Published October 27th 2009 by St. Martin's Press (first published October 1st 2009)
You’ve eaten too much candy at Christmas…but have you ever eaten the face off a six-foot stuffed Santa? You’ve seen gingerbread houses…but have you ever made your own gingerbread tenement? You’ve woken up with a hangover…but have you ever woken up next to Kris Kringle himself?
Augusten Burroughs has, and in this caustically funny, nostalgic, poignant, and moving collection he recounts Christmases past and present—as only he could. With gimleteyed wit and illuminated prose, Augusten shows how the holidays bring out the worst in us and sometimes, just sometimes, the very, very best.
My book club chose this for our November read, getting us into the holiday spirit early. I mean, how festive is that cover? And the opening line: "It's not that I was an outright nitwit of a child." Nitwit? No. Bizarre? Definitely. I'm glad his frontal lobe took so long to develop or we may have missed out on these zany stories surrounding Christmas, the author's FAVORITE holiday and yet, a day that always turned out horribly for him.
Aside from a disturbing chapter involving a French Santa, I enjoyed most of his stories. Burroughs writes beautifully; his descriptions paint vivid images and I often felt as though I was sitting with him as he recounted these stories directly to me. I found myself responding, "Why on earth would you do that???" and "Good grief! Turn the water off already!".
There are some great lines in this book, many that made me laugh and many that were heartfelt and insightful. For example, "Therapists, I felt, were like poodles; there were simply too many of them for all to be good." And this one: "There were people who had so much strength that you could borrow some, just being in the same room with them."
It reads quickly, too. Had I focused myself I could have easily finished this book in one or two sittings even being the slow reader that I am. Overall, I thought it was an okay book but not something I'd rave about. Even so, I'm glad I read it and if you enjoy short stories about a non-nitwit kid making comical mixups between Santa and Jesus, along with stories of love, sacrifice, and loss, you might give this one a try.
Published April 23rd 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
Sedaris's latest essay collection possesses all of the wit, charm, and poignancy his readers have come to expect.
His usual cast of delightful characters returns; including a flashback of his father in his underpants berating a schoolboy or, more recently, hounding David into getting a colonoscopy. Many pieces involve travel, animals, or both: his sister Gretchen totes around an insect "kill jar"; in a Denver airport, David engages with a judgmental fellow passenger; and visiting the Australian bush, he has encounters with a kookaburra and a dead wallaby. Seeking a stuffed owl for a Valentine's Day gift leads him to a taxidermist shop where he is shown gruesome oddities and confronts difficult questions about his curiosity. Another essay explores the evolution of David's 35 years-and-counting of keeping a diary and provides some great insight into his writing process.
In addition to the personal essays, there are six satirical monologues in which he assumes the role of a character with a ridiculous message. One in particular involves a man's ludicrous response to the legalization of gay marriage in New York, believing his own marriage is now "meaningless".
This is a must-read for fans of smart, well-crafted writing with a sense of humor.
Agent: Steven Barclay Agency. (May) Publishers Weekly via Barnes & Noble
This collection of essays was my introduction to David Sedaris. These essays range from humorous observations of quirky behaviors to downright snarky attitudes to utterly dark, disturbing thoughts and actions.
What did I like? I liked that I could finish the short essays quickly and start with a fresh one the next time I picked up the book. I liked that some of the lighter essays had me busting out with laughter. And I liked his writing style; It's clear that he is a witty, talented writer.
What didn't I like? The majority of these essays were far too dark for my taste.
Our reading group was split on this one; some loved it while others felt as did. It's possible that I might like his other works more, but it's unlikely that I'll eagerly seek them out anytime soon.
Published June 1st 1978 by Harvest Books (first published October 1931)
The Waves is often regarded as Virginia Woolf's masterpiece, standing with those few works of twentieth-century literature that have created unique forms of their own. In deeply poetic prose, Woolf traces the lives of six children from infancy to death who fleetingly unite around the unseen figure of a seventh child, Percival. Allusive and mysterious, The Waves yields new treasures upon each reading.
This was my first Virginia Woolf novel. By definition, it really isn't even a novel. It was an experiment with writing the streams of consciousness of the characters at specific moments in time rather than the traditional writing of plot and dialogue between the characters.
