Tag Archives: book club

July Books

I had a very good reading month in July, which is great because I haven’t read anything since! Yikes!

“The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood

This short story was recommended as one of the scariest stories ever, and as you know, I love a scary book. I found “The Willows” to be really intense and a really great read. There is looming doom through the whole book. Definitely one to read in October if you have a chance. I am going to request this collection again this fall to see if I like any of his other “weird” short stories.

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

This is supposedly Forster’s “masterpiece” but…I didn’t love this. Maybe it was over-hyped? While I appreciate Forster’s writing and I liked the story, it wasn’t a book that I was eager to pick up every day. I appreciate the social commentary–a modern, bohemian woman married to the conservative older man, and refusing to adapt to his old ideas–but this book just didn’t grab me the way that A Room with a View did. I do wonder if I would like it better after a book club discussion. (Fun fact: most of our book club reviews get better after the discussions!)

Stationery Fever by John Komurki

I borrowed this for the eye candy and ended up reading it. It’s full of pictures of vintage and new stationery, divided by topic. At the end of each chapter, there are a few pages highlighting stationery shops around the world. It was a good overview of the history of the most useful stationery supplies, and delves into classic companies that make them. It left me wanting more…not in a bad way…in a I’ve had a taste, now I want more details kind of way. Also, now I want to travel the world seeing the best stationery shops.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett 

This was for book group. If you don’t know, Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man Series which were turned into some of my favorite old movies. In our group, the book got mixed reviews. It is about a detective hired to clean up a town that is out of control with corruption. The characters and alliances are very confusing…I actually made a character map to try to figure things out. As someone in book club said, once you give up trying to figure things out, it’s an enjoyable read. Hammett is a really sharp writer and there were so many quotes that I marked as perfect descriptions or things that made me laugh. I really love Film Noir and this book made me feel like I was reading an old movie. Supposedly The Glass Key is one of his best, so I’ve added that to my list for later this year.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 

I can’t remember ever reading Bradbury before. This one came up in a discussion as a great summer read and I love a seasonal book so… It was really lovely. I just notice the library stickered it as Science Fiction, but it wasn’t sci-fi at all. It was a coming-of-age story (How many of those have I read this year?) about a boy growing up in a small town in Illinois. Basically, he realizes his mortality this summer and learns to appreciate the moments of life, especially the making of dandelion wine with his grandfather. The wine will be enjoyed over the winter and remind them all of specific happenings on these summer days. Supposedly the book is semi-autobiographical. Dandelion Wine was just a beautiful summer reading experience.

Bright Center of Heaven by William Maxwell

Have I mentioned how much I love William Maxwell? This was his first novel, and it definitely wasn’t as developed as Time Will Darken It or Song of the Lark or The Folded Leaf, but Maxwell already had honed his perfect ways in describing relationships and feelings. The story revolves around artistic guests and the lonely owner of a boarding house in the early 1930s. It takes awhile to get to the “conflict” which is the tension between the black lecturer who was invited to stay at the boarding house and the other guests, but even though the conflict is imperfect, the rest of the story is engaging and beautifully written. (But I may be biased…) I have one more Maxwell to read and then I’ll be finished with his novels…it feels bittersweet. I might save it as a Christmas present to myself.

This Saturday is book club and we’re reading an autobiography…looking forward to finishing my first book for August!

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March Book Report

 

It’s almost the end of April, but I wanted to squeeze a February/March book report in before I write the April one. My reading really slowed down after my Hibernation January. Two of the books in the stack above are short story collections that I only read one selection from. Everything was a pretty quick read, except one, which sucked the life out of me for awhile…

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

This has been on my Goodreads list for years. For some reason I was having a hard time finding a copy and then all of a sudden, it was in the library system. It was such a fun read. Just charming. A little old fashioned mystery in a bookshop run by a delightful older couple. I really enjoyed it from beginning to end.

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

This is a short story that I’ve apparently read before but I didn’t remember it until the very end. It’s great, and has really made me realize that all of my favorite short stories are pretty macabre.

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

I discovered this book because of Goodreads! Blog reader and pen pal Cath (Hi, Cath!) was reading Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa and it popped up on my Goodreads feed. I was intrigued since I’ve been trying to read more Japanese authors. It’s about a sweets shop worker who befriends an older woman who is disfigured from a childhood disease. She is an expert in making Japanese sweets and she helps him transform his mediocre sweet shop. It’s such a heart-warming and bittersweet story about multi-generational friendships and acceptance and the trauma of being an outcast.

Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

This book killed me last month. I probably should have given up on it but I really wanted to see it through because the premise is so good. It’s about an aristocratic British woman, Sophia, whose husband cheats on her so she decides to raise their 2 children alone. (Slight spoilers ahead!) When the children die unexpectedly, she goes to Paris to find her husband so she can get pregnant again because she feels motherhood is her only purpose in life. While she’s in Paris, she meets her husband’s lover, Minna, who is free-spirited Russian who gives dramatic readings and lives a very bohemian life in Paris, making little money with her talents. All of this is happening during the 1848 revolution in France. Sophia’s character develops from a “lady” to a more free-spirited resister who falls in love with Minna, but it’s all kind of bogged down in the details about the revolution. (I really think I spend two weeks on the middle hundred pages of the book…) The novel is a feminist tale and it is an early example of lesbian fiction. In the end, I’m glad I finished it because the ending was worth it but I would say, if you’re going to read Sylvia Townsend Warner, start with Lolly Willowes because it’s fantastic. (Lolly is the reason I read so many spinster novels.)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell 

We read this for March’s book club and it was brutal. It was so good, but his descriptions of restaurants and housing and the general living conditions of the “down and out” in the 1920s was so vivid that I couldn’t eat or drink while I was reading it. The book really consumes you, and even though Orwell wasn’t really poor, and he could have walked away at any point to go back and live his middle class life in London (making you question whether or not this is a true memoir,) he didn’t. It was a great book club discussion, too!

Trifles by Susan Glaspell 

This is a tiny, feminist, one-act play about a rural murder. (It’s also a short story, “A Jury of Her Peers.” If you don’t enjoy reading plays, you can read it in short story form.) Highly recommend…it’s less than twenty pages…I can’t say much else!

The Covenant by Beverly Lewis

One of my friends had an idea to start a bonnet-rippers book club. There was wine involved so I joined and I actually enjoyed the book…it’s definitely not a genre I would pick up on my own, but we had a really good feminist discussion about the book. The Covenant is the first in a series of five(?) books and there’s a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, but I don’t think we’re going to finish the series as a group. I haven’t decided if I am going to go on…

I’ve been in the middle of two books all month and I read my book club book, but I’m sort of slogging through the reading right now. I just started a new one to see if I can get my mojo back. This week I am preparing for a craft show and next week I’m traveling, so hopefully I can sneak in some good balcony and bedtime reading so I have something to talk about for April!

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

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Our Pleasant Home Book Group

pleasant home book groupI’ve mentioned being in a book club a few times over the past few years, but I figured it’s time to write a post about it. It is one of my favorite things, so I can’t believe it’s taken so me so long to talk about it here.

I know a lot of people are in book clubs. They read a book, they (may) talk about it, they drink wine, they eat snacks and go home. Our version is a little bit different. Our book club was originally started in 2002 as a park district program with the Pleasant Home in Oak Park. The group met in the Pleasant Home library and read books that would have been in the home’s library during the John Farson era (early turn of the century.) The first book was So Big by Edna Ferber. Apparently there were close to fifty people at the first meeting and the group gradually whittled down to a small group of core members who came every month with a handful of people coming and trying it out for a bit and not returning. There are still four original members from that very first meeting.

I joined the group in 2008. I was taking a drawing class at Pleasant Home and my teacher told me about the group. I had never been in a book club before, but the premise really interested me. I was a literature major in college and I missed reading “the classics”. Actually, at the time, I was hardly reading anything because I was so busy working. A book club would force me back into the reading habit and this book club in particular was reading great older titles, something I knew I’d enjoy.

My first book was A Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I read it diligently, loved it and went to the meeting. As I walked in the door, I noticed that everyone was older than me. I felt a little bit out of place for a quick second and then instantly at home. Anne took down my information to send me a book list, my (small) contribution to the discussion was met with interest, Peggy invited me to lunch with the group…it was welcoming and I remember going home thinking that I had found “my people”–a feeling only matched by meeting fellow letter writers.

Now, six years later, one thing I love most about our group is that we are multi-generational. Our ages span from twenty-ish to seventy-ish. (We’ve had three members pass away, most recently Anne, who was in her eighties.) Everyone brings such a different perspective to the book because of her age and background. Our discussions would be much different, I think, if we were all women in our thirties. The other thing I love is that the group formed organically. We are all friends/friendly now, but for the most part, it is a group of strangers who have the interest of old literature in common. And, while it is all women now, at a few points in the twelve year history of the group, there have been male members.

In February, we had our last meeting at Pleasant Home. They decided to stop hosting our group as a park district program. (The house is open very limited hours and apparently paying a staff member to be there to open the door for us was too much for the Home’s budget.) So, now we meet in our homes–our “pleasant homes”–and it’s quite nice. The hostess usually bakes a little something and serves coffee and tea. While meeting in the Pleasant Home library was always interesting, our own homes are much more comfortable.

One of our biggest challenges is finding solid books that are still in print or are still available in a large enough quantity for each of us to borrow a copy from the library system. A lot of times, a great title will come to our attention, but since it’s not widely available, we can’t read it. Right now, we are reading mostly from the 1930s and before, so obviously, even after twelve years, there is still a huge amount of literature yet to read. And, believe it or not, the group is reading Jane Austen for the first time in December!

I’m hoping to do another post about my favorite titles that we’ve read and of our top “scary reads” from past Octobers. In the meantime, I’d love to hear if you’re in a book club and what kinds of books you read!

P.S. That’s us pictured above (with the exception of Susan R and two new members) after one of our last meetings in the Pleasant Home library.

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