Wednesday, August 1, 2012

GRG Recap - Bestsellers

The meeting to discuss bestsellers came out of the corner swinging and surely would have been awarded the gold medal for book discussions were it competing in London right now.  There was a great variety of books on hand and the talk ranged just as widely.  Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, August 21st at 6:30pm in the Library's Conference Room to discuss books on buildings and architecture.

The Confession by John Grisham

In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, Travis Boyette abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess. But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?

Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku

Space elevators. Internet-enabled contact lenses. Cars that fly by floating on magnetic fields. This is the stuff of science fiction—it’s also daily life in the year 2100.

Renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku details the developments in computer technology, artificial intelligence, medicine, space travel, and more, that are poised to happen over the next hundred years. He also considers how these inventions will affect the world economy, addressing the key questions: Who will have jobs? Which nations will prosper? Kaku interviews three hundred of the world’s top scientists—working in their labs on astonishing prototypes. He also takes into account the rigorous scientific principles that regulate how quickly, how safely, and how far technologies can advance. In Physics of the Future, Kaku forecasts a century of earthshaking advances in technology that could make even the last centuries’ leaps and bounds seem insignificant.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.
It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

GENERAL DISCUSSION:  This book was an interesting mix of fiction and the author's vintage photography that was nearly mesmerizing for the three GRG members who read it.  We all agreed that it made us want to dig around in yardsales looking to build our own stash of strange vintage photographs.  Another book that reminded me of this one was Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy, a compelling collection of photographs by Charles Van Schaick and news articles from local papers from the small turn-of-the-century town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin.  It emphasizes the harsh aspects of Midwestern rural life under the pressures of crime, disease, mental illness, and urbanization.  A docudrama-style film was adapted from the book and released in 2000.

This discussion led us into talk about social media, the internet, and how these two things increasingly document every moment of our lives publicly, for the world to see.  The popularity of websites like Youtube, Failblog, Icanhascheezburger, Awkward Family Photos, Awkward Family Pet Photos, and the like arguably demonstrate the human need to document their daily lives.  We have two of the Icanhascheezburger books (How to Take Over Teh Wurld: a LOLcat Guide to Winning and I Can Has Cheezburger?: a LOLcat Collekshun) and one from the Stuff on My Cat website called More Stuff on My Cat: 2x the Stuff + 2x the Cats = 4x the Awesome.

The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry

He was called by many names—Columb, Colom, Colón—but we know him as Christopher Columbus. Many questions about him exist: Where was he born, raised, and educated? Where did he die? How did he discover the New World?

None have ever been properly answered. And then there is the greatest secret of all.

From Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author, comes an exciting new adventure—one that challenges everything we thought we knew about the discovery of America.

Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Tom Sagan has written hard-hitting articles from hot spots around the world. But when a controversial report from a war-torn region is exposed as a fraud, his professional reputation crashes and burns. Now he lives in virtual exile—haunted by bad decisions and the shocking truth he can never prove: that his downfall was a deliberate act of sabotage by an unknown enemy. But before Sagan can end his torment with the squeeze of a trigger, fate intervenes in the form of an enigmatic stranger with a request that cannot be ignored.

Zachariah Simon has the look of a scholar, the soul of a scoundrel, and the zeal of a fanatic. He also has Tom Sagan’s estranged daughter at his mercy. Simon desperately wants something only Sagan can supply: the key to a 500-year-old mystery, a treasure with explosive political significance in the modern world. For both Simon and Sagan the stakes are high, the goal intensely personal, the consequences of opposing either man potentially catastrophic. On a perilous quest from Florida to Vienna to Prague and finally to the mountains of Jamaica, the two men square off in a dangerous game. Along the way, both of their lives will be altered—and everything we know about Christopher Columbus will change.

The Greater Journey: Americans In Paris by David McCullough

As David McCullough writes, “Not all pioneers went west.”

In The Greater Journey, he tells the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, hungry to learn and to excel in their work. What they achieved would profoundly alter American history.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, whose encounters with black students at the Sorbonne inspired him to become the most powerful voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate. Friends James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Morse not only painting what would be his masterpiece, but also bringing home his momentous idea for the telegraph. Harriet Beecher Stowe traveled to Paris to escape the controversy generated by her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Three of the greatest American artists ever—sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent—flourished in Paris, inspired by French masters.

Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris, and the nightmare of the Commune. His vivid diary account of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris is published here for the first time.

Telling their stories with power and intimacy, McCullough brings us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’ phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.”

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

GENERAL DISCUSSION:  We got into a discussion of our reading habits and one member brought up the book Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch.  "Caught up in grief after the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch decided to stop running and start reading. For once in her life she would put all other obligations on hold and devote herself to reading a book a day: one year of magical reading in which she found joy, healing, and wisdom.  With grace and deep insight, Sankovitch weaves together poignant family memories with the unforgettable lives of the characters she reads about. She finds a lesson in each book, ultimately realizing the ability of a good story to console, inspire, and open our lives to new places and experiences. A moving story of recovery, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is also a resonant reminder of the all-encompassing power and delight of reading."

Other books that cropped up in the discussion were The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs.  Jacobs is apparently a questing sort of fellow because he is also the author of The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: The Paris Wife and The Rules of Civility and the chaotic lifestyles of the characters in both books brought us around to a discussion of the "lost generation," a term used to refer to the generation that came of age during and immediately after World War I.  Jack Kerouac's novel The Sea is My Brother, is another exhausting and heady chronicle of those tumultuous years.

Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.

What are your favorite bestselling books and/or authors?

No comments: