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.

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

(Book 133) Oh, we are just reveling in our new-found freedom to get together in person for our discussions! I’m not sure who started it, (Melissa?) but ten of us clasped hands around the table last night at Linda’s lovely home. We missed Mary, but we were clearly excited about this simple pleasure and encouraged each other not to forget what a joy it is to be able to meet and eat together again.

Let’s start with the food! Linda made a delicious wrapped appetizer of figs, manchego cheese and prosciutto, and served a pea and mint purée with carrots (including the purple variety) and red pepper slices. The main course was baked salmon, crisped rainbow baby potatoes, and a salad of asparagus, mushrooms, radishes and shaved parmesan. Dessert was a strawberry and rhubarb crisp, which Sharon and I were mysteriously served less of than the other girls. It was all so delicious. As my daughter says: I ate my dinner like it was my job — a job I care about! Kudos to our hostess!

Reactions to the book were quite positive. Rosalie went so far as to say that it was maybe the best one we’ve read together. Many commented that it really made us think about our own mothers and the extent to which we felt that we knew her as someone other than the role she filled as our Mom. Linda said she almost wished there hadn’t been a chapter narrated by the mother, and I agreed because it took us into the realm of magical realism. Chris offered a theory about use of second person for the daughter and the husband, because they had something to be guilty for, while the oldest son’s narration was in third person because he wasn’t blaming himself. Geri had a theory to explain Mom’s favoritism of the younger daughter which included consummation of her friendship with the young man who had stolen her bowl of food. I thought that her relationship with the young man was one of emotional support during tough times, but I would have to reread to really rule out that possibility. (I gave Geri a hard time anyway.) We talked about the four separate references to cows in comparison to the mother’s eyes and her energy at the moment of her birth. Karen googled and found that the cow is considered a noble animal in Korea. I didn’t take notes last night as I have been able to during the zooms and I enjoyed a second glass of wine, so I will encourage other members to add to their memories of this discussion.

Prior to discussing the book, each of us offered a story of motherhood whether it applied to our Mom or our own role as a mother. I’m not going to be able to remember exactly as we go around the table because (please see aforementioned second glass of wine) so I’m going to note things that were said without names of who said them and hope I manage to represent everyone. This book about motherhood made us think of:

How in some cases, our mother helped us to know what we didn’t want to be when we became mothers;

How even if mother generally fell short of any mothering skills, her focus on a particular aspect of life moved you forward in an important way;

How hard our own mother’s life was and how difficult that was to see as a child; though it doesn’t excuse everything, it makes us a sad to recognize that was her starting point;

How no two children in a family have the same mother; that mothers often have a different relationship with each child;

How some mothers weren’t all that forthcoming about the non-mother portion of their lives, making it difficult to know them as anything but Mom;

How peak moments in motherhood may come from some simple moment when your child acknowledges “my Mom taught me” or you’ve prepared them well enough to be ready tax season;

How some mothers did their best to advise on the act that would eventually cause you to become a mother by saying it “was OK to move” or by suggesting it was better “not to get in the habit because you’ll always want more and never want less;”

How some mothers had the skills to impart social and cultural skills and others just supported you while you learned on your own;

How some mothers know what to say to make it the boy’s fault when you’ve been spurned, or give you a Get Out of Jail Free card when you worry too much about not being good enough;

How meals get better when your brothers are around;

How some of Mom’s curious behavior when you were a kid, can now be seen as a plea to have some time to herself between work and motherhood;

And how some Moms can be remembered as saints, even when her best dish is hobo macaroni and she once fixed the hem of your skirt by stapling it and saying “A man on a galloping horse will never notice it” thereby solving a problem and giving you a language base rich in idiom at the same time!

It was a really great night thanks to all of you and your mothers! Please forgive me for all that I forgot to mention.

