Friday, December 30, 2011

GRG Recap - Salon Discussion

Our Salon Discussion consisted of a small, enthusiastic group of post-holiday readers! We snacked and laughed and discussed a wide variety of books. Our January topic will center on fiction books with animal narrators. I will be very interested to see what threads of discussion emerge from this genre! The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31st at 6:30 p.m.

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award
Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine (“To watch Emperor catching on with teachers and students in vast numbers is to grasp what must have happened at the outset for novels like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird” —The New York Times) is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ nearly a century ago.

In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singularly spellbinding novel about the American dream.

(General Discussion)
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Lily is haunted by memories–of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.

In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu (“women’s writing”). Some girls were paired with laotongs, “old sames,” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become “old sames” at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.

(General Discussion)

The novels of Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club (1989)
The Kitchen God's Wife (1991)
The Hundred Secret Senses (1995)
The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001)
Saving Fish from Drowning (2005)
The Valley of Amazement (2012)

Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon

Readers of the nine bestselling Mitford novels have been captivated by Jan Karon’s “gift for illuminating the struggles that creep into everyday lives—along with a vividly imagined world” (People). They learned quickly that “after you’ve spent time in Mitford, you’ll want to come back” (Chicago Tribune). Millions eagerly awaited the publication of each novel, relishing the story of the bookish and bighearted Episcopal priest and the extraordinary fullness of his seemingly ordinary life.

Now, Jan Karon enchants us with the story of the newly retired priest’s spur-of-the-moment adventure. For the first time in decades, Father Tim returns to his birthplace, Holly Springs, Mississippi, in response to a mysterious, unsigned note saying simply: “Come home.” Little does he know how much these two words will change his life. A story of long-buried secrets, forgiveness, and the wonder of discovering new people, places, and depth of feeling, Home to Holly Springs will enthrall new readers and longtime fans alike.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

"Whatever time we have," he said, "it will be time enough."

Eva Ward returns to the only place she truly belongs, the old house on the Cornish coast, seeking happiness in memories of childhood summers. There she finds mysterious voices and hidden pathways that sweep her not only into the past, but also into the arms of a man who is not of her time.

But Eva must confront her own ghosts, as well as those of long ago. As she begins to question her place in the present, she comes to realize that she too must decide where she really belongs.

From Susanna Kearsley, author of the New York Times bestseller The Winter Sea and a voice acclaimed by fans of Gabaldon, du Maurier, and Niffenegger alike, The Rose Garden is a haunting exploration of love, family, the true meaning of home, and the ties that bind us together.

(General Discussion)
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

History has all but forgotten...In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.
Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.
But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her...

I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

It’s Christmastime, and the precocious Flavia de Luce—an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving—is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. But she is soon distracted when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ decaying English estate, to shoot a movie starring the famed Phyllis Wyvern. Amid a raging blizzard, the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey gathers at Buckshaw to watch Wyvern perform, yet nobody is prepared for the evening’s shocking conclusion: a body found, past midnight, strangled to death with a length of film. But who among the assembled guests would stage such a chilling scene? As the storm worsens and the list of suspects grows, Flavia must use every ounce of sly wit at her disposal to ferret out a killer hidden in plain sight.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander

To create something that will last is Claire Laurent's most fervent desire as an artist. It's also her greatest weakness. When her fraud of a father deals her an unexpected hand, Claire is forced to flee from New Orleans to Nashville, only a year after the War Between the States has ended. Claire's path collides with that of Sutton Monroe, and she considers him a godsend for not turning her in to the authorities. But when they meet again and he refuses to come to her aid, she realizes she's sorely misjudged the man. Trading an unwanted destiny for an unknown future, Claire finds herself in the middle of Nashville's elite society and believes her dream of creating a lasting impression in the world of art may finally be within reach.

All that Sutton Monroe holds dear lies in ruin. He's determined to reclaim his heritage and to make the men who murdered his father pay. But what he discovers on his quest for vengeance reveals a truth that may cost him more than he ever imagined.

Set at Nashville's historical Belmont Mansion, a stunning antebellum manor built by Mrs. Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America in the 1860s, A Lasting Impression showcases the deep, poignant, unforgettable characters that set Tamera's stories apart and provides an inspiring love story that will capture readers' hearts and leave them eager for more.

The Sibling Effect by Jeffrey Kluger

A senior writer at Time magazine explores what scientists and researchers are discovering about sibling bonds, the longest- lasting relationships we have in our lives.

Nobody affects us as deeply as our brothers and sisters-not parents, not children, not friends. From the time we-and they-are born, our siblings are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales. They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to, how to conduct friendships and when to walk away. Our siblings are the only people we know who truly qualify as partners for life.
In this groundbreaking book, renowned science writer Jeffrey Kluger explores the complex world of siblings in a way that is equal parts science, psychology, sociology, and memoir. Based heavily on new and emerging research, The Sibling Effect examines birth order, twin studies, genetic encoding of behavioral traits, emotional disorders and their effects on-and effects from-sibling relationships, and much more.

What are YOU reading?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Bookies Discussion: The Buddha In The Attic

Morning Friends!
The Bookies met this morning to discuss Julie Otsuka's The Buddha In The Attic. It's a brief, but interesting little book, and one for which Otsuka was nominated for a National Book Award. We had a great discussion! The novel is an interesting one, as its told in first person plural, which was really different! Many said they though it was like reading a poem or stream of consciousness writing. Ellen B. said the most interesting thing today, she thought the narrative reminded her of a Greek chorus, which is a cool idea because the whole point of the chorus was to give a voice to the people. The voices you hear are  largely those of Japanese women, that is until the book shifts to the internment camps. It's really a cool little book.
 We also talked about the differences in cultures and cultural groups as immigrants move into the country. A few Bookies brought up the obvious parallels between Muslim Americans during 9-11 and Hispanic immigrants today. Some novels that we discussed as having parallels to The Buddha In The Attic:

  • Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay which is about the roundup of Jews in Paris during WWII
  • The Hotel On The Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford which is another great story about the Japanese internment camps in the West during WWII. This is also a previous Bookies title which we all really enjoyed.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck which always comes up when we discuss immigration and the West Coast. This is also another previous Bookies read and one we refer to all the time. 
  • Lisa See's novels, especially Shanghai Girls for its moving story of the immigration experience.
Last, but not least, The Bookies voted on our titles for the first half of 2012. Here's our list:

January 10, 2012
In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

February 14, 2012
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

March 13, 2012
Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

April 10, 2012
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
*this month The Bookies and other library book groups will take a trip to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery on April 21st to see their production of the play*

May 8, 2012
The Greater Journey: Americans In Paris by David McCullough

June 12, 2012
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

July 10, 2012
The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

At today's meeting we had three new members, who added a lot to the discussion. So, if you're interested in joining a book group, please consider The Bookies, we'd love to have you!

For more information about The Bookies, please email me, Katie Moellering at

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Library Elves

They're hiding...can you find them?

If you do, you get a prize!  It's just that simple.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the art & science of happiness

Just a few housekeeping items before we get down to business. Our next meeting will be Tuesday evening December 27 at 6:30pm. The Library will be on Holiday Hours and closes at 6pm but I will be here to let GRG’ers in the building, so come on down. December is our biannual Salon Discussion so read ANY book(s) you’d like to share with the group as there will be no assigned topic. We’ll also be voting on the next six months of genres at this meeting so if you have any topics you’d like to see on the ballot please do let me know.

This was another exceptional, WOW-factor meeting! Who knew there was so much to discuss about happiness, but I don’t believe we had a lag in conversation the entire evening. What is happiness? How can it be (or can it be at all) codified? Who studies it and how? Should we all be students of it? How do you find it and, more importantly, keep it? Is there a happiness “status quo?” All of this and more was on the discussion table last night.

The Happiness Project; Or, Why I spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

(Gretchin Rubin’s blog, also called The Happiness Project, is online at You can sign up for the Moment of Happiness Daily Quotation email by CLICKING HERE.)

The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being by Derek Bok

During the past forty years, thousands of studies have been carried out on the subject of happiness. Some have explored the levels of happiness or dissatisfaction associated with typical daily activities, such as working, seeing friends, or doing household chores. Others have tried to determine the extent to which income, family, religion, and other factors are associated with the satisfaction people feel about their lives. The Gallup organization has begun conducting global surveys of happiness, and several countries are considering publishing periodic reports on the growth or decline of happiness among their people. One nation, tiny Bhutan, has actually made "Gross National Happiness" the central aim of its domestic policy. How might happiness research affect government policy in the United States--and beyond? In The Politics of Happiness, former Harvard president Derek Bok examines how governments could use the rapidly growing research data on what makes people happy--in a variety of policy areas to increase well-being and improve the quality of life for all their citizens.

Bok first describes the principal findings of happiness researchers. He considers how reliable the results appear to be and whether they deserve to be taken into account in devising government policies. Recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of happiness research, Bok looks at the policy implications for economic growth, equality, retirement, unemployment, health care, mental health, family programs, education, and government quality, among other subjects.

Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth by Ed Diener

Is being happy beneficial to your health, wealth, and social relationships? Is there an optimal level of happiness for obtaining your goals? Is there a happiness set-point, and can it change? Do you know your level of psychological wealth?

Utilizing his groundbreaking development of the field of subjective well-being, Dr. Ed Diener, ¬recognized as the world's leading expert on happiness, challenges our modern assumptions about the causes and consequences of happiness. Ed and his son Robert Biswas-Diener share the results of three decades of research on happiness to help unlock the mysteries of this elusive Holy Grail. In Happinessthe father and son team presents scientific evidence revealing that happiness is not overrated, and is good for people’s health, social relationships, job success, longevity, and altruism. They also show why "super-happiness" is not a worthy goal.

Happy for No Reason: Seven Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Shimoff and Carol Kline

From the bestselling coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul and a leading contributor to The Secret, comes a fresh, new, practical program for finding and maintaining the happiness we all seek.

(This was a great meeting for quotes and my favorite the reader of this book shared was, “Genuinely happy people are happy for no reason. They bring happiness to their experiences rather than expecting their experiences to bring them happiness.”)

Out of the Blue: Delight Comes into Our Lives by Mark Victor Hansen and Barbara Nichols

In Out of the Blue, Mark Victor Hansen, coauthor of the phenomenal New York Times bestsellers Chicken Soup for the Soul, A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul and A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Barbara Nichols show how the experience of delight opens us to compassion and spiritual awareness, and includes 52 "Delight Igniters" -- ways to create happiness and share it with others.

Out of the Blue includes stories by James Michener, Deepak Chopra, Brian Boitano, Wayne Dyer, Cathy Lee Crosby, Victoria Jackson, Wally Amos and other well-known celebrities who have brought delight to the world. It also features stories by ordinary people who found delight in their everyday lives. Their personal stories demonstrate how we can contribute to the creation of a most desirable and entirely possible time -- the Age of Delight.

(My favorite quote from this book is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “…if at the end…I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.”)

How to Eat a Small Country: A Family’s Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time by Amy Finley

A professionally trained cook turned stay-at-home mom, Amy Finley decided on a whim to send in an audition tape for season three of The Next Food Network Star, and the impossible happened: she won. So why did she walk away from it all? A triumphant and endearing tale of family, food, and France, Amy’s story is an inspiring read for women everywhere.

While Amy was hoping to bring American families together with her simple Gourmet Next Doorrecipes, she ended up separating from her French husband, Greg, who didn’t want to be married to a celebrity. Amy felt betrayed. She was living a dream—or was she? She was becoming famous, cooking for people out there in TV land, in thirty minutes, on a kitchen set . . . instead of cooking and eating with her own family at home.

In a desperate effort to work things out, Amy makes the controversial decision to leave her budding television career behind and move her family to France, where she and Greg lived after they first met and fell in love. How to Eat a Small Country is Amy’s personal story of her rewarding struggle to reunite through the simple, everyday act of cooking and eating together. Meals play a central role in Amy’s new life, from meeting the bunny destined to become their classic Burgundian dinner oflapin à la moutarde to dealing with the aftermath of a bouillabaisse binge. And as she, Greg, and their two young children wend their way through rural France, they gradually reweave the fabric of their family.

At times humorous and heart-wrenching, and always captivating and delicious, How to Eat a Small Country chronicles the food-filled journey that one couple takes to stay together.

