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Monday, May 20, 2019

MAY 2019 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens


Only when you solo dance with nature will you hear the crawdads sing.

23 Bookers armed with spirits and sustenance descended on the home of Melanie Prebis to celebrate the last meeting of Bookers’15th year. We’ll resume on September 10, 2019 with another slate of books selected by our committee, Pat Faherty, Katherine McDonald, and Melanie Prebis. Many thanks for their continual pursuit of literary excellence! As you read this summer, please pass along to them any books that might be keepers for our 16th year.

Welcome to Cindy Millweard to her first Bookers’ and to recently retired long-time Bookers’ member, Jean McSpadden (who with a little vino influence volunteered to review our summer read.) We were happy to see Kittie Minick, Jane Shaw, and Joanne Bara again.



Many thanks to Cherry for getting us into the “crawdad” mood with her table setting and cherished Dauphin Island shells. Jean Alexander, aka Marsh Girl, didn’t disappoint with her characterization and visualization of the main character with one of the most poignant scenes from the novel. Kya watches her family, one at a time, slam the door on her existence, abandoning her to fend for herself in the marsh. When Hollywood takes over, this scene will likely be produced with mournful background music, panning into Kya’s face where a lone tear trickles into the corner of her downturned mouth. Maybe Jean could consult with Ms. Witherspoon on costume design and drama!

Where the Crawdads Sing is set in the early 1950’s in the depths of an isolated marsh in North Carolina. Ten-year old Kya Clark lives alone in a shack with nothing more than an old rickety boat and the determination not unlike fictional character Rocky Balboa to survive every day against mounting odds. Delia Owens’ gift to readers was her poetic, elegant, and richly metaphorical style of writing of her “natural world.” We feel the sun, “warm as a blanket,” we see a “ballet of fireflies,” watch egrets take flight like “a line of white flags against the mounting gray clouds,” and hear the “cicadas squeal against a mean sun.” Ms. Owens tells us this novel is primarily about self-reliance, survival, and how isolation affects human behavior and the setting, a coastal marsh, is itself a major character in the novel – Kya “laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.” The author chose this area knowing although it was a wild place, it was conceivable that Kya could survive because collectable food was bountiful, temperatures were mild, and hiding places abundant. Kya represents all of us – what “we can be when we have to be” learning Nature’s lessons to survive. Ms. Owens drew on her own isolation experience spending twenty-three years either in extreme or partial isolation, seven of those in an African desert the size of Ireland with one other person. She instilled in her fictional character how isolation can make you feel insecure and inadequate but in the end the confidence gained from self-reliance provided the strength to thrive in man’s world.

We discussed the setting and how it shaped the novel; Kya’s experience on her one day of school, and the role rejection played in her decision not to return; the characters, Jumpin’ and Mabel, their significant impact on Kya, the role of racism during this era possibly explaining why they didn’t open their home to her; the role of poetry in the novel; Kya’s observation of fireflies and how the females change their flashes to signal different things; Kya’s two loves, Tate, the “evolved human male,” strong, manly, kind, intelligent, and caring…one who loves deeply and truly, and Chase, not much different from a “buck in rut,” flashing his “secondary sexual characteristics” to attract as many females as possible; the courtroom, defined with film-like drama – dramatic, brisk, dialogue-centric scenes void of Owens’ evocative human observations from Kya’s eyes (Owens told BookPage that she majorly reworked the book’s structure to include “a bomb under the sofa” to signal something more happens in the book – starting the novel with Chase Andrew’s dead body instead of Kya’s self-reliance in the wilderness…speculation that this adjustment perhaps was a nod to Hollywood.)

When you have a book so overwhelmingly accepted by 94% of those who read and reviewed it, it’s interesting to see what drove the other 6% to rate it from one to three stars – nonsensical that a young girl is left alone in a shack – for twenty years her boat never breaks down, she never gets sick obviously equipped with the immune system of a superhero; the courtroom antics mirrored Curley’s trial in the Three Stooges; fireflies would have been called lightening bugs in that time frame; no boy in a small town in North Carolina would have been named Tate or Chase (unless it was a family name…just saying); the book was “SO SAD” I felt emotionally manipulated; stereotyped characters – Jodie, the helpful older brother who disappears, the drunken abusive dad who isn’t all bad when he’s sober, the good boy, Tate, the bad boy, Chase, the cocky police chief and his assistant, the cocky prosecutor, nature writing meets romance writing…these 6% offered their opinion on why they didn’t like the book and after all they are entitled to…but doesn’t it leave the other 94% wondering if there were two books of the same name and same author.

On the business side:
We would greatly appreciate your consideration of hosting one of Bookers’ meetings in the upcoming year. Please let me know if you are available on the following dates: September 10, October 15, November 12, December 10, January 14, 2020, February 11, March 10, April 14, or May 12.

COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:         LIGHT READ
PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:              CHALLENGING

Summer Read:  The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
                        RED
Bookers selected this novel in September 2008 in our fifth year and voted to reread this wonderful work of historical fiction set in the 12th century when education was the responsibility of the church or only available to the very wealthy. Few could read or write, people were dependent on the church for their livelihood, and freedom was almost non-existent. The novel chronicles the lives of those building magnificent cathedrals that are standing to this day without power tools or understanding of structural engineering. Melba Holt led us through the original review, and we are looking forward to Jean’s insights.
                    Discussion Leader: Jean McSpadden

Happy Reading and enjoy the sights and sounds of summer with a good book in hand.
JoDee

APRIL 2019 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, Sarah Bird


“Here’s the first thing you need to know about Miss Cathy Williams: I am the daughter of a daughter of a queen and my mama never let me forget it."

21 Bookers braved our beautiful Texas Spring weather to gather at the home of Patty Evans to discuss this month’s selection led by Katherine McDonald. A big howdy to Katherine’s sister, Debbie, visiting from the Golden State who is also an avid reader. It was wonderful to see Pat Reid …we’ve missed you and hope you will join us again. We continue to receive some encouraging information on how our friend, Sheri Green, is doing and we are all so happy she is feeling like getting out a little more! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see her at Bookers! As friends and Bookers, we strive to walk in other’s shoes and sometimes those shoes are filled with struggles. We often feel helpless, but we might dwell in silence today for those in need of some positive thoughts.

This historical fiction is based on the life of former slave, Cathy Williams, the first woman to enlist in the peacetime U.S. Army, and the only to ever serve (1866-1868) with the fabled Buffalo Soldiers. This cavalry of African Americans mainly served on the Western frontier after the Civil War, their tasks included helping to control the Native Americans of the Plains, capture cattle rustlers, protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews. Their nickname, dubbed by the Native Americans, remains a mystery, but one theory claims it arose because of the soldiers’ dark curly hair resembled the fur of a buffalo and/or because they fought so valiantly and fiercely, the Indians revered them as they did the mighty buffalo.

Cathy Williams, born into bondage on a tobacco farm in Missouri was never allowed to consider herself a slave as, according to her mother, she was a captive destined by her noble warrior blood to escape the enemy. Her chance at freedom arrived in the form of Union general Phillip Henry Sheridan and at the end of the Civil War she refuses to return to servitude, making the monumental decision to disguise herself as a man and join the Buffalo Soldiers. She’s now a woman fighting for freedom, respect, and independence inside a man’s world facing monumental daily challenges to keep her secret while vowing to search for her mother, sister, and the love of her “dying soldier.”

Katherine McDonald armed with extensive research and passion walked us through the novel with her usual flair and visuals. Thank you for your thoroughness! Ms. Bird took a little-known piece of history and created a novel around it, and as Katherine said, literary license accounted for about 97% of the narrative. The story may have never been documented unless a reporter for the St. Louis Daily News interviewed Cathy in 1876 where she offered her story to the world. Incredibly it was not until Executive Order 9981 issued by President Harry S. Truman in 1948 abolished discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in the U.S. Armed Forces. We talked about Cathy’s comment that “royal blood runs purple” through her veins and how she saw herself through the lens of her family history. The realities of a soldier’s life was vividly portrayed existing on “forty miles a day on beans and hay.” Cathy envisioned herself as a captive, not a slave – the difference being a captive is imprisoned and a slave is owned as property – and if she gave into her circumstances, she would lose the strength and magical powers of her ancestry. We talked about the villains in the camp and how she effected revenge on them…personally a rattlesnake dead or alive in my bed would prompt me to abandon army life. Cathy was a trailblazer (literally) in the same vein as women like Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who in 1842 became the first computer programmer; the black women behind the book, Hidden Figures, who helped the space race beginning in the 1930’s; and of course my favorite, Nancy Johnson who in 1843 invented the ice cream freezer. We discussed the surprise ending of the book – whether satisfactory or heartbreaking – a little of both in my opinion. Some of the critical points, offered by other reviewers, detailed a white woman’s capacity to capture the voice of a black woman without becoming cliché; the “sex” scene with the prostitute; and Cathy as a main character with so much “grit and determination” moons over a man she spent a couple of days with while he was almost comatose. Our group as a whole read and enjoyed the story and I hope those who will be attending the Books in Bloom luncheon with the author come away with some new perspectives on Cathy and her journey.