Our next meeting will be at Melissa’s on Wednesday, June 23 to discuss Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

(Book 132) Our big furry Russian hats (ushanka) are off to Rosalie for bringing us back together live and in person for a remarkably satisfying evening with phenomenal food. She served all of Dostoyevsky’s favorites, starting with salmon and creme cheese spirals served on cucumbers or crackers she made herself. Three varieties of cheese were available, a triple cream, a strong cheddar, and a less aggressive, unassuming little cheddar, or so they were called by some of the girls who were already well into enjoying the evening. Following the appetizers, we were served (in her wedding gift consommé dishes) a cold borscht topped with a tiny dollop of sour cream. We all intend to hound her for her impromptu recipe (she looked at five recipes and invented her own) because it was genius. After the soup we were served a wedge of lettuce with fresh raspberries and a raspberry vinaigrette. The main course was a delicious stroganoff served over noodles with a side of green beans topped with toasted almonds. For dessert, Rosalie treated us to a Dobosh Torte, from Bennison’s bakery, mad of five thin layers of yellow cake filled and iced with rum-flavored chocolate buttercream. The top was decorated (and this is copy and pasted from the website) with caramel glazed marzipan fans! We discussed those fans fairly vigorously, but no one came up with marzipan. The feast was amazing, but what about the book?

Not so much. In what may have been our shortest discussion — Rosalie went into the kitchen and missed it — it was determined that it was the longest 122 pages we’ve ever read. Susan said she has a policy of giving any book 100 pages to make its appeal and she was irked to realize she had only 22 pages to read to finish, after she would have tossed it aside. None of us could understand anyone’s motivations for coming, for going, for saying what they did, or not saying what they seemed to want to say. But, as Linda noted for the low, low price of 122 drawn out pages, we earned the right to say we’ve read Dostoyevsky.

We didn’t have a question tonight about husbands, but our conversation conveniently veered to brushes with famous and mostly handsome guys who might turn a girl’s head away from her lawfully wedded husband: (dream music)

It all started when we were discussing other Dostoyevsky we’d read, I mentioned reading The Brothers Karmamozov and seeing a stage adaptation in Stratford,

Geri mentioned the film and that she had a huge crush on Yul Brenner; she was given some flack for crushing on a bald guy and added Paul Newman to her list of crushes,

Melissa said that she got pregnant because of Paul Newman, not by him, but because of him,

and then Susan tried to make Melissa jealous by recalling that Paul Newman once served Susan a specially-made cheeseburger at the race track;

Rosalie told us of a summer in Michigan when Charlton Heston asked if he could pet the baby skunk she was holding (which may have been a euphemism, but we don’t think so)

Marcia bumped into Harrison Ford at the Starbucks on Halsted, but luckily no coffee was spilled on his spandex,

Sharon spent some time on a beach, possibly working, with the record producer Lou Adler,

then not content with sharing a skunk with Heston, Rosalie was arrested outside Nellis Air Force base and handcuffed with Martin Sheen,

and in the midst of a wild thunderstorm, Linda was part of a foursome with Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) — oh, did I forget to say golfing, a golfing foursome,

and then I told the story about my beautiful sister, Susanne and I were in Las Vegas for an ASHA convention and she had to send a message to Johnny Bench that we didn’t do a sister act, though I’ve always loved that song with the feather fans from White Christmas,

and then Geri tried to break up Phil Donahue’s marriage to Marlo Thomas once when she was on his show and dazzled him with a brilliant answer to a question he asked the audience,

then Susan met Dean Martin and with the love of a good woman was able to keep him from a life of crime,

and finally Mary was going to tell about the time that she was body surfing in Hawaii and was stung by a strange sea creature and Tom Selleck was the one to pull her out of the water and give her mouth to mouth resuscitation even though that isn’t all that helpful for a sea creature sting and then they spent the rest of her vacation in his trailer on the set, but them Mary remembered that she’d rather tell about the time she had a drink with Ernie Banks at Trader Vic’s and he gave her a cocktail napkin with his signature on it to remember him by.

It was good to be back together. Our next meeting will be at Linda’s home on Tuesday, May 18, to discuss Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook. Come prepared with a favorite Mom story.

The Angry Wife by Pearl S. Buck

(Book 131) Yes, I am knocking on wood as I type that this was hopefully our last meeting via Zoom. It was the kind of meeting that you hope will be the last because of the sound issues; we had such an echo we felt like Lou Gehrig announcing the end of his baseball career. But let’s get right on to the book.

First Impressions: Most of us gave the book a thumbs-up. Chris said that at the outset, she was primarily aware of how antiquated the book has become, but she found it generally engaging and the characters kept her moving. Susan agreed that it felt old to her as well, but that when the story began to unfold, it grabbed and held her attention. Melissa was surprised that Pearl Buck could write a book about interracial marriage in 1945, but Chris noted that Pearl Buck was raising consciousness about racism and women’s rights long before it was fashionable. Rosalie thought that the characters were stereotypical but that there is truth in stereotypes. Marcia once again gave me credit for choosing a book that spoke to the present condition — that we are still trapped in old ways.

