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.

February, 2011: Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

(Book #10) This meeting had fewer attendees than any other thus far.  We met at Leona’s on Sheffield [which is long gone now] and only four of us attended. There was no excitement in any of us for the book; it seemed mis-titled — there were no women in love. There were men in love and some of us were happy to read it for its early treatment of homosexuality. I was bothered by the emotional rollercoaster of every paragraph. A character could start a paragraph blissfully and be ready to stab someone by the third or fourth sentence. It was also bizarre that not one of the four of us who were there could define with any certainty the word inchoate. [It’s embarrassing to admit this now, because I’ve run into it so many times since this book.] We asked the waiter and he didn’t know either. One of us finally looked it up on her phone. I’d either never read it before or skipped over it feeling I understood what it meant in the context, but it was used regularly in Women in Love.

January, 2011: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

The title and the cover photo made me buy this book!  

(Book #9) This gathering took place at my house and for the first time ever, I made homemade dumplings/potstickers. They were not at all uniform in shape, but they were delicious. The book inspired a great discussion, about the Chinese cultural revolution and Chairman Mao. It was odd to think how little we knew about it as it was happening.  Most of us in book club spent that time (1966-1976) going to high school and college while our Chinese counterparts were being re-educated and removed from their urban homes to rural environs. Most of us really enjoyed this choice and made us wonder if we need to read some Balzac.

Our First Bookmark, 2011

It seems Melissa was spying, or maybe she just noticed that a friend who was in another book club had a bookmark that listed all the books the group would read that year. Luckily, anyone who might be reading this doesn’t have to stoop to spying as there are so many sites online that offer book club ideas! Well, our group had limped along long enough. It was time for a list of books for the year. We didn’t change anything about how we chose the books, only that we chose twelve instead of one at a time. Everyone gave a suggestion or two, we looked at some lists and we patched them together. This was the fist bookmark.

The reading list for the year:

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The Mists of Avalon by Marianne Zimmer Bradley

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson

October, 2010: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

(Book #6) In October we read I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. Rosemary recommended the book and provided the meal that was served at Melissa’s home. She served some delicious Italian food, pasta and a salad.

Most of us appreciated the book but found it difficult to tolerate the book within the book written by the twins’ grandfather. He’s an unlikeable character made more unlikable by his writing.

I loved the premise of twins born on either side of a calendar year. I grew up with a mother who was a twin, as well as a brother and a sister who were twins.  There is so much about twinship that intrigues me — my aunt died only six months after my mother not long enough to celebrate another birthday and my sister Dodie admits that it feels wrong to be getting older without Dennis.

September, 2010: The Help by Katherine Stockett

(Book #5) In September, we read The Help by Katherine Stockett. I wasn’t able to attend the gathering that Melissa hosted, but because of the book’s popularity it was also the title chosen for the a book club on the cruise my husband and I took that month. The book club on the ship gave me an international perspective of race relations in the U.S. and I will say that my perspective was quite the opposite of the only other American who attended — who couldn’t imagine white guilt.

One of my favorite aspects of the book and I’m not sure I’m remembering this correctly, but, Aibileen tells Skeeter that she would love to read more books, but she’s read just about everything in the black library.  Skeeter asks if Aibileen would like her to check books out of the white library for her and Aibilieen, surprised, says yes. Skeeter checks the situation and asks “Wait, were you afraid to ask me for that?” and lists other things she’s already done for her.  Aibileen’s response is “These is white folks’ rules. I don’t know which ones you willing to break and which you ain’t.” That moment really hit me, that beyond the cruel and horrible things our ancestors did to the slaves, we made a whole race of people afraid to even ask for what they want.

August, 2010: One Crazy Summer by Rital Williams Garcia

(Book #4) In August, I convinced the girls to read a book written for young readers, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia. In addition to having read so many books of this kind with my daughter, I started reading along with Mock Newbery groups online around 2007 and sending all the books to my niece, Emily who is a teacher and reading specialist. We have joked that a Newbery winning book is worth more if you purchased it before it won the Newbery sticker on the cover and Emily has about eight such books in her possession, more if you count Honor books. 

The book is about three young girls whose father sends them to California to visit the mother who abandoned them. Their mother serves them Chinese take-out most evenings and that is where Melissa, our hostess, took her cue to serve us (delivered) Chinese food. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the book and Melissa still counts it as one of her favorites of all we’ve read. It received my Cried Like a Baby rating for the moment when the mother tells her side of the story of why/how she was able to leave the girls behind.

July, 2010: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

(Book #3) In July we read the best-seller, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  We appreciated the historical aspects of the novel, the picture it paints of the occupation, the information about the roundup and The Vel’ d’Hiv. I think that perhaps because of the title the author chose, some of us felt that the story is over once the brother is found. Yes, Sarah’s time in the camp is of interest but it feels like part of a different story.  And the second story-line with modern-day Julia isn’t particularly compelling — it seems so tiny in the historical context.

 The story my husband likes to tell (everyone he meets) of this book club gathering was how he was asked to join us in a glass of wine from the second bottle of wine I’d opened that evening of the six we’d purchased in France.

June, 2010: Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Greg Gilmore

(Book #2) In June we read Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Greg Gilmore, but I have no recollection of why it was chosen. I’m guessing it was my natural inclination toward Dilly Bars. My brother Dennis once brought Dilly Bars to the ICU waiting room after my Dad had a stroke, saying “You can’t be sad when you’re eating a Dilly Bar.” When Dennis died (unexpectedly, randomly, unforgivably) in 2016, I started the You Cant Be Sad When You’re Eating a Dilly Bar diet and remain on it to this day.  It almost works. I hosted this gathering and served a picnic lunch as homage to all the church picnics in the book and served Dilly Bars for dessert. The main criticism for the book was the speech and language patterns. Some of us felt the vernacular was laid on a bit thick.