Tuesday, December 10, 2019

DECEMBER 2019 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, Bookers Highlight Reel of Christmas Past, Present, & Future, a presentation by JoDee Neathery

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags…then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little more.”

22 met at the home of Jane Shaw for Bookers’ Highlight Reel of Christmas Past, Present & Future, color coded candy-cane, and presented by your chairperson, “moi” featuring a walk-through of Bookers’ Christmases from 2004 to present. As always, our members stepped up volunteering to bring food and spirits to toast the season and our very special group of ladies. Special thanks to Jane for opening her beautifully decorated home for our celebration, to Bonnie Magee, our Food Czar Extraordinaire, for coordinating our feast, to our elf, Barbara Creach, for directing the sock in a sack exchange, and to our veteran Mimosa bartender who also worked “flute” cleanup, Janet Noblitt, for keeping us hydrated and tidy! And, word of the hoopla traveled fast as a bevy of migrating birds and white pelicans converged lakeside to join in the sing-along of, We Wish You A Merry Christmas. A warm welcome to our newest book lover, Karen Gallini, and we hope she becomes a regular Booker. I’ll deliver the box of cards, a crystal angel that lights up, and a warm and fuzzy pair of socks to our Sheri Green who needs some Bookers’ love and a spark of light.

After the Highlight Reel of Christmas Past and Present, Christmas Future was presented, we ended our festivities with a reading of a short excerpt from my work-in-progress novel, A Kind of Hush, a gripping family drama detailing how life is seldom a tidy affair exploring if there is a gray area between right and wrong. The Mackie family of four is enjoying a summer outing when their life is once again upended. Are they victims of a tragic accident or was it something more heinous – and if so whodunit and whydunit. We begin in Buffalo, New York in the summer of 2012…


One of the most timeless and universal themes, both poignant and simple highlighting the essence of Christmas was the story of four young ladies’ march from childhood to adulthood addressing the conflicts they met between family and personal growth set within the background of the Civil War. The opening line of Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott is “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents….”
I’ve got a present for each of you that I hope you enjoy. It’s not wrapped in glittery foil paper and tied up with an organza ribbon. Its only value is in the memories it shares and the promise of honoring Christmas in our hearts so that it will last all year. We always talk of books being our vision into worlds we’ve yet to discover and characters we’ve yet to meet. They allow us to walk in other’s shoes by expanding our minds and embracing thoughts and cultures beyond our comfort zone. Many of you have been a Booker since our inception and some only a short while, but the purpose of this little gift is to show everyone where we have been by strolling through Bookers’ Christmases beginning in 2004. Enjoy the journey!
Christmas 2004:
Skipping Christmas, John Grisham & The 5 People you Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
Enter a frazzled super Mom during the holidays juggling the kid’s activities, shopping for the perfect gift, preparing the holiday meal while maintaining a smooth and orderly family life. One day in frustration, she slammed the car door exclaiming, “Who ever invented this holiday ought to be crucified.” From the back seat came a small voice, “They have already done that.” The book points to what should be celebrated rather than what is and what it means to be on the receiving end of kindness and neighborly love.
Mitch Albom’s powerful, thought-provoking book, The 5 People you Meet in Heaven, encourages the reader to embrace this idea of heaven where he suggests there are really no strangers in the world, only family we have yet to meet.
Christmas 2005:
The Life of Pi, Yann Martel
This is one of those books that fosters discussion at the drop of a hat – is it the kind of book that makes you believe in God or one that makes you believe in the human need to tell stories in order to make sense of our existence. How does a boy, a 450-pound Bengal tiger, an injured zebra, and an orangutan on a 26-foot lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific survive 227 days at sea? The author tells us, “life is a story…isn’t one with an imaginative overlay better.” God is shorthand for anything that is beyond material – he asks us to cherish a story devoted to the powers beyond.

Christmas 2006:
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
The fable style book follows two young boys exiled to a remote Chinese village for re-education during the Cultural Revolution, however, it is not about politics or the evils of the regime, but a sweet, humorous, touching story about first love, teenage relationships, and how fate of empires can hinge on the education of their youth.

Christmas 2007:
Poetry Appreciation Month
Robert Frost says a “poem begins as a lump in the throat; a sense of wrong; a homesickness; a lovesickness; it finds the thought and the thought finds the words.” Bookers shared their favorites.

Christmas 2008:
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
A story of survival, loyalty, adventure, love, and the frailty of aging set in the world of a third-rate circus trying to make it in the midst of the Great Depression. The story ended as it began when 22-year-old Jacob escaped his circumstances and joined the traveling circus…and then 92-year old Jacob did it again.

