI (lead in water), Chernobyl (nuclear disaster), St. Louis, MO (nuclear waste site),US tobacco companies: Phillip Morris,etc.

Many members made positive comments regarding the photos included in the book. Members found themselves looking at the photos while reading and thinking of the girls. In an interview, the author stated she posted the girls’ photos around the room while writing this book.  Kate Moore said this: “Every time I talk about the women, I tell myself: do it for them. Make it good, communicate their story, because they deserve this. They do feel like friends to me. When my husband and I had a glass of prosecco after I typed THE END on my first draft, before either of us drank a drop we first turned to the wall on which their pictures were pinned and raised our glasses to them.”

7

“This is the memorial statue to the Radium Girls, which stands in Ottawa, Illinois. At Christmas time, locals drape the statue with a red homemade knitted scarf, to keep her warm in winter.  The statue is dedicated not only to the Ottawa dial-painters, but also to ‘dial-painters who suffered all over the United States … in recognition of the tremendous perseverance, dedication and sense of justice the Radium Girls exhibited in their fight’. May they rest in peace.”

Discussion Highlights:

  • The group traced the emotional trajectory of the Radium Girls—from their initial excitement about their jobs to the realization that their exposure to radium was killing them.
  • Discussion about the horrible suffering the girls endured and their tenacity as they sought to find out what was causing their individual medical issues.
  • Discussion about the persistent pursuit of the Radium Girls to get medical care and legal justice.
  • Discussed the different responses between the United States Radium Corporation and the Radium Dial Company and whether or not they understood the hazards of radium. The group further discussed the reactions of the companies even after they realized that radium was proven poisonous.
  • Discussion about modern companies who have behaved ruthlessly and how the Radium Girls’ story is still relevant today.
  • Discussed why this story hasn’t been widely explored even though it takes 1,500 years for the effects of radium to wear off and parts of the towns in which the girls worked remains poisonous to this day. Members were shocked to learn clean-up was still taking place in 2015.
  • The members discussed how the girls were inspirational and brave. Members praised the girls for the work they did to help future generations.
  • Members discussed the gender issues contained within the non-fiction book.  We discussed whether or not, considering the time period, did their gender help or hinder them?
  • Radium has changed the world in positive ways, so has its uses been worth the sacrifice?
  • Discussion of other discoveries which have led to tragedy.
  • In an interview the author, Kate Moore stated: “And for me, what was compelling about the story was what these women suffered. And it was very much that they had done this remarkable thing, standing up against these incredibly powerful corporations, standing up against the face of their communities, battling for justice, even though they knew that they themselves were going to die. They didn’t lie down and take it quietly. They stood up and they fought for justice. And I just thought they were so extraordinary, and it was wrong that we don’t know their names and no one has ever traced their stories before—the individual tragedies that they feel. I think it’s really important to put a human face and a human experience behind the history that we see. Even the headlines we see today when we read about environmental damage or scandals. I think it’s only when you know that this was the person’s name, this is what their hopes were, that were then thwarted by what happened to them, this is how their families suffered. I think it’s only then that you can truly appreciate what the human tragedy is, and so that’s why I wanted to write it in the way I have done, because I want the women, the girls themselves, to be remembered.”

Members were asked whether or not author accomplished her purpose in writing Radium Girls.  Overall, members felt that Kate Moore definitely did justice to the girls’ personal journeys.  Members were impressed by her extensive research and attention to all the intimate details of each girl’s life.  

Surprisingly, members were not confused by the sheer overwhelming number of girls portrayed in the nonfiction narrative. Facilitator wondered if a historical fiction novel with a compressed time-line and compressed characters would have had more wide appeal among the general public, thereby bringing the Radium Girls story to the attention of even more people.  Several members hope this nonfiction narrative will be made into a movie, so that a wider audience can learn about the girls and have further exposure to the serious nature of environmental issues which can be dealt with for the good of all humanity.

Resources:

Local bookstore owner Becky Anderson interviews Kate Moore.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Killer Chemistry, a documentary which provides a fascinating look into early forensic science based on the non-fiction book: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. The Radium portion of the DVD is particular appropriate to the discussion of Radium Girls.

