Another year, another Christmas ornament. I had so much fun with the dinner tables last year, I decided to move on to other furniture and Fictional Booksellers required bookshelves. Each member received a bookshelf ornament with all twelve books on the shelves in the order that we read them. You can see in the pictures below the switch that happened between February and June. The book that the member hosted was removed from its position on the shelves up to the top of the bookshelf and was surrounded by miniatures that were part of their hosting. Susan’s had a cell phone and a teeny little business card for Chief Erasmus Ngozi Ezeji. Lynn’s had quilting magazines because she’d taken us on a tour of her home and showed us her quilting room. Sharon’s had a little lantern like the full size lantern she had on the serving table. Melissa’s bookshelf was shaped like a boat. Geri’s, of course, had a plate of Christmas cookies. Because I hosted two meetings the top of my bookshelf is a bit crowded with both books, a framed picture of my almost naked grandson for Hold Still and a Russian painting in which the original subject’s face has been covered with Stalin’s. A little tag on each read Merry Christmas from Fictional Booksellers, 2016.
Had I been thinking in just a little more detail, I could have put teeny little shelf-talkers on the shelves under each book naming which bookseller recommended each of the books and why! But that might be, you know, too much.
(Book #80) As has been our tradition, Geri hosted our December book meeting and Cookie Exchange. She is the Christmas Hostess Extraordinaire. Because of the Paris and French countryside setting of All the Light We Cannot See, Geri served French wine, French cheese, quiche and pomme frites and served them all in an atmosphere so comfy, no one wanted to go home! It was a lovely evening that gave me hope that we’ll see the end of this terrible year of my brother’s death and that horrible thing that happened in November.
Our discussion of the book started with the beautiful image of the children listening to the radio in the evening, the idea of a relatively new technology bringing even more science and learning through the air. Everyone was appalled to think that the school Werner attended was actually the kind of school the Hitler Youth attended. We talked about how the description of the flight from Paris is reminiscent of Irene Nemirovsky’s account of the exodus in Suite Francaise. All of us enjoyed the book and if there was criticism it was that we would have liked more from Werner’s story.
A favorite quote: “And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That her father and Etienne and Madame Manec and the German boy named Werner Pfennig might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.”
(Book #79) I grew up with Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Boris and Natasha and elementary school bomb drills during the coldest part of the Cold War. I’ve taken a train from Vilnius, Lithuania into St. Petersburg and had the life scared out of me by a squat female border guard who asked me (rather than my husband) all the questions at the crossing and handed back my passport with the words “Good luck to you.” We visited Moscow and took their underground amazed at its depth and for at least 20 years a Moscow-born Russian, who vividly remembers Stalin’s funeral, did my nails. I just can’t read enough about Russia. I haven’t read nearly everything by Russian writers but I’ve read Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, The Master and Margarita, The Twelve Chairs, and I saw a great theatrical production of The Brothers Karamazov in Stratford, Ontario. I love the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith that started with Gorky Park. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean was great and one of my favorite books of all time is David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Anthony Marra’s first book Constellation of Vital Phenomena is my definition of genius, so I couldn’t wait to host The Tsar of Love and Techno.
My invitation: The Miss Siberia Beauty Pageant will still to take place as before announced even with bins of sulfur waste yet waiting to remove from the backstage and dressing room, for day of Tuesday, November 22, 2120 W Schiller Ulitza. If you are wishing to strive for crown, please to complete below form and return. Name: Date for Birth: Show for Talant:
When the girls arrived we poured Georgian wine, a nod to Stalin’s Georgian roots. For starters we had Russian black bread, pickled herring and beets. For dinner I made Kulebyaka, a kind of salmon pie, cabbage rolls, and the Olivier salad, but bought the pelmeni from Ann’s Ukrainian Bakery and Deli. For dessert I made a Russian Korolevsky cake (King’s Cake) a three-layer cake, one layer flavored with cocoa powder, one with poppy seeds and one with walnuts.
Sadly, there was very little discussion of the book, because our book club is comprised of liberals and the election results pulled the rug out from under us. If you haven’t read this book yet you must. If you don’t like the short story think of each of them as a chapter and you’ll see how they all weave together. As the Goodreads blurb says: “This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking.”