The Anger in The Angry Wife: Linda thought that the title was odd; she mentioned that while Lucinda was not a particularly likable person, she seemed generally resigned to the idea that her husband, and her father, could do whatever they liked and Lucinda had to deal with it. Karen commented that while there is anger expressed, it is seen from the husband/Tom’s point of view. Chris felt that the anger in the title was expressed when Lucinda speaks of how a woman’s fate is controlled by men. She noted that the husbands/fathers were illustrative of male white privilege now. Her husband could do what he wanted because that is the way the world works. Marcia felt that Lucinda wielded a tremendous amount of power, that her pronouncements kept Tom from accepting his brother’s wife and children as part of his own family. Chris emphasized that Lucinda’s power was sexual, that she could withhold her favor, but had to be aware that withholding sex might drive Tom to find sex elsewhere, and indeed, believed she had. My take on the anger issue is that the pre-Civil war wife knew what she was up against. She knew that her husband might use his female slaves for his own enjoyment, or worse, as a thrifty tool to breed more free labor. She was part of a framework that allowed for this to happen, without any threat to her position as mistress of the house. After the war, if these women were no longer slaves, no longer property, they were a threat. If her brother-in-law could choose to see a black woman as the equal of a white woman, her husband could as well and Lucinda’s place was no longer assured. Rosalie added that the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson discusses this concept, that one’s position is assured by the people who are legitimately lower than you.

So as we read these books about family, I ask the girls a question each month to relate the topic to our own lives. This month’s question wasn’t very popular. I asked who served as their role model when they thought about being a wife — and I was lambasted. Chris said that it didn’t seem like a thing — to have a role model for your relation to another human being. It was problematic to Linda as well. Melissa said that having never been married her personal role model has been Auntie Mame! (I wanted to ask her which one of us she thought didn’t know that already!) Mostly, the reaction was that my feminist fellow readers didn’t want to be defined by their husbands (or anyone else for that matter) and that they found it hard enough establishing their own credit and defining themselves in the world. I felt quite foolish when I said that my role model was Laura Petrie because I wanted to be the kind of wife who could entertain and have lots of people auditioning for musicals and dancing in my living room. We did get some fun advice about being a wife. Melissa’s grandmother told her to set the table — if the table is set he thinks he’s getting food even if it’s not ready yet. Rosalie said her version of that was spray Pledge and boil something!

Our meeting for April will be IN PERSON at Rosalie’s on Monday, April 26 to discuss The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

(Book 130) We thank Marcia for putting this month’s Zoom together; we started the meeting getting a head count of who has had their COVID vaccine, parts 1 and 2, with the hope of ditching these zoom calls and getting back together in person. We are making progress.

This month’s book was chosen to be an examination of marriage. Though it is not required, marriage is the traditional start to our year-long theme of Family. Melissa commented that rather than a look at marriage, the short stories in this collection all had the common theme of death. We granted her that assessment, but mentioned that it was possible to look at each story and determine the way the death influenced the marriage or relationship. In some stories a death was the impetus for a second marriage, while in others, a death prevented a relationship from developing. Rosalie opined that the collection of stories provide a picture of culture and civility, and what happens when intimacy impinges. Linda observed that each story seemed to have a moment when one of the characters experiences something of great significance, a moment that lives in memory, even when that may not be at all true for the other character in the memory.

Though the general consensus was one of high praise for the writing, there was some criticism of the stories as a collection. Chris expressed concern that a number of the stories suggested that women are only valued for their beauty, citing a description “no beauty queen ever.” Melissa and Sharon mentioned that all of the stories meandered a bit; that they weren’t as taut as the ideal short story.

The title story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage was Sharon’s favorite. She felt it was true to life, that it wasn’t a perfect situation, but it ended as well as it could have. I told the girls that I feared a Flannery O’Connor ending as soon as the girls started interfering with the letters, and was so relieved when it didn’t turn out tragically.

