Wednesday, December 28, 2016

January Book, Euphoria

Euphoria, by Lily King, is a novel of historical fiction based on a brief period in  the life of Margaret Mead. In 1933, Mead, already well-known for her ground-breaking work, Coming of Age in Samoa, and her husband, Reo Fortune, were returning from a discouraging stay with a hostile tribe in New Guinea, when they met a colleague, Gregory Bateson, who convinced them to stay and continue working with a different tribe.

Using this encounter as a point of departure, King creates the story of a love triangle involving three gifted anthropologists who are working to develop a new social science.

Denise Brennan Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Georgetown University, comments, "Well, Nell is a tough woman. She goes into places where women weren't going at that time. And we hear, time and time again, from the author, Lily King, how ambitious she is and how she loves to work. I loved Nell. I think, in Nell, we see somebody who's straddling so many worlds, both the male world and the places that women couldn't go in her own society and then we watch her so expertly and so compassionately and yet, at times, quite troublingly try to make sense of this completely other so-called exotic place she goes into.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

December Book, Everything I Never Told YOu

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .

This is the opening sentence for this first novel, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The story is about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

"If we know this story, we haven't seen it yet in American fiction, not until now. Ng has set two tasks in this novel’s doubled heart—to be exciting, and to tell a story bigger than whatever is behind the crime. She does both by turning the nest of familial resentments into at least four smaller, prickly mysteries full of secrets the family members won’t share… What emerges is a deep, heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history, and a young woman hoping to be the fulfillment of that struggle. This is, in the end, a novel about the burden of being the first of your kind—a burden you do not always survive.”  Alexander Chee, The New York Time Book Review

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

November Book, The Franchise Affair

The Talk About Books group decided at their October meeting to read a mystery for the November book selection.  Josephine Tey came up as a much loved British mystery writer. The Franchise Affair was first published in 1948.

The setting is contemporary post-Second World War, but could be  inspired by the 18th-century case of Elizabeth Canning, a maidservant who claimed she had been kidnapped and held prisoner for a month. It could be based on a 1925 non-fiction account of the case, The Canning Wonder by Athur Machen.

Robert Blair was about to knock off from a slow day at his law firm when the phone rang. It was Marion Sharpe on the line, a local woman of quiet disposition who lived with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise. It appeared that she was in some serious trouble: Miss Sharpe and her mother were accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane. Miss Kane's claims seemed highly unlikely, even to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, until she described her prison -- the attic room with its cracked window, the kitchen, and the old trunks -- which sounded remarkably like The Franchise. Yet Marion Sharpe claimed the Kane girl had never been there, let alone been held captive for an entire month! Not believing Betty Kane's story, Solicitor Blair takes up the case and, in a dazzling feat of amateur detective work, solves the unbelievable mystery that stumped even Inspector Grant.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October Book, The Greater Journey

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough recounts the activities and observations of Americans who went abroad to Paris in great numbers beginning in the 1830's.

Waves of young Americans who would become important in art, education, medicine, literature, music and technological innovation sought the kind of broadening experiences that were not available to them at home.

 Mr. McCullough’s account of how Morse, who would become best known for his telegraph and code, painted his monumental “Gallery of the Louvre” (1831-33) is fascinating.  So are the experiences of American medical students in Paris, whose educational opportunities (including free lectures at the Sorbonne) were vastly greater than anything available to them at home. In America, male doctors could not examine female patients; in France, they could learn about obstetrics. And Paris enabled Elizabeth Blackwell to go home and become the first female doctor in the United States.

That's just a taste of the many famous personalities who fill the pages of The Greater Journey. The descriptions of Parisian life and political events during the span of the 70 years covered in the book are equally entertaining and enlightening.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Endurance, September Book

Talk About Books will be participating in Vermont Reads 2016 with our September selection, The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander.

The thrilling adventure has been recounted many times. The expedition started out in August 1914 with the goal of making the first crossing on foot of the Antarctic Continent. 

The crew of 27 under the leadership of Ernest Shackleton came within 85 miles of their destination. There Endurance came to a dead stop, trapped in then crushed by the relentless ice pack. The stranded crew forged on for 20 months before finally being rescued.

