The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

Our books for 2022 are part of an anatomical theme and each includes a body part in the title. The titles were presented as part of the game Operation: Book Club Edition using many of the game’s original idioms.

 (Book 142) Linda hosted our February meeting after recovering from a bout of COVID. If there was a point system, she’d get way more points for that. We were greeted with several bottles of wine that were all chosen to be paired with the cuisine so often mentioned throughout the book. The appetizers included stuffed figs, hummus, beet hummus and baba ganoush with crackers, pita chips and red pepper chunks. The meal was informed by the book and most of the recipes were taken from the cookbook Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan.  Oh look, here’s the book cover now! 

The dishes included roast chicken with sumac and red onions, rice with pine nuts and possibly other crunchy things that I didn’t make a note of, roast rainbow carrots with herbed yogurt, and a winter salad with mixed greens and mandarin oranges. 

 Dessert was Pomegranate Passion Cake that Linda altered to make gluten-free. It was all amazing, the cake was particularly extraordinary and oh look, here’s a picture of it now!

I will apologize to Rosalie for the sparse description, as you were the only one unable to attend. The rest of us have very fond  memories of the night’s cuisine. Most of the book discussion was conducted at the dinner table, oh look, here’s the dinner table now!

We started off with a discussion of all we learned from the book. Chris was happy to have read it on her Kindle so that she could find the definition of all the Arabic words and phrases. We talked about the many types of head coverings that Muslim women wear, the burka, the niqab, the hijab, and Melissa suggested that the head piece (the coif) and veil that Catholic nuns wear have their origin in the same sacred vow to their creator, expressed in their devotional attire. 

Criticisms of the book included that some of the writing choices were a bit pat, that the perpetrator found the information he needed online. Chris wanted to know more about what it was about Islam that attracted Afaf when she had grown up without organized religion in her home. Others of us wondered why the mother was so generally angry and why she behaved as though the other children didn’t exist even before her older daughter ran away. Karen spoke to a kind of neglect of the remaining children due to the trauma of one child leaving.

On the positive side, most of us felt that the book kept us engaged and wanting to come back to it. Geri mentioned that it was a stark reminder of the sad repercussions of being different, failing to fit in, on the individual, the family, as well as what it does in our society. I read some of the passages that I thought were well-written:

“Their daughter is gradually turning into a stranger, like a kaleidoscope morphing into a new image, the same colors taking a different shape.”

When Afaf tells her parents about her sister’s diary it is likened to “a script she’s delivering, a part she isn’t old enough to play.”

About her sister’s return:  And as soon as Afaf says it, she knows it’s true, like someone on your doorstep, someone you hadn’t been expecting, but you know has been waiting there for some time before they finally ring the bell.”

We asked everyone for a star rating on a 5-star scale and the average of the scores is 3.65.  Susan rated it the highest at 5 stars. Linda gave it 4.5. Marcia, Karen, and Melissa gave it 4 stars. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads (because you can’t give it half-stars) but on a half-star system, I’d be more inclined to give it 3.5 as did Mary. Geri gave it 3, and the two Russian judges (Chris and Sharon) gave it 2.5.

Our next meeting is set for March 22nd at Sharon’s place where she asks that we all wear something around our necks as we discuss Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.

Qadimt Mae Alaihtiram,

Teresa 

 

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Our books for 2022 are part of an anatomical theme and each includes a body part in the title. The titles were presented as part of the game Operation: Book Club Edition using many of the game’s original idioms.

 (Book 141) I hosted the first meeting of 2022 and sent the invitation email as an invitation to a Jack and Jill chapter meeting. I apologize again for the cultural appropriation.

1/16/22

Dear Prospective Members,

Hello! Happy New Year!  As you may know, I am the Events Coordinator for the Jack and Jill, Wicker Park Chapter and your names were on a list of women/mothers/grandmothers interested in our chapter. Our founder, the late Marion Stubbs Thomas incorporated Jack and Jill of America, on January 24, 1938, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Twenty mothers came together to discuss creating an organization to provide social, cultural and educational opportunities for youth between the ages of 2 and 19. Here we are just days away from the 84th anniversary of that inspired beginning and I will be hosting a potluck on Thursday, January 20, to welcome you, the women who will carry our organization on to celebrate its 100th (150th?) anniversary! 

Now when I say potluck, I don’t mean to suggest that you will be bringing your culinary skills to bear on the evening. Those of us on the Events Committee, Jayne, Bessie, Charlotte, Letta, Celestia, Della and I will be doing all the cooking. You just bring yourself and an appetite — Della says “a big one!” The evening will introduce you to the rousing foodie delights of our potluck events.

