JULY FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP SELECTION: THE ABUNDANCE

After an involved and entertaining discussion of Jane Austen’s Persuasion this past Saturday, the Field Notes Book Group has selected its book for our meeting on July 21, 2018: The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New, by Annie Dillard.

This is a bit of a departure for the group.  We’ve read collections of short stories before, but never essays.  However, if you’re going to read essays, it’s a good idea to read essays written by a master of the form, and that’s definitely Annie Dillard.  These essays, as the subtitle indicates, are a mix of her older work and newer pieces, and serve as an excellent introduction to her work. A writer who can be fascinating about grains of sand, as well as more obvious subjects like polar exploration and religion and eclipses, is a writer well worth exploring.

Copies of the book will be available at The Field Library Circulation Desk this week.  Come in and pick one up, and then join us for coffee, snacks and scintillating discussion in The Field Library Gallery on July 21 from 11:00 to 12:30 p.m.

 

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NEXT FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP SELECTION: JANE AUSTEN’S PERSUASION

Considering that the majority of the attendees at this month’s book group meeting did not like/enjoy the book of the month, My Absolute Darling (and that is a polite understatement), we nonetheless had a rousing discussion about what constitutes good writing, is it enough to be dealing with an important issue if the treatment is sensational, how much can an author manipulate his or her readers, what makes us think an author is male or female, and so forth.

However, wanting a break from the excitement (and annoyance) of our last book, we’ve chosen a tried and true classic for the next meeting, which will be from 11:00 to 12:30 on Saturday, June 16, in the Field Library Gallery: Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Copies will be available at the Circulation desk this week.

It’s long been my contention that two of the major romance novel plots originated with Jane Austen: the one where people meet and initially want nothing to do with each other but then gradually come to fall in love with each other, which is, of course, Pride and Prejudice, and also the one where two people were together once, broke up for some reason, and now get another chance to see if they can end up together, and that is the plot of Persuasion.

All of Jane Austen’s trademark sly wit is on display here, in her last finished book, and the classic humor of characters revealing more about themselves than they believe they’re doing, but Anne Elliott, the protagonist of Persuasion, is a different kind of heroine than Jane Austen fans might be expecting.  Neither as snarky and vivacious as Elizabeth Bennett nor as lively and overbearing as Emma Woodhouse, Anne is quiet, gentle, a keen observer and a passionate person. Unlike some of Austen’s other heroines, Anne doesn’t put her foot in her mouth or make rash decisions that cause her trouble later; her biggest mistake was turning down the proposal of naval captain Frederick Wentworth some years before, on the advice of her mother’s closest friend.  Now Captain Wentworth is back in the picture, seemingly determined to marry anyone but Anne, and Anne is forced to watch his flirtation with the younger women who live nearby, and keep her mouth shut about her own emotions.

This is one of my all-time favorite Jane Austen books, and one of my favorite books, period.  Enjoy the excellent writing, the delightful characters (in addition to Anne, there’s Mrs. Croft, the admiral’s wife, who is one of the most sensible people in the book, after Anne herself, and great fun to spend time with), and of course the happy ending (this is not a spoiler, trust me).  Join us for what promises to be a fun discussion, with our usual coffee and donuts as snacks.

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.

 

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.