I made a promise to myself I would read more books this year and attend a few book clubs. Every time I return from a book discussion it reaffirms the fact that I am a total English Geek. I love book discussions. How does one get a job that tells people what book to read and then forces them to talk about it over snacks? I’ve been hosting tea parties and turning pages since I was four, I’m clearly qualified, why am I in sales?
The group I participated with this time included community members assembled at the local library, which is my favorite place to be on my days off (plus my Life List goals include participating in more events there). I love the dynamics of the crowd at book clubs, and this one was lovely. Several members were routine book lovers and “clubbers”, a few librarians, a happy mixture of insightful and sassy female contributors, two first timers who self-acknowledged they were shy but added some of the best comments, and one gentlemen who sat in having never read the book yet felt he was meant to be there after reading the event flyer. It seemed to me many of the book’s themes played out in his own life in some way and he was able to share with us some meaningful thoughts on the issues we discussed. If you have never been to a book club, or have gone and had a poor experience (cause I know I’ve read some of those blogs), I encourage you to go again. Try more than one club, more than one book. The book and the people make all the difference in the discussion and I always learn something new by attending. It’s a fun way to meet people and hear ideas you may not have considered on your own. One of my favorite conversations is when people interpret something differently in the book and you start to look at the story in a new way because of that.
The Forgotten Garden could be described as a coming of age story, a romance, a mystery novel, and a fairytale. We discussed how readers identified the book and each one had their own perspectives based on the themes that stuck out to them. The story is about Nell, a little girl who travels from England to Australia and starts a new life, one where her real name and parents are lost to her. At the age of 21, Nell learns the truth about why she has always felt different from the other members of her family, and she sets off on a journey to discover her true self that will span her lifetime and her granddaughter’s. Her only clue is a small white suitcase with a book of fairytales inside.
The author, Kate Morton, grew up in Australia and lives there today, so her words to describe the different settings of the book are deliciously visual. It has been reviewed and compared to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which I’ll agree has a similar whimsical feel, but the stories are different and the characters equally well-developed. What I loved about this book was Morton’s intricate way of creating character through the little things. Nell is a woman trying to find her past, and she’s an antiques dealer. It’s a fascinating symmetry and dichotomy to me. She surrounds herself with the past, things that have been left behind, need mending. Her goal requires her to ask questions, ask for help, search for her real family, but all she does makes her more like those cobwebbed antiques in her shop.
It’s a thought provoking read for mothers. Morton makes you ask yourself what is a good mother? What is a bad mother? When you know the story behind someone’s decisions, how does that change the way you feel about them? There are several women’s stories inside this novel spanning at least four generations. What are your opinions about mother/daughter relationships? The Forgotten Garden examines generational differences as well as the notion of self-fulfilling prophecies. Nell would not be described as a good mother to her daughter, Leslie, an outcome Nell believes was inevitable, but she is given a “do-over” with her granddaughter, Cassandra. One of the book club members who is a grandmother said she’s often heard grandparents wish they could raise their grandchildren knowing what they know from the first time parenting, what do you think?
For those of you fantasy fans, Morton will delight you as readers because her novel is intertwined with the fairytales from Nell’s childhood. The book club asked the question of whether these fables were necessary to the novel, and we answered a resounding yes. All of us agreed that the fairy stories Nell learned by heart as a child were key to her uncovering the past about her family. I must say Morton impressed me with the way in which she was able to adapt her writing to give a traditional feel to the tales. I’d be curious to know if she had done research on fables or fairytales of other countries. I actually use to compete in storytelling in high school and her writing reminded me of the English fables I used.
Morton recently finished a book tour for her third novel The Distant Hours, which sounds equally as mysterious and brooding as The Forgotten Garden was. If you’re interested in learning more about her and her work, check out her blog. She has a fantastic quote about writing her new work in progress, calling it “unexpected and happy-making,” which here on JW’s Happiness Project is a perfect description if you ask me.
