Tuesday, June 11, 2013

JUNE 2013 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

        A Japanese parasol opens and the story unfolds – one of innocent love set in a landscape of fear.

The Panama Hotel, also known as the home of Kay Robinson, welcomed 24 for our June bonus meeting. In the spirit of the novel, kimonos hung from the fireplace, a sake set and chopsticks donned the coffee table, and our hostess served hot tea and white grape/peach juice. Special thanks to the Freers for adding the visual for this month’s selection. We were delighted recent Pinnacle Women’s Club member, Chris Batt, joined us today and we hope she will become a regular at Bookers.

 We received a report on Jean Alexander with a warning for “people our age”… lose the wedged flip-flops. Jean’s injury shows us accidents can happen even to our own Wonder Woman. Our thoughts are with her in hopes of a speedy recovery and with husband, Lee, to develop the patience of a saint. We recently learned Bookers’ member, Vicca Daughetee, is moving west to Washington to be closer to her family. At her request, she will remain on our e-mail list and will be able to keep up with her Bookers’ friends. Good luck in your latest journey and we’ll miss you.

Once again, we are reeling with more news of tragic events taking the lives of the innocent and leaving behind a path of destruction throughout Oklahoma. Tragedies of this sort hit home with us although we might not be personally involved. Steve Blow in the Dallas Morning News addressed the issue by quoting William Wordsworth, “The world is too much with us.” Although the poet is lamenting modern life’s separation from nature, the passage has come to “represent these times when life overwhelms us.” Advice from a prominent thanatologist, “hug the cactus.” It’s a prickly process but a healthy approach to understanding our feelings of helplessness and grief.

Pat Faherty, appropriately dressed in a kimono, led the review of Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, set in Seattle during World War II detailing the trials and tribulations of the Asian population during the time of the Japanese internment. We learned of the “old” Henry Lee’s life in 1942 and of the “new” Henry Lee’s life in 1986. The “hotel” the title refers to is The Panama Hotel, standing as a gateway between Seattle’s Chinatown and Japantown – two completely different cultures living side-by-side, but worlds apart. The tale opens with Henry at the “Panama” witnessing the discovery of the belongings of thirty-seven Japanese families – remnants of lives living in the basement of the hotel for forty-five years – treasures put away for a happier time that never came. Henry’s life hurls back to the time of forbidden love with his American born Japanese girlfriend, Keiko. The novel is sated with fractured hearts, families, promises, and trusts begging for the answer to the question – is there anything too broken to fix? The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor set in motion a shameful period in the history of our Country, hopefully, a lesson learned. Old world prejudices clashed. A past full of promise lured the heart back in time. All tied together within the grooves of an old 78 jazz recording, The Alley Cat Strut by Oscar Holden & The Midnight Blue played at the Black Elks Club, the Club where Ray Charles had his first paid gig. The novel successfully touches on cultural generational differences, stereotypical bullying, racial profiling, fear, prejudices, and the inclusion and exclusion of cultures and the acceptance of those differences all set within the borders of a Romeo & Juliet ‘sting in the tail’ type setting.

Our discussion focused on personal experiences with other cultures and begged an answer to how would you feel if your child’s teacher wore the traditional Muslim burqa? Fear of the unknown drives people’s actions and since most of us were not born during Pearl Harbor, we could relate this experience to the feelings following 9/11. We were amazed that so few of us were educated about the volatile history between the Chinese and Japanese cultures and most of us were not aware of the Japanese internment camps throughout the United States after Pearl Harbor. Those who lived during that time voiced strong opinions even within families about this threat to our Country – some even now boycotting car manufacturers such as Toyota. It is important that we embrace the numerous cultural groups living within our borders and respect their right to keep their traditions as long as the core of our local, State, and Federal governments remains uniform to the Constitution. In order for all groups to live under one, we need to find a way to trust putting fear on the back burner without the need to wear a button announcing our heritage. Improbable, most likely…but as history tells us, in reality, it’s an unlikely universal mandate that everyone lives happily ever after in a communal environment.

The author answered some criticism on his references to the Internet in 1986 by saying, "I'm afraid I have to reveal just how geeky I truly am. I was on Compuserve in 1984, with an old coupler modem like you saw in the movie Wargames. Back when you had to pay $100 to sign up and were charged by the hour. Just because most people weren't online then, doesn't mean no one was. Just the few, the proud, the computer geeks..." The Panama Hotel is real – built in 1910 by the first Japanese-American architect in Seattle, Sabro Ozasa, and contains the last remaining Japanese bathhouse in the United States. It’s operational today as a bed & breakfast. Oscar Holden was the patriarch of Seattle jazz…born in Nashville in 1887 he purposely did not marry until he fled ‘Dixie’ so none of his children would be born there – of the seven children, five pursued musical careers. Oscar Holden continued to perform until he suffered a stroke in1966 and died in 1969. The vinyl 78 recording of the Alley Cat Strut never existed, although the song did.