Floating Bridge was appreciated by a number of us. Mary’s reaction to the kiss that was an “event, in itself.” — “No wonder the bridge was floating!” I had a number of favorite moments from this one including Jinny’s description of the unattractive curtain and the hospital bed in the living room as the moment “when ugly and beautiful serve pretty much the same purpose;” Neal’s face showing “signs of an invasion of bliss;” Helen’s presence in the car as “that of a domestic cat that should never be brought along in any vehicle, being too high-strung to have sense, too apt to spring between the seats;” and my favorite, Jinny’s assessment of all the junk in Matt’s yard: “What a lot of things people could find themselves in charge of.” Chris had a favorite moment from this story but I couldn’t find what I had written in my notes in the text of the story so maybe she will add the comment.

Family Furnishings was Rosalie’s favorite. I’m going to ask Rosalie to leave a comment to tell us why. One of the things I loved about this story was the description of a “city person.” The city was “not just a distinct configuration of buildings and sidewalks and streetcar lines or even a crowding together of individual people. It meant something more abstract that could be repeated over and over, something like a hive of bees, stormy but organized, not useless or deluded exactly, but disturbing and sometimes dangerous. People went into such a place when they had to and were glad when they got out. Some, however, were attracted to it — as Alfrida must have been…”

Nothing was said about Comfort. I’m guessing that most of us had difficulty with the notion of teacher being pressured to add Creationism to his syllabus.

Nettles was another favorite. Rosalie mentioned that genders were so separate when she was growing up, but Melissa said the story made her think of her childhood friend, the boy whose name we all love to hear: Johnny Beetle Nelson, Jr, the third. Mary loved the recollection of the childhood relationship and Chris commented that this was one of the times, when someone is so wrapped up in a memory and is at a point in life open and ready to return to it, but the other player in the memory is at a terrible spot in his life. He may remember it similarly, but is in no position to act on it.

In our discussion of Post and Beam, I had to ask about Lorna’s praying, because she repeated “Let it not happen, let it not to have happened.” This has always been the way that I have prayed when I’m scared that someone is in trouble and I was surprised to see it, the use of “let” so I had to ask everyone. Geri said that she does, that she’d been thinking “Don’t let Teresa call on me!” Chris mentioned that it’s in the song “Let there be peace on earth” which Linda assured us wasn’t a Catholic song though it was played at my Uncle Joe’s funeral and my mom cried when they sang “Let me walk with my brother.” But I digress. It does seem to break down as a Catholic way to pray. Mary prays that way, Marcia doesn’t. Chris appreciated the last line of this one: “It was a long time ago that this happened. In North Vancouver, when they lived in the Post and Beam house. When she was twenty-four years old, and new to bargaining.”

When we discussed What is Remembered we noted that the doctor refused to kiss Meriel at the ferry. Mary entertained us with “It was not like the floating bridge kiss!”

Queenie didn’t receive much attention either. I said I would love to have a robe I could call Buffalo Bill and mentioned that my favorite piece of witticism in this one was the woman who’d “lost the convenience of a waist line.” Marcia and I identified with that more than we cared to.

Finally we come to The Bear Came Over the Mountain, the last story in the collection, which we actually talked about early in our discussion. It was termed “difficult.” I brought up that it is unlike the others because its title doesn’t come from the text of the story. I’d looked online to see if I could find any information about that and I found a wealth of it. Much interest is placed in the author’s change of the song title, the substitution of came for went. One paper, The Skald and the Goddess: Reading “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro written by Héliane Ventura opined that it all had to do with the tradition of Nonsense.

“As demonstrated by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in his founding essay on Nonsense which I will substantially quote in my analysis of Munro’s story, there is, a “down-to-earth attitude,” a “refusal to be surprised” (97) by the turn of events and to yield to emotion or become a prey to a sense of pain or catastrophe. We find the same sense of restraint in the American Folk Song, a spelling out of ordinariness no matter what happens…” “The world that the bear discovers is just as ordinary as the one he has just left. He goes on the other side of the mountain and discovers the other side of the mountain. Expression is reduced to tautology, and tautology is fraught with rhetorical power. It reinforces and guarantees the ideology we live by: boys will be boys.”

Part of that quote makes me wish I hadn’t just dropped my thinking cap at the dry cleaners, but I think that we’re supposed to understand that Grant is not doing anything particularly remarkable in arranging for Aubrey to return to the home, he is rather continuing the philandering he has done throughout his marriage. As I mentioned, it is difficult. Rosalie liked that we don’t know what’s going to happen after Fiona seems to recognize Grant. Like life, you just never know.

After the book discussion the girls turned in their homework. The assignment was to tell a story about marriage. For those of you who weren’t in class last night or left before I collected the assignments, I still expect them to be turned in.