What are your thoughts? Have you read any work by Kate Morton? What do you think of her ideas about mother/daughter relationships? How important is our family make-up in defining ourselves? What would you do if your self identity was changed overnight?
When my book club first suggested we read a book called The Persian Pickle Club, I was skeptic. It sounded hokey. It’s a book about women who eat pickles? No, that would be boring.
To start, I had to look up what a Persian Pickle was. If I had to read about it, it better be interesting! A Persian pickle is actually another name for a paisley design, often used by quilters. And Sandra Dallas’ book is about a group of women who get together once a week to quilt in Depression era Kansas.
What I didn’t expect from a book with this title about a group of women quilters is how Desperate Housewives it was! Just goes to show me, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
It’s been awhile since I’ve shared about my book club, so allow me to divulge a little club member love to my fellow readers. I joined this book club four or five months ago after a coworker invited me fully divulging I’d be the youngest one there by 20-30 years. I was a bit nervous walking into the houses of these women (we take turns hosting the book of the month). Their houses were in the suburbs, beautiful large rooms, fancy dishes, hand painted wall murals or oversize family portraits. I live with two boys and I can’t have nice things. What was I going to have in common with any of these women?
Well, just goes to show me DON’T JUDGE A BOOK CLUB BY ITS COVER EITHER! I LOVE going to book club. The women in this group (there are 11 of us) have lived all over the country (some worked outside the country for a stint), have raised children, survived divorce, remarried, worked as teachers, counselors, nurses, and managers for many years, and know more about the power of laughter than any group I’ve met. It doesn’t matter the book, the wealth of knowledge about the times, what was happening in the news, in the medical industry, in the education system, gender inequalities, family dynamics, they bring so much to the discussion. And, oddly enough, they LOVE having me, now known as our “token young person” they make other book clubs jealous that they have me. I bring new perspectives to the discussion, and being a writing major and gender/sexuality studies minor I have some “back in my head, I once learned…” valuable information to discuss as well. 🙂
Back to the book, Queenie Bean is a Kansas farm wife, confident, content and happy with her life and the world around her. She is a member of the Persian Pickle Club, a quilting group where the women get together to expand their minds and poke fun at one another as long friendships allow. Rita Ritter, is the new girl in town, just married and moved from the city, and unable to fit in very well at Persian Pickle, as hard they help her to learn to sew. If you’re a fan of Desperate Housewives like myself, you should start to see the trend: new girl moves in to town, doesn’t fit in…where’s the body?
Turns out, this dusty town in Kansas has some secrets, and Rita is determined to find them out! If you’re thinking of picking up The Persian Pickle Club to read for yourself or a book club, be advised that there are a lot of characters, and they make their appearances rather early in the book. If you’re planning on having a discussion about them, you may want to jot notes as to who’s who till you get going. The majority of the characters have some distinct personalities, and everyone in our group adored the narrator, Queenie, because as her husband teased, “it took her less than five minutes to start talking like whoever she was with.” There are cute comments from Queenie when she learns new lingo from Rita’s city speak, but she has a humble way of speaking the same language with the drifter family that camps out on their farmland.
The book has several interesting themes for discussion regarding gender roles of the times, and religion. The three most religious people in the book are the three most disliked, Dallas’ turns religion on its head in several instances in the book. The best discussion of the whole night kept circling back to sisterhood. Is there a need for a women’s group that provides the safety and support to say whatever and do whatever in life? I can’t tell you who did it, that wouldn’t make reading the book any fun, but I can tell you the Persian Pickles will remind you of the women in your own life, the ones who helped raise your kids, gave you rides when you needed them, purposely embarrassed themselves to make you feel better, and also made fun of you all the time, but if someone else did it would ream them out royally!
I could share some of our great discussions, but I don’t want to give any of the Pickles’ secrets away. I hope you pick up a copy and enjoy it. Dallas writes from experience with the setting, and has created fun loving, memorable characters who will feel like your own best friends.
