|The Circle Reading Group||
The Plague ( Camus) - 7.86
The concesus was that the book is not the most exciting or gripping book to read but provides great discussion material and food for thought. Debate was lively and several questions were raised that didn't necessarily get decided ( What was the significance of Grand taking out all the adjectives in his "book"? Are there any 'heros' and did Camus favor a certain type of response to a crisis?) Several people stated that their rating of the book went up based on the discussion. PD
The Outermost House (Beston) - 8.67
A very small but dedicated group came to discuss the book and all in attendence rated it 9 or 10. The lower rating was due to two in absentia votes ( Ellen - why a 6?). The general agreement was that Beston's use of language was beautiful and precise -the word images he used evoked the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of the area and his time there. Overall it was a great book about nature, the small details we often don't take time to observe, and how much poorer our lives are when we don't take the time to connect to the natural world. The book is calming without being boring. At a later meeting a number of persons who did not attend the discussion said they found the book boring and hard to read
Unbroken (Hillebrand) - 8.5 ( approximate based on later recall of a number of members- generally people loved the book - even when emotionally difficult to read)
The Agony and the Estasy (Stone) - 7.71 General concensus was that the book gave a great sense of a very fascinating artist and man while describing the society and era in which he lived and worked. Some found that not knowing what was fact versus fiction quite frustrating while others said they found it an interesting story and didn't worry about that aspect. Everyone agreed it would be fun to read while in Italy - when you could walk the streets and see some of the sites described in detail in the book. PD
Just Kids ( Smith) -8.3 People generally liked the book; of the ten people who rated it one gave it a 7, and the rest gave it an 8 or 9. Had a great discussion about accuracies/inaccuracies in memoirs vs. historical fiction. People who had trouble with the fiction part of historical fiction last month had less trouble with not being able to prove that everything mentioned in this book happened - it was Patti Smith's "truth" and even if inaccurate told you something about her. PD
Hunger Games (Collins) - 9.55. One of the highest rated books since Blindness got straight 10s. It is not "Blindness" but the book works on so many levels- as an adventure story; a comment on the nature of humanity and power; our current obsession with reality television; surviving terrible situations with your humanity intact. So many of us want to discuss the whole series that the final two books are the pick for August. PD
Caleb's Crossing (Brooks) - 5.4 One of our lower ratings in a while. It wasn't that the book was aweful - but the author seemed not to be able to decide on the point of the book. Things started and then petered out; the most interesting questions were left unexplored, and no one could tell what was the climax of the book. We blamed the editor for the mess as much as the author. PD
Catching Fire and Mockingjay (Collins - Books 2and 3 of Hunger Games trilogy) -9.875 The rating says it all - highest ever since Blindness. Raises interesting questions about power, ends justifying the means, and personal choices in an imperfect and morally ambiguous world. The whole seres will become a classic. PD
The Road (McCarthy) - 7.5 (approx) was bleak, depressing and thought provoking with a good discussion.
Sea Change (Earle) - 6.5 (approx) was a book like Caleb's Crossing- in need of a good editor. Different people liked different parts but many felt that she couldn't decide if this was a personal memoir, an ocean "Silent Spring", a history of ocean exploration and science, or what?
Worst Hard Time (Egan) - 7.86 was eye opening for most of us regarding the horrors of the time/location. Again a good discussion book on the lessons from the era and whether our current actions reflect what was learned (global warming?). Writing was excellant but some wished he had followed fewer families during the period - it was hard to care about people who disappeared for long stretches of the book.
Book Selection - The weather and kids kept the attendance down but we still had 15 books to choose from. The charity of Choice for this year was Water For Life and we sent them over $200. New books are listed in the months of February through July above. We have picked a very short (62 pages?) book of poetry by our old club member John Mederios, for June and we will try to get him to come talk about it if possible.
The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey) - 8.6
The Snow Child was well-liked by all in attendance. The only rating below a 9 came from Dave who self-admittedly did not have the benefit of discussion or wine. Excellent character development and wonderful storytelling made this book a page-turner for many. The dominant theme that emerged from our discussion was the question of personal identity: what determined who each character was, who they became, how each was perceived by others and finally accepted for who they truly were.
Good Omens (Neil Gaimon and Terry Prachett) - 7.86
A small contingent braved the February cold to discuss Good Omens. The tone of the British humor was generally appreciated by all and it was especially enjoyable via audiobook. The number of characters was a bit overwhelming at times and the first half of the book more gripping than the second. All in all, a nice break from the more serious fare we have been covering recently.
Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafón) - 9.8
“The Shadow of the Wind” begins with a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by a father and son where the son, Daniel, discovers a book, aptly named “The Shadow of the Wind.” The book starts Daniel on a search for the author which leads to a dark, twisted story of mystery, revenge, and love. In his search for the author, Daniel grows not only in age but in maturity, learning to be the selfless person he yearns to be. Our discussion of the book centered around themes that included Christianity and “the book within a book,” as well as the way the translation seemed to enhance the story instead of detract from it. We all seemed to thoroughly enjoy the book.
Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbs) - 6.7
Everyone enjoyed reading “Cold Comfort Farm” but did not feel that it changed their lives. It helped to know that it was a parody of the types of pastoral romantic books popular in England in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but without that context most of us felt the book did not resonate, was dated and started a bit slow. The exception was Ada Boom and her using her "victimization” of what she “saw in the woodshed” to control the rest of the family which was very timeless and relevant across the ages. The most enthusiastic endorsement of the book was how the main character, Flora Poste, just refused to let that kind of victimization attitude run their lives and her willingness to ignore those prevailing attitudes and improve everyone’s lives. Everyone enjoyed the clever use of language from the names of the characters to the names of the cows to the descriptive words that were probably made up (e.g. clettering). There was general consensus that it might have been even more enjoyable to listen to the BBC radio version of the book. Hard to believe that the British Library selected it as book 88 on the list of 100 books Britons should read.
The Other Wes Moore (Wes Moore) - 8.5
We all appreciated this sobering, thought-provoking, true story, which gave us a view into a world none of us would otherwise know. The author’s non-judgmental tone helped the reader to really feel for these people and to appreciate the complexities of each of their situations. The main takeaways for us were the importance of relationships, community and education in people’s lives. The saving grace of the author’s life was his immediate and extended family values, positive role models, structure and educational opportunities. We felt that the ‘other’ Wes Moore could have also excelled if he had been given some of these same opportunities or role models.
Couplets for a Shrinking World (John Mederios)
We chose not to rate the book which as a group we agreed tended to invoke feelings of sadness and loss. We did have an interesting discussion on how to read and judge poetry (most of us felt that we could use some help); how poets can bare their souls in their work and its affect on themselves and others; and similar related ideas. The personal nature of some these poems seemed almost voyeuristic to some of us who knew John.
Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner) - 8.3
Most people enjoyed the book, but not the characters in the book. (A concept lost on some of us.) Themes discussed included the compromises and rough times any long term relationship must endure; what forgiveness means and second chances to get things right (illustrated by Susan's relationship with her grandson). Many people expressed an interest in reading more works by this author.
Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury) - 9.2
The discussion of this book centered on the vivid imagery the talented author could create without using a lot of unnecessary words. The chapters of character vignettes were woven together nicely to create a complete story of the summer of 1928. We wondered if the kids of today would appreciate or relate to the stories of a simpler time, yet agreed that much of the themes are still very modern.
What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty) - 8.5
Even though this book had a humorous tone, the main character deals with some heavy subjects: death, marriage, divorce, parenthood, relationships and the choice of what kind of person she really wanted to be. We asked ourselves the essential question of the book which is mainly: "Would the self you were ten years ago approve of your present self and the life you are living now?" We appreciated the rarity of second chances and the value of true friendships.
When the Emperor Was Divine (Julie Otsuka) - 7.1
A good discussion on both the book itself and the historical events described in the book. We felt the issues of discrimination and prejudice are universal and perhaps timeless. We discussed the possible reasons behind the deliberate choice of sparse writing style and how that could either illustrate ideas or disengage the reader. Whether we liked the book or not, it left you wanting to know more about that time in U.S. history and provoked thoughts about current issues.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) - 7.8
Mixed opinions of this book resulted in a 7.8 rating from the group. Overall we thought the story was very believable and true to life. The varied and complex relationships between the characters were dipicted very realistically and provided a basis for discussion. We also thought it would be a good read for an older teenager.
I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) - 6.3
This book received great reviews from critics and readers alike. As a group, we spent most of the discussion trying to determine the reason for this. We suspect that turn of the century rural English humor is lost on us. The book reminded many of us of Cold Comfort Farm, which was also not highly rated by us. Although the story was somewhat enjoyable, we found it hard to admire any of the characters, nor really laugh at them outright.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Kathryn Boo) - 7.0
Our discussion focused on the issues of poverty & corruption which the book raised, rather than much discussion on the book itself. Are the causes of corruption overpopulation? Lack of opportunity? Prejudice? Greed? Colonialism? We felt the book was not that well written and left us feeling hopeless, although it did give us a view into a world we knew little of. The book is a good book club book in that it raises several important and difficult issues for discussion.