Linda told a beautiful story about helping her mom to clean out her father’s closet after his death. Trying to put a positive spin on a sad moment, Linda said “You’ve got two closets now!” and her mom said “I’d rather have Walt.” I asked Geri what choice she would make between Jack and an extra closet and though she didn’t actually state a choice, she did say that Jack had the bigger closet.

Melissa went farther back, to her grandparents, who after 50 or so years of marriage, her grandmother decided it was time for twin beds. Her grandfather took a picture of her from the dresser and took it to bed with him because he just couldn’t have her that far away.

Mary told about first meeting Ron and finding out that he was a radiographer. Mary knew what a radiologist did and asked Ron “What’s the difference between a radiologist and a radiographer?” Ron’s answer “A couple hundred thousand a year.” She married him anyway — she’s no golddigger. ( not like some girls we know.)

Geri almost had a Nettles story to tell, but her older sister and ‘thug’ friends were the nettles that sat on the porch of Geri’s childhood home in Park Ridge and caused a young Jack Kelley to cross the street to stay clear of them when walking to the park to play baseball with the cousin he was visiting. He had to wait to meet his future wife until he went to college.

Chris told a story of longevity. She and Mike have been married for 46 1/2 years. She told us that when asked for relationship advice, she has warned that marriage is a cyclical kind of thing and that you may hate your partner for a whole year at a time. She wonders if humans are really meant to be monogamous and I said that my dreams didn’t seem to think so. But now we’re back to the floating bridge.

Marcia also told a story of longevity but that was the 3 hours she spent trying to decide whether to call Andrew. She finally made the call but her timing was off. When they finally had a moment in their busy schedules, all that was available was the movie Bad Lieutenant at the Fine Arts which Marcia reviewed as ” so dark and awful.” When crossing Michigan Ave, a large black rat crossed their path. Some of us would have been daunted by those portents, but Marcia’s never been one to let little problems stand in her way.

As for me, I’ve been married three times, and I wouldn’t want to play favorites choosing just one of my husbands to talk about. So, I told the story of how my uncle asked my mom out first, and after her refusal, he asked my aunt, my mom’s twin sister. My Uncle Floyd and Aunt Tene (Christine) were married, my mom was the Maid of Honor, and the newlyweds went off on their honeymoon to Turkey Run State Park. They were gone for two days and came back to get my mom. Aunt Tene missed her sister more than she liked being a new bride and Uncle Floyd may or may not have thought he had a two for one deal. He was French.

That concludes our stories about marriage. Join us next week when our discussion of Family will focus on the wife. We will be reading The Angry Wife by Pearl S. Buck and discussing it on Tuesday, March 23.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

This is the January/Family page of my scrapbook. Each of them looks a bit different — mine has a snow family.

(Book 129) Chris was gracious enough to start off our book club year hosting on Zoom. She sent us this email labeled Welcome to the Moonstone:

Hello, ladies:

Did you ever have/want/need/destroy/torture/ignore/leave/screw up/forgive/create/borrow a family?

If so, please join me at the Moonstone on Tuesday (invitation details below) for a rousing discussion of the many roles we play in families and families play for us. Teresa chose a perfect overarching book on family as the first on this theme for the year. There’s lots to talk about, with tons of great insights into families and what they mean to us.

Cissy said, “Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part….And it might be you never know the part you played, what it meant to someone to watch you make your way each day.”

Since Cissy seems to know what she’s doing, if we were meeting at my house, I would probably serve soup (BYOThermos) and orange cookies.

Since it happens to be one of my favorites and it’s very nourishing, comforting, and also stimulating (a little zing from harissa), it would probably be Joan Nathan’s harira, which I happen to have in my fridge right now thanks to the events of the month:

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/spiced-moroccan-vegetable-soup-with-chickpeas-cilantro-and-lemon-harira

Or it might be this one, which I haven’t tried yet but intend to (it came highly recommended from a friend who is my soup maven):

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1020822-chicken-soup-with-toasted-farro-and-greens?action=click&module=RecipeBox&pgType=recipebox-page&region=soups&rank=0

Or it could be this easy and surprisingly delicious one that I made with Liz when she was here a couple years ago and which I would make in her honor since I haven’t seen her in over a year:

https://www.verywellfit.com/roasted-tomato-and-fennel-soup-4122492

I highly recommend you garnish it with a little marinated feta from Yotam Ottolenghi’s shrimp and orzo recipe. That was Liz’s idea, and we had a lot of the feta from making the orzo dish, which will also knock your socks off:

https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/orzo-shrimp-tomato-marinated feta

As to orange cookies, I’d have to look around for a recipe, and having stuffed myself endlessly with all the Christmas cookies, I’m trying not to.

