Fictional Airlines, 2014

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the movie The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which Mia Farrow’s character falls in love with a man on the movie screen, a man who steps down out of the film to be with her. When referencing her new love, she concedes “He’s fictional, but you can’t have everything.” I write this to explain my regular use of Fictional in the themes we use for Book Club. We read non-fiction as well, but as in the case of Fictional Airlines, our travels are fictional.  On the front of the airline ticket holder for our 2014 booklist I explained:

At Fictional Airlines, we don’t hire expensive pilots, flight attendants or ground crew – – so we can pass the savings along to you. We don’t believe in schedules or ETA’s. We think you should decide when or even if, you want to arrive. We let you choose your seat as well as the seat’s design – – instead of reclining a measly inch or two, heck, why not a bed? We don’t think you should eat a tiny bag of peanuts, if you can finish off the mac and cheese from last night. Our travel is fictional, and we’re OK with that.

The books we chose for 2014 were set in locations from around the world: the Hawiian island of Moloka’i; Cartagena, Colombia; Dublin, Ireland; Berlin, Germany; King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia; Eldar and Grozny, Chechnya; Toronto, Canada; Cornwall, England; Fox Corner in the English Countryside and London, England; Kilgali, Rwanda; Mumbai, India and various cities in the U.S., including Gravesend, New Hampshire. So, it made sense, to me, to break from the traditional bookmarks I’d been printing for the girls and give them an airline ticket.

On the back of the ticket holder was a list of Frequent Fictional Flyers where I listed our phone numbers, email and home addresses. I update the list of us every year because we’ve lost members, added new ones, and Sharon will not stop moving!

Fictional Airlines Book List

January: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. 

February: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  

March: Holy Orders by Benjamin Black 

April: In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. 

May:  A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggars. 

June: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. 

July: Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman  

August: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving 

September: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 

October: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson  

November: Baking Cakes in Kilgali by Gaile Parkin

December: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

January, 2014: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert.

(Book #45) Rosalie hosted our first book of the new year and welcomed a new member, Linda, with wine, orchids, and the traditional plate lunch. The plate lunch included a Hawaiian roll sandwich of pork, a salad, rice and coleslaw. For dessert we had ice cream with pineapple, chocolate and shaved coconut rather than the ‘shave ice’ President Obama encourages.  The discussion included talk of the missionaries and their influence in the Hawaiian Islands and related books some of us have read such as Hawai’i by James Mitchner and Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes. Most of us enjoyed the book; the biggest criticism was that it seemed the central character was required to experience everything significant to the Island of Moloka’i as part of her own personal story because the author had to use all the interesting material he’d found in his research.

February, 2014: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

(Book #46) Discussion of the book started in the kitchen as we drank wine and ate lobster salad. We were clearly divided as to our opinion of romance/love in the book. The girls who had the most to say seemed to think that there was more romance in Urbano and Fermina’s relationship and that Florentino’s ‘love’ was (like cholera) more sickness and obsession (not to mention the pedophilia.) We moved into the dining room for salad, couscous and grilled shrimp where we agreed that the writing is beautiful and rich and that there are many ways that love is felt, expressed and perceived including Shakespeare’s take: “Love is merely a madness.” There was Tres Leches cake and chocolate covered almonds for dessert.

March, 2014: Holy Orders by Benjamin Black

(Book #47)  The girls were greeted with rowdy pub songs and shots of Jameson. Jameson was product placed in the book six times so we had Jameson in Jameson shot glasses, on Jameson coasters, with Jameson can openers for prizes. There was also Guinness and Harp beer and a selection of wine all in green bottles with green labels. Appetizers included fingerling style potato skins, 3 kinds of Irish cheese and beer batter deep fried Camembert cheese with Cumberland sauce. The meal consisted of Dublin Coddle, carrots and onions in cream, green beans with snap peas, bacon and almonds, Irish soda bread with Kerrygold butter. Desserts were Jameson caramel chocolate pecan pie and/or applesauce cake with lemon icing. We were joined by a new member, Lynn, [the one who didn’t like short stories and has since moved but not because she didn’t like short stories.] Members were split in their reaction to the book — Chris is already reading others in the series and Lynn has completed the series. I was one of the members who felt it didn’t work well as a stand-alone read in that if you don’t read the next in the series, you never learn what was up with Quarke’s hallucinatory episodes. I was also unhappy with the writing because no matter who was asking the questions or who was answering, no one ever gave a straight answer — ever!

April, 2014: In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.

(Book #48)  Sharon hosted and served a Berlin inspired meal of bratwurst (wurst which was the best) sauerkraut and potatoes. The tray of delicious desserts from a favorite German bakery should have been verboten but were cut into halves and thirds to share all the choices around. Discussion of the book included mention of how interesting the young woman’s life was even before her father was assigned to Berlin with all her famous suitors; the level of mistake or misunderstanding that sent the family to Berlin at that time; and what the diplomat knew or didn’t know about his daughter’s activity or the activities of the Third Reich. The general consensus was that it is a book well worth the read.

May, 2014: A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggars.

(Book #49) Melissa hosted our trip to Saudi Arabia and created the atmosphere with potted palms, a crowned canopy, jeweled table runner, gold mesh tablecloth, jeweled mirror party favors, gold frond dishes, the perfect music and incense. She served olive, cheese and date appetizers, hummus and crackers and pistachios. For the meal there was lamb and rice, chicken kabobs, falafel, tabouleh, rice and lentils, shawarma, salad, pita and assorted pastries for dessert.

