December, 2018: Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

(Book #104) In a quick and easy change of plans, I hosted the December meeting. As is tradition, everyone brought cookies to swap, but this year each of the girls brought an appetizer or wine or BOTH and we ate small bites while balancing little Christmas plates in our lap in the living room by the glow of the tree. We filled our plates once, got cozy, talked, then paused our discussion to fill the plates a second time.

Though the book was overshadowed by the appetizers and the cookies, we did find time to talk about it. Most of us agreed that we loved the book’s opening — the telling and retelling of how the parents met — what a lovely story it is and how dear it is that all the children take part in retelling it. Another aspect on which we seemed to agree was that the book began to lose our interest once in Europe and it wasn’t because of (SPOILER ALERT) what happens to the family on the flight over. That was beautifully written for quite significant impact. The sad circumstance of the new hotel and its occupants knocked previous optimism out of the story, but we did appreciate the way in which the characters rose up to a level of heroism at the end of their time in Vienna. We discussed Irving’s recurring motifs and how It would seem that some of those subjects might be limited to one appearance only: the dressmaker’s dummy in A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Hotel New Hampshire; the bear in Last Night in Twisted River and The Hotel New Hampshire; and vehicular fellatio in The World According to Garp and Last Night in Twisted River.  

After discussing Hotel New Hampshire each of us talked about our top three faves of the books we read this year. High on most of our lists, to our great surprise, was Lonesome Dove. Rosalie didn’t even want to read it but had to because she was hosting and found that she was thoroughly taken in. We joked about how our enjoyment ended after April because the other books on our lists of favorites were January’s To The Bright Edge of the World, February’s Housekeeping and March’s Animal Dreams. Honorable mentions went to The Stone Diaries, True North and John Henry Days. (I’m going to be better about taking notes this year because I’m trying to remember this from a distance of two months!)

I gave the girls their 2018 Christmas ornaments — maps of our paths across the US with rhinestones for each of our stops and a silver star for the state in which we hosted. It’s packed in the bin of Christmas ornaments in the cold, cold garage, so no picture of it today.

We traded our dozens and dozens of cookies and went on our way to our own holiday festivities. What wonderful appetizers, cookies, books, and friends! Aren’t we lucky? Merry Christmas, Teresa

November, 2018: Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

(Book #103) I am late late late in posting this one, but by the time I finished putting up the website in October, I was behind on everything else. So, after 3 months hiatus, I’m back.

Linda hosted our discussion of Bonfire of the Vanities. I would have been tempted to serve box lunches as though we were all jurors on the case but Linda went for the much more delicious idea of a meal any businessman would be happy to put on his expense account.


An exclusive for BookClub101 by Peter Fallow and Tess Summerfest                                                                                                                            Eight women were spotted dining at Leicester’s last night, a bank exec, an architect, a literary agent, an artist, the usual faces. Leicester’s was packed and roaring and all at table were feeling socially successful, recognized-by-the-owner sort of thing. They ordered a bottle of wine, drank that and said why didn’t they get another. They ordered another, drank that and ordered another, and then another. Though they ignored the first course cheese plate when first served, they soon found the three delectable cheeses and descended upon the plate in a plague of locusts fashion. The main course came — pink medallions of tenderloin, scalloped potatoes that blurred the line between scalloped and au gratin and lovely green spears of asparagus. They oohed and aahed with great culinary pleasure and then began to gossip about the recent case involving the white driver of a Mercedes who hit a young black man and drove from the scene of the accident failing to make any report. The literary agent said she read of such a case many years ago and hadn’t enough time to go all over it again. Someone said Master of the Universe in a mocking tone and someone else wondered who first said “Those who the Gods would destroy, they would first make proud.” One of the diners expressed the story had gone on too long and felt parts of it could have been left out of the telling. Someone else at table likened the story to the fifteenth century Bonfire of the Vanities, which took place in Florence, Italy, when the city was under the rule of the Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola. The priest ordered the burning of objects that church authorities considered sinful, such as cosmetics, mirrors, books and art. Clearly all of the Mercedes driver’s vanities were set aflame as he sat on his suit jacket in the holding cell at central booking and endured cockroaches, mice and the threats of fellow prisoners. Before dessert arrived, the women had left the story behind and were discussing the use of pumpkin pie as a face cream. The dessert was a delicious gluten free chocolate cake served with a choice of pistachio or vanilla bean gelato. Many topics came and went but the big news story will be in tomorrow’s issue in the continuing story of modern justice.