What do you think? Is it important to have a supportive group of women friends? To what lengths would you go for each other?
Did you know what a Persian Pickle was? Good, me neither. But now we do.
There’s something about summertime that draws people out of their homes. Add a food tent, a BEER TENT, some vendors selling handmade crafts, several stages of live music, and a location along the water, why you have yourself a festival! Every 4th of July, La Crosse hosts Riverfest along the bank of the Mississippi River. You buy a button, you get in for the weekend and the vast playground of food, fun, and live music is yours to behold. I’m a sucker for a fireworks show and fried food, so naturally, we spent a lot of time down at the fest grounds.
I’m sure you didn’t know, but I happen to be a festival master. I think it’s the greasy food and people watching that attracts me. It could be my unending battle with the sun, trying to convince him he doesn’t actually hate me as much as thinks he does. Armed with my SPF 50 (I was feelin’ risky!), I kicked off the festivities by spending the morning at the beach across the river from the festival.
The bridges behind me are the double bridges of La Crosse that will take you from Wisconsin to Minnesota. Cross one, you’re in Minnesota, go back, you’re in Wisconsin. I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time in the Mississippi water, but it’s kind of exciting for a literary nut like me to be swimming in Mark Twain’s playground. 🙂 Now what did I do with my copy of Tom Sawyer. Random fact: In fifth grade, I played Gracie Miller in a play about Tom Sawyer.
I love the photo of the beach towels. Nothing cries relaxation more than a beach towel and a good book. I’m pretty sure there are weird species of mutated fish in this water, so when you do need to cool down, don’t drink the water. It’s called the Mighty Mississippi for a reason. It could kill you.
It’s not enough the water will try to sweep you away with its rolling current, the sand here is like oven temperature hot. This photo was only optional after coating my feet in the dirty river water. I’m going to
pretend be honest here and tell you my skin did in fact have color when I went in the water. I don’t know how I got so pasty white here. *Shifts eyes* Clever move, Mr. Sun, but I brought my Travel SPF! MUAHAHAHA!
You’ll know you’ve arrived at Riverfest when you get to the park and see tarps staked down all over the lawn. These tarps represent the exact locations that specific people will be watching the fireworks. Do not mess with the tarps, they’ll know it was you. And people here stake their claim DAYS before the fireworks. I’ve always been more laid back. I’ve watched from the beer tent, by the park entrance, and anywhere the said families won’t notice me sneaking into.
Next step: Brave the crowds of people. But it’s early, they won’t be too bad just yet, unless you’re trying to order some cheese curds, that line will forever be the longest line you wait in at the festival.
The live music at a local festival isn’t what you’d expect at a state festival. There aren’t tons of big names here. It’s mostly cover bands, a lot of oldies, and oddly, we have cloggers? The bands we saw at the festival included Sell Out, Monkey Wrench, Stand, The Executives, Hans Mayer and the Hot Sauce Trio, and the one forgotten but welcome big name band that came this year, Spin Doctors. The Spin Doctors had two big hits come out in the 90’s, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong and Two Princes. Their big album was Pocket Full of Kryptonite which for the first time ever in the States, in Wisconsin no less, they played in its entirety at our festival! With all its original members, the band was pretty amazing. The lead singer did these high leg kicks over the microphone stand and he’s got to be in his 40’s. It was impressive; I couldn’t do it! The guitarist was awesome. They let the drummer and bass player do some really funky solos, and lo and behold to us, they use to be a blues band and ended the night with some of their old blues tunes.
Part of having fun at a festival involves getting hokey with your sense of humor. Around here, the celebrations begin with the Fest Master, but since it’s a Riverfest, we have titles like Commodore and First Mate. You’ll see them walking around in uniform and wearing lots of schwag and old vintage Riverfest buttons. So of course when they provide you with a photo op like this, you simply must take it! Presenting Commodore Joe and his First Mate, Jess. Don’t we look like characters from Gilligan’s Island here?
