“The Lonely Polygamist is a tragicomic story about Golden Richards, husband to four wives and father to 28 children, who is pushed to the outer limits of dysfunctionality, heartbreak, mid-life crisis and comedy. This book fully engaged us in the characters and circumstances they face, from the natural experiences of the human condition to the utterly absurd. We felt both compassion and exasperation with the main character, Golden, and noted how Udall’s use of metaphor could turn a tragic situation into a comic moment. We explored our assumptions about polygamous families and how in some ways they are just like any family. Finally, we discussed the concept of love in the context of sharing a husband and raising a family-at-large.”
“Atonement was quite a surprise for our book club. The story is about a young girl who wants to become a writer. When she spins a tale that isn’t true, it causes a devastating series of events. Atonement was very well received by the club because it was never predictable or obvious. It created an intense discussion about what many in the group perceived as characters ‘doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.’ The book itself bordered on being an English mystery – set in an English country manor house during World War II. There were several members who did not catch on to the ending of the book until it was discussed at our meeting! Highly recommended for its complexity, beautiful writing and the glimpse into the devastated life of wartime and post-war Britain.”
“This novel is about two women who meet accidentally in Nigeria and meet again in England two years later. The author tells the story using the voices of both women as their lives are woven together. This story brings out issues of illegal immigration, racism, humor, language usage, and loss of innocence. The two voices make the book a page turner and suspenseful. Our book group couldn’t agree on the ending which was another area of discussion.”
“This is one of our favorite books. It is a true story about a woman who relocates to a little town near the Hudson River (in New York) after September 11th and meets a cast of characters in a small Irish pub that makes her feel loved and at home, and helps to refocus her life. It includes the history of that fateful day that we all remember, and offers encouragement as to how good life and people can be. We had a great book club night, complete with a neon beer sign that hung in the window as book club members arrived.”
Served with: Pub grub such as homemade potato skins and a Bailey’s Mousse Pie for dessert in tribute to the characters’ Irish heritage.
“The Cider House Rules is an intricate novel that revolves around various social and political issues, as vast as the state of Maine where this incredible story takes place. The reader views this world through the lens of the story’s young protagonist, Homer Wells, whose journey takes us from his unusual childhood in an orphanage, to the apple orchards on the coast of Maine where he becomes a man. Along the way Irving challenges us to examine issues such as the right to choose, the meaning of war, mental illness, and one’s calling in life. This provocative novel takes so many twists and turns. It’s a great read that we highly recommend.”
“This gripping story provides an intriguing peek into the culture and history of Ethiopia. The book motivated us to look up information about Ethiopia — generally a poor forgotten country — and gave us an appreciation for what must be a place of beauty and rich culture.
“We discussed the depth of the characters who were quirky and fallible, but also kind, generous and compassionate. The Ghoshes were a loving extended family, believable because of their humanity, their bonds and their rifts. The book was exotic, mystical, and surprisingly uplifting, despite the sometimes horrific events.
“We discussed the masterful plot, history of Ethiopia, the accuracy of the medical scenes and compared the book with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.”
“This is ‘the little book that could!’ This beautifully written book is not only about the obvious differences between a black man and a white man, a Jew and a Christian, a man of assumed privilege and one not, two men from different geographic locales, but also the commonality of humanity.
“Charity, common in all faiths, is what brings these three men together via Albom’s open and honest (spiritual) journey. Their individual and collective humanity is inspirational, causing one of our members to declare ‘my faith has been restored.’ We discussed redemption, whether a person can be rehabilitated in or after prison, and our obligation to others.
“Sprinkled throughout with nuggets, it is worth more than one reading. And while there have been other books our group enjoyed and which generated good and enthusiastic discussions, the best testimony is that not only did many members buy the book but, in the spirit of the book, several bought it to give to others!”
“This is the true story of a woman who was involved in a polygamous marriage and lived on a compound. This book was read by both book clubs in which I participate, and in one of them we
were able to interview Ms. Jessop by phone.
“Both clubs enjoyed this book and found it very intriguing. We did have a hard time understanding how intelligent women could be so dominated by men, to the point where the men controlled the money, the education, and the woman’s very lives. Many of us have seen the show Big Love on HBO, and during the interview, Ms. Jessop took pains to explain to us that real life in a polygamous relationship was nothing like that program. There was an interesting subplot regarding the ‘lost boys’ who are thrown out of the compound to struggle on their own with no money or contacts. The reason given was a minor infraction; in actuality the men did not want the boys to become interested in young women they want for themselves.
“During the discussions, we read related articles, which underscored for us that not only is this a true story, but it is one that continues today.”
“All of our book club members loved this book, which takes place during three different
time periods: 1913, 1975 and 2005. A tiny girl, Nell, is abandoned on a ship headed for
Australia in 1913. She arrives alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book — a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dock master and his wife and on her twenty-first birthday is told the truth about her life.
“Her quest to find her real identity leads back to the Cornish Coast and the secrets of the Mountrachet family. But the truth is not learned until her granddaughter takes up the search after Nell’s death.
“The way in which the author intertwines the lives of the women and goes back and forth between time periods kept us intrigued as we tried to find the real identity of little ‘Nell.’ Discussion about the book revolved around the friendships and betrayals in the family that led to Nell’s being on the ship — the characters that we liked and the ones we found despicable. Some of our members were able to figure out the ending, but most did not. We also discussed the garden cottage and maze, and how they affected the lives of the characters in the book. For many members going back and forth among the three time periods was a little confusing at first, but as we read on, it became more enjoyable!”
“The Help is a novel set in racially divided Mississippi in the 1960s. The story is told in the voices of three women whose lives intersect in various ways. Two of the women are black maids, while the main narrator, Skeeter, is a young white woman from an upper-middle class family that employs black ‘help.’ An aspiring writer, Skeeter secretly urges the maids in town to come forward to tell her their stories of what it is like working for white families, although this project involves a huge amount of risk to all three women.
“During our discussion, the conversation returned over and over again to racial issues — both past and present. Most of the women in our group have distinct memories of growing up in the 1960’s and can remember how much of a white versus black country the United States was back then. We also discussed prejudice that still exists, whether based on race, nationality, religion, or social class.”
“A female physics professor hears her biological clock ticking and carefully chooses who the father of her baby will be. She picks a well-known quarterback, assuming he is all brawn and muscle. She herself was a child prodigy and wants her child to escape that world. But the quarterback she has chosen and tricked into giving her a child has an even higher IQ than she! Meanwhile, he, who has only dated girls with cutesy names and large busts — barely out of their teens — is furious to realize that the future mother of his child is in her thirties! And so a very hostile marriage begins.
“This novel generated a lot of excited talk and plenty of laughs. The author quickly became everybody’s favorite after this. We commented on the story between the hero’s mother and father, a nice subplot, and the grandmother. This remains one of our group’s very favorites.”
“Rachel Walsh lives the fast life in New York City — lots of booze, men, and cocaine.
Her friends and parents are worried about her, so they send her to a rehabilitation clinic back home in Ireland. Rachel is not worried; she’s sure that she’ll meet plenty of movie stars and rock musicians on her holiday. Instead, she meets other people battling addictions that become dear friends as she learns how to be herself.
“The group thoroughly enjoyed both the humor and the heart of this novel. Keyes does a brilliant job of delving into crippling denial and self-destruction of an addictive personality while managing to keep the story light-hearted and very amusing. Each lady who read the novel was able to extract a different theme (learning self-acceptance, the dangers of going through life with ‘blinders,’ dealing with, not dodging problems), which provided great fodder for discussion. We highly recommend this book!”
“The old West is often portrayed as the bastion of strong men, and the women that loved them. In Half Broke Horses, author Jeanette Walls takes a collection of her grandmother’s history and reminiscences, and shows how the West was really won. The book is referred to as a ‘true-life novel.’ This is the story of a woman who fought to be educated, to be independent of her parents, while building her own family with a foundation of determination and intelligence.
“Half Broke Horses is a well-paced read, with often witty anecdotes and plenty to interest a group discussion. The Wine Drinkers’ Book Club discussed how living close to the edge in the West was a way of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When self-reliance is a necessity, it develops a very single-minded focus on survival. We also spoke about the process and thinking of the granddaughter as she took her grandmother’s stories and created a book — what it meant to her, how much of it was family folklore versus fact, and how much was fiction.
“A half-broke horse is one that isn’t fully broken, creating a horse that is very untrusting of people. For the group, the book also begged the question: is there anything worth doing only halfway? And, is it better to do nothing or do it only halfway?”
“This was one of the most memorable books our club has read — and it was proved by our long and in-depth discussion. Shanghai Girls is about two Chinese girls living the high life before World War II. The story follows their lives after they are ‘sold out’ by their father, who has lost all his money, to the father of sons who have booked passage for their journey to America. They agree to the marriage but find they cannot go through with leaving their beloved China. When the war starts, their lives become one trial after another. They eventually travel to America and their odyssey continues.
“We discussed the atrocities that were visited upon the Chinese by the Japanese at the beginning of the war, and then by the Americans towards the Asian population after the war. Some parts are quite graphic, although we felt they were a necessary part of the story to provide historical information. We explored who was actually the ‘smartest’ of the sisters, as one sister was given that title from the beginning, but as you read on, you get the impression that the roles were often reversed. The last chapter left us saying ‘What…no, don’t end now!’ We are clamoring for a sequel…”
Paired with: Chinese food ordered from a local restaurant, including wonton soup, spring rolls, pork pot stickers, beef and broccoli, sweet and sour chicken, and Chinese vegetables and for dessert, almond cookies and of course fortune cookies. Also, plum wine to complement the dishes, and Chinese black tea.
“The protagonist is an American woman diplomat, Jordan Weiss. She had attended college in Cambridge, England, and while there, was a coxswain in a rowing team. She found her boyfriend on the team and he ended up drowning in the lock. Jordan swore she would never return to England because of the pain. She went to the United States, got into diplomatic service, worked throughout the world, and gained a good reputation in her career. Ten years after Cambridge (present day), Jordan receives a letter from a close college girlfriend, Sarah, who is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Jordan goes to help Sarah and eventually gets a transfer to the London office. What follows is a murder mystery with several twists and turns that held our interest. Jordan discovers that her boyfriend had not drowned — he had no water in his lungs — but must have been murdered.
“One question that came up during discussion: was Jordan’s personality and character makeup best suited to a career as a State Department Intellingence Officer? Our group found her impulsive and frequently forgetful (she kept leaving her gun at home). Also she seemed a bit flaky and irresponsible.
Despite the fact that one of her colleagues says, ‘We have no personal lives in this business, Jordan,’ Jordon manages to establish intimate relationships with many co-workers. In her line of business, we found this behavior to be particularly dangerous and unprofessional.”
Paired with: A London themed pot luck dinner, including London Lemonade cocktail, Get Pickled and Drown Your Tears Pickled Eggs, London Broil and London Bars.
“A funny and engaging account of one family’s trips to explore the world and the smaller creatures in it. A safari for the Green World. Not a typical book club pick, but very interesting and well written.
“One focus of discussion was on the way that we are unconsciously damaging our earth. One person brought a pamphlet on sustainable sushi, another brought order forms for Mushroom Jerky, with proceeds to help the Borneo rainforest. We also discussed the author’s lack of fear in these wild situations — especially with snakes — and reasoned that many people are afraid of things they are not familiar with (although a healthy respect goes a long way). Another dramatic talking point concerned the relationship that existed between the author and his wife. Finally, we wondered about the author’s ultimate goal in doing these deeds and writing this book. Adventure? Monetary gain? Lost childhood? Ecological?
“We had the opportunity on Earth Day to hear the author speak in St. Paul, Minnesota. We then decided that his need was to bring an awareness of creatures great and small to the public and help us understand what we can learn from them. He does this with humor, interest, and concern.”