Our evening won’t be without it’s usual cultural thread, though this time it will just be for adults. As was mentioned in the bulletin, we will be discussing the book Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires as we get to know each other.

Please plan to arrive by 6:30 and may I ask that you send a return email to let me know whether you will be able to attend? I look forward to a long and lasting friendship with each and every one of you.

Most Sincerely,

Dr. Teresa Yohnka Anderson, PsyD, Licensed Therapist, Welcome Wagon, A.N. Pritzker Elementary School, Events Coordinator, Jack and Jill, Wicker Park Branch

(Please excuse the cultural appropriation.)

Minutes from the January 20, 2022 meeting of the Jack and Jill Wicker Park Chapter: 

The meeting took place at the somewhat chilly home of Events Coordinator, and note-taker for the evening, Teresa Yohnka Anderson (me) with six prospective members in attendance. The cultural aspect of the evening was a discussion of the book Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. The hostess took her food theme from the short story The Subject of Consumption whose main character blogged about nutritional lifestyles. With the help of the potluck committee members, a vegetarian menu was served. I bribed the committee members with extra points if the word head appeared in the recipe! My daughter, Frances created the centerpiece for the evening. The crudité was served with two dips, one was a spinach dip and the other was an artichoke-parmesan. In addition to the vegetable platter, an appetizer called Head on a Pike was served but we think Charlotte may have used too little avocado and too much chili pepper! 

Most of the book discussion was conducted over the appetizers, while I was still juggling the oven temperature and timing of the potluck dishes, so I may not have caught all the comments that were made but we’ll start by saying that the reaction was generally positive. There was discussion of the author’s young age and the youthfulness of her writing. The humorous  aspects of her writing were appreciated by many of the prospective members. (I must also admit, I didn’t quite have their names down yet. I should have had name tags.) I believe it was Chris (Christine?) who told the origin story of Belles Lettres. Apparently, when the author was a child and away at camp, the author’s mother received a letter from the mother of another girl who was at the same camp which was not at all complimentary in its references to the author. For whatever reason, the author’s mother included the letter in a package of items sent to her daughter at camp!

Chris (Kris?) also noted that many of the stories had the little twist of macabre, not unlike the writing of Flannery O’Connor. This Todd was mentioned as an example, and Sue (Susan) mentioned that she feared the possibly grim ending of Wash Clean the Bones. Others mentioned the number of stories with eating disorders.

At this point there was a hypothetical discussion about white guilt — if we were white women discussing the book what would our reaction be? There was a great deal of discussion here which I won’t go into but there was some talk of a white woman letting her white grandson give an essentially black-face nutcracker with big google eyes as a Christmas ornament gift to his black teacher. Crazy stuff.

One of the prospective members arrived a little late and it was just about time for dinner, so I will describe the potluck offerings. Letta made her blue ribbon Macaroni and Five Cheese casserole: sharp white cheddar, colby, Monterey jack, provolone and cream cheese. She said she should get the extra points because she made it a-head of time. She also brought the corn bread, regular and jalapeño, no head jokes with that recipe. Della brought a tortellini pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, red pepper and mozzarella pearls, but she left out the Kalamata olives so it needed salt. She also made the party bread but we think she overdid it with the mustard. (Not a good night for Della, but she’s got a lot going on with that neighbor of hers and his anti-vac nonsense.) Charlotte (who gave us the Heads on Pikes) also brought the Cheesy White Bean Tomato Bake. Now, in fairness to Charlotte, I didn’t put the mozzarella cheese on at the end. She’d given the mozzarella to me in a tupperware container but we had so much cheese going on already, I put it the dish in the oven with just the parmesan with which she’d topped it. Here is the recipe for that: 

Celestia provided a Cauliflower Casserole which she modified (leaving out the broccoli because she’d talked to Jayne who was bringing a broccoli slaw.) It was tasty as it was but may have been even better with the broccoli. Here’s the unmodified recipe:

https://www.eatwell101.com/loaded-cauliflower-broccoli-casserole-recipe

As I mentioned, Jayne gave us a broccoli slaw and one of the girls asked for the recipe. I was trying to protect Jayne’s image at dinner but I could tell that it was the Taylor Farms Broccoli Crunch Chopped Kit salad you can buy at the Jewel! She also provided the Vegetable Frittata which she said could be served at room temperature, but I think my room was a little too cold for that. Bessie’s offering was the Quinoa, Beet and Arugula Salad. Here is that recipe:

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/220467/quinoa-beet-and-arugula-salad/

Bessie also brought some gluten free brownies to be served with your choice of two Ben & Jerry ice creams. We’d heard one of the girls had a gluten allergy, but she wasn’t able to attend. We hope nothing terrible prevented her from coming and we hope the young woman with the positive Covid result just had a false positive! 

