“This is the story of an arranged Indian marriage — but it’s actually the story of any ethnic group adjusting to America. An Indian immigrant, Neel, intent on ‘becoming American’ — including craving a blonde wife — gets tricked into an arranged marriage with an Indian woman with a brain. It’s a love story a la Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
“Our book club is part of a very diverse residential community that includes people of African -American, Chinese, Armenian-American, French, and Mexican heritage. Our discussion of the novel started there. Cherian’s story of an Indian emigree who desperately wants to be ‘American’ resonated with so many people. Everyone knew a ‘coconut’ like Neel – someone brown on the outside, but white on the inside. With Barack Obama running for President, the discussion jumped off from there. We also discussed ‘happily ever after’ and whether there is such a thing.”
Bab’s Books of Los Angeles, California, recommends:
Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story Of Three Generations Of Chinese Women And Their Journey From East To West by Helen Tse (Thomas Dunne, 2008), Nonfiction, 288 pages
“This book had such an impact on our group. Tse gives a touching view of the life of her Chinese-British family, focusing on her grandmother, Lily Kwok whose life has included murder, adoption, poverty, bankruptcy, working as a maid, dealing with a deadbeat husband and being separated from her children. It’s a story about generations of women – a grandmother, mother, and Helen, the daughter. We talked about how much we each knew of our own mothers and grandmothers; the book spurred some members to reconnect with their mothers.
“There are wonderful descriptions of cooking in feudal China, and vivid scenes of post-war Britain, with a rickety old Ford bouncing down the cobbled streets. The descriptions of Helen’s grandmother’s curry and mother’s clay pot chicken leave you salivating.”
Paired with: Family recipes that members brought to the meeting, along with the story behind the dish.
“After meeting at a local Weight Watchers group, June offers Marissa a ride home. As Marissa unbuckles her seatbelt to get a soup recipe out of her purse, she is killed suddenly in an accident. June finds a list of items that Marissa wanted to complete before she was 25, and decides to complete the list for her. We talked about the difficulty of completing someone’s “life list” and which would be the most challenging items on the lists. We also discussed how we would react to accidentally killing someone in a car accident and how that might change the course of our own lives.
“We had agreed before the meeting to bring our own lists, which we shared. We noted that the youngest in our group – ages 25 and 26 – were the ones to put the most thought in their lists. Many of us wanted to raise our children to be productive and honorable citizens, become grandmothers, and experience things with our children such as seeing the ocean. Others wanted to travel, learn to knit, or open a bakery/café. I think we all learned a little bit more about our values and dreams. Smolinski’s book provides a great way to get to know your fellow book club members and to think about your own life and what ‘life list items’ you want to accomplish.”
Paired with: Marissa’s Weight Watchers’ Taco Soup recipe (featured in the book).
“This book is inspired by a true story of four generations of women who lived with abuse of every kind. The oldest generation seemed to have the worst of the abuse though the youngest generation suffered also. We are brought to some very personal places in the family’s story. The author discussed her life and trials and triumphs with us via speakerphone. Some of us could just not comprehend staying in such relationships and wanted to know why women stay. The author was very candid in her answers and made all of us think and appreciate the lives we are blessed with. The book made us think long and hard about what could be going on in the lives of those around us of which we are not even aware.”
“I smiled so much that my mouth hurt as I read the book. Our group talked about Ellner Schimfissel, one of the unique and delightful characters in the book. We discussed how the author developed the characters and compared her style to that of Fried Green Tomatoes. We also commented on the unique touch of including recipes from the characters at the end of the book. The setting was a small southern town so it made the inclusion of recipes so believable.”
Paired with: Neighbor Dorothy’s cake. True to its southern roots it was very tasty – probably due to the generous amounts of sugar and butter in the recipe!
“This literary ghost story about twins growing up in unusual circumstances in Yorkshire led to an interesting discussion. Some felt that the plot was too intricate but most enjoyed the twists and turns, and very surprising ending. All agreed that the story and style was reminiscent of the Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney gothic romances that many of us enjoyed while growing up. One interesting point is that the book is not set in a specific time. The author deliberately keeps it vague – some parts seem contemporary and others seem like 19th century England – again, in keeping with the old gothic novel.”
Also recommended by:
The Final Chapter Book Club of Lockhaven, Pennsylvania
Paired with: In keeping with the English setting of the novel, Crabmeat/Old English cheese appetizers on English Muffins and Layered Double Gloucester and Stilton cheese with English biscuits and crackers. One of the main characters, Aurelius, baked ginger cake for the protagonist whenever they met, so we had Ginger Cake for dessert with Earl Grey and English Breakfast teas.
“Plum Wine is beautifully written and had broad appeal. Barbara Jefferson, an American, is teaching at a Japanese university, when her friend and mentor, Michiko dies, leaving Barbara a Japanese chest filled with bottles of homemade plum wine. Each bottle is dated with a consecutive year and wrapped with rice paper, on which Michiko has written her life story. Barbara engages a Japanese gentleman to translate the diaries, and they embark upon a personal relationship. The story takes place during the Vietnam era and reflects back over Hiroshima and the devastation that war can cause. It spans many years and shows us the dangers of history repeating itself. It is a love story as well as a morality tale with psychological suspense. The mother of one of our members is Japanese and lived in a relocation camp during World War II. She was able to bring her unique and personal perspective to the Japanese American experience. Our group unanimously enjoyed the book, and the author was gracious enough to participate in our discussion via speaker phone.”
Paired with: Japanese cuisine, including Japanese cucumber salad, Benihana-style fried rice, soy rice crackers, tempura vegetables, plum wine and Michi-San’s Japanese Slipper – a big hit with the girls!
“We enjoyed a spirited discussion of this 2008 ‘One Book New Jersey’ selection. In this ‘what if’ story Roth writes about what might have happened if Charles Lindbergh, a national hero, but also an ardent isolationist and secret Nazi sympathizer, had been elected president in 1940 instead of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The story is told from the perspective of 7-year-old Philip growing up in the predominantly Jewish Weequahic section of Newark. At our meeting the novel was brought to life a bit by a musical rendition of the 1927 hit song, ‘Lucky Lindy’: (‘Lucky Lindy up in the sky–Fair or windy he’s flying high…. he’s the hero of the day.’ ) Some of us also read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here (written in 1935 and made into a successful play in 1936) which demonstrated that fascism could take over the United States if Americans thoughtlessly and blindly followed certain leaders.”
Paired with: Jewish cuisine, including raisin noodle kugel.
“Our group is very diverse in our tastes and we rarely agree on a book. For One More Daywas one of those books that we all really liked. This book inspired each of us to share our own personal grief stories. The book was haunting in that it made each of us think about the possibility of spending just one more day with someone that we truly cared about and is now gone. It made us think about the relationships we currently have with our family members and what it will be like when they are gone.Will there be more that needs to be said? It’s not a sad book, but a book that makes one think about one’s relationships with people both living and dead.
Manchester Teachers’ Book Group of Manchester Center, Vermont, recommends:
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Penguin, 2006), Nonfiction, 338 pages
“This book touched our lives. We were amazed and overwhelmed by what Greg Mortenson was able to accomplish. We were struck by his tenacity and his single-mindedness. We were awed by his accomplishments. This book was very powerful, and elicited lots of discussion regarding education and students regard for education both here in the US and in poverty-stricken countries. Mortenson’s vivid descriptions and detailed explanations of the political climate and arena were powerful messages of how our government uses the news to distort the facts and give people a false picture of other countries and their people.“
“This play is about an upper-class family that is invaded by a sister, a daughter and two neighbors. We agreed that the life-style portrayed was empty, and discussed what we thought would have brought joy to the characters. One person had seen the film version of the performance and remarked on how one character was portrayed as evil. This sparked a discussion of how actors and directors can interpret and change a play in production. During the meeting we read portions of the play, with different people taking on the roles. What a great time we had! Many of us felt that, when it was read out loud, we could see the humor we’d missed by reading it to ourselves. We enjoyed talking about how the play really ‘came alive’ when we read it aloud. On the surface, some of the text is a little upsetting and even annoying, but reading it brought the humor of the situations to the fore.
The Book Enders of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, recommend:
The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby (Berkeley, 2006), Nonfiction, 320 pages
“In this incredible book on the history of the yellow fever, those infected by it, and how the disease came to our country, Ms. Crosby concentrates on Memphis, Tennessee during the summer of 1878. During the Civil War, two thirds of the soldiers’ deaths were caused by yellow fever. Scientists, including Walter Reed, fought amongst each other over how yellow fever spread. Reed and others went to Havana, Cuba, to discover and experiment with the true causes of the disease, and some scientists volunteered to contract yellow fever. Although the cause is eventually found, the disease is not yet cured and is still active today. It is a fascinating part of our history.?
You will also learn little tidbits and phrases that we have heard of all our lives but did know the origins of, such as: How did the KKK begin? What was the Flying Dutchman? Why did we start calling the parlor the living room? Where did the word cemetery derive from? After reading this book, a member went to Memphis and went on a tour of the yellow fever according to the book.”
Paired with: Mississippi Mud, and a Fruit Pizza, in honor of Walter Reed’s stomach and his attempt to eat healthily in Cuba. Mosquito netting was spread over the food.
Spring , 2008
“This is the story of three sisters who flee Iran and end up in a rural village in Ireland, where they open an enchanting Persian restaurant. We enjoyed the characters, the scenery, the cultural differences (Iran vs. Ireland) and the sensuous descriptions of the sisters’ culinary creations. We would have liked the book to be a bit longer, with more details about the sisters’ situation in Iran. It was difficult to grasp how the one sister so quickly became entangled with extremists, when she was not naturally inclined to do so. This is a great book for those who enjoy serving book-related food as part of the meeting, as each chapter of the book begins with a recipe. We enjoyed making and eating some of the Persian dishes that were mentioned in the book.”
Paired with: Baklava, Hummus, Red Lentil Soup Fesenjoon (chicken in a ground walnut and pomegranate juice sauce), Rice Elephant Ears (from a recipe in the book – not the kind that you would find at the county fair)
Coffee Clutch Book Club of Pueblo, Colorado, recommends:
Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir (Miramax 2001), Memoir, 304 pages
“Our book club read this book awhile ago but it still is on our minds. This is a memoir of an extraordinary woman who was imprisoned with her family for two decades. It surprised our book club that the story took place in the 1970s and1980s, when we were all very young and took our freedom for granted. The family in the story was similar to our own families, but it was dealing with hardships and unjust conditions while we were enjoying proms and graduations with plenty in our bellies. We talked about howone’s life can change very suddenly, and what one needs to do to cope when that happens.”
Paired with: Simple food and veggies, because the people in the story were happy and thankful to eat rotten foods
The Pierce County Book Club of Puyallup, Washington, recommends:
Finn by Jon Clinch (Random House, 2007) Fiction, 304 pages (Read with Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
“Finn is the first authorized sequel to the Twain classic and is the story of Huckleberry’s ‘Pap’. It is a dark and violent story and some of our readers had a hard time with the transition between Huckleberry’s world and the deeply demented world of the elder Finn. We discussed the differences between the two books – which one seemed more realistic (Finn), the use of dialect writing in Huckleberry but not carried over in Finn and whether this affected the reading ambiance. We discussed the fact that Huckleberry is a banned book in regard to racial issues and we all agreed that Jon Clinch seemed to have taken that into account and raised this sensitive issue up a few notches. Overall, it was a very lively discussion and an especially delightful evening.”
Happy Bookers of Sterling, Virginia, recommend:
Lucky Me by Debra Borden (Crown/Shaye Areheart, 2005), Fiction, 288 pages
“All of us enjoyed reading this debut novel from Debra Borden regarding a middle-aged woman dealing with life’s routine, yet challenging, circumstances. As wives, mothers, and daughters, we could relate to Julie’s dealings with her clueless but loyal husband, ailing mother and rebellious children. There were laugh-out-loud passages and poignant scenes, and all of it was utterly believable. We had an absolutely delightful telephone chat with the author who cheerfully answered our questions and even discussed our casting choices if it were made into a movie. This was a very fun read, and Ms. Borden is hysterically funny, both on the page and in person.”
“Unless evoked for all the women of our group the passions, frustrations, and pains of motherhood. The ‘ordinariness’ of the family life she portrays confirms our own experience (we are an older group) that extraordinary events take place often in that ordinary context. The impact of the behavior of a single child affects the marriage, the siblings, and nearly each relationship among them. A story beautifully and honestly told, Unless explores parenting and in what, in contemporary–and perhaps all-family structures (a good topic for discussion)–the differences between ‘fathering’ and ‘mothering’ may consist.”
“This author’s first novel is beautifully written and made several of us want to delve deeper into the accomplishments of Frank Lloyd Wright. Horan draws on years of research to weave little known-facts into a compelling narrative portraying the conflicts and struggles of Mamah Borthwick Cheney as she strives to justify her clandestine love Frank Lloyd Wright. She is forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual, seeking to find her own creative calling in the world. Her choices that reshape her notions about love and responsibility lead to a stunning conclusion.Most of us agreed we did not like the behavior of the main characters, but the book was so intriguing and rich in detail we could not put it down.
“Fortunately for us, one of our members is a cousin to Nancy Horan and we were delighted to have a conference call conversation with her during our discussion. The book’s cover is classic F. L. Wright design, complete with shadowy profile, perhaps symbolizing the complexities of his life. We closed our discussion questioning the title and wondered ‘Who was it who loved Frank?”
“The Egyptologist was a wonderful book to discuss as there were so many facets to explore. It provided a fascinating, in-depth historical glimpse into Egypt and archeology, and including real-life explorer Howard Carter added to the authentic feel. The group was absorbed with the author’s use of truth, Lies and perspectives as the story progressed. Following the discussion our group made a trip to the North Carolina Museum to have brunch and a tour of the Egyptian ‘Temples and Tombs’ exhibit.”
“A Thousand Splendid Suns provides an interesting comparison/contrast to Hosseini’s first book about his native Afghanistan. The Kite Runner was about male companionship, whereas this book is about female friendship and character. It provides background for excellent discussions of several themes, especially love and loss.Hosseini’s descriptions keep readers so engaged, most people can’t believe they finished such a novel in so little time! Researching Hosseini, I was able to find wonderful interviews that revealed the author’s favorite books and movies which I turned into a handout for book group attendees.
“Our discussion group was treated to a question-and-answer session with a co-worker of mine from Pakistan. This really enhanced the session since everyone there was female, so no one felt inhibited in their questions. We are eagerly awaiting release of The Kite Runner movie in November, as well as hoping for a third book by Hosseini.”
“This is the story of Santiago, a shepherd boy, who has a dream about finding a treasure in the pyramids of Egypt. Hesells everything he owns and travels to Africa to start his quest. Along the way, he falls in love with a young woman and faces many challenges as he travels through the desert. While this book was one of the shortest and most simple books we have read, we couldn’t help but feel that the messages in it were universal. The book challenged us to look within ourselves to determine our dreams, and reminded us to work to attain these dreams.”
Reading between the Wines of Ridgewood, New Jersey, recommends:
The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham (Riverhead, 1995), Fiction, 296 pages
“This book gave us the opportunity to explore coming of age in a Chasidic family from the perspective of the daughter of a rabbi. The protagonist was in a swim club and struggled with issues of dress, reading forbidden romance books, and walking out on an arranged marriage. We explored strict upbringings, whether in a Jewish family or a Christian one. Discussing the rebellious Rachel Benjamin afforded us the opportunity to discuss how each of us reacted to the dogmatic rules we faced in our homes or religious life.”
Paired with: Food one might have in a home on the Jewish Sabbath, such as pareve (not meat or dairy) dried fruit, nuts and olives, and rugelach and pound cake for dessert.
In this superb novel, the author depicts Jacob Jankowski both as a young man in 1931 – when in an act of desperation brought on by tragic circumstances he hops a circus train car – and in the present day, when he’s an old man weak in body but strong in memories. The history and lore of the circus add a richness to the story of Jacob and his love for Marlena, an equestrian star married to August, the circus’s violent animal trainer. The novel interweaves a poignant love story with the eccentric existence of the circus performers.
“Our club enjoyed reading of this bygone era, and we were also struck by a deeper understanding of what it feels like to age physically but still feel the same on the inside.The side stories of the animals, in particular, Rosie the elephant, made us laugh and cry.”
“This first-time novel written by a woman who had a deep and abiding love for Charles Dickens’ work, relates the story of Charles Dickens’ struggle to publish A Christmas Carol in 1843. Patricia Davis details his effort while he teetered on the brink of personal failure and financial ruin. It also highlights the ‘underworld’ of life on the streets in London at the time, the poorhouses and crooked publishers. There’s nice tension and it’s beautifully written. This is a great example of creative historical fiction, and it’s the book to reach for now as the holidays approach.”
“We had an interesting discussion about The Yiddish Policemen’s Union because some of our members found the tone of the book to be anti-Semitic. The Jews of Sitka were basically corrupt survivors, except for a few noble ones. The most evil people were the most religious ones. The hero of the novel, Meyer Landsman, was the most admirable of those characters, and even he was drawn with all his flaws revealed. We also discussed how this alternative history could have happened, and what if it had. As with The Plot Against America, we shivered at the harsh concept of what our world would be like today if certain decisions were made sixty years ago. We discussed the establishment of Israel as a refuge for the survivors of the Holocaust, and its struggle to survive. One of our members was traveling on a mission to bring a group of Ethiopian Jews into Israel several weeks after our book group met. We compared the experiences of the Ethiopian Jews to those of the European Jews who arrived in droves at Sitka, Alaska after World War II.”
“This historical fiction about the creation of the Taj Mahal in the mid-1600’s was written in the first-person voice of a young princess, Jahanara. After the tragic death of her mother, Jahanara’s father commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal, a grand mausoleum, as a testament of his love for his wife. Jahanara tells the mesmerizing tale, while sharing her own life of forbidden love. Our group had a wonderful discussion with the author, about the fact that, even though Jahanara was a princess, her views weren’t accepted because she was a woman.”
Paired with: A traditional Indian dessert, called Gulab Jamun. These ball-shaped pastries are soaked in rose scented syrup and served with whipped cream.
Read Between the Wines Book Club of McHenry, Illinois, recommends:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin, 2007), Nonfiction, 352 pages
“Our book club consists of thirty-year-olds, so we jumped at the opportunity to read this adventurous true story about the author. Elizabeth Gilbert is a woman in her thirties who takes a year to figure out her life by traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia to discover balance, happiness, spirituality, and good food. She has humorous and also touching experiences in each location and meets some lovely people along the way who help enhance her journey towards self-discovery. We had a wonderful discussion on where we would travel if given the opportunity, what we feel about all the issues she presents as a woman in society today, and what we would title our own memoir. It has been voted the best book we have read to date by all members.”
Paired with: An Italian feast in honor of Gilbert’s journey to Italy and the wonderful food she ate while gaining some much needed weight: Pellegrino, red wine, grilled chicken Caesar salad, Creamy Asparagus and Parmesan Risotto, and for dessert, homemade hazelnut gelato (in the book, the author loves to splurge on different flavors of gelato)
”In 1982, George Guthridge brought his wife and two young daughters to Gambell, Alaska, a small village on the edge of the remote blizzard-swept St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. Guthridge was there to teach at a Siberian-Yupik school. The school district enters the students into one of the most difficult academic competitions in the nation and George resolves to coach them to a state championship. Similar to an Alaskan version of Stand and Deliver, this is a story of triumph over adversity that provides a fascinating view of a remote Alaska Native village. Truly inspiring.”
Paired with: “Pilot Bread crackers with salmon spread and wine. Rice is a staple in Alaskan villages, so dinner was served with rice, and flowers were put in empty cans as a centerpiece. Dessert was baked Alaska and coffee was served with canned milk for cream.”
“We had alively discussion regarding relationships in this story about a baby abandoned at an old estate, Blessings, and cared for by the newly hired handyman, Skip. All agreed that the baby brought out long-suppressed feelings and regrets for Mrs. Blessing regarding her relationship with her own mother and later with her daughter. Skip had experienced a poor, almost non-existent relationship with his parents. We enjoyed reading the book because many of us could identify with the relationship dynamics in one way or the other (personally or professionally).”
Moms Reading of Wakefield, Massachusetts, recommends:
Why I’m Still Married: Women Write Their Hearts Out on Love, Loss, Sex, and Who Does the Dishes by Karen Propp and Jean Trounstine (Hudson Street Press, 2006), Nonfiction, 304 pages
“During our club’s discussion of this compilation of essays on marriage written by famous women authors, we were able to open up to each other about our husbands and our marriages. We shared our favorite essays and we even each took turns reading aloud our favorite passages. We would highly recommend this as a good ‘bonding’ book: group members really got to know each other better.”
Paired with: “Our husbands’ favorite foods! Apple pie and cheesecake were a hit. One member broughtthe homemade lasagna her husband loves, and another broughtthe homemade American chop suey that her husband loves. The food this night was exceptional!”
“This is a story of a 13-year-old girl who demands medical emancipation from her parents.
She was a ‘designer’ baby for thesake of her older, very ill sister and has decided not to do this anymore. The description of the legal dilemma, the plight of the youngsters, the despair of the parents and the ensuing turns of this beautifully crafted and well-written story make for one you will be drawn to from the very first paragraph, and will rememberlong after the last paragraph is read. The ensuing discussion willhold you in awe and you will feel that, should any of these characters walk into the room, you would know them instantly, the ones with whom you can identify and the ones withwhom you can’t.”
“ALL SOULS is the true story of an Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts. The author was one of
six children. There was no father in the house and the mother was not the perfect picture of motherhood. However, there was a strong bond between the mother and this son, and in our discussion, we explored our bonds with our own children Our group members live about twenty minutes outside of Boston and many of us are Irish, so we all could relate to this book on so many levels. The book described growing up in the city, with issues such as the Irish mafia and bussing, and members recalled these incidents. Those of us who were too young to remember, really enjoyed what everyone else shared. The bottom line was that this was an interesting story that we all related to.The fact that it was true was the icing on the cake.”
Paired with: A menu based on the colors of the Irish flag: ricotta pie (white), sweet potato casserole (orange), and broccoli salad (green).
“This is a hauntingly beautiful novel about two characters whose lives are woven together in
such complex ways that even after the last page is turned, the reader is left to wonder what really happened. The book spans a history of sixty years, moving from Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe to present-day Brighton Beach. The central character is Leo Gursky, a retired locksmith who immigrates to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland. His story is interwoven with that of 14-year-old Alma Singer, who lives with her widowed mother Charlotte and 10-year-old brother Bird (who is convinced he may be the Messiah). Loneliness, loss and love tie the characters together in surprising ways. It’s such a complicated plot that we spent most of our discussion sorting out how everything fit together and appreciating the poignant beauty of the writer’s language and descriptions.”
“THE SPEED OF DARK was a different choice for us. This book was listed as science fiction(which most in the club won’t read) because it takes place a few years in the future when there is a cure for autism. The story takes you inside of the mind of a high-functioning autistic man who is asked to undergo a new, experimental treatment designed to cure autism. Most autism is corrected at birth, but Lou was born too soon to benefit from that procedure. He has a good life, a good job, and many friends. Will the ‘new’ Lou remember the ‘old’ Lou? Is being normal worth the risk? If the cure will change who you are fundamentally, should you take the chance? We talked about several other issues: the accommodations made in the workplace for these workers, and their friendships, fights, and sexual attractions.”
“How would you like to be constantly compared to your predecessor, especially one in
marriage? The nameless young heroine marries the cosmopolitan Max De Winter and moves into his household on the country estate Manderley, not long after his first wife Rebecca has died. Can the heroine ever fill the shoes of the beautiful, talented Rebecca? Or, does she even want to? A twist to the story lets us know, but we must wait until the very end. Everyone in the group, female and male, enjoyed reading this 1938 gothic novel, and for the first time in 4 years we’ve had a 100% approval rating for a book. Mystery, intrigue and romance kept us glued to the storyline from the famous first sentence, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” until the surprise ending. Character analysis occupied a majority of the discussion. The 1940 Alfred Hitchcock thriller by the same title won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1941.”
The Reading Hearts of Media, Pennsylvania, recommends:
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak (Knopf, 2006), Fiction, 560 pages
“This is a story about a German family in Nazi Germany, but the narrator is Death. This book gives a different perspective of Germany during the war. It shows the horrors of war but also how it affected the German people who did not support it: those who were sympathetic with the Jews and tried to uphold their values and morals. The main character is a young girl, and her love for reading sustains her and others through many harrowing experiences. The unique perspective of Death as the narrator gives this book a fresh and unusual look at a topic that has been the theme of many other literary works.
Paired with: Pea soup, which the characters in the book ate, and sandwiches on dark bread, a luxury they did not have.
“What type of leadership is best in a situation where blacks own blacks? It amazed us to consider a person, black or white or otherwise, who could actually own another individual, let alone consider a person who has seen or experienced slavery first-hand becoming a slave owner themselves. Some slave owners chose to be hard-edged while others were much more easy-going and friendly to their slaves. Does an easy-going, friendly approach make owning slaves “okay”? We all liked this book because it opened our eyes to a whole world that we were unaware of, and made us think about the many ways people bend rules to fit their own situations. We also discussed the cover design and how the author used an actual map from a slave family.”
Paired with: Southern fried chicken, collard greens, sweet potato casserole, grits with corn bread, and pecan pie from a Southern bakery.
“There’s a bit of a mystery and twist to the plot in this story of three sisters and the disintegration (in a way) of the family after the youngest girl goes missing at the age of five. The narrator is the oldest daughter as an adult and the family is trying to bring closure to this tragedy that happened so long ago. We appreciated how the author developed the characters: they all seemed so believable, even the few oddballs. We found the book’s structure – with two story threads subtly woven together – intriguing, and we discussed how the book’s use of letters tied all the many characters together in a way that kept some of us wondering right up until the very end.”
Paired with: Gumbo and peach martinis (since the narrator lives in New Orleans and tends to drink).
The Book Club of Austin, Texas, recommends:
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger (MacAdam/Cage, 2003), Fiction, 518 pages
“We all enjoyed this book and our excellent discussion. A good discussion point was whether the time-travel element adds or detracts from the story. In other words, would the story be a good love story if it had been told in a linear fashion? There is the always-waiting aspect of the story – the girl/woman never knows when her boy/man is going to disappear or reappear in her life, and whether he’ll come in the form of a boy or man, in the past or the future. Is this just a cute gimmick or does it actually instruct us in any way or give us insights into relationships or the human heart or state of mind?”
Mintz, Levin Literary Discussion Group of Boston, Massachusetts, recommends:
THE GARDENS OF KYOTO by Kate Walbert (Scribner, 2001), Fiction, 288 pages
“This is a stunning first novel about a young woman coming of age in the period between World War II and the Korean War. The novel provided one of the best discussions our group has had. The recurring themes of deception and secrecy were explored, as each character was guilty of either keeping or revealing secrets. We considered what it was like for women who were pregnant and unmarried during this period, and we discussed other ways in which women of that era were constrained by cultural norms and expectations. One of the more interesting discussion points was about Kyoto’s historic gardens, and the ways in which the various gardens were metaphors for other themes in the book. One of the characters conducts a campaign to protect the most famous garden in Kyoto from being bombed. Our group wondered what, in America, would we consider such a natural treasure that we would protect it above all others from destruction?”
Ravenous Readers of Vero, Beach, Florida, recommends:
TALES OF A FEMALE NOMAD: LIVING AT LARGE IN THE WORLD by Rita Golden Gelman (Crown, 2001), Nonfiction, 320 pages
“This account of very different cultures and parts of the world is fascinating. The author lives in Central America for a few years, and then she goes to Bali, where she rents a room for many years and learns the country’s language and culture. She also uses Bali as a base to travel to other, less developed locations in Indonesia. In a sense, she creates a new family for herself from those she meets abroad, and the personal connections she makes shows that travel is as much about people as it is about places. The book depicts the situation many middle-aged women find themselves in–empty nest and divorce– and shows that for some women those endings open the door to freedom, travel, and an entirely different life. We found that message inspiring, although we also realized that not everyone would embrace the option she chooses.”
WOW (Women of Words) of Green Valley, Arizona, recommends:
FIRST MOTHERS: THE WOMEN WHO SHAPED THE PRESIDENTS by Bonnie Angelo (William Morrow, 2000), Nonfiction, 451 pages
“Our book club really enjoyed FIRST MOTHERS. Angelo, a veteran reporter and writer for TIME, gave factual accounts of the presidents’ mothers along with colorful background information. The book is fairly long so we divided the chapters among our members with each reviewing one of the mothers. We discussed how each mother was a “pusher” for success. Education was stressed in their homes. The biggest difference seemed to be money. Some were from impoverished but hardworking environments and others were from wealthy backgrounds. After all the mini-reviews we had a general discussion and discovered that we all had read more than our own assigned chapter.”
Paired with: a fruit pie from the chapter on Richard Nixon’s mother, “Fifty Pies Before Breakfast.” “(Nixon’s mother used to get up very early and bake fifty pies to sell in their roadside market. Nixon would drive the truck into the city at the crack of dawn (or earlier!) to pick up supplies, and spend the pre- breakfast hours with his mother cutting fruit, rolling dough, and baking the pies.)”
Thoreau Reading Group of Concord, Massachusetts, recommends:
WILL IN THE WORLD: HOW SHAKESPEARE BECAME SHAKESPEARE by Stephen Greenblatt (Norton, 2004), Nonfiction, 386 pages
“We were overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of Greenblatt’s knowledge of Shakespeare and his ability to write in such an accessible manner. Most of us learned an enormous amount about Shakespeare and the world he lived in. We discussed Shakespeare’s religion, writing processes, business sense, family relationships, sexual orientation, and, most of all, his impact on the theater and his ability to produce plays that still feel current and relevant. We were also struck by the number of new words that Shakespeare created in his work.”
Bookenders of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, recommends:
SO BIG by Edna Ferber (1924; Harperperennial, 2000), Fiction, 272 pages
“At the age of nineteen, Selina finds herself teaching in a farm town outside of Chicago after the loss of her father. Having grown up accustomed to finer things, she is now living in a farmhouse without conveniences. She marries a widower and after a few years, becomes a widow herself with a young son, and is determined to raise him to be successful. Ferber writes of all classes of people in turn-of-the-century Chicago: the poor, the farmers, the working class, a woman in a man’s world, and the rich. We talked about the physical characteristics Ferber refers to in people, such as their hands, their smile, their eyes. Ms. Ferber was a noted feminist, and in this book she made her female characters strong and at times controlling. Money was another strong theme. The characters who earn their money, respect it, and those who inherit money, do not. Ms. Ferber’s small book has more details, characters, themes, and layers, than most books written today. A must read.”
Paired with: apple desserts to reflect the book’s farm setting, including apple pie and applesauce spice cake
The Book Club of San Diego, California, recommends:
THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeanette Walls (Scribner, 2006), Nonfiction, 304 pages
“We were unanimous in our enthusiasm for this provocative memoir. Jeanette Walls’s story of growing up in a deeply dysfunctional family is both engaging and uplifting. We appreciated Walls’s matter-of-fact style as she tells about her childhood experiences with an intelligent but alcoholic father, and an irresponsible mother who the doctors in our group believe was probably mentally ill. We discussed whether court intervention could have helped this family. The resilience and resolve of the children in this story are impressive, and make this book uplifting rather than depressing. The book also made us feel that, as parents, we ourselves are doing pretty well!”
The Bookwomen of Encinitas, California, recommend:
MARCH by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 2005), Fiction, 288 pages
“Our group agreed that it was quite bold for a contemporary author to undertake writing a companion book to a classic like LITTLE WOMEN – and that she did so successfully. Based on the diaries of Bronson Alcott, the novel LITTLE WOMEN, and extensive Civil War research, MARCH allowed us a glimpse into the familiar story of the March family from a completely different perspective. We enjoyed our discussion of how Reverend March’s high ideals impacted his decisions, and ultimately his family. The familiar historical figures and events, from key figures of the Transcendentalist and Abolitionist movements to the gruesome realities of the Civil War, lent the book a sense of depth and vitality. After reading MARCH, we all viewed Marmee and her daughters a little differently, and some of us went back and re-read LITTLE WOMEN.”