As an homage to Roman Markin, a retoucher in the Department of Party Propaganda and Agitation, who blots out and replaces the faces of the disfavored from photographs, I gave each of the girls a framed photo of our membership. The original photo is missing Mary and me — though I was able to place Mary in between Marcia and Linda for her photo. In each of the photos I gave the girls, the recipient’s face has been replaced by Stalin’s.
A favorite quote: “Endurance, I reminded myself, is the true measure of existence.”
(Book #78) Chris hosted Bark, a collection of short stories by Lorrie Moore. We started with great wine, pepperoni, cheese and crackers. In the dining room we enjoyed Cornish hens, butternut ravioli, salad and little toasts. Dessert was a triumphant Lemon Meringue pie.
Discussion was stunted by those of us who just don’t like a short story but Chris and I emailed about all that we appreciated. Moore just has such an eye and such a talent for presenting all that she sees so cleverly. Here are some favorite quotes:
“The bridesmaids were in pastels: one the light peach of baby aspirin; one the seafoam green of low-dose clonazepam; the other the pale daffodil of the next lowest dose of clonazepam.”
“Was not everything fixable? This age of disposables, was it not also an age of fantastic adhesives?”
Living did not mean joy piled upon another. It was merely the hope for less pain, hope played like a playing card upon another hope, a wish for kindnesses and mercies to emerge like kings and queens in an unexpected change of the game. One could hold the cards for oneself or not: they would land the same regardless. Tenderness did not enter except in a damaged way and by luck.
And here’s the bad dog pun filled thank-you email:
Subject: Beware of Bad Dog (puns) Dear Chris, Thank you so much for the hounderful evening. The whine was frisky yet domesticated, and the yappetizers were delicious. I couldn’t keep my paws off the pupperoni or the delicktable cheese — and the biscuits were a great treat. They made me feel, I don’t know, good, like I’d done the right thing by coming.
Conversation about the book was high-spirited, there was a lot of yelping and yipping about the sharpei story form but most agreed this writerrier is quite a tailented bitch.
(Book #77) Linda hosted Fates and Furies. She started us out with great wine choices and delicious tapenade. For dinner she served chicken with yogurt sauce, a salad of arugula and pecorino and a carrot and lentil medley. Dessert included both a spice cake and creme brulee, two of my favorite things. Because of the tragedy of last month the girls were extra sweet to me and celebrated my birthday with cards, presents and the afore-mentioned two favorite desserts.
The discussion of the book was a bit critical. We agreed that the writing had some fine moments but some parts were pretentious and over-written. At one point she references two things in an analogy and I had to look one of them up to appreciate the reference. And remember how I complained about smells in What She Left Behind?
Her mother had smelled of cold and scales, her father of stone dust and dog. She imagined her husband’s mother, whom she had never met, had a whiff of rotting apples, although her stationery had stunk of baby powder and rose perfume. Sallie was starch, cedar. Her dead grandmother, sandalwood. Her uncle, Swiss cheese. People told her she smiled like garlic, like chalk, like nothing at all. Lotto, clean as camphor at his neck and belly, like electrified pennies at the armpit, like chlorine at the groin. Yikes!
But the Fates and Furies division of the book was also problematic because there are aspects of Furies that seem to jar against what has already been read — making you feel as though you should read Fates again now that you know what you know. Two more things. There are two glances with homosexual relationships that don’t seem a part of the story or of support to the characters involved. Just a personal problem here — I’m always so saddened when “love at first sight” seems based so completely on physical appearance (even if that appearance isn’t considered stunningly beautiful by all who see her.} How can you decide to spend your life with someone without knowing something about the inside? Obviously, Lotto imbues Mathilde (if I can call you Mathilde) with something good and important inside — qualities that were of his own creation.
Below is the purple-prosed thank you note to Linda:
(Pretend you find this note in a bowl of fruit or vegetables but you don’t open it for at least two weeks when the contents of the bowl are rotting — or maybe not ever — maybe you just piece together what I have to say.) Thank you so much for a lovely evening — for hosting us in the deepest room of your heart — especially when you had only just returned from your short visit to Thailand.
The wines were great, the tapenade enduring and the chicken was delicious with and without the yogurt sauce. The combination of the arugula and pecorino was like that of sound and fury, wind and water, time and tide. The carrot and lentil salad filled me with wondrous happiness. The good spirit was somewhat broken when Susan tripped(?) Sharon on the stairs and Sharon fell three flights to the front door screaming “Diable” until she fell silent … acciaccato.