See you tomorrow. Please book your room early so we don’t run out.

Chris

Chris started our meeting by discussing the variety of family descriptions distinguished throughout the book and asked if there was a particular observation by a character with which we resonated. Melissa went back to Cissy’s quote about playing our part (that Chris included in the invitation above) and many agreed that was a favorite moment in the book. Rosalie added that Cissy is the person who ‘gets it’ and is there for people whether they are biological family members or family she has made along the way. I mentioned that I appreciated Lydia’s mother, Natalie’s comment regarding the Morey family, that “there is strength in numbers.” If I ever get to do this again, I will get started earlier and have more children! George’s concerns about the mistakes we make were also a big part of our discussion: “Why is it only later that things begin to make sense? Mostly, I’ve made my peace with the mistakes I’ve made, but every so often I bump into a memory and it will sit me right down.” Linda added that George, June and Lydia were all victims of their mistakes, though they made their decisions thinking it was best for the child.

Chris brought up the scene in the coffee shop in which Lydia tells us that she failed in all the roles she’d every played and that now she plays no role. This led to me quoting the old drunk in the Tap telling her that “Some trees love and ax.” Linda opined that quote was the unfortunate result of people, and likely more women, who lose all sense of self and any understanding of how they relate to someone, such that they allow themselves to be beaten and misused. Chris compared the book to Our Town in that the characters didn’t often know what they were feeling and didn’t take time to talk about their feelings, but look back from a distance. (I’m sorry if that doesn’t do her comment justice.) Karen felt that we were looking at the evolution of each character as a result of the event and that most of the circumstances were generally relatable.

Chris mentioned that though her childhood family home was in New York, the description of Wells, Connecticut and its historical connection to the American Revolution was very familiar. Sharon mentioned that it was so ‘New England’ to keep that old stove despite its issues. I was happy for Sharon’s insight on that point because I found it very hard to believe that someone with June’s resources wouldn’t have replaced that stove long ago. Melissa mentioned that it was unusual that two of the central characters of the book were women who cleaned motel rooms.

Though most of us gave the book positive reviews, there were areas where we had questions or wanted more. Melissa wanted more of an ending specifically wanting to know if Lydia gets to Atlanta. Susan and I felt certain that she did eventually, while Chris felt she no longer needed to make that journey. Sharon wanted to know more about Luke and the basis for Luke and June’s attraction. I felt that story of Winton’s phone interaction with Lydia seemed too much its own story for the arch of the book, but Susan mentioned that she felt the slap in the face (from the daughter of another man who had been bilked by Winton) was what Lydia needed to move on. Susan added that she appreciated the way Lydia tried to help Silas so that his life wouldn’t be ruined by the event — that in some way she could make amends to Luke by helping Silas. Marcia noted that because Lydia received Luke’s insurance money, she wasn’t as desperate financially as she had been most of her life and had more agency to do what she wanted to do with her life.

After the book discussion, I started with Tolstoy’s opening line of Anna Karenina:  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and asked the girls to talk about their families — either those they were born into or the ones they gave birth to — and we had a much longer zoom than has been typical for us. I won’t divulge any secrets here, though I’ve warned the girls I will be writing a book at the end of the year about fictional participants in a book club. We were interested to find that four of the girls had siblings with 10-20 year age gaps between them, and another four of us had mothers who were nurses. (I should be more accurate than to say ‘another four’ because two of the girls were in both groups.) When we talked about happy v. unhappy, we talked about whether or not there was humor/laughter, agreement/disagreement, as well as, as Mary put it, an agreement not to talk about things about which they disagreed, secrecy/open communication, health, support or lack thereof in times of trouble, the degree of parental involvement, the presence or absence of obvious favoritism, whether or not our parents had proper role models for parenting, and the way our perception of whether we were happy or unhappy changed over the years. The girls may correct me if I’m wrong about this, but there was no mention of wealth, possessions, or stature in the community (other than neighborhood nurse!)

Next month, Thursday, February 18, we will Zoom to discuss Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Our assignment is to have a marriage story ready to share.