This reader gave it four stars on Goodreads with this review:
This book is beautifully crafted and the characterizations are quite brilliant — as an example, in just one chapter you can love the clever depiction of Lopwitz and while hating the man he is! I was very close to giving it a five star rating, but I couldn’t “love” it, because (SPOILER ALERT) I just couldn’t abide Maria skating free. Sure, the story is about Sherman and how this Master of the Universe set himself up for the fall, but, at least for this reader, he had a stronger moral code than Maria.

October, 2018: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

(Book #102) Sharon hosted this event and fulfilled her double hosting obligation for the next 10 years! In the evening email, Macon left this note on Julian’s desk:

Please add the following to Accidental Tourist Midwest US (Chicago) Believe it or not a reader gave us a recommendation that’s worth including in the next addition.
Accidental Tourists who find themselves in the Windy City of Chicago will find a great place to dine at [insert address].  It’s on the 14th floor and has a great view of the city, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.  We visited over Christmas and the place was tastefully decorated, really cozy and no Christmas music blaring — well, not until a nearby table broke out in a carol. That was OK, they’d maybe had a little too much wine to drink (great wine at very reasonable prices!) and they were caught up in the spirt. The woman who runs the place is savvy and knows what people want to eat. The appetizers were very good, great vegetables with a light yogurt dip and baked cheese balls with an olive in the center. The main course was a cheeseburger casserole — can’t you imagine sitting in your La-Z-Boy at home with a TV tray in front of you, watching a game and eating a cheeseburger casserole? Delicious. It was served with a side salad — plenty of carrots and other vegetables because roughage is important when you’re traveling. We ordered a piece of Texas sheet cake and a strawberry shake for dessert and both were excellent. If you have to eat in Chicago, this is the place to do it.
That should do it for the Midwest. I’m off to New York next month. Macon

This book wasn’t one of my favorites, I couldn’t appreciate Macon, because I could not love a man who didn’t love to travel. I’d try, but it wouldn’t last. Beyond that little flaw, I just wasn’t impressed with the writing — I think I highlighted only 3 times. I should have admitted long ago that I’m not in it so much for the story as I am for the words.

September, 2018: John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead

(Book #101) There are so many impressive things about our book club, but when I realized Susan made prime rib I was still overwhelmed. In the novel one of the journalists who loads up on free food, was eating seconds, thirds, fourths of prime rib when he choked. When Susan sent out her invitation and request for rsvps, I replied “No prime rib for me, thanks.” Susan sent a return email, “Teresa, we would never let you choke!” Even then I couldn’t imagine she would actually serve it, but she did. The evening email subject line was Tragedy Averted at John Henry Days Gala:

Only a small group of five junketeers showed up at the John Henry Days Gala to cover the 101st book read by a Chicago based book club.  FB Eye, Props and T. showed up in the first wave and were joined later by Ed. and Mickie. Arlene was down with a sinus headache so her sister Susan took control of the evening and had very capably set up the venue to allow for dinner to take place either indoors or out. The usual square cheese and crackers were replaced by an incredible goat cheese covered in honey, fig and pistachios.  T. almost consumed the plate of goat cheese before Mickie showed up. Another platter offered brie with apples and grapes; three bowls were filled with crackers, toasts and almonds.                                            “How are they going to pay for all this?”                                                    “Emptying the book club coffers.”
“No new bookmarks for the varsity book club.”                                                “Not the new bookmarks!”                                                                                         “Any of you writing this up?” Props asked.                                                             “I’m writing it up for a new website, Book Club 101” T. informed her.        The junketeers were more impressed when they saw the dinner menu. “This may be the big city, but this doesn’t look organic, vegan, or sustainable.” Ed. said.                                                                                            “Amen to that!” T. said and lit out for the food. The red light was calling her. Set above the cutting plate like a divine illumination, the red heating lamps warmed the sweet meat. [Poetic license taken here — there wasn’t actually a red light.] The salad declined her invitation, but T. savored the potatoes dauphinoise and the wonderful taste of perfectly cooked and innocent green beans. And the prime rib, the prime rib aloft in its own juice and glorified by creamy horseradish! 
Mickie and T. both took seconds and then they heard Susan’s husband starting to set up to sing “The Ballad of John Henry.”  [This part didn’t actually happen but I hoped it would, so I’m including it.] T. attacked the prime rib. She cut off a piece, a big piece, dipped it in the horseradish and put it in her mouth.
Susan’s husband sings: John Henry told his captain, Captain go to town And bring me back two twenty pound hammers, And I’ll sure beat your steam drill down. Lord, Lord, And I’ll sure beat your steam drill down.”
T. cut another piece of meat, dipped it in horseradish, put it in her mouth and everything was fine. It was all delicious, no one choked on anything.  [It’s lucky Colson Whitehead went another way with this because this is just boring.] Then Susan served the dessert of warmed spiced peaches (from her niece’s farm) topped with vanilla ice cream. After our meal we sat in Susan’s lovely back yard and drank a little more wine. 