Last but not least, if it’s going to be a 4th of July festival, you’ve got to have a fireworks show!
Well, that’s what I did at the Festival. Highlights included Blue Moon beer costing only 1 ticket, dancing to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition (my favorite song), chilling at the beach with the new book club book, and definitely watching the Spin Doctors!
How did you celebrate the holiday weekend? Going to any festivals this summer? Wear sunscreen!
I’m having such fun with this book club I joined. Our book for June was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.
Connie, a graduate student trying to survive her oral exams, inherits (of sorts) a dusty, dirty old house that belonged to her grandmother. She moves to the house in the summer to clean it up and sell it, but what Connie doesn’t know is that this house will unlock a secret in history dating all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials.
The book is a fascinating read, imagined by the author through her own dissertation work at Boston University. Every day she would walk her dog on the trails between Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, the cities the book takes place in. Howe states the characters in her book are not autobiographical, but they are well developed nonetheless, and she herself is descended from two Salem Witch historical figures: Elizabeth Proctor, who survived, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not. Spanning the Witch Trial days and the decades that followed in conjunction with present day, she webs together a cunning woman of the 1600’s with a 1990’s stressed out student!
Last summer, I vacationed in Boston, MA, and took a day trip to Salem with my boyfriend. If any of you have upcoming vacations that way, plan to stay overnight! All the good graveyard and witch tours happen at night! As it was, we weren’t in on that loop, so we had to catch our train back to Boston, but we did spend a full day in Salem. Salem is a beautiful, seaport town with a mix of past and present in its streets. The locals you’ll meet are just as diverse covering the full spectrum of love/hate for the tourists that flock to its city, especially at Halloween. The city offers such tourist and historical attractions like the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Pirate Museum. Plus, almost all its shops offer psychic readings, tarot readings, palm readings, and a vast array of magical potions and herbs if it interests you.
We toured the Salem Witch Museum. The main room is set up like a theater, and you sit around the edges with its “stages” encircling you. The lights go up on various scenes to reveal still models in period dress, each depicting a moment during the Salem Witch Trials as the audio narrates. The role of Tituba in the Salem Witch Trials is not widely known, but she was a servant in Reverend Parris’ house. A slave from Barbados, Tituba would entertain the children with magic tricks and scary stories. Her name was the first name cried out from the “afflicted” girls. After that, many more women were accused of the craft. The most shameful accusation was that of Rebecca Nurse, a respected, God-fearing, elder member of the community. It is suspected her plea of guilty came more-so out of fear and misunderstanding than anything else. Historians say she was questioned twice at trial, but she was old and hard of hearing, causing her to nod in reply than speak up. She was one of the 19 people hanged during the Salem Witch Trials.
The hangings weren’t the only punishments given during during this time of suspicion and fear. A man named Giles Corey was actually pressed to death, with logs and boulders stacked upon him as a torture method to make him name additional suspicious townspeople. His last words are reported to have been, “More weight.”
In addition to the 20 deaths following the trials, many of the accused “witches” spent months in prison awaiting a suitable judge to arrive to port. And even those that weren’t hanged suffered a life in prison. At the time, if you were imprisoned, it was up to your family to pay for your imprisonment and upkeep. If you could not pay, which many of the lower class families could not, you rotted in jail for a lifetime to pay off your debt.
Many of the leading figures of the Salem Witch Trials make an appearance in Howe’s book, giving it a rich historical setting, and new perspective on its haunting past. The book is full of several mother-daughter relationships, providing great discussion at book clubs, if you’re looking for a new read. And since the main topic is uncovering Deliverance’s physick book, also called a spell book, receipt book, Book of Shadows, you can count on a little magic sneaking its way in.
