|Black, White, and Jewish||Rebecca Walker||
This book read more like a diary than a story. It is Rebecca's story of growing up as the title states, "Black, White, and Jewish". She is the daughter of famed author, Alice Walker, and Mel Levinthal, an attorney who at the time was an attorney for the Civil Rights Movement back in the 1960's. Rebecca describes herself as a movement child of the 60's, when interracial couples were illegal in some states, and frowned upon in many. Her parents divorced when Rebecca was 8, her father pushed outside of the very movement he was fighting for by the Black Power League. He returned to New York and Alice moved to California. As hip or contemporary parents, they divided custody by having Rebecca live with each parent every two years instead of the traditional holiday visits, etc. They thought this was a good thing. When Rebecca was in California, she was on her own as her mother left her for days so that she could travel, write, and work. Leaving a child at age 11 on her own is not parenting but she felt Rebecca was independent to be on her own. As your read of her time there, you see how just independent she was. When living in NY with her white, Jewish father and his new Jewish wife, she was now upper class but still black living in a white neighborhood. She kept her independent ways in NY also, but we never really know how much her father supervised her. We went to hear her speak before we had the bookclub, which was very insightful and we got a better feel of Rebecca. She explained that she wrote her chapters based on places and the memories she had while she was at that place in time. The flow of the book reflects just that. It jumps around, at times you don't quite know what age she is and her memories are statements of what happened when. We agreed it really wasn't a book about race but that of divorce. It was racial when she describes that she feels the whiteness when she is with her black family and the blackness when she is with her white family. She is never really comfortable in her own skin. But a child of divorce, going back and forth between parents with different "classes" and trying to fit in with the group of people you are with at the time or most comfortable with is like, as she described, a chameleon. No one ever really knew who she was. That can be typical of many teenagers. This book could have been written by anyone. Throughout her sexually active teen years, she ends that part of her life in a different way without explanation. When asked how her family received the book, she said that they were working on it and after 10 years of therapy and now being a practicing Buddhist, she is putting her life together. She is an active feminist of the 2000's, not the 1960's. For more information on her life now, it is on the web. This was an interesting read and we had a good discussion, but for literary reasons, it did not receive a high rating.
|Daughter of Fortune||Isabel Allende||
This is the first in a trilogy followed by "Portrait in Sepia" and "The House of the Spirits". The latter book was actually Ms. Allende's first book written and made into a movie. "Daughter of Fortune" is the story of Eliza Sommers, a child orphaned at birth, and raised in a British Colony in Chile. She falls in love with a man who later leaves Chile to go to California during the Gold Rush. A young Eliza follows him there. The story is her search for him and the adventures she encounters during her travels. It is also a story of the beginning of San Francisco and the variety of people who came in hopes to become rich. Although there are many characters in the story, and they do all have their own story, the book fell flat. It is hard to explain since each character was written about in depth yet you never really "feel" anything for them. If anything, it is a story of a woman finding herself and her freedom.
|The Book Of Ruth||Jane Hamilton||
We had a wonderful discussion. This was the first book that we have read which really addressed mental illness. Ruth, whom we never really figured out if she had learning disabilities, was mentally handicapped, or both, writes this story of her life. Except for a letter from her Aunt Sid later in the book, the only voice we hear is that of Ruth's and that of how she perceives her life. Ruth lives with her mother, May, who has problems and regrets of her own life. She takes this out on Ruth yet dotes on her son, who is a genius waiting for the time when he can leave home and does. Ruth remains at home to live with her mother, thinking that is all she can do. She has her small circle of friends that she shares with her mother, until she meets Ruby. Ruby definitely is mentally ill due to an alcoholic mother (FAS) and a near drowning when he was three months old. Ruth wanting love and Ruby there to love back brings them together in marriage. They live together under May's roof and the story continues from there. When Ruth thinks to herself, she seems intelligent but her actions speak otherwise. We found little information on Jane Hamilton, but she truly had insight into this world.