I was intrigued by the concept and idea of following the characters from childhood to death and found it interesting to see the character's thoughts evolve from distracted observations of childhood to deeper contemplation as adults, but from the first sentence it was clear that this would not be an easy read. I had to work hard at placing myself in the mind of each character and the language was difficult for me interpret; It is more like poetry than prose.
If you like poetry and content that requires deliberate effort on the part of the reader, this may be a great choice for you. For me, it required more effort than I wanted to put into it and finishing it became more of a personal challenge than it was for the enjoyment. This is one I'd like to come back to in the future and see if I can do better with it.
About the Author
Virginia Woolf, original name in full Adeline Virginia Stephen (born January 25, 1882, London, England—died March 28, 1941, near Rodmell, Sussex), English writer whose novels, through their nonlinear approaches to narrative, exerted a major influence on the genre.
While she is best known for her novels, especially Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), Woolf also wrote pioneering essays on artistic theory, literary history, women’s writing, and the politics of power. A fine stylist, she experimented with several forms of biographical writing, composed painterly short fictions, and sent to her friends and family a lifetime of brilliant letters.
Her works are considered unique as they go deep into the psychology of a character, and show the way of their thinking. She published novels and essays as a public intellectual, and received both critical and popular success. She used to self-publish most of her works through the Hogarth Press which she had co-founded.
Throughout her life, she suffered from mental illnesses, probably including bipolar disorder, and she took her own life in 1941. She was 59. Her posthumous reputation suffered after the Second World War, but it was re-established with the growth of feminist criticism during the 1970s. Woolf’s novels can be described as highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful, and commonplace, is seen to be refracted, or dissolved, in the receptive consciousness of the character.
Had I watched either of the videos below before I attempted reading this or any Virginia Woolf novel, I would have had much greater appreciation for her words. The 4 minute video below is loaded with powerful insight into her writing and what she was trying to accomplish. The narrator, Sue Asbee, Senior Lecturer in English, offers profound, thoughtful descriptions of her experiences with Virginia Woolf's writing and begins the narration with a completely relatable statement:
I first discovered Virginia Woolf as a student. I found the text completely baffling. I think I'd opened Mrs. Dalloway expecting a story and what I got was a flow of ideas. Memories."
I, too, found the text completely baffling. The difference is that I stayed in that mindset for the entire book. In contrast, Sue Asbee looked beyond the text and discovered something I wish I would have discovered:
When I began to understand what Woolf was trying to achieve in her writing, it made me rethink how memories from childhood, inconsequential moments, have actually come to be the basis of my own identity. There is always a desire to make the fleeting moments something permanent. And that's what she does in her patterning, the structure of her work, in her repetition of images. And the writing, once you stop looking for a story, is stunning."
"I first discovered Virginia Woolf as a student. I found the text completely baffling. I think I'd opened Mrs. Dalloway expecting a story and what I got was a flow of ideas. Memories. When I began to understand what Woolf was trying to achieve in her writing, it made me rethink how memories from childhood, inconsequential moments, have actually come to be the basis of my own identity. There is always a desire to make the fleeting moments something permanent. And that's what she does in her patterning, the structure of her work, in her repetition of images. And the writing, once you stop looking for a story, is stunning.
She felt that people who were writing fiction before she did were more interested in plot. She was interested in time, memory, association of ideas, and how anyone character in her fictional writing, in her biographies, and indeed, we her readers, how any of those establish a sense of identity.
I think her greatest legacy to other writers has been her development of what's often called stream of consciousness, what I prefer call interior dialogue where she tries to express the multiple layers of thought that are going on inside our heads all the time.
Woolf thought of herself as an outsider in the world of education and writing. In her long essay, A Room of One's Own, she describes how she's shut out of the university library because she's a woman. She decides that the fact that women are locked out of these priveleges could be turned to their advantage. If you're locked out, you have much more freedom.
This is a passage from Woolf's essay, A Sketch of the Past. It's a memoir, which she wrote very close to the end of her life and I think it's characteristic of the way she writes and the way memory helps to establish identity.
If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills -- then my bowl, without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying half asleep, half awake, in the bed in the nursery at St. Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach;"
Woolf's achievements lie in her willingness to take risks, to experiment with form, and with subject matter.
Questioning, searching, fragments, patterns, unity."
