Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Optimist's Daughter, December book

At the last Talk About Books in November, we each presented a book we had read recently. One of the the books was a new memoir about Harper Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills. We were all familiar with Lee's well-loved Pulitzer Prize winner, To Kill a Mockingbird, so we decided to follow Harper Lee's advice and try one of her favorite authors, Eudora Welty. Both Welty and Lee grew up in the South ( Mississippi and Alabama) and both remained true to their roots all their lives.

We chose The Optimist's Daughter. It won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is considered by many to be her best book. It is the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, a young woman who has left the South and returns, years later, to New Orleans, to take care of her father, Judge McKelva, who is dying. After his death, she and her immature young stepmother go back still farther, to the small Mississippi town where she grew up. Alone in the the old house, Laurel finally comes to an understanding of the past, herself, and her parents.

In his New York Times Book Review, May 21, 1972, Howard Moss praised The Optimist's Daughter as "a miracle of compression, the kind of book, small in scope but profound in its implications, that rewards a lifetime of work. Its style is at the service of a story that follows its nose with the instincts of a good hunting dog never losing the scent of its quarry. And its story has all those qualities peculiar to the finest short novels: a theme that vibrates with overtones, suspense and classical inevitability."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Innocents Abroad, October book

Who could read the programme for the excursion without longing to make one of the party? So Mark Twain acclaims his voyage from New York City to Europe and the Holy Land in June 1867. His adventures produced The Innocents Abroad, a book so funny and provocative it made him an
international star for the rest of his life. He was making his first responses to the Old World - to Paris, Milan, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, Constantinople, Sebastopol, Balaklava, Damascus, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. For the first time he was seeing the great paintings and sculptures of the Old Masters . He responded with wonder and amazement, but also with exasperation, irritation, disbelief. Above all he displayed the great energy of his humour, more explosive for us now than for his beguiled contemporaries.

 map of Twain's travel

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pride and Prejudice

September's book, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen begins with"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Mrs. Bennet has five daughters and a big problem: none of them are married, there isn't much fortune to go around, and—thanks to a quirk of English property law—they'll all be kicked out of their house when Mr. Bennet dies. Enter Mr. Bingley, a rich, single man who moves into their neighborhood and takes a liking to the eldest Miss Bennet, Jane.

Shmoop looks at Pride and Prejudice

An analysis of the book.

Monday, June 23, 2014


August's book is the Vermont Reads selection for 2014, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

We'll talk about Wonder on Wednesday, August 20 at 6:30 PM at the library. Books are available at the library, the town office, Guilford Country Store and the Guilford Community Church. 

Praise for Wonder

Vermont Reads discussion questions

Discussion questions from R.J.Palacio's website

Questions frequently asked of  R.J. Palacio.

R.J. Palacio talks about things you might be wondering about, in no special order...

Listen to "Wonder" by Natalie Merchant

Monday, June 2, 2014

Still Life With Bread Crumbs

Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Quindlen on writing fiction. "In fiction, you’re liberated by invention. I loved being a reporter and a columnist, but I hewed very close to the blessed conventions of our business — that is, that you take the notes and you excavate the facts and you tell exactly what happened. With the novel, it’s not that I know Rebecca Winter. I become Rebecca Winter because to write about characters in that omniscient-narrator way, we have to be able to slip in and out of their skin. Sometimes I felt limited by journalism because, as we all know from hearing about the blind man and the various parts of the elephant, what really happened can often be determined by precisely where you were standing. Fiction offers me an opportunity to take everything that I’ve learned about the human condition through journalism and be all of the blind men at once."

New York Times book review

NPR Interview with Anna Quindlen

Washington Post Interview with Anna Quindlen

Monday, May 12, 2014

How It All Began

When Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, her daughter Rose cannot accompany her employer Lord Peters to Manchester, which means his niece Marion has to go instead, which means she sends a text to her lover which is intercepted by his wife, which is just the beginning in the ensuing chain of life-altering events.

In this engaging, utterly absorbing and brilliantly told novel, Penelope Lively shows us how one random event can cause marriages to fracture and heal themselves, opportunities to appear and disappear, lovers who might never have met to find each other and entire lives to become irrevocably changed.

We’ll be talking about this book on Wednesday, May 21, at 6:30 pm. Books are available to borrow at the library.

Interesting links:

NYT review

another NYT review

A Lively Ode to Happenstance: an NPR story with Penelope Lively

 Discussion Questions from LitLovers

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Covenant


The Covenant by James A. Michener is an epic tale that whisks the reader from the earliest days in South Africa and the San tribal customs and follows its growth and development through several key families right up to and including apartheid. It is a history lesson that is personalized so as to ingrain itself on you as you grow with each generation of the families involved. The Covenant is a remarkable piece of work, endeavoring to show all sides of an impossible situation and giving the reader an insight to issues that most of its own countrymen still struggle to understand.

It is a well told story that leaves the reader with lots to think about.

We'll be talking about The Covenant on Wednesday, March 19, at 6:30 pm.
Books are available to borrow from the library.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Long Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa's antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.

His autobiography Long Walk to Freedom was published in 1995. The book profiles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison. Under the apartheid government, Mandela was regarded as a terrorist and jailed on the infamous Robben Island for his role as a leader of the then-outlawed ANC. He has since achieved international recognition for his leadership as president in rebuilding the country's once segregated society.[1] The last chapters of the book describe his political ascension, and his belief that the struggle continues against apartheid in South Africa.

We'll be talking about Long Walk to Freedom on February 19 at 6:30 pm. Books are available to borrow from the library.

Interesting Links

The Trial of Nelson Mandela (Rivonia Trial): Testimony of Alan Paton

Mandela quotes

Images of Nelson Mandela 

The Xhosa people