The last item on the menu was the famous in the 70’s Strawberry Pretzel Salad and no one asked for the recipe but I know you want it:

https://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/strawberry-pretzel-salad/376aa27c-19a2-4114-9c80-20a431fc269b

I’m certain more was said about the book but I went right to bed after you left and tutored all the next day, while explaining to everyone why I wasn’t there the previous day, so I’m out.

2022 Anatomy of a Book Club or Operation: Book Club Edition


And we are off to 2022 with a year of anatomical titles. Our mix of books contains two collections of short stories, one collection of autobiographical essays, seven works of fiction, one non-fiction, and something we’ve only done once before, a book for young readers. (Many of us are grandmothers or great-aunts, we have to know these things.)

The titles are:

January: Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

February: The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

March: I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

April: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

May: The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

June: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

July: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

August: River Teeth by James Duncan

September: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

October: An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

November: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

December: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

(Book 140) This is the story of a Book Club meeting that went unreported for almost five months. I started a summary — I found it in my email drafts:

 First, Thank You Susan for hosting all of us in your lovely home. It was all so festive and cozy and I love that painting of John Lennon. (Thank you for that, too.)

I should explain that part about the John Lennon painting. Susan bought one of my brother Paul Yohnka’s paintings on Etsy in the shop AcesLastArt. You could too, just click here.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/AcesLastArt

Enough shameless hustling. Let’s get back to the email draft.

Next, Thanks to All for the Appetizers and Cookies. I ate cookies for breakfast, I took a huge tray of cookies to the Staff Lounge today and ate some of  Mary’s Cranberry Jalapeno Cream Cheese dip for my lunch. I’m going to regret it when I go in for my A1c on the 20th but that’s almost a whole week away. 

That’s all there was of the draft. It must have been the sugar. I don’t remember going into a coma, but I’m not sure one does remember such things. Well, next in my searchI found an email exchange in which all the girls were involved. I’ve taken out most of the line spacing to include them here:

Ho ho ho, everybody:
Thanks for everything! Didn’t have a chance to try all the cookies at Susan’s, so unpacking them when I got home felt like Christmas morning. Yum. All the appetizers were delicious. Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and wishing all of us a hope-filled new year. 
Chris 


Since I have a few moments before my family event begins, I thought it would be important to let you all know that I’ve been thinking about our annual exchange, and what a privilege it is to be a part of this group.  What an assortment of cookie treasures that I hope to enjoy and share with family and friends.Teresa, as always, each year you surpass yourself.  Although I can’t seem to decide on my favorite cookie yet. Susan, thank you for the warmth of your home and the bottles of Gruet. Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!!!  Here’s to good-bye to covid in 2022!!!
Best,
Sharon


So nice to see everyone at Susan’s lovely and festive home! Thank you so much for generously hosting! Loved the evening all the way around. Nothing better than appetizers and wine topped off with dessert! Perfect menu if you ask me! Thank you all for the delicious cookies which will be shared with friends and family!  I too am grateful to be a part of this wonderful book club of interesting and intelligent women!  Teresa thank you so much for all that you do for us every month and every year! You are extraordinary!  Stay healthy everyone. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! Look forward to a brighter 2022!
Love and blessings 
Karen


Our holiday gathering was warm and wonderful and even healthy if you count those darling mini Santas as our salad!  What a great time!  Thanks, Susan, for your superb hospitality, Teresa for too many yummy cookies, and all of for being such wonderful readers and cooks! Happiest of holidays in this continually crazy time!
Ro

There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been  said. I feel very lucky to be included in a book club of wonderful and intelligent women. I certainly did my part to make sure that Teresa would lead this group – I was relentless in my badgering! Happy holidays to all of you. Stay healthy until we meet by again in 2022. All the best!

Mary

Could not agree more lovely ladies! I am honored to be a member of THE best book club! Happy Holidays!

xo Susan

Thanks for everything, ladies. It was a really fun evening, and your cookies are delicious and beautiful (not that I’ve tasted every single kind yet, but I’m working on it).  I really enjoyed hearing about everyone’s favorites and least favorites in this year’s books. It just reminded me of what an interesting list it was—and a big thank you to Teresa, for putting all that together, in addition to putting together tons of gorgeous cookies and making those wonderful ornaments. Please pass on my thanks to Fran, too. Have a fantastic Christmas and New Year’s, everyone. I hope I finish the Chabon book in time to read the January one!