The Late Homecomer (Kao Kalia Yang) - 7.7
We welcomed Maowee Lee as a special guest to our discussion. Maowee is Hmong and her family had similar experiences as the author of The Late Homecomer. Maowee confirmed that the book illustrates a common experience of Hmong people who have immigrated to the United States. Maowee graciously shared her story with us and answered our questions. We all enjoyed the book, but hoped for even more personal details about the author herself. We agreed that the story was more about her grandmother and about honoring her grandmother's life.
In the Garden of Beasts (Eric Larsson) - 6.8
A historical drama describing Berlin of 1933-37 through the lives of American Ambassador to Germany William Dodd and his family (wife, adult son and daughter) “In the Garden of Beasts” had mixed reviews from the book club. The daughter is the main character, probably because she had the best written record from letters and personal documents. However, she was seen as a disappointingly shallow person with questionably weak morals, taken in by socializing and glamour while being fairly oblivious to the atrocities of Hitler’s growing influence in Germany. The academic obsessions of William Dodd himself precluded him from being effective in the role of ambassador and he was clearly not suited for the political realities of the position. Some of us saw this as an interesting perspective on the upper middle class society of the day, raising the ever important questions of how people could have let the whole Nazi Germany machine come to such power. Is this self-centered, pleasure seeking phenotype common in current society and does it predict a risk for such evil being tolerated again? Were people so disillusioned from the war to end all wars that they wanted to avoid considering threats to a more pleasant existence? Some of the book club members felt the book was well written, raising these kinds of eternal questions and serving as an example of how “evil thrives when good men do nothing”. Other members felt the story was wrung out of the author’s research, knowing this was an important time in history but eventually finding a disappointing amount of interesting story in this chosen angle. There was a general consensus that the author tended to a bit of melodramatic foreshadowing, hinting at big things at chapter endings that were not fully developed in subsequent chapters.
The Professor & The Madman (Simon Winchester) - 7.8
A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary: Although the story was interesting, we felt reading this detailed non-fiction on the heels of "In The Garden of Beasts" was less than ideal. Of the two main characters: Professor James Murray and insane asylum inmate Dr. W. C. Minor, the latter was much more interesting and tragic. Reading about the process of how the dictionary was created proved fascinating in and of itself; taking 70 years! The story evoked amazement, appreciation and sympathy for everyone involved in this endeavor.
Life After Life (Kate Atkinson) - 7.5
Most of us really liked the concept of this book: one woman reliving the same life over and over, but making small adjustments based on past life experiences. Some thought the multiple repetitions of the life made the story more enjoyable and some found it frustrating.
Whale Talk (Chris Crutcher) - 8.7
This young adult book was full of extreme stereotypes, but that did not make the book less enjoyable. We all agreed that for the audience, the book was very relatable. We appreciated that it was geared toward a young male audience for which there is not as much available literature. A powerful well-written book to be recommended to any teenage boy.
Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline) - 8.8
We all really enjoyed this story based on real events and set in Minnesota. None of us had ever heard of the real orphan trains who brought orphaned immigrant children from the east coast to the farms of the Midwest. The story of Vivian was very believable and heart-wrenching. The parallel story of the modern day foster child Molly, helped to bring a nice closure and healing to both their stories.
The Pickup (Nadine Gordimer) 7.6
Our small group of four enjoyed a good discussion of this interesting book by a South African author. The author's writing style was challenging to read--at some times poetic and at other times clipped and impersonal. We thought the two main characters were both very ego-centric and immature. This made the book intriguing for some and irritating for others. Not identifying with either character made the story more of a surprise, as it was hard to anticipate what was going to happen. We felt it was a coming of age story where, by the end of the book, the character of Julie has started to mature, but still has a long way to go.
An Unneccessary Woman (Rabih Alameddine) 6.6
We were very divided on our opinions of this book. What drew some people in to relate to the main character did not grab many others. Aaliya lives alone and mostly in her head. She used the characters from books as a lens to see the world and her unconventional internal sharp wit to keep the world at arm's length. Only at the very end does she allow her neighbors to help her and get close to her, ending on a more hopeful note.