And I wish Lynn hadn’t chosen this night to tell us she would be disowning her son due to his impending marriage to a roller derby queen. But even that was not as bad as when Rosalie tried to count on her fingers how many strands of DNA her daughters could have is there is any truth to the telegony theory and we all prayed silently that there was never any sushi involved. It was lovely when everyone gave me cards and gifts and Chris made that wonderful spice cake for me and Geri bruleed the creme. But even those blissful moments were ruined when I sat brooding that there was far too much powdered sugar in the cakes’ frosting and that the crack on the white sugared brulee was nothing short of pitiful and all I could feel was Dread … deep-shale dread. I think they both noticed something in my face. And Mary said nothing, eloquently.
But those were things you couldn’t control, Linda. You are a pathologically perfect hostess, but you aren’t God or any other rearrangement of the letters in God like dog. You can only mirror your fellow book club — it’s not your fault that we are fatally flawed. We agreed to do better in the future when Chris hosts on October 25.
Geri wrote the email about this gathering because I didn’t attend. This was the horrible month that I lost my brother Dennis.
(Book #76) August 23, 2016: Well Melissa really went for the gold tonight. She treated us to a meal of Olympic proportions — pork medallions served with golden potatoes and sauerkraut slaw. And what could be more American than apple pie for dessert? A la mode no less. To round out the event, it was served on her roof deck with a beautiful view of the city. We all wore our “Live Like Dennis” buttons and paid homage to a great man, and his ever wonderful sister Teresa.
Everyone loved the book, complimenting the writing style and the character development. We all agreed it read like fiction. We also decided the younger generation has to toughen up. It’s not like they have been left to fend for themselves in the wilds of Washington! Thank you Melissa for a fun evening and delicious food.
What I loved about this book was the cross section of history — this crew competed in the 1936 Olympics where their lives intersected with Jesse Owens, Louis Zamperini, Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler, of course, and more important than Hitler, Hugh Laurie’s dad! The other aspect that pushed it up to a five star book for me was the author’s apparent appreciation of these boys/men and the way he was able to capture their spirit on paper.
(Book #75) Marcia hosted this meeting in her garden and served a lovely fruit salad, a caprese salad, and grilled chicken. For dessert there was a beautiful Sacher torte and macarons that Rosalie brought us from Paris.
Discussion of the book included very little praise. Marcia hadn’t chosen a book and I gave her some choices which included this book. It shouldn’t have been on the list. Though the premise, things left behind by patients of a mental facility, is an interesting one, we had the following problems with this book: *The juxtaposition of Clara and Izzy’s stories was troublesome. Izzy’s story is very much a YA novel on its own and her problems with classmates seemed wildly exaggerated and the stuff of a different kind of story than Clara’s. Clara had every issue one could have in the asylum — one of my favorite Tom Stoppard lines: It strained credulity. *I read Wiseman’s book, The Plum Tree and I don’t remember being so bothered by some of the writing issues. The descriptions are long and repetitive while failing to illuminate and I know this is horrible of me, but I wish authors would stop telling me what things smell like unless it’s something truly unusual. What nursing home doesn’t smell, if only vaguely, of urine? * There are three times when a character had to swallow a lump in her throat; the third time it was a burning lump. * Why wasn’t Susan wearing yellow when she visited the nursing home?
Here is Marcia’s thank-you email: July 27, 2016 : I just spent the morning chained to a bed in a freezing cold tub of water, having electro-shock therapy because I didn’t fulfill my social obligations as a woman in society who should know better than to wait until the next day to send an email of thanks for a lovely evening. But it’s over now and I feel completely fine. Marcia, thank you so much for a lovely evening, lovely setting, great wine, delicious food — the fruit salad was beautiful, the caprese made my heart sing, the chicken was yummy, and the Sacher torte was incredible with or without ice cream. Rosalie, thank you for serving as Marcia’s sous-chef and for bringing the macarons de Paris. It was such a lovely night, I must now close and swallow the burning lump in my throat,
Teresa P.S. I will be undergoing more ‘therapy’ for having included this book on the list of books from which Marcia could choose. If all goes well, I will see you in August for a discussion of The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.
(This was the meeting that really happened in February but I’m keeping in order of the printed calendar.)
