July, 2011: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

(Book #15) This book gathering took place at my home, where I did not make a Potato Peel Pie, but rather mad a potato pie (quiche) with bacon and chives.  I put the beets into a green salad rather than in the pie and “Amelia” made a raspberry pie for dessert just as she did on p.211. (Her raspberries came in with a vengeance.) Everyone enjoyed the book, particularly Marcia who enjoyed the epistolary format. Geri brought a letter written by Charles Lamb apologizing for, while also excusing his drunken behavior — it was Dawsey’s interest in Charles Lamb that starts the book and the book within the book!  I asked if anyone else had to Google Todt to find out what was meant by Todt slave. I did and found that Todt was in charge of the construction of fortification around the island once it was under German occupation. We talked about the way literature becomes part of our life as is so beautifully illustrated in Eben’s reference to Shakespeare’s “The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.” We also loved the idea of a child who could make up a game called “Dead Bride!”

August, 2011: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

(Book #16) Melissa hosted this meeting and we welcomed a new member, Sharon, who was recruited by Melissa. Melissa served us wine and cheese to start and went on to a buffet of wonderful items — polenta topped with spinach and mushroom, corn salad, fresh green beans, quinoa, sweet potato and rice timbales — all delicious– and a fruit tart for dessert.

Most of us liked the book though Geri found portions of it hard to credit. Geri talked about an article she’d read about Fitzgerald’s essays and the new movie Midnight in Paris. We talked about the theme of wasted promise; the excessive lifestyle so popular in the 20’s; and the numerous references to non-traditional sexuality even that which becomes criminal. Sharon asked if there was always this much discussion about the book and we told her that a few of our choices have left us with very little to discuss!

September, 2011: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

(Book #17) Marcia hosted this gathering and served the pot pies that were put in the oven in the book but never eaten! Well, not the same ones, you get the reference. The pot pies were served with a salad, bread, and a cake with cherries on top — just like the one that the hookers gave Corrigan.

Sharon commented that she particularly liked the chapters about the man on the wire and we discussed Phillipe Petit, his book and movie and the accuracy of McCann’s description of his walk.  We talked about the people below who couldn’t believe their eyes — and compared that to a more recent time when we looked at the towers and couldn’t believe what we saw. We mentioned other characters we enjoyed, Grace and Gloria, as well as the characters who lost our interest — the guy who sought out the subway tagging and the hackers. One of the girls asked if we thought that Corrigan was mentally ill which led to a discussion of the fine line between religious zeal and insanity. It’s a novel that provides a great many parts to piece together.

October, 2011: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

(Book #18) My daughter Frances helped me make several Indian dishes to host this book–  we made kachumbar salad, green chutney, samosas, chicken byrani and a rice pudding with pistachios for dessert.  I purchased the naan. Chicken byrani was chosen as the main course because Rushdie references byranis of determination and I was determined to finish reading this book despite how much it tried to thwart that accomplishment. A new member joined us tonight, Rosalie, who was invited by Marcia.

Most of the members did not like the book, Sharon went on record as hating it, many didn’t finish it. Our new member Rosalie and I were the only ones to have anything good to say about it.  Though the book is dense and often frustrating, the story is a good one and the imagery is rich. Probably our longest topic tonight was about truth in memory, narrative and history. The narrator admits that a date he has given in the book can’t be historically accurate but he will leave it that way because that’s how he remembers it.

December, 2011: The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson

(Book #20) All of us were in attendance for a great Holiday Book Club and Cookie Exchange Extravaganza! Geri served chicken pot pie, salad and pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.

(Looking back on this from a distance of seven years, I can’t recall why this book was chosen — not a clue.) A few of us really liked the book, some were impressed that a man wrote about women so well, some felt it didn’t go anywhere or give you anything as it wrapped itself up. We all appreciated Lorraine’s respect for the aging and hoped there will be someone like Lorraine there for each of us. Many of us offered our experiences with nursing homes and nursing home staff.  Thankfully, my experience has  been very positive and I talked about the party my family hosts each Christmas at the nursing home where my mother resided at the end of her life. I gave each of the girls one of the embellished card stock ornaments that I made to decorate the tree at this year’s party at the nursing home.