No one wanted to talk about the book as much as I did because I LOVED this one. Chris (Ed.) said she felt she was reading a 30 year old who was talented, but mostly being 30 –but I was duped. I thought it was funny and beautifully written. I did admit to having written a Dramatis Personae in the front of my book so that I could refer to the names of the characters as I started a new “chapter.”  Chris thought the Altamont free concert story was too long and wondered what its contribution was to the story — and I said that both the young black man (whose name was Meredith Hunter, by the way) who was killed at Altamont and Alphonse, the stamp collector at the unveiling of the John Henry stamp both said:  “I wasn’t going to shoot you.” Melissa (Props) thought he needed a better editor but the only story that I wanted to push along was the one about Godfrey Frank, Fire Drill and the Orderly Fashions. Melissa thought he lived and returned on the earlier flight to New York. I voted for the more depressing option. Geri (Mickie) and Susan (Arlene’s very capable sister) did not say a great deal or maybe I didn’t hear them because I was talking or thinking too hard.Sharon (FB Eye) mostly skimmed the book because her reading was off while she was working at Whole Foods but she’s been forced to give up her employment to take care of her fictional sister — so maybe she will have more to say about The Accidental Tourist when she hosts (again) on MONDAY, October 15.
Respectfully Submitted, T. (and you know what that stands for)

My review on Goodreads: “I’m just stunned that anyone could be so critical of this book as to give it only one star! OK, OK, I know there is no arguing over matters of taste, but, Colson Whitehead is a genius. It’s strange that I didn’t come to this conclusion when I read Underground Railroad as it seems the public at large gives him more credit for Underground Railroad than for John Henry Days. The multiple stories all blending into one is just incredibly well done — I want to say genius again. There was only one “chapter” that I had to push through, the last of Part Four at which time I didn’t want to hear about Godfrey Frank; I wanted to know how it was all going to end. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The stage directions in the chapter written like a play are worth the price of the book!”

The 100 Books Celebration!

In May of this year, one of the book club girls, Rosalie asked me for some of our recent book lists to share with a friend. I took the opportunity to put the entire list together and realized that we would read our 100th book together in August. It was really an exciting moment to imagine how long we’ve been together!  (I’m not good at long-term commitments — though my third marriage has lasted 16 years — I guess I’m getting better.)  It called for a celebration, so I started by making these posters.

I framed them for the girls and had them all ready in a box throughout June and July trying to keep my mouth shut about them.  When I went to Canada in the summer, I sent an email to all the girls telling them that in case I wasn’t allowed back into the country because of my Facebook posts, there was a box in my bedroom labeled Book Club that they should find before August! Closer to the date I baked 100 cupcakes. I’d made little books to tape to toothpicks to push into the cupcake but I’d planned so far in advance, I FORGOT to affix the books to toothpicks before taking them to Melissa’s! She of course has toothpicks, she has everything — it was the time it would take to tape them all on that made me forgo the books on top.  Here are the cupcakes. The picture is a little dark — we were on her roof deck and it was the end of the evening.

Yes, there are 100. But you can count them if you want, I just did.

And here are the unused book tags — don’t count them — there are not 100 because I lost or gave away some of the envelopes they were in at the gathering.

We are so lucky to have such a great group. As I explained elsewhere on this site, some of the girls couldn’t be at the August meeting. When I gave them their posters in September I told them I looked forward to our second hundred books together. Geri looked at me so perky and bright-eyed asking “What number are we on now?” as though it had been several months maybe since August. I said “101” and the idea of this site was just a day away.

