It’s that time of the month again: this past Saturday the Field Notes Book Group met for a lively discussion of our November book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, covering such issues as the reputations of Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson, scapegoating in war, the way history repeats falsehoods as if they were truths. Then we chose the book for our December meeting, and if you’re thinking it would be something light and cheerful, maybe holiday themed, you’re way off. Our next book is My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Brathwaite.
This is one case where the title is quite accurate and quite obvious. This very short novel (I read it in a weekend) is set in Nigeria, where two sisters, Korede and Ayoola, live with their mother. Korede is a nurse, soon to be a head nurse in her hospital; she’s not particularly pretty and she hasn’t had many (any?) suitors, but she’s reliable and hardworking. Her younger sister, Ayoola, is beautiful and thoughtless, and possibly a sociopath. She has, before the book begins, killed two boyfriends, and the book opens with her calling Korede to tell her another boyfriend is dead. Korede has taken it on herself to clean up after her sister, to keep Ayoola from getting caught and possibly sent to jail (Ayoola claims she is always killing men in self-defense, but Korede is starting to doubt this). In addition to using various cleaning products to remove all signs of blood, and getting rid of bodies, Korede also makes a point of keeping her sister from doing stupid things like posting lighthearted things on Instagram when she’s supposed to be worried about her missing boyfriend. There’s some tension between them at the outset, but when Ayoola sets her sights on Tade, the handsome doctor on whom Korede’s long had a crush, Korede’s confused loyalties come into sharper focus, and she has to make some serious decisions about what she’s going to do with her sister and her life.
Copies of the book are available at the Circulation Desk, so come in and pick one up, and then join us on December 21 at 11:00 a.m. in The Field Library for coffee and refreshments and what promises to be a fascinating discussion.
Thanks to everybody who showed up for the Field Notes meeting on Saturday, October 26. Even though many members of the group didn’t like (and didn’t even finish reading) our last book, Fates and Furies, we still had a very lively discussion of the book and the issues it raised.
We meet again on November 23 from 11:00 to 12:30 at The Field Library (in the teen zone) to discuss the book we’ve selected for November, which is Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. Copies are available now at the Circulation Desk.
Anyone who’s read The Devil in the White City, an Edgar winning bestseller, knows how skilled a historical writer Erik Larson is, how well he brings to life complex details of the past. His depiction, in this book, of the fateful interaction between the H.M.S. Lusitania and U-Boat 20 in the waters off Ireland in May, 1915, gives readers a vivid picture of the early days of World War I, the conventions of warfare as understood by the Germans and the British. He paints portraits of all the major players in the sinking of the luxury liner, from the passengers to the captain of the ship to the captain of the U-boat, to the members of the British Intelligence Service who knew what was going to happen but didn’t tell anyone. Too often history is seen with hindsight and everything seems inevitable because this is how events happened; looking at the pivotal sinking of the Lusitania (which was one of the causes for the U.S. entry into the war on the side of the Allies two years later) from the point of view of people experiencing it as it happened makes clear how contingent this (and most famous historical events) was on a multitude of factors, large and small, which could have gone a different way.
Come and get your copy of the book, and then join us for what promises to be a vigorous discussion and our usual good company, coffee and refreshments.
Thanks to everybody who came out and discussed the September book for the Field Notes Book Group. We had an interesting discussion about poverty and bad choices, about equality and culture in connection with Heartland, and we chose Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies for our October selection.
This book, which was a bestseller and a critics’ darling, nominated for the National Book Award and for numerous best of the year lists, is the story of the marriage between Lotto and Mathilde. Lotto, a golden boy who is certain he’s destined for greatness, sees his marriage to Mathilde as a wonderful roller coaster ride from relative poverty and failure through the heights of fame and fortune, and that would be interesting enough if it were the whole book, but it isn’t. At the halfway point, the book changes perspectives to Mathilde’s, and we get to see the whole story through her very different, and much darker, vision, and we come to see who really makes things happen in the marriage and who thinks they’re making things happen.
