The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

Our books for 2022 are part of an anatomical theme and each includes a body part in the title. The titles were presented as part of the game Operation: Book Club Edition using many of the game’s original idioms.

 (Book 142) Linda hosted our February meeting after recovering from a bout of COVID. If there was a point system, she’d get way more points for that. We were greeted with several bottles of wine that were all chosen to be paired with the cuisine so often mentioned throughout the book. The appetizers included stuffed figs, hummus, beet hummus and baba ganoush with crackers, pita chips and red pepper chunks. The meal was informed by the book and most of the recipes were taken from the cookbook Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan.  Oh look, here’s the book cover now! 

The dishes included roast chicken with sumac and red onions, rice with pine nuts and possibly other crunchy things that I didn’t make a note of, roast rainbow carrots with herbed yogurt, and a winter salad with mixed greens and mandarin oranges. 

 Dessert was Pomegranate Passion Cake that Linda altered to make gluten-free. It was all amazing, the cake was particularly extraordinary and oh look, here’s a picture of it now!

I will apologize to Rosalie for the sparse description, as you were the only one unable to attend. The rest of us have very fond  memories of the night’s cuisine. Most of the book discussion was conducted at the dinner table, oh look, here’s the dinner table now!

We started off with a discussion of all we learned from the book. Chris was happy to have read it on her Kindle so that she could find the definition of all the Arabic words and phrases. We talked about the many types of head coverings that Muslim women wear, the burka, the niqab, the hijab, and Melissa suggested that the head piece (the coif) and veil that Catholic nuns wear have their origin in the same sacred vow to their creator, expressed in their devotional attire. 

Criticisms of the book included that some of the writing choices were a bit pat, that the perpetrator found the information he needed online. Chris wanted to know more about what it was about Islam that attracted Afaf when she had grown up without organized religion in her home. Others of us wondered why the mother was so generally angry and why she behaved as though the other children didn’t exist even before her older daughter ran away. Karen spoke to a kind of neglect of the remaining children due to the trauma of one child leaving.

On the positive side, most of us felt that the book kept us engaged and wanting to come back to it. Geri mentioned that it was a stark reminder of the sad repercussions of being different, failing to fit in, on the individual, the family, as well as what it does in our society. I read some of the passages that I thought were well-written:

“Their daughter is gradually turning into a stranger, like a kaleidoscope morphing into a new image, the same colors taking a different shape.”

When Afaf tells her parents about her sister’s diary it is likened to “a script she’s delivering, a part she isn’t old enough to play.”

About her sister’s return:  And as soon as Afaf says it, she knows it’s true, like someone on your doorstep, someone you hadn’t been expecting, but you know has been waiting there for some time before they finally ring the bell.”

We asked everyone for a star rating on a 5-star scale and the average of the scores is 3.65.  Susan rated it the highest at 5 stars. Linda gave it 4.5. Marcia, Karen, and Melissa gave it 4 stars. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads (because you can’t give it half-stars) but on a half-star system, I’d be more inclined to give it 3.5 as did Mary. Geri gave it 3, and the two Russian judges (Chris and Sharon) gave it 2.5.

Our next meeting is set for March 22nd at Sharon’s place where she asks that we all wear something around our necks as we discuss Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.

Qadimt Mae Alaihtiram,



Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Our books for 2022 are part of an anatomical theme and each includes a body part in the title. The titles were presented as part of the game Operation: Book Club Edition using many of the game’s original idioms.

 (Book 141) I hosted the first meeting of 2022 and sent the invitation email as an invitation to a Jack and Jill chapter meeting. I apologize again for the cultural appropriation.


Dear Prospective Members,

Hello! Happy New Year!  As you may know, I am the Events Coordinator for the Jack and Jill, Wicker Park Chapter and your names were on a list of women/mothers/grandmothers interested in our chapter. Our founder, the late Marion Stubbs Thomas incorporated Jack and Jill of America, on January 24, 1938, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Twenty mothers came together to discuss creating an organization to provide social, cultural and educational opportunities for youth between the ages of 2 and 19. Here we are just days away from the 84th anniversary of that inspired beginning and I will be hosting a potluck on Thursday, January 20, to welcome you, the women who will carry our organization on to celebrate its 100th (150th?) anniversary! 

Now when I say potluck, I don’t mean to suggest that you will be bringing your culinary skills to bear on the evening. Those of us on the Events Committee, Jayne, Bessie, Charlotte, Letta, Celestia, Della and I will be doing all the cooking. You just bring yourself and an appetite — Della says “a big one!” The evening will introduce you to the rousing foodie delights of our potluck events.

Our evening won’t be without it’s usual cultural thread, though this time it will just be for adults. As was mentioned in the bulletin, we will be discussing the book Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires as we get to know each other.

Please plan to arrive by 6:30 and may I ask that you send a return email to let me know whether you will be able to attend? I look forward to a long and lasting friendship with each and every one of you.

Most Sincerely,

Dr. Teresa Yohnka Anderson, PsyD, Licensed Therapist, Welcome Wagon, A.N. Pritzker Elementary School, Events Coordinator, Jack and Jill, Wicker Park Branch

(Please excuse the cultural appropriation.)

Minutes from the January 20, 2022 meeting of the Jack and Jill Wicker Park Chapter: 

The meeting took place at the somewhat chilly home of Events Coordinator, and note-taker for the evening, Teresa Yohnka Anderson (me) with six prospective members in attendance. The cultural aspect of the evening was a discussion of the book Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. The hostess took her food theme from the short story The Subject of Consumption whose main character blogged about nutritional lifestyles. With the help of the potluck committee members, a vegetarian menu was served. I bribed the committee members with extra points if the word head appeared in the recipe! My daughter, Frances created the centerpiece for the evening. The crudité was served with two dips, one was a spinach dip and the other was an artichoke-parmesan. In addition to the vegetable platter, an appetizer called Head on a Pike was served but we think Charlotte may have used too little avocado and too much chili pepper! 

Most of the book discussion was conducted over the appetizers, while I was still juggling the oven temperature and timing of the potluck dishes, so I may not have caught all the comments that were made but we’ll start by saying that the reaction was generally positive. There was discussion of the author’s young age and the youthfulness of her writing. The humorous  aspects of her writing were appreciated by many of the prospective members. (I must also admit, I didn’t quite have their names down yet. I should have had name tags.) I believe it was Chris (Christine?) who told the origin story of Belles Lettres. Apparently, when the author was a child and away at camp, the author’s mother received a letter from the mother of another girl who was at the same camp which was not at all complimentary in its references to the author. For whatever reason, the author’s mother included the letter in a package of items sent to her daughter at camp!

Chris (Kris?) also noted that many of the stories had the little twist of macabre, not unlike the writing of Flannery O’Connor. This Todd was mentioned as an example, and Sue (Susan) mentioned that she feared the possibly grim ending of Wash Clean the Bones. Others mentioned the number of stories with eating disorders.

At this point there was a hypothetical discussion about white guilt — if we were white women discussing the book what would our reaction be? There was a great deal of discussion here which I won’t go into but there was some talk of a white woman letting her white grandson give an essentially black-face nutcracker with big google eyes as a Christmas ornament gift to his black teacher. Crazy stuff.

One of the prospective members arrived a little late and it was just about time for dinner, so I will describe the potluck offerings. Letta made her blue ribbon Macaroni and Five Cheese casserole: sharp white cheddar, colby, Monterey jack, provolone and cream cheese. She said she should get the extra points because she made it a-head of time. She also brought the corn bread, regular and jalapeño, no head jokes with that recipe. Della brought a tortellini pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, red pepper and mozzarella pearls, but she left out the Kalamata olives so it needed salt. She also made the party bread but we think she overdid it with the mustard. (Not a good night for Della, but she’s got a lot going on with that neighbor of hers and his anti-vac nonsense.) Charlotte (who gave us the Heads on Pikes) also brought the Cheesy White Bean Tomato Bake. Now, in fairness to Charlotte, I didn’t put the mozzarella cheese on at the end. She’d given the mozzarella to me in a tupperware container but we had so much cheese going on already, I put it the dish in the oven with just the parmesan with which she’d topped it. Here is the recipe for that: 

Celestia provided a Cauliflower Casserole which she modified (leaving out the broccoli because she’d talked to Jayne who was bringing a broccoli slaw.) It was tasty as it was but may have been even better with the broccoli. Here’s the unmodified recipe:

As I mentioned, Jayne gave us a broccoli slaw and one of the girls asked for the recipe. I was trying to protect Jayne’s image at dinner but I could tell that it was the Taylor Farms Broccoli Crunch Chopped Kit salad you can buy at the Jewel! She also provided the Vegetable Frittata which she said could be served at room temperature, but I think my room was a little too cold for that. Bessie’s offering was the Quinoa, Beet and Arugula Salad. Here is that recipe:

Bessie also brought some gluten free brownies to be served with your choice of two Ben & Jerry ice creams. We’d heard one of the girls had a gluten allergy, but she wasn’t able to attend. We hope nothing terrible prevented her from coming and we hope the young woman with the positive Covid result just had a false positive! 

The last item on the menu was the famous in the 70’s Strawberry Pretzel Salad and no one asked for the recipe but I know you want it:

I’m certain more was said about the book but I went right to bed after you left and tutored all the next day, while explaining to everyone why I wasn’t there the previous day, so I’m out.

2022 Anatomy of a Book Club or Operation: Book Club Edition

And we are off to 2022 with a year of anatomical titles. Our mix of books contains two collections of short stories, one collection of autobiographical essays, seven works of fiction, one non-fiction, and something we’ve only done once before, a book for young readers. (Many of us are grandmothers or great-aunts, we have to know these things.)

The titles are:

January: Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

February: The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

March: I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

April: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

May: The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

June: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

July: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

August: River Teeth by James Duncan

September: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

October: An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

November: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

December: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore