Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Genre Reading Group Recap!

The GRG met last Tuesday night to discuss Pulitzer Prize winners, fiction and nonfiction. Everyone present agreed that this category was much more pleasant than our experiences with the National Book Award. Members read a very broad range of books, see for yourself! (review material pulled from Amazon.com)

In three newly democratic countries in Eastern Europe (East Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland), communism's former victims and jailers are struggling to make sense of their history - and sometimes rewrite it. In this groundbreaking, stylishly reported book, a journalist travels across the battlefields of memory and asks: Who is guilty? How shall they be punished? And who is qualified to judge them in states where almost every citizen was an accomplice? Seeking the hard answers to these questions, Tina Rosenberg tells of conscience and complicity, courage and optimism.
(The reader made particular note of the wealth of primary source material the author includes in the form of interviews and stories from people there on the front lines of the transition from communism in these countries)

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
This fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, captured in Daisy's vivacious yet reflective voice, has been winning over readers since its publication in 1995, when it won the Pulitzer Prize. After a youth marked by sudden death and loss, Daisy escapes into conventionality as a middle-class wife and mother. Years later she becomes a successful garden columnist and experiences the kind of awakening that thousands of her contemporaries in mid-century yearned for but missed in alcoholism, marital infidelity and bridge clubs. The events of Daisy's life, however, are less compelling than her rich, vividly described inner life--from her memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death. Shields' sensuous prose and her deft characterizations make this, her sixth novel, her most successful yet.
(This brought another, more recent, biographical fiction novel to the discussion: Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses, about her maternal grandmother. Readers may remember Walls' other book, a memoir, The Glass Castle.)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
From Booklist *Starred Review* “Hell. We’re always alone. Born alone. Die alone,” says Olive Kitteridge, redoubtable seventh-grade math teacher in Crosby, Maine. Anyone who gets in Olive’s way had better watch out, for she crashes unapologetically through life like an emotional storm trooper. She forces her husband, Henry, the town pharmacist, into tactical retreat; and she drives her beloved son, Christopher, across the country and into therapy. But appalling though Olive can be, Strout manages to make her deeply human and even sympathetic, as are all of the characters in this “novel in stories.”

The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The Hours is both an homage to Virginia Woolf and very much its own creature. Even as Michael Cunningham brings his literary idol back to life, he intertwines her story with those of two more contemporary women. One gray suburban London morning in 1923, Woolf awakens from a dream that will soon lead to Mrs. Dalloway. In the present, on a beautiful June day in Greenwich Village, 52-year-old Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her oldest love, a poet dying of AIDS. And in Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown, pregnant and unsettled, does her best to prepare for her husband's birthday, but can't seem to stop reading Woolf. These women's lives are linked both by the 1925 novel and by the few precious moments of possibility each keeps returning to.
(The Virginia Woolf chapter of Jonah Lehrer's Proust was a Neuroscientist returned to my mind again and again as I read this exquisite little book. It was also made into a movie starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Stephen Dillane.)

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Like most of Richard Russo's earlier novels, Empire Falls is a tale of blue-collar life, which itself increasingly resembles a kind of high-wire act performed without the benefit of any middle-class safety nets. This time, though, the author has widened his scope, producing a comic and compelling ensemble piece. There is, to be sure, a protagonist: fortysomething Miles Roby, proprietor of the local greasy spoon and the recently divorced father of a teenage daughter. But Russo sets in motion a large cast of secondary characters, drawn from every social stratum of his depressed New England mill town.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: one eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye--and his heart--belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.
(The reader noted that while the book was very interesting, the National Geographic documentary based on this work is superb!)

February's topic is short stories so grab a book and come tell us about it on February 23rd at 6:30pm. I have a selection of PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction-winning authors pulled so feel free to have a look or browse our short story collection!

Happy reading!


April said...

Holley - Did you read Olive Kitteridge? I was just wondering what you thought. I didn't care for it at all! And I kept seeing all these great reviews for it. I wondered if it was just me or are there other people out there who disliked the book.

Emmet O'Neal Library said...

No, I read Cunningham's The Hours, but the person who did read OK really liked it. This person did admit that OK, as a character, was harsh and unlikeable, but that OK grew on this person the more they read. I've recently checked out the audiobook of OK and will be sure to post my thoughts. I've heard just as many people say they've hated it as have said they loved it so I'm very interested to see into which camp I fall!