(I compared this book with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love at the meeting and was delighted to find this review, "How to Eat a Small Country shares a few key traits with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in particular an infectiously likeable narrator and mouthwatering descriptions of European food. But Finley’s memoir is less precious, more honest, and ultimately more rewarding." -- Boston Globe)

My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock

After losing her high-octane job as an entertainment blogger, Noelle Hancock was lost. About to turn twenty-nine, she'd spent her career writing about celebrities' lives and had forgotten how to live her own. Unemployed and full of self-doubt, she had no idea what she wanted out of life. She feared change—in fact, she feared almost everything. Once confident and ambitious, she had become crippled by anxiety, lacking the courage required even to attend a dinner party—until inspiration struck one day in the form of a quote on a chalkboard in a coffee shop:

"Do one thing every day that scares you."
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Painfully timid as a child, Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated herself to facing her fears, a commitment that shaped the rest of her life. With Eleanor as her guide, Noelle spends the months leading up to her thirtieth birthday pursuing a "Year of Fear." From shark diving to fighter pilot lessons, from tap dancing and stand-up comedy to confronting old boyfriends, her hilarious and harrowing adventures teach her about who she is, and what she can become—lessons she makes vital for all of us.

(Outside of the “Do one thing…” quote, which I have on my car in the form of a bumper sticker, my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote from this book is “My life can be so arranged that I can live on whatever I have. If I cannot live as I have lived in the past, I shall live differently, and living differently does not mean living with less attention to the things that make life gracious and pleasant or with less enjoyment of things of the mind.”)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday ereader shopping info (just in time for Black Friday)

Are you interested in getting an ereader as a holiday gift? Lots of people are, so I’ve put together a few thoughts about the ereaders I have used to help you as a shopping guide. Of course, these are just my opinions; I could be wrong. Also, I’m not telling you which ereader to buy. That’s your decision. I’m just offering my experience and opinion to help you with your decision.

I’m not going to focus on the technical details, because honestly most people just don’t care about the operating system or platform or resolution or any of those technical details. If you do, then this isn’t the guide for you. Most people want to know, in plain English, how they can use it, if they can borrow library books on it, and if it is going to be easy to use.

Here at Emmet O’Neal Library, we’ve had a fair amount of experience helping people use ereaders to borrow ebooks from our collection. It’s not as simple as purchasing ebooks, but the price is right (free).

Nook, by Barnes & Noble
You can borrow ebooks from the library to read on all the Nooks, but you will have a few extra steps to go through to make that happen. It will involve downloading a program called Adobe Digital Editions onto your computer and setting up an account with Adobe. This is because Adobe manages the “digital rights” to the ebooks you borrow from our library. You will also need to hook your Nook up to your computer to transfer your ebook to your Nook.

Nook Simple Touch ($99) ereader (on sale at Barnes & Noble on Black Friday for $79)
This is a solid ereader that lets you buy books from Barnes & Noble very easily as long as you are connected to a wifi network (which just happens to be a free service at our library). You can read it outside at the pool or the beach. However, you will need some light source for reading in bed (unlike the tablets that are also ereaders). The battery should last a couple of months, which is a pretty nice feature.

Color Nook ($199) ereader/small tablet computer
This is a small tablet about half the size of an iPad. It is easy to use for buying ebooks just like the Simple Touch. It’s not great for reading outside because it doesn’t use eink. It will overheat in the sun, too. The battery life is about 12 hours or so, so you’ll need to charge it every day or so.
It has a Web browser and a few apps, but I thought the screen was too small to really enjoy the the tablet functionality.

Nook Tablet ($249) ereader/small tablet computer
I haven’t played with one of these, but by all accounts it should be just like the Color Nook, with a nicer screen.

Kindle, by Amazon
You can borrow ebooks from the library now to read on all the Kindles. On any of the ones that are available for purchase now, the process is fairly easy and does not require additional software – you just need an Amazon account and a valid library card. The Kindle Fire allows you to borrow without even needing a separate computer. If you get a Kindle with 3G access, though, you can’t check out public library ebooks on the 3G network – you have to use wifi for that (did I mention we have free wifi at the library?)

However, Penguin recently quit allowing its ebooks to be lent on Kindles through library ebook systems. We don’t know yet what impact that will have. Amazon also has its own lending library through its Amazon Prime Membership. That’s got nothing to do with our library, though.

Kindle ($79 or $109, depending on if you allow ads or not)
The Kindle is the latest generation of the original Amazon ereader. You can read it outside easily, but in bed you’re going to need some light to read it. The battery life is supposed to last up to two months.

Kindle Touch ($99 to $189, depending on if you allow ads and/or want 3G access)
This ereader is comparable to the Nook Simple Touch. You can read it outside easily, but in bed you’re going to need some light to read it. The battery life is supposed to last up to two months. You can get a cheaper version if you’re okay with advertisements being displayed on the screen when you’re not reading.

Kindle Fire ($199) ereader/small tablet computer
The Kindle Fire is a small tablet that is primarily designed to deliver any content available through Amazon (ebooks, movies, music, etc.). Of the various ereaders I’ve examined over the past two or three years, it is the easiest to use right out of the box. Amazon sends it to you, you take it out of the box, it knows who you are and sets itself up with your Amazon account all by itself. You can pretty much start reading right away.
However, it does not have 3G capabilities, so you can’t download new content unless you are in range of a wifi network (which, by the way, we have for free at the library).

Apple iPad2 ($499 and up) tablet
The iPad2 is a full-sized tablet (about twice the screen size of the Kindle Fire and the Color Nook) that has several ereading apps available for free (Nook, Kindle, iBooks, and the Overdrive app that is our library’s -book collection uses). The setup for the iPad is relatively simple, but you will need iTunes installed on a computer plus an iTunes account to get it set up right out of the box. You will then need to download the ereader apps before you can use it as an ereader. On the other hand, you can also use it for email, Web surfing, writing (especially if you get an external keyboard for it), taking pictures, making videos, etc. If you don’t want to be tied to a wifi network to make purchases or use interactive content, you’ll need a 3G model, those are about $650.
For borrowing library ebooks, using the iPad is pretty seamless. You don’t have to use a separate computer or be tethered to a computer.

Please note that the prices above were accurate when I wrote this blog entry - they can change at the discretion of the sellers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

GRG Recap - Alabama Authors

There’s nothing like local authors to get a spirited discussion going! In anticipation of an author luncheon hosted by Southern Magic, the Birmingham chapter of Romance Writers of America, many of our GRGers read titles from authors scheduled to attend the event, but any book by an Alabama author was eligible for discussion.

On November 29th at 6:30pm, we’ll be discussing books on the art and science of happiness. This should be a very interesting discussion, so don’t miss out! Have company in town for the Thanksgiving holiday? Bring them with you, we all love to see new faces!

On to the list:

When Light Breaks by Patti Callahan Henry
Garnering comparisons to Anne Rivers Siddons and Pat Conroy, Patti Callahan Henry has woven her lyrical Southern voice throughout the Lowcountry landscape. Now, as two women from opposite sides of the same sea meet, a tale unfolds that will draw readers into the heart's remembrances-and the tender awakenings of first love.

Though bogged down in the stress of planning her elaborate wedding to a professional golfer, twenty-seven-year-old Kara Larson still makes time to visit ninety-six-year-old Maeve Mahoney at her nursing home. And as Maeve recounts the rambling story of her first love back in Ireland, Kara is driven to remember her own first love: childhood neighbor Jack Sullivan.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: P.C. Henry’s novel features the popular story-within-a-story plot device and we came up with the following favorites that also feature it.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flag
It’s the story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women, of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present, for Evelyn and for us, will never quite be the same.  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, with humor and drama, and with an ending that would fill with smiling tears the Whistle Stop Lake...if they only had a lake....

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

The movie, Titanic
Nothing on Earth can rival the epic spectacle and breathtaking grandeur of Titanic the sweeping love story that sailed into the hearts of moviegoers around the world ultimately emerging as the most popular motion picture of all time.Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar-nominee Kate Winslet light up the screen as Jack and Rose the young lovers who find one another on the maiden voyage of the "unsinkable" R.M.S. Titanic. But when the doomed luxury liner collides with an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic their passionate love affair becomes a thrilling race for survival.

Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, a Memoir by Wayne Flynt
This historical memoir by the widely recognized scholar, Wayne Flynt, chronicles the inner workings of his academic career at Samford and Auburn Universities, as well as his many contributions to the general history of Alabama. Flynt has traveled the state and the South lecturing and teaching both lay and academic groups, calling on his detailed knowledge of both the history and power structures in Alabama to reveal uncomfortable truths wherever he finds them, whether in academic institutions that fall short of their stated missions, in government and industry leaders who seek and hold power by playing to the fears and prejudices of the public, or in religious groups who abandon their original missions and instead seek financial and emotional comfort in lip service only.

Children’s author Hoyt Wilson
Hoyt Wilson, author, educator and film producer has earned 16 national media awards including four national film awards for a biographical film series from the International Film Festival of New York, National Educational Film Festival, The Independent Film Producers Of America and the US Indusrtrial Film Festival. All his work is of a biographical nature. (

Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis by Howell Raines, who had a brief tenure as editor of the New York Times
Just as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance used motorcycle repair as a metaphor for the examination of self, Howell Raines uses his lifelong experiences as a fly fisherman to explore his life, politics, gender, roles as a son, husband, father, and journalist, and his attitudes toward aging and mortality. A man who has fished with presidents and Southern friends as well as with his own two sons, Raines chronicles his progress from "the Redneck way of fishing" for quantity and food to the catch-and-release way of his friend and mentor Dick Blalock. Blalock taught Raines that fly fishing is about attitude and friendship, not about catching fish. Raines imparts tips on casting and stream beds gracefully, along with his love for what he calls "waters that move" as he explores the deep funk he fell into at midlife, complete with a divorce, a seven-year feud with his father and brother, and the all-consuming animosity he allowed himself to develop toward his boss at work. By casting into the waters of his own life -- and ultimately reconciling with middle age -- Howell Raines has written a literate, contemplative celebration of life and friendship.

Odd Egg Editor by Kathryn Tucker Windham
Remembering the sting of male discrimination she repeatedly endured during her career as a newspaper-woman, the author wistfully recalls the hurt of being overlooked, snubbed, and ribbed by her male colleagues.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: The Library carries an outstanding documentary film about Windham called “Kathryn: The Story of a Teller.”

Staked by J.F. Lewis
With his Denis Leary–esque wit and misanthropic outlook on (un)life, Eric is a vampire with issues. Take his memory problems, for example. He not only can’t remember who he ate for dinner yesterday, he doesn’t even remember how he became a vampire in the first place. Then his girlfriend, Tabitha, finally convinces him to turn her into a vampire—and when he does, his desire for her fades. And her younger sister Rachel sure is cute...but when Eric kills a werewolf in self-defense, things really get out of hand. Now a pack of born-again lycanthropes is out for holy retribution, while Tabitha and Rachel each have their own agendas...which may or may not include helping Eric stay in one piece. All Eric wants to do is run his strip club, drink a little blood, and be left alone. Instead, he must survive car crashes, sunlight, sex magic, and werewolves on ice—not to mention his own nasty temper and forgetfulness.

Reading a story set in a place with which the reader is familiar always sets people off, either in good ways, bad ways, or both. Diane McWhorter’s expose on civil rights in Birmingham, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama and the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, sparked some local controversy when it was published. Linda Howard writes romantic suspense and set one of her thrilling novels, Dying to Please, right here in Mountain Brook. Anne George is a perennial favorite with her Southern Sisters cozy mysteries, beginning with Murder on a Girls’ Night Out, which are set all around our great state from Birmingham to Gulf Shores as well as other Alabama locales.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Parents! Is Money on Your Mind?

Hi Readers!
If you've been around the library lately I'm sure you've noticed we have money on our minds! We're a few months into our Smart Investing @ EOL series and we're pumped! We've had lots of excitement and great attendance at our programs.
In particular, last week we hosted a seminar on ways parents can save money for their own retirement while saving for their children's education at the same time. I've found a few links lately that I think may be of interest to those of you who attended the program (or really anyone in general!). Check out these links:

I pulled together some books on the topic from our collection and they're currently on display. Check 'em out:
If you'd like to swing by the library today and check out a title, you'll find the books on the display shelf near the 2nd floor Reference Desk. We have plenty of brochures for our upcoming seminars as well. In fact, we'll host two next week:

November 3rd @ 6:30 p.m. 
Banking and Credit
November 5th 9:00 am - 12:30 p.m.
Women & Money

Registration is required for both of these free events.
To find out more visit our website or click on this link which will take you straight to the Smart Investing @ EOL page.
Keep reading!
katie m.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Genre Reading Group recap - books & literacy

Next month's topic is Alabama authors. Drop by the library for a local author selection or please feel free to browse for your own selection.  I'm happy to help either way.

Also, next month we'll probably be meeting OFF-SITE! The Children's Department will be hosting their Halloween extravaganza so parking and maneuverability in general will be compromised. I'm working on that and will let you know when I find a spot for us. I'll also bombard you beforehand with Friendly Reminders.

If you or someone you know loves horror movies, make plans to attend the Nightmare on Oak Street Horror Movie Double Feature on Friday, October 21
from 5pm-9pm. Pizza, snacks, and there any better combination? (ages 18 and up only)

If horror movies are not your bag, plan to visit the Dead Authors' Graveyard on Saturday, October 22. The Graveyard will be open for visitation 10am-4pm so you may visit the graves, learn some cool facts, and eat some snacks...but you might not want to linger much past sunset.

On to the list!

Days of Reading by Marcel Proust
In these inspiring essays about why we read, Proust explores all the pleasures and trials that we take from books, as well as explaining the beauty of Ruskin and his work, and the joys of losing yourself in literature as a child.

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L. Ulin
Reading is a revolutionary act, an act of engagement in a culture that wants us to disengage. In The Lost Art of Reading, David L. Ulin asks a number of timely questions — why is literature important? What does it offer, especially now? Blending commentary with memoir, Ulin addresses the importance of the simple act of reading in an increasingly digital culture. Reading a book, flipping through hard pages, or shuffling them on screen — it doesn’t matter. The key is the act of reading, the seriousness and depth. Ulin emphasizes the importance of reflection and pause allowed by stopping to read a book, and the focus required to let the mind run free in a world that is not one's own. Far from preaching to the choir, The Lost Art of Reading is a call to arms, or rather, pages.

General discusion:
Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
In this technology-driven age, it’s tempting to believe that science can solve every mystery. After all, science has cured countless diseases and even sent humans into space. But as Jonah Lehrer argues in this sparkling debut, science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first. Taking a group of artists — a painter, a poet, a chef, a composer, and a handful of novelists — Lehrer shows how each one discovered an essential truth about the mind that science is only now rediscovering. We learn, for example, how Proust first revealed the fallibility of memory; how George Eliot discovered the brain’s malleability; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami (the fifth taste); how Cézanne worked out the subtleties of vision; and how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep structure of language — a full half-century before the work of Noam Chomsky and other linguists. It’s the ultimate tale of art trumping science. More broadly, Lehrer shows that there’s a cost to reducing everything to atoms and acronyms and genes. Measurement is not the same as understanding, and art knows this better than science does. An ingenious blend of biography, criticism, and first-rate science writing, Proust Was a Neuroscientist urges science and art to listen more closely to each other, for willing minds can combine the best of both, to brilliant effect.

Is Google Making Us Stupid: What the Internet is Doind to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008)

Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission edited by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, Linda Spalding
Compiled by the editors of Brick: A Literary Magazine, Lost Classics is a reader’s delight: an intriguing and entertaining collection of eulogies for lost books. As the editors have written in a joint introduction to the book, “being lovers of books, we’ve pulled a scent of these absences behind us our whole reading lives, telling people about books that exist only on our own shelves, or even just in our own memory.” Anyone who has ever been changed by a book will find kindred spirits in the pages of Lost Classics. Each of the editors has contributed a lost book essay to this collection, including Michael Ondaatje on Sri Lankan filmmaker Tissa Abeysekara’s Bringing Tony Home, a novella about a mutual era of childhood. Also included are Margaret Atwood on sex and death in the scandalous Doctor Glas, first published in Sweden in 1905; Russell Banks on the off-beat travelogue Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene–the “slightly ditzy” cousin of Graham; Bill Richardson on a children’s book for adults by Russell Hoban; Ronald Wright on William Golding’s Pincher Martin; Caryl Phillips on Michael Mac Liammoir’s account of his experiences on the set of Orson Welles’s Othello, and much, much more.

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life: How to Get More Books in Your Life and More Life from Your Books by Steve Leveen
Do not set out to live a well-read life but rather your well-read life. No one can be well-read using someone else's reading list. Unless a book is good for you, you won't connect with it and gain from it. Just as no one can tell you how to lead your life, no one can tell you what to read for your life. How do readers find more time to read? In The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, Steve Leveen offers both inspiration and practical advice for bibliophiles on how to get more books in their life and more life from their books.
His recommendations are disarmingly refreshing, as when he advises when not to read a book and why not to feel guilty if you missed reading all those classics in school. He helps readers reorganize their bookshelves into a Library of Candidates that they actively build and a Living Library of books read with enthusiasm, and he emphasizes the value of creating a Bookography, or annotated list of your reading life. Separate chapters are devoted to the power of audio books and the merits of reading groups. The author himself admits he came "late to the bookshelf," making this charming little guide all the more convincing.

General discussion: A favored quote from the book above, "Reading groups are health clubs for the mind."

You've Got To Read This Book: 55 People Tell the Story of the Book That Changed Their Life compiled by Jack Canfield, Gay Hendricks with Carol Kline
There's nothing better than a book you can't put down—or better yet, a book you'll never forget. This book puts the power of transformational reading into your hands. Jack Canfield, cocreator of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul® series, and self-actualization pioneer Gay Hendricks have invited notable people to share personal stories of books that changed their lives. What book shaped their outlook and habits? Helped them navigate rough seas? Spurred them to satisfaction and success?

The contributors include Dave Barry, Stephen Covey, Malachy McCourt, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Mark Victor Hansen, John Gray, Christiane Northrup, Bernie Siegel, Craig Newmark, Michael E. Gerber, Lou Holtz, and Pat Williams, to name just a few. Their richly varied stories are poignant, energizing, and entertaining. Author and actor Malachy McCourt tells how a tattered biography of Gandhi, stumbled on in his youth, offered a shining example of true humility—and planted the seeds that would help support his sobriety decades later.

Bestselling author and physician Bernie Siegel, M.D., tells how William Saroyan's The Human Comedy helped him realize that, in order to successfully treat his patients with life-threatening illnesses, "I had to help them live—not just prevent them from dying."

Actress Catherine Oxenberg reveals how, at a life crossroads and struggling with bulimia, a book taught her the transforming difference one person could make in the life of another—and why that person for her was Richard Burton.

Rafe Esquith, the award-winning teacher whose inner-city students have performed Shakespeare all over the world, recounts his deep self-doubt in the midst of his success—and how reading To Kill a Mockingbird strengthened him to continue teaching.

Beloved librarian and bestselling author Nancy Pearl writes how, at age ten, Robert Heinlein's science fiction book Space Cadet impressed on her the meaning of personal integrity and gave her a vision of world peace she'd never imagined possible. Two years later, she marched in her first civil rights demonstration and learned that there's always a way to make "a small contribution to intergalactic harmony."

If you're looking for insight and illumination—or simply for that next great book to read—You've Got to Read This Book! has treasures in store for you.

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry
With astonishing charm, grace, and good humor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove returns with a fascinating memoir of his lifelong passion of buying, selling, and collecting rare books.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: the True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Unrepentant book thief John Charles Gilkey has stolen a fortune in rare books from around the country. Yet unlike most thieves who steal for profit, Gilkey steals for love-the love of books. Perhaps equally obsessive is Ken Sanders, the self-appointed "bibliodick" who's driven to catch him. Following this eccentric cat-and-mouse chase with a mixture of suspense, insight and humor, Allison Hoover Bartlett plunges the reader deep into a rich world of fanatical book lust and considers what it is that makes some people stop at nothing to posses the titles they love.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire, in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. “Libraries,” he says, “have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been seduced by their labyrinthine logic.” In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries.

Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the “complete” libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought—the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest. Oral “memory libraries” kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never written—Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel’s mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.

What is YOUR favorite book about books?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

we're on tv

the best wine tasting in town

We'd love to see you on Friday, September 23rd from 6pm-9pm at the Birmingham Zoo for Western's Food & Wine Festival so buy your tickets today.  Proceeds benefit the Library.

Advance - $45
At the door the night of the event - $55
Group discount for buying 10 or more tickets together - $40 each

Tickets are available at Emmet O'Neal Library, any Western Supermarkets location, and..................drum can now purchase them online!

GRG Recap - School Days Classics

I always make a small bookmark for our Genre Reading Group meetings; something to sort of tie all the different books together. The books don't really have to be similar as most of the fun of our discussions come from searching for, and often finding, a thread of cohesion among the disparate topics. The bookmark is simply intended to help readers get into a helpful frame of mind for making the connections. I am particularly pleased with the selection I found for our discussion of the classics.

"A book is never a masterpiece: it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man."

"Do not suppose, however, that I intend to urge a diet of classics on anybody. I have seen such diets at work. I have known people who have actually read all, or almost all, the guaranteed Hundred Best Books. God save us from reading nothing but the best."

"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read."

I like these quotes most because I don't necessarily agree with them. I do believe a book becomes a masterpiece but don't believe that an author's death is a necessary ingredient. I agree wholeheartedly that reading tastes should range wide and be varied, but the classics can offer that as well. I myself don't read a strict diet of the classics, but I wouldn't frown upon someone who did. And lastly, I disagree with Mr. Twain on his assumption that nobody wants to read the classics. I believe we think we don't want to read them. That was certainly the case with the book I chose to read for our meeting, Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

I decided to read it after hearing an author, Nathaniel Philbrick, talk about his experiences as the disgruntled son of a Melville scholar. He refused to read anything by Melville on general teenage and young adult principles, then ended up really loving the work on its own merits when he finally got around to it as a more mature reader. I decided to give it a try and can honestly say I had a similar experience.

I don't believe I would have ever managed to finish it as a hurried, distracted undergraduate, but as a fairly well read 30-something, it was beautiful and harsh and wonderfully dated all at the same time. Several others who were re-reading something from their own school days had the same impression. It was a vastly different read when viewed through the lens of life experience. I believe that is why the classics are the classics and I look forward to seeing what new classics rise to the top over the course of my life.

Were any of the books listed below among YOUR required reading in school? What did you read during school that you loved? Were there any books you didn't care for at the time but would like to re-visit now?

Our Town by Thornton Wilder
Our Town was first produced and published in 1938 to wide acclaim. This Pulitzer Prize–winning drama of life in the town of Grover's Corners, an allegorical representation of all life, has become a classic. It is Thornton Wilder's most renowned and most frequently performed play.

In general discussion, we talk briefly about another book by Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
"On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." With this celebrated sentence, Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world. By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper seeks to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His study leads to his own death -- and to the author's timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Kino is a desperately poor Mexican-pearl diver. When he finds 'The Pearl of the World' he believes that his life will be magically transformed. Obsessed by his dreams, Kino is blind to the greed, fear and even violence the pearl arouses in his neighbours - and himself. This is a haunting and timeless tale of wealth and the evil it can bring.

With his dog Charley, John Steinbeck set out in his truck to explore and experience America in the 1960s. As he talked with all kinds of people, he sadly noted the passing of region speech, fell in love with Montana, and was appalled by racism in New Orleans.

In general discussion, Steinbeck was a heavy hitter. We also talked about two of his other novels:

The Red Pony
Young Jody Tiflin lives on his father's California ranch. He is thrilled when his father gives him a red pony, and later promises him the colt of a bay mare. Both these gifts bring joy to Jodi's life - but tragedy soon follows. As Jodi begins to learn the harsh lessons of life and death, he starts to understand what growing-up and becoming an adult really means.

At once naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck's, The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics. Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. From their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of this new America, Steinbeck creates a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity.

And of course, for epic struggles, there's always Hemingway too.
Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal -- a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Awe and exhiliration--along with heartbreak and mordant wit--abound in Lolita, Nabokov's most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love--love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

In general discussion, the audio version of another of Nabokov's novels, Pnin, was mentioned. We almost unanimously decided we wanted to see the 1962 movie adaptation of Lolita. Plus, did you know that Nabokov was an amateur butterfly expert? Butterflies were all the time popping up in Pnin and in Lolita, quite possibly in all of his other works as well.

Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
This is Lucy Montgomery's last book of the Anne series. Gilbert has become a doctor and now Anne has a wedding day set. Anne has found her "House of Dreams" and decides to leave Green Gables. The story is filled with a cast of quirky small town characters sure to delight.

Don't let the "Anne of Green Gables" moniker fool you. Some other great classics are quoted and/or referenced in this rather sweet and lighthearted work: James Joyce's Ulysses, the works of Robert & Elizabeth Browning, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar." Classics within classics!

What a treat! One reader brought in a vintage (1950's) oversize New Basic Readers edition of Sally, Dick, and Jane! Boy, did that bring back memories for us all. I remember clearly the delight I felt when I got my first reader in elementary school and could read the adventures of that happy little trio all by myself, without help. Thanks MFJ!

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (The audio edition narrated by William Hootkins is spectacularly done!)
A masterpiece of storytelling and symbolic realism, this thrilling adventure and epic saga pits Ahab, a brooding sea captain, against the great white whale that crippled him. More than just the tale of a hair-raising voyage, Melville's riveting story passionately probes man's soul. A literary classic first published in 1851, Moby Dick represents the ultimate human struggle.

What are YOU reading?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cabinet of Curiosities

Temperatures are rising making it neccessary to spend some of those precious summer days and nights (gasp) indoors. Not willing to let a retreat indoors bring on summer doldrums, Holley and I have scoured the stacks for some of the most intriguing books here at EOL.

Seeking inspiration from the Cabinets of Curiosities, or Wunderkammer (meaning "wonder-rooms") of Renaissance Europe, we set up our very own curio of curiosities display featuring wondrous books that upon opening, take you to a whole other time, place, and even world.

Here is just of the sampling of the offerings:

Lewis Carroll: Photographer by Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling

Mythical Beasts of Japan by Kano Hiroyuki

Ice Palaces by Fred Anderes and Ann Agranoff

Monuments by Judith Dupre


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

GRG Recap - Salon Discussion

What books were required reading when you were in school? Have a favorite you want to revisit? Do you remember one that was awful at the time but which you would like to reassess now? Here’s your chance! The August 30th (6:30pm) meeting topic is School Day Classics! Fiction or nonfiction, you decide! I have a small selection pulled, but as always you are free to make your own selection! If you’d like some help making your selection, I’m happy to assist!

Last evening we met for our biannual Salon Discussion. During our Salons, readers bring any book they’d like to discuss and we had a great variety at the table last night!

Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger
Brooke loved reading the dishy celebrity gossip rag Last Night. That is, until her marriage became a weekly headline. Brooke was drawn to the soulful, enigmatic Julian Alter the very first time she heard him perform “Hallelujah” at a dark East Village dive bar. Now five years married, Brooke balances two jobs—as a nutritionist at NYU Hospital and as a consultant to an Upper East Side girls’ school, where privilege gone wrong and disordered eating run rampant—in order to help support her husband’s dream of making it in the music world. Things are looking up when after years of playing Manhattan clubs and toiling as an A&R intern, Julian finally gets signed by Sony. Although no one’s promising that the album will ever hit the airwaves, Julian is still dedicated to logging in long hours at the recording studio. All that changes after Julian is asked to perform on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno—and is catapulted to stardom, literally overnight. Amazing opportunities begin popping up almost daily—a new designer wardrobe, a tour with Maroon 5, even a Grammy performance. At first the newfound fame is fun—who wouldn’t want to stay at the Chateau Marmont or visit the set of one of television’s hottest shows? Yet it seems that Brooke’s sweet husband—the man who can’t handle hot showers and wears socks to bed—is increasingly absent, even on those rare nights they’re home together. When rumors about Brooke and Julian swirl in the tabloid magazines, she begins to question the truth of her marriage and is forced to finally come to terms with what she thinks she wants—and what she actually needs.

Shattered by Dick Francis
When jockey Martin Stukely dies after falling in a steeplechase at Cheltenham races, he accidentally embroils his friend Gerard Logan in a perilous search for a stolen video tape. Logan, half artist, half artisan, is a glass blower on the verge of widespread acclaim for the originality and ingenuity of his work. Long accustomed to the frightful dangers inherent in molten glass and in maintaining a glass-making furnace at never less than eighteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit, Logan is suddenly faced with a series of unexpected and terrifying new threats to his business, his courage and his life. Believing the missing video tape to hold some sort of key to a priceless treasure, and wrongly convinced that Logan knows where to find it, a group of villains sets out to force from him the information he doesn't have. Narrowly escaping these attacks, Logan reckons that to survive he must himself find out the truth. The journey is thorny, and the final race to the tape throws more hurdles and more hazards in Logan's way than his dead jockey friend could ever have imagined. Glass shatters. Logan doesn't...but it's a close run thing.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Hailed by NPR’s Fresh Air as part Testament of Youth, part Dorothy Sayers, and part Upstairs, Downstairs, this astonishing debut has already won fans from coast to coast and is poised to add Maisie Dobbs to the ranks of literature’s favorite sleuths. Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

The Meaning of Night: A Confession by Michael Cox
"After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper." So begins the "enthralling" (Booklist, starred review) and "ingenious" (Boston Globe) story of Edward Glyver, booklover, scholar, and murderer. As a young boy, Glyver always believed he was destined for greatness. A chance discovery convinces him that he was right: greatness does await him, along with immense wealth and influence. Overwhelmed by his discovery, he will stop at nothing to win back a prize that he knows is rightfully his. Glyver's path to reclaim his prize leads him from the depths of Victorian London, with its foggy streets, brothels, and opium dens, to Evenwood, one of England's most beautiful and enchanting country houses, and finally to a consuming love for the beautiful but enigmatic Emily Carteret. His is a story of betrayal and treachery, of death and delusion, of ruthless obsession and ambition. And at every turn, driving Glyver irresistibly onward, is his deadly rival: the poet-criminal Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. The Meaning of Night is an enthralling novel that will captivate readers right up to its final thrilling revelation.

The Passage by Justin Cronin
An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl—and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

In the Woods by Tana French
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past. Richly atmospheric, stunning in its complexity, and utterly convincing and surprising to the end, In the Woods is sure to enthrall fans of Mystic River and The Lovely Bones.

Free-Born John: A Biography of John Lilburne by Pauline Gregg
This is the biography of the leader of the Levellers, whose unflagging opposition to authority resulted from a fight for civil liberty. Although pilloried by the Star Chamber, imprisoned by the Long Parliament and twice put on trial for his life, he never ceased his fight for the ordinary citizen.

