COMING TO THE FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP IN JANUARY, 2018: MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON

After a stimulating discussion about The Wicked Boy and Victorian crime, questions of sanity and morality (we really do have great discussions in this group!), the Field Notes Book Group chose the book for our January meeting: My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.

A short and deceptively simple book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, My Name Is Lucy Barton is narrated by Lucy, looking back on her experience when she was hospitalized for a long period and her estranged mother came to visit her for a period of days.  Neither Lucy nor her mother finds it easy to talk about the things that really matter, Lucy’s childhood and her mother’s life when Lucy and her siblings were growing up, so instead they circle around their truths, talking about other people Lucy knew in her childhood in a small rural community in Amgash, Illinois, and all the while other truths, about Lucy’s childhood, her marriage, her ambitions, and what estranged her from her family, lurk under the surface.  This well-written book is a fast read and yet the characters haunt you for some time after you finish reading it.

Come to the Field Library and pick up your copy of My Name is Lucy Barton, and then join us on January 20, 2018, at the Field Library Gallery from 11:00 to 12:30 for lively discussion and tasty refreshments.

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THE WICKED BOY: OUR DECEMBER FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP READ

After a fun discussion of The Shadow of the Wind, our November book club read (and what a juicy, entertaining read it was; I highly recommend it to anyone, in or out of the book group), we have chosen the next book for the Field Notes Book Group, a nonfiction historical true crime book, The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Killer, by Kate Summerscale.

You may be thinking, from the title, that it’s a book about a Victorian person who kills children, which would be gruesome enough (think of the second plotline in The Devil in the White City for an American example), but in fact it’s even more peculiar, because the book focuses on a child (technically teenager) who, along with his brother, kills his mother and is charged with murder. One of the brothers confessed and testified against the other, but the other, Robert, was found to be insane and sentenced to the infamous Broadmoor lunatic asylum at age 13.  And that’s just the beginning of his story.

Meticulously researched, this book reads like a novel rather than nonfiction.  The writing is so vivid you feel as if you’re actually there in the working class London neighborhood where the brothers and their mother lived, and living through the events as they happened. If you have any interest in Victorian London (say, you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan or a Charles Dickens fan), if you have a taste for true crime, if you’re interested in seeing different views of childhood, insanity, and the dangers of pulp fiction (substitute violent comic books, television, violent video games), this is a great read and will undoubtedly lead to fascinating discussion.

Come to the Field Library and pick up your copy of the book this week, and then join us on December 16 in the Field Library Gallery from 11:00 to 12:30 for coffee, refreshments and what promises to be a lively discussion of murder, mores and the Victorian era.

 

NOVEMBER BOOK CLUB: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND

After our brief foray into pure nonfiction with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by the late great Oliver Sacks, the Field Notes Book Group is once again returning to the world of fiction for our November selection, which we will be discussing on November 18, from 11 to 12:30, and what a novel it is!  Carlos Ruiz-Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is one of my personal favorite books, a real page turner, an international bestseller, with something for everyone.

You know how people say “They don’t write ‘em like that anymore”?  Well, The Shadow of the Wind disproves that claim.  Set in Barcelona after the end of World War II, the book starts with our young protagonist, Daniel, entering the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and choosing the one book he will protect for the rest of his life (already you’re intrigued, aren’t you?  Admit it).  He chooses Julian Carax’s book, The Shadow of the Wind, devours it in one night, and then sets out to find other books by the author.  He is shocked to discover that he may very well have in his possession the ONLY book by Carax still in existence, because someone is busy destroying all the other copies of Carax’s books.  Who’s doing this, and why? Naturally Daniel wants to find this out, but his search leads him to danger and secrets, wonderful characters, mystery and doomed love, adventure and intrigue.

Copies will be available for all members of the group at the Field Library’s Circulation desk.  Come in and pick up your copy, and clear some time on your schedule so you can enjoy the fun of this book.  Join us on November 18, from 11 to 12:30, for coffee, refreshments and lively discussion!

THE STRANGE WORLD OF THE BRAIN: OCTOBER’S FIELD NOTES CHOICE, THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT

Thanks again to everybody who came to the September meeting of the Field Notes Book Group and engaged in a lively discussion of Half Broke Horses.  At the end of the meeting, we voted on the book (and the date) for next month’s meeting.

We will be meeting on October 28 this time, which is not the usual third Saturday of the month.  This is because the annual Battle of the Books will be occurring on October 21, the third Saturday, and a couple of people associated with the group will be either attending or volunteering at the Battle of the Books.  

The book we will be reading in October is an oldie but goodie: the late great Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. For those of us who have already read this book, it’s a good opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the fantastic but very human stories of people caught in the midst of neurological disorders, told with Sacks’ powerful compassion and storytelling abilities.  And for people who have somehow missed this book the first time around, you’ve got a treat coming: fascinating accounts of people whose brains do not work the way normal people’s do, and how they have managed to live with and adapt to their different neurological conditions.  It’s the farthest thing from dry and clinical you could imagine, and we are likely to have another interesting discussion about the people and issues the book raises.

The books will be available at the circulation desk of The Field Library this week (September 18-24), so come in and pick up your copy, and then join us at the Gallery in the library on October 28, from 11 to 12:30, for coffee and refreshments and good discussion.  Hope to see you there!

 

NEXT BOOK GROUP READING: HALF BROKE HORSES

Thanks to everyone who came to the Field Notes meeting this past Saturday, August 19, to discuss I Liked My Life, and especially to everybody who offered suggestions for the book for September’s reading and meeting.  Our choice (hard-fought as it was) is Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls. We’ll be meeting on September 16, from 11 to 12:30, hopefully in the Gallery (elevator permitting), with discussion, coffee and snacks, so come on and join us!

If you read Walls’ previous book, The Glass Castle, you might have wondered (I certainly did) what made her parents so odd, what made them behave the way they did. Her next book, Half Broke Horses, partially answers this question by telling the story of her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, and her life and adventures in the West before and during the Depression.  Told in a very simple, direct style and in the first person, the book reads as if Lily herself were talking to you in a no-nonsense tone.  Judging by her account of her life, she had quite the adventure: growing up in a sod house on the Texas plains, breaking horses when she was six, trekking out by herself for hundreds of miles on horseback to become a teacher when she was 15 and hadn’t even started, let alone finished, high school, and then taking on the wilds of the Big City (Chicago, in this case).  Lily had her share of ups and downs, disappointments and joys, but she didn’t let anything get in the way of her will to find her Purpose (as her somewhat difficult father would put it) and live the life she wanted.  Understanding Lily makes it a little easier to understand Rosemary, Jeannette Walls’ mother, and Lily’s daughter.

Copies of Half Broke Horses will be available for checkout at the library this week, so come on in and get your copy, and then join us for our usual rousing discussion on September 16.  

I LIKED MY LIFE: NEXT FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP SELECTION

After a lively discussion of Life After Life, the Field Notes Book Group has selected its book for the month of August, and it’s a good one: I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi.

Before the beginning of the book, Maddy, a charming, intelligent housewife and mother of a bright, somewhat prickly teenage daughter, has jumped to her death off the roof of the library at Wellesley College. Maddy is our first point of view character,  sharing narrative duties with Brady, her husband, and Eve, her daughter, and she opens the book with observations about who should be Brady’s next wife.  Maddy is sort of haunting her family, but in the most benign fashion possible (Brady hears her laughter in his head; Eve hears her mother singing sometimes), trying very hard to take care of them even after her death.

I know this sounds like it’s going to be a very depressing book, but, surprisingly, it’s not at all.  Maddy’s voice is so funny, her observations so acute and accurate, and her intentions so clearly for the best, that you can’t help liking her.  While Eve and Brady are going through a lot in the aftermath of Maddy’s death, they are also acute observers and, especially in the case of Eve, quite funny in a sort of dark, ironic way.

The big question that drives you through this immensely readable book (I read it in one day) is, why did Maddy, who seems to be the most grounded, generous and intelligent person around, kill herself?  Why would someone who’s so devoted to her loved ones’ welfare, and someone who knows from personal experience how devastating suicide can be for the ones left behind, do this?  Was she trying to shame her family?  Did she have some secret depression, some pressure nobody else knew about?  As her husband and daughter move through their somewhat rocky  mourning process, they struggle with these questions, as do the readers.  

Without spoiling anything, I will tell you the book wraps everything up and answers all your questions in a very satisfying way.

The books will be available to check out at the circulation desk at The Field Library this week. Come in and pick one up, and then join us on Saturday, August 19, from 11 to 12:30 p.m. for discussion, coffee and snacks.

JULY FIELD NOTES BOOK: LIFE AFTER LIFE

After an entertaining discussion of Crooked Heart, the Field Notes Book Group decided that we will continue meeting over the summer (so no reading of 970 + pages books this summer!), and chose the next book the group will read: Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson.

 

This book, recommended to me by my friend Betsy Tomic, is a different kind of historical novel, set in England from 1910 through World War II, and showcasing in a vivid way all the different choices we make and how even the smallest changes from one set of circumstances to another can make all the difference in the world.

 

Ursula, the protagonist, is born and dies over and over and over. Think of Groundhog Day, though more serious: a seemingly endless repetition of opportunities, where Ursula sometimes remembers (a little) what happened to her the last time she was faced with this crossroads and sometimes she just lucks out and manages to make a different decision this time. The problem, of course, is that the new decision takes her down yet another path, with its own dangers and disasters, and then those need to be avoided the next time around as well. That she lives through (or doesn’t live through, as the case may be) World War I, the Spanish Influenza of 1918, the buildup to World War II, and the Blitz makes this a historical novel, but a very special kind of historical novel, where the character gets multiple chances to try to make a difference, to make it right at last.

 

Sounds intriguing?  Of course it does!  Come to the library to pick up your copy and then come and join us on July 29 in the Field Library Gallery from 11:00 to 12:30 for insightful discussion and, of course, coffee and snacks.

CROOKED HEART: THE NEXT BOOK GROUP READ

The next book we’re reading at the Field Notes Book Group, on June 24, 2017, is Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans.  It’s a novel set during the Blitz in World War II London and the surrounding area.

crooked heart

Noel Bostock, our protagonist (one of our protagonists), is a unique young man.  He’s ten years old, an orphan, brought up by his godmother, a former suffragist (with the pins and the scars to prove it), who had fairly liberal and unconventional ideas for how he should be raised, which included opposition to all wars and a refusal to send him away from London during the Blitz.  As a result of his unusual upbringing, Noel doesn’t really fit in with anyone, peers or older people. This proves to be a problem when he is evacuated with all the rest of his school to the suburbs west of London.  While other kids are snapped up by willing host families, he ends up one of the last to be chosen, by one Vera Sedge, a thirty-something widow in difficult circumstances.

 

Vera’s quite a character, too: she’s always in desperate need of money, and she’s not too careful about what she’s willing to do to get it.  She’d be a grifter if she could; she certainly tries to be one, but she’s too nervous and too bad at planning and reading people to con people with any success.  She’s living with her mother and her son, neither of whom is any help to her, and at first she figures the last thing she needs is this peculiar evacuee.

 

But Noel turns out to have some of the qualities Vee is lacking, and when the two of them find their rhythm, they’re quite a successful team, though with some quirks.

 

Imagine Paper Moon set during the Blitz, with the genders reversed, and you’re beginning to get a sense of what the book is like.  The characters are vivid and believable (with all their oddities), and the setting is so realistically depicted that you feel as if you’re there, behind the blackout curtains, huddled in bomb shelters or wandering through a darkened and damaged landscape.  It’s a quick read, and will lead to interesting discussions.

 

Come and join us at 11:00 a.m. (through 12:30 p.m.) on Saturday, June 24, at the Field Library Gallery, for discussion and coffee and donuts.  Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk by Memorial Day.

MAY BOOK GROUP BOOK: ANOTHER BROOKLYN

Thanks to everyone who attended the April meeting of the Field Notes Book Group and engaged in a lively discussion of our last book, The Art of Racing in the Rain.  As usual, at the end of the meeting we decided on the book for next month’s get-together on May 20 from 11:00 to 12:30.

another brooklyn

The May book we’ve chosen is Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and it is a terrific book, sure to inspire great discussions.  

 

Another Brooklyn is about memory, what we remember and how our memories shape us. It’s about loss: lost mothers, lost friends, lost innocence.  It’s also about a very specific time and place, seen through the memories of August, now an adult returning to Brooklyn in connection with her father’s death.  A chance meeting with a former friend on the subway brings back to vivid heartbreaking life the time when August was young and first living in Brooklyn in the 1970’s, and becoming best friends with Gigi, Angela and Sylvia.  The book is vibrant with the sights and scents and music of the period (and if you’re of a particular age, that music will bring the era back to you, too), and August and her friends face all the joys of discovering themselves as young women and all the dangers of that discovery.  Specific and universal, Another Brooklyn is the kind of book that remains with you long after you read it.

 

So come to the library and pick up the reserved copy for the book group, and then join us on May 20 at the Gallery in the Field Library from 11 to 12:30 to talk about August, her life, and this poetic, warm book.  Coffee and refreshments will be served, and we look forward to seeing you there!

NEXT BOOK GROUP BOOK: THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN

Thanks to everybody who came to enjoy the vigorous and interesting discussion of What Alice Forgot at the last meeting of the Field Notes Book Group on March 18, 2017.  

the art of racing in the rain cover

Our next book, chosen by the group, is The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.  Narrated by Enzo, an extraordinary dog who’s on the verge of death, the book looks back at Enzo’s life with his master, Denny, a mechanic and aspiring race car driver, and all the other people in Denny’s life, including Denny’s wife and their daughter, Zoe.  Enzo is there when Denny meets his wife, Eve, and when Zoe is born at home.  He’s there for all the great moments of Denny’s life, and also all the painful ones, always aspiring to become good enough that in his next life he will be reincarnated as a man.  Be forewarned: the book is a tearjerker, though there are also funny aspects to it as well.

Come and pick up your copy of the book, which will be available at the library this week, and then join us for another entertaining discussion, complete with food and drink, here at the Field Library on April 22, 2017, from 11:00 to 12:30 at the Gallery.  

CHANGE OF DATE: Entirely my fault.  I’d forgotten that the Field Library will be closed on April 15 and April 16, so of course we can’t have our book group meeting at the library when the library will be closed.  The new date is April 22, a week later. Sorry for the inconvenience!