In the early twentieth century, the average American medicine cabinet was a would-be poisoner’s treasure chest. There was radioactive radium in health tonics, thallium in depilatory creams, and morphine in teething medicine and potassium cyanide in cleaning supplies. While the tools of the murderer’s trade multiplied as the pace of industrial innovation increased, the scientific knowledge (and the political will) to detect and prevent the crimes lagged behind.

Kate Moore discusses her book with Anne McTiernan at Seattle Town Hall

Kate Moore’s website: http://www.kate-moore.com/writing/4583697052

Website devoted to The Radium Girls (the website literally glows): http://www.theradiumgirls.com/

Read-a-Likes:

The Radium Girls

Audiobooks, Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break – November 2017

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Rating: This book received a variety of scores between 2.0 and 5.0.  In scoring, the mode was 4.0 and the average rating was 3.79.

Review: Only two members were aware of the abuses suffered under Georgia Tann and her adoption organization, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. The book club members really appreciate learning about events in history, therefore, they found the historical information Wingate presented to be very interesting, heart-wrenching, and compelling.   All members were willing to give this novel a high score (5.0) for the research and historical material presented.

The fictional facet of the novel received mixed reviews. Many members loved the book and they have been recommending it to friends and family. They found the topic fascinating and they spent time conducting further research on the events presented. Many members said the mysterious aspect of the novel grabbed them and they looked forward each day to reading the book. Many found it to be a well-written, easy-read.

The discussion was interesting in that an equal number of members found the writing to be sophomoric and contrived. Many criticized the novel as it was more like a script for a sappy Hollywood or Lifetime movie as opposed to a literary read.  One member thought this might be a YA novel due to the writing style.

Members had differing opinions about the structure of the novel.  Some members were frustrated that the author shifted from 1939 to Present Day throughout the novel. Many thought this would be a tremendous book without the Present Day chapters and they wished the novel just covered the historical material about the shanty boat children—everyone was invested in the Foss children. Some members questioned why so many contemporary novels utilize dual-narration.  Members were confused by the amount of characters presented. One member said she took notes on the names of the characters and had to constantly revise the list. Members chuckled because they want to enjoy a book without having to take copious notes. Other members thoroughly appreciated the structure and felt it added an element of suspense to the novel.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The dual-narration structure of the novel and clarification of some of the roles of the main characters.
  • Discussion about the sisters’ decision to keep their family history secret. The group discussed whether family secrets should remain secret.
  • Discussion about whether the birth parents were responsible or careless individuals.
  • Was the ending realistic or unrealistic? What happens to Avery and Trent’s relationship?
  • Why the novel received worldwide interest? What themes are universal?
  • What can society do to prevent people like Georgia Tann from taking advantage of the most vulnerable?

Resources:

http://www.lisawingate.com/

A 60 Minutes report on the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal:

For other books by Lisa Wingate in our collection, please click here.

 

Read-a-Likes:

Before We Were Yours

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party–Books and Bagels–November 2017

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Books and Bagels Book Discussion on
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Rating: This book received a variety of scores between 3.0 and 4.5. In scoring, the mode was 4.50 and the average rating was 4.50.

Review: The novel was selected to represent our classic book this book club season. Most members had never read Fahrenheit 451 before and many members note the science fiction genre is not their usual fare. Members found the novel scary and disturbing, yet profound. Much discussion centered on the relevance for today and yet, the book was published in 1953 with symbolism related to atomic warfare, the Cold War, and McCarthyism. It is chilling to see Bradbury predict today’s environment! Additionally, Bradbury writes prophetically about a society without literature, where sheer entertainment and happiness is the goal for all citizens and however, the citizens are isolated, alienated, and committing suicide on a regular basis. Bradbury describes a world where people receive abbreviated information and spend their days with the TV “family.” The group discussed how twitter, texting, and reality shows mirror the society Bradbury described. Members discuss censorship, totalitarianism, and education. Members praised the role of libraries in providing information and access to all.
Some members found the characters underdeveloped, but cited this was obviously intentional. At times, it would have been helpful to know the characters back stories to understand why certain choices were made. The facilitator thinks it’s a great device that makes the reader’s mind continue to write the story. Some members found the book confusing and challenging and found that it took a while for the ideas to assimilate, but the book discussion and the Bradbury interview assisted.
Several members offered book recommendations. One member loves Bradbury’s poetic style and recommends Dandelion Wine, a hymn to summer. Another member noting the importance of books and book clubs recommended Dear Fahrenheit 451 : Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence. Finally, one member suggested reading A Clockwork Orange, a violent, scary dystopian novel. One member commented on Bradbury’s talent in predicting the future and suggests reading “There Will Come Soft Rains” a short story by Ray Bradbury which was first published in 1950. Later that same year the story was included in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. This story prophetically introduces the reader to a computer-controlled house that does everything for the family.
Most members relayed that Ray Bradbury was indeed, a truly gifted writer and in many ways was prophetic. Most members would not have selected this science fiction book, but they were happy that it was a book club selection. The discussion, as always, was dynamic, insightful, and elevated the individual reading of the book.

