Displays, reader's advisory

Check Out Our Displays! – March 2020

Honoring Women’s History Month (also on display in Audio Fiction)

Welcome Spring!

“Music is the Universal Language of Mankind” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(also on display in CDs)

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – January 2020

Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book with a range between a 2.0 and 4.5.  Additionally, one member gave the book a 0.5 and another member rated the book at 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.16.  

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 0.5 and 4.0. Additionally, one member gave the book a zero and another member rated the book at 5.0. The average of the ratings was 2.76.

Review:
Alan Bradley was born in 1938 and learned to read at an early age.  He worked as a radio and television engineer and later helped developed the broadcasting studio at the University of Saskatchewan, where he was director for twenty-five years. He took an early retirement and began writing short stories for literary magazines. In early 2007, he entered the Debut Dagger fiction competition and won.  The fifteen submitted pages would become The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  This mystery is the first of ten, so far.  Bradley was sixty-nine when The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was published.  His story is so encouraging! It is never to late to work to complete our goals!  And, it is never too late to write our stories!

Discussion Highlights:
The groups discussed what Alan Bradley said in an interview, “I don’t think we trust children enough anymore or leave them alone enough…I recall being that age, and one of the greatest blessings was being left to myself.  You find you own interests and amusements and pursue them.”  We discussed whether kids today are given enough freedom and whether or not Flavia is given too much freedom.

We discussed the twists in the plot, our favorite scenes, and the most amusing dialogue.

Positive Comments:
Some members enjoyed the witty dialogue and delightful descriptions.  Some members loved the charming setting and interesting characters.  Members did think the author wrote wonderful descriptions.  Some members thought the writing should be tighter.  Some members were reminded of their childhood and more innocent times in history.

The facilitator read the book over the holidays in a cozy chair at home sipping hot coffee. She laughed and smiled while reading the book as time delightfully slipped away.  She found the book just what it claimed to be: a wonderful entertainment. The facilitator fondly remembered her childhood with long days spent bicycling, practicing slights of hand, playing in the forest and prairie, collecting nature samples, using a chemistry set and microscope, and plenty of time just to imagine.  She thought the book was an exceptionally pleasant read!

Negative Comments:
Many members thought the book was formulaic and totally unrealistic.  With only twenty-five pages left, one member thought it wasn’t even worth the effort to finish.  Members couldn’t swallow the premise that an eleven year old girl could have such freedom around town and access to chemical compounds.  They thought that Flavia was too young to have such an understanding of chemistry and poisons.  They said, “Who would let their eleven year old romp around the village with a potential killer on the loose.” Many members thought the story was boring; they did not want to leave more thought-provoking reads to read this dull story. Many members thought this book should be classified as a Young Adult/Teen read. Most members will not recommend this author to other people and they definitely won’t read another Flavia de Luce mystery.

Often when the ratings are so low the facilitator will justify the selection and tell the members why the book was selected.

In this case, members have requested entertaining, easy reads over the holidays. 

Additionally, this book has received many awards such as; the Barry Award for Best First Novel (2010), the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel (2010), an Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2010), the Dilys Award (2010), the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel (2010), the Agatha Award for Best First Novel (2009), the CWA Debut Dagger (2007), and a Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction & Mystery/Thriller (2009)

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Alan Bradley, please click here.

Visit Alan Bradley’s website.

Penguin House Canada introduces Alan Bradley and his Flavia novels:

Listen to these interviews with Alan Bradley about how he created the delightful, spunky Flavia de Luce novels.  He talks about how he came up with the creative titles and how his Flavia is a gift from the universe.

Read-a-Likes:

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – November 2019

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups on
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book between a 3.0 and 4.5. The average of the ratings was 3.86.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 1.5 and 4.0. The average of the ratings was 3.47.

Review:
Sujata Massey’s novel is one in which many subgenres overlap.  The Widows of Malabar Hill combines a traditional mystery with domestic fiction, historical fiction, and legal thriller. The main character, Perveen Mistry, was inspired by Cornelia Sorabji, the first female graduate of Bombay University, the first woman to study law at Oxford University, and the first woman to practice law in India.  She was disturbed by the lack of legal representation for purdahnashins, women who were forbidden to interact with the outside male world.  Cornelia Sorabji drew attention to the injustices these women faced when their husbands died—this issue drives the plot of The Widows of Malabar Hill.

The Widows of Malabar Hill moves back and forth between 1916 and 1921.  In 1916, Perveen Mistry falls in love and marries Cyrus Sodawalla.  Due to customs at the time, she leaves her home in Bombay and moves in with her husband’s family in Calcutta.  Perveen and Cyrus are Parsi, or Persian, whose descendants were followers of the Zoroastrian religion.  In her in-law’s home, Perveen is forced to stay in an 8 x 12 foot cell once a month during binamazi.