(Book #74) Lynn hosted this meeting with her usual aplomb. She offered several great wines including a light option, and two delicious appetizers. One was a salmon spread and the other was Don’s Tuesday Night Balcony Salad of lobster, mango and avocado. For dinner, she served pork roast wrapped in bacon, potatoes with cream cheese, sauteed asparagus, a Napa cabbage salad and fish for anyone not wanting to eat meat for religious reasons. Her layered dessert started with thin chocolate chip cookies topped with marscapone cheese, whipped cream and maybe some other things that made it taste heavenly.
Our discussion of the book focused significantly on the Spectrum disorders. I was intrigued by the poster boy for Asperger’s Syndrome preparing for a lecture on the topic but not recognizing himself in the diagnosis. One of the girls said that a book about dating someone on the spectrum is the story of her life. From there we had quite a discussion about open marriage with no takers for trying it. Because Don created a 16-page questionnaire to help him find the perfect mate, I created one in my thank you to Lynn for a lovely evening.
To: Lynn Elliott Subject: Perfect Hostess Questionaire
Please answer the following and submit:
1. When hosting an event in my home, my wine choices are A. based on what I was given for Christmas a few years ago B. plentiful but random – wine is wine – drink up! C. presented in order by color, sweetness, appellation and vintage D. chosen from the origin that relates to the theme of the event, are plentiful, and I try to have one that is lower in calories for those in attendance who are generally overindulgers but happen to have started yet another diet. E. kool-aid. I don’t serve wine, I like grape kool-aid. That’s how grapes should be used.
2. Appetizers include: A. a good bag of chips. Who doesn’t like chips? B. a frozen variety that you can microwave. C. white bean soup shooters with bacon, sweet roasted grapes, cucumber sandwiches, crudo on the half shell, and an assortment of cheeses displayed around an elaborate food sculpture – a peacock perhaps. D. food items relevant to a theme such as “sustainable” salmon spread and the “Tuesday Night Balcony Salad” but made even more delicious than the given recipe. E. If God meant for us to eat tiny little bits of food on toothpicks, He would have given us all delicate little bird-like fingers – OK birds don’t have fingers, but you know what I mean.
3. For the main course, I will make A. a mess of my kitchen! B Sloppy Joes – who doesn’t like Sloppy Joes? C. roasted suckling pig on a spit in the fireplace, large turkey drumsticks, large baskets of fruit and sweetmeats. D. a delicious pork roast wrapped in bacon, decadent potatoes with cream cheese, sautéed asparagus, a Napa cabbage salad, and a fish main course for those observing a religious holiday. E. reservations.
4. For dessert, we will have A. bananas B. ice cream with bananas C. more wine. D. an amazing thin chocolate chip cookie layered with marscapone cheese, whipped cream and other incredible things that will taste like heaven even though it only took 10 minutes to make! E. to wait. I didn’t make dessert.
5. Dinner conversation will include A. one of the guests admitting that a book about dating someone on the spectrum is the story of her life. B. throwing shade at the idea of an “open marriage” C. regular surprise that the book was set in Australia and not California or Canada. D. ooohs and aahs about the deliciousness of the food E. one of the guests finally realizing it was her book left at the last meeting F. all of the above and more.
Not to be hasty in determining the results, but I think it’s clear that we have found the Perfect Hostess and we THANK you, Lynn, from the bottom of our imperfect hearts.
(Book #73) Susan provides us with the full Nigerian experience from table setting to food. Susan told us all about her search for a Nigerian restaurant and to this day I have Chief Erasmus N. Ezeji’s business card on my desk. Our discussion of the book began with a statement of how difficult it was to read psychically. The prophesy spoken by the madman had such power, the reader wants to be able to break the hold it has on the brothers. It’s beautifully written. Below is the email. If you note the time I sent it, you might better understand the content.
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 2:38 AM Subject: O ̣se
Thank you SO SO much for an incredible evening. Those of you who missed this one really picked a bad time to be out of the country, to be getting ready to go out of the country, or to be doing whatever you were doing last night.