Discussion Highlights:

• The role of leisure, education, and intellectual pursuits in societies
• Why suicide occurs frequently in this dystopian novel
• The role of Beatty as the story’s antagonist—Did Beatty want to die? Did Beatty program the Mechanical Hound? Firemen are “custodians of peace of mind,” so, how well are they accomplishing this task? Captain Beatty is a well-read man, so why hasn’t he been punished?
• What is the role of the Mechanical Hound?
• What role does Clarisse play in the novel? Did she leave the story too abruptly?
• Montag turns to books to liberate him; instead his life is in shambles. Does he benefit from books?
• In the future, when the war is over, do you believe the books, the “book people” carry inside themselves will make a difference?
• The novel was written in 1953, but describes a futuristic society that one could argue forecast what life is like today. Do you feel the novel’s revelation has come true?
• What conditions do you see in our world that parallels the story world?

Resources:
http://www.raybradbury.com/

Listen as Ray Bradbury discusses how Fahrenheit 451 came to be written:

 

Read-a-Likes: 

Fahrenheit 451

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party—Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break—October 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Ratings:  In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 3.5 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.36. Four members gave the book a 5.  This is a high rating compare to other book club selections evaluated in past years.

In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 2.5 and 5.0.  The average of the ratings was 3.63.

Review:

Morning Book Break: While most members found the book discussion lively and interesting, they found the book, in general, to be a little disappointing.  Many members found the writing to be tedious and slow-moving at times.  They found the book to be an easy read, but not compelling.  They thought the writing at the end was hurried—just like a film that wraps everything up in the last five minutes.  A few members thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it to be quite humorous.  Several members found the book educational in gently exposing the reader to Asperger’s Syndrome and/or the Autism Spectrum.  One member stated that the main character, Don Tillman, was inspirational in striving to succeed without ever giving up. Several members relayed that it is helpful to read fiction to assist us in navigating our interactions with others.  Fiction helps us to be sensitive to the needs of others.   One member said, “the author showed if you move beyond the surface differences of a person, we all have something to offer, we all have value and strengths, and we all deserve respect and to be treated with dignity.”

Books and Bagels: The novel was well received by members.  Members found the novel enlightening, engaging, and entertaining.  Members found themselves frequently laughing aloud.  Although, not necessary literary, they found the book fun and very clever.  As an aside, the author claims he could have made the novel literary and award winning by changing several sentences at the end, but he claims he likes to write what people like to read.  Members are looking forward to the movie and hope the casting does justice to the book’s characters. Several members thought about what actors should be cast in the roles of Don and Rosie. One member, who is not a fan of romance novels, constantly recommends this novel to colleagues as it is on her “top 10 list to recommend.” One member read the sequel, which she thoroughly enjoyed and she feels it is continuous part of this amazing story that everyone should read.  Another member read the sequel and was disappointed in that, it was not of the same caliber as the debut.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Gaining understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome and/or the Autism Spectrum via fiction.
  • Discussed: What is love? And, Is it smart to have a list of criteria for a potential partner?
  • Structure and chaos in our lives & routines in our lives (Helpful? Limiting?)
  • Two secondary characters are involved in an open marriage. We discussed this concept.
  • The Rosie Project was selected as the adult read for 2016-2017 by the Suburban Mosaic organization.  The Mosaic’s goal is to foster cultural understanding through literature.  The discussion groups were asked whether or not, this goal was achieved.  Overall, both discussion groups found this novel to be excellent in achieving the goal of fostering some understanding of the Autism Spectrum, but, more importantly, understanding differences in people.