Paired with: a dinner of grilled summer vegetables (eggplant, peppers, portobello, onion, zucchini, and yellow squash), corn pudding, and a garden salad, all in keeping with Reverend March’s vegetarian sensibilities, and boysenberry-apple pie for dessert.
Ladies of the Lake Book Group of Encino, California, recommends:
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN by Lisa See (Random House, 2005), Fiction, 272 pages
“SNOWFLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is a beautiful, enchanting, sometimes sorrowful story of two young women growing up in nineteenth-century China, and the friendship they develop that sustains them throughout their lives. Snow Flower and Lily meet at the age of seven and despite isolation and repression manage to communicate in a secret written language called ‘nu shu.’ Our group was reminded of the oppression of women for centuries and in all cultures, and the crucial role female friendship has played in giving women solace and in helping them advance. The period detail, especially as it relates to foot-binding, is emotionally charged. A ‘must-read’ for women!”
Danner’s Books Mystery Book Club of Muncie, Indiana, recommends:
BONE COLD by Erica Spindler (Mira, 2001), Fiction, 512 pages
“Anna North survived an attack by a madman twenty-three years ago in which the attacker cut off her little finger. Anna has become a writer of thrillers, but she writes under a pen name and finally feels safe. Then the letters from a disturbed fan start to arrive and a very close friend of hers disappears. Could her past be linked to the disappearance of her friend and the murder of three women in New Orleans? Our group was intrigued by the fact that, even after twenty- three years, Anna still wasn’t safe from the madman. The book left you with the feeling that even though you take precautions, if someone wants to do you harm, they will find a way. We talked about how believable the characters were and how well Spindler developed them. This was a real page turner – you had to read just one more page before going to bed.”
Paired with: Homemade peach – bone cold – ice cream.
The Weaver Library “Mostly Fiction” Book Club of East Providence, Rhode Island, recommends:
THE COFFEE TRADER by David Liss (Random House, 2003), Fiction, 400 pages
“David Liss was a new author for us, and most agreed that his work was a delicious find! This is an historical novel of investment intrigue presenting both male and female characters who are lively, complicated, driven, and mysterious in a setting so vivid that members felt they could smell the teeming streets and canals of 17th century Amsterdam. The novel’s plot captured us with its multi- layered twists and turns, raising moral and ethical questions applicable to today’s financial markets and dealings. It revolved around a community of Portuguese Jews who had escaped from the Inquisition, a subject about which members wanted to learn more. Finally, Liss’s use of language excited us with several members reading aloud the elegant sentences they wanted all of us to remember.”
Paired with: Dark Chocolate Coffee Beans (one of the characters in the book chewed them)
The Thomas Jefferson Book Club of Falls Church, Virginia, recommends:
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Penguin, 2004), Fiction,
“This wonderful novel with many layers takes place in Barcelona beginning in 1945. Everyone in our women’s book group loved the book. We discussed how our perception of Lain Coubert changed as we discovered who he really was, and that re-reading passages we once thought were sinister could actually make his character appear sympathetic. We had an extended book discussion because different people would bring up an aspect that the rest of us missed and we wanted to hear more.”
Paired with: Spanish foods (tapas) – Spanish olives, serrano ham, manchego cheese, chorizo, almonds, dried apricots, magdalenas, Maria cookies and non-alcoholic sangria
The Martha’s Vineyard Reading Group of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, recommends:
SUMMER by Edith Wharton (Bantam, 1917), Fiction, 224 pages
“Edith Wharton is well known for her major works that fully describe the New York social strata that she inhabited. The less well-known SUMMER is so amazingly complete, and the characters so well formed because Edith Wharton understood people and human behavior. She did have a way of knowing and understanding the working class, and it occurred to us that when she was building the gardens at her home in Lenox, Massachusetts she knew the workmen and knew what their family lives were like. Thus stories such as ETHAN FROME and SUMMER are not contrived, or ‘a stretch’, but ring true. Our reading group loved SUMMER,and it gave us an enjoyable and memorable evening’s conversation and discussion.”
East Regional Library Travel Book Club, Knightdale, North Carolina, recommends:
MCCARTHY’S BAR: A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY IN IRELAND by Pete McCarthy
(St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003), Nonfiction, 352 pages
“We loved McCarthy’s account of his return to West Cork, where his travels around the South and West of Ireland culminate in a pilgrimage to the ancient retreat Lough Derg. We were fascinated by the pilgrimage he did at the end, recreating the fasting and prayers that the knights went through. We enjoyed our discussion of the tourism McCarthy describes versus preserving the natural charm of the area.”
Paired with: Homemade Irish Pudding with Caramel Sauce, Kerry Apple Cake, Irish Breakfast Tea, Irish Soda Bread and Irish Butter