Friday, September 13, 2019

SEPTEMBER 2019 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Cathedrals, the architectural jewels of our collective memories, “speak a gentle peace binding us to the past even as it gives us images, a vocabulary, and a narrative that enables us to richly inhabit the present.”

We welcomed 19 Bookers back from our summer break at the home of Katherine McDonald hoping everyone is refreshed and ready to embrace some literature. As we begin our 16th year, it’s important to remember how it all began. In a text from Alabama this morning, MN reiterated one of our original thoughts when forming the book club was how it would encourage all to walk in the shoes of others, to broaden our horizons and leave our safe shell, opening our hearts, minds, and souls to new ideas. We’ve laughed with joy and cried too many times in heartache but throughout it all, our special group of friends…our special community of caring individuals…and our mutual respect and love of books has endured. Friendships are like a long steady soft rain…it’s not so harsh that it will destroy…yet not so soft that it goes unnoticed. Our friends nourish our hearts.

Several “regulars” were missing today – Melanie at UTSW after Roger’s extensive surgery to remove more of his malignant brain tumor – Patty Evans at hubby Barry’s side as he recovers from surgery – Pat Faherty with a doctor’s appointment in Dallas in hopes of receiving her “get out of jail card” to allow her to drive and begin PT.

Sheri Green is still undergoing chemotherapy but has gained some weight, is managing her pain better, and has been out and about a little more. And our “honorary Bookers’ prop handler,” Elaine Bownes, after a reoccurrence of some malignant cells, is back with monthly chemotherapy but is handling this little hiccup in her usual fighting spirit.

Our summer read, the dainty little tome of 400,000 words with twelve major characters and fourteen minor ones, 973 pages published in 1989, was reviewed by Melba Holt in September 2008 in our fifth year of Bookers (we welcomed new member Bonnie Magee at this meeting.)We 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. If you are hooked on Mr. Follett’s fictional village of Kingsbridge, the second in the series, World Without End picks up two centuries later with another 1,000-page story starring the descendants of the original “Pillars” characters, followed by the final installment, A Column of Fire, a mere 923 pages published in 2017. You would certainly be ensconced in the historical timeframes and characters if you decide to read the trilogy. He has written a short history of the meaning of cathedrals entitled, Notre-Dame, 80 pages available on October 29, 2019…in his words,

The wonderful cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the greatest achievements of European civilization, was on fire. The sight dazed and disturbed us profoundly. I was on the edge of tears. Something priceless was dying in front of our eyes. The feeling was bewildering, as if the earth was shaking.”

The author, a very successful thriller writer and a self-professed non-believer in God, seemed the most unlikely candidate to write a novel about building a shrine to what he didn’t believe in. However, in search of ways to describe buildings and after reading a couple of architectural books, he developed a keen interest in cathedrals. The burning question for him was, why were these cathedrals built – beyond the obvious reason of the glory of God and the vanity of bishops. He knew he had to channel his enthusiasm into a novel – or three as it turned out. It took at least thirty years to build a cathedral, so this would be the spine of the novel recreating the entire life of the village and the people who lived there. It was voted the third greatest book ever written behind The Lord of the Rings and the Bible and was placed behind To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the sixty greatest novels of the last sixty years. The definition of success instantly assumed another level for Mr. Follett.

Jean McSpadden, who admittedly read the novel three times, led the discussion of “Pillars” offering her insights into this first book in Follett’s historical fiction series and arguably the best of the three. A show of hands revealed most had read and finished the novel…at least the first time. Jean offered a visual of two cathedrals, Lincoln and Cambridge and a photo of the Pope’s visit to the Pinnacle Club. She shared a view into the author’s reasoning and progression leading to the writing of the novel.  He did paint the church in a less than golden light…monks were sworn to chastity, but that did not apply to priests…bishops had mistresses, and parish priests had housekeepers. “Clerical celibacy was a law too hard to be obeyed.” A complete summary of “Pillars” might take days, but Jean succinctly took us from the sinking of the White Ship leaving King Henry of England without a legitimate heir and the succession of the throne disputed, to the “hanging” prologue where a innocent man dies for stealing a chalice from the monastery, to the revelation of who conspired with barons to sink the White Ship.

We discussed the character of some of the characters – particularly the evil William and Bishop Waleran Bigod; how poor Tom Builder seemed to just climb one hill and then get thrown off the top, a favorite character in Prior Philip, and the discovery of that Jonathan, Tom’s son, was alive. We talked about how inanimate objects like stained glass windows and tiles recording the entire Bible served as historical storytellers. We marveled at how long it took to build these magnificent structures, noting that it took over one-hundred years to build the Washington National Cathedral with George Herbert Walker Bush laying the last brick. We wondered if after writing this book, Mr. Follett had a change of perspective on his views of religion.

From the critics: 85% or 4,764 people posted positive reviews on Amazon with 15% or 826 posting critical comments…from the negative side readers (who are entitled to their opinions) they complained about the rape scenes and how Follett painted William with loving adoration, adding if you want to be horrified to the point of nausea, this book is for you. Another one described it as long, (which it is) boring, and trashy…pure filth, graphic sex – as if the reader needs an instruction manual and the overuse of the “f” word (which none of us recalled) is according to this reader – generally how the trashier people express themselves. Also, at issue was the use of the contemporary words “soul mate” used to describe an English peasant in the 12th century, and passages like, “she would be lively, he felt sure; she would wriggle and scratch” registered on the reader’s “crap-o-meter.” The cream of the crop, unfair to any author, are one-star reviews because of the quality of the print or the print was too small.

On the business side:
Many thanks to everyone who stepped up to the plate as usual to show our support for fellow Bookers’ Melanie and Pat. Also, MN sends her love and appreciation for the get-well cards after her second knee replacement on August 1.  If you have not responded to the luncheon for MN (11:00 @ the club, Friday, September 27th) and want to be included, please let me know no later than September 20th. We have 21 signed up. I will pass along your names to Jennifer and because of the numbers, we might have a limited or set menu. I’ll share more information as soon as possible.
As always, our committee has been diligently searching for our next great reads and appreciated those who input their suggestions as well. The committee, with the exception of Katherine, has endured a couple of setbacks, so our list is incomplete at this time. Here’s what we’re recommending so far. Please note below we need host home for May. Please let me know if you can help. And as I said in the meeting, I’ll be sitting by the phone when you call generously offering to be the discussion leader for any of these wonderful books!!

RED:              CHALLENGING
October 15:                 The Silent Patient by Alex Michaeldes
Debut novel. A psychological thriller featuring a famous painter married to an in-demand photographer whose life seems perfect…until one fateful night. Please use discretion in sharing the ending as it would be a big spoiler alert for those who have not read the novel.
Home of Rokhshie Malone
Discussion Leader: Rebecca Brisendine

November 12:             The Chaperone, Liane Moriarty
A novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks (a famous silent-film star) to New York City in 1922 and the summer that would change them both.
                                    PINKISH WHITE
Home of Beverly Dossett
Discussion Leader: TBD

December 10:             TBD
                                    Home of Jane Shaw

January 14, 2020:       The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
Sam always saw the world through different eyes, born with red pupils he was called “Devil Boy” by his classmates: “God’s will” is what his mother called his ocular albinism. His unique condition, his mother’s devout faith, coupled with his father’s practical wisdom and his two other misfit friends makes for an entertaining read.
                                    Home of Bonnie Magee
                                    Discussion Leader: TBD

February 11:               Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
A scrawled sign peddling young siblings on a farmhouse porch captures the desperation sweeping the country in 1931. A struggling reporter snaps a photograph which changes his life with consequences he never expected.
                                    PINKISH RED
Home of Daryl Daniels
Discussion Leader: TBD

March 10:                   TBD
Home of Patty Evans
Discussion Leader: TBD

April 14:                     TBD
                                    Home of Jean Alexander
                                    Discussion Leader: TBD

May 12:                      TBD
                                    Home of TBD
                                    Discussion Leader: TBD

Summer read:             TBD

Books under consideration to fill these spots are as follows:
At Home at Mitford and/or The Mitford Series (A summer study in Grace), or Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
Hiddensee, Gregory Maguire
Christmas Quilt (# 8 in the series), Jennifer Chiaverini
Beloved, Toni Morrison (classic)
Everything You Are, Kerry Anne King
The Only Woman in the Room, Maria Benedict
The Last House Guest, Megan Miranda
The Roots of the Olive Tree, Courtney Miller Santo
Portrait of a Marriage, Pearl S. Buck (classic)
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (classic)
Arrowsmith or Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (classics)

“One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time.”
Happy Reading,

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