August, 2018: A Short History of a Small Place, by T. R. Pearson

(Book #100) Melissa hosted us on her roof deck on what happened to be the occasion of our 100th book! While some of the members didn’t enjoy #100 (because parts of it do go on) I tried to read some of the parts that made it a very worthwhile read for me and that is all mentioned in the evening email:

It was the 100th book the club had read together, and I got that from Mrs. Phillip J. King who got it from her cleaning woman, who had gotten it from a cousin of one of the club members, Melissa K Alderton who hosted the fateful meeting on the roof of her building. According to Mrs Phillip J. King, Melissa was one of the original members of the club and was well-versed in the code of hospitality and her duties as a hostess. Mrs. Phillip J King remarked that the alcoholic beverage Miss Alderton served was “bracing” but then went straight on ahead and said “decadent!” Mrs Phillip J King couldn’t say exactly what was in it, but believed it was a concoction of bourbon, orange juice and a soda like 7-Up. She felt certain it should not be consumed while standing on the roof. Mrs Phillip J King said that the 7 book club members snacked on cheese and crackers, nuts and watermelon wedges while they sipped on the decadent drink. When supper was served, the book club members helped themselves to pulled pork, rolls, bbq beans and cole slaw and Mrs. Phillip J King said more than one member helped herself to seconds.The book club members talked about the book and two of the members seemed right taken by the words but one kept repeating there was too much repeating. Mrs. Phillip J. King said she was sure she didn’t know what was meant by that. Then the member who repeated repeatedly that there was too much repetition, made the rest of the members be quiet so she could read to them. Mrs Phillip J King said she didn’t know if the others weren’t able to read for themselves, but she said she though they must be so endowed and therefore she could not imagine why one would start to read to the rest. After the reading, which Mrs Phillip J King said was  the Reverend Holroyd’s eulogy for Miss Pettigrew in which he mentioned that he had once danced with her and was number eleven on her dance card directly after Mr. Emory Hobson. Well, according to Mrs. Phillip J KIng, that was pretty much the end of it and the next thing they knew tests were being handed around with pens to write the answers. Mrs Phillip J King said the six book club members (minus the reader who handed out the test) sputtered and protested, but the reader said “It’s fun. It’s fun. Just start, it’s fun.” “There were 100 questions on the test!” Mrs. Phillip J KIng exclaimed and “It was getting dark enough they couldn’t see to write the answers” but the reader said “It’s fun. You’ll have fun.” When they finished all the questions, Mrs. Phillip J King said it turned out  the questions were about the curious and remarkable things that the book club members had done in the name of hospitality. It turned out this test was the celebration (?) of their 100th book together and each of the members who could no longer see their papers were given a present in a plain brown wrapper. Mrs. Phillip J King couldn’t guess what would be in such a wrapper but she got it from her cleaning woman’s cousin that inside the brown wrapper was a poster of the 100 books the book club members had read. Then, just when it was time for a lovely dessert of peach crisp with ice cream, the reader and test-giver brought out 100 cupcakes. Mrs Phillip J King said there was no way that a group of 7 was about to eat 100 cupcakes but she thought better of underestimating anyone’s capacity for cupcake consumption.Mrs Phillip J King said the book club members, ate the delicious peach crisp, ate a few of the 100 cupcakes and then were sent home with more, probably to make up for being made to take a test for a celebration. Mrs Phillip J King said that the member who was scheduled to host next month was not in attendance but had sent a note which alerted all to dates that would not work and dates that would work were the ones left over. According to Mrs. Phillip J King, next month John Henry Days will be discussed on September 18 in West Virginia, in the part that’s close to Pennsylvania.

Thank You Melissa, everything was delicious and it was such a great night to be on the roof. I’m attaching the quiz for those of you who couldn’t be with us. I wish I could attach cupcakes.I’ll bring your posters to Susan’s next month.

On this page I’ll talk about the book and save the rest of our 100th book celebration for another post. The state of North Carolina is allegedly represented in this novel and while I’ve not enough experience with North Carolina to know if that is true, it is quite certainly representative a small town America, where people generally know something about everyone in town and others make it their business to know everything. I thought the book captured some beautiful moments that might have passed us by; there are so many clever observations and the characters are mostly believable in all their eccentricity. The old preacher’s eulogy is just beautiful — I would love it if someday someone publicly remembers having danced with me — though they may have to remember a moment other than dancing — I’m a terrible dancer.
Most of us felt that some of the tangential explanations just went on as though the author was being paid by the word. Clearly the devil is in the details, but the retold stories were sometimes painfully unbridled.  Chris told me that just prior to receiving my email, she was hoping to never have to read the words Mrs. Phillip J King ever again! oops.