 Chris

Ditto to all the compliments to the hostess Susan and to thank our fearless leader for another fun filled year of Book Club 101! Have a Merry Xmas and happy New Year!

 Geri

Then I show up in the chain admitting that I am losing touch with my responsibilities;

Oh Girls, your fearless leader has failed you! I’ve looked all over and cannot find where I wrote who wanted to host which month! And I haven’t written my meeting summary with all my thanks to Susan for being such a perfect hostess, to her house for being such a cozy setting, to all of you for being such delightful company and to all of your delicious cookies for maybe being the reason I’m going to cancel my appointment for the 20th for my A1c. Yikes!!But let me just say thank you to all of you for being a wonderful group of women, for the variety of response you bring to each meeting, for your culinary creativity and expertise, and for being such great sports about my obsessive need to theme. That said, is it too soon to talk about a choice of books for 2023? If Chris Monley is involved, I’ve got to give him time. Just kidding — I can wait a month or two. Thank you, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyeux Noel, Frolichte Weinachten, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, Mele Kalikimaka, Jolly Jolabokaflod and Happy Happy New Year!  See you 1/18/22 at my house,

Teresa

Being quite late with my thanks, I am now able to comment on some of the responses.  I laughed out loud at Teresa’s comment about “failing us”.  Considering the creativity, many, many hours and love you put into the book club, the notion that you could fail us is ridiculous!  The fact that I didn’t bother to write down what month I volunteered to host, indicates just how much I dump on your plate!  So many thanks for your leadership and for the addition to my Christmas ornament collection. Ladies, all your cookies are so delicious, I am having a harder time than usual keeping them in the freezer until I have family and friends to share them with.  Susan, your home was so cozy and beautifully decorated.  Thank you for your hospitality.  And I loved seeing your neighborhood decked out for the holidays.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all.  I look forward to more fun, laughter, and good reading with all of you in 2022.

Linda

All of this still says very little about the book. We know there were delicious appetizers, particularly those cute little Santa tomatoes that Geri made. We know that Susan provided an abundance of good wine and we know there were more cookies than anyone has ever imagined at one time. I’d like to give a shout out to two that I remember fondly: Sharon’s Fruitcake Cookies and Chris’ Rosemary Shortbread were both amazing and I cried when both were gone from my stash. But what about the book? I found my review stored on Goodreads:

I read this book a second time because it is our book club read for December. It completed our year of books about family and though it was chosen as a book about a grandfather, it gave us a beautiful portrait of a grandmother as well. I’m hoping a couple of members will feel it made up for how much they didn’t like My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

I appreciated this memoir/pack of lies even more during my second read. I particularly loved the moment when Chabon’s mother asks if he thinks her parents were ever happy and his response is a quick enthusiastic yes. Then she enumerates all the troubles they had and asks When did they have opportunity? Chabon’s answer of “in the cracks” just delighted me.

The short review was accompanied by a Goodreads 5 star rating, something that is very seldom given by this reader.  I seem to recall that the book was similarly enjoyed by the rest of the group and we would all recommend it to other readers. Maybe the girls will comment below.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman

(Book 139) Though I had originally planned to host November, when it was necessary for me to host in August, Mary suggested that I think about allowing her to host in November. Though not a grandmother, Mary is a great aunt and she thought that qualification enough! That’s what happened and it was a great idea.

Strangely, I asked Denny to write the summary of the meeting and send it out with my numerous apologies:  

Hi, this is Denny and I’m going to take some time out from drawing my designs for video game creatures such as DiDongo, Eyelock, Spomth, and Floor Chucha to tell you a couple of things my grandmother (or Grumsie, as I call her) told me to tell you. She thinks maybe she enjoyed the wine more than she should have so she asked me to help her out.

First, Mary, my grandmother told me to tell you she’s sorry, but not sorry for asking you to take on the hosting job that she was originally going to do this month. She’s sorry because she made you have to do so much work instead of her, but she’s not sorry because she said everything was really-really good. I can’t say that smoked salmon with cream cheese, pickled herring, gouda cheese and crackers or cucumbers with cream cheese and dill sound at all good to me, I might eat the crackers, but the rest sounds pretty thumbs down, but Grumsie said those were just the delicious appetizers. The meal part sounded a little better because I do like meatballs, if you could serve mine without the gravy, the mashed potatoes and the reddish pink stuff. She said if I would try it, I would love it all because you’re a great cook, but, you know, I’d probably be pretty full after the meatballs. Grumsie always pretends I can’t have dessert if I say I’m too full to eat the real food, but then she usually starts thinking how the world is so strange it might be the end of days and she lets me have dessert anyway. She said your coffee flavored cake with coffee ice cream was the best, and my Gramps told me to tell you he’s sorry that he can’t say how good it is tonight cause he thinks he’d better wait until tomorrow to try the slices you sent home for him. He also told me to tell you that it was so nice of you to think of him and then he dozed off. He can go to sleep just like that, but Grumsie says you’ve seen that for yourself.

