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.