Paired with: The food diversity we had at our meeting! Everyone picked a continent and passage from the book and attempted a recipe. We had some strange and unusual dishes as well as some yummy ones – no bugs though! Our menu included:
Asia: Thai Ginger Pudding, Asian Spring Rolls, Babi Tulang Cin (Borneo Spare Ribs)
Africa: Plantain Fritters & Coconut Rice, Bobotee (beef dish), Moroccan Stuffed Dates
North America: Moose Meatballs, Wild Rice Apple Crisp, Maple Sugar Brownies
South America: Ajiaco (chicken, pepper soup), Brazilian Coconut Cake, Chocolate
Antarctica: Salmon Jerky, Dried Kelp Salad, Sno-Cones (flavored shaved ice), Penguin Olive Snacks (cute black olives made to look like penguins)
Australia: Lamingtons, Garlic Scallops & Shrimp with Mango Chutney, Paw Paw & Kiwi Smoothies
Europe (to name a few): Zopf Bread with Goat Cheese, Swiss Cheese Fondue, Brunsli (Swiss brownies), Kolacky, Limoncello Cookies, Chicken Paprikas, Estonian Barley Skillet Bread (oven pancake
“When this book won the Pulitzer Prize, what initially appealed to us was the back story of the author — 42 years old and a first-time novelist. But what held our interest was the unusual way in which Harding described three generations of modest New Englanders and his descriptions of the natural world they occupied. The novel opens in the room where George Crosby lays dying among his family, and ends the same way, less than 200 pages later. In between, we are treated to both minor and significant incidents in the life of George, his father, and his father’s father. The plot isn’t terribly engrossing. What captivated our group was the beautiful, poetic, and occasionally humorous writing style of the author. This is not a book to breeze through. In order to get everything out of it that the author intended, we agreed that it would probably benefit from a second reading.”
“We all LOVED this book. This was probably the only session that every person finished the book andcould not stop talking about it. We had a very rich and interesting discussion about a book infused with passion and intrigue. We covered topics ranging from mental health to death and reincarnation, drug use, trauma and tragedy, and the true meaning of love.”
Paired with: Decadent desserts and champagne, because this is a story of passion, decadence, indulgence and raw desire.
“This is a unique and powerfully written collection of memorable characters placed in lands bothfamiliarly domestic and enticingly foreign. Our book club, which usually favors novels, was delighted to find a short story collection that appealed to all of us. We are mothers and grandmothers of varied backgrounds, but we all found a story to relate to and some even found truths to reveal to their children. The characters are so vividly drawn in place and time, that it’s easy to forget you’re reading a work of fiction. These stories of loss, love and hope will resonate with you long after you leave them. If your book club is like ours, you’ll find yourselves discussing these characters as though you were sharing your own struggles or the intimacies confided to you by your closest friends. Don’t miss this one!”
“Mr. Goodman’s debut novel, Hold Love Strong is a coming of age story set in a
New York housing project. Abraham Singleton was born on the bathroom
floor to a thirteen-year-old unwed mother in 1982. We watch Abraham grow and
struggle with the realities that are his life. We also know that Abraham understands
the opportunities contained in education, loyalty and personal expression. This is an
underdog story told in the first person voice of this sensitive and perceptive young
man. It is beautifully written and was unanimously well received by all members of
our reading group. The author was gracious enough to join us by speakerphone.”
Paired with: A pot luck dinner with dishes unique to New York or food that was specifically mentioned in the story. Our menu included: Waldorf Salad, New York Deli Style Potato Salad, Crack Pie, Fried Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, and our featured cocktail, The Brooklyn Bomber.
“We began by discussing the political background of Sarajevo, where the story is set.
This book had prompted some members to do some research on the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.
“As I started preparing for the book club meeting I came across stories on the Internet about a cellist, Vedran Smailovic, who accused the author of basing the novel of his life story.The cellist’s main point of anger lies with the title of the book: this was a title he had earned in the orchestra. In the end, the character of the cellist is a peripheral one
in the novel but as readers we had to admit that the title drew us to the novel.
“For some, this was a fast read while others found it hard to read. The use of different characters’ perspectives made it tougher to follow.
“The author never says who the ‘men in the hills’ were (from media accounts we discovered these were Serb military forces). We felt the author intentionally steered clear of distinguishing the bad guys from the good guys, and we got the impression that he was trying to drive home the message that ALL civilians in a war are innocent. The men on the hills appear to be on a mission to kill the spirit of Sarajevo and are doing their job. They control the population with fear and the book described with intense detail the streets of Sarajevo and the paralyzing fear that people felt when they crossed the streets. The scenes of the cellist playing in the ruins reminded us of the scene in Titanic when the band played on as the ship sank.