On the business side:
Please continue to recommend books to the selection committee for consideration for next year. We talked about a few of those today and I’ll send the information to them from my notes. Many thanks to Bonnie for expressing our gratitude to the committee for their excellent choices so far this year and we look forward to another wonderful slate in the coming year.

Once again Bonnie Magee is coordinating our food for the evening May meeting. The request was sent out today so please respond directly to her with your choices.

I recently introduced Bookers to BookBub for consideration of a spotlight on their blog. I told them about us, where we live, the dynamics of our community, when we meet, and a snippet of the books we loved, the ones that surprised us, the ones creating the most debate, and the ones that disappointed. I received a response from them saying “our group sounds incredible – I love your “one rule” of not saying you didn’t like the book if you didn’t read it.” He said he would keep our information on file and be in touch regarding upcoming spotlights. You can go to https://www.bookbub.com/blog/book-clubs.com to see other spotlights.

Remember Monica Shaw, author of the debut novel The Rainwater Secret, who visited us in March of 2018. She was interviewed on Good Morning Texas last month in celebration of National Women’s History Month, the theme was Visionary Women fitting right into her factual historical fiction centered around her great aunt who as part of the Medical Missionaries of Mary devoted her life to teaching leper children in Africa. She’s worked very hard promoting her book and for an indie debut author it has paid off!

Delia Owens, author of our May selection, Where the Crawdads Sing, fascinating story on YouTube. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9KKzX6j9G8 Many thanks to Pam Davis for sending me the link. We will anticipate Jean’s presentation of this wonderful book in May.

COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:         LIGHT READ
PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:              CHALLENGING
May 14:          Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Set in the 1950’s in very rural North Carolina revolving around a young woman named Kya Clark – celebrating strength through tragedy and the resourcefulness of a child left to fend for herself in the swamp.
PINK
Discussion Leader: Jean Alexander
Bonnie Magee will again coordinate the “menu.”
                        Evening Wine & Cheese Meeting at the home of Melanie Prebis     6:00 pm
Summer Read: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
Happy Reading,
JoDee

Friday, March 8, 2019

MARCH 2019 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles


"All I do is pray the Lord will let me walk in the sun once more.” Stormy Weather lyrics

23 Bookers “krewe” paraded to Jean Alexander’s home on Fat Tuesday to celebrate the last day of eating rich fatty foods before the ritual fasting of Lenten season begins tomorrow. Sorry, I’m in Mardi Gras mode…actually, we braved the cold weather to celebrate this month’s selection with our debut discussion leader and bionic woman, Ann Ireland…who I’ve just learned chose to celebrate her wedding anniversary with Bookers. Happy 43rd and many more! Welcome new member, Judy Fly, and we hope she will be a regular fixture in Bookers. We continue to send good thoughts and lots of prayers to Sheri Green who has begun her new chemotherapy protocol. “Fist-pump” hugs from all of us to her!

Ms. Jiles used her poetic style to transport us back the darkest days of the Great Depression in Texas where oil was king in her historical family saga. Elizabeth Stoddard, the subtlety crafty matriarch, was blind-in-love with her handsome hubby, Jack, an oil-field roustabout, dirt-track racehorse promoter, and overall scalawag who hauled the family from one pipeline and derrick to another through devastating droughts and dust storms. Their “girls” were as different as night and day – Mayme was the stunning eldest daughter; Jeanine, the middle-child, tomboy, father’s favorite, and expert on everything from oil to horses, to windmills to roof-patching; and the youngest, bookish, Bea. It’s a coming of age story on all levels as each character must deal with the other’s flaws. Then, widowed and fatherless, the Stoddard ladies return to the mother’s dilapidated childhood farm where each one assumed a different role in their survival, their last hopes tied to a wildcat oil well and the late patriarch’s one true legacy, a dangerous racehorse named Smokey Joe. Throughout the novel, the family was often one pinto bean short of starvation but as we turned the pages the good and bad fortunes played out in sometimes heartbreaking scenes and one often asked, how much more can this family take.


In the end, father-favorite Jeanine painfully realizes what everyone else knew about her Dad, eventually finding a replacement in the arms of a man ten years her senior; Elizabeth’s gamble on the wildcat oil well paid off; Bea fulfills her dreams of writing pulpy stories for a western magazine; and Mayme is hopelessly in love with a future in her sights. The saga ends on the eve of World War II, September 1 1939…things are looking up for the Stoddard ladies…at last.

Our discussion:
This novel traveled from one end of Texas to the other and it was never more prevalent than with the visual Ann created for us by mapping the different locations featured throughout the book. Thank you for showing us in detail how much of our State the Stoddards visited. By the looks of it they must have spent a great deal of time in the truck. There were those who loved the book relishing in the descriptive scenes and sharing “oil” and “dust” stories while others felt it was a book about Texas picked by Texans…of course there are no “natives” on the selection committee. I for one did enjoy the book having transplanted from Southern California to oil-crazy Midland when I was 5 and thought Ms. Jiles did a wonderful job of putting us in the scenes and detailing the wildcatter attitude throughout all the booms and busts that go hand in hand with this business…a gambler’s mentality coupled with the mystic and lure of discovering your own percentage of the black gold lying just beneath the surface of a flat, open, desert-like landscape which draws sane-business-minded individuals into its fold. In 1973 when the Arab embargo was announced lines formed at the gas stations and crude oil prices jumped from $4 a barrel to $25. 1979 when the Shah of Iran was overthrown prices peaked at $37 per barrel. Construction boomed, oil-field wages soared; a Rolls-Royce dealership sprung up between Midland and Odessa. Six years later oil fell to $10. Now, a strong demand for oil coupled with refined hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling leads the rebirth – once again – of the Permian Basin and by 2025 the area is predicted to be the 4th largest oil producer in the world with an output of 6 million barrels a day…BOOM!

Unfortunately, the editorial oversights popped off the pages which is curious at best. How do you misspell Hitler – Adolph instead of Adolf in the book; Ross commented that he shouldn’t have let his son watch Walt Disney’s Bambi (released in 1942); Jack spoke about movie superstar Ava Gardner – she was a teenager in 1937 – not a star until 1941. Jeanine singing “Your Cheating Heart” – not written until 1952. Archie comic strips not published until 1941. “That Old Black Magic” recorded in 1942; National Velvet in the movies in 1944; Clark Gable was married to Rita Langham not Rita Langhorn; but the cream of the crop was Ross and Jeanine driving home from Lubbock to Mineral Wells, taking 84 south to Abilene for dinner but arriving in Amarillo – even directionally challenged me knows that’s not right. I assumed because this was her second novel, she might have been under deadline to produce the book, but at it turns out her first novel received the same type criticism. Hard to justify from an editorial staff of a major publisher.

Many thanks to Katherine for bringing her “royal” collection from her mother noting the importance of the radio for those who lived during the depression was it brought news from all over the world providing a needed diversion to a stressful time – explaining why a woman (her mother) living in Seagoville, Texas was enthralled with the royal family. It’s quite an impressive collection!

On the business side:
Jean Alexander announced there is one spot open for the Austin trip as Virginia Gandy had to cancel. Please contact either Jean or Virginia if you want to join the other 45 ladies on the bus.

We have a full table of 8 (Katherine, her sister, Bonnie, Beverly, Gayle R., Linda Thompson, Kittie Minick, and Jean McSpadden.) for Bookers’ Books in Bloom table benefitting the library. I hope you all enjoy the event and we will want a full accounting of how it was.  

Our Book Selection committee is working tirelessly on next year’s slate of books – please contact Pat, Katherine, or Melanie if you have a recommendation and they’ll check it out. I recommended a debut novel, My Cat Yugoslavia, - a love story set in two countries bringing together a young gay man, his mother, his very shy pet boa constrictor, and a talking cat…for those of you who read “literally” – this is a joke.

COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:           LIGHT READ
PINK:              MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:               CHALLENGING
April 9:            Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, Sarah Bird
A forgotten part of history detailing the hidden story of Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
PINKISH RED
Discussion Leader: Katherine Maxwell-McDonald
                        Home of Aulsine DeLoach – Backup – home of Patty Evans
May 14:           Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Set in the 1950’s in very rural North Carolina revolving around a young woman named Kya Clark – celebrating strength through tragedy and the resourcefulness of a child left to fend for herself in the swamp.
PINK
Discussion Leader: Jean Alexander
Bonnie Magee will again coordinate the “menu.”
                        Evening Wine & Cheese Meeting at the home of Melanie Prebis 
Summer Read: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
Happy Reading,
JoDee