During the discussion of this book, the reader mentioned an oft-ignored event in British history, the Putney Debates.
Here is an article from the Guardian newspaper on the 360th anniversary of the debates.
Here is a webpage on British civil wars.
If you are really interested, here is a link to a 78 page transcript of the debates.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army. The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce--and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding. Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity's resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don't want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You'll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You'll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you'll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets. John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine--and what he will become is far stranger.

The Flavia de Luce mysteries of Alan Bradley
The first in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, followed by The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag and A Red Herring Without Mustard.
It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

What have YOU been reading lately?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Potluck Movie tomorrow afternoon!

Attention adult Summer Readers!

Bring a dish to share and join us tomorrow for our summer Potluck Movie, the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's book, "Eat, Pray, Love." The film is PG-13 but this is an Adult Summer Reading Program, so adults only!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GRG Recap - Biographical Fiction

Our topic last night was biographical fiction, which are novels based on real people. This is another of my favorite types of novels to read because I love to see in what ways an author’s imagination will twist and bend perceived reality. I would consider alternate history, like Naomi Novik’s wonderful Temeraire series (the Napoleonic Wars fought with dragon air forces), to be offshoots of both biographical fiction and science fiction/fantasy.

Next month’s topic, or rather non-topic, is our biannual Salon Discussion! Please make a note on your calendars that our July meeting has been moved up one week to July 19th at 6:30pm. Bring any book (on any topic) you would like to share with the group! I am in the process of tallying the votes for our next six months of reading, so I should have an August selection of books ready to go when we meet on July 19th!

The World Before Her by Deborah Weisgall

A stunning novel about two women and two marriages -- George Eliot at the end of her life, and another woman a century later.

The year is 1880 and the setting is Venice. Marian Evans -- whose novels under the pen name George Eliot have placed her among the famed Englishwomen of her time -- has come to this enchanted city on her honeymoon. Newly married to John Cross, twenty years her junior, she hopes to put her guilt to rest. Marian lived, unmarried, with George Henry Lewes for twenty-five years, until his death. She took a tremendous risk and paid a high price for that illicit union, but she also achieved happiness and created art. Now she wants to love again. In this new marriage, in this romantic place, can this writer give herself the happy ending that she provided for Middlemarch’s Dorothea Brooke?

The parallel story of a sculptor named Caroline Spingold brings us to Venice one hundred years later, in 1980. Caroline’s powerful, wealthy older husband has brought her to the city against her will, to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Having spent a perfect childhood summer in Venice with her parents, before her father left her mother, Caroline had vowed never to return.

In alternating chapters linked by the themes of art, love, and marriage, The World Before Her tells of these two women -- and their surprising similarities. In a city where the canals reflect memory as much as light, they both confront desire and each assesses what she has and who she is. At the heart of this sumptuously and evocatively written novel lies the eternal dilemma of how to find love and sustain it, without losing one’s self.

The reader’s description of this novel, both the topics and format, brought to mind several other great reads! Loving Frank by Nancy Horan chronicles the long-term affair between renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (movie adaptation available) is formatted in a similar way to Weisgall’s novel, reflecting on the last days of Virginia Wolff while paralleling her tale with a contemporary plotline. This novel is beautifully written but does not contain any happily-ever-afters. Shopgirl (movie adaptation available), by comedian/actor/musician Steve Martin, explores the complexities of a modern relationship between Mirabelle, a lowly salesclerk at a department store glove counter, and Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age. In Tracy Chevalier’s first novel, The Virgin Blue, the New York Times best-selling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring (movie adaptation available) relates the parallel stories of a young girl involved in the Huguenot-Calvinist conflicts of the 16th century and a modern American woman unhappy with her transplanted life in southwestern France.

Speaking of George Eliot and Steve Martin in the same conversation also brought to mind Martin’s excellent movie adaptation of Eliot’s Silas Marner, A Simple Twist of Fate. This is not the only book-to-movie adaptation in which Martin has been involved. His film Roxanne was an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

The Blood Countess by Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator and journalist, has written a fascinating first novel based on the life of his real-life ancestor, Elizabeth Bathory, the legendary Blood Countess. Codrescu expertly weaves together two stories in this neo-gothic work: that of the 16th-century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a beautiful and terrifying woman who bathes in the blood of virgin girls; and of her distant descendent, a contemporary journalist who must return to his native Hungary and come to terms with his bloody and disturbing past.

Drake Bathory-Kereshtur, a Hungarian-born journalist who has lived in the United States, returns to his native Hungary, only to be the target for recruitment among a patriotic group that wants to restore the glory--and the horror--of the Hungarian aristocracy. As a descendent of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, he is heir to all that is wonderful and terrible about his country and his family's past. Codrescu brilliantly explores Drake's anguish, as he realizes the truth behind his gruesome family history. But more importantly, Codrescu also creates a convincing and historically accurate picture of a sadistic woman obsessed with youth, vigor, beauty, and blood – a woman with enough power to order the deaths of 650 virgins so that she could bathe in their blood.

The Blood Countess is a bizarre and compelling book about the horrors of the past, shown so effectively in the monstrous yet attractive personality of Elizabeth, and what pull these horrors have on those who live now.

Tilting at Windmills: A Novel of Cervantes and the Errant Knight by Julian Branston

In seventeenth-century Valladolid, Spain’s new capital, Miguel de Cervantes is busy writing episodes of his comic masterpiece, Don Quixote. His comedy is quickly making him the most popular author in the country, when three potential disasters strike: Cervantes discovers that there is a real Don Quixote, exactly like the character he thought he’d invented; a jealous poet’s plots involving one of the novel’s other characters make Cervantes a laughingstock; and Cervantes falls in love with a beautiful, widowed, but unavailable duchess. Many duels, misunderstandings, and betrayals later, Don Quixote himself comes to Cervantes’ rescue.

This sparkling tale of crazed knights, thwarted love, and literary rivalry is imbued with all of the spirit, verve, and humor of the classic novel to which it pays playful tribute. Tilting at Windmills is a dazzling evocation of Cervantes’ life and times, and a brilliant weave of fact, fiction, and farce.

Happy reading!