Monday, January 5, 2009

Genre Reading Group

If you are looking for a fun and interesting book group to join, look no further than the Emmet O'Neal Library's Genre Reading Group! The GRG differs from a traditional book group in that we do not read and discuss one book, we read and discuss books on one topic. Discussions are wide-ranging and the major side effect of attending the meeting is a significantly larger to-be-read stack of books!

Our next meeting will be January 27th at 6:30pm in the Library's Conference Room and we will be discussing Civil War (American) fiction. There is a selection of books on reserve for interested participants at the 2nd floor Reference Desk so come by any time during regular library hours and browse. You are always free to use your home library (if it isn’t EOL!) or local bookstore to make your selection as long as it is a fiction novel set during the American Civil War.

The December meeting was a Salon Discussion of our Favorite Books of 2008! It did not matter if they were new, old, freshly read, or an old favorite re-enjoyed...just as long as it was a favorite of the year. You could find YOUR new favorite in the following list of titles and series we discussed:

The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
Fun fantasy as well as an ExCeLlEnT historical fiction title. I read that this series has been optioned by Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings movie fame!

The Miss Julia series by Ann Ross
Small town humor, lovable characters, hilarious hijinks!

Brings to mind the Southern Sisters mysteries by Anne George

and the Mitford Years series by Jan Karon
A Game of Thrones, the first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
A Dance with Dragons (not yet published, due out October 27, 2009)
A particularly risqué version of Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, takes place in the fictional medieval country of Westeros. The author is not shy about disposing of characters so beware loving any one character too much. Compulsively readable and addictive. You will ignore things in your house and life to get these massive tomes read.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson is part of a crime/thriller trilogy (followed by The Girl Who Played With Fire [July 28, 2009] and Castles in the Sky[working title, may change]). Larsson lived to experience the first of his books become a phenomenon in his homeland (Sweden), but died of a heart attack at age 50 without seeing any of his international success.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond.
Collapse is the glass-half-empty follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns, Germs, and Steel explained the geographic and environmental reasons why some human populations have flourished, Collapse uses the same factors to examine why ancient societies, including the Anasazi of the American Southwest and the Viking colonies of Greenland, as well as modern ones such as Rwanda, have fallen apart. Nonfiction and fiction readers alike will also enjoy The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl by Timothy Egan. Egan tells an extraordinary tale in this visceral account of how America's great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the ferocious plains winds stirred up an endless series of "black blizzards" that were like a biblical plague: "Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains" in what became known as the Dust Bowl. Heartbreaking, staggering, sobering, I can’t say enough good things about this title. National Book Award Winner!

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Also of interest, Larson’s Thunderstruck. Larson sticks to a formula that works: pairing the story of a progressive development, in this case, wireless communication, with an exciting murder mystery set in England. The murderer in this book is Hawley Harvey Crippen, a mild-mannered doctor and unlikely killer, who murdered his overbearing wife to be with his young lover. Crippen and Guglielmo Marconi take center stage in the book, and their stories gradually come together as Marconi's invention is integral in apprehending Crippen.

During our discussions we wandered into the topic of re-reading books and I admitted to having two books that I have read so many times that I had to repair them with tape and an empty cereal box. I was coerced into mentioning them here even though they are out of print, though available used at attractive prices. Dark Horse and Lighting’s Daughter by Mary Herbert. These two books relate the story of Gabria, a young woman orphaned when her entire clan is slaughtered by a rival clan through the use of outlawed magic. As a woman with no family, Gabria is now threatened with being an outcast. To claim revenge for her family’s murder, she must assume the identity of her slain twin brother and try to join another clan. Magical steeds, swordfights, sorcery and a little romance never hurt anyone.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson. Some failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse's unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world's second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town's first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search For Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert grafts the structure of romantic fiction upon the inquiries of reporting in this sprawling yet methodical travelogue of soul-searching and self-discovery. Plagued with despair after a nasty divorce, the author, in her early 30s, divides a year equally among three dissimilar countries, exploring her competing urges for earthly delights and divine transcendence. This is one of those love-it-or-hate-it titles. For some, Gilbert comes across as selfish and whiny while for others it is a journey taken with a dear friend. I fell into the latter group and this book has pride of place with a few other treasures on my living room coffee table.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. In Barry's captivating debut, Towner Whitney, a dazed young woman descended from a long line of mind readers and fortune tellers, has survived numerous traumas and returned to her hometown of Salem, Mass., to recover. Any tranquility in her life is short-lived when her beloved great-aunt Eva drowns under circumstances suggesting foul play. Towner's suspicions are taken with a grain of salt given her history of hallucinatory visions and self-harm. I REALLY love this book! Towner is one of the best characters living in my mind from all my years of reading. I start this book, each time, with clarity of mind but can never quite recall every exact detail of the beginning by the time I reach the end. Towner’s amorphous narration clouds what you think you know.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. At the start of Davidson's powerful debut, the unnamed narrator, a coke-addled pornographer, drives his car off a mountain road in a part of the country that's never specified. During his painful recovery from horrific burns suffered in the crash, the narrator plots to end his life after his release from the hospital. When a schizophrenic fellow patient, Marianne Engel, begins to visit him and describe her memories of their love affair in medieval Germany, the narrator is at first skeptical, but grows less so. Eventually, he abandons his elaborate suicide plan and envisions a life with Engel, a sculptress specializing in gargoyles. Davidson, in addition to making his flawed protagonist fully sympathetic, blends convincing historical detail with deeply felt emotion in both Engel's recollections of her past life with the narrator and her moving accounts of tragic love. Once launched into this intense tale of unconventional romance, few readers will want to put it down. My absolute FaVoRiTe book of the year! Word of warning though, the first 75-100 pages are not for the faint of heart as you will get a graphic description of the recovery of a burn victim. (For those at the meeting who were curious about general gargoyle history, from World Book: a decorated waterspout that projects from the upper part of a building or tower. To protect building walls from rain water running off the roof, ancient Greek architects often attached terra cotta or stone lion heads to building cornices. A hollow channel inside the heads directed the water safely clear of the building. During the Middle Ages, gargoyles became a familiar part of Gothic buildings. Gothic architects adopted the ancient Greek design and created fantastic, carved downspouts. The figures were part animal and part human. The largest ones extended as much as 3 feet (91 centimeters) from the walls of the building. The term gargoyle is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to all sculptures of grotesque beasts on medieval buildings. When they are not used for drains, such creatures are more properly called chimeras.)

One of my favorite new authors published a book in 2008, Sarah Addison Allen! The Sugar Queen chronicles the late-arrived coming of age of Ms. Josey Cirrini. Josey is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. A rollicking good time with a sweet, heart of gold heroine! Her other title, Garden Spells, has the same small town humor, sweet romance, and small touch of magic!

All reviews pulled from 

Contact Holley Wesley for more information about the Genre Reading Group!
205/445-1117 or

Happy Reading!

1 comment:

jessicajames said...

I hope readers will consider my Civil War novel, Shades of Gray, which has won two Best Regional Fiction awards and was named Favorite Book of 2008 by the Book Connection book review site. It has also climbed to #3 on the Amazon bestseller list. ISBN 9780979600005.