December, 2015: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

(Book #68) This novel has such a long story behind it within our little group. It was first brought up years ago but was voted down by one member no longer with the group and I was also not a fan. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not interested in any read with too much religious content. Well, one member, I won’t mention any names, Geri, would not let this go! At a gathering last summer, Linda noted that it seemed like we’d talked about The Red Tent at every meeting she’d attended, so why didn’t we just give in, include it on our book list and finally be done with it! That brought us to tonight. Marcia championed the pro- Red Tent side and I was the only one who really did not like it at all — but three of the girls hadn’t read it because of time issues or lack of enthusiasm. 

When I looked at Goodreads, I noticed that most of those who give The Red Tent a low rating do so either because of religious concerns, i.e. “It takes a crap on the Bible.” or because they admit they aren’t the target audience for a book “configured for female readership.” I have neither of those reasons for disliking the book — I am not protective of the Bible and I am a post-menopausal woman — as one reviewer indicated we are the real target audience.  This is why I disliked the book: I have always been told that it’s a story about the female bond as the title suggests, and frankly, I don’t need all the menstrual bonding, but if it’s supposed to be about our bond, why does Dinah leave all the women she loves behind when it was the men who were at fault for the death of her husband? If it’s a book about the continuation of the line of family, why does Dinah write off her son and walk away?

And the prose makes me crazy. First, I hope never to read another sentence about blood. But beyond that, it’s as if the writing is a choice not to be clever or insightful, or playful, but just to sound Biblical. I’m going to quote another reviewer when it comes to the prose. This is from Aaron:  Consider the overwritten “It was a simple song known to every child and thus to every adult who had been a child.” It is beyond me what the final phrase is supposed to add here. Who are these adults who were not children? And thinking in terms of more a symbolic sense of lacking a childhood do to a tough youth doesn’t help. Children have these infantile songs passed along to them regardless, whether or not their childhood was filled with magic and joy. I guess Diamant felt that overwriting made it sound Biblical. I’m sure someone could tell me all about myself given my fervid distaste for this book, but I don’t want to know.

Also this:
The writing reaches its zenith/apex in one of its most ridiculous sex scenes: “We made love very slowly that night, as though for the last time, weeping. One of his tears fell in my mouth, where it became a blue sapphire, source of strength and eternal hope”. Who is this even supposed to appeal to?  Clearly not to me. My friend and book club pal MADE me read this (when I told her I wouldn’t like a book about blood) and I will never forgive her. I’m just kidding, I’ll forgive her. Maybe. At least now, we don’t have to talk about it any more.

Geri did her usual lovely job of hosting our Christmas gathering and cookie exchange.  She ordered in food from the restaurant Old Jerusalem and it was delicious.

My Fictional Friends, 2015: The Christmas Ornament

This year I realized I had to restock my supply of wooden books that I use to make the ornaments and found the original vendor didn’t have them nor did any one else! I gave it some thought and decided to commemorate the incredible lengths the girls go to for the dinners served at our meetings. I started ordering wooden tables and miniature food.

All of the little tables assembled.
A close-up of the Thanksgiving dinner from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.         There is a teeny book on each of the tables.

November, 2015: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

(Book #67) Linda hosted our November meeting and started us off with deviled egg appetizers.  After all of the talk about real eggs versus powdered eggs, there had to be some eggs on the menu. There was also clam dip with celery and crackers, but I was pretty busy with the deviled eggs. For dinner we had Shepherd’s pie with a salad, broccoli with garlic and bread crumbs and a delicious apple crisp for dessert.

When we started talking about the book, the first comment was about the leap of faith it took to send money in the mail from New York to London! Of course, the conversation included our appreciation for how she respected books so dearly — that was the best part of it, really, the idea that books mean so much to some of us that a relationship could ignite between a bookseller and a lover of books. None of us could quite believe that she never made it to London–  during the time of the correspondence.

October, 2015: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

(Book #66) This was Chris’ second book to host this year and given its maudlin theme, she went with a Halloween menu and referred to it as Addie’s Memorial Celebration. We started with a salmon-dill mousse decorated with the word Addie. (My mother is a fish.) At the dinner table we had a pumpkin soup, a salad of baked squash and arugula, heirloom tomatoes with basil, cornbread and biscuits. For dessert, we had Mud Pie. (perfect) 

Our discussion of the book started with the notion that the book had been lauded for exploration/innovation of numerous narrators. This is only the second Faulkner novel I’ve read and I will borrow from another reviewer I saw on Goodreads who said, “I respect Faulkner, but I don’t love him.” There are moments when the prose takes me over and I feel his talent, but more often I don’t see the genius. It has an almost absurdist quality that I can’t appreciate.

Below is my Faulkner inspired recap of the meal:

As I Sat Eating by Teresa Yohnka Anderson


It was the sweetest thing I ever saw.  Chris had made a delicious soup.  There was some in each bowl and the rest was in a pumpkin-shaped tureen right next to where I was sitting.  I always said Chris was different from those others in the club — the only one of them who knew how to entertain in the autumn.


The first time me and Geri looked on down the dining table we see there’s a salad of baked squash and arugula.  Even though she spoke sternly to Marcia I have to ask Chris the recipe for the dressing.  It is delicious and I am wild for the arugula.  I ask her without the words and she asks “Why?” without the words.  And that’s why I can talk to her with knowing because she knows.


Archie keeps rubbing my knees under the table.