The bookmarks for 2012 were distributed — they are laminated this year — we’re moving on up.  We descended upon the cookie table which held fourteen varieties of holiday treats!

November, 2011: Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

(Book #19) The gathering for this book was scheduled to take place at Geri’s but due to low reader turnout, it was cancelled and the four or us who read the book met at Ina’s (a restaurant, our third this year) for breakfast/lunch.

Though some of us thought the low reader turnout was an indication that the book should have been edited, we decided the major obstacle in reading this 640 page tome was the difficulty of the regularly changing first person narrator. The author moves between character perspectives, without signaling that a shift has happened!  We discussed the tension we felt: while supportive of unions, we wanted Hank to succeed. We talked about Hank and Leland — how Leland could see Hank as deserving of blame, rather than placing blame on his mother. We wondered what would happen to Viv after she leaves. Ro was interested in the ending, believing as in a Greek tragedy that Hank would die trying to bring the lumber in by himself. I felt his “Greek tragedy day” had already happened when his father lost and arm, Joe Ben died, there was a bar fight and he caught Leland and Viv together. That seemed like plenty for any Greek!

June, 2011: Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

(Book #14) Mary hosted this meeting and served two wonderful salads, one green and one pasta, and a fruit tart for dessert. Our discussion started with the topic of  hysterical blindness  We enjoyed the writing particularly the description of the sisters’ childhood. but the science fiction of the novel within the novel did not have wide appeal for this group. I read some of my favorite passages but we all seemed to have difficulty staying on topic this evening. 

May, 2011: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

(Book #13) This meeting was supposed to be at my house, but we held it at Le Bouchon instead. It wasn’t a great idea because it isn’t easy to talk at a table for eight when there is noise all around you as well. But the amazing French bistro food, the noise and the hubbub was the perfect environment for the book! We talked about the beautiful imagery, the idea of so many talented and creative people intersecting in such a casual way, and the embarrassing details he casually revealed about other writers. Another moment that caught our attention is when he mentions his ability of seeing the “seeds of trouble” in someone, when he would later take his own life.

April, 2011: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

(Book #12) This book was chosen by Marcia, but hosted by Geri and it lives in our book club folklore like no other! In order to set the perfect ambiance for the book, we walked into Geri’s home in the mists of dry ice! She would like it noted that she learned a great deal about dry ice from this experience!

She served several lovely wines all chosen for the appropriate nature of their names: one was called Avalon perfectly enough and another was Stag’s Leap. We had a delicious Shepherd’s pie for the main course and for dessert we had a cake that Geri had ordered from Bittersweet. (We sang Happy Birthday to Geri’s daughter who was in Italy at the time and probably couldn’t hear us.)

Everyone had quite a lot to say about this book. Marcia admitted that it was this book that gave her courage during a very difficult time in her life. We all thought it was great when it is somehow possible to find what you need in a book and we talked about similar experiences. I was disappointed in Avalon. For all their wisdom, Avalon was no less bloody in its governance than any other political or religious system.

March, 2011: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

(Book #11) Ellen hosted this gathering as it was her suggestion that we read this book.    To compliment the Mardi Gras setting of the book, she served take-out from the restaurant Wishbone, cheese grits, red beans and rice, cornbread and other delicious things. Her husband, a literature professor, talked to us about Walker Percy before we started our own discussion. Some of the members had difficulty with this one because of the existential nature of the novel. It’s likely that we’ve all been through some level of existential anxiety, but stopped reading about it when we were younger.  Perhaps we would have been more tuned in to Binx Bolling’s search for meaning in his 30-some years of life before we were nearing retirement age! The writing is quite good and it was easy to want to read certain parts over again just to listen to the language, but overall it wasn’t a hit with too many of us.