When I asked Grumsie about the book, she said it takes all kinds to make a world and that there are a lot of kinds in the book club. She said some people, like Marcia, liked it a lot cause it felt true to her experience with her granddaughter and I remembered I had a playdate with her once a really long time ago. (Grumsie told me she thought Susan, Rosalie and Mary were in the same group as Marcia.) Then she said some people super hated the booklike Linda and Chris because the author tried to write too many things, borrowed from too many places and tried to make Elsa sound so exceptional. Grumsie said that she thought the book was in-between because she liked the characters in the house and their relationships to each other, but didn’t like all the fantasy jazz. So, I guess I get that because this kid Calvin, whose birthday party I just went to (but didn’t play laser tag cause it freaked me out and I kinda regret that now) anyway Calvin likes these Wings of Fire books with a dragon on the cover so we bought him three of those, but then I asked my Mom if we could also get him the first Mysterious Benedict Society which is about these really smart kids (all smart in different ways) who try to help Mr. Benedict stop his twin brother from doing evil things to the world. So, yeah, people like different things. My grandmother told me to tell all of you who didn’t like the book that she’s sorry you didn’t like it, but you don’t get your money back. I don’t know what that means and honestly, I don’t think she does either. Remember what I said about the wine.

Then my grandmother asked me to tell all of you that she’s sorry about the new book list she gave you for next year and she hopes you don’t all go crazy trying to get two books not to stick to each other. I think I should probably tell you that I’m sorry because if I hadn’t gotten that toy in my McDonalds Happy Meal, Grumsie might not have gone to such an extreme with the game and magnets and all. But I never know what’s going to set her off so, I can’t really be held responsible for that.

OK What else? Oh yeah, the cookie exchange meeting will be at Susan’s house on December 14th.  Grumsie said there was some confusion about  Sharon’s Distribution Process, but she thinks here’s what you should do: Bring 11 bags of 6 cookies. Ten of those bags will be picked up by the other book club members and 1 bag will be put out on a plate so everyone can sample that evening. She says that’s not really what the confusion was about but this way every member can pick up a bag and put it carefully into whatever container they bring and there are some cookies out to try! Remember, I like basic sugar cookies. Grumsie will start an email to reply with the kind of cookies and appetizer you’ll be bringing.

OK One final thing, my grandmother told me to tell you she’s sorry that she milked this sorry thing for all it’s worth.

xoxo

Denny 

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

(Book 138) Geri hosted this month and sent out this email:  Hello friends,  Please join me at gate number 1720 at SMC on Wednesday October 20,2021 for the scheduled literary flight of Book Club 101. The fight was originally planned for October 19, 2021, the  121st anniversary of the first flight at Kitty Hawk, but the wind speeds that day are only forecasted at 5 mph.  An unfortunate delay as is often experienced in the aeronautic world. The good news is the mosquitos will be at bay. Please join in celebration of the Wright family’s achievements. As Bishop Wright instilled in them: family is everything. Wilbur and Orville couldn’t have done it alone (and what about that sister Katherine!)  Departure time is 6:30pm. No need to come early. Book Club 101 members have special security clearance. There is plenty of parking for automobiles and Van Cleve bicycles should you choose to ride.  Please rsvp so we can assign your seats.  Let there be sustaining winds and soft landings, Geri

My email summary entitled Literary Flight of Book Club 101 was as follows:  Members of Book Club 101 were treated to a mosquito-less literary flight on the near 121st anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk on Wednesday, October 20 by club member and organizer Geri Kelley. Members gathered in an outdoor VIP lounge where they were greeted by a handsome young flight attendant who served a selection of red and white wines. (I enjoyed a vibrant Sancerre.) We particularly enjoyed the steward’s consternation after passenger Christine Benton stole into the galley and brought full wine bottles back to the lounge. It was in the lounge that the culinary theme was recognized to highlight the Wright Brothers’ time in France: there were three French cheeses, including a Mimolette that delighted passenger Marcia Bernsten, and a deliciously flaky Alsatian onion tartine. The wine, cheese board and tartines were enjoyed in the embrace of what may have been the last lovely outdoor night of the year.