This video, too, provides us with brilliant descriptions about Virginia Woolf's thinking and writing.
Here's a few quotations from this video that I feel truly expresses the spirit, vision, and intent of Virginia Woolf's writing.
"In her novels and essays, Virginia Woolf captured the intimate moments of the 20th century like no one else. She opens our eyes to the neglected value of daily experiences."
"In order to stand on the same intellectual footing with men, women needed not only dignity but also equal rights to education, an income of 500 pounds a year, and a room of one's own."
"Woolf was probably the best writer in the English language for describing our minds without the jargon of clinical psychology."
"Books like Woolf's, which aren't overly sarcastic, aren't caught up in adventure plots, or cradled in convention are a contract. She's expecting us to turn down the outside volume, to try on her perspective, and to spend energy with subtle sentences. And in turn, she offers us the opportunity to notice the tremors we normally miss and to better appreciate moths, our own headaches, and our fascinating, fluid sexuality."
A Tour of Virginia Woolf's Enchanting Home
A country retreat, gardens, inviting spaces, readings from passages of Virginia Woolf's writings...
This 4 minute video of a visit to Monk's House by readingbukowsi beautifully captures the essence of Virginia and Leonard Woolf and their humble home in Sussex.
What a lovely place and a tender, charming visit!
Book Club Mojo
Prior to our book club meeting a friend and I briefly discussed The Waves over coffee one day. We were talking about how the text was written as a stream of consciousness rather than a story with a plot. She mentioned that the thoughts of the characters jumped around so much that it was difficult to follow and that she was sure her own stream of consciousness did not jump around like that.
This sounded like a the perfect fixings for an experiment to me and hence, the birth of the following book club activity.
Stream of Consciousness Hip-Hop
Set a timer to go off at a random time during the meeting. Be sure it's after everyone has settled in and conversation is flowing.
Hand each member a blank slip of paper and a pen and announce to the group that when the timer goes off, they are to quickly write down what they were thinking about at that very moment. Fold and place slips of paper into a bowl.
Mix them up then pass the bowl for each member to select one slip, preferably not their own, and read it aloud.
Were they as random and jumpy as the thoughts of the characters in the book seemed to be?
I have to say, this made us laugh - Virginia Woolf sure knew her stuff!
🙂 🙂 🙂
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
What is the significance of the book's structure? Why does Woolf begin each chapter of with an italicized introduction describing an ocean landscape at a particular point in the course of a day?
The Waves presents six very different narrators (and describes a seventh main character, Percival, in great detail) but then suggests that their perspectives are somehow related or part of a larger whole. What do you think Woolf is trying to say about individuality?
Bernard gets a lot more "air time" than the other characters; indeed, the entire last chapter is written from his perspective. What makes him so special?
Percival is clearly central to the narrative, but he never serves as narrator. Why?
The Waves uses a lot of natural imagery, but it also highlights technology (e.g., the repeated references to trains) and other aspects of modernity. How does the book make use of images of the natural and the modern? Are the references to each balanced? Is one more valorized or demonized than the other?
The novel makes frequent references to language and art, alternately highlighting its power and emphasizing its impotence. Ultimately, does one of those perspectives take precedence? Is "making phrases" powerful and meaningful, or ultimately futile? Why or why not?
What's with the frequent references to death? Why is this an obsession for the novel's characters, even before Percival's death?
The book is one of Woolf's most experimental, breaking a lot of the conventions of traditional plotting, narrative, and characterization. Do you think it counts as a novel? Why or why not?
A superb love story from Anna Quindlen, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Rise and Shine, Blessings, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life
Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.
Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined.
“[Anna] Quindlen’s seventh novel offers the literary equivalent of comfort food. . . . She still has her finger firmly planted on the pulse of her generation.”—NPR
Anna Quindlen writes beautifully and this story flows along smoothly like a lazy river; It feels uneventful for the most part, even when important events happened. The characters were likable and the story interesting enough to keep me turning pages.
There was good deal of internal dialogue, which I loved but at the same time found hard to follow because the narrator's thoughts jumped around so much. It made me realize how it confusing it must be for others to carry on a conversation with me at times -- we'll be talking about a subject and suddenly I think of something else (squirrel!) so I jump to that topic for a bit. Thankfully, the narrator of this story always came back to complete the original thought.
This was a nice, easy read with moments of intrigue. I wanted to love it as much as I do the cover art (Oh,that beautiful cover!) but all in all, it was better than ok but not fantastic.
About the Author
Anna Quindlen is the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and bestselling novelist who wrote the books One True Thing and Object Lessons.
Anna Quindlen was born on July 8, 1952, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At age 18, she worked as a copy girl at The New York Times. After college, Quindlen became a reporter for The New York Post before returning to the Times in 1977. She was promoted to deputy metropolitan editor at the Times and wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning op-ed column from 1981-1994. After leaving the Times in 1995, Quindlen has written several bestselling novels, including One True Thing.
Writer Anna Marie Quindlen was born on July 8, 1952, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Anna Quindlen joined The New York Times at age 18 as a copy girl. After graduating from Barnard College in 1974, she was hired as a reporter for The New York Post. She returned to the Times in 1977 and was named deputy metropolitan editor in 1983.
As a columnist for The Times from 1981 to 1994, Quindlen was only the third woman in the paper's history to write a regular column for the prestigious Op-Ed page. Her column, "Public and Private," won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992. Other columns included "About New York" and "Life in the 30s." In 1995, she left the paper to devote herself to becoming a novelist.
Quindlen's body of work includes fiction, non-fiction, self-help and children's books. She has written five best-selling novels, three of which were made into movies, One True Thing, Black and Blue and Blessings. Thinking Out Loud, a collection of her "Public and Private" columns, was also a best-seller. She currently writes the Last Word column for Newsweek magazine.
Anna Quindlen and her husband, attorney Gerald Krovatin, live in New York City with their three children.
People love to know where the inspiration for a novel comes from. Would you say something about Still Life with Bread Crumbs in this regard?
It’s not one thing. It’s never one thing. I’ve thought a lot about the nature of art, and why women’s art, particularly if it arises from domestic life, is minimized, or denigrated—why, for instance, we pay less attention to the work of Alice McDermott, a genius miniaturist whose novels reflect the quiet everyday, then we do to the more sprawling, outward-facing work of Philip Roth. Some of my thinking on that is embodied in Rebecca’s photography and public reaction to it. I’m 61 years old, and I’ve thought a lot about aging, and the stages of a woman’s life, and that’s in there, too. From a purely mechanical point of view, I try to do some essential thing in each novel that I haven’t done before. In this book it was twofold: I’ve never written a love story, and I haven’t written a book with a happy ending, and this material lent itself to both. ...[Read the full interview]
NPR Author Interview February 2, 2014, 6:05 AM ET Heard on Weekly Edition Sunday | Listen 6:32
Rebecca Winter is at a crossroads. The famous photographer had been living off of sales of one particular photograph for years. When the money stream starts to dry up, she reluctantly decides to rent out her Manhattan apartment and move to a small, rural town far from her seemingly fabulous New York life. It is here that she tries to map out her next chapter. No longer married, no longer needed as much by her grown son, no longer as successful as she used to be.
That's where we meet the main character in Anna Quindlen's newest novel, Still Life with Bread Crumbs.
Quindlen tells NPR's Rachel Martin, "I'm really intrigued by the idea that we now live long enough to get to reinvent, rediscover ourselves over and over again, and that's definitely what's happening to Rebecca."
Interview highlights include details on why Rebecca leaves New York for the country, on the love story at the heart of the book, on taste and art, and staying down to earth.
Inspired by Sarah, one of the characters in the book who runs the English-themed Tea for Two cafe, DeeAnn prepared a beautiful tea party for us!
She treated us with tea (Winter Chocolate Spice and Dancing Sugar Plum), wine, appetizers of meat, cheese, and shrimp, an entree of cucumber sandwiches and scones, and a dessert of sherbet and cookies.
Loads of laughs, delicious food, and interesting conversation made for an evening of sheer delight!
Novel Gobblers Original Questions
1.Rebecca's story reminds us that it's important to leave behind people who destroy our dreams and hopes and to find the right people in life. Who were these people in her life? Why did she leave them or embrace them?
2. At one point in the story, Rebecca says to her son, Ben, that she used to be Rebecca Winter. What do you think Ben meant when he replied, "You'll always be the Rebecca Winter."?
3. How might this story be a coming-of-age story for Rebecca Winter, a 60 year old woman?
1. What part of Rebecca Winter’s life do you relate to the most? How did the way Rebecca handled her hardships compare to decisions you’ve made in your own life?
2. One of the themes of Still Life with Bread Crumbs is discovering how to age gracefully. What has been one of your biggest struggles when entering a different stage of life? What is something you’ve enjoyed?
3. Rebecca finds herself living far outside the comfort zone of her former New York City life. What do you think is the most difficult part of moving somewhere new? Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you handle it?
4. At one point in the book, Jim says that he believes that people live in houses that look like them. How does your own house or apartment reflect your personality?
5. "Language had always failed her when it came to describing her photographs…There was nothing she could say about the cross photographs that could come close to actually seeing them." Rebecca realizes this after speaking at the Women’s Art League event. Do you ever find it difficult to describe the effect that art --- photographs, paintings, writing --- has had on you? What might that say about the power of artwork?
6. Throughout the book, Sarah is often the perfect antidote for Rebecca’s unhappiness. Do you have a person like this in your life? Think about one of the times that you were most grateful for him or her.
7. One of the turning points for Rebecca is when Ben tells her, "You will always be Rebecca Winter." How has Rebecca’s personal identity become entangled with her identity as an iconic artist? What helps her to ground herself?
8. The dog gradually becomes a bigger part of Rebecca’s life as she moves further away from her past self—the "not a dog person" city girl. The dog pictures are even the catalyst for Rebecca’s break with TG. What do you think the presence of the dog means in Rebecca’s life, especially after she discovers his name is Jack? How might the constant company of an animal have a different effect from that of the company of people?
9. When Rebecca finally learns the meaning of the crosses, she wonders if the great artists had ever considered "the terrible eternity of immortality" for their subjects. We live in a culture of camera phones and constant photography. Was there ever a moment when you were particularly grateful to have a certain photograph? Do you ever wish that our lives were less documented?
10. O. Henry’s short story and the story of Rebecca’s mother’s Mary Cassatt both have a bittersweet quality to them. Think about a moment in your life that might have been upsetting or sad. Was there someone who helped you see beauty or happiness in that moment instead?
Blends mythology, magic, archaeology and women. Traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.
Four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.
The four lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
The book was recently, 2015, made into a multi-episode TV movie starring Maia Laura Attard, Rachel Brosnahan, Cote de Pablo and Kathryn Prescott.
This was one of our reading club selections and to be honest, I was reluctant to read it. My experience with a different Alice Hoffman novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, led me to believe this author focuses on the dark and macabre, which isn't my cup of tea. However, as I looked into the plot and topic for The Dovekeepers, I became intrigued with the events of the last Jewish revolt and the siege of Masada. I decided to give this author another try by listening to the audiobook.
From the beginning, I had trouble getting into the story. I was confused by the sudden changes to different female characters telling their story and I couldn't grasp what they had to do with each other. The story felt like drudgery and the characters seldom experienced joy of any sort in their lives. On the rare occasion that they did, such as the birth of a child, joy was fleeting and the focus quickly returned to the burden of being alive. The last quarter of the book picked up steam and had some clever twists, which was nice, as I became more interested in the story - just in time for it to end.
The concept had so much potential. I was eager to learn the history of the siege of Masada but I just couldn't connect with the characters, the story didn't hold my attention, and I really didn't learn anything more than already I knew going in - that only a handful of the Jews survived. The story left me depressed. Were I a baby born into this story my crying would not be for milk but a plea to please drown me at birth rather than have me endure the utter hopelessness for females portrayed within this story. Too harsh? Apologies.
In all fairness, I may have enjoyed the story more had I read it rather than listened to the audiobook. With the hardcopy I would have understood the format - that it was divided into four parts told by separate characters. Still, this simply was not the book for me.
Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.
After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't — but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.
Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for the New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence — "...so offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces — love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.
Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers — including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).
Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA
NPR Author Interview November 5, 2011 3:29 PM ET Heard on All Things Considered | Listen 7:43
"When I was there, I felt so moved and so connected," author Alice Hoffman tells Laura Sullivan, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered.
Hoffman was so struck by the beauty of Masada's rocky terrain, she says, that she chose to make it the backdrop in her new novel, The Dovekeepers.
