Monday, November 30, 2009

Genre Reading Group Recap

How does the Genre Reading Group work, you may ask?

Instead of each member reading the same book, GRG members select any book from an assigned fiction or nonfiction topic (selected by ballot). At our meetings, each participant tells the group a little about the book: why they chose it, a favorite scene or character, a favorite part, etc. This is a great way to learn how to talk about books and how to recommend them to others. We've all developed out of control to-be-read lists, I assure you! New members are always welcome!

The Genre Reading Group (GRG) finished up our last assigned reading of the year last week with fiction set in an Asian country!

Next month is our Salon Discussion on December 29th! Bring any book you would like to talk about other than those we have already discussed in the group. The library will be on Holiday Hours and will be closed but I will be here to let you in to the Conference Room. Since the library will be closed that evening, you will not be able to check out books. I will have the Pulitzer's ready next week if you would like to get a jump on selecting a book for January's meeting.

Here is the list of what we talked about last week:

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
From Library Journal
As in The Joy Luck Club (LJ 2/15/89), Tan unwinds another haunting tale that examines the ties binding Chinese Americans to their ancestors. Nearing divorce from her husband, Simon, Olivia Yee is guided by her elder half-sister, the irrepressible Kwan, into the heart of China. Olivia was five when 18-year-old Kwan first joined her family in the United States, and though always irritated by Kwan's oddities, Olivia was entranced by her eerie dreams of the ghost World of Yin. Only when visiting Kwan's home in Changmian does Olivia realize the dreams are, in Kwan's mind, memories from past lives. Kwan believes she must help Olivia and Simon reunite and thereby fix a broken promise from a previous incarnation. Tan tells a mysterious, believable story and delivers Kwan's clipped, immigrant voice and engaging personality with charming clarity. Highly recommended.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Product Description
When The Bastard of Istanbul was published in Turkey, Elif Shafak was accused by nationalist lawyers of insulting Turkish identity. The charges were later dropped, and now readers in America can discover for themselves this bold and powerful tale. Populated with vibrant characters, The Bastard of Istanbul is the story of two families, one Turkish and one Armenian American, and their struggle to forge their unique identities against the backdrop of Turkey’s violent history. Filled with humor and understanding, this exuberant, dramatic novel is about memory and forgetting, about the tension between the need to examine the past and the desire to erase it.

The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan
From Booklist
With an assured voice and a deep understanding of her characters’ moral values, Viswanathan breathes life into the social changes that swept through early- to-mid-twentieth-century Tamil Nadu, India. In 1896 10-year-old Sivakami becomes the child bride of a healer predicted to die young. Left a widow at 18, she dutifully obeys her Brahmin heritage’s millennia-old customs—strict rules dictating her appearance, food preparations, even whom she may speak with or touch. Sivakami devotes her life to her family, but her decisions on daughter Thangam’s marriage and son Vairum’s secular education occasionally have heartbreaking results. Janaki, Sivakami’s similarly conservative granddaughter, later grows to adulthood in an India that comes to view Brahmins not as a proud, mutually supportive people but as racially pure bigots—an opinion her uncle Vairum shares. Despite the saga’s length, there are no dull moments or extraneous scenes. Most impressively, Viswanathan immerses readers in the realities of the caste system from both sides; in telling a universal story of generational differences on a personal level, she makes a vanished world feel completely authentic. Superbly done.

Explore library resources on the Indian Caste System.

The Indian Caste System via Wikipedia

Our discussion of this book brought up another with a similar theme, Sally Gunning's The Widow's War
From Publishers Weekly
Mystery author Gunning (Fire Water) moves to literary historical with this provocative tale of a whaling widow determined to forge a new life in colonial Cape Cod. When Lyddie Berry's husband drowns in 1761, her grief is compounded by the discovery that he's willed her the traditional widow's share—one-third use, but not ownership, of his estate. Lyddie's care, and the bulk of the estate, have been entrusted to their closest male relative, son-in-law Nathan Clarke, husband to their daughter Mehitable and a man used to ordering a household around. Lyddie's struggle to maintain a place in her radically changed home soon brings her into open conflict with an increasingly short-tempered Nathan and his children from two previous marriages.

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
Product Description
In 1959, a young woman, Haruko, marries the Crown Prince of Japan. She is the first nonaristocratic woman to enter the mysterious, hermetic monarchy. Met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress, Haruko is controlled at every turn, suffering a nervous breakdown after finally giving birth to a son. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman to accept the marriage proposal of her son, with tragic consequences. Based on extensive research, The Commoner is a stunning novel about a brutally rarified and controlled existence, and the complex relationship between two isolated women who are truly understood only by each other.

Q & A by Vikras Swarup
Product Description
Vikas Swarup's spectacular debut novel opens in a jail cell in Mumbai, India, where Ram Mohammad Thomas is being held after correctly answering all twelve questions on India's biggest quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion? It is hard to believe that a poor orphan who has never read a newspaper or gone to school could win such a contest. But through a series of exhilarating tales Ram explains to his lawyer how episodes in his life gave him the answer to each question. Ram takes us on an amazing review of his own history -- from the day he was found as a baby in the clothes donation box of a Delhi church to his employment by a faded Bollywood star to his adventure with a security-crazed Australian army colonel to his career as an overly creative tour guide at the Taj Mahal. Swarup's Q & A is a beguiling blend of high comedy, drama, and romance that reveals how we know what we know -- not just about trivia, but about life itself. Cutting across humanity in all its squalor and glory, Vikas Swarup presents a kaleidoscopic vision of the struggle between good and evil -- and what happens when one boy has no other choice in life but to survive. This is the book on which the movie Slumdog Millionaire was based.

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
Product Description
Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of the beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
From Bookmarks Magazine
Like Lisa See's previous works, Shanghai Girls is a rich, historical novel that portrays the immigrant experience and the bonds of sisterhood. In deft, graceful prose, See depicts the challenges and hardships -- many unimaginable -- that the Chin sisters face. However, despite the realistic detail and excellent research, particularly in the portrayals of Angel Island and the poverty-ridden China City, some critics thought that the descriptions about the women's divergent lives in Los Angeles slowed the story. And while most reviewers praised the sympathetic, flesh-and-blood characters, a few thought they succumbed to cultural platitudes and lacked introspection into their relationships and self-deceptions. Yet despite these flaws, Shanghai Girls is a compelling, educational portrait of Chinese assimilation, sure to be enjoyed by readers of See's previous work.

We talked a bit about The Big Read selection, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, for April 2010. Since the daytime book group here is going to be discussing Twain's book, I thought it would compliment nicely to read Coming-of-Age novels in April. Weirdly enough, there is a word for coming-of-age novels...bildungsroman. In the spirit of adventure, the other interesting word we discussed was schadenfreude.

Call or email if you have questions/comments/concerns!


All review material acquired from

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