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Thursday Night Book Club -- July, 2018

The Thursday Night Book Club filled the library's Board Room to slightly over capacity on Thursday, July 19th to discuss A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Nicknamed "King Lear in a cornfield," A Thousand Acres takes place in 1979 in fictional Zebulon County, Iowa. The book is narrated by 36-year-old Ginny Cook Smith, the oldest of three daughters of prosperous widower farmer Larry Cook. Due primarily to his neighbors' failures, Larry has amassed a farm of a thousand acres, one of the largest in the county. The Cook farm stands as an emblem of Larry's single-minded shrewdness: "What is a farmer? A farmer is a man who feeds the world. What is a farmer's first duty? To grow more food. What is a farmer's second duty? To buy more land. What are the signs of a good farm? Clean fields, neatly painted buildings, breakfast at six, no debts, no standing water. How will you know a good farmer when you meet him? He will not ask you for any favors."

At a par…
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The Golden Man Booker Prize

I am an unabashed sucker for book lists. I am particularly fond of the long and short lists which precede the announcement of the winners of the big literary prizes of the year, especially the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award. The longlist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize will be released on July 24th, a date I've had circled in my desk calendar for a while now (I'm in full book nerd mode here). But while I wait for that great day to arrive, the good people involved with the Man Booker decided to give me a gift. They announced a special, one-off award, called the Golden Man Booker, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the existence of the Man Booker Prize. The Golden Man Booker is awarded to the book deemed to be the best work of fiction of all of the previous winners of the Man Booker Prize over the past five decades.

Be still my nerdy heart...

In order to determine the winner, a panel of five judges read all the former winners of the prize, with each assigned a dec…

Visualizing the Beatles by John Pring and Rob Thomas

I am just a bit too young to have followed the Beatles in the 1960s. I was five and only just starting to understand the allure of pop music and rock and roll when the group split up in 1970. But my parents owned the albums, of course, and I remember pulling them off the shelf and studying them (the sleek White Album, the surreal colors of Yellow Submarine and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the funky clothing they wore on Abbey Road). We listened to the music at home sometimes, and I liked it, a lot. I watched video footage of the group's first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1965, which gave me a small taste of some of the hysteria that followed them wherever they went. But all of it felt a bit after the fact, and I sometimes had the sense that I had missed something important and vital.

Many years later, when my own children were in elementary school, my husband and I bought the CD compilation of Beatles #1 hits, aptly titled 1, and we played it on car trips f…

Thursday Night Book Club -- June, 2018

Traditionally, the reading list for the Thursday Night Book Club contains novels plus one work of non-fiction. Late last year, I was surprised (in a good way) when several regular attendees asked me whether we might give short stories a try. On Thursday, June 21st the Thursday Night Book Club gathered to discuss Jhumpa Lahiri's short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. In nine poignant, concise and autobiographical short stories, Interpreter of Maladies explores themes of identity, the immigrant experience, cultural differences, love and family. The characters in the stories, mainly Indian or Indian-Americans, are caught between the culture they inherited from their parents and the world in which they now find themselves. As Lahiri noted in an interview about the book, "I saw the effects of what it means to live your life away from your point of reference. This goes so deep, and so vast, and so specific, and so minute-by-minute. And that constant back and forth in one…

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might assume that I read mostly, or only, literary fiction and non-fiction books by or about literary fiction writers. But you'd be wrong. In fact, I read many books that might be described as guilty pleasures.  For example, I have read the entire Fifty Shades of Grey series (and I am not ashamed). I have read my fair share of Nora Roberts novels. I have read every single one of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich (and yes, I know that the 25th book in the series will be out in November) and the Nantucket novels by Elin Hilderbrand (look for her new one next week). And I love murder mysteries, especially ones set in England. I read Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George, Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear. I've read all of Dorothy Sayers. And while I have not read all of Agatha Christie (although it is a worthy goal), I've read dozens of her books, as well as the twoPoirot novels written by Sophie Hannah in the style of A…

Loving a Writer's Work

So there I was, comfortably ensconced on the couch, making my way through The Rub of Time, a new collection of essays by Martin Amis. I was finding many of the pieces very interesting and engaging, and some less so (there are only so many articles about Nabokov that a person can read). I had just started reading Amis' review of Don Delillo's story collection The Angel Esmeralda,* when I read this paragraph:

"When we say that we love a writer's work -- yes, even when we say it hand on heart -- we are always stretching the truth. What we really mean is that we love about half of it. Sometimes rather more than half, sometimes rather less: but about half."

I sat up a little straighter on the couch and read the paragraph again. It was a bold and provocative thing to say. I started to think about whether or not there might be any truth to what Amis had written, and then I kept reading:

"The gigantic presence of Joyce relies pretty well entirely on Ulysses, with a…

The Great American Read

In her memoir The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls wrote that "one benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by." This summer, PBS appears to have taken that concept to heart. On May 22nd, the public television station launched the first of a planned eight-episode series called The Great American Read. Its lofty (and worthy) goal is to spark a nationwide conversation about books and reading. To do that, PBS conducted a national survey to generate a list of what it describes as "America's best-loved novels." PBS is urging Americans to read (or re-read, as the case may be) any of the books on the list over the course of the summer, discuss the books with friends and colleagues and on social media and then vote for their favorite titles. The television series will resume in September with several episodes that focus on themes common to certain subsets of the books on the list. PBS will announce the results of the nationwide voting in the finale o…