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.

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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

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

After Dinner Mints – The Dish on Just Desserts – January 2017

After Dinner Mints

Just Desserts Discussion Group talks about
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

For January, our group read Ms. Picoult’s newest novel.

This story deals with prejudice, race and justice, and is Jodi Picoult’s 23rd novel. Our author studied creative writing at Princeton. She has also worked as a technical writer, copywriter, editor, and 8th grade English teacher. Jodi is married with three adult children and she lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Our story begins with Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse being told by a white supremacist and his wife that Ruth, a Black nurse, can’t touch or care for their newborn son. Ruth has been doing her job for over twenty years and this is a first for her. The Administration tells her that the parents of patients have the right to make requests like this.

Ruth’s life is turned upside down when the baby suddenly dies. Ruth is trying to raise her seventeen year old son, Edison, after being widowed. Ruth is an exceptional nurse and mother!

We also meet Ruth’s public defender, Kennedy, and get to know Turk and Brittany Bauer, the baby’s parents. The author does a wonderful job showing us the difficulties of Ruth’s day to day struggles.

The title is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” If only everyone lived their lives with this conviction!

Our March book is The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald!

Small Great Things

Read-a-Likes, reader's advisory

Read-a-Likes: Agatha Christie

If you love the grand dame of mystery, and want more whodunits with a cozy feel and clever plots, try these authors:

Margery Allingham
M.C. Beaton
Lilian Jackson Braun
Carola Dunn
Dorothy Gilman
Jane Haddam
Carolyn Hart
P.D. James
Jane Langton
Charlotte MacLeod
Ngaio Marsh
Ellis Peters
Ruth Rendell
Dorothy L. Sayers

Read A Like Christie

Read-a-Likes, reader's advisory

Read-a-Likes: Dan Brown

If you like Dan Brown’s fast-paced and suspenseful thrillers, often involving conspiracies, the church and art, try these authors:

Steve Berry
Alan Jacobson
Raymond Khoury
Katherine Neville
Matthew Pearl
Iain Pears
Arturo Perez-Reverte
Douglas Preston
Matthew Reilly
James Rollins
Daniel Silva

Read A Like Dan Brown

RA Programs, reader's advisory, Slideshows

Book Lover’s Day 2017 Wrap Up

September 21st was Book Lover’s Day 2017!  This is our annual program to share books that we as a department have loved over the past year, give away raffles of popular books, and have a pleasant luncheon while enjoying fiction.

We had a full house 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 2017 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!

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All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Speculative Fiction)

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (Nostalgic Adventure)

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (Romance Fiction)

Dying on the Vine by Marla Cooper (Mystery)

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney (Psychological Suspense)

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Mythological Non-Fiction)

The Dry by Jane Harper (Mystery)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Literary Fiction)

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson (Domestic Fiction)

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan (Suspense/ Thriller)

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (Historical Fiction)

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (Historical Fiction

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond (Suspense/Thriller)

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (Domestic Fiction)

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much by Mark Shaw (Biography/True Crime)

Displays

Let’s Plan a Totally Tiki Weekend!

Discover the many ways you can benefit from the Rolling Meadows Library collection with our Let’s Plan a Weekend displays at the Welcome Desk!

We are having small, themed raffles in conjunction with these displays that patrons can enter to win!   Each display also includes bookmarks to take home on how to create your own unique, themed experiences with library materials, which are also on display.  Raffle winners do need to have a Rolling Meadows library card, but everyone can check out the materials or take home a bookmark!

The display which has just ended was “Let’s Plan a ‘Wise Guys’ Weekend!”  Patrons entered to win two different packs of prizes, one themed around the HBO show The Sopranos, and one themed more generally around the mystery and fascination surrounding the mob.  This concluded our Summer Reading Program tie-in raffles, which were a great success!
Our winners for these prize packs were Lora S. and Jerelyn K., out of a total out 132 entries!

Our current display is “Let’s Plan a Totally Tiki Weekend!” It has a pack of prizes to win themed around the vintage trend of getting together and celebrating the Pacific Islands through tiki parties and decor.

Questions?  Call the library @ 847.259.6050 or stop by the Welcome Desk!

8-08 Totally Tiki

 

Book Club

After Dinner Mints – The Dish on Just Desserts – July 2017

after-dinner-mints

Just Desserts Discussion Group talks about
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

This month’s fiction book is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. What a book! What a story! It took the author ten years to research and finish this novel.

Our novel tells the story of Marie-Laure of France and Werner of Germany. Both young people are coming of age during World War II.

The chapters of the book alternate between Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories.

The author explores their childhoods before the war. Next, he follows them to new homes at the onset of war. We get to witness how each young person joins the war effort in their own way. The two teens meet during the bombing of Saint-Malo. I don’t want to give away too much of the story except to say that it is riveting. The reader really grows to care about the characters and is really invested in their outcomes.

We get to learn about radios and the big part that they played in communication before, during and after the war.

The novel’s heart is all about doing the right thing. Not necessarily the easy thing, but the right thing! We all can do this! We can treat other people well and with respect. The novel is filled with heroes trying to do good while surrounded with so much evil.

Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. Many book club members thought that this was the best book that we read this year.

All the Light We Cannot See