Caroline Alexander has drawn upon previously unavailable sources to bring this expedition alive for her readers. She presents the work of Australian photographer Frank Hurley whose first-hand visual record had never before been published comprehensively. The survival of his glass plate negatives was a tribute to his resourcefulness. Together, Alexander's text and Hurley's photographs are riveting.

Copies of Endurance have been provided by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council and are available at Guilford Free Library, Guilford Country Store, Guilford Central School and the Broad Brook Grange. When finished, readers are asked to return it or pass it on to a friend who will help us keep the books circulating.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Not Without Peril, August Book

Not Without Peril by Marguerite Allis is an historical novel based on the life of a real person, Jemima Sartwell, who born in Groton, Massachusetts. Her father moved his family to the wilderness when Northfield was at the edge of the frontier and built a fort in what is now Vernon, called Fort Sartwell. Jemima moved up and down the Connecticut River as her first husband, then her second husband were killed by Indians. She and her children were captured by Indians and taken to Canada, where they lived as prisoners of war. After the French and Indian War ended, Jemima was returned to New Hampshire, where she was reunited with all but two of her children. Not Without Peril is  an amazing book about an amazing woman. 
This epic adventure is a learning experience about the living conditions, political divides, impact of the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the evolution of the land called The Grants which we now know as Vermont.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Little Paris Bookshop, July Book

“There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books.”

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Defending Jacob, June Book

 “Defending Jacob” by William Landay is a courtroom drama that hinges on the murder of a high school boy. The novel opens amid a grand jury hearing, with Andy Barber, a former assistant district attorney, being grilled by Neal Logiudice who happens to have been Andy’s protégé. The questions involve whether or not Andy should have been investigating the killing of a boy named Ben Rifkin. The case fell into Andy’s professional bailiwick, but the victim was a classmate of Jacob Barber, Andy’s 14-year-old son.

Landay turns out to be creating a clever blend of legal thriller and issue-oriented family implosion. It’s possible to get almost all the way through “Defending Jacob” without knowing whether he can pull this off. It helps that Andy is as ignorant about Jacob as he is savvy about courtroom theatrics. Before the murder, Andy and his wife, Laurie, just didn’t know much about their son. These are comfortable suburban parents who think they have done all the right things in raising their son. They’ve never needed to question that assumption. But the way that Jacob found Ben’s body in the woods casts suspicion on Jacob. So does the fact that Ben was a bully, using Jacob as a frequent target. And it turns out, to Andy and Laurie’s horror, that Jacob’s classmates have always found him a little strange. The more they uncover about this, the more “Defending Jacob” heats up.

excerpts from NY Times review by Janet Maslin, 2/12/2012 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fates and Furies, May Book

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff tells a the story of a marriage from two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

According to Jason Sheehan in his September 15, 2015 book review for npr, "The book is a master class in best lines; a shining, rare example of that most unforgiving and brutal writer's advice: All you have to do is write the best sentence you've ever written. Then 10,000 more of the best. Then find a way to string them together into the story of something.

 At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. The voice that tells Lotto's half of the tale is dreamy. Mathilde's is rougher, crueler. A Greek chorus chimes in now and then in snarky, bracketed asides, which work beautifully within the architectural construction of Groff's voice.

By the end of Fates And Furies, we have seen both sides, maybe even all sides of Lotto and Mathilde. We've seen the man and the woman behind the man, borne witness to terrible truths brought forth for spite's sake and watched a dark turn to furious vengeance when Mathilde (suddenly, but not at all uncharacteristically) goes full Lady MacBeth and scorches the very earth. We know their secrets. We know their fears."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Sandcastle Girls, April Book

The year 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and Chris Bohjalian’s novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,’’  represents just the beginning of what will be a steady stream of publications remembering this tragedy. Unlike his mystery books, this one is a historical romance.

