2006

 

So Big

 

Edna Ferber

3.4 (out of 4) - rating

1924 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Selina is an independent, strong, and adventurous young woman, who at the young age of 19, is forced into the work force because of the loss of her father. She finds herself teaching in High Prairie, a farm town outside of Chicago. Having grown up accustomed to finer things, she is now living in a farmhouse without conveniences. Tutoring a widower evenings, she finds herself married to him 6 months later. After a few years, she becomes a widow with a small boy to raise. She is determined to raise her son to be successful and not make the mistakes she made. Being an educated woman, she turns a desolate farm into a prosperous working farm. This does not go over well with the menfolk in the area who believe farm work is not for women, much less her new ways of farming. The story continues as her son goes to college, has a career, then changes it in order to make more money for his success. Selina finds disappointment in him and blames herself. Thirty years later, lessons are learned by both her son and herself. Miss Ferber wrote an incredible small book, only 252 pages, with more details, characters, themes, and layers, than most books written today. She writes of Chicago in its time with all class of people from the poor, the farmers, working class, and the rich. Miss Ferber wrote many novels and plays that later became movies. A must read.

All The Kings Men

 

Robert Penn Warren

3.5

1947 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Although this is a novel, it is said to be loosely based on the life of Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana. There are too many comparisons to suggest otherwise, thus making it an educational and historical look into the life of Huey Long. In fact, Huey Long wrote an autobiography, 'Every Man a King", and was known as the 'Kingfish'. The narrator, Jack Burden, is a journalist and historian, who becomes one of Willie Stark's,(fictional Long's), men. The story is as much about Jack, his family, and life, as it is Willie's Stark beginning from being a farm boy to rise in power of Governor. It is a actually a story of two men, both depending on each other to be told. At times, Penn is repetitive, but the book is very well written with multi- layered themes, philosophical, political, social issues, and great character development.

March

 

Geraldine Brooks

3

2006 Pulitzer Prize Winner. In the novel "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott, Mr. March is off to the Civil War to serve as a chaplain to the troops. In The novel, "March", this is his story during that time period. The first half of the book is a narrative by Mr. March of his life before he met Marmee, his wife, and his time after, during the war effort, and fighting for the freedom of slaves. He writes letters home as upbeat as possible, knowing he cannot truly let his family know the true horrors of war and what he is going through. He finds himself teaching on a plantation being leased by a Northern man, supposedly using free slaves. Through the travesties of war, he finds himself injured and in a hospital in Washington, DC where Marmee comes to care for him and take him home. The rest of the book is told by her, what she learns of her husband's past, present, and their future. As abolitionist working with the Underground Railroad, the book shows an interesting view of their cause, helping John Brown, and then Marmee's reaction in Washington. The author based Mr. March loosely on Louisa May Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott. He was close friends with R.W. Emerson and H.D. Thoreau. Brooks researched his volumes of papers to write this novel. As a bookclub or on your own, you may or may not enjoy the book. It is interesting if you look at it as the other side of "Little Women". But I personally had a problem with Mr. March's character, behavior, and naivety. I found the first half slow and it finally picked up when there was more action and Marmee's voice stepped into the picture.

The Cape Ann

 

Faith Sullivan

3

The Cape Ann is a house that six year old Lark Ann Erhardt and her Mama have picked out of a catalog to buy. At the present time, they live in a railroad depot where Lark's father works. Unfortunately, Lark's father has a gambling problem and continues to lose the family's savings. The place is a small town in Minnesota set during the Depression after World War I. It is an exciting time for Lark as she is learning how to read, attends Catechism classes for her First Holy Communion, and thinks very carefully about confession and sins. She studies with her two friends, both from different social backgrounds and their own different family situations. She also befriends Hilly Stillman, a vet who comes back from the war with the mind of a child. He plays an important role in her life. Lark's extended family has its own problems and she has to learn how to adjust and learn from them. She sees her mother change and grow, which can be confusing for a child at this age. This book will bring back memories of your childhood. It is an enjoyable read.