July, 2018: A Death in the Family by James Agee

(Book #99) Marcia mentioned she was having difficulty thinking of what to serve, and I suggested breakfast for dinner based on the lovely early scene in the book when Mary makes breakfast for Jay before he leaves. It struck me as so poignant because as we all regret the things we didn’t do when we lose a loved one, Mary could remember that even though it was so early in the morning she made him a lovely breakfast. Marcia served us in her lovely garden after the funeral for A Death in the Family.  I was late in writing my thank you note but it was delivered as follows:

Dear Friends, I am so sorry that I have been remiss in this time of mourning but I was so filled with comfort from our evening together that I enjoyed the first peaceful sleep since the recent Death in the Family. Marcia, thank you so much for hosting us.  Thank you for the lovely assortment of cheeses and for thinking of Geri by including the rice crackers. Thank you for the all-too-consumable wines. Thank you for the beautiful salad and the delicious breakfast baked pudding. Thank you for the yummy mango ice cream with berries. Thank you for the lovely garden setting. Thank you for the weather and the cicadas and Shadow’s attention to us all. Thanks to all for the camaraderie and for your forbearance with some of our more dispiriting book choices. I’m trusting that you all motored safely to your homes, with cotter pins firmly in place and that I will see all of you next month, August 22, at Melissa’s in North Carolina. All should strive to attend — I have reason to believe it will be a momentous occasion.                           Yours in the word, Teresa

One of the things we talked about was the editing that was done when the manuscript was found after Agee’s death.  Though the additional writing was lovely it didn’t really seem all of the same piece with the book. I refer to that in my short Goodreads review: 

My brother died unexpectedly in 2016, so many of the poignant observations of A Death in the Family resonated more profoundly than they might have before his loss. Agee’s writing is full of both head and heart. 
My four rather than five star rating is a reaction to the posthumous editing. I just couldn’t be convinced it all belonged.

June, 2018: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

(Book #98) Chris hosted The Stone Diaries and this was her invitation: 

TO: All Members in Good Standing of the Bloomington Garden Club—

Petunia Anderson, Aster Alderton, Calla Lily Kelley, Marigold Mabus, Begonia Buckley, Bougainvillea Bernsten, Rose Riegle, Rose of Sharon Gonzalez, Dahlia Andrews, Wisteria Wood

RE: Upcoming Meeting, 6/12/2018,

Due to the obligations of ordinary life, the garden club luncheon will start late, at 6:30 p.m.

Topics of discussion will include the surprising turns and transformations that can come from a sudden bold life decision, the ways that ordinary lives are pretty extraordinary, and the importance of having friends you can laugh your butt off with until the end of your life.

Questions about the cultivation of plants and the design and maintenance of gardens will be fielded by those in attendance since most members are more knowledgeable on this subject than your host.

RSVP so that refreshments may be planned accordingly.


Mrs. Not-So-Green Thumb (Daisy)

After the event, my attempt to emulate one of the chapters in the book was entitled Hostess, 2018:

Despite political unrest, or perhaps because of the political unrest, 2018 was the year Mrs. Benton fell, no, dove into a profound consummation of her culinary and hostessing skills.It happened overnight more or less. Her book club friends stood by in awe and watched helplessly while her self-composed, capable nature, doubled, then tripled until it exceeded all previously charted gastronomical experience.
The arousal of her aliment acumen, the impressive control of her heart, head and herb chopper, the uptick in her personal health and appearance — all these stem from some mysterious esculent core which those around her can only register and weigh (though not right after the meal) and speculate about.
Mary’s Theory  Because the Ashland bus only goes to Irving Park, Mary chose to walk the rest of the way to Chris’ home. Mary likes to walk, she says it’s good for her. She believes that a big part of Chris’ success came from the outdoor setting, the perfect lights from Crate and Barrel and the cat who corresponds with Archie from the building next door.
Sharon’s Theory  Sharon hadn’t had a glass of wine in three or four days. She considered that this was perhaps a mistake, that she should have a glass of wine before book club in order to temper the effect of the wine consumed while there. She attributes the success of the evening to the fine selection of wines proffered by the hostess. Those in her car on the way home can attest to Sharon’s sincere appreciation of said wines.
Marcia’s Theory Though Marcia was nursing a sprained ankle or torn ligament or some as yet undiagnosed condition in her leg, she was happy to put her leg below her heart when the array of cheeses and crackers were presented. Marcia is convinced that the spectacular nature of the evening was achieved by a cheese board that could span the short gap between tables and the gap between wine and an empty stomach. Marcia also theorized that Sharon should have had more crackers.
Karen’s Theory Karen speculated that the overwhelming success of the evening was due at least, in part, to the camaraderie from this hand picked group of women. She suggested that this was no Glencoe book club with women arguing over the Iliad.
Linda’s Theory Linda proposed that she didn’t like the book as much as others because her life is very linear and the book’s narrative was not at all linear. When the main course was presented, however, Linda proposed that the root of Chris’ hostessing prowess was the asparagus — something to which Linda could fully relate — fixed, determinate and precise.
Ro’s Theory As Ro repeatedly advised Linda, LIFE is not linear.  Sometimes life is about making asparagus with hollandaise sauce when you have to make the hollandaise over a campfire as Ro did when she hosted Lonesome Dove. Ro opined that the success of the evening was in the hollandaise sauce.
Melissa’s Theory Because Melissa recently hosted a Royal Wedding, she put forward the position that the success of any event is in food well prepared, in this case salmon well poached. Also due to her connections to royalty, she briefly worried whether the salmon had been poached from crown land, a territorial area where the water and its contents belong to the monarch.
Teresa’s Theory Teresa considered a number of theories to explain the evening’s success. First Teresa/Petunia considered the charm granted the evening by the assigned flower names in the lovely garden setting, then she considered the theory of relativity, but discarded that because no one in book club can strictly be considered a relative. Finally she concluded that the cumin/dill and all those other things sauce for the salmon was the force that pushed the evening’s rating from Incroyable to You’ve Got to be F**king Kidding Me. Please excuse the French rating scale.
Geri’s Theory It’s possible that Geri’s conjecture was not so much a theory as it was a ploy to have remainder of the Greek Watermelon salad sent home with her, but she put her money on the salad as the source of the evening’s triumph and it worked for her.
Susan’s Theory Susan was politely supportive of others’ theories, but felt that the kitchen glass ceiling had clearly been shattered by the cheese pie and strawberry dessert. Her second helping though tiny was her testimonial. 
Archie the dog’s Theory No one mentioned the bread. That looked great. I’ll have the rest of that.

OK gals, it’s late, that’s all I’ve got. Thank you so much, Chris, it was all delish!!!
Next month’s meeting, set so that all are able to attend is July 24 at Marcia’s in Tennessee.  Please be advised the book will be sad as it warns us there is A Death in the Family. We can hope it was a distant cousin, like the one who annoys us so terribly on Facebook.
Fondly, Teresa

This was my response to the book:  This is one of the books that makes me wish I had better writing skills in order to discuss my reaction to it. First, I love the way the narrative is shaped, the writing is exquisite, and there were so many little thought discoveries along the way. At the conclusion, however, I wasn’t sure where it had taken me. I took a vacation, I had a lovely time, I’m not sure where I went.
One moment that I found so resonant was Mrs. Flett’s theory regarding her depression/nervous breakdown:
“You think she’d be scared to death by the state she’s in, but she’s not. Her hair’s matted, her fingernails broken, her house plants withered, her day-to-day life smashed, but sleeping inside her like a small burrowing creature is the certainty that she’ll recover.”
I’m not sure that during my serious bouts with anxiety, that I was always certain I’d recover, but there was a well of some kind that could be tapped often enough to keep pushing on. With all the tragic events in the news of persons choosing to end their own lives, one wishes they could have felt their problems temporary and surmountable.  