On the business side:

Sandy Molander announced a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association penned as “The Longest Day” to be held on June 21st at The Bridge Studio at Cedar Creek. Duplicate and Rubber Bridge Games at 8:00 AM, Noon, & 4:00 PM. “How to play” lessons at 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM at the Mabank Senior Center. A $10.00 donation is suggested and all proceeds will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. Contact Gloria Rowland, 903-451-3219 or Charles Ford (lessons) 903-498-4506

We are recommending the following 3 books for next year:

*The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna – set in 1976 in rural Ireland, two members of the lonely hearts club, Jamie, a 40+ year old bachelor who grew up in a Catholic orphanage and Lydia, a 40+ year old spinster, sheltered, school teacher under the thumb of an overbearing mother. The alternating chapters of his ordeal in the orphanage are difficult to read, but the storyline, writing, humor, and character development of these two protagonists makes for a very special read.

*The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout’s new novel (author of Olive Kitteridge) features two brothers Jim, the successful lawyer and Bob, the legal aid attorney who escape their small hometown of Shirley Falls Maine. Their family dynamic form the crux of the novel, then add a sister and a nephew to the mix and we learn about the ties that bind us to family and home. Should provide a lively discussion.

*Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, set in rural Minnesota the summer of 1961, centers around a Methodist minister’s family. The novel covers all those who are devout and those who struggle with faith and the reconciliation of both in face of tragedy…wonderfully written.

This leaves March, April & May open and we’ll continue to read some of your suggestions as follows:

Jodi Picoult – The Storyteller – Sage Singer is a baker, a loner, estranged from her Jewish upbringing and her two sisters, but close to her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. She befriends a beloved 95 year old – the image of everyone’s grandfather, a retired teacher, and Little League coach. One day he asks her for a favor and reveals his secret. She’s faced with a moral dilemma.

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus is based on an actual historical event but told through  fictional diaries of May Dodd and a colorful assembly of pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians. The covert, controversial, and fictional, "Brides for Indians" program launched by the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, is intended to help assimilate the Indians into the white man's world. Toward that end May and her friends embark upon the adventure of their lifetime. Jim Fergus has so vividly depicted the American West that it is as if these diaries are a capsule in time.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kernin – report from Charlene Richard – it’s so-so.

 A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, debut by Anthony Marra set in center of the Chechen conflict of late 1990’s – 8 year old watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night accusing him of aiding the Chechen rebels. From the author: One day I looked up the definition of life in a medical dictionary and found a surprisingly poetic entry: “A constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” As biological life is structured as a constellation of six phenomena, the narrative life of this novel is structured as a constellation of six point-of-view characters.

Whiskey Beach Nora Roberts – on NY Times bestseller’s list – a good beach read

Treading Water (book 1 of series – sequels Marking Time, Starting Over and Coming Home--) by Marie Force recommended by Melba. "Treading Water" Jack and Clare are going through a rough patch in their marriage. In the midst of their struggle, Clare is hit by a car and left in a vegetative state. Jack believes the situation is hopeless and takes fourteen months to grieve the loss of his wife and the guilt over his role in the downturn of their marriage. He's destroyed, grieving a wife who isn't really gone and loving a wife who really isn't there.

Leslie Mullins sent an article on Jeanette Walls…she has crossed over from a memoirist to a novelist with the debut of The Silver Star, set in 1970…cast of characters include an unstable narcissistic mother and her children…similar to her own life again, but in a novel format…reviews are mixed but some say the fictional Jeanette didn’t develop the characters as well as her real-life ones.

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, revolves around parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers. He explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, honor, and sacrifice for one another and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.
                                             COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:                     LIGHT READ
PINK:                         MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:                          CHALLENGING

July/August     Summer Read: A classic, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, considered a prophetic genius and one of the most important literary and philosophical voices of the 20th century. The book, in essence is a portrayal of a utopia in which there is constant prosperity, people are always content and provided for, and have been programmed to like their society in all respects. It asks the question: ‘What can possibly be wrong with a world in which everybody is happy?’

September 10th:           Happy 10th Birthday Bookers

                                    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


                                    Home of MN Stanky

Reviewer: Penny Barshop

*October 1st:               Note: Earlier date because of the Garage Sale

The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna


                                    Home of Bonnie Magee, co-hosted by Rosemary Farmer

                                    Reviewer: TBA

November 12th:           The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout


                                    Home of Daryl Daniels

                                    Reviewer: TBA

December 10th:            Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger


                                    Home TBA

                                    Reviewer: TBA

January 14, 2014         The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey


                                    Home of Beverly Dossett

                                    Reviewer: Melanie Prebis

February 11th:              The Fault In Our Stars by John Green


                                    Home of Patty Evans

                                    Reviewer: Patty Evans

March 11th:                  Book TBA

                                    Home of Marlene Ungarean

April 8th:                      Book TBA

                                    Home of Sandy Molander

May 13th:                     Book TBA – regular meeting 10:00 AM

                                    Home of Charlotte Pechacek 

It’s a Chinese tradition to give out white envelopes at a funeral – each containing a piece of hard candy and a quarter. The candy so everyone would leave tasting sweetness, not bitterness, and the quarter for buying more candy on the way home symbolizing lasting life and enduring happiness. Curl up with a good read, open a bag of Werther’s originals, and keep your quarters handy.

Happy Reading


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