The author writes a compelling mystery that offers rich cultural insights.

Discussion Highlights:

Positive Comments:
Most members knew very little about purdah, binamazi traditions, and the Parsi culture before reading this mystery.  Members really enjoy gaining knowledge and insight about cultures and religions different than their own.  The facilitator commented that readers were spoon-fed a lot of historical information in an interesting way—it is always exciting to learn new things without having to work hard to digest information.  Members appreciated the research the author executed in the novel. Many members enjoyed the rich details and loved hearing about the food.  They were excited when the facilitator showed them Massey’s website which includes recipes from the book. 

A few members really liked the book and plan to read her next books.  Some members and the facilitator thought the structure of the book was ideal to tell Perveen’s story and help the reader understand what created this compassionate woman.  The back and forth structure also creates interest. Members respected Perveen and her father; they appreciated their relationship. The contextual clues are so spot on, the reader does not generally need to look at the glossary provided.  Most members agreed that they gained insight into a culture and its rich history.

Negative Comments:
Many members thought the beginning was challenging. The complete title of the book is The Widows of Malabar Hill: A Mystery of 1920’s Bombay, so readers were expecting a mystery to unfold right away and when it didn’t they were disappointed.  Members did not like that the author moved back and forth from 1916 to 1921 and they felt the glossary did not help with any terminology.  Many members had difficulty with the names and one member renamed all the characters to read the book.

Further Discussion:
The group discussed the religious differences between the two families of the same faith.  We discussed the difference between modern and orthodox religiosity.

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Sujata Massey, please click here.

See the interviews below to discover how Sujata Massey became interested in the story.

Please visit Sujata Massey’s website to learn more about Cornelia Sorabji, the historical figure who was the inspiration for the Perveen Mistry character.  Additionally, Sujata Massey’s website contains photos from real places in the book and Indian recipes.

Read-a-Likes:

Book Club

The After Party – Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – October 2019

Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book between a 1.5 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.51.  

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 3.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.23.

Review:
For the past seven years during the fall, the book clubs have read selections from the Suburban Mosaic, an organization that “seeks to confront issues of racial and social justice and promote cross-cultural understanding through literature.” (http://www.suburbanmosaicbooks.org/

This 2018-2019 season, Suburban Mosaic selected the nonfiction book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal-practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.  One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinkmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.  Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming-of-age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.  Just Mercy is soon to be a major motion picture starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.

Last year, during the 2018-2019 book club season, the facilitator selected The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, and Varina by Charles Frazier. (See previous posts for more information about these books)  During these clubs, the facilitator and other members brought to light some of the work that Bryan Stevenson has done at the Equal Justice Initiative.  In an attempt to expose the members to different material, the selector chose An American Marriage as a fiction substitute for Just Mercy.  Tayari Jones attempts to cover different ground by showing readers how mass incarceration affects the family unit, specifically a marriage.

Discussion Highlights:
Club members discussed the title and the cover art. We discussed whether or not the title represents the novel and what about the novel makes it a particularly “American.” Several members thought the author did an excellent job portraying the state of marriage in modern day America.  The novel shows the various states of marriage and the author also shows a couple deciding not to marry, but live in “communion.” The author describes the different stages of romance through various characters—the readers are exposed to first dates, engagements, marriage, divorce, second and third marriages, love affairs, etc. The author did an excellent job in attempting to describe love and marriage—a nearly impossible feat.  The members thought Tayari Jones wrote a well-written, thought-provoking novel that has readers talking about important topics. 

The facilitator told the group members that other book clubs have gotten into fights defending the actions of one of the three main characters.  Book club members have taken sides about what they thought each character should or should not have done. One all male book club disputed the actions between Andre and Roy.  Many in this group felt Andre broke the “bro code” by having relations with Celestial, who was married to his best friend, Roy. 

The group members at the Rolling Meadows Library treated each other very considerately and respectfully.  We talked about the three alternating perspectives in the novel—Celestial, Roy, and Andre. We talked about which perspective we responded more positively towards.  The members felt Tayari Jones wrote vivid three-dimensional characters, which is why readers are responding strongly to the different characters she brought to life.

Celestial’s view of love: (pp.138)
“Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.  Roy came into my life at the time when I needed a man like him.  Would I have galloped into this love affair if I had never left Atlanta?  I don’t know. But how you feel love and understand love are two different things.  Now, so many years down the road, I recognize that I was alone and adrift and that he was lonely in the way that only a ladies man can be.  He reminded me of Atlanta, and I reminded him of the same. All these were reasons why we were drawn to each other, but standing with him outside of Maroons, we were past reason.  Human emotion is beyond comprehension, smooth and uninterrupted, like an orb made of blown glass.”

