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Friday, January 12, 2018

DECEMBER 2017 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Trouble with Goats & Sheep by Joanna Cannon

27 Bookers, including our newest member, Katherine Maxwell-McDonald, brought the spirit of the season to the home of Beverly Dossett. Many thanks to Bonnie Magee for organizing the menu once again, to those who furnished the perfect accompaniments to insure we would all be merry and bright, with special thanks to Virginia Gandy for loaning her champagne flutes, and to Beverly for hosting our celebration with devoted bibliophiles.

In keeping with the festivities, we sang Happy Birthday to Rosemary Farmer, who will turn ninety years young on December 26. We shared wonderful news about Elaine Bownes who is living up to the “PPC can’t beat E!” motto on her bracelet as her Primary Peritoneal Cancer tumor markers which began over 2,000 four months ago are now 27 (normal.) And, Sheri Green who is fighting lung cancer, is tolerating her initial round of chemotherapy well. To everyone battling health issues, we are planted in your corner and will continue to send good thoughts and prayers your way.

Longtime Pinnacle resident, Bookers’ member, and dear friend Jane Freer’s passing last July left an indelible void in our community and our hearts. Gary has placed a brick in her honor in the Memory Garden and Bookers will participate in a dedication ceremony in remembrance of Jane. Spring is a season of new beginnings when flowers bloom, animals awaken, farmers and gardeners plant seeds, and temperatures rise as the earth is awash with renewal. Leo Tolstoy said, “Spring is the time of plans and projects,” and we feel this will be the perfect time for our tribute. Gary agrees. More details will be forthcoming.

In keeping with this month’s selection, Janet Noblitt offered the inspirational story of a Greenhill high school runner, Ariana Luterman, competing in the Dallas marathon who sacrificed her own competition to aid another runner across the finish line. She saw someone in need and she did not hesitate to come to her rescue. Ariana is clearly in the “sheep” category!

The majority of our group read this month’s selection. Three liked it. I made four. Some thought it was “much to do about nothing…a waste of time.” I smiled through the whole book – it was charming told through a child’s point of view – the innocence of youth and a can-do attitude – nothing would stand in the way of their mission.

A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson as told by Jesus in the Gospels. It makes moral observations and is intended to teach. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects where parables have human characters. An example of a parable is in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea highlighting man’s perseverance through the hardest of times. Fables occur in works like the tortoise and the hare.

Joanna Cannon used the parable of sheep and goats found in Matthew 25:31-46 where all those on earth will be brought before the Lord and He will separate them as a “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The core message of the parable is that God’s people (the sheep) will treat others with kindness and love others, while the goats can perform acts of kindness, their hearts are not right with God, and their actions are not for the right purpose. It points out the difference between man redeemed and saved versus man condemned and lost.

Before we start discussing this month’s selection and because we are in the midst of this divine holiday, I’d like to share “A Modern Parable” aired on the radio by Paul Harvey. It introduced a kind, descent, mostly good man, generous to his family and upright in his dealings with other men. He was not a Scrooge, but he did not believe in what the churches proclaimed of God coming to earth as a man. He told his wife he would not be joining her at church on Christmas Eve as he thought it hypocritical. The family left and snow began to fall. He watched through his window as the flurries got heavier and heavier discovering a flock of birds huddled in the snow caught in the storm and desperate to find shelter. He could not let them freeze so he planned to direct them to the warmth of their barn. He opened the doors wide, turned on the light, and sprinkled breadcrumbs on the snow leading them to safety – to no avail. He tried catching them and shooing them into the barn – failed again. It was then he realized they were afraid of him…if only he could be a bird and show them the way to the safe warmth of the barn…if only he could mingle with them and speak their language so they could see and hear and understand. At that moment, the church bells began to ring…the sound reaching his ears above the sound of the wind. He stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas…and he sank to his knees in the snow. Disbelief left his heart as his eyes filled with the miracle of faith. The concept of religion is such a personal one as pointed out in the book both traditionally in the church references and in the pronouncement that you can find God everywhere as illustrated in this modern parable. It demonstrates we should do the best we can and trust that there is a power bigger than you are…whether you call it God, or the universe, or a source energy, the universal truth is that there is something out of our immediate control and all we must do is trust that belief. Merry Christmas to all and to all stay tuned as we pick apart Joanna Cannon’s debut novel.

The author, masterfully through her phrasings, displayed the concept of showing the reader something rather than telling them…the goal of every writer. An example of this would be describing a character whose shoulders slumped, his watery eyes dragging behind every step in the direction of the maternity ward instead of telling the reader he was distraught. Ms. Cannon would say, “The vicar smelled exactly the same as the church. Faith had been trapped within the folds of his clothes, and the air was filled with the scent of tapestry and candles.” That is showing, not telling.
The story behind goats and sheep developed from the author’s work in psychiatry, where she met a lot of people who “unbelong,” those who live on the periphery of life pushed by society to fit in but never can quite get it right. They are the “goats.” It’s only when something goes wrong and society needs someone to blame, the sheep turn to the goats and announce they must be guilty because they just look the type. Unbelonging drives this novel…there’s a little bit of it in all of us – it’s just that some people hide it better than others. Everyone on the Avenue has something to conceal, a reason for not fitting in and in the midst of the unprecedented heat wave in the UK coupled with a severe drought in 1976, the stage was set for tempers fraying and “people going crazy” as the neighborhood began to deconstruct. In the midst of the scorched earth, it became evident no one was in control of everything – certainly not the weather. Local posts reported swarms of ladybirds searching for food attacking humans as they tried to rehydrate by drinking people’s sweat. The minister for drought suggested people pour washing-up water into the toilet, instead of flushing and to “take a bath with a friend.” Mick Jagger performed a concert bare-chested…the heat the justification for behavior. Through the eyes of Grace, the ten-year-old narrator, the reader discovers that if we scratch the surface of most sheep, we might find ourselves a goat and we learn that unbelonging is actually a belonging all of its own.

The Avenue resembled a small town, both in size and attitude. Most residents knew the business of the other residents, but what they didn’t know until the end was each had secrets and most were goats in sheep’s clothing. The talk of the town was the disappearance of one of their residents, Mrs. Creasy. On the outside, the neighbors worried for her safety, but on the inside, they feared she knew too much about a decade old fire, worrying who she was going to tell. Acting on the words of a local vicar saying God is everywhere, Grace and Tilly, young friends and junior sleuths, set out to find Him convinced that was the only way Mrs. Creasy would return home. Tilly stumbled upon an image of Jesus in a drainpipe, and for the Avenue it gave them something to believe in…pointing out you only really need two people to believe in the same thing to feel as though you might just belong.”
Secrets play a significant role in this novel. How many times have you heard, can you keep a secret? Orwell said, “If you want to keep a secret, you also have to hide it from yourself.” We rationalize that the person who entrusted us with the secret needs us to protect them from being judged, which is most people’s biggest fear.

 The trouble with goats and sheep as the title suggests, is it is not easy to clearly define who’s who. We talked about the characters and why they fit into either category, some fitting into both. Tilly was definitely a sheep…she was innocent, always wanting to please. Grace was a bit of both although her intentions were pure and na├»ve like Tilly’s and she relished being the leader with Tilly following her every step, she longed to be in the company of the older, cooler, wiser, sixteen-year old Lisa Dakin. The rest of the Avenue neighbors seemed to do nothing but wring their hands and try to protect their personal secrets along with the group conspiracy to get Walter Bishop out of the neighborhood…he was an unbelonger. He was persecuted, the obvious scapegoat in the story as someone pointed out…he might have looked different and acted oddly, and because of that, he was the person of interest for anything and everything that went wrong in the Avenue. We decided goats have more fun than sheep and they can eat anything they want. We put ourselves in Grace and Tilly’s shoes sharing our childhood summertime adventures.    

With regard to the open-ended ending…the whole book led up to something happening, but it didn’t. If it had been tied up in a neat little package, we would not have believed that once Mrs. Creasy stepped off the bus, everything would go back to “happily-ever-after.” Buried secrets had surfaced for the residents of the Avenue…the cat was out of the bag…leaving them to deal with their fate and the chatter might not be pleasant when the fingers began to point. There is not a sequel in the works but the novel has been optioned for television…maybe the door will close then.

                                                On the business side:
Jean McSpadden recommended a possible Bookers’ book to consider, The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. It’s a historical fiction about a woman who chaperones silent film star, Louise Brooks, to New York in the 1920’s. Soon to be a motion picture.
                             COLOR CODING SYSTEM
                             WHITE:          LIGHT READ
                             PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                             RED:              CHALLENGING
January 9, 2018                     Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Based on a true story of a forgotten hero, an Italian teenager during World War II…soon to be a motion picture.
RED
                                                Home of Daryl Daniels
                                                Reviewer: Patty Evans
February 13                           The Mourning Parade by Dawn Reno Langley
The mother of two sons killed in a school shooting leaves her successful veterinary practice to volunteer in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
                                                LIGHT RED
                                                Home of Bonnie Magee
Reviewer: Jean Alexander
March 13                                The Rainwater Secret by Monica Shaw
Debut historical fiction by Dallas author based on the life of her great aunt about a missionary woman in Africa to teach leper children.
                                                PINK                                     
Home of Patty Evans
We are excited to announce the author will be joining us for the meeting
April 10                                  The Uncertain Season by Texas author Ann Howard Creel
Follows the lives of three women in the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston…one living a privileged life, her disgraced and flamboyant cousin, and an unnamed girl living on the streets.
                                                Home of Sandy Molander
                                                Reviewer: TBD
May 15                                   Change of date due to travel plans
To Everything A Season – Sherri Schaeffer, a debut set in Amish country in Lancaster Pennsylvania where two worlds collide forcing them together.
                                                Home of Donna Walter
                                                Reviewer: TBD
Summer Read:                      America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha, “Patsy” becomes the keeper of the secrets and her father’s confidant after her mother’s death and his appointment as the American Minister to France.
Maybe a good New Year’s resolution would be shed our goat coats and adopt a more wooly lifestyle. It is unrealistic to expect a book to be everyone’s cup of tea but my hope for the rest of our reading year is that more of our cups of tea are in alignment.

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading,
JoDee


JANUARY 2018 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

“Faith is a strange creature…like a falcon that nests year after year in the same place, but then flies away…only to return again, stronger than ever.” Cardinal Shuster

21 Bookers met at the home of Daryl Daniels for our meeting and discussion of this month’s selection led by Patty Evans. We shared a moment of silence and prayers for Elaine Bownes undergoing abdominal surgery and a complete hysterectomy in connection with her primary peritoneal cancer; for Sheri Green who continues with her chemotherapy treatments; and for Bernie Crudden, who on January 19 will endure robotic Cyberknife surgery to tap a nerve in her neck with radiation to relieve the excruciating pain she has been experiencing, hopefully eliminating the need for pain medications.

                                                    On the business side:
We had a few items to discuss before focusing on this month’s selection. In the past Bookers 
discouraged serving food at the meetings for two reasons – one our focus has always been on the book and secondly, we wanted those who volunteered their homes not to feel obligated to provide anything other than coffee, juice, and water. From now on, the host will make the call, but please keep in mind our intent is not to be a “you-top-it” type of organization.

On Tuesday, January 23, I’m honored to be addressing the Cedar Creek Women’s Club about Life in a Box. Michael Hannigan, editor of Henderson County Now, will be covering the event. Book signing will begin at 10:30 a.m. with my presentation slated for 11:15 followed by lunch. The majority of you know everything you would ever want to know about my book, but if you would like to come, the luncheon is $12.00 and Penny Barshop will include you as a guest. Let me know by January 15.

We have several new members of Bookers and feel it is important to share a little history of our book club. Fourteen years ago, our PWC President, Melba Holt, and Social Chairman, Jean Alexander, recognized a need for a book club for our members. MN Stanky and I jumped at the opportunity and here we are (although she is in our “satellite” office in Alabama now.) We’ve read 128 books for Bookers alone, facilitated Amish and Happiness studies, poetry appreciation month and personality testing, and listened with our hearts as Rosa Blum, a Holocaust survivor, recounted the horrors and joys that life had thrown in her path. Bookers is successful because of our different perspectives on the books we read. We all learn and process information differently and our goal has always been to offer book selections that foster a lively discussion from various points of view. This concept has kept us from being ‘Bookers in a Box.” Many of you are aware there is a new smaller book club in town formed by Paula Butcher focusing on bestsellers and classics to be discussed over lunch. Books have their own power source – they are called readers – and as both a reader and a writer, there can never be too many. We are happy that the love of books continues to spread throughout our community and encourage participation in either or both opportunities.

You might have an interest in a new release by Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. (Bookers, March 2014) Her latest, The Music Shop, is set in the late 1980’s. Editorial and customer reviews are generally positive. Language and blasphemy were the reasons given for a rare three star review.

Cold Mountain, a 1997 historical fiction by Charles Frazier, follows a wounded Confederate Army deserter who walks for months to return to the love of his life and the mountains of North Carolina. Recommended by Lee McFarlane. Also a 2003 movie starring Nicole Kidman.

Later in 2018, Melanie Prebis will review one of her favorite books, A Prayer for Owen Meany, a 1989 release by John Irving – the story of two young friends growing up in a small New Hampshire town in the 1950’s-1960’s.
                                                            **********
Mark Sullivan joined the Peace Corp after graduating from college, teaching high school English to students in West Africa. Upon returning to the States, he began a career as an investigative reporter before writing eighteen novels including the bestselling “Private” series with James Patterson. This biographical/historical fiction at times reads like a literary nonfiction narrative then lapses back into his journalistic style of writing. The novel, chocked full of characters and stories at every turn, seems impossible for all of that to have happened to one person, but documentation reveals the accuracy of the tales. The author spent ten years researching and writing this novel, resulting in Pino’s story surfacing after six decades of silence. Seventy-nine year old Pino remembered what the love of his life had said, “By opening our hearts, revealing our scars, we are made human and flawed and whole.” It was time for him to reveal his scars.

Patty Evans, as always, provided a thorough and entertaining review of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, showing a photo book of the small crowded village of Asolo  perched on a hilltop in Northern Italy, similar to the community where the Lella family lived and worked. Asking for a show of hands of those who had not finished the book, she opted not to discuss the ending avoiding spoiling it for those yet to finish. The novel details the untold tale of a seventeen-year-old Italian boy, Pino Lella, between June 1943 and May 1945 during the Nazi occupation.

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music (especially jazz) food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When Allied bombs destroyed his home in Milan, Pino joins an underground network helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.
In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.
Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will share one day.
Our discussion offered many personal stories of family involved in war, revealing the universal theme of our “Greatest Generation,” before and beyond…the refusal to talk about their experiences once they returned home. Statistics show that 88% of veterans returning from war have had direct experience of violence – either as a witness, a victim, or having caused it. What we lose with this silence are the legacies of the men and women who defended our freedom. We talked about Pino’s innate ability as a teenager to step into a leadership role with insight beyond his years, possessing fearless bravery and casting out the threat of dying, begging the question, are leaders born or made? I posed the question to one of my friends who has written books on leadership and counsels CEO’s on how to be more effective leaders. His answer, “leaders clearly are made not born because a person’s character is shaped from the moment they come into the world by their circumstances, profoundly influenced by parents, mentors, and their circle of friends in all cases – either good or bad.” He believes “you are a product of the ten people you spend the most time with…and a “person’s value system of right and wrong, their focus on a purpose that’s bigger than themselves, and their drive to live it and achieve it is influenced, not wired in at birth.”

Taking a look at Pino’s family, we find the answer to his maturity – the people who surrounded him – his no-nonsense mother, his father’s ability to tune out the world’s misery with the sound of music; his little brother’s dependency and admiration for him; the respect of his friends; his Uncle Albert who encouraged him to drive the Nazi General and become a spy; Father Re who preached not to “let your heart be troubled, trust in the Lord” making no moral judgment on anyone including the Nazis. Look around – who are the ten that made you?

One of the most complicated characters in the novel was General Leyers as he portrayed both good and evil doing everything he could do to insure his people did not starve and in the end, saved himself. His mantra, “always do favors for others because they will owe you.” The theory worked well for his survival.

Bonnie Magee, not able to be at the meeting, called in her comment and approval of the book. “Since I am such a Pollyanna, having the preface to this book was magical. The holocaust and the war were horrific. Reading about different events was much easier for me since the preface made it like a “flashback,” and I wasn’t constantly “on edge.”

Rokhshie Malone, happily huddled up in Crested Butte, wanted to know, “Why is a seventeen/eighteen year old boy running around town at all hours, instead of being in school or college?" Our input – it seems this was a norm among teenagers then. “I am enjoying the book, and one thing is very clear - the Italian Jews were forgotten and as stated, the Italians did not want to discuss it afterwards, and relegated it to the past with no recollection. Sad!”

As Patty began, I’ll finish by leaving the ending to you. Pino cherished the words Anna lived by…she didn’t believe much in the future…tried to live moment by moment, always looking for reasons to be grateful… creating her own happiness and grace and using them as a means to a good life in the present and not a goal to be achieved some other day.

                              COLOR CODING SYSTEM
                             WHITE:          LIGHT READ
                             PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                             RED:              CHALLENGING
February 13                           The Mourning Parade by Dawn Reno Langley
The mother of two sons killed in a school shooting leaves her successful veterinary practice to volunteer in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
                                                LIGHT RED
                                                Home of Bonnie Magee
Reviewer: Jean Alexander

March 13                                The Rainwater Secret by Monica Shaw
Debut historical fiction by Dallas author based on the life of her great aunt, a missionary woman in Africa teaching leper children.
                                                PINK                                     
Home of Patty Evans
We are excited to announce the author will be joining us for the meeting

April 10                                  The Uncertain Season by Texas author Ann Howard Creel
Follows the lives of three women in the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston…one living a privileged life, her disgraced and flamboyant cousin, and an unnamed girl living on the streets.
                                                Home of Sandy Molander
                                                Reviewer: TBD

May 15                                   Change of date due to travel plans
To Everything A Season – Sherri Schaeffer, a debut set in Amish country in Lancaster Pennsylvania where two worlds collide forcing them together.
                                                Home of Donna Walter
                                                Reviewer: TBD

Summer Read:                      America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha, “Patsy” becomes the keeper of the secrets and her father’s confidant after her mother’s death and his appointment as the American Minister to France.

“Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”
Happy Reading,

JoDee