Tuesday, February 5, 2019

FEBRUARY 2019 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Cottingley Secret, Hazel Gaynor



                       
 “Someday you’ll be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis

19 Bookers met at the home of Beverly Dossett to discuss this month’s selection, led by Daryl Daniels in her solo debut. Evident was she has not lost any of her teacher preparation skills as we enjoyed a timeline, photographs, fairy wings and a magic wand. Very well done Daryl…thank you for your insights! From our lively discussion (which is what we want) some Bookers would have liked to use that magic wand to go poof to the fairies. One of the complaints was that the fairy segment of the story was too drawn out, preferring the contemporary timeline with Olivia in the “Old Bookstore” and of course “hunky” Ross, Hemingway the cat, and precious Iris. Kirkus Reviews however wanted more fairies, less Olivia. Cups of tea! Personally, I’m not sure if one story could exist without the other, the author creating a cast of characters so deeply intertwined with each other, it would be “magical” if either story successfully stood on its own merit…the fairy tale had been documented already so writing about it alone would not have made any headlines…and how would the present-day story hold a reader’s interest beyond the bookstore, and a budding love affair. Gaynor expertly connected the past and the present, blurring the line between what is real and what is imagined.

Hazel Gaynor’s melodious prose leaped off the pages so the reader was immersed in the setting and emotion of the story as in this example of her writing of the loss of Olivia’s grandfather, “The awful reality of his absence hit her, ripping through the shop like a brick through glass, sending broken memories of happier times skittering across the creaky floorboards to hide in dark grief-stricken corners.” Beautiful!

Although this is a true story, the question lingers why was it so believable not only to ordinary citizens of the British Isles, but to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame? We need only to look at the climate during the Great War to understand the desperation for something to hope for from those confined to the home front between 1914 and 1918. Fear, grief and sorrow dominated the family landscape as fathers left for distant battlefields while their children slept…300,000 never saw their Papas again and 160,000 wives were now widows. The government legislated unprecedented powers to intervene in people’s lives…overtaking any factory or workshop, imposing curfews and censorship, arresting anyone for “causing alarm” or discussing military matters in public. Pub hours were reduced, and beer watered down, suspicion of outsiders was high, and a woman suspected of having a venereal disease could be prosecuted and subjected to a gynecological exam for having sexual relations with a serviceman, even if he was her husband. The Daily Record summed it up by saying it was “not an uplifting spectacle to see this country descending to trivial and hysterical methods of vengeance.”  Children, vital to the war effort, often served as secret agents and pet dogs equipped with special tubes on their collars delivered messages from the British Secret Service. Pet pigeons flew long distances with news from the front lines. Goldfish even had a job – after gas attacks, the masks were washed and rinsed, and if the rinsing water killed a goldfish that was placed in it, that meant the masks still had poison on them.

Enter, two young girls, one camera, artistically drawn fairies and what started as an innocent prank sparked worldwide intrigue and a storm cloud over the heads of cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths residing in Cottingley, England. Suddenly, a war-ravaged nation had something to believe in and maybe the most important magic of all…finding parts of ourselves we thought lost forever and a way to believe in them. It was a time where people clung to anything hopeful – they wanted to believe in fairies and the spirit world…if fairies could visit from another realm, maybe their loved ones would too. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a personal reason to believe in the good in the world, as he lost his son in the war and never reconciled with the fact that he himself might have caused his death and the death of others as he was involved in writing war propaganda. It was his desperation and his credibility that led the “fairy charge.”

The other part of the novel is a present-day storyline featuring an Irish woman, Olivia Kavanagh, reeling from the death of her beloved grandfather, inheriting his failing bookshop and a manuscript titled “Notes on a Fairy Tale.” Her personal life is in shambles – she’s engaged to a man she doesn’t love, hiding from him that she is infertile, and is dealing with her Nana in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“The things we feel cannot always be seen.” They are often warm and fuzzy images from our own childhoods we experience again with our own children and grandchildren…who can forget the magic and anticipation of a visit from Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. 

                                                            On the business side:
We are happy to report Ann Ireland’s shoulder surgery went well and she is already out and about. Sheri Green’s appointment with the oncologist at MD Anderson went well and she will soon receive a chemotherapy “cocktail” in Dallas, designed to knock cancer to its knees. We all wish her well and as always, she and the family remain in our thoughts and prayers and a little dusting of fairy dust can’t hurt either.