Tayari Jones attempts to show how marriage is like a tree (the family unit) and the bride and groom are like a sapling.  Marriage attempts to bond two different families into one unit—the next generation, “But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch.  You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.” (pp. 4)

Unfortunately, Roy’s prison term ramps up the already present friction between Celestial and Roy and it becomes evident that: “Our marriage was a sapling graft that didn’t have time to take.” (pp.284)

We discussed the structure of the novel, which at times is told through the exchange of letters.  Many members enjoyed this structure. Some members wished the letters were dated; others members felt the author made a good choice in not dating the letters because this allowed for the lengthy passage of time with regards to the incarceration. In the interviews below, the author chose letter writing to eliminate some of the mundane aspects of prison life and to protect the reader from the violent aspects of prison life.  The author wanted her novel to have wide readership, and she felt a dark, gritty prison read would not have wide appeal. She hopes more people will read her book, enjoy talking about the love triangle and will begin to ponder the effects mass incarceration has on the wider community.

In an interview, Tayari Jones did she said, “I don’t see how our prison system is working for anyone—not the people who have committed crimes, not the victims, not the tax payers.  Nobody is winning here.” We discussed whether or not the novel illustrated this point and whether or not our opinions on the American prison system changed after reading An American Marriage.  Many members felt that they did not learn anything new about the prison system, but agree with Tayari Jones’s view.

We talked about Celestial’s business and the symbolism behind the baby dolls she creates.

Without including any spoilers, we talked about the incredibly important person Roy meets while in prison.  Several members thought this was an interesting plot device and other members felt it was too contrived. Even the author was surprised that Roy met this person.  Tayari Jones does not write with an outline; she likens her style of writing to this metaphor: she is the driver in a car with the characters in her novels. As they travel along in the car, her characters make decisions and she lets them, but sometimes she has to take control of various situations. Members enjoyed Tayari Jones’s writing style and would definitely read another book by the author.  A few members disliked the book because it was too contrived and written like a “Lifetime Movie”.

We talked about the two major twists at the end of the novel.  Most members felt the author did a great job of tying up the loose ends.  Although it is not a fairy tale ending—the novel ended in a hopeful manner giving each character dignity.

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Tayari Jones, please click here.

Tayari Jones speaks about the inspiration behind An American Marriage:

Tayari Jones talks about letter writing, her love of The Odyssey, and mass incarceration:

Tayari Jones talks about her love of bookstores; she says with every book you can visit a different world and meet new people.   Tayari Jones talks about one of her favorite authors, Toni Morrison. Tayari Jones admires Toni Morrison so much that she has soil from Toni Morrison’s homeland in a jar in her office.

Read-a-Likes:

Members highly recommended watching the film If Beale Street Could Talk, based on the novel by James Baldwin.

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – September 2019

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups on
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0 with two members giving the book a 3.5. The average of the ratings was 4.62.  Two members did not like the humor and thought nothing could be funny when you consider the trauma Eleanor suffered.

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 4.53.

Review:
In the seven years the facilitator has been conducting these clubs, this book received the highest favorable ratings. The author masterfully wove pathos and humor together, which is a very difficult task. Members have been recommending this novel to everyone.  Everyone rooted for Eleanor and we were not disappointed. Terrific life lessons were presented in the novel, such as; kindness creating a ripple effect in the community and kindness working its own kind of magic.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Club members like that Honeyman developed a good friendship between Eleanor and Raymond. 

We discussed the qualities in Raymond that allow Eleanor to feel comfortable with him which created an atmosphere for her to open up. They were thrilled that Honeyman did not end the novel with a romantic Hollywood ending instead Honeyman allows the relationship to develop naturally, displaying how the two main characters support each other.