Christmas 2009:
Astrid & Veronica, Linda Olsson
A record number, 36, Bookers attended this one. The novel, acted out by Bernie Crudden and Patti Branco, is one of an unlikely friendship between two women, four decades apart but bound by comparable histories who find comfort and freedom in their shared stories. We learn how the shards of loneliness can be shattered by the power of love.

Christmas 2010:
Not My Daughter, Barbara Delinsky
Another record turnout, 37 Bookers with special guest, MN’s sister Dianne, who by her own admission, “reads by osmosis” listening to her sisters. We launched into a chorus of Christmas carols before our own thespian, Bernie Crudden, who donned several hats in telling this story displayed her professionalism in light of being “underwhelmed with the character development and the happy-ever-after conclusion to an unlikely story.”

Christmas 2011:
A Week in Winter, Marcia Willett
29 Bookers plopped down in an English countryside and into the lives of colorful characters telling a tale of love found and love lost leaving us with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside an old family farmhouse that was at the center of the story.

Christmas 2012:
The Young Wife, Pam Lewis & Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler
A common thread zigzagged throughout both novels and the similarities of the book jackets highlighted the links between the two – both were views from behind the two women, both looking off to the side, one with an updo, the other with a ponytail…one at life’s sunrise, the other facing twilight both reflecting on their decisions. They forced us to look back and wonder, have I turned into the wrong person or am I just a different person than I was.

Christmas 2013:
Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger
A story about a boy standing at the door of manhood trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. The novel is about a “grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it.” A miracle happened that day of ordinary grace within the sorrow of a family’s tragedy a simple prayer offered in perfect speech was unexplainable but every word, unforgettable. The book struck a chord as if a chapter was taken out of our own lives as we acknowledged that deep faith in a power greater than ourselves is essential to reconciling tragedy. The title of the book is so poignant because a miracle arrived in the steady voice of a young man who conquered fear, and a mother who returned to her family.

Christmas 2014:
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin
The book is a “love letter to the world of books” about a thirty-nine-year-old grieving widow, the owner of a small bookstore on a remote island off the coast of New England who overcomes depression and bitterness to give his heart and name to an abandoned child and trust that love deserves a second chance. Control of the meeting flew out the window, when towards the end we had a lively discussion on “coupling” on the first date. I’m speechless now as I must have been then!

Christmas 2015:
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
This novel is a touching, often humorous story of the loneliness of a man and a woman, both “up in years” coming together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future. Their stories were acted out in the bedroom of Jean & Lee Alexander – Addie was played by MN and I was in the character of Louis. Addie’s final dialogue went like this: I love having Louis staying over the night…I like the friendship… hearing Louis breathe…I love the air, the country, the backyard, the gravel in the back alley, the grass… the cool nights…lying in the bed and talking to Louis in the dark…I was just so lonely especially at night.

Christmas 2016:
7 Women, Eric Metaxas
Our purpose in selecting this book was to enlighten, to learn, and appreciate the sacrifices these women endured in the name of benevolent goodwill toward humanity. Strong faith played a significant role in their resolve, but we also learned the secrets of what made these great women greater. They were Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie Ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa.

Christmas 2017:
The Trouble with Goats & Sheep, Joanna Cannon
Unfortunately, this was an unpopular selection as only four including me liked it. Some thought it was “much to do about nothing…a waste of time.” It was a parable, a simple story to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson as told by Jesus in the Gospels. The author 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.” It points out the difference between man redeemed and saved versus man condemned and lost.

Christmas 2018:
Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Samantha Silva
Last year we rebounded as this selection was a favorite, the author drawing on the truths of Mr. Dicken’s life at the time he created “A Christmas Carol.” One of the great ironies of this classic was it was written in six weeks because of his dire 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.

So, we’ve talked about Christmas Past having looked at the 15 Christmases we’ve shared together and the common thread in all these selections was the power of love, faith, kindness, knowledge, and trust in the things we cannot explain. So, let’s look at Christmas PresentChristmas 2019 – we’re inundated with disturbing news feed from the world, our State and country; a normal day for our school children is participating in active shooter drills; trusted leaders of religious groups have fallen from grace…and the list goes on. However, here we enjoy a continual spirit of giving through our community’s philanthropic efforts and the increase of residents calling Pinnacle “home” allowing us to grow our friend-base by meeting new people. 

Also, on the bright side beyond our little piece of the world we find twenty drivers on a busy highway stopping to rescue a dog; we see two young sisters raising money to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need in their area; thousands of winter coats are donated for children living in public housing in Chicago; a single dad adopts five siblings, ages 5,4,3,2, and 1so they could remain together; a Florida man paid off 400 student lunch debts – all of this heartwarming news happened just in November of this year. All these examples of the profoundness of Dr. Seuss who professed, “Christmas will always be as long as we stand heart to heart and hand in hand.”

Now on to Bookers’ Christmas Future – let’s look to 2020 when just maybe we might consider a new novel, a gripping family drama detailing how life is seldom a tidy affair asking the question, is there a gray area between right and wrong. The Mackie family of four is enjoying a summer outing when their life is again upended. Are they victims of a tragic accident or was it something more heinous…and if so whodunit and whydunit. We begin in Buffalo, New York in the summer of 2012 with an excerpt from my work-in-progress, A Kind of Hush.

As a side note, when the character profile of Gabe appeared to me, I scribbled it down in the middle of the night, certain my next endeavor had to include him. Why? I loved his curiosity and vulnerability highlighted by his adeptness to be younger and older than his years. He has become a part of me to the point that I think he is certain to be in my will. To me, the others feed off his uniqueness and as he grows, so do they.

Thank you for being such a captive audience and aren’t we fortunate to be here together to share in a season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love where the world is softer and more beautiful.

Happy Holidays, and yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus – if not, the eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

On the business side:

We received a card from Melba Holt which began, “No Bookers…Boo Hoo!” She and Layton have moved into Belmont Village in Dallas, Texas. She will keep up with Bookers through the minutes and is on a hunt for local fellow book lovers in their community and I’m sure she’ll be successful! She would love a visit if we’re in the neighborhood.

Our book selection committee has filled the May slot (see below) and they are still working on our summer read. We’ll keep you posted!

Kristin Hannah’s novel, The Nightingale, is in movie production and real-life sisters, Dakota and Elle Fanning, have been cast as the book sisters, Vianne and Isabelle.

Exciting News:
BookTrib was created as a news source for people who love books, want to find out what’s happening in the book world and love learning about great authors of whom they may not have heard. Their mission is to bring discerning readers and rising authors closer together in a big way with more than 70,000 monthly website visitors and close to 50,000 views on social media.

They have a book club network across the country boasting 80,000 members. Bookers is now a part of that network!! We fit their dynamic as we meet in person monthly, have a large membership base, and enjoy finding reads not necessarily on the bestsellers’ lists.

BookTrib puts together a “Booster Box” every month of four or five books (advanced reader copies and/or recently published books) and send them to the member clubs. Our job is to listen to a short synopsis, give away or raffle them off, take a photo of the “winners” and post on their website and on social media (which I will do)…They of course would love our opinion on the books. There’s a reason that publishers and authors pay $1,500.00 monthly for this service – it gives them invaluable feedback on the good, bad, and ugly, the reader dynamic, etc…During our summer months they will send the books to me and I’m thinking of doing a “monthly summer email” about them to see if anyone is interested in reading one of them…the bottom line is we’ll be getting lots of free books and who knows some might just be the treasures we are always looking for. Stay tuned! 

RED:              CHALLENGING
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 Beverly Dossett
                                    Discussion Leader: Ann Ireland
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: Rokhshie Malone
March 10:                   The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo
A debut novel set in a house in an olive grove in Northern California, a touching story bringing to life five generations of women, including an unforgettable 112 year-old matriarch determined to break all Guinness longevity records – the secrets and lies that divide them and the love that ultimately ties them together.
Home of Patty Evans
Discussion Leader: Katherine McDonald
April 14:                     Beloved by Toni Morrison
In honor of the late Nobel Prize laureate’s finest achievement which stares unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery transforming history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby…filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope.
                                    Home of Jean Alexander
                                    Discussion Leader: TBD
May 12:                      The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
One-hundred and four-year old Ona tells the eleven-year-old unnamed boy who has been helping her out every Saturday morning, “The story of your life never starts at the beginning.” A heartwarming tale of love, loss, and friendship.
                                    Evening Wine & Cheese meeting
                                    Home of Melanie Prebis        
                                    Discussion Leader: TBD
Summer read:             TBD

Bookers is about friends walking in each other’s shoes and a community never shy about offering hope and courage to those in need. Bookers shared in the celebration of the Christmas spirit and spread good wishes of health and happiness for the New Year. Many thanks from a humbled author to all those who have been my cheerleaders for Bookers and in my writing journey. I am a staunch believer in the wonderment of camaraderie among those in love with the written word…we agree, we disagree, we respect the opinion of others, and through reading we quench our thirst for knowledge as we stand united as a group of “bookies.”

Merry Christmas and happy reading,

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