Resources:

For other books by Graeme Simsion in our collection, please click here.

http://graemesimsion.com/

Bill & Melinda Gates interview Graeme Simsion about The Rosie Project

Graeme Simsion answers question for The Big Read:



Read-a-Likes:

The Rosie Project

 

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party—Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break—September 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Rating: In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 1.0 and 5.0+.  The average of the ratings was 4.43. Thirteen members gave the book a 5.0. This was an unusually high rating as compared to past selections.

In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 4.5 and 5.0+. The average of the ratings was 4.92. Ten members gave the book a 5+.  This book received the highest ratings ever for this club.

Review:

Books and Bagels:  Members fell in love with the Count and paced their reading to allow the magical experience to continue. Members did not want their time with the Count to end. The members were simply delighted with the compelling, witty language used by Towles.  Many members stated that the Count was their favorite character that has been presented in a fictional novel.  Fortunately, we had a member share some actual experiences of living under Soviet control and although members agreed the novel unrealistically portrayed the house arrest of the Count, overall, the fictional story was enlightening and engaging. Members have been recommending this original, humorous novel to their friends and family.

Morning Book Break: Members really enjoyed the Count.  He was human, caring, and likeable. Many members felt like the Count was their friend and thought this was a remarkable achievement for Towles.  Many members felt like the novel engaged them directly. The author was masterful in creating a well-developed story line which wove in the history of the Russian Revolution without being too preachy. Many members have been recommending this enchanting, accessible novel to friends and colleagues.  Several members barely tolerated the novel and found the narrative to be way too long and too descriptive.

Discussion Highlights:

Discussion centered on the characters presented within the novel:

  • The protagonist,  the Count and his amazing attributes and transformation
  • His suicide attempt and the effect of the handyman and the bees
  • Nina—the Eloise of the Metropol
  • Friendship between the Count and Nina
  • Nina as an agent of change
  • Sofia’s influence on the Count
  • The Count’s decision to get Sofia out of Russia, while remaining behind
  • Anna—the Count’s lover
  • Did you expect the ending? In your mind how does the story end?
  • Triumvirate—Andrey, Emilie, and the Count
  • Mishka, Osip, & Richard and their perspectives on the meaning of the revolutionary era
  • Douglas Smith of the Wall Street Journal wrote in his review: “Over four million people perished from famine in the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930’s…To flippantly refer to this moment as “unkind”…speaks to a disturbing lack of empathy and even moral imagination.”  We discussed whether the author was successful in balancing the Count’s life under house arrest with what was actually going on in Russia. This was a very interesting discussion as we also discussed the role of fiction in conveying historical events.
  • We discussed to what extent A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel of purpose.
  • Discussion on the Structure & Layout of the novel
    • Role of footnotes—helpful or distracting
    • The majority of the novel is told in third person from the Count’s perspective.  There is, however, an overarching narrator with a different perspective.  This narrator appears in the footnotes, Addendums, and the historical introductions of 1930, 1938, and 1946. We discuss the differences between this narrator’s POV & tone and the Count’s.
  • Amor Towles created quite a structure that incorporated the passage of time in a complex way. We discussed how this affected our reading of the novel.
  • We discussed the significance of Casablanca.

Resources:

For other books by Amor Towles in our collection, please click here.

http://www.amortowles.com/

Watch Becky Anderson of Anderson’s bookstore located in Naperville interview Amor Towles.
A Gentleman in Moscow was her favorite book of the year.

Read-a-Likes:

A Gentleman in Moscow

Save

Book Club

The After Party – Morning Book Break – June 2017

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Rating: The novel received ratings between 1.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.89. Three members gave the book a 5+.  The novel was well received and it was a perfectly positive fit for our last discussion of the season.

