Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – May 2018

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion group members rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.64.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion group rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0, with one member giving the book a 3.0. The average of the ratings was 4.49.

Review:
Several members are huge Jodi Picoult fans and they were glad the facilitator finally chose a Picoult book.  Members knew right away that this “issue-oriented” Picoult novel would be perfect for book discussion.  Readers liked that the book was beautifully researched and they thought the Author’s Note at the end showed the author’s careful construction about the sensitive issue of racism. Members thought that they would recommend the Author’s Note to readers who would not read the novel (the Author’s Note does contain spoilers).  Members appreciate that Picoult used her readership/fan-base to promote a difficult topic that is close to her heart.  Members liked that the reading was accessible while challenging readers to recognize subtle racism.  Ms. Picoult involves her readers in a gentle way, asking them to ponder some very difficult questions.  Jodi Picoult is well-known for getting readers to develop empathy for her characters with her use of descriptive language.  She takes readers on an emotional journey as she writes well-drawn believable characters.  Readers genuinely care about her characters which contribute to them being memorable.  Even the secondary characters are well-drawn, such as the mothers of Ruth and Kennedy. Members like that Picoult used the main characters names as chapter titles—no guessing is required to understand which voice is being presented.

Members thought Small Great Things would be terrific as a movie and indeed, Viola Davis and Julia Roberts are slated to star in the movie version.

Several members thought the book was too long, which conflicted with the ending.  Members thought the novel wrapped up too quickly.

Many members felt the discussion was timely in light of current events and felt the overall message was hopeful.  Members think the book is an important read and members commented on the fantastic line-up of books the past several months at club which in combination gave historical and current views.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The group discussed ways they related to the three main characters.  Many members related to Ruth as an intelligent, hard-working single mother.  Members related to Kennedy as a liberal minded woman juggling the roles of motherhood and her career as a lawyer.  Like Jodi Picoult, all of the members were disgusted by Turk’s behavior, but some members felt Picoult showed how his troubled childhood contributed to his radicalization. We discussed what the role of parenting meant to each of the three characters.  We discussed the ways each of the three characters changed over the course of the novel.  We discussed how Ruth’s relationship with her sister Adisa changed over the course of the novel.  We spent a good deal of time talking about Turk’s transformation.  Many members thought his transformation was too incredible to be believable and yet, Picoult spent time interviewing past members of white supremacist groups to get the voice right and draw a clear picture of how it is possible for members to leave the group and work to undo racism.
  • Several members are regular Jodi Picoult readers and they enjoy her signature twists, however several other members felt the twists to be so contrived that they actually lowered their overall score.
  • In the novel, Kennedy seeks out a neighborhood in which she is the only white person to help her gain some perspective. Members were asked to think of a time when something about their identity made them an outsider and how were they affected by that experience.  Members shared many intimate anecdotal stories—through her Social Justice research Jodi Picoult discovered that open discussions about racial issues are vital and important.
  • The title of the book comes from a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that Ruth’s mother mentions on p. 173: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” We discussed what the quote means to us and cited some example of small great things done by the characters in the novel.
  • Finally, we discussed the difference between “equity” and “equality” as explained in the novel.  We discussed whether or not our perspectives on racism or privilege were changed or challenged by the reading of the book.

Resources:

Read Jodi Picoult’s website to learn about her
and her other fantastic novels:  https://www.jodipicoult.com/

PBS Books interviews Jodi Picoult on small great things at Book Expo 2016—Chicago:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Jodi Picoult, please click here.

Read-a-Likes:

Small Great Things

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Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – April 2018

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion group members all gave the book a 4.0 with the following exceptions: one member gave the book a 4.5 and another member gave the book a 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.12.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion group rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0, with one member giving the book a 3.0. The average of the ratings was 4.32.

Review:
All of the members felt the book was graphic and brutal in its description of slavery in the United States. They all agreed that the book was well-written but it was difficult and uncomfortable to read.  It was written with such vivid language and imagery that many members stated that the scenes will forever remain in their minds.  All of the members expressed a hope that someday we can move beyond racism, but agreed that acknowledging the past is essential in moving forward. The Underground Railroad assists readers in acknowledging the past, but also leaves readers with this question: where do we go from here?

Where Do We Go From Here? is the theme at the National Civil Rights Museum for the year-long commemoration of Dr. King’s assassination.  This was the title of Dr. King’s final book as well as the title of the speech he delivered on August 16, 1967 at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Several members had difficulty with Whitehead’s use of the metaphorical Underground Railroad.  They had difficulty transitioning between the magical realism of the Underground Railroad and the historical elements of the novel.  Many members were disappointed with the flow of the book and found it to be a challenging read.  Some members thought Whitehead rambled too much and his composition included too many characters which made the novel convoluted and difficult to track.

Many members felt the discussion was timely in light of current events.  Members felt the book is an important read and that it should be a part of required high school curriculum.  Members agreed that the serious nature of racism requires that books continue to be written to address the issue and to never allow the past to be forgotten.

Discussion Highlights:

The group discussed the concept of freedom as presented by Whitehead in this novel. The group also discussed what freedom meant to Cora and how her view changes over the course of the novel. The group talked about Cora’s personal view of freedom especially after her sexual assault by a group of other slaves and her personal journey to freedom with fear as a constant pursuer (personified by Ridgeway the slave catcher).

The above discussion led to discussion about Ridgeway’s perspective as a slave catcher. We discussed whether this added to a better understanding of the historical period.  We discussed the significance of Ridgeway’s behavior and treatment of Cora when he bought her a dress and took her out to dinner.  Many of the members were puzzled at this behavior and troubled by the insertion of it into the narrative.  It definitely doesn’t fit the narrative of historically cruel slave catchers.  One member thought of Ridgeway as a bounty hunter whose goals were purely financial and that he seemed to personally distance himself from the brutality of slavery.  Additionally, he dehumanized the slaves by calling these human beings “it.” He considered them property.  Colson Whitehead in an interview said, “I wanted to create a proper villain (Ridgeway) and a proper hero (Cora).”

We discussed the cruelty and brutality in the novel and how this affected us as readers. Many members had to take breaks while reading and many felt they needed to skim/skip sections.

We discussed the state-by-state structure of the novel and we discussed issues presented in each state that Whitehead created.  We discussed the “South Carolina” section and the presentation of the doctor’s offices and the museum designed to help “black uplift” and yet, they were corrupt and unethical. Whitehead’s “South Carolina” addresses eugenics, sterilization, and medical experimentation without consent. The group discussed how this mirrors what is still happening in America today.  One member is currently reading Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington.  This nonfiction book provides a provocative study of the history of medical experimentation on African Americans, from the colonial era to the present day, revealing the experimental exploitation and poor medical treatment suffered by blacks, often without any form of consent, and offering new details about the infamous Tuskegee experiment and other medical atrocities.

The experiments without consent reminded some members of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  This nonfiction book documents the story of how scientists took cells from an unsuspecting descendant of freed slaves and created a human cell line that has been kept alive indefinitely, enabling discoveries in such areas as cancer research, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping. It has been made into a major motion picture starring Oprah Winfrey.

As we continued to discuss the state-by-state structure, we included discussion about Whitehead’s “North Carolina.”  This state addressed genocide and alludes to Nazi Germany with the main character, Cora hiding in an attic, much like Anne Frank.

We discussed Whitehead’s “Indiana” with its presentation of black utopia and philosophical underpinnings regarding strategies for political movement forward.

The club discussed Cora’s mother’s decision to escape the Randall plantation and how our opinion of her changed after we learned about her fate.

We discussed how the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compared to other depictions in literature and film.  Several movies mentioned were: Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Amistad, Amazing Grace, and The Abolitionists.  The Morning Book Break book discussion group had previously enjoyed and discussed The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  The story follows Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a Charleston slave, and Sarah, the daughter of the wealthy Grimke family. The novel begins on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership over Handful, who is to be her handmaid. “The Invention of Wings” follows the next thirty-five years of their lives.  It is inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke (a feminist, suffragist and, importantly, an abolitionist).

We discussed how Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader and how this sense of fear impacts the reading of the novel.  This led to talking about the end of the novel.  We discussed why Cora accepts help from one man but not the other men who are willing to assist. We also discussed the ambiguous ending.  Some members disliked this ending and other members felt it was a great choice to make the novel impactful.  One member noted the cycle of freedom and visiting different states will most likely continue for Cora as this is perceived as being part of the struggle of black people in America.  Sadly, Cora was on her way to “Missouri,” a slave state in Whitehead’s arbitrary cut-off of 1850 for his novel.

Members discussed the timely reading of this novel and the relationship to current events such as;
Martin Luther King Jr. Assassination – 50th Anniversary
National Geographic– April 2018– Race Issue—featuring fraternal twins Millie and Marcia (The Race Issue)

Several members mentioned they watched the 60 Minutes report Inside the Memorial to Victims of Lynching: “Oprah Winfrey reports on the Alabama memorial dedicated to thousands of African-American men, women and children lynched over a 70-year period following the Civil War.”  Additionally, 60 minutes visited the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice which will open its doors for the first time on April 26, 2018.