It all started when Sharon took a wrong turn on the map and instead of walking east on Hood, started to walk west toward Sabo Street. She was nearing the fishing spot on the Omi-Ala river when she was accosted by a smelly naked man (you can fill in the other details.) From down the street he yelled:
Ẹ n lẹ Sharona Nibo ni ile igbọnsẹ wa? Alagba yii yoo sanwo fun gbogbo rẹ Da ara ya o
Hello Sharona, Where is the toilet? This gentleman will pay for everything. Get well soon
Sharon was immediately certain that the naked man was going to have her killed in a pay toilet. The rest of us pointed out that the Get Well Soon wish seemed contrary to any negative intent or at least provided a gray area to interpretation. Melissa told her that she thought she’d heard him say Iyaafin yii yoo sanwo fun gbogbo rẹ which would mean This lady will pay for everything suggesting he was going to have her killed but she had to pay for her own toilet.
It was then that one of Susan’s neighbors came to her to report seeing Susan’s book club at the fishing spot.
Susan was concerned for the public embarrassment and tried to soothe the ruffled feathers by ordering food for the whole neighborhood from Vee Vee’s Nigerian restaurant. Chief Erasmus N. Ezeji emptied his kitchen to quell the disorder.
He sent over pans and pans of Moi Moi blended beans tomatoes, onions and spices mixed together and steamed to perfection, Jollof Rice steamed rice cooked in blended tomatoes, onions, red bell peppers, spices and seasonings, Plantains, Peppered Chicken and Goat. Yes, goat.
The neighbors all snapped their fingers over their heads and returned home —the naked man went off to have relations with a rat or an opossum — Rosalie couldn’t tell which — leaving only 7 of us to consume the massive amounts of food. We did our best but saved room for banana pudding dessert which was determined to represent double digit Weight Watcher points, despite the Cool Whip lite.
At this point you are probably doing your best to separate the fact from the fiction. FACT: EVERYTHING WAS AMAZING! Susan went crazy researching Nigerian food and even bought Nigerian fabric for the tablecloth. I repeat, AMAZING!
(Book #72) Mary hosted the book Rosalie was waiting for since reading Gilead. She served a delicious meatloaf wrapped in bacon and covered with BBQ sauce — Geri says that’s the only way she’s going to eat any food from now on. To accompany the meatloaf, Mary chose a potato salad recipe from the Pioneer Woman website and the girls all wanted the recipe.
Lila is such a character study and it was interesting to contemplate her past and how her experience informed her choices — all accompanied by the most scenic storm outside Mary’s windows. Dark clouds and lightning seemed to add to the conversation rather than distract. We thought it was truly amazing that Mary could arrange for that. The discussion of Lila made some of the members think about trying Gilead again and cemented others’ affection for Marilynne Robinson’s writing. This was the crazy email I sent Mary after the event — she had been fretting.
Sent: Monday, April 25, 2016 11:08 PM Subject: I have a couple questions
First of all I would like to say that there will be no falling off chairs while reading this one. Like Lila, I just have some serious questions: pretend we’re all lying in bed — we have 10 beds and 2 and a half baths.
1. What’s up with all the worry? I mean, we all worry about a variety of things but why in the world should we worry about any of the Book Club Girls not liking a wonderfully delicious meal? Oh sure this group sets a high bar, but I have served too pink poultry and Chris has admitted to smooshing a cake back in shape. No one is PERFECT (except maybe Lynn, but we all still like her) and it is very often the case that an element of surprise or “I didn’t mean for that to happen” gives more character to the evening and makes for a better story later on.
2. How about that view tonight? It was such an amazing atmosphere with those clouds and the lightning. I’m not necessarily giving you credit for arranging for all that but I think if any of us have an IN with the big guy (or gal) I’d cast my vote for you. (And obviously someone had some savvy buying a place with those windows.)
3. Do you pronounce your name Mare-ee or May-ree? (I’m asking this one for Geri.)
4. Do you believe in petting on the first date? This has nothing to do with the book club but it’s been on my mind. Have I been too easy or not easy enough?
5. When can we come over and eat all the leftovers? Everything was so tasty and comfy. I’m frightened by how important “comfy” is to me these days. And I’m thinking the leftovers would be even comfier. Oh wait. I have your leftovers here — (never mind.)
Thank you Mary for a lovely, lovely evening. It’s really so nice to experience all of us together and you were the only hostess who could have made this evening as lovely as it was.
Our next meeting is at Susan’s on Monday, May 15 to discuss The Fisherman which I really don’t have to say because we were all there and we all heard it but just in case there was any incidence of food coma and because if I didn’t include it I wouldn’t feel right about signing off with