This should be grist for some really fascinating insights about marriages, about perception, about men and women in general. Copies of the book will be available at the circulation desk, so come in and pick one up and then join us at our next meeting on Saturday, October 26, from 11:00 to 12:30 in the Teen Zone at The Field Library.
Sometimes it’s great just to be able to laugh about a book club book, and the members of the Field Notes Book Group shared a lot of laughs over A Walk in the Woods on Saturday. Thanks to everybody who came and discussed the book, and voted for our September selection, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country in the World, by Sarah Smarsh. We will be meeting to discuss this book in the Teen Zone at The Field Library on Saturday, September 21, from 11 – 12:30, and as usual, refreshments will be provided.
For a variety of reasons, when Americans think about poor people, we tend to picture people living in the cities, usually on the coasts, but in fact the majority of poor in America are rural people living in the “heartland.” Sarah Smarsh writes a vivid portrait of what it was like to grow up in Kansas farmland, facing abusive relationships, lack of medical care, unsafe working conditions and lack of resources and education that would have allowed people to escape their lives of grinding poverty.
Come and pick up a copy of the book at the Circulation Desk and then join us on September 21 for what promises to be a lively discussion, complete with snacks.
Thanks to everybody who came to the Field Notes Book Group this July. Our discussion of Everything I Never Told You was one of the best discussions we’d ever had (in my opinion): talk about parents’ expectations for children, the reasons people hide truths from even the people they love, cultural differences between Chinese Americans and non-Chinese Americans, discussion about the characters and how the book left us with hope for the future, even about whether Lydia committed suicide or not. We barely had time to choose our book for August 17, but we managed to choose Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Now, I know they made a movie from this book (improbably starring Robert Redford as Bill Bryson — don’t take my word for it, look at Bryson’s author picture and decide for yourself whether the first actor you’d think of for him would be Redford), but you KNOW the book is better. Bryson, a man in middle age, with virtually NO mountain climbing or hiking experience, decides, more or less on a whim, that he’s going to hike the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine through Georgia, and he even tells his publisher that he’s going to do this, and write about it, so he’s committed, or possibly stuck. He describes his misadventures (and come on, you know they’re going to be disastrous) with verve and humor. Along the way, he and his friend Katz encounter all the usual perils of the hike, from physical issues through annoying fellow hikers through encounters with wild animals, bringing them all to life with self-deprecating humor.
Join us for a great read and what promises to be a fun discussion of the AT (as Appalachian Trail aficionados refer to it), our favorite humorous anecdotes from the book, and whatever else suggests itself. Copies of the book will be available for hold at The Field Library, and we’ll be meeting in the Teen Zone at the library on August 17 from 11 to 12:30, complete with donuts and coffee.
After a vigorous discussion of American history and the gaps between American ideals and American realities, with impressive insights from those members of the group who didn’t grow up in America, the Field Notes Book Group chose its book for July: Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You.
You might think that a book which starts out telling you one of the main characters is dead would be either morbid or lacking in suspense or both, but in the case of this book, you’d be wrong. Knowing before the characters do that Lydia is dead creates a Hitchcockian sense of suspense from the outset as we watch her sister and brother and her parents go through their ordinary daily lives, innocent of the event that’s going to shake up their world.
What Ng does best, in my opinion, is character. This isn’t a book that turns on surprise twists of plot (though when you find out what actually happened to Lydia and how she died, very late in the book, you may be surprised), but on increasingly deeper understanding of the characters and why they do the things they do. The heartbreaking part of the book isn’t so much Lydia’s death (that’s sad but you know it’s happening from the outset) as the way Lydia’s parents never seemed to see her for who she was when she was alive.
As always, we can promise you coffee and donuts (possibly even more snacks) and scintillating discussion, so come and join us at The Field Library to pick up the books, and then join us on July 20 at 11:00 for our next meeting.
Thanks to everybody who showed up to discuss May’s Field Notes selection, Alternate Side, by Anna Quindlen. We had an interesting and wide ranging discussion about privilege and New York City and marriage and other issues raised by the book. We also made our selection for June, though it was so evenly divided that in the end we had to decide via a coin flip. The next book is The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, by Jon Meacham, copies of which will be here at The Field Library for pickup this week.