May, 2018: True North by Jim Harrison

(Book #97) Sharon agreed to be the member who would host twice this year and we were all really excited that they might both be in the same residence! My evening email thank-you was entitled True West:

I was thinking what a great meal Sharon served as Melissa pulled out of her typically lucky parking place and then my mind settled on the realization that both of our destinations were truly True West, well, from Sharon’s anyway.  We dropped Geri at Treasure Island, a store that chewed me up and spit me out years ago, and they’re still in business (not any more!) and I’m writing chatty thank you notes to my book club pals. But I’m off track. We dropped Geri at Treasure Island, the robber barons of Chicago, and I don’t care who knows I said it. They razed a piece of land, built little metal sheds, turned it in on itself and then made the tenants buy neon signs, neon, the worst possible sign for use outside. We asked Geri if she wanted us to wait but she said No, she had to walk off all that she ate at Sharon’s. I wondered if I should get out of the car and walk with her as I had clearly eaten more than she did, but I wasn’t going to get out at Treasure Island and dredge up all the old feelings of how they made my life a living hell.  So, I kept on with Melissa and we headed west on North Avenue and turned just before Elston on that little street right before Comcast/Xfinity — another business that’s raped more than its fair share of poor people just trying to make a living and watch a little TV.  I ran into Melissa’s quickly, where I noticed one of the dogs was erect but I couldn’t imagine I had anything to do with that, so I waited for Melissa to find her list of book choices for 2018. In one night I handed out the three prizes for those three who were first to make their literary choices. I was glad Vernice wasn’t there because I would have had to make up a rule which would categorically prevent her pompous self from winning the book Sing, Unburied, Sing (Geri), Prosecco (Chris), or Godiva chocolates (Melissa).  [Is she hinting at something here, I can’t tell. -Ed] WAIT, now there’s an editor??   Fine, fine, so Melissa gave me her answers, I headed to the car and though I hadn’t driven to Sharon’s, I was easily back into the swing of driving, the feel of my steering wheel and the click of my turning signal. It took longer than I thought it would to get home — I probably should have driven the whole way, but I decided to launch the boat I tow everywhere, into the Chicago River, just to feel the breeze and look at the moon.  I couldn’t see any stars because as has been pointed out to me at least twice lately, there is too much ambient light in the city. I saw a turtle who looked a bit peckish but just kept rowing. When my arms began to tire, I tied on my snowshoes and inadvertently won a downhill snowshoe race — they’ll probably take back the trophy because I entered the race more than midway through the course, but it felt good to cross the finish line first.  Once home, I tried to think about just what was so good about Sharon’s meal. Was it that she hosted even though she was sick and wanted to put it all in doggie bags to send home with us? I’m so glad she didn’t choose that plan but rather carried on with her exquisite hosting, because I feel certain a bear would have gotten my brown bag on the snowshoe portion of my way home. Was it the yummy appetizers with the white cheesy stuff inside the endive leaves? the dried apricots, cheese and crackers? the wine?  Or was it the truly amazing Tagliatelle (?) Bolognese? the deliciously crunchy baked cauliflower and broccoli? the every so tasty arugula and fennel salad? Maybe it was the incredible dessert — tart cherries with chocolate chips, almonds and oats topped with either Cherry Vanilla or Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream — served with a chocolate red wine from a store that doesn’t violate the environment and plunder its people?? Yes, I think that was it, a simple chocolate red wine from an honest fair-priced vendor. No, stop, that couldn’t have been it — I didn’t even drink any of the chocolate red wine and I was still taken aback by the delicious evening. Perhaps I can’t understand — maybe I’m not meant to understand — yes that’s it,  I’m not meant to understand! oh thank goodness — I finish this now in a lighthearted state because not just the meal, but all of existence is clearly beyond my comprehension!Thank you, Sharon so completely for such a lovely evening and thank you for hosting even while under the weather.  I hope hope hope you feel better soon and we will see you next month in Indiana when Chris hosts The Stone Diaries on June 12.
Respectfully submitted,Teresa

My review on Goodreads: There is no question that the book captures the U.P. of Michigan but the central character and his quest just did not hold my interest. While I didn’t have an issue with David’s polemic against his father, the family greed and their part in the deforestation of the U.P., I did have a problem with its repeated reference with little elucidation. I should also admit that I have no interest in the discussion of religion, comparison of religious beliefs or examination of the Bible and True North is loaded with all of the above. I couldn’t understand David’s attraction to Vernice, and I was so distanced from the characters, I didn’t even cry when the dog died!
All that said, kindle statistics indicate 30 highlights— so I clearly had moments of appreciation for the writing or the author’s observations.

April, 2018: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

(Book #96) Rosalie hosted this book and I know she wondered what she’d gotten herself into hosting a Western, but was surprised as the rest of us at how much she enjoyed the book. My email that evening was titled Lonesome Book Club:

When Teresa came out on the deck, the black dogs were chewing a Nyla bone — not a very big one. You dogs git, Teresa said. I gotta head on up to book club.  Melissa walked the river for an hour waiting for Teresa to show up to carpool. It was just an old habit she had, left over from wilder times. Sharon had never lived in a place for very long which made for quite a challenge to remember where to pick her up, but Melissa found her.  Linda stood in the door of her home waiting for Geri to head from work. Linda had in her mind to go to Evanston. Why Geri, you ought to see it; a prettier country never was. Susan’s mind had begun to dwell on the north for long stretches, she thought of Evanston, trying to imagine what it must be like. It was final: they were leaving. They saw to their equipment; once on the trail, opportunities for repair might be scarce. Here’s where we find out if we was meant to be a book club, Marcia said — for she had no doubt about the dangers. By Belmont the traffic had stopped completely — the excitement of one of the first Cubs games sparkled on the cars lining up to exit LSD. Traveling was even worse than Teresa had supposed it would be, and she supposed it would be pure hell. Linda knew right off that something was bothering Geri because she didn’t want to talk and Geri always wanted to talk. As the hours passed, Susan found she liked the traveling more and more — she watched her arms in her short-sleeved top getting slowly tanned and felt that a life of travel was what she was meant for. Before the van had passed Irving Park they nearly lost Sharon in a freak accident with the automatic open and close side door. Well, if we weren’t doomed to begin with, we’re doomed now. Teresa said yanking Sharon back into the van. North of Bryn Mawr, the country finally began to open up, to the relief of everyone. Near Devon, Melissa asked, You think that Indian’s around her somewhere?   Which one? Teresa said. This is an Indian neighborhood. Long before they struck Howard Street, Geri had begun to wonder if it was worth it. For twenty minutes it had rained hailed, lightning flashed. Everything she owned was wet and she didn’t like feeling like a muskrat, though it didn’t bother Linda. Once in Evanston, beyond the line of the grasshopper plague, the skies stayed clear and the ride went the smoothest it had gone. They made camp along a Ridge and Ro Campo stirred the coals of her cook fire. Everyone got a plate and ate a big meal. They expected Ro Campo to say something about the unusual bounty of the spread she’d put out but the cook merely dished out the food and said nothing. There was cheese and crackers, red and white wine, artichoke appetizers on toast, steaks, red beans and bacon, polenta with cilantro and asparagus with hollandaise. How Ro made the hollandaise over the campfire is still a mystery to us all. For dessert there were grasshoppers, no heck, that’s a lie, there was a fine bread pudding with whiskey sauce and we were all happy for the whiskey. Geri even took some in a jar.

Well, it’s still a work in progress, I’m no Larry McMurtry. But thank you thank you, thank you, Ro for a delicious meal!  I think we were all pleasantly high on how much we enjoyed the book, the wine, the incredible food and the company. I would like the beans recipe and Sharon wants the dessert recipe — we were trying to decide what exactly it was besides delicious. I put a short review of Lonesome Dove on the Book Movement website, if you’re interested in  or if you want to write one of your own. I am determined that our book club will be the BEST book club of the 48,000 on the site or my name’s not Tess Summerfest!
We will be meeting next month on Tuesday, May 15 at Sharon’s (in Michigan) to discuss True North by Jim Harrison. Sharon will be sending out an email with the info/address.
Respectfully submitted at 1:47,T

I wrote reviews on both Goodreads and Book Movement and this is a combo platter of both of them.  Five Stars, you ask, When I only gave Four Stars to the Dubliners? And I must sheepishly admit that this book really got to me. This novel is teeming in size and scope and yet there is a heartbreaking spareness. One moment in this book caused me to cry for half an hour and then I had to talk it over with both my husband and my daughter. The moment is just after Deets is lanced and killed by a young brave.             

Call asks Gus: This is on us, isn’t it? We should have pulled our guns sooner.    And Gus relies: 
I don’t want to start thinking about all the things we should have done for this man.
I don’t think I’ve ever read another sentence that brought such immediate tears to my eyes. It was heartbreaking and this from a woman who could barely stand to read the word “poke” as it was used in this novel!