AND NEXT WE TAKE ON THE INTERNET ITSELF: MARCH 2020 FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP SELECTION

Thanks to the stalwarts of the Field Notes Book Group for the stimulating discussion we had on Saturday about our February book, The Invention of Wings.  Thanks to the members who brought actual pictures of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and books showing the real quilts made by slave women, adding depth and interest to our discussions.  We were so engrossed in talking about our February book that we barely had time to decide on our book for March, but we did, and it’s, as Monty Python used to say, “something completely different.”

The March book is Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, by Gretchen McCullough.  If you feel that the rules of English have been changing faster and faster because of the ubiquitous internet, not only aren’t you alone, you’re absolutely right.  McCullough, a linguist who has been studying the internet for some time, is here to analyze exactly how our informal spoken and written language has been changing, and how that’s a good thing (she’s going to have to work to convince me, I’ll say that right up front).  With chapters on such vital subjects as the rise of emojis, the importance of memes, and how all capitals became a way of shouting online, McCullough takes us through a world we think we know fairly well and lets us see it in a new way.

Copies will be available at the Circulation Desk through the month, so come on in and pick one up, and then join us on March 21 from 11 to 12:30 for coffee, snacks and lots of informal and formal language picking apart Because Internet.

FEBRUARY BOOK GROUP: THE INVENTION OF WINGS

Thanks to everyone who came to the last meeting of the Field Notes Book Group, where we had a vigorous and interesting discussion of Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman. We also chose the book for our February meeting: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. We’ll be meeting on February 15 from 11 to 12:30, and the books will be available here at the library within the next few days.

The Invention of Wings, which was a bestseller and an Oprah book club selection, is a historical novel about two women, Sarah Grimke (an actual historical figure) and her slave handmaid, Handful (also known as Hetty) in the early 19th century. In alternating chapters, Handful and Sarah narrate their lives and their relationships with their families, the limits of their worlds, and each other over the thirty years in which they’re together.  Kidd’s gift for creating characters and bringing worlds to life (demonstrated in her earlier bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees) comes to the fore here, creating a vivid picture of antebellum Charleston, the world of slaves and the world of the more privileged members of that society.

It should be an interesting read and lead to a lively discussion, so pick up a copy this week and then join us in February.

JANUARY 2020 FIELD NOTES SELECTION: BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE

Thanks to everybody who showed up at our last Field Notes Book Group meeting of the year and provided such a lively discussion of families and serial killers and how far, really, we would be willing to go to take care of younger siblings.  We also chose the next book, which the group will discuss on January 25, 2020: Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman.

Britt-Marie, the protagonist of the book, is a very particular person, as you discover from the very first chapter.  She has exacting standards which she expects everyone else to live up to, not that she is judging anyone else (as far as she can tell), but when her husband takes up with another woman, she’s thrown for a loop.  The whole question of what she’s going to do for the rest of her life is something she’s never had to consider before, and now, when the job she’s “qualified” for happens to be taking care of a building in Borg, a town in the middle of nowhere, Sweden, she finds herself in completely foreign circumstances.  Except that maybe, this is just what Britt-Marie needs to find out who she really is and to share that with other people.

Come and pick up a copy of the book at the Circulation Desk and then join us on January 25 from 11:00 to 12:30 at the Field Library to share refreshments and coffee and talk about Britt-Marie and how she reinvents herself.

 

DECEMBER 2019 FIELD NOTES BOOK: MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER

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.

NOVEMBER FIELD NOTES SELECTION: DEAD WAKE

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.

 

OCTOBER FIELD NOTES SELECTION: FATES AND FURIES

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.

HARD LIFE IN THE HEARTLAND: SEPTEMBER FIELD NOTES SELECTION

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.

A WALK IN THE WOODS: NEXT FIELD NOTES READ

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. 

 

JULY 2019 FIELD NOTES CHOICE: EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU

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.

JUNE 2019 BOOK GROUP SELECTION: THE SOUL OF AMERICA

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.