Laura is a writer, mother of two, and granddaughter of Elizabeth and Armen Petrosian. She has happy memories of her visits to her grandparents’ comfortable Long Island home, with its “plush Oriental carpets, and thick leather books filled with an alphabet I could not begin to decipher,” and the perpetual aroma of the lamb chops her grandfather ate for breakfast. But she has always been struck by the “relentless formality” of the house, and decides to research what may have fed the “subterranean currents of loss” she invariably sensed in her grandparents’ presence.

Her quest takes her back to 1915, when the rulers of the Ottoman Empire used World War I as an opportunity to exterminate the Armenian minority, whom they feared might ally itself with the Russians. Many Armenians were outright massacred; many more were exiled on forced death marches through the desert. 

Through Elizabeth and Armen’s travels and travails, we are taken from the battleground of Gallipoli to the concentration camp of Dar-El-Zor, meeting missionaries, soldiers, and victims along the way. Bohjalian (three of his four Armenian grandparents died in the genocide and war) resists caricature and presents this appalling history largely through the eyes of its victims and those who valiantly try to help them.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

97 Orchard, March Book

In  “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement", Jane Ziegelman tells about Old World habits clashing and ultimately melding with new American ones. 

The Glockners, the Moores, the Gumpertzes, the Rogarshevskys and the Baldizzis, who all lived at 97 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, between 1863 and 1935, were  busy families who all wanted many things: assimilation, esteem, easier lives for their children. Most of all, it seems, they wanted full bellies and tastes of home. They were fiercely loyal to the dishes they left behind.

In part, “97 Orchard” is about real estate. Ziegelman traces the history of tenement buildings in Manhattan, noting that they were the “first American residences built expressly for multiple families — in this case, working people.” By the start of the 20th century, she writes, “97 Orchard Street stood on the most densely populated square block of urban America, with 2,223 people, most of them Russian Jews, packed into roughly two acres.” 

These days 97 Orchard Street is the site of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. During most of the years Ziegelman writes about, the building’s tiny apartments had no indoor plumbing and no refrigerators except windowsills in winter; the kitchens had wood- or coal-burning stoves. Tenement housewives were “human freight elevators, hauling groceries, coal, firewood and children up and down endless flights of stairs.”
Ziegelman writes about the types of culinary workers, once popular in and around these tenements, whose trades have vanished. These included “the German krauthobblers, or ‘cabbage-shavers,’ itinerant tradesmen who went door to door slicing cabbage for homemade sauerkraut,” she notes. There were also “the Italian dandelion pickers, women who scoured New York’s vacant lots for wild salad greens,” as well as urban goose farmers who raised poultry in basements and hallways.

Ziegelman also writes about Ellis Island and about what she calls “the first all-important point of contact between the United States government and its future citizens.” Hearts and minds needed to be won, and stomachs too. The food at Ellis Island improved with time, she writes, thanks to men like Frederick Wallis, immigration commissioner from 1920 to 1921, who wisely observed: “You can make an immigrant an anarchist overnight at Ellis Island, but with the right kind of treatment you can also start him on the way to glorious citizenship. It is first impressions that matter most.”

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Middlemarch, February Book

In 1873, the poet Emily Dickinson referred to the novel, Middlemarch, in a letter: "What do I think of Middlemarch? What do I think of glory – except that in a few instances 'this mortal [George Eliot] has already put on immortality'." Such high praise is appropriate for a novel which is considered one of the best 100 novels, perhaps the greatest of the great Victorian fictions.
Middlemarch has been referred to as a "cathedral of words".  Readers can enjoy this book on many levesl. The writing is sublime, meticulously descriptive, witty, and beautiful. The characters are varied and interesting and the setting is a vivid representation of  life in a Victorian English village in the Midlands.

George Eliot's masterpiece, Middlemarch, appeared after the deaths of Thackeray (1863) and Dickens (1870). This is hardly an accident. Subtitled "a study of provincial life", the novel has a didactic realism that's a world away from Vanity Fair or Great Expectations.

Few of Eliot's characters achieve what they really want, and all have to learn to compromise. Some learn the lessons and achieve a temporary happiness. Others refuse or are incapable of learning, and spend their lives resenting their situation, and blaming others. And others still realize their mistakes but are trapped by a wrong decision and never escape.