SURVIVALISM FOR MAY, 2018: MY ABSOLUTE DARLING

After a vigorous and wide-ranging discussion of Lab Girl, our most recent book, the Field Notes Book Group has chosen the book we’re going to read and discuss for May: My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent.  Our next meeting will be on Saturday, May 19, in The Field Library Gallery, from 11:00 to 12:30, and as usual, there will be snacks (including but not limited to Dunkin Donuts Munchkins) and coffee available for our reading enthusiasts.

My Absolute Darling is a change of pace, a novel after the last three months of nonfiction. A book that placed on numerous best book of the year lists for last year (when it came out), My Absolute Darling is about Turtle, a 14 year old girl growing up in the woods of Northern California. Her mother is dead, and she’s being raised by her father, a man who’s both deeply disturbed and wildly charismatic.  He’s a survivalist, training her to keep away from other human beings and to survive in the event of a catastrophe which he expects to come at any moment. She’s living an expansive life in the wilderness, wandering for miles, familiar with every rock and tree and pond. But in middle school, she has as little contact with other people as she can manage, careful to keep anyone from getting close enough to penetrate her emotional shell. All that changes when she meets Jacob, a high school boy who’s everything she’s not, who tells jokes, lives in a house like a normal person, and looks at her as if she hung the moon.  Gradually Turtle begins to open up, to feel friendship and even a crush, and she looks at the world she’s been living in with new eyes, seeing its limitations, its unsustainable quality, and its dangers. Now she’s going to use the skills her father taught her for new purposes: to escape from him and the life he has in mind for her.

Come to the library and pick up a copy of My Absolute Darling, and then join us on May 19 (when, hopefully, spring will be in the air) from 11:00 to 12:30 in The Field Library Gallery for invigorating discussion and refreshments.

 

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LAB GIRL: NEXT FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP SELECTION

After a fun, party atmosphere-d discussion of our March book, Furiously Happy, the Field Notes Book Group has chosen our book for April 21, our next meeting, and it’s Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren.  Copies of the book will be available starting this week (March 19 on) at The Field Library Circulation Desk, so come on in and pick up your copy, and then get ready to join us on April 21, from 11:00 to 12:30, at The Field Library Gallery.

Lab Girl is Jahren’s memoir of her life as a scientist, and it’s been given all kinds of recognitions: the National Book Critics Award for Autobiography, a New York Times Notable book, inclusion on the Best of the Year lists for the Washington Post, Time, NPR and others, as well as a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.  

Hope is an excellent narrator, describing her development as a budding scientist from her earliest days helping her father in his college laboratory in a small town in Minnesota through her high powered career in various universities.  All along, she shares not only her stories of her own education, but of the people she works with, including Bill, her lab manager who’s both brilliant and (like so many scientists) a bit eccentric, and shares her enthusiasm and love for the world of plants, which surrounds us but which most of us don’t even really see at all, let alone understand.

It’s a fun read and a fascinating one, so come and join us in what will undoubtedly be another great discussion (with snacks!).

 

FEBRUARY BOOK GROUP BOOK: NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE

After a lively and interesting discussion about My Name is Lucy Barton this past Saturday, the Field Notes Book Group chose its next book for February 17, and it’s an excellent, heartbreaking and insightful nonfiction book, part memoir, part history: No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers.

I’ve already written about this book (here), and I will warn you that it’s a sad and in some ways an infuriating book, sad in the true story of the author’s two schizophrenic sons and the effects of their mental illnesses (and the treatment of their illnesses) on their (and their parents’) lives, and infuriating in the depiction of how damaged our mental health system is and how it got to be that way. It’s a terrific read and will, I’m sure, lead to deep and fascinating discussions at our next meeting.

The books will be available at the Circulation Desk of the Field Library starting this week. Come in and get your copy, and then join us on Saturday, February 17, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Field Library Gallery for coffee, goodies and rousing conversations about this enthralling book.

 

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.

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.