From the lounge we took the stairs of the airbridge up to the cabin where dinner was served. There was no sight of the tiny compartmentalized airplane food but rather, the table was set with an abundant serving of coq au vin et purée de pomme de terre at each place setting. Geri cleverly used the bird placemats she was unable to use last year to complement the theme of flight. The coq au vin was so delicious that passenger Mary Mabus started to regret her offer to host next month. Both French bread and tasty sweet potato biscuits were available to accompany the main course.

There were actually three desserts: the center stage dessert was the amazing Poire belle Hélène, a lovely poached pear, drizzled in chocolate and served with vanilla ice cream, which was accompanied by a choice of chocolates from Esther Price chocolates one of the only culinary delights to come from the Wright brothers hometown of Dayton, Ohio. The third dessert would have been macaroons but Geri forgot to serve them and texted me in alarm at 10:49 pm. 

The book discussion was marked by the surprise many of us felt to have enjoyed it. As passenger Linda Buckley expressed, she had no particular technical, mechanical or physics of flight knowledge that spurred any interest in the book and yet she found it very readable. Passenger Rosalee Reigle suggested that it was the author’s talent that held our interest, but other passengers suggested that might be taking credit away from the Wright brothers personas — that may not have dazzled us but certainly impressed us with the breadth of their knowledge and the strength of their focus. There were discussions of the intersections in history such as Wilbur being hit in the face by the most notorious murderer in Ohio; that Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who designed Mount Rushmore was in the audience for Orville’s 57 and 1/2 circles; that Teddy Roosevelt could have had Selfridge’s seat on the flight that ended in disaster, and that a fashion design was created because Madame Berg tied a rope around her skirt. We all admired a valuable original rendering of the Wright Brothers’ Flyer that Geri cleverly scooped up for cheap on Amazon. We discussed Katherine’s strong presence in her brothers’ lives and the strange “spells” that caused Orville to disown her when she chose to marry and move away. There was great sharing of experiences in small planes and passenger Susan Andrews talked of her travel in a hot air balloon. I was fascinated by the fact that the French inventor and engineer, Clement Ader added the word avion to the French lexicon before an airplane existed. And passenger Sharon Gonzalez was repeatedly bewildered by passenger Melissa Alderton’s out of the wide blue yonder reference to Lee Bailey, not F. Lee Bailey.

After some members had already deplaned, it was decided that the next meeting would take place at the home of passenger Mary Mabus on Tuesday, November 16 (because Chris already wrote it down and she has real trouble trying to change it) to discuss My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman.

Our manymanymany thanks to the Event Coordinator!

May your air be clear, the flight be smooth, the plane be safe, and the sky be blue!

I’ll just stand in the airport by the Arrivals terminal until you get back,

Teresa

My Sister the Serial Killer by  Oyinkan Braithwaite

(Book 137) Chris invited us to her home with the following email:

BYOB. Bleach, that is, not Booze/Bottle. Korede will take care of the latter, as she takes care of everything. 

Korede (and Ayoola, who will contribute nothing but trouble) cordially invites you to the book club meeting on Wednesday, September 29 at 6:30 p.m. (It will be 12:30 a.m. in Lagos; please reset your clocks, because the party will be long over by the witching hour.) The kitchen girl will do her best to whip up some semblance of West African food, but there will be plenty of wine and beer just in case that doesn’t work out so well or Korede needs to leave to do an emergency cleanup somewhere.

Please leave any males in your possession at home, because, well, Ayoola. You never know what might happen. 

My plan is for us to sit on the deck before dinner since it looks like it will be nice out, but we may eat indoors since it gets pretty cool after dark. Please bring a sweater or jacket in case everyone wants to stay outdoors.

Who’s in?

The meeting was small, only six of us were there; poor Linda was supposed to be there but she was stuck at Heathrow. This was the email summary I sent of the evening:

A small group of the Secret Society of Sister Serial Killers met last night at C’s home (no names — this is a secret society after all.) First on the agenda was determining who would be on the Killing Committee and who would be on the Clean-Up Crew. By a show of hands we had more killers than cleaners but there may be one or two members who can do clean-up in a pinch. Our hostess, for example, told a frightening story of having done a practice clean-up when her husband had an “accident” in the kitchen which required a trip to the emergency room and stitches in his hand. We are all thankful that M is doing well and there was no exposure of the society.

We discussed the book that gave rise to our group: My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and the response to it was all quite positive. We appreciated that the book is written so that the reader is never quite sure what to think about Ayoola’s predilection (?) and exactly why Korede is willing to help her. We were disappointed (but not surprised) by the depiction of men who are so very interested in a pretty face, but have no psychological or physical barrier to stop them from hitting/punching/slapping said pretty face. We were in agreement that by the time all is disclosed about their father, there is an “aha” moment for all that has happened before. C mentioned that she loved Korede’s interaction with the coma patient, but G said she felt a little bit bad for his wife. I have no such sentiment for a wife who only wants her husband’s money but I might have some baggage.