|The Blue Flower||Penelope Fitzgerald||
The ratings on this book varied from a 1.75-3.75. "The Blue Flower" won the 1998 U.S. National Book Critics Circle prize. The book is based on actual documents, letters, and diaries written by Friedrich von Hardensberg (1772-1801). He later became famous under the name Novalis. He became one of Germany's great romantic poets and was important as a leader of this movement in literature. The story tells us of Fritz's family: his mother, father, sister and brothers, and how they interacted We see what was expected by the father for each of his son's education and vocation. Fritz falls in love with Sophie von Kuhn, a 12 year old girl who Fritz refers to as "His Philosophy". We meet Sophie's family and are able to see the difference in the interaction in each household. There are many characters, many German names which made it confusing at times as a reader to even try to pronounce them or remember who was who. At times the book is funny, many times very sad, as in those days, there was much illness and poverty due to the Revolution. We realized some things never change when we read of students sitting around talking about life, nature, the universe, their philosophy's while getting high on opium and 200 years later, you can still find this on any campus in the country. It's a time in one's life to live, learn, and experience. "The Blue Flower" is an unfinished work of Fritz but he later became famous for his "Hymns to the Night" under the pen name Novalis, where he expressed his grief for his Sophie. Aside from the book, Novalis became quite famous uniting poetry, philosophy, and science before dying of TB at the age of twenty-nine.
|The Color Purple||Alice Walker||
We all agreed with the style of writing and voice Ms. Walker gives to Celie, the main character. In many narratives we have read, we question the believability of the character being one sided. But Celie's narrative is written to God, whom she would not hide her true feelings or thoughts. The story is that of Celie and her sister Nettie. Celie has two children by her father and they are taken from her. Her father marries Celie off to "Mister" since he needs a wife to take care of him, his house, and his children. Mister really wants Nettie but the father makes Mister take Celie instead. When the father comes after Nettie, Mister takes in Nettie. Celie and Nettie are delighted to be together. But when Nettie fights off Mister, he sends her away, never to see or let Celie hear from Nettie again. Celie has no one to talk to so she talks to God. Mister's true love, Shug Avery comes for a visit and changes Celie's life forever .There are many characters in this book and many truths revealed. You will read of Mister's son, Harpo and his wife Sophie, their travails, Nettie' life when she joins a missionary couple to Africa, who were the ones who adopted Celie's children. The whole story unfolds and comes full circle. There is much more to the book than I have written so you can read for yourself the real lifestyle of the times and the treatment of black women in the early 1900's. The book, of course, is better than the movie. We did have fun getting together a couple of weeks later for a movie night, where we could socialize and comment.
|The Old Man and the Sea||Ernest Hemingway||
Ernest Hemingway grew up in Oak Park, Illinois spending much of his boyhood time outdoors either hunting or fishing. In 1917, instead of going to college, he became a cub reporter for our own newspaper, 'The Kansas City Star'. He credits his editor with giving him a fact sheet about writing:: write short sentences, be precise, and do not overuse adjectives. As you read Hemingway, you can see that is exactly how he writes. Yet, he is able to be descriptive and he captures you into his story. He won the 1953 Pulitzer for this book and in 1954, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. It is important to learn of his life and lifestyle because you can see how he incorporates it into his books. Hemingway was told this fish story by a good friend of his named Fuentes. He did not write the story until 15 years later. It is a story of an old man who still fishes the old way. He hasn't caught a fish for several days and is determined to go out beyond the waters where the other men go because he knows the big fish is out there. A small boy helps him in his fishing but is told by his parents he can no longer go. He must fish and make money. The story is of this man's plight to catch the big fish, alone and to keep his dignity, pride, and persevere in his old age. Hemingway says this was just a story, nothing more. But more can be found..
It was pure coincidence that we read Ms. Fitzgerald again. The main character, Florence Green, decides to use what little inheritance she received from her husband, to open a bookshop in a small town, where she had only lived for eight years. The town does not have a bookshop and she soon discovers, it doesn't necessarily want one. Yet, of all the obstacles that stands in her way: the town people, the condition of the house, and the ghost who presides there, do not stop her. She has associations with different characters who all add to her success and then to her demise of the bookshop. An interesting look into a small quaint town in England and their school system.
|Jackson's Dilemma||Iris Murdoch||
The question at the end of our discussion was, "What was Jackson's Dilemma?" We came up with a few possible answers. This was a very interesting look into a very small circle of friends who reside in London but also in the country at times. An elite crowd with much time on their hands so that they fret and whine and run about over the cancellation of a wedding that was to take place the following day, then the bride to be leaves a note and disappears. The whole event turns everyone's life into a frenzy over the next couple of days. As the book unfolds, so does the life, or lack of, that of each character's. Jackson is behind the scenes yet at the same time is instrumental to much that goes on. There are philosophical, social, and religious views that made for a interesting discussion. Iris Murdoch is a writer of philosophy, criticism, and drama. This book was definitely one big drama. Although she once stated that she doesn't describe herself in her books, we found through her biography, that much of her beliefs and events in her life are very much apart of her writings. I think the amazing part of this book was that she wrote it in the early stages of Alzheimer's. This comes out in the book when she describes Cantor early on as a blond Norwegian and then later in the book as a dark-haired man with dark eyes. She did not like to have her books edited or her words changed. This error was not caught. Overall, it was an interesting book for discussion and typical of the British elite.
|Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America (non-fiction)||Barbara Ehrenreich||
In 1998, in a discussion with the editor of 'Harpers', Ms. Ehreinreich wondered how anyone lived on the wages available to the unskilled. She stated that someone should get out there and try it, thinking of some younger journalist, when the editor agreed and said,"You". She then went undercover starting out in the Florida Keys as a waitress The following month, she traveled to Maine where she worked as a maid for a national maid service, then supplemented her income by working weekends in a nursing home. The next month she went to Minnesota where she worked at a local Walmart. At each new place, she had to find a place to live. She found it wasn't easy on minimum wage to find a decent place to live when she didn't have the money for the first month's rent plus deposit. It was then that she discovered how many people lived in dingy motels with others, some single mom's with their children, and also having to provide meals without a proper kitchen. She found fellow workers without health care and proper nutrition., People who settled for low wages and poor working conditions because they felt they had no other choice. It was a real eye opener to us in the group. We had some professionals in our club who were aware of these problems and were able to elaborate more on what these people have to go through. It is impossible to live and support a family on minimum wage For some it is more beneficial to stay on welfare. This is a problem that many in our country have to live with daily and it needs to be addressed. Any takers? The book was plainly well written. It is a must read for all.
Enid Lambert has one wish, to have all her family come home for one last Christmas in the house where they were raised. Her husband, Alfred has Parkinson's disease and is failing fast. All three children live away from their hometown of St. Jude (there's a hint), and are living very separate lives. The author writes about each child-adult- and where they are in their life, what got them there, and what from their childhood has made them into the person they are today. I found the book to read rather slow and felt the author could have shortened Chip's story somewhat. I found some of what was written unnecessary. Maybe I just didn't care for that part . As long as the book read, at the end, I felt it was a very complex, amazing, well written book. I reread the chapters on Gary and Denise,( when she worked at the Railroad for her father). There I found things that I missed the first time I read it. By the end, I am at a loss of words to describe how each character "ends up".It was an education on Parkinson's disease. As one member stated. "A roller coaster of a ride."
|The Winter of Our Discontent
Pulitzer prize winner, John Steinbeck, had the amazing ability to write about real life and real people. His use of the English language to describe and make the reader feel exactly what the characters saw and felt is a true talent. In this book, he tells the story of Ethan Hawley. Ethan's ancestors were sea captains and very well off, owning much property in their New England town. After his father lost their fortune and land, except for his family home, Ethan works as a clerk in a grocery store (on the very land his family once owned), owned by an Italian immigrant. Ethan seems content until his children want things that the other children have and his wife wants Ethan to make more of himself so that she can hold her head up higher. Ethan now plots on a way to make this all happen even though this goes against his own morals. Through the different characters, events, and timing, things happen in a way he hasn't planned; yet works. He then questions what has happened. The ending is questionable. Steinbeck writes Ethan with warmth, wit, morals, and still makes him a human man.