Chris stands beside the table.  From behind me she places another tray in front of us. This one is caprese salad with the last of the heirloom tomatoes.  She said “I went to the Farmer’s Market for one more load.  I thought there was time.”  

Rosalie Dell

She could do so much for me if she just would.  She could do everything for me if she would just pass the butter.  It’s like everything in the world for me is inside the butter dish.  There is corn bread and biscuits but Sharon holds onto that butter.


It was nigh to midnight and it had set in to rain again.  It had been a misdoubtful night with the storm making: but the bountiful supper was et, the Mud Pie served and all had been a delight.  We thanked our hostess for the time spent and went out in the wet to hitch the team.

September, 2015: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

(Book #65) It was my evening to host and I was excited to share this book  for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its title. I love it when families have expressions that are their own little watch words and use them to title a book — like this one, Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to The Dogs Tonight and Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  

Because the middle of the story takes place around the Thanksgiving holiday– I decided to serve a full Thanksgiving feast. I contacted the author to learn her favorite side dish and served her cranberry sauce with orange zest.  If you intend to read the book and want the full impact, stop reading this NOW and read the book. The rest will contain spoilers, the first of which is that in addition to the Thanksgiving dishes there were two banana recipes.

Most of the girls enjoyed this read; Susan found it very emotional and told us a story of a photoshoot she had to do with lab animals caged within the room. There are many psychological aspects to the book of great interest to me, including the uncanny-valley response which is an aversion to things that look almost, but not quite like people. The book is cleverly written — has such a unique subject and Rosemary is so complex/real I had to double check that it was a novel not a memoir.

Just for fun, I made each of the girls a little necklace with a square picture pendant of  their long lost sister-chimp. There was a business-chimp, an astronaut and chimps from other walks of life to match up to our group. (We don’t have an astronaut, just a seasoned traveler.) The girls had to answer questions on the quiz below to earn their necklaces.


August, 2015: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

(Book #64) Melissa hosted this meeting — we started on her roof but soon felt the first drops of rain forcing us inside. She served a picnic dinner, fresh fruits and veggies, chicken salad and croissants. We had a choice of two desserts — lemon gelato or Hagen Daz ice cream bars.

Our book discussion started with what makes a book a Pulitzer Prize winner and whether this book deserved the win. Some of us were bothered by the character Boris, the crazy amount of drugs and Theo’s relapses into poor judgement. Others felt that the book had some beautifully written moments — particularly those that described Theo’s mother– but that the part of the book spent in Las Vegas should have been edited.  I think most of us agree that Donna Tartt is an excellent writer — there were so many passages that were the kind of writing you want to read to your friends and hope to remember — to save for another conversation. The characters were complex — I loved Hobie and would have loved Welty. My only criticism was that it  could have been tauter. The repetition of the drugs and the regular worry about being found out added pages that we probably could have done without.

July, 2015: In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker

(Book #63) Marcia hosted this discussion of Alice Walker’s essays in her backyard garden with decorative help from her daughter and culinary assistance from her friend Ali. Marcia served a Southern summer menu of fried chicken, skillet fried corn, a wonderfully spiced slaw and biscuits. Most of the girls were in attendance and there was a very full discussion of the book. We talked about Walker’s writing style which Chris characterized as generous, even though as Linda noted, the content was often challenging or even intimidating to readers with more black guilt than others. Some of us were happy to have previously read Their Eyes Were Watching God because so much of Walker’s book has to do with Zora Neale Hurston. My basic response was the realization that I learned so much from it — I almost felt as if I should be taking notes — and for me, that’s an enjoyable feeling. So much information about Black writers, the Civil Rights movement, and the perception of color as it relates to white black women and black black women. And while covering such topics, the book still reads quite easily.      It is very well written.

June, 2015: March by Geraldine Brooks

(Book #62) Because of the Civil War content of the novel, Lynn served a Union soldier meal of pork roast and beans. Everyone was thankful that she didn’t serve March’s preferred vegetarian fare though the salad she served was recipe-sharing worthy. The group had a love/hate relationship with the book because March was an egotist vacillating between playing the hero and not being worthy. It was also a difficult read because of the high levels of gore — both the slave torture and the combat injuries — but all of this was somehow balanced by Brook’s incredible writing.

May, 2015: The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

(Book #61) Sharon hosted this evening and treated us to a wonderful view of the sheltering sky from the windows of her high-rise condo. We started with great wine, dates wrapped in bacon and another appetizer filled with cheesy nutty deliciousness. For dinner, we had a salad of carrots, dates and oranges, and chicken breasts in peanut sauce served over couscous. We know it was chicken and not rabbit because there was no evidence of fur! All of this was topped off by coffee and chocolate zucchini cake.

Our discussion about the book started with a question about the extent to which the book is autobiographical given the author’s travels in that part of the world. We found both the husband and wife to be difficult to understand, but the wife’s outlook on love and sex was puzzling. While Bowles writing can be quite stirring, I found it difficult to maintain an interest in the characters and their story. I could highlight passages of observations that I appreciated but was never quite sure that I cared what happened next.

April, 2015: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

(Book #60) Susan hosted our discussion of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and everyone agreed that this book is just full of beautiful imagery of childhood scenes. So many passages evoke a full rich moment in time. You see it and feel it. This book is clearly an American classic.

Papa would have been sad if his job as a singing waiter would have kept him from Susan’s delicious beef stroganoff and none of us had to pretend, as the children did, that we were explorers at the North Pole stuck in a blizzard in a cave when food supplies ran low because Susan prepared quite a feast.