Now to the best part of the meeting: After wine, three kinds of Stamper cheese, crackers that M discovered, fresh figs, dried cherries and fun conversation on the back deck we were served the most delicious West African meal! I seriously feel bad for those of you who weren’t there to enjoy it with us. C served tamarind glazed ribs with lime zest, a vegan ground nut stew with sweet potatoes, green beans and kale, and wedged heirloom tomatoes. Because I am so slow to action, the meal has already been discussed and recipes have been forwarded to us all. I’d really like to thank C for all of the time she spent looking at recipes for this event and especially for the choices she made for us to enjoy. Incredible! I would also like to thank her for the Bittersweet cupcakes that we had for dessert and for sending the rest home with me because I was the most recent birthday girl.

I’m going to reiterate here that this was an incredible meal and just for future reference, I’ll add the recipe links

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1021490-spicy-tamarind-pork-ribs-with-scallions-and-peanuts?action=click&module=RecipeBox&pgType=recipebox-page&region=recently-viewed&rank=0

https://www.olivemagazine.com/recipes/vegan/west-african-stew-with-sweet-potato-and-greens/

Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin

(Book 136) Marcia was unable to host due to her recent move, so the girls met at my place. I sent out this email:

Dear Neighbors (Queridas vecinas,)

I am organizing a search party to look for the mother and son relationships in Colm Toibin’s short story collection Mothers and Sons.  We will meet in the small bar near the bus station on August 26 at 6:30. Please sign up here if you will be able to assist in the search.

Your friend and neighbor (Tu amiga y vecina)

Teresa

The email was a reference to the last story in the collection, a novella really, A Long Winter, because this last story had informed the menu. My choices for book-themed food were limited: I could choose to remodel my kitchen as the mother remodeled her store into a fish and chips shop to make enough money to pay the bills in The Name of the Game, or I could serve the kind of food the family ate in a bar near the bus station in A Long Winter, the short story set in Northern Spain. I didn’t think I could handle the regular smell of fish and chips, so I made bocadillas, lots and lots of bocadillas, and served them with gazpacho, a bag of your choice of flavors Spanish chips and a glass of Cava Sangria. There were white and red wines on offer as well but the boozy fruit in the sangria was quite a hit. The girls had their choice of five kinds of bocadillas and most chose to do a half sandwich of two or more. As you can see in the picture of my menu board, my prices were quite reasonable.

As for finding evidence of mother/son relationships in the book, we found very little. Mostly we found evidence of a lack of any real relationship between mother and son. We found stories primarily about the mother and stories primarily about the son, but few with both. Many of us enjoyed The Use of Reason because both mother and son were such curious characters. I particularly enjoyed this spot of writing:

Between three and four in the morning on weekdays, nothing moved in those streets. It was as though the dead were sleeping. There was silence and you could do anything.

A Song and The Name of the Game were both stories that evidenced almost no relationship between mother and son; and the Famous Blue Raincoat was effectively a story about sisters. Most of us felt that A Long Winter should have been shorter, it went to great lengths to prove the second word of the title, and that was essentially the only complaint about the writing. We talked about some of his other work, some of us had seen the movie Brooklyn and I had only read the book.

For dessert we had the shortbread biscuits, that were not stolen from the store in The Name of the Game, used as the crust and the blackberries found growing wild in Three Friends in a delicious, if I do say so myself, blackberry cheesecake.

Next month’s discussion of My Sister, the Serial Killer will take place at Chris’ home on Wednesday, September 29.

Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan

(Book 135) Sharon hosted a small group, only four of us, at yes, you guessed it, another new home. (I think this is the sixth residence she’s had since she joined us but I’ve lost count.) Once assembled, Sharon came to us from the kitchen and was surprised to find us already talking about the book. I think I’d started it by asking whether others in the group had been aware of Svetlana’s defection when it happened. I remember being vaguely aware of Rudolf Nureyev’s defection, but remembered nothing of Stalin’s daughter. Melissa, our properties mistress, brought along a copy of Life Magazine in which Svetlana was interviewed and we had quite a discussion about her life. (Svetlana’s, not Melissa’s.) Karen brought up that it was strange to read that in Russia, abortion is regarded as a means of birth control, and I told my story of a Russian manicurist that I used to go to saying to me conversationally “When I had my first abortion…” We talked quite a lot about Svetlana’s need to be in a relationship, to be in love, to have someone in love with her even though she was such a strong, independent woman in other aspects of her life. We discussed the extent to which her father was responsible for this weakness, and of course we spent some time marveling at how so many people were certain that he wasn’t responsible for all the death and imprisonment of their fellow Russians. Sharon mentioned that the way his death is described in the book is exactly as it was depicted in the movie The Death of Stalin and we had to talk about the movie just a bit. We considered Svetlana’s unfortunate relationship with the Frank Lloyd Wright community at Taliesin. Sharon wondered about the accuracy of that information and said she’d like to read more about it. One or more of us remarked that the author may have tried to use every single bit of her research and that the book may have been better served by some editing, but that in general, it is a fascinating read.