Beverly Dossett, Katherine McDonald, Linda Thompson, Kittie Minnick, and Gayle Robinson have all committed to the Books in Bloom event on April 12th. Hopefully we can recruit 3 more to fill our Bookers’ table. If anyone has anything with a “camping” theme to please contact Beverly as they plan the décor for the table.

Our book selection committee (Pat Faherty, Katherine McDonald, and Melanie Prebis) have agreed to serve again next year and we are grateful for all they have done in the past year to give Bookers a variety of selections. They ask to please let them know if you’ve come across a book that you think should be a consideration…they are always open to your ideas!

As an added note for all fans of “exotic love stories” E.L. James of 50 Shades fame will be releasing The Mister on April 16. It’s described as a “modern fairy tale.” Wonder if it will include some type of magical powers or maybe a fairy or two….

COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:         LIGHT READ
PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:              CHALLENGING
March 5:        Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles – Note change of date
Set in East Texas during the depression, a story of hardship, sacrifice, and strength.
                        PINK
                        Discussion Leader: Ann Ireland
                        Home of Jean Alexander
April 9:          Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, Sarah Bird
A forgotten part of history detailing the hidden story of Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
PINKISH RED
Discussion Leader: TBD
                        Home of Aulsine DeLoach
May 14:          Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Set in the 1950’s in very rural North Carolina revolving around a young woman named Kya Clark – celebrating strength through tragedy and the resourcefulness of a child left to fend for herself in the swamp.
PINK
Discussion Leader: Jean Alexander
                        Evening Wine & Cheese Meeting at the home of Melanie Prebis    
Summer Read: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

“Stories choose the right readers at the right time.”
Happy Reading,
JoDee


Thursday, January 10, 2019

JANUARY 2019 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah


  “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can, and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Buddha

21 Bookers met at the home of Daryl Daniels to discuss Kristin Hannah’s latest novel, recently voted as Goodreads Best Historical Fiction winner with Patty Evans leading the discussion, offering insight into why this selection was not high on her list of favorites. The majority of the group read and enjoyed the novel, but Patty felt it was disjointed – two books inside the cover of one…a travel book offering a spectacular view of Alaska while the other focused on a disturbing look at a family in crisis. She felt the character development lacked depth, with some stereotypical profiles, with parts in need of tighter editing to eliminate repetition. The author’s insertion of her “head” into the narrative with parenthesis like, “Leni got out of the plane carefully (nothing was more dangerous up here than getting wet in the winter.)” (My pet peeve also– this is me inserting my “head” into this commentary.) By Patty relaying her honest opinion of the novel, we learn how to positively report on literature that might not be “our cup of tea” and the role of constructive criticism in the review process. And on a side note, we couldn’t recall the literary device the author used in the beginning of the book, a quote by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Nature never deceives us; it is always we who deceive ourselves.” It is an epigraph, often used as a preface or a hint as to the underlying premise of the book…encouraging the reader to remember the words as they read. Thank you, Patty…well done!

Having said this, we had a lively discussion covering a variety of subjects – the Vietnam War, PTSD, Hannah’s textbook use of battered women’s syndrome, favorite characters, how secrets are kept both inside and outside the family dynamic, the turbulent world of America in the 1970’s with political unrest, kidnappings and plane hijackings fostering some to seek isolation as an answer to the issues, the lack of support for victims of physical and/or mental abuse, the Romeo-and-Juliet aspect of first love with the sweet, childlike innocence between Matthew and Leni, whether we saw Cora’s explosive act of protection coming when she killed Ernt, Cora’s confessional being the only thing she could give her daughter that would change her life, and Leni’s naivety being coerced into revealing her role in the crime, whether or not we would consider Cora a “good” mother, and Large Marge saying to Leni, “Your mother was a kite string. Without her strong, steady hold on you, you might just float away, be somewhere among the clouds.” Part of the book was a mother-daughter love story…only this one with a broken spine. The ending of the novel put a smile on your face as we saw a life completed, hope after all the endured pain, a family united and a young boy learning of strength and the power of love from both his parents. It might have been predictable and somewhat Polly-anna, but who doesn’t need a reason to think good things can happen, even in the worst conditions.