Middlesex

 

Jeffrey Eugenides

3.8

2003 Pulitzer Prize Winner. An epic tale of its own Greek Odyssey, the story begins in a small Greek village of Bithynios,which was being taken over by the Turks. Desdemona and her brother Lefty, decide to escape and leave for America to be with their cousin Sourmelina. The thing is, they go as husband and wife, as they are in love. Only Sourmelina know they are related. The book is written in three sections. First of Desdemona and Lefty's life. The second is that of their son Milton and his wife, Tessie, daughter of Sourmelina. The third of Callie/Cal, daughter/son of Milton and Tessie. But the true beginning is of the 5-alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome, the result of a recessive mutation that is found in small villages, where incestuous relationships were common. The result of this is a child born with both sexes, a hermaphrodite. When Callie reaches puberty, she realizes that her body is not developing at the rate of a young women. Also, although she has feminine features, she also has manly features and feelings. Her/his journey through the discovery process and acceptance of the syndrome, is very educational. The author tells a story of three generations which includes the story of a hermaphrodite. The narration is written by Cal when he talks of himself in the present and by Callie when she is in the past. Throughout the book, the theme of Greece and the families Greek heritage continues. This is a highly recommended read and very well written.

The Good Earth

 

Pearl S. Buck

3.8

1932 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Pearl Buck spent much of her early years into adulthood growing up in China, as her parents were missionaries. Her story is that of Wang Lung, a farmer, who loves his land and appreciates and respects the good earth which gives back to him the work he puts into it. That is, until the weather destroys what he has and forces him and his family to go south for awhile to earn money to keep his family alive. This book is an education into the Chinese culture of: the farmer, who is ignorant of politics and what goes on beyond his land, the traditional marriage of his wife, O-Lan, who works along side him, provides for his family, and literally keeps them alive and prosperous, yet goes unappreciated, the mistress that many Chinese men have that benefits from any prosperity, the devotion to family and extended family, the importance of sons, and unfortunately, bad luck of daughters., politics, and in the end, greed. It is fortunate for us that Ms. Buck wrote this as Wang Lung because a Chinese man could not or would not be allowed to be able to give us such an insight into the Chinese culture of the time. A timeless classic

Vanishing Acts

 

Jodi Picoult

2.5

This is the story of Delia, who now as an adult, starts having flashbacks or dreams and wonders if they are real. She tells her best friend who is a journalist, finds out her true identity, and changes Delia's world as she knew it. It was a fast and interesting read. We enjoyed the book, found it a page turner, yet at the same time, had found problems. Delia's father, Andrew, abducted her from her mother at the age of 4 from an alcoholic mother. Delia believes her mother had died in an automobile accident. Later, Delia 's fiancé is an alcoholic in and out of rehab. You would think the father would have spoken up or talked to Delia about this, without having to tell his secret. And, at Delia's age, why not tell his secret? She at that age should know and why. There is also the love triangle, the subplots, which were unnecessary, although if you really wanted to dig deep,you could make sense of them. But at this point, you would be defending the book and they aren't really important to the over all plot. Readers of Picoult will find this follows the formula of her other books. But, it was a fun read.

Gilead

 