Sharon’s new place is lovely, as Linda mentioned, it has a tree-top view of the world. I couldn’t show the rest of the girls the view but I made up a card to tell them what they had missed food-wise. My document wouldn’t upload here, but here is a copy and paste:

A Picnic on the Black Sea

Appetizer — flat bread topped with your choice of honeyed goat cheese and topped with pesto or goat cheese with fig and topped with prosciutto.

Main Course —many grilled salmon patties, served with potato salad and a salad of mango, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes on lettuce leaves

Dessert — key lime pie with a graham cracker and macadamia nut crust, stabilized whipped cream and lime zest

Everything was yummy and I know someone has already asked for the salad recipe, but I will reiterate the request because it was so delicious. The table was set with bud vases holding a single sunflower in each because Sharon has seen a stream of people carrying plastic sunflowers after visiting the Van Gogh exhibit nearby. Sharon gave us each one of the sunflowers in its vase to take home at the end of the evening.

We talked about our August meeting but couldn’t set a date because too few of us were there. Marcia, who was not in attendance, had offered to host in August, but Sharon felt strongly that Marcia should take it easy on herself and reconsider hosting right after her move. The rest of us agreed that we would all think Marcia a wise woman if she didn’t try to take on hosting so soon. But as I have said, I can’t make anyone do anything — perhaps I would have been able to had I been Stalin’s daughter — but as my father was not a steely cold-blooded murdering dictator — I’ll have to let Marcia decide what she wants to do for August and get back to everyone with a date.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The photo I used is not the actual book cover, but rather a poster design by a student in an illustration course at California State University, Northridge. Because of my crazy need to make our book list like a family photo album, I didn’t want to use the actual black and white cover with printed title.

(Book 134) What a glorious night we had on Melissa’s rooftop. It felt a bit like sky-sailing as the “sails” that protected us from the bright sun (as it made its way to the horizon) flapped in the breeze. I told Melissa how close she was to having me as a rooftop guest for the night, and in her usual accommodating fashion she offered blankets.

Food First: We started with a wonderful crab dip for which she offered both toast and pita. There were grapes, cut melon and pineapple as well. The main course included ribs, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, and a lovely abundance of both salad and slaw. Melissa made a delicious peach cobbler for dessert. I think I’m in the process of giving up on delicious synonyms for all the food my book pals serve, because they don’t fool around. It’s all very good. Linda complimented the slaw and was awarded a portion to take home!

The Book: Like most of the reading world, we praised the book. It is a heart-breaking read. Chris and Linda both noted that it leaves so little room for hope, and Chris compared it to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Baldwin writes to a nephew and Coates to his son, but both are preparing the young men for the world they will find ahead of them. Chris felt that Baldwin offers more hope and possibility. I suggested that in the years that have passed since Balwin’s writing, Coates hasn’t seen the evidence to support reason for hope, and Susan countered that George Floyd’s killer is in jail. But we all know that’s not enough. We discussed that Melissa is the only one among us who has black friends and I bemoaned the fact that whenever I am friendly to a person of color, I am incredibly self-conscious and I fear that . . . and here Sharon helped hit the nail on the head. . . that I’m patronizing. As Linda noted, we would all sincerely wish not to be seen as the collective white enemy even if we may all need some guidance as to how to achieve that. I added that the book is touched by a grief to which every parent can relate; when he speaks of Prince’s death, he lists all that was wasted, all the effort a parent puts into rearing a child, all the applications, vacations, choices, bedtime stories, summer camps — why did we do all that when someone was just going to senselessly kill him? The book is well worth the read.

My apologies for all that I left out. I will add some photos if I can get my phone back from my grandson. He has his own, but mine doesn’t have a parental lock on YouTube. Better go do that quick.

The view to the southeast.
The sails in the view to the northwest and Chris contemplating
whether she can sneak this dog out in her purse.
Mary, the GREAT great-aunt, showing off her light up jewelry.