Review:
Most members found the depth of historical information presented to be remarkable. Several members commented on the difficulty of keeping the characters straight. Several members loved the book and found the novel to be cleverly constructed and they praised the author for her ability to weave a mystery out of historical facts. The overwhelming presentation of red herrings led to the plausibility of the mystery. Some members were initially excited to read about the Hindenburg, only later to be disappointed as they were unable to connect with the numerous characters. Several members found the writing to choppy and uneven, while others found Lawhon’s writing to beautifully descriptive. One member thought the novel was melodramatic and rang of Titanic themes.  Finally, all members felt better informed about the Hindenburg and its destruction.  Members raved about the discussion and enjoyed the diverse opinions.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Conversation about the structure of the novel and the ability of the author to create suspense even though the outcome is known.
  • Members appreciate the character headings at the beginning of each segment as it was difficult to track all of the characters.
  • Members marveled at the historical accurate details about the Hindenburg and members were impressed as to how the author incorporated this minutia of detail into the novel.
  • Members enjoyed hearing about the state rooms, bathrooms, service rooms, smoking room, observation desk, and the meals and cocktails served.  One member remarked about how she was hungry after reading about the delicious fine meals. The Hindenburg was truly a luxury liner! Members spoke about Emilie’s role as the only female crewmember onboard the ship and her responsibilities to the passengers.
  • The group discussed the differences between air travel at the time and air travel today.  Obviously, there is a great contrast and members shared amusing stories about their air travels.
  • The group talked about which characters they found most sympathetic.  Overall, the group had great sympathy for Werner, the fourteen year old cabin boy. Additionally, they were sympathetic to Emilie’s plight. No one in the group had any sympathy for “The American.”  The facilitator gave four reasons to sympathize with “The American,” and still no one felt his actions to be justified.
  • The facilitator briefly explained the current theories regarding the explosion of the Hindenburg and all the members thought Ariel Lawhon did a marvelous job of addressing and including each theory as a possibility.
  • The facilitator asked if anyone would like to travel on a modern airship, the group resoundingly stated, “NO!”

Resources:

For other books and audiobooks by Ariel Lawhon , please click here.

http://facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com/

http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/

Read-a-Likes:

Flight of Dreams

 

Morning Book Break 2016-2017 Season Wrap-Up:

Members praised the facilitator for providing a fine selection of diverse books this season.  Members thoroughly enjoy attending discussion days.  The least favorite reads of the season were: In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences, Modern Romance, and My Name is Lucy Barton. The overwhelming favorites for this season were: The Nightingale, The Marriage of Opposites, and Flight of Dreams.  Voted most important read of the season was Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Members are sorry to see the season come to a close and they can’t wait until September for the first discussion of the 2017-2018 Season.  If you’re interesting in attending, stop by the Readers’ Advisory Desk for the 2017-2018 Flyer, which will be available in mid-July, and sign-up with a Readers’ Advisor. If you’re already signed up, keep an eye out on the blog page for September’s title!

Book Club

The After Party – Books and Bagels – June 2017

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Books and Bagels Book Discussion on
Georgia by Dawn Tripp

Rating: In Books and Bagels, the novel received ratings between 2.5 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.09. Two members gave the book a 5.  The novel was a terrific ending to the 2016-2017 Season.

Review:
The author, Dawn Tripp, in an interview with Caroline Leavitt, discussed what drove her to write a novel about Georgia O’Keeffe.  Growing up Dawn Tripp had admired O’Keeffe’s art, but after visiting an exhibit of her abstractions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Dawn desired to know about this radical American artist. Dawn Tripp asked herself the following questions: “Who was the woman, the artist, who made these shapes?  What did she think, feel, and want? What was happening in her life? And why hadn’t I seen the full range and power of her abstract work before? Why wasn’t she known for this?” Dawn Tripp kept thinking: “Here is a woman most people know of, yet at some level barely know at all.”  During the discussion, group members talked about how we all knew of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art, but knew little about her as a person.  All members agreed that Dawn Tripp meticulously addressed all of the above inquires and we all felt we had a better understanding of Georgia O’Keeffe and her art.  We all believe Dawn Tripp drew a lovely picture of Georgia and the passion that drove her art.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The book reveals the passionate love affair and marriage of the young, intelligent, fiercely independent Georgia and the father of modern photography, Alfred Stieglitz.  The novel mainly focuses on the years that Alfred and Georgia were together.   Many members were aware of the photography of Alfred Stieglitz; they did not know about his affair with Georgia and his influence on her art and world recognition. We discussed where Georgia would be as an artist without Alfred to guide her. We also discussed the passionate affair and love scenes displayed throughout the novel.  Most members thought this portrayal assisted in understanding what drove these artists. Some members believed that the love scenes distracted from the rest of the engrossing historical novel.
  • Georgia’s struggle to balance her work with her ongoing relationship with Arthur Stieglitz and the dynamics of the complex relationship.  We discuss what Georgia would have achieved without Stieglitz assistance and marketing/branding.  We discussed at length the artistic photos Arthur Stieglitz took of the young Georgia and what these photos meant to Alfred and Georgia and how their exhibition influenced her work.
  • Conversation about the challenges Georgia, a groundbreaking artist, faces in a world dominated by men.  Discussion centered on gender dynamics.
  • The sacrifices Georgia makes to become a legendary artist.  The passions needed to pursue this type of life.
  • We discussed our favorite paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.
  • We all thought Dawn Tripp used beautiful descriptive language. We thought the novel was well-written, well-edited, and poetic.

Resources:

For books in our collections about Georgia O’Keeffe, please click here.

Georgia O’Keeffe a Life in Art from Georgia O’Keeffe Museum on Vimeo.

https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/

Read-a-Likes:

Georgia

Books and Bagels 2016-2017 Season Wrap-Up:
Members thoroughly enjoy book discussion days and look forward to attending each month. The least favorite reads of the season were: Modern Romance and Did You Ever Have a Family. The overwhelming favorites for this season were: The Nightingale and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Members are sorry to see the season come to an end and they can’t wait until September for the first discussion of the 2017-2018 Season.  If you’re interesting in attending, stop by the Readers’ Advisory Desk for the 2017-2018 Flyer available in mid-July, and sign-up with a Readers’ Advisor.  If you’re already signed up, keep an eye out on the blog page for September’s title!

Book Club

The After Party – Books & Bagels and Morning Book Break – May 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Rating: In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 4.0 and 5.0+. The average of the ratings was 4.43. Three members gave the book a 5+.  This book received an unusually high rating as compared to past books selected for club.

In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 0 and 5.0+.  The average of the ratings was 4.72. This was also an unusually high rating.

Review: 

Morning Book Break: Members found the book very informative, but the information presented was depressing. Most members would rather not focus on end-of-life issues and most members could only digest the book in small chunks. In spite of this fact, members found the book to be exceptionally well-written and inspiring.  Several members thought it should be a book everyone in the medical profession should read. One member thought this selection was the most valuable read since she has been attending book club.  Members would definitely encourage others to read the book. Members have noticed that Atul Gawande has been on several network news shows and members are glad to be informed about current topics/events.

Books and Bagels: Members overwhelming would and have recommended this book to others. Many members are now going to purchase this book to give to loved ones and also, to give to several doctors. Members believe this is a foundational book, which should be read by every medical professional prior to graduation. Members found the book to be a necessary, important read. One member said, “Definitely, have a tissue box ready if you decide to read.”  Discussion centered on what worked and didn’t work in end life experiences. Members spent time sharing personal preparations. One member pointed out that Atul Gawande is listed in Fortune’s May 1, 2017 issue on p. 46 in the article 34 Leaders Who Are Changing Health Care. Members are excited to read about current information and they feel up-to-date.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Conversation about the personal narratives and anecdotal stories shared by the author
  • Members found the stories to be fruitful and provided helpful insights apart from the facts, figures, and statistics
  • Complexities of medical education and insufficiencies regarding medical training for death, grief, and end-of-life decisions
  • Effectiveness of Doctor Styles: Paternalistic, Informative, and Interpretive
  • Evolution of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospice and what matters most in the end
  • Striking a balance between hope and reality
  • Dr. Gawande’s personal story of his father’s terminal illness
  • Healthcare costs and potential remedies/medical funding/quality-of-life issues/death with dignity
  • How traditions/spirituality influence the concept of being mortal
  • Shared tips/strategies for effectively dealing with mortality—what is involved in a “good death”
  • Aging in the US and abroad
  • Tension between safety and independent living/joyful existence
  • Combating the “Three Plagues of Nursing Home Existence: Boredom, Loneliness, and Helplessness”

Resources:

For other books by Atul Gawande in our collection, please click here.

We also own the Frontline DVD Being Mortal; the film explores the interactions between doctors and patients approaching the end of life.

Jacket (5)

Atul Gawande recommends doctors begin to talk about the inevitability of death with terminally ill patients and he recommends a good place to start is with the use of the “Serious Illness Conversation Guide.” He wrote the guide at the following link to find out what terminally ill patients understand about their condition and what their goals are as the end nears.

http://www.talkaboutwhatmatters.org/documents/Providers/Serious-Illness-Guide.pdf

Read-a-Likes:

Being Mortal