A New York Times bestselling history book, The Soul of America does what the best of history does: it illuminates the present by looking closely at our shared past. If you’re feeling depressed about how divided America seems to be these days, and despairing of the possibility of the country’s pulling together and making progress, you’re exactly the person Meacham wrote this book for. A greater understanding of American history will make it clear that we have been in bad places before, in places where the divisions between Americans have seemed intractable and hopeless, and that on those prior occasions we have managed to overcome those divisions, not always easily and never perfectly, but enough to continue as one nation striving for the promise of the American dream. Meacham doesn’t just talk in generalities, either, but looks at specific people in specific times and places, studying Reconstruction in the 1870’s, anti-immigration panics in the 1920’s, the rise of demagogues like McCarthy and Father Coughlin, the fights for women’s suffrage and for civil rights, and examining how ordinary people behaved in extraordinary ways.
As someone who loves history and has a degree in history, I’m delighted that we’ve chosen this particular book, and I’m looking forward to vigorous discussions on June 15, when the Field Notes Book Group meets again. As always, there will be donuts and coffee and lots of thought-provoking questions and issues, so be sure to come in and get your copy and then join us in June.
Proving once again that we don’t need to all like the book in order to have a good discussion about it, the Field Notes Book Group met and discussed Inside of A Dog and then chose Alternate Side, by Anna Quindlen, as our book for our next meeting on May 18, 2019.
Anna Quindlen first earned her reputation as an astute observer of the New York City scene when she wrote a regular column for the New York Times, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. Since leaving the Times, she’s written numerous novels and nonfiction books. Her gift is to create real people in her fiction and put them in believable situations, using her deep knowledge of human nature and especially of New York City.
Alternate Side, for anyone who’s not familiar with the way of the world in New York City, refers to the rules governing on-street parking in the city (how many times do you hear the radio announcer say that alternate side parking regulations are suspended for one reason or another?), and in this case it has special significance for Nora Nolan*, who lives with her husband and her college age twins in a dead end block in the city, which functions almost like a small town rather than a part of one of the biggest cities in the world. In this insulated community, Nora convinces herself she’s living her dream life, deliberately ignoring the strains in her marriage, her community, her job, her life. Until there’s a violent dispute about — what else? — a parking space that sets neighbor against neighbor and reveals to Nora all the flaws she’s been hiding from herself about her family, her job, her marriage and her life.
Join us for what promises to be a stimulating discussion about a well-written novel. Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation desk at the library this week, and of course we’ll have coffee and snacks at the meeting itself. *And no, I did not suggest this book because of the main character’s first name. Actually, I find it kind of weird to keep reading about a character who has the same not terribly common first name as I do.
After a vigorous discussion of A Reliable Wife, which some members of the group considered “depraved” (doesn’t that make you want to read it?), the Field Notes Book Group chose the book for our April meeting, a nonfiction book, Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz. On April 27, from 11:00 to 12:30, the Field Notes group will be discussing this book in the Teen section of the library, and, as usual, there will be coffee and snacks, including but possibly not limited to Dunkin Donuts Munchkins.
The subtitle of Inside of A Dog (and we know all nonfiction books have to have a subtitle, don’t we?) is What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. While Horowitz is a dog owner herself, she’s also a scientist, and it’s the scientist’s eye she turns on the development of dogs and the intricacies of dog behavior, without being at all dry or dull. For those of us who are dog lovers, this book will, I guarantee, show you aspects of man’s best friend that you hadn’t considered before, and even those of us who aren’t totally into dogs already will be fascinated by how much we don’t know, or think we know (wrongly) about what it’s like to be a dog, and how dogs fit into the human world.
Come and join us on April 27 for what promises to be a lively discussion of all things canine and Alexandra Horowitz’s approach to the world of dogs. Copies of the book are available at the Field Library circulation desk, as usual.