Using the Goodreads rating scale, our book ratings spanned from Liked It to Loved It. Geri was very taken by the book and did some extra reading about Dave Eggars. Some of us recommended his Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for an autobiographical insight. Chris had recommended the book and loves if for the writing and the way Alan is portrayed so sympathetically human. One of her favorite passages: “He thought of his home. He wondered who was in his home at the moment, who might be passing through, touching things, leaving.” One of my favorites is: “We’ve become a nation of indoor cats, he said.”

June, 2014: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

(Book #50)  Geri gave shelter to five starving refugees off the road from Grozny and we were humbled by her generosity. We ate bread, borscht, lamb and rice stuffed peppers — an unexpected feast. She provided us with maps of Chechnya and surrounding area to make our way…  Not everyone enjoyed the book as much as I did, but I mark it as one of my Teacher’s Pets. I think Anthony Marra’s writing is genius and one of my favorite aspects of his writing is the way he writes in time, jumping into the future to explain all that would take place over time:

In twelve and a third years, the girl, now a woman, would accompany Sonja on a five-day holiday to London. When the night porter asked ‘Would your daughter care for an herbal tea?’ it wouldn’t cross Sonja’s mind to correct him. It wouldn’t have crossed her mind for some time. At the end of five days, they would leave London. Sonja would never see the city again. Havaa would.”

“In twenty years Sonja would find Natasha’s name beside her own in the final sentence of the acknowledgements of Havaa’s dissertation.” 

On the morning he left, he wore a red sweater with golden diamonds woven across the chest. He had never filled it out, as her mother had predicted he would when she had given it to him five Christmases earlier. He would be wearing that sweater two and a half years later, just north of the border, when a stolen cement mixing truck would slam into his lorry cabin, cutting short his life, his final haul, and his five-week odyssey to return home to his girls.”

“Six days later the Feds would enter the city. They would launch a single mortar round at the hospital in retaliation for sheltering rebels. That round would hit the fourth-floor storage room. Maali would be searching for clean sheets. She would land atop the rubble, four floors below, her pulse slowing in her wrist.”

Occasionally he used time comparisons to date things going on concurrently:

“Mirza died when she was thirty-nine. Akhmed was seven. The cancer in her stomach was just eight months old.”

And now I’ll just add some favorite quotes:

“For months they’d run their fingers around the hem of their affection without once acknowledging the fabric.”

“When he reached the end, he did not die. He called your name and began to live in you.”

And of course the very last line of the novel which one shouldn’t give away other than to say despite all circumstances, the book ends with “an immense spinning joy.”

December, 2014: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

(Book #56) Geri hosted a full house but despite the bonanza of members, there was a shortage of book discussion because some of us were unable to read or finish the book.   I mentioned that I gave very high marks to the book’s title which comes from the advertisements for ceramic tiles that will stay “beautiful forever” plastered along a concrete wall outside the airport. The wall’s purpose is to hide Annawadi from the rich travelers arriving at the airport. We discussed that though the book is nonfiction, its characters are so absolutely foreign to us that it seems fictional. Perhaps one of my favorite moments is the outrage over the treatment of the zebra horses when they could be considered the most lovingly cared for of any being in Annawadi.

We enjoyed a scrumptious spread of appetizers that represented many of the locations of our travels throughout the year. Sharon told us that she was retiring and as we congratulated her and talked about what she would do with her free time, Linda said “I don’t do anything but it takes me all day to do it!” I gave out this year’s book ornaments, and next year’s booklist and then it was time for the exchange of 22 different kinds of cookies!

November, 2014: Baking Cakes in Kilgali by Gaile Parkin

(Book #55) Sharon hosted us in her third residence since she joined us! [3/5] She served chicken in peanut sauce, Brussels sprouts with bacon and a salad. For dessert there was not one but two cakes from a bakery. where Sharon’s main request was that they be colorful. One of the cakes was inscribed with Hakuna Matata. [Four years later when we celebrated our 100th book with 100 cupcakes and a 100 question quiz, I asked “Who served us a cake that was decorated with the words Hakuna Matata” and Sharon confidently answered “Melissa!”  It did seem like something Melissa would do but buzzzzzz Oh I’m sorry it was you, Sharon!]

As we discussed the book, everyone appreciated it for what it is, but agreed that it didn’t have much substance. One of the girls mentioned that one of the characters would reference “noise in the courtyard” but it would turn out to be nothing. My sister Dodie bakes cakes for friends/acquaintances and charges about half of what she should, but what she’d really like to do is be a life coach or maybe a dictator. I guess that’s why I appreciated the ways in which Angel applied her influence to right wrongs, guide life choices and bring people together.  But like the other members, I wasn’t very emotionally invested. 

October, 2014: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

(Book #54) Linda hosted and started us out with the very fun Gin Slings mentioned in the book! She offered an assortment of English cheeses for appetizers and served and incredible beef bourguignon with noodles and a salad. For dessert Linda baked a delicious Apple Strudel.  All eleven of us were in attendance and most really enjoyed the book, though Sharon felt that the style of the book could have been born out of not knowing where she wanted the story to go! We joked about how she may have pulled discarded drafts from her waste basket when her deadline was at hand.