“We found the book to be engaging, yet flawed and at times read as though it was a draft. But after the discussion we decided we liked the book more than initially thought that we did!”
Paired with: Bosnian theme (unfortunately there aren’t any Bosnian restaurants in Ottawa so we went to a well-known Croatian restaurant). At the New Dubrovnik restaurant we ate schnitzel, Dalmatian Veal (delicious veal medallions), Cavabcice (ground meats hand rolled into mini cigars
and grilled), red wine, and Croatian beer.
For dessert: palacinke (crepes filled with a variety of ingredients like strawberries and cream, chocolate), rolat (chocolate sponge cake roll with chocolate BURSTING out) and torta (chocolate and vanilla butter cake).
“We chose Durable Goods since Elizabeth Berg is a favorite author and we have attended several of her book talks. She has also written about Katie, her main character, in Joy School and True To Form. This last book was written as a request from her readers because they wanted to know what happened to Katie. The character was a favorite of the author’s and her readers.
“Twelve-year-old Katie tells a story of living on an army base with her dad and an older sister. The dad is cold and abusive and the sister runs off to get married. The mother has recently died of cancer, and Katie’s life is about to change. Katie is strong and wise beyond her years. She is ‘durable goods.’
“We discussed frequent moves in the military (we had one member who grew up on some military bases), single parenting, cancer, and moving from childhood into the young teen years (which we
had all experienced and watched our kids experience too).
“We enjoyed the author’s writing and the honest comments of Katie. We wanted to know more about her and found her refreshing.”
“The Unit is about a society where childless men and women are sent to ‘The Unit’ (men at sixty and women at fifty) to make contributions to the greater good by participating in human experiments and donating their body parts until their final donation.
“We experience life in The Unit through Dorrit Wegner, who was raised by her mother to be a strong independent woman. At fifty, Dorrit gives up her home, her pet dog Jock, and packs one bag. A van arrives and she is no longer a member of society. When she arrives at The Unit all her physical needs are met but there is a price to pay. She attends parties, shops at The Unit stores where everything is free and she participates in a study about exercise. But as time goes by she sees some of her new friends making donations such as kidneys and corneas, and then one friend makes her final donation: all her remaining vital organs!
“There were a variety of views expressed about this book. All of us were haunted by the story (even weeks later). We discussed what makes someone valuable to society, parallels to Nazi death camps, and the values of our own lives. Although is was a very disturbing read we all thought it was a great book, and provided many topics for discussion!”
“Balkan Ghosts was a great travelogue discussing ethnic clashes and the culture surrounding them. The book is about the Balkans — the people, their internal passions and their hatred of others. Kaplan is an assured writer, sometimes sounding superior,
but certainly knowledgeable. It was fun to read about places so far away, but the
lessons learned are applicable everywhere. We chose it because one member teaches high school history, and one member wishes he did!”
Paired with: Serbian Plum Brandy and souvlaki.
“The Belle women are celebrities in their small town of Leapers Fork, Tennessee.
Stubborn Charlotte Belle is the matriarch of their unconventional family which includes her warmhearted niece Angela, and Angela’s young daughter Dixie. They are rich and beautiful and full of life and the neighbors never know whether to be appalled or delighted by their sexual antics.
“One of those neighbors is Adam Montgomery, a man who traveled from the east
coast to become a doctor. He just married the ‘perfect’ Lydia but after seeing Angela
and delivering her baby out in the garden he just can’t get her out of his mind. Lydia is a
cold blooded woman, only warming her blood by the handyman Boone Dickson — without her husband suspecting a thing. There are a host of other characters from a bevy of Boston bluebloods to an African-American teacher from Philadelphia to the stock boy at the local diner. It has humor, sensuality, heartbreak and good old-fashioned story telling in it.
“We discussed the similarities and differences between Angela and Charlotte, and what they learned from one another. We talked about how some of the characters chose to be different and what they did to change their lives, along with empowerment — how various characters overcame their circumstances and whether or not it was with wealth. And we chose who would be cast if the novel was to become a movie.”