The art of storytelling consists of a simple formula, you have a who, a what and a why not scenario as the protagonist who is the leading character making key decisions and experiencing the consequences of those decisions. Enter the antagonist whose job it is to prevent the protagonist from achieving the goals. The State of Alaska played both roles and to me was the most powerful character in the novel. Alaska was the who and the what dangling hope for a “new” beginning in front of the Allbright family. The why not…the starkness of an untamed wilderness with its frigid temperatures, isolation, sunlit and dark days represented the literal meaning of the title, but the metaphorical implications dwelled in the lives of Leni, Cora, and even Ernt – all alone inside their own family. They didn’t enjoy the grandeur of being alone – often referred to as solitude, only the pain of being alone. Alaska won on all fronts.
On the business side:

Sheri Green sent a lovely note of thanks to all who contributed to her “surprise tin” and sent big hugs our way for the cards, sweets, words of encouragement, and most importantly, prayers. Please continue to keep Sheri and her family in your thoughts as she seeks treatment at MD Anderson in Houston.

Bookers’ selection committee has been reading…and reading…and reading in search of a selection for us to spend the summer enjoying. They all agreed Markus Zusak’s latest novel, Bridge of Clay, although good, was hard to follow. We discussed Ken Follett’s, The Pillars of the Earth, which Bookers selected September 2009, and those who had previously read it commented they would like to read it again…so ta da…we have a weighty tome to keep us entertained during our break. Thanks to Pat, Katherine, and Melanie for all they’ve done for us!!

Our relocated Bookers’ friend and thespian, Bernie Crudden, reported loving their new life in “the city” and their residences have three book clubs…one of which is “Bookers-like.” She highly recommends Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, as they had a very lively and interesting discussion about the book. Donna Walter thought Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty a very interesting and complex read. I’m into The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni. The Dauphin Island book club read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and MN is reading True Places by Sonja Yoerg.

The annual fundraiser for the Clint W. Murchison Library in Athens, Books in Bloom, is scheduled for Friday, April 12, 2019 featuring author, Sarah Bird…our April Bookers’ author! Bookers has reserved a table of 8 ($50.00 per person) every year and we hope to be able to do so again this year although so many of us are on the PWC overnight trip to Austin during this time. Beverly Dossett and Katherine Maxwell-McDonald are spearheading the effort on behalf of the PWC and Bookers. Please connect with one of these ladies if you are interested in joining them.

We strive for consistency on the regular Bookers’ dates on the second Tuesday of the month, but sometimes life happens, and change is unavoidable. Many thanks to the reviewers and home hosts for adjusting our February and March meeting dates to a week earlier to accommodate my conflicts…I am honored and excited to be addressing the American Business Women’s Association in Corsicana on February 12th and the Cedar Creek Literary Club on March 12th. 

COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:         LIGHT READ
PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:              CHALLENGING
February 5:     The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor – Note change of date
Set in 1917 England and based on a true story, two young cousins somehow convince the world that the magic exists.
                        PALE PINK
                        Discussion Leader: Daryl Daniels
                        Home of Beverly Dossett
March 5:         Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles – Note change of date
Set in East Texas during the depression, a story of hardship, sacrifice, and strength.
                        PINK
                        Discussion Leader: Ann Ireland
                        Home of Jean Alexander
April 9:          Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, Sarah Bird
A forgotten part of history detailing the hidden story of Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
PINKISH RED
Discussion Leader: TBD
                        Home of Aulsine DeLoach
May 14:           Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Set in the 1950’s in very rural North Carolina revolving around a young woman named Kya Clark – celebrating strength through tragedy and the resourcefulness of a child left to fend for herself in the swamp.
PINK
Discussion Leader: Jean Alexander
                        Evening Wine & Cheese Meeting at the home of Melanie Prebis    
Summer Read: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett   
Happy Reading,
JoDee

Thursday, December 13, 2018

DECEMBER 2018 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva


           Aren’t we all angels in training…just waiting to spread our wings and fly?

25 Bookers joined together to celebrate the holidays at the home of Bonnie Magee in her dual role of hostess and food czar extraordinaire. Many thanks to her for coordinating our fare and to all those who brought yummy sustenance to soak up the spirits as we toasted the season of joy and good tidings. If there was a Bah Humbug among us a Mimosa took care of it.


As we’ve done in the past, our community rallies when one of our “own” needs to be lifted by the warmth of our caring arms. Sheri Green is participating in clinical trials and will undergo a CT scan on December 17 to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment. On my front porch (315 St. Andrews Drive) is a “Boost Sheri Christmas Tin” and we are asking that you please add a note of encouragement; a poem; a quote; a prayer; or simply that you wanted her to know you are thinking of her…anything that might put a smile on her face. Also, if you prefer, email me and I’ll print out your message and include it in the tin, which will be placed on her front porch the morning of the 17th. Thank you for your compassion.

Everyone had either read Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or had seen one of the movies or plays of this classic. He changed the way we see Christmas forever by featuring how the Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future showed a crotchety old miser the error of his ways reminding Mr. Scrooge what it means to have love in his heart.

In her novel, Samantha Silva details how she imagined Charles Dickens came to write this timeless classic. Charles is not in the spirit of the season. His latest book is a flop, the critics have turned against him, and his relatives hound him for money while his wife is planning a lavish holiday party. He doesn’t have “sugar plums dancing in his head” …only visions of the poor house as his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, which he refuses. To make matters worse, he has lost his muse, his great palace of thinking, the city of London, has forsaken him, and he’s experiencing a serious bout with writer’s block.

Within the context of the novel not only did the author detail how she imagined Charles Dickens came to write “A Christmas Carol,” she shared the secret to storytelling and the challenges every author no matter their credentials face at some time or another…insecurities, writer’s block, self-worth dictated by reader loyalty, self-doubt coupled with criticism, especially from peers. A “shank” in golf and a “block” in writing have the same DNA as they saturate your subconscious with negativity. Victor Hugo increased his caffeine intake threefold and stripped naked instructing his staff not to return his clothes until he met his deadline. On the practice tee one day I saw the “shank” in person as my hubby, a pretty decent golfer in his own right, hit an entire bag of balls dead right. I innocently asked if he was doing this on purpose. His response was not G-rated. Both dilemmas require burying the words deeply hoping they never resurface.

Ms. Silva drew on the truths of Mr. Dickens’ life as his celebrity had faded, he was deeply in debt, his fifth child was on the way, and his publishers threatened to deduct monthly from his paycheck, which would have ruined him at the time. One of the great ironies of his creation of “A Christmas Carol” is that it was created and written in six weeks because of his financial situation, but the result was the clearest example of his vision of the world, not only at Christmas but for all time…we must be responsible for those who have less and generosity is the only antidote for our selfishness, greed, and miserliness. Interestingly, because he wanted it priced so people could afford to buy it, even offering to pay for it himself, he didn’t make money on this novel.

Rebecca Brisendine did an excellent job of leading the discussion of this month’s selection using Dickens’ reflections on his past, present, and future to compare with our own. In addressing the significance of the City of London to Dickens’ life and livelihood, we reflected on the influences of our own stomping grounds…are we products of where we grew up? We talked about the usages of clocks in the novel and how each one signaled a different meaning. We spoke of Dickens’ view of his past filled with social injustice, his present producing an ever-enlarging world, his future filled with uncertainty. We wished our actress, Bernie Crudden, had been there to give us some insight into an actor’s role in character development. Most were shocked at the ending to find Eleanor was indeed a ghost although several “tells” were planted by the author to suggest this…her payroll records and that she left no footprints. We asked who dressed him in his disguise if she wasn’t really there and marveled at the detail used in describing the chemistry between the two…and what was the purpose of the “ghost” factor – maybe to make the relationship between Eleanor and Charles more acceptable given he was married and a father of five. Several had issues that it seemingly took so long to name his newborn. The author says, “a biography tells the truth of a person, whereby a story tells the truth about us.”

                               Look inside and you will find an abundant of blessings.
    On the business side:
Great news…a new independent bookstore opened nearby…Athens Alley Books & Boutique is stocked and ready for shoppers. It is located at 408 North Prairieville, a couple of blocks north of the square.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:         LIGHT READ
PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:              CHALLENGING
Jan. 8, 2019:    The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Set in Alaska in 1974. The ultimate test of survival for a family in crisis.
                        RED
                        Discussion Leader: Patty Evans
Home of Daryl Daniels
February 12:   The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor
Set in 1917 England and based on a true story, two young cousins somehow convince the world that the magic exists.
                        PALE PINK
                        Discussion Leader: Daryl Daniels
                        Home of Beverly Dossett
March 12:        Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles
Set in East Texas during the depression, a story of hardship, sacrifice, and strength.
                        PINK
                        Discussion Leader: Ann Ireland
                        Home of Melanie Prebis
April 9:          Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, Sarah Bird
A forgotten part of history detailing the hidden story of Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
PINKISH RED
Discussion Leader: TBD
                        Home of Aulsine DeLoach
May 14:           Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Set in the 1950’s in very rural North Carolina revolving around a young woman named Kya Clark – celebrating strength through tragedy and the resourcefulness of a child left to fend for herself in the swamp.
PINK
Discussion Leader: Jean Alexander
                        Evening Wine & Cheese Meeting at the home of TBD        
Summer Read: Book TB
                      He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.
Happy Reading,
JoDee