Resources:

Read Colson Whitehead’s website to learn about him and his other fantastic novels: https://www.colsonwhitehead.com/

The facilitator selected the novel for book clubs for all the following reason stated below and to allow the reading of the novel to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination.  

“THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD had quite a year.

It won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurston/Wright Fiction Award, was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize. It became a #1 New York Times Bestseller, got picked by Oprah for her book club, President Obama chose it for his summer reading list, and it was a Best Book of the Year for the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsday, GQ, Publishers Weekly, Esquire, and Buzzfeed. It’s being translated into 40 languages.

Now I’m back to work, I think.”
—Colson Whitehead

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee has been honoring MLK with a yearlong celebration starting on April 4, 2017 and ending on April 4, 2108.  http://mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/


PBS Books interviews Colson Whitehead on The Underground Railroad at
Book Expo 2016—Chicago


Colson Whitehead is interviewed at Politics & Prose Bookstore
(A Washington D.C. favorite)

Read-a-Likes:

The Underground Railroad

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Colson Whitehead, please click here.

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.

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 – Books and Bagels – February 2018

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Books and Bagels Book Discussion on
Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo and Nobody’s Fool (DVD)

Ratings:
The book received ratings between a 3.5 and 5.0. One member gave the book a 2.00, but after the discussion was able to elevate her score to a 2.5. The average of the ratings was 4.23.

Review:
Members were asked to read Everybody’s Fool and watch the DVD Nobody’s Fool and then compare and contrast these two formats.  Members were asked whether Russo revisited any themes or characters. What recurring characters have changed or remained the same?  What do you think that the books offer collectively?

The members overall really enjoyed the movie, Nobody’s Fool.  Several members gathered together to view the film—and they enjoyed this group experience.  The members loved watching Paul Newman (Sully), Jessica Tandy (Miss Beryl), and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Douglas Raymer) portrays Russo’s characters.  The members miss these actors, just as Richard Russo misses them.  Sully is partly based on Richard Russo’s father, but Russo believes Sully also, belongs to Paul Newman—he is the embodiment of Sully.  Russo is hopeful that Everybody’s Fool will be optioned for a movie, but finds it hard to picture anyone else as Sully, Miss Beryl, or Douglas Raymer. Members enjoyed this format—watching a movie and then reading the sequel.  Members felt more connected to the characters and followed the novel more readily by using this method.

Members loved the humor contained within the novel.  During the book discussion, members laughed heartily as they recalled funny portions of the novel.  Members found the writing style to be remarkable and the descriptions very perceptive about the human race.  Although, the novel deals with very serious issues, members found the novel to be surprisingly uplifting.  Members appreciated Russo’s ability to develop rich depictions of primary and secondary characters.

Next month, members will read Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis  by J.D. Vance and they will be asked to compare and contrast the fictional portrayal of small town America (Everybody’s Fool) with the nonfiction portrayal (Hillbilly Elegy).

Discussion Highlights:

  • Discussion about the title of the book and who the title might be referencing.
  • Everybody’s Fool opens with a description of the local cemetery with several more visits throughout the novel.  The group discussed the symbolism implied in the setting.  Additional discussion about the North Bath and comparisons to the neighboring town of Schuyler Springs which led to an evaluation of fortune and luck experienced by different towns.
  • Discussion about the various relationships presented in the novel.
  • Discussed themes of aging, mortality, racism, prejudice and the treatment of women.
  • The members discussed which characters they felt the most sympathy for and whether any characters significantly changed over the course of the novel. We discussed how and why the characters are vulnerable to the judgements of others
  • Members discussed the theme of legacy and the influence of deceased characters throughout the story.  Additionally, we discussed the role of secrets, complicity, and forgiveness in the novel.
  • Of course, we discussed Russo’s use of comedy in the novel.

Resources:

For other books and audiobooks by Richard Russo, please click here.

 Richard Russo and Lori Ostlund in conversation at the Bay Area Book Festival.

Richard Russo discusses his recently-released novel with PBS correspondent Jeffrey Brown at Book Expo America 2016 in Chicago.

Richard Russo introduces Everybody’s Fool at University Book Store – Seattle

Amor Towles interviews Russo for Martha’s Vineyard Authors Series

Read-a-Likes:

Everybodys Fool

Richard Russo is known for his ability to intricately draw secondary characters.  In a recent interview, he commented that one of his core beliefs is that there are no small lives.  What a tribute to the richness of all human life! This core belief definitely comes through in his writing.

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.”

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“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

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!