Marilynne Robinson

2.85

2005 Pulitzer Prize Winner.. Reverend John Amos is now in his mid-seventies and is writing a letter to his seven year old son. Marrying late in life, thinking it would never even happen, he knows he will not be around to raise his son. He wants to leave his son his family history, his thoughts on life, religion, and perhaps guidance for his son's future. The entire book consists of his daily life and that of his past. He writes of his father and grandfather, both ministers. His grandfather took off to preach during the Civil War and fight for the abolition of slavery, leaving his family behind. He comes back wounded and young John witnesses the difference between his grandfather and his own father, their relationship, and beliefs. John writes of his childhood and his friend, Boughton, who also becomes a minister, though of a different faith. They maintain their close friendship into their last years. Then there is Boughton's son, Jack, who is named after John and has been nothing but trouble since he was a kid. Jack has returned to Gilead. John is suspicious of Jack and in the end, is able to counsel Jack and make peace with him. There is a racial theme in this story, not to be overlooked in discussion. The book reads slow since it is a narrative. We discussed what makes a Pulitzer since that is mostly what we have been reading this year. I am surprised that 'March' won 2006, since it is so similar to 'Gilead', being a narrative by a minister with ' Gilead' taking place at one point during the civil war, dealing with abolitionists and John Brown. 'Gilead' is this year's 'United We Read' selection from September through November.

The Caine Mutiny

 

Herman Wouk

4

1952 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Willie Keith comes from an affluent family and joins the Navy during W.W.II. He is placed on a minesweeper destroyer that is literally falling apart. His first captain, Captain de Vriess, is tough, but not strict with the men as far as the dress code and cleanliness of the ship. He is soon replaced by Captain Queeg who is totally the opposite. He demands the men do everything by the book and is quick to hand out severe punishments and demerits to those who don't or make a mistake. When he is stressed or the ship is involved in battle, Queeg becomes a manic coward. When there is nothing happening on the ship, he finds an incident to show his extreme behavior, as in the case of the missing strawberries. Keith learns and matures through his stint on the ship. The character Keefer, recites articles 184, 185, and 186 to the captain's assistant, Maryk, which are grounds to relieve the captain. Maryk then keeps track of the Captain's behavior. During a typhoon, Queeg seems inept to command the ship and Maryk tells the captain to step down. Maryk is then brought up on charges of Mutiny. The big question here is, was Queeg actually insane or sane, could he have commanded the ship? There are many other characters in the book who play an important part of the story, along with Keith's mother and love interest, May. Although this book was 537 pages, it read quickly and was hard to put down. It is another must read. We have read many W.W.II books but this takes us yet into another part of the war, the South Pacific, and from the view of the Navy.

The Reivers, A Reminiscence

 

William Faulkner

2.1

1963 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Lucius Priest is now a grandfather and he is telling his grandson a story of what took place in May of 1905. Lucius was 11 years old and his grandfather had bought one of the first automobiles. Boon, an adult who was adopted into the family at some point and Ned, the black livery stable hand, decide to take the car to Memphis while Lucius's parents and grandparents are away for a funeral. Lucius goes along, knowing he shouldn't, but doesn't say no. The rest of the story continues with their trip to Memphis, staying in a brothel, Ned selling the car for a horse, and then racing the horse to win back the car. It is a coming of age story for an 11 year old boy who grows up quick, changes, realizes he'll never be the same or innocent, and has to pay the consequences for one's actions. This is said to be a funny, comical book. Some points were but the book became a very tedious read. Since it is a narrative, when telling a story, one tends to digress, explain things that seem unimportant to the reader yet meant something to the narrator. It is a difficult read as it is very wordy and moves slow. This book was made into a movie. For once, I think the movie would be better and funnier than the book.

The Great Gatsby

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

2.6

Life in the roaring 20's of those with money, socialites living in East and West Egg, (otherwise known to us as Long Island, NY). Jay Gatsby, a self made man of wealth ,although by illegal means, lives in a mansion on West Egg. Directly across the sound to East Egg, he can see the light of his past love, Daisy, whom he still loves. The story is told by Nick, a distant cousin to Daisy who lives next to Gatsby. Gatsby uses Nick to reunite with Daisy. It is a story of trying to relive the past in hope to make it the future. It is also a story of adultery, selfishness, and sadness. This novel is said to be a "Great American Classic" . Some of us did not feel that way. Fitzgerald writes of himself in many of his books, and this is no exception. It did not become a popular read until the 1950's when it appeared in a collection of his works. It remains on many English reading lists today.