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Thursday Night Book Club -- November, 2019

Exactly one week before the Thanksgiving holiday, the members of the Thursday Night Book Club filled the library's Collins Room to discuss Michael Ondaatje's 2018 novel Warlight. Beginning in London just as World War II is coming to an end in the late summer of 1945, Warlight introduces us to 14-year-old Nathaniel and his almost 16-year-old sister Rachel, who learn that their parents are moving to Singapore for a year and leaving them "in the care of two men who may have been criminals." These men, a family friend known to the children as The Moth and a rough-edged greyhound racer nicknamed The Pimlico Darter, are joined by others who take over the household while acting as mentors and protectors to the two teenagers. More than ten years later, Nathaniel tries to "clarify the fable about our parents, about Rachel and myself, about The Moth and the others who joined us later," and learns that his mother Rose was active in the war in ways that continued even…
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Book Award Season

The past ten days have been banner ones for book award ceremonies on both sides of the Atlantic. This madcap bout of celebration of the best writing of the year is, of course, a great joy for those of us who pay attention to that kind of thing. What follows is a highlight reel of sorts to save you the time of looking up all the winners on your own:

First, and most importantly, are the National Book Awards, the winners of which were announced on November 20th at a black-tie ceremony hosted by LeVar Burton in New York City. The National Book Award is America's most prestigious literary prize, and each winner is awarded $10,000. The 2019 fiction prize went to Susan Choi for Trust Exercise, a novel set in the 1980s at a competitive performing arts school. Two freshmen fall in love, and their relationship is observed and then toyed with by their acting teacher in a way that is not made clear to their friends or to the book's readers. The novel explores themes of friendship, loyalt…

Still More Good Reads

As I've started to make my way through the big books of fall, reading not just the books that got the most pre-publication buzz but also the ones that I've been most excited about, I've noticed that there is not always a correlation between my anticipation of a book and the reality of reading it. Sometimes a book I've been sure I'll love falls flat, and other times a book that I read merely because I was curious takes me completely by surprise. That, of course, is one of the reasons to read things outside your comfort zone -- you just never know when something is going to knock you sideways. Here are three books I've read in the past month that hit all the right notes for me, regardless of the expectations I brought to the experience of reading them:


The Thursday Night Book Club read and discussed Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the inhabitants of a small town in Maine and one particularly wonderful, irritable, indom…

Ducks, Newburyport

Those of you who cared enough (or who are loyal enough) to read through my rant about the outcome of the 2019 Booker Prize may have noticed that, while I resisted ranking the 13 books on this year's longlist, I did disclose that Girl, Woman, Other clocked in at #2. That might have caused you to wonder, fleetingly at best, which of the Booker Dozen was my #1 (said another way, which one would I have picked to win had I been on that decision-making-challenged judging committee). And the answer to that is Lucy Ellmann's audacious tour de force, Ducks, Newburyport.

Ducks, Newburyport contains the thoughts of a frazzled Ohio housewife and mother of four over the course of a single day in the winter of 2017. A cancer survivor and former teacher, she spends her days making pies and other baked goods that she sells (quite successfully) at a local bakery, while doing all the other things that a wife and mother of four might do. Instead of a conventional narrative, Ellmann tells her unn…

The 2019 Booker Prize

So, a funny thing happened at the Booker Prize award ceremony on October 14th. Peter Florence, the Chair of the 2019 Judging Committee, stood at the podium at the packed Guild Hall in London and announced that there were two winners of the 2019 Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. About the two novels, Florence said "These are big ambitious books. One of the learnings I've had is that all the literary finesse, the elegance of language, the brilliance of structure, all these go to serve whether or not the author has something really valuable to say. These books both have something urgent to say and they also happen to be wonderfully compelling page-turning thrillers, which I think can speak to the most literary audience, as well as to readers who are only reading one book, or in this case two books, a year."

To understand why Florence's announcement sent a small but noticeable gasp throughout the Guild Hall au…

Thursday Night Book Club -- October, 2019

At the request of book club regulars, last year the Thursday Night Book Club tackled a collection of short stories for the first time. Although the results were a bit mixed, the group asked me to include another short story collection on our 2019 reading list. On Thursday, October 17th, the Thursday Night Book Club gathered to discuss Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. Published in 2017, Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 stories, each one containing a typewriter as a talisman. There is a story about a recently-divorced mom trying to avoid the neighbor who might be hitting on her, another about a billionaire inventor who can't stop traveling back in time to 1939, and a third about a World War II veteran whose Christmas Eve in 1953 is impacted by his memories of Christmas Eve in 1944. There is a story about a young man celebrating his 19th birthday by going surfing with his dad, and another about a boy who lives with his father and stepmother and who spends a weekend celebrating his 10t…

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 and 2019

It might have escaped your notice, but no one won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year. Instead, the Swedish Academy that administers the prize was hit with an unexpected scandal involving allegations of sexual harassment and financial impropriety. Several months before the prize was scheduled to be announced, 18 women accused French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault of assault. At the time, Arnault was married to Academy member Katarina Frostenson. Arnault was also accused of leaking the names of laureates and was convicted in October of 2018 and jailed for two years. After a firestorm of protests and resignations, the Academy did not have enough members left even to elect new members, and the prize was postponed because of the "reduced public confidence" in the Academy and in the process.

In March of this year, the Academy announced that it had made changes to its organizational and operating structures and would no longer include "any members who are subject to co…