As for Howe’s writing style, it was said by several book club members that the beginning is a little slow. I agree, at times the description of Connie’s actions or internal thoughts dragged on, but this is absolutely a book to stick with, unanimously liked by each member, especially the ending! It brought up a lot of interesting conversation about character development, gender then and now, how our perception of the world is based on the world we grow up in, and of course, witches! Do you believe in witchcraft? How has the term witch changed over time?
What do you think? Do you believe in magic, or is it all a bunch of hocus pocus?
Also, what’s a great next read I should tell my book club about?
Another magical book club meeting. Two months ago, I joined up with a coworker of mine and attended her book club. At the end of that meeting, hoping to insight me to return, they asked me what my favorite book was, and I said The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
First, here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:
Who, you might ask, is Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) and why is she the subject of a book? On the surface, this short-lived African American Virginian seems an unlikely candidate for immortality. The most remarkable thing about her, some might argue, is that she had ten children during her thirty-one years on earth. Actually, we all owe Ms. Lacks a great debt and some of us owe her our lives. As Rebecca Skloot tells us in this riveting human story, Henrietta was the involuntary donor of cells from her cancerous tumors that have been cultured to create an immortal cell line for medical research. These so-called HeLa cells have not only generated billions of dollars for the medical industry; they have helped uncover secrets of cancers, viruses, fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping.
Now why on earth would a book about cells and science and medical advancements appeal to a girl who only walked through the science building on campus during winter when it was the shortest route to the English building? It’s because the author, Rebecca Skloot, spent a decade researching the subject and uncovering the family that belonged to Henrietta Lacks.
Sadly, we don’t know a lot about Henrietta’s life when she was alive. She died in her early 30’s and only one photo exists.
What makes Henrietta’s life so incredible is that she’s been living for the last 50+ years and will continue to live on! She lives on through her cells. Now known to have a rare enzyme that causes her cells to rebuild themselves, her cells are the ONLY cells to have survived and replenished themselves in history. Think of a medical advancement in the last 50 years. Polio vaccine? Cells in space? Chemotherapy? They all came as a result of tests done on Henrietta Lack’s cells. HeLa cells, as they are called after her, were taken involuntarily from a tumor in her cervix at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950’s.
Now, 50+ years later, HeLa cells are sold in vials for $500 to $10,000! And up until Rebecca Skloot’s book came around, no one even knew who Henrietta Lacks was.
My book club is made up of women who are all 30 years my senior, and I am in complete awe of their intelligence and eloquence every time I meet them. To read this book with a group that is made up of teachers, professors, psychiatrists, and nurses was about as rich a discussion as you can get on this book!
The story is about more than science, though ultimately that is what started the story in the first place. A doctor taking samples and testing them. Fifty years ago, there wasn’t even a term like “informed consent.” And as you read the book, it becomes difficult to find fault with one party. Who is the real exploiter, is it the doctor who took the sample, the doctor who gave the sample away freely to other research studies and labs, or the journalist who first printed her name?
And what about the family? Their mother’s cells have saved thousands, millions?, of lives, and are being sold on the internet, yet the family can’t afford medical insurance.
As I said before, this book is not ONLY about science. It is a story about a family. A family deeply ignorant of education. A family that was abused in multiple ways, and received little closure or compensation. And the author spent a lot of time earning the trust of this family, teaching them, sharing first experiences with them, and helping them to heal. She didn’t fix things. In many ways, it’s a complicated issue that can’t be solved with a check or even with this book publication. No, she didn’t fix things. But she did tell their story, the story of their mother, Henrietta Lacks, how she changed the world and saved lives, and how through knowing their mother, their own lives could begin to grow again.
The author, Rebecca Skloot, shares her memory of taking Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, and her son, Zakariyya, to a lab to see HeLa cells for the first time.
This is my favorite book. What’s yours?
Last night I went to a book club meeting with a coworker. The book was Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio. What I liked about the book was the opening of a character with tourette syndrome, we get to see how she tries to understand her disorder as she grows up. The time period is the 1950’s and the book really does delve into the education process for someone who was “altered,” as many of Icy’s classmates said.
I could tell you, voracious readers, about the quirky characters, because there are some good ones with names like Peavy Lawson and Maizy Hurley. I could tell you about the writing style or the backwoods setting of Kentucky. But I’m not going to. You can read all that for yourself. I’ve linked the book title above to Goodreads. And you can go buy or rent the book yourself and read that too. I encourage you to, it’ll be good. Read it out loud so you can better hear the appalachian accents. What I can’t provide for you so readily is the exact experience of the book club meeting I had last night. I mean it was good. I thought going into this, maybe I’ll make a few meetings here and there, we’ll talk about the book for two hours, no more I hope. I needed to get home and write up a review for it!
Well, dear reader, that review would have been very different had I not attended that book club meeting, which mind you, lasted for almost 4 hours! And in all that time, we discussed the actual book only a little. And yet I left feeling so stimulated, is that a strange word? LOL. To say I enjoyed myself, seemed too simple. It was a great dialogue. I wish I’d taken notes so I could remember more of what we discussed!
Let me set the scene for you. Wisconsin yesterday, freezing pouring rain, a map to a stranger’s house drawn in pencil, and my car with with a dying left blinker. I arrive at the host’s house and scurry in under an umbrella. We have a mini tour of her all too beautiful home. (All the while I’m thinking, I could never host this meeting, these women are all retirees who’ve lived in these homes for years and made them their own! My house looks like a retro 70’s fixer-upper, comprised of my boyfriend’s music paraphrenalia, orange carpeting, orange tile, and odd “knick-knacks” I’m not allowed to throw away.) There are only 6 of us, the wine is poured, we eat daintily assembled toothpicks of fresh fruit and delicious puff pastries with cream cheese and bacon in them. The book discussion begins.
Ok, last night, I was able to discuss this book with three former teachers, ranging from elementary to college, and two nurses. Talk about gold mine of knowledge! They brought so much to the table. We discussed cognitive and physical disorders in the school system, how they’re handled, the improvements over the years, where opportunities still are. And since I was the youngest member by a good 30 years, they certainly topped me with their history of how things have progressed. In the book, Icy spends time in a children’s asylum, and I thought that was really interesting. Throughout the book, she doesn’t really have friends her age, even there, her best friends are the aides and the doctor. It was interesting to hear from everyone what their experiences were growing up with people of different abilities. Many of the women at the group said they never saw them. They knew these people existed but they were often segregated into “colonies” or separate schools. One woman said her mother took her to one of the institutions when she was 12 to walk the halls and explain that the individuals inside these walls were people too, and she needed to know they were there. The same woman later replied, “It’s amazing any of us were born normal.” We all laughed, but it makes sense, with so many (I think increasing) numbers of chromosomal alterations and knowledge about water supplies, mercury levels, etc. I think we’re seeing more children born with disorders than we ever had before. And since my friends at the book club came from medical backgrounds, we also discussed child immunization and looked at a chart showing how many shots kids have before they’re 5 years old. Each of us there had a different experience in school and how we were introduced to a person of varying ability, and we agreed that things have mainstreamed more now. Where possible, schools are trying to blend classrooms and do what’s best for the children. Certainly, there are some who succeed more than others. What a rich conversation this was.
And then we talked about religion! Ha! There is a scene in the book where Icy and her grandma go to a revival, and it’s pretty intense. This sparked up more conversation about people’s experiences and cultural beliefs.
I’ll leave you with two things. 1.) If you’re involved with a book club, this is a great group read. I’ll admit I thought it had a slow start, but the discussions it “sparked” where well worth having. 2.) Start a dialogue with me! I want more!! I’m a born-again reader! And I’m curious. What has your experience been with people who have cognitive or physical disorders? Did you ever have them in your classroom? Your family? How were they treated? Do you think there is a rise in disorders like autism, asperger’s, dyslexia, maybe even down’s? Do you agree with the statement “It’s amazing any of us were born normal”?