  • Honeyman makes a point to show how small acts of kindness have a ripple effect. Raymond insists that Eleanor help Sammy, an old man who has fallen in the street, and at first Eleanor is put off and judgmental, but this is the beginning of her growth. This simple task of helping another changed her life. In the Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members shared small acts of kindness that were significant to them.  The book points out that not all scars are visible and that kindness works wonders.
  • The novel sheds light on mental illness, depression, survivor guilt and how judgmental people can be. It highlights emotional abuse, physical abuse, and child neglect.  The group discussed Mummy and the effects she had on Eleanor. We discussed why Eleanor continued her weekly phone calls with Mummy.
  • We discuss the meaning of the title.
  • Members discussed the trauma Eleanor experienced as a child and how she easily developed a teenage crush on the musician, Johnnie.  
  • The clubs spent a lot of time discussing the final plot twist. Everyone was surprised by the ending and this evoked even more sympathy and understanding for Eleanor.  The members discussed Honeyman’s skillful writing and her use of red herrings in the novel to create suspense. As members read the novel, they thought Eleanor’s Mummy was either in prison or a mental institution or possibly it was a voice in Eleanor’s head.  Honeyman wrote the novel in the first person, so Eleanor is an unreliable narrator which helps to create further mystery and suspense. Readers tried to figure out what might be going on with Eleanor. Was she on the spectrum? Did she have OCD? Did she hear voices? 
  • The author wanted to braid two related ideas together.  The first was the idea of loneliness and the other strand was that of social awkwardness. “I realized that I wanted to tell a story about someone like this, or, rather, someone who’d ended up like this, living a small life. A lonely person, a slightly awkward person, and someone in whom loneliness and social awkwardness had become entwined and self-perpetuating.  I wanted to tell the story of how this had happened to her, and of what happened to her next, and this became the story of Eleanor Oliphant.” The author explores reasons that explain a person’s awkwardness. “Might there perhaps be something in their background or childhood experiences, some life event that had helped to shape them in this particular way?” We discussed whether or not the author was successful in her purpose and we also discussed the question of nature versus nurture. We discussed whether or not, Eleanor would be socially awkward if she had not had a traumatic childhood.
  • We discussed some of the funniest moments in the novel.  Due to the fact that Eleanor had an abusive childhood, two members did not find anything funny about the novel. Because Eleanor is blunt and has few filters she exhibits moments of astute social commentary, so we discussed these moments.  We discussed what factors contribute to her unconventional personality.
  • We discussed the main theme of the novel, which seemed to be: “I suppose one of the reasons we’re able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.” The book has a wonderful joyful message which is why it is resonating with so many readers.
  • We discussed how Glenn the cat is a metaphor for the change Eleanor experiences and how the simple act of caring for others nurtures us and a healthy cycle is created in society.

Resources:

Gail Honeyman sends a thank you to libraries and librarians:
Interesting Podcast, Gail Honeyman shares in-depth about the UK newspaper article about loneliness in young people and how she incorporated this information into her character, Eleanor.

Read-a-Likes:

reader's advisory, Slideshows

Book Lover’s Day 2018 Wrap-Up

October 18th was Book Lover’s Day 2018!  This is our annual program to share books that we as a department have loved over the past year and have a pleasant luncheon while enjoying fiction and nonfiction titles.  This year’s theme was Book Lovers in Paradise.

We had a full house again this year; every seat was filled!

If you were unable to join us, or want a refresher on what books were spoken about, below you will find the slide show from Book Lover’s Day 2018 as well as an alphabetical book list by author of the titles presented.  Click on any of the titles in the book list to see them in our catalog.

Please feel free to ask questions or reserve a book via the comments!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Colorful Way of Living: How to Be More, Create More, Do More
the Vera Bradley Way
 
by Barbara Bradley Baekgaard
(Inspirational Non-Fiction)

Snap by Belinda Bauer
(Suspense Fiction)

The Immortalists  by Chloe Benjamin
(Literary Fiction)

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
(Historical Fiction)

The Wife by Alafair Burke
(Psychological Suspense)

 The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland
(Contemporary Romance)

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
(Interactive Romance)

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
(Frontier Life Non-Fiction)

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
(Alternate History/Horror)

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
(Biography)

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
(Alternate History/Science Fiction)

A Criminal Defense by William L. Myers, Jr.
(Legal Thriller)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
(Family Drama)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
(Historical Fiction)

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
(Horror/Thriller)

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

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

After Dinner Mints – The Dish on Just Desserts – March 2018

After Dinner Mints

Just Desserts Discussion Group talks about
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

For March, our group read Ms. Bivald’s debut novel.

Katarina lives outside Stockholm, Sweden. Her book was first published in the United States in 2016. From the age of 15, she worked ten years in a small, independent bookshop. Quite surprisingly, she never set foot in the U.S. or small-town America, but her novel rings true. Everything that she learned about the U.S., she learned through television, movies and books!

Sara Lindquist and Amy Harris wrote letters and exchanged book recommendations for two years before Amy invited Sara to come and visit her in Iowa. The story begins with Sara’s visit and the delightful, friendly people that she meets. Sara has a strong desire to give back to the community. She also believes that every person’s life can be enriched through books. She is definitely not wrong!

If you are looking for a gentle read and love fiction about books and bookshops, please pick up this book!

Our group really enjoyed it. Thank you to staff member, Anne, for her recommendation at Book Lover’s Day 2016. Katarina Bivald is working on her next novel, and I hope it takes us back to Broken Wheel.

Please join us next month for April’s book When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend