December, 2019: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

(Book 116) The December book is probably a bit cheated and we’ve discussed changing our format to forego reading a book in December and doing only our cookie exchange, but as the Fearless Leader I just can’t. Whether it’s my OCD, the uneven number 11, or the idea that a “book club” meets without reading a book, I just can’t bring myself to agree to such a proposal. We’ll talk again next year. The following is the email summary of our meeting with subject heading Merry (even though we were missing Mary)

Let me begin by thanking Linda for hosting us in her lovely new home! (I’m just going to go on record as saying that if I ever had a brand new space like that, I might not let you all in.) The new place is beautiful and smart — just like Linda — and offered a kitchen island for our appetizers and a dining table for all of our cookies!
Even though Linda provided plates, we all circled around the island of appetizers where we could remain in close contact with all the food. Our talk about the book was somewhat brief, and I was rightly criticized for slotting a book about a fanatically religious and abusive father as our December read. There was much talk of Catholicism and saying the rosary and Linda was able to pull out her First Communion rosary as a visual aid. (I’m attaching further explanation.)Interestingly enough, the Catholics among us were also the ones who wondered why both mother and son so quickly confessed to the poisoning murder of Eugene when it could have so easily been blamed on political operatives! I think that has something to do with the religion buffet concept — take what you like, leave the rest. I know that’s the religion I learned at my mother’s feet!
We discussed how the political setting in the book kept leaping off the page and finding frightening parallels in our country today — I know my ears were ringing with the explanation that “this is what happens when lives are meaningless.’ Luckily it was somewhere around this time that Marcia pointed out that we could sit down.
We gathered around the Christmas tree (brand new for the occasion, that will not go back into the box but into a special accessory bag) and I played Santa with the ornaments for 2019. I failed to explain last night that I chose a door because I wanted to relate the ornament to the Woman’s Day magazine that was this year’s book list. I was going to make mail slots in all the doors and have the magazines half pushed into the slot. I cut the first mail slot — I think it was on Susan’s (probably because she’s my favorite) and I decided I was not going to do that eleven more times. (Susan if you’re wondering why you don’t see it, it’s because I glued a covered slot over top of the whole so that none of the other doors would get ideas.) The Woman’s Day magazine had to be wrapped in plastic and placed over the doorknob to complete my original idea.
Then the new book list was handed out. Because Mary wasn’t there, we started with Karen, February’s host to find that this year’s book list conveyance is a calendar featuring my brother’s bird art. And the calendar was tucked between placemats for reasons I can’t begin to explain.(Oops I see that Chris has sent an email, beating me to the punch! Better push on.) Each of the girls opened her package in turn, being sure to show the placemats. If you wonder what next year’s ornament will be to accommodate a full size calendar (much to Melissa’s chagrin) and placemats, my guess is a brand new kitchen makeover!!!! No, wait, I’m not Oprah.
And then it was time for cookies. I think Geri took a picture of the cookies, which she might add to this, but Mary, you will see them soon. Just give me a date, I’ll deliver!
Merry Christmas to All! And can’t wait for new books in the new year,

Be sure to note the beautiful holiday centerpiece that Linda placed for the event.

November, 2019: Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

(Book 115) In October, I noted that Geek Love had appeared as one of our choices before and was narrowly outvoted. Love Medicine had also appeared in the same round of voting (A Literary Map of the United States) as a book that represented North Dakota, so it was our second book to be reconsidered and chosen. Rosalie hosted the event and this was the first line of her invitation: “I can’t promise you fry bread and canned ham but can you make it to the res on Tuesday, November 19?” Following is the email of the meeting summary with the Subject: Migwetch.

I believe Migwetch is the correct Ojibwe word for Thank You! If, alternatively, I’ve said “Look at that tree over there” — forgive me and accept my gratitude for a lovely evening which I was sorry to have cut short.
We all enjoyed the cheese, crackers and salmon appetizers while we drank our wine and had one of our longest-ever book discussions. Though not all of us had quite finished the book, it seemed that it was generally appreciated for its lovely prose. Rosalie was not a particular fan of the characters that (first-) peopled the book, but Geri recognized some as family members. Geri read a few of her favorite quotes — two that were particularly gripping were:
“Her face was vivid, carved on thin bones, and she had withered powerfully, evaporated into the shape of her own opinions.”
“Even though she was more trouble to me than any child I ever had, I took care of the old woman every day of her life. Because we shared the loneliness that was one shape. Because I knew that in her old age, she shared the same boat, where I had labored. She crested and sank in dark waves. Those waves were taking her onward, through night, through day, the water beating and slashing across her unknown path. She struggled to continue. She was traveling hard and death was her light.”
I read many passages mostly pertaining to my favorite character Lulu and I will be from here on using one of her phrases “not in the factual sense” whenever called upon to explain the vagaries of my existence. Chris and I marveled at the writing in the chapter titled “Crown of Thorns” and some expressed appreciation for the chapter title itself. I provided Susan with a warning that there is an unfortunate situation with a deer, so that she can properly prepare herself. Sharon enjoyed the book but suggested another book with Native American characters. There There by Tommy Orange as being a better read. I agreed that There There is a wonderful read, though I would not say better, so much as a bit lighter in tone.
Rosalie identified with the moment when Marie reads the note that Nector wrote to say he was leaving her for Lulu and she responds by scrubbing the linoleum and peeling every potato in the house. Rosalie told us that after telling her husband and children that she was leaving him and moving out, she went to the kitchen and made a pot roast dinner. “I was leaving forever, but not before making them dinner!”
There were many more things I would have like to have discussed so I’m going to bring them up here:
p.169 What was the trick? With the glasses and the knives? I’ve got a great bar trick that involves three matches and an ashtray — just ask me to show it to you.
p.192 The cleverly mundane “It was only natural then, I guess, that she would pull the barstool out from under me and threaten my life.” We’ve all been there.
p. 232 Lipsha’s take on God’s faculties: “I sweat. I broke right into a little cold sweat at my hairline because I knew this was perfectly right and for years not one damn other person had noticed it. God’s been going deaf. Since the Old Testament. God’s been deafening up on us. I read see. Besides the dictionary, which I’m constantly in use of, I had this Bible once. I read it. I found there was discrepancies between then and now. It struck me. Here God used to raineth bread from clouds, smite the Phillipines (another malapropism I hadn’t noticed the first time), sling fire down on red-light districts where people got stabbed. He even appeared in person once in a while. God used to pay attention is what I’m saying.”
p. 262 “My socks are too tight!” What a great complaint from Gordie when in need of a drink. Particularly because, as Marie points out, he isn’t wearing socks. There should be a list somewhere of bizarre kid complaints to their mothers — I would add Frances’ “This road is too bumpy for me to sing.”
I could go on, but I have to get to the meal. The meal was a delicious pork stew with olives and fennel, a recipe that Rosalie found in a stack she’d cut from magazines. She served it with whole green beans, a green salad and bread. This is how I imagined it being prepared:
(another quote about Lulu) “Lulu was bustling about the kitchen in a calm, automatic frenzy. She seemed to fill pots with food by pointing at them and take things from the oven that she’d never put in. The table jumped to set itself.”
My dessert was gone too quickly to be certain of what it was, but I’m going to guess it was a warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream.

I was asked to record some things mentioned during the discussion:
Jolabokaflod — the Icelandic tradition of giving books and chocolate on Christmas Eve and snuggling in to read them.
Other books: Sharon mentioned that she read Ann Patchett’s new The Dutch House but did not like it, she did enjoy The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
Chris mentioned that a friend recommended Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson.
Before she allowed us to leave. Rosalie asked us all to take a book (or two, three or four) to clean out her shelves to lighten her load and make room for her next life!
We will be meeting at Linda’s for our Christmas cookie exchange and discussion of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Tuesday, December 17. To prevent duplication. let’s reply to this email with the name/description of the five dozen cookies you intend to share.

Baamaapii, (Until later, or possibly, She is many arrows short of a quiver)

And if you could also take this one-question survey:
Regarding the number of times that Geri was mentioned in this summary,

  1. I thought it was woefully lacking in reference to the scintillating contributions Geri provides our meetings.
  2. I thought it was just about right, like Baby Bear’s chair and porridge.
  3. I thought if I had to read her stupid name one more time, I would surely explode!
    Thank you for your time.

October, 2019: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

I wish there was a way of showing the original Knopf logo, a Russian wolfhound that had been around since 1915 modified to a five-legged dog for Geek Love’s publication.

(Book 114) I must mention here that Geek Love was not Katherine Dunn’s debut novel. I was misled by a flavorwire article “Fifty of the Greatest Debut Novels Since 1950” which included it. Geek Love was one of the choices on the Literary Map of the US, the theme we had followed in 2018, when it was narrowly outvoted by To The Bright Edge of the World — so when I saw it on a list of debuts I jumped on it — clearly without checking. Sharon, our hostess for Geek Love advised me of my error a few months ago, which seemed to start a cavalcade of misfortune for the book! You may recall that at our meeting last month Sharon gave a dispensation for those who wanted to attend the meeting without reading the book, because she read it only so far as to get an idea for something to serve. On page five Lil volunteers to be the geek and bite the heads off of chickens. (Chicken Fricassee) Then the meeting was poorly attended and Sharon was dispirited because she usually packs a full house. Below is the email summary.

The Fictional Friends Fabulon pitched their tent tonight at Sandburg Terrace but many of the featured performers were missing. Chris was sewing costumes for the new rodents in her act, Geri had an appointment with Doc P, Susan was photographing the redheads, Mary had a sword stuck in her throat and we fear Linda, the Circassian Beauty was reclaimed, and returned to the Turkish harem from which she had once escaped. The hostess and ticket-taker for the evening was Sharon, the Black Scorpion who hates the Fabulon, but can’t leave it because Melissa has too much dirt on her. She was joined by Melissa, the woman with all the props (and all the dirt), Marcia and Karen the conjoined friends since their days at New Trier, Rosalie, the Hottentot Venus* and Teresa, the Fat Dog Lady, part fat lady, part dog. After the performance, such as it was, the Fabulon members met under the pretense of discussing a book, but pathetically, only two of the troop had read it. Luckily, the hostess, Sharon had great food and wine on hand, one of her three hands. For appetizers, she served delicious crostini with pesto and a choice of salmon, or two kinds of salami. The meal was a lovely Chicken Fricassee (the chickens heads had been bitten off earlier in the evening as part of the entertainment) served over rice with a salad of mixed greens and beets. Two desserts were served, tart lemon bars and a decadent chocolate brownie with nuts. Conversation moved quickly from the book to the political arena and the biggest freak of all took center stage, the chemically radiated orange-skinned being, who having been born without a heart or a conscience, manages to stand up and shake hands with audience members while somehow seeming to crawl on his belly like a weasel. His act involves boasting about his great wisdom though his cranium was long ago scooped out and his brain replace with two rusted AA batteries. In an effort to erase his hobgoblin image from their minds, the Fabulon members quickly set a date for another time to gather. They set the date for Tuesday, November 19th which is coincidentally Auntie Em’s birthday. Some of you will remember that Auntie Em used to grace the stage as the Fiji Mermaid until she modified the act and performed as Lobster Boy.

Having left out any real discussion of the book, I’ll add it here. Rosalie was confused by the tragic ending, as she thought that the author was trying to say that all human beings no matter the deformity were precious so, why did they all die? In response to her comment, I read part of an article in which Katherine Dunn discussed her inspiration for the book being the history-long attempts at genetic engineering, fancy dog breeds, the Aryan race etc and from that I thought one could make the thematic leap that this type of endeavor isn’t going to end well.

After considerable deliberation, I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads. Yes, it’s hard to read, but the concept is really rather brilliant and the writing is both clever and thoughtful. Below are some of my favorite moments:

The late-in-life description of Lil’s walk as she touches signposts and startled pedestrians as handholds, particularly in contrast to the Lil who said “Gait and carriage, I always tell the children, are such powerful indicators of character.”
The clever additions to such observations as “What’s bred in the bones, when you have bones, comes through.”
The discussion that follows “Can we blame the child for resenting the fantasy of largeness?” specifically “The child screaming for refuge, senses how feeble the shelter the twig hut of grown-up awareness is.”
Oly’s musings of how easily people talk to her, because they think her worst is all out in the open and she’s in no position to judge or find fault.
And I loved the paragraph that summed up the final tragedy— I read a review or two in which a feeling of being short-changed was expressed, but I thought it was perfect.

  • I’d like to apologize to anyone offended by the use of this label. As I am wont to do late in the evening, I Googled a list to help with my summary and this time it was for freak show names to apply to our members. I was so tickled by the sound of Hottentot Venus that it went into the email without further ado. Once in bed, I asked my much-smarter-than-me husband what a Hottentot is. I said I thought it was some kind of soldier. He said he’d have to look it up to be sure. I laughed without restraint at my most recent addition to the long list of unintentional, haphazard, nitwit gaffes. You’ll have to look it up to see what I mean. I’m not sure that it beats the time I summarized the game of Clue by saying that “Ms. Scarlet did it in the library with a candlestick” to a lecture hall of 250 college students, but it’s up there toward the top.

September, 2019: Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

The girls really surprised me tonight and though it has nothing to do with this book, I’m going to talk about it anyway. One of our members, Geri, has been working on a project with Lincoln Park Community Services as the head architect for a homeless shelter. At Geri’s suggestion, there are now bookshelves in the Drop-In Center filled with books donated by all of the women of Fictional Friends . During the ribbon cutting ceremony for the building, the Executive Director spoke of the community effort that had made the building possible and mentioned that our local bookclub had donated the library. On each of the books, is a bookplate which says that the book was donated by Fictional Friends and dedicates the beneficence to the book club’s founder, me. The residents and drop-ins to the center may take a book as their own, and our club will restock the shelves. All of this was done without my knowledge and Geri told me about it with pictures (taken by our photographer, Susan) in a birthday card given to me at this meeting. One further note about the shelter: Geri was honored for her design by inclusion in Say It Loud, a show for diverse designers. Now back to our book. Below is the email wrap-up.

(Book 113) Our discussion of Two Serious Ladies began with me taking no responsibility for its choice — saying I’d been surprised by the number of votes it received. A few people asked about the voting, so I have the official results here in front of me. I’d originally put the books in order of publication date, but abandoned the idea of voting for them within time period. The ballots were cast by selecting any 12 books from the whole list of 36 literary debuts. The 12 books with the highest votes were included on this year’s list. Two Serious Ladies received seven votes; if you disliked the book, you can’t blame Melissa, Chris, Marcia or me. And dislike it we did! We have all learned a very important lesson about the descriptor avant-garde. We thought it funny that the book seemed to have promise at the outset, when as a child, Christina Goering suggested a game of “I forgive you for all your sins.” After that it just wandered aimlessly with women accepting houseguests of every stripe, napping with prostitutes, quarreling about accommodations in Panama, and looking for souvenirs inscribed with Hotel Washington. (Well, that last bit, I understood, I would have wanted that too.) It was noted that on page 135, Miss Gamelon tells Miss Goering “you can never sit down for more than 5 minutes with out introducing something weird into the conversation.” This summed the book for most of us. Rosalie said the author had some good lines, but couldn’t find a plot to make them work. Chris talked about how hard Claire Messud worked on her Two Serious Ladies term paper, (the book’s introduction) without shining any particular light or offering any explanation of the book’s chaos. Luckily, Geri and her bartender Linda, were there to save us with good stiff drinks of gin; Gin Bucks helped assuage the confusion. We moved into the dining room where we were treated to a delicious meal of coq au vin, served with an optional bacon garnish. Those with bacon allergies, could chose not to add the garnish. The coq au vin was accompanied by mashed potatoes and a crusty bread. The best part of the night however, arrived with a crème brûlée cake decorated with shards of caramelized sugar. Heaven. There was also a flourless chocolate cake and I’m remembering the leftovers of both are in my fridge. I’ll be right back. Then came my birthday present! Geri gave me a card with Susan’s photographs of a library of books the girls donated to the Lincoln Park Community Services shelter at 1521 Sedgwick. Each of the books has a bookplate, designed by my Frances, indicating the books were donated by Fictional Friends in honor of their founder. I am so honored (and a little nervous that this was my peak and it’s all downhill from here.) Thank you all, so much.
We discussed other books we’ve been reading and gave good recs to:

The Fire Blossom by Sarah Lark (Rosalie)

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehesi Coates (Sharon)

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney (Teresa)

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (Linda and Teresa)

Our next meeting will take place on Tuesday, October 15 to discuss Geek Love. Sharon has given us all her special dispensation to forego reading the book, which she tried to read before deeming it psychological warfare.

August, 2019: The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

(Book 112) As I prepared our list of books for the year, I knew early on that I would host The Summer That Melted Everything. I read this book not long after my brother Dennis died and cried like a baby. I was an easy mark. The relationship that exists between Grand and Fielding Bliss, the way Fielding looks up to his big brother, struck an unfortunate resonance with this baby sister. Beyond my attraction to Grand and Fielding, I was taken in by so many other characters — Autopsy, Stella, Fedelia, Otis, and of course, Sal. I’d like to think that I could cogently express all that appealed to me, but it comes out in fits and sputters.

I’ve read reviews that complain of it being overwritten and even my pal Chris (who sums up our meetings if I’m not there or if I host as in the case here) said there were moments when she really couldn’t discern what the author was trying to say. But, I loved the language. ”It was a heat that didn’t just melt tangible things like ice, chocolate, Popsicles. It melted all the intangibles too. Fear, faith, anger, and those long-trusted templates of common sense. It melted lives as well, leaving futures to be slung with the dirt of the gravedigger’s shovel.” I loved the premise, I loved the intensity, I loved its examination of racism and religion, the definitions of good and evil. Yes, there were parts that I wouldn’t have included if someone had made me editor, but only because those parts detracted a bit from the essential. The saddest aspect for me was that it seems that Fielding has to fall from grace just as Sal did and is unable to recover from that fall.

I’ve emailed the author and she was entirely gracious. She sent bookmarks and bookplates for the girls in the club, personalized for each. She was kind enough to answer questions for a little interview that I included in the middle of my miniature “Women’s Day” magazine of women’s debut novels. I realized that I’d failed to mention in our correspondence that she chose to include a review on the back of her book written by a friend of mine: “A wondrous debut of a novel. Imagine To Kill a Mockingbird, seen through the eyes of Neil Gaiman. McDaniel’s prose is rich and magical, full of passages of exquisite, strange beauty that ache with bitter truths and old sorrows. You’ll not read anything else like it.” —James Sie, author of Still Life Las Vegas

When I sent the reminder for the meeting I wrote an invitation similar to Autopsy’s invitation to the devil: “I cordially invite you Tuesday, August 20th, to my home in Chicago, Illinois. Land of high rises and hot dogs, Al Capone and Cub fans. May you come in peace, With great faith that you’ll RSVP” It was met with responses such as “I will be there, or be damned.” and “Hell will freeze over if I don’t make it.” After the meeting, Chris sent this thank you for the group.

Dear Autopsy:
You throw a hell of a wake.  I feel bad for those who were unable to attend and happy for Debbie, who got to partake of your delicious repast (and who was a fun addition to the festivities). Your cheese fondue did the Stamper people proud, and I had to back away from it to keep myself from diving in headfirst. The meat loaf was really tasty, I could have made a meal of those haricot vert bundles, and while we’re on the subject of diving into a whole dish of food, those potatoes were clearly delivered by Satan as an evil temptation. Would you mind sharing that recipe?
Dessert: more temptations! How could you? Thanks to Fran for the fantastic pie and to you for the light-as-air melted ice cream cake. If I hadn’t been so full of good food I could have floated up to heaven on that. I assume Denny made the cookies. Nice packaging, almost as appealing as the Bot Bots. 
I think I’ve made all four of my announcements, or pronouncements anyway. 
But seriously, who leaves a book club meeting with a gorgeous soap in a heaven-sent bag and a kiss from a fantastic kid?
Sheer bliss. 
With gratitude, 

We started with an appetizer of cheese that the Summer (and a little Sterno) melted. The meal was the one Stella served the night Sal came to town, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls with a little license taken in their presentation. And the two desserts were #1 a Bumbleberry pie, which blends berries and rhubarb, a nod to Ms. McDaniel’s favorite dessert of rhubarb pie, and #2 a cake made with melted ice cream. Because Sal said there was no yellow in hell. making him think yellow was a heavenly color, the girls had lovely parting gifts of lemon or honeysuckle soap in yellow favor bags.

July, 2019: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emme Lang

(Book 111) My darling grandson, Denny, passed a summer cold around our family which prevented me from attending the meeting held in Marcia’s backyard to discuss Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance. Chris’ report on the evening follows:

Well, we all thought there must have been a full moon last night, because there was no other explanation for Melissa’s brief disappearance from Marcia’s lovely backyard. But there was some howling coming from not too far away, so maybe she was just trying to rejoin the pack. Or maybe she was seeking Teresa, the alpha wolf. Either way, Melissa returned without Teresa (booooooo—we all missed you) but bearing a photo of the band that was playing at the park a block or so away. The music just enhanced what was already a perfect summer evening, with lots of laughter and great food and drink.

Sadly, we somewhat failed our fearless leader in not spending too much time talking about the book. We did at least take a poll of how many members (9 of us were in attendance) liked the book, and the likers won, 5.5 to 3.5. The .5s are Linda, who SORT OF liked the book. Sharon didn’t like it much, and Mary and I definitely didn’t like it, but we were sitting right next to each other, and—who knows—maybe dislike is contagious. I think we’ve all seen this in Congress. I didn’t like the fact that the stories all seemed to be intended to illustrate that Weylyn left good in his wake and weren’t connected to the story. Mary just thought it wasn’t well written. Teresa and I agreed that the book kind of fell apart in the second half, especially considering the humor evaporated. Those who generally don’t like fantasy didn’t find this book changed their minds, but the members  who liked it said it was a relief to read a story about a thoroughly innocent character when it’s kind of hard to find any of those in real life these days. Everyone agreed Weylyn was an interesting character overall (although he did have too many powers). Susan said she probably liked it largely because of her love of animals and the West.  Sharon felt that it was one thing to read the first novel of someone who has since written a lot of others, but who knows whether this author will get published again. (I think I got that right, but my apologies if I got it wrong. Recording secretaries should stick to one glass of wine.)

Marcia served a delicious dinner that started with the  aforementioned wine, cheeses, and smoked trout spread with crackers, and continued to two crustless quiches, one vegetarian and one with meat (thankfully neither raw nor recently killed), plus a wonderful tossed salad with two dressing options. Dessert was pound cake with fresh raspberries and blueberries, topped with whipped cream and a berry compote. Shadow agreed that this was a highlight as he spent at least 10 minutes licking every drop of the tiny bit of remaining whipped cream out of the bowl. When offered the serving spoon as well, he graciously accepted.

We all (graciously, I hope) accepted Marcia’s fantastic hospitality and practically had to be kicked out at 10:00. Thanks again, Marcia, for an evening we didn’t want to end. Teresa, we all hope you’re feeling better, and we have put August 20th on our calendars for the next meeting, at your house. Chris

Had I been at the meeting I would have made it 6.5 for and 3.5 against. My thoughts on the book are in my Goodreads review: I loved the premise set up with the doctor’s first pages and I thoroughly appreciated Weylyn’s extraordinary nature — I think I also fell a little in love with him, as Mary did, when he said someone had worked really hard to make that pie. My stingy number of stars is based on what I considered zigs and zags in the through-line that seemed to struggle to add additional powers. The most troublesome for me was Weylyn’s visit to his (foster) sister Lydia’s home and the plot with the power grid. His relationship with Micah there was lovely and the story would have been stronger for me if Micah would have been woven in to have the last word rather than Roarke. This author is very talented and I will hope to read her next book soon.

June, 2019: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

(Book 110) Yes, there are other covers for this book, but would any of them be as appropriate for our June read?

“Oh, they say when you marry in June you’re a bride all your life,
and the bridegroom who marries in June gets a sweet-heart for a wife.
Winter weddings can be gay like a Christmas holiday,
but the JUNE BRIDE hears the song of a spring that lasts all summer long.
By the light of the silvery moon, home you ride side by side
with the echo of Mendelssohn’s tune in your hearts as you ride.
For they say when you marry in June you will always be a bride.”– “June Bride” from the movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Chris hosted this meeting and as I said in the email sent out in thanks: we were all SO lucky that Chris hosted and not me, because I definitely would have served frozen dinners! Particularly ones with peas! We started with wine and appetizers on the deck; we enjoyed two types of cheese with crackers, one was a triple blue cheese and the other seemed triple creamy. There was a great relish tray with cherry tomatoes, two kinds of olives, artichoke hearts and other tasty items. We went inside for dinner to an extraordinary vegetarian meal. In line with Marian’s inability to eat first, red meat, then pork, then chicken, Chris made vegetarian lasagna, a wonderfully spicy eggplant and tomato dish, and a lovely green salad.  “For a taste sensation, she sprinkled the salad with chopped nuts” and we ate it with glee! Chris considered making the edible woman cake, but felt a little squeamish about the idea and purchased delicious bakery cookies instead. We are all hoping to get the recipes for the lasagna and the eggplant dish.

The reaction to the book: On the way home, Linda said that she felt we talked more about this one than others we’ve read and she was happy for that because she needed to hear more about this one. The additional discussion may have been the result of my insistence on reading aloud many of the clever language moments that appealed to me far more than the story or characters. We talked about Atwood’s admission that her work was proto-feminist, that she anticipated feminist concepts, though the term was not widely known or used. Rosalie talked about another of Atwood’s books titled Surfacing which Rosalie used to teach in a course of feminist literature. Chris appreciated the consumerism aspect of the book and the way it applied to the female being consumed by the life she would lead with her husband. Karen remembered being given a copy of a Ladies Home Journal article with instructions for how a women should present herself to her husband when he arrived home from work. I made sure to share with everyone what I learned when I looked up Chesterfield while reading the book. While most of the girls knew that it was a brand of sofa, I added to our cumulative knowledge (trivia?) that Canadians use the term chesterfield interchangeably with sofa. 

Clearly, on our list of female writers and their debut novels, Atwood is one who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career. “The Prophet of Dystopia” has published books of poetry, novels, books of non-fiction, collections of short fiction, children’s books, and one graphic novel; her list of awards and honors goes on for days. The commercial success of The Handmaid’s Tale alone would let me start resting on my laurels. (Did I tell you I was once in a play with Ann Dowd who won an Emmy for her role as Aunt Lydia?) I told the girls a little story about how I had emailed each of the authors or their agents to ask them to give me a sentence or two about another “first” in her life. Three of the eight authors (because four are no longer with us) responded very generously with a first this or that and Margaret Atwood’s agent sent a generally friendly email noting: Unfortunately, Margaret will not be able to participate in this project, as she is focussing on her next novel. We do hope you enjoy the book.

Inedibly submitted, Teresa

May, 2019: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

(Marcia objected to the artist’s choice of apparel for the cover art.)

When I was assigning which book we should read each month, White Teeth was a natural fit in January because the book starts at 0627 hours on January 1; Like Water for Chocolate worked for February because of all the chocolate sold and consumed for Valentines’ Day; and the young heroine in I Capture the Castle starts her journaling in late March/April. Other books didn’t offer a perfect fit and it was with irony that I slotted Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine in the Mothers’ Day month of May given the knowledge of Eleanor’s weekly phone calls with Mummy.

So tonight was a celebration of what Eleanor’s life could have been like if she had caught a break and had the great good fortune to be born to someone like our hostess this evening. We are very grateful to Susan to host so quickly after her trip to Texas to be with her daughter, Alex for the birth of her granddaughter, Savannah Grace. The evening began with a shower of great board books and hardcovers that Susan can read to Savannah via face time if need be! We all enjoyed hearing about the baby and looking at the darling photos. We were offered a choice of red or white wines or Eleanor’s drink of choice Magners and we enjoyed cheese, crackers and olives while Susan opened her gifts.

The meal included home made pesto in a delicious penne pasta dish with chicken and tomatoes. Susan was ready to order pizza if the pasta didn’t turn out as planned but there was no need of that. The pasta was served with a lovely Caesar salad and bread. When the dinner dishes were collected Sharon suggested passing them all her way so that she might load them up and take them home with her as she has been coveting them for years now, but Susan suggested the opposite direction.  Dessert was a delicious lemon pudding with whipped cream and lemon cookies. 

Discussion about the book was lively — it received high marks from all of us. Karen liked that she was able to share the book with her 30 yr. old daughter who also enjoyed it; Chris was the only one who knew something was fishy with the calls from Mummy; I thought that Raymond and his mother were two people I’d like to see cloned; Marcia was fond of Sammy; Mary appreciated the unfolding of Eleanor’s character and Rosalie enjoyed the fresh and clever writing. Sharon and I mentioned that Eleanor’s behavior was like that of someone on the autism spectrum but Chris felt her behaviors were consistent with trauma, and well, Chris was right about the Mummy thing, so…It was somewhat bewildering to be celebrating our fourth gramma in the group, reading a book which elucidates the long term effects of childhood trauma and discussing the return to the past in the Alabama legislature. While our comments were loudly pro-choice, if there is anything of which I am certain, it is that there is no disregard for human life in this group. 

Thanks to Susan, our hostess. Thanks to all. Our June meeting to discuss The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood will be at Chris’ home on Tuesday, June 18. Respectfully submitted, T

post script: There may be, however, some disregard for the human psyche in the group in that Sharon pointed out that Geek Love is NOT a debut novel, but rather Katherine Dunn’s third novel.  I have spent the rest of the evening wondering how in the world it made it onto the list of 36 books from which we selected this year’s twelve. I will be here for the foreseeable future worrying about how I did that, sensing that I’m ruined and that I’ll soon be cleaning my sink with parmesan cheese.

Since that evening, I was able to find the list which had led me astray. It was a list on Flavorwire from October of 2014 entitled “50 of the Greatest Debut Novels Since 1950.” In an effort to polish up my sullied reputation I explained to Sharon that Geek Love was one of the choices on the Literary Map of the US and it had received an almost equal number of votes as To The Bright Edge of the World which was the one we read — so when I saw it on a list of debuts I jumped on it to give it another chance to make our reading list — clearly without checking. 

April, 2019: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

No, I didn’t choose this book because the author shares a name with my sister, but it would have been a fine reason!

(Book #108) Melissa hosted this book discussion and if I would have been thinking and scheduled her for a warmer month, we could have gone to the upper ramparts of her castle, but once again I failed the club. Below is the summary of the meeting shared with the group:

I write this sitting on the tiled bench of our shower stall. “Why do I have a desktop computer in the shower?” you’re wondering. Well of course the water’s not on, and it would be rude of me to turn on the lights in the bedroom and wake my husband while I try to record all that happened at tonight’s meeting. I have to do it quickly if there’s any hope of remembering it all.
Melissa hosted tonight’s discussion of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Because I just returned from six days at Disney, I provided all the girls with foil-covered and castle emblazoned chocolate to enjoy during their next bath. As mentioned on the outside cover of the chocolate, I did not so much capture the castle as collapse at it.  Rosalie and Karen may have a hope of receiving theirs from Marcia, but Linda may not want to get her hopes up about Geri’s delivery service. I still have Susan’s and Mary’s chocolates. 
Chris asked us all how we interpreted the title and was dismayed to realize that most of us were satisfied with the notion that Cassandra was able to “capture” the castle, its residents and events with her journaling. Chris wanted to believe that just as conquerers of old laid claim to castle battlements, Cassandra was able to grow into her place in the castle, capture it and make it her own. Chris is poetic like that.
But I get ahead of myself. Dinner started with an assortment of wines and English sausage and cheeses. The table was set in perfect English style with a planter of bluebells as the centerpiece and place cards for the story’s characters. Due to last minute cancellations there was no Mortmain. We enjoyed chicken pot pies with lovely puff pastry and a  mixed salad with what appeared to be freshly caught garden bugs, though they might have been black sesame seeds. The pie and the salad were delicious. Dessert was a lovely pudding with sticky toffee sauce and whipped cream.
Throughout dinner and dessert there were a number of discussions about the book (and an equal number not about the book.) I’ll list the ones having to do with the novel. First was a dressing down of Mortmain as head of the family; if you know you can no longer write, get another job, don’t allow your family to starve! We talked of what a perfect book it would have been to read in our teens and two teams were formed to back either Stephen or Simon as the young man for Cassandra. There was great appreciation for the description of the Midsummer rites: “That such a tiny flame could make the twilight seem deeper and so much more blue; we thought of that as the beginning of the magic.” There was also great appreciation for Topaz and her eccentricities.  Chris enjoyed Cassandra’s confession: “The one piece of Bach I learnt made me feel I was being repeatedly hit on the head with a teaspoon.” I liked the curious nature that wondered “what fly was originally in what ointment?” We talked about one of the references in the novel that comes up when Mortmain asks that they convince Topaz that he’s “not both the little princes in the tower.” You would recognize the reference if you know your history or if you studied Shakespeare’s Richard III, in which both of the King Edward IV’s sons are locked in the tower and later killed so that Richard might usurp the throne. There was another reference that I meant to bring up “like a victim going to Auto de Fé. I had to Google that one.
Then because Sharon was with us for the first time since Christmas, I thought she’d been missing quizzes like the ones we did throughout the year of books made into films. I put together a quiz of famous first lines because the first line of I Capture the Castle, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” makes many of the lists of the best first lines in literature. My quiz involved the first lines of books we have read as a group that made it on to any of the famous lists. It turns out that Sharon was not missing those quizzes. Nor was Marcia. Chris was high scorer with 11 out of 15 and won a tiny bottle of Prosecco. Marcia was low scorer with 4 of 15 and won a tiny bottle of Prosecco.
After creating such a disturbance with the quiz, you’d think that I would leave well enough alone but no, I also distributed the list of choice for next year’s reads: This Book Club is Going to the Birds. Marcia took copies for Rosalie and Karen; Geri took a copy for Linda. (If you see the book list, Linda, you might ask about the chocolate.) You have until September to vote. I will bring copies for Mary and Susan to our next meeting which is at Susan’s on Tuesday, May 21.
Thank you so much Melissa for a lovely evening– I failed to mention who joined us for dinner because I am so terrible with names but she admitted to being the one who caught the bugs for the salad. Maybe you can add that detail — to all the other details that made tonight such a charming evening. Love from your

Famous First Lines of Literature: Match each of the numbered quotations to the author/title of the book.

1. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

2. They say when trouble comes close ranks and so the white people did. 

3. In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. 

4. I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. 

5. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 

6. I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. The time matters, too. 

7. In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers. 

8. Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 0627 hours on January 1, 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate facedown on the steering wheel, hoping judgement would not be too heavy upon him. 

9. I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. 

10. The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. 

11. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again. 

12. My sister, Greta, and I were having our portrait painted by our uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying. 

13. The first time Cora heard the name Louise Brooks, she was parked outside the Wichita Library in a Model-T Ford, waiting for the rain to stop. 

14. It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. 

15. Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.

A.Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

B. Zadie Smith, White Teeth

C. Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

D. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (quoted in The Elegance of the Hedgehog)

E. Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

F. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

G Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children 

H Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

I. Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

J. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

K. Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

L. Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

M. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

N. Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone

O. Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

P. Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife

March, 2019: The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

(Book #107) Mary hosted this meeting and there wasn’t a dud avocado to be found. The food and conversation were great! What follows is the later-that-evening email:

Opening night of The Dud Avocado found us celebrating at the Contessa’s. Upon entering the Contessa’s great hallway, the guests noticed a shopping cart identifiably stolen from a nearby store. Someone commented that the Contessa has a reputation for taking what she wants. We walked into the kitchen/dining room where two guests had already seated themselves nearest the avocado-themed appetizers of salmon and avocado on biscuits ronds; avocado and tomato sur concombre; and guacamole with chips. There was a variety of wine from which to choose — a delicious rosé was the first to be uncorked.

Seven guests joined the Contessa at table though the names were a bit of jumble; there was a Goldie Fairy and her dog, Dolly originally from Dodge City in America; Shirley Maclaine from Valentine, Nebraska; and then there was a Terry, a Gertrude, an Anita, a Vallely (don’t call her Val!) and a nasty librarian whose name I didn’t catch. All expressed an interest in Savannah Grace’s appearance but she isn’t due to arrive in Paris for another 8 weeks.

The first course was served, a delicious mixed greens salad with golden beets, asparagus and cheese. The main course was a truly remarkable classic French cassoulet served with French bread et beurre. Dessert was un clafoutis aux bleuets, mais si à proprement parler si elle est faite avec des fruits autres que les cerises, on l’appelle flaugnarde. All was beautifully made and served.

Conversation around the table was lively: some felt l’auteur wrote very cleverly and used language well but didn’t have as much skill with working through the arc of the story. The last very romantic bit seemed to come from nowhere. Others felt this was too harsh a criticism and that the story worked well. One obnoxious guest had to read aloud from the script and chose as her favorite quote one that defines the Organized Sophisticate type of Tourist according to Larry: “(She) Finds the hairdresser who speaks English, the restaurant who knows how she likes her steak, and the first foreign word she makes absolutely sure of pronouncing correctly is the one for drugstore. After that she’s all set and the world is her ash tray.”

It was a lovely evening, with delicious food, crazy crossed conversations and strangely, a stolen shopping cart. C’est la vie!

Next month we thought we might cross the channel to Suffolk,England, where ‘Crazy Eyes’ Melissa will host us on Tuesday, April 23 to discuss I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

a bientôt,

(Unfortunately, for the purposes of this website, there are too many references in the summary above that don’t make sense unless you were there. The names of the guests all come from quirky conversations during dinner about the wilder women we have known, though the last, Savannah Grace, will be the name of the baby that makes one of our members a grandmother! All the French in the desert description is just explanation that because Mary used blueberries instead of cherries, it is more properly called a flaugnarde rather than clafoutis. The bit about the shopping cart — Mary walks or takes public transportation, so when she realized that she’d purchased more than she could carry, she “borrowed” a shopping cart and of course she took it back the very next day! The signature Terry is not me trying to imitate my sister-in-law, but comes from our conversation about the way people will call you by a diminutive form of your name no matter what. Once when being stopped for a moving violation, I gave the officer my license which is clearly emblazoned with my name Teresa. He wrote the ticket, handed it to me and said “Have a nice day, Terry.” As though that were possible.)

All were in agreement that Elaine Dundy was a very clever writer and has a way of almost sneaking the funniest bits right past you. Though not all agreed it was a great story, we were unanimous in our appreciation of her style.