1999

Catcher in the Rye J.D.Salinger

3

We had the Cliff Notes for this, which really aided in our discussion.The book was considered taboo at the time when written, but wouldn't be considered so today.

Bitter Harvest Ann Rule

 

Since this happened in our area, we were all familiar with the story. More info on husband was omitted from book. Much discussion

Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck

3

Some of us love John Steinbeck, I being one of them. Others did not. He had a wonderful writing style- writing of characters, then breaking away to talk in general of the people of that time, and then back to the characters. This was an amazing book on the migration of farmers to California. It caused quite a controversy in California

The Optimist's Daughter
Eudora Welty

3.5

I read this tired and thought it was a "1" until I went to book club. We had a wonderful discussion. Miss Welty wrote with such subtlety. Knowing her life, you could see her in different characters. It is a book that definitely needs to be discussed to understand and enjoy.

To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf

2

Virginia Woolf was the first feminist author of our time. Her contribution to literature in this aspect was very important The book is timeless and we see the thoughts from a woman's perspective and that of a man's. That is why it gets a 2. It was a very difficult book to read. She wrote in a voice of one's thinking to herself which is in endless sentences. By the end of the sentence, you actually forget what she was talking about. It is an interesting read as far as style and for literary historical value, but it was a struggle to finish and as a book on its own, it did not rate well.

A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens

4
 

Some of us knew, others didn't, that Charles Dickens did not sit down and write novels. He was a newspaper columnist. He wrote a column or chapter and published a story over the course of a year or two. People anxiously awaited his next installment. This does explain the way some chapters did become a bit wordy or lengthy at times. He did write though of social causes. He reminded me of Steinbeck because he brought to the publics attention the social injustices of the time. His outspokenness of the orphanages and treatment of children brought forth a "cleaning up" of the situation. "A Tale of Two Cities" is actually not considered one of his best works according to reviews. He begins with a tale of many characters in two different cities. The tale continues as the lives come together-bound together through history-and ends with a small "cast". I think of it as a funnel. Every character ,even the unimportant ones, become important. A must read

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

2.75 

We actually had quite a few 3's but some low points just didn't bring this up to a solid 3. At times, this book was a struggle to read. As I went into bookclub, I told a fellow member I did not like this book. I thought this would be a quick discussion and then on to our surprise baby shower for a fellow member. As usual, after quite a discussion, I appreciated the book so much more for the way it was intended to be read and understood. It seems to me with many classics and even other books I have read, books are not only meant to be read but discussed. Madame Bovary was first published in 1856. It caused quite a stir and Flaubert was actually tried and acquitted for his "outraged public morals and religion" writings. His impact on the literary culture which followed him was profound  His writings influenced James Joyce, Marcel Proust ,Chekhov, and Ernest Hemingway. He writes of Emma, a woman who wants everything in life-passion, materialistic goods and love. She has imagined this from the time she was a girl and was reading about romances, the Knight in Shining Armor type. She realizes this isn't happening to her and looks for it elsewhere when she can not receive it from her husband Charles. She is a woman who wants to be consumed with love: to receive and give it back It is also a story of the people at that time. They considered themselves the bourgeois but in French translation can mean merely townsmen. Flaubert used the word to mean "philistine", people preoccupied with the material side of life and believing only in conventional values. We found all the characters, except for Emma's father Rouault, unlikable. Flaubert labored on this book for 5 years. "But the style in which he perfected in Madame Bovary-rhythmic, meticulously shaped, sonorous, impersonal-revolutionized the novel. He chose a subject-adultery-worthy of a potboiler, and a cast of characters who are exceptional only because they are entirely unexceptional." We realized by the end of the discussion that Flaubert did exactly what he intended to do. He didn't want us to like the people or the way they lived. But, that was their life at that time and it is not the way we live now so we are uncomfortable with such things as in the way their daughter Berthe is raised. To read this book, you must also know of Flaubert's upbringing and biography. If you read this book, I highly recommend you get the Collector's Edition .It has a bio of Flaubert and has many explanations of the book itself. Some of what I wrote was from the book.

The Shipping News E. Annie Proulx

3 

This was a solid 3. We all really enjoyed the book and discussion. Coincidentally, we had book club on a pontoon boat this month so it was very appropriate. This book took us to Newfoundland. We learned of the people, lifestyles, geography, and their way of life. The story seemed grim with the darkness of the weather, the land, and the hardships the locals faced with the fishing industry, which has always been their way of life, now being diminished by other countries fishing farther off shore so that there are less fish close to shore for the locals and also the oil companies ruining their land and waters. Besides the wonderful geography lesson ,Proulx  introduces us to characters that almost seem hopeless. Yet she wonderfully develops these people throughout the story so that by the end, you want to cheer for them for their personal growth and acceptance. Proulx wrote very visual and picturesque. Interesting, she begins each chapter with a paragraph about a specific knot, taken from "The Ashley Book Of Knots". She "ties" the knot into that particular chapter. At times, we found her wrapped up too much in symbolism that she lost track of it but it is a must read. Very different than anything we have read before. For a biography and reader's guide to this book, go to Simon and Schuster's web site.

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain Stories Robert Olen Butl

3.5

What a wonderful book for a Book Club to read. There were 15 short stories in this book. They were all rather short except for one, which was a little too long, but still a good story. Each story is told in a voice of a Vietnamese refugee who has relocated to Lake Charles, La. The voices are: female, male, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese. The culture of all is very well represented. It was amazing to us that one man could write in so many voices each so different than the other. Each story was discussed. Mr. Butler was an interpreter for the Intelligence Offices for the American Forces serving South Vietnam. He later became the interpreter for the mayor of Saigon. A must read for any bookclub.

The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath

3

Sylvia Plath was a wonderful poet. This book of supposed "fiction" seemed to be an actual autobiography knowing what we do of Sylvia Plath's life. It was very hard separating the character "Esther" and that of Sylvia. The topic is that of mental illness which Sylvia and "Esther" both suffered from. Had she been diagnosed today, I am sure she would be diagnosed with manic or bipolar depression. With medication and therapy for her own personal struggles since childhood, it was sad knowing that only months after this book was published, Sylvia succeeded to commit suicide which her character Ester attempts although the ending of the book finds Esther hopeful of her future. What a shame this author could not have been treated for this disease. At this time, this disease is easier recognized and treated. One could only guess at what her future would have been like.

Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden

3.5

What a wonderful insight into a world we know little of. It read like a biography. Mr. Golden did interview a former geisha and researched this world quite extensively. The story shifts from the voice of the geisha to that of the author. We discussed the fact that a man wrote this book and again spoke as a woman. The point also was made that an Asian woman wouldn't have revealed details, especially to a man. Then again, a comment was made that there wasn't enough written about other characters or the intimacy between the geisha and her clients. I thought that this proved very well that it could have been a nonfiction book. An Asian woman-geisha-reveals only what is necessary to tell her story. It is rich in history, culture, customs and beautiful descriptions of the kimonos, make-up, hair etc. Much was learned of the life of a geisha-the choices she could or really couldn't make. Was it better to live a life of a geisha or to live in poverty or perhaps be a street prostitute. A must read . Some of us came dressed in kimonos and we were served tea (the real thing) since a member had lived in Japan for awhile.