The Dovekeepers CBS (Trailer Official) TV Mini-Series 2015
Based in Alice Hoffman's historical novel about the Siege of Masada, the miniseries focuses on four extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada.
This TV miniseries stars my favorite actress from NCIS - Cote DePablo! I haven't watched the minisereis yet, and there are loads of mixed reviews. What's you take on it? Did you see it? Did you enjoy it more than or less than the book?
The Siege of Masada (73 AD) - Last Stand of the Great Jewish Revolt
Ok. Soooo, while the book is advertised to be about the Siege of Masada, it really didn't provide much regarding the actual siege itself or events leading up to it. This left me disappointed and set me on the prowl for more details. My hunt was successful.Thank you, Invicta for your fabulous documentaries! Here is a terrific fact-filled video that satisfied much of my curiosity about this historic event.
Published on Oct 2, 2016
In 73 AD Masada, the impregnable mountain fortress in the Judaean desert, stood as the final holdout against the onslaught of Rome’s legions. The siege that followed would mark the final, bloody suppression of the Jewish revolt with an encounter whose awe inspiring remains can still be seen in the desert today!
Book Club Mojo
Dawn is certainly the hostess with the mostest! She prepared a beautiful, tasty meal of turkey lettuce wraps (recipe coming soon) with plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, cheesecake and of course, wine!
Summer has been so full only one of us was able to finish the book by the time we met. So we discussed it as much as possible without spoilers.
It was fun to discover how different each of our experiences were with the book. Some of our members loved the women characters and the language used to convey their stories. Others were not as fond of the book but we all felt the characters were interesting. Which characters were your favorites?
The novel is split into four principal parts, with each of the main characters—Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah—narrating one section. Which of these women did you find most appealing, and why? Were you surprised to find you had compassion for characters who were morally complex and often made choices that later caused guilt and sorrow?
Yael describes her relationship with Ben Simon as “a destroying sort of love” (p. 46). What does she mean by that? Are there other relationships in the novel that could be described in the same way?
From Yael’s setting free the Romans’ lion, to Shirah’s childhood vision of a fish in the Nile, to the women’s care of the doves, animals are an important component in the book. What did animals mean to the people of this ancient Jewish society, and what specific symbolic forms do they take in the novel?
The figure of Wynn, “The Man from the North,” who comes to serve the women in the dovecote, is based upon archeological finds at Masada. In what ways does Wynn come to bring the women together? Compare Yael’s relationship with Ben Simon to her relationship with Wynn.
How do spells function in the novel? What is the relationship between Shirah’s Jewish beliefs and her use of magic? If you have read other Alice Hoffman novels that include mystical elements—such as Practical Magic or Fortune’s Daughter—how do they compare to The Dovekeepers and its use of magic?
How do Shirah’s daughters react to the intimate friendship that develops between Yael and their mother? Is Shirah a good mother or not?
What do you make of Channa’s attempt, essentially, to kidnap Yael’s baby Arieh? Is Channa different from the other major female characters in the book? Do you find your opinion of her changes?
“You don’t fight for peace, sister,” Nahara tells Aziza. “You embrace it.” (p. 343). What do you think of Nahara’s decision to join the Essenes? Is she naïve or a true believer? Do you see similarities between the Essenes and the early Christian movement?
Why is the Roman Legion preparing to attack the Jews at Masada? From historical references in the book, as well as your own knowledge of history, explain the roots of the conflict. Do you feel the lives of the women in The Dovekeepers echo the lives of women in the modern world who are experiencing war and political unrest?
Revka’s son-in-law, the warrior known as “The Man from the Valley,” asks Aziza, “Did you not think this is what the world was like?” (p. 378). Describe the circumstances of this question. After all her training for battle, why is Aziza unprepared for the experience of attacking a village filled with women and children?
In the final pages of the book, Yael sums up those who perished at Masada, remembering them as “men who refused to surrender and women who were ruled by devotion” (p. 478). Do you agree with her description?
For the women at Masada, dreams contain important messages, ghosts meddle in the lives of the living, and spells can remedy a number of human ills. How does their culture’s acceptance of the mystical compare to our culture’s view on such things today? Do mystical and religious elements overlap? How do they compare to your own views?
In the note on page 507, Hoffman explains that the historical foundation of her story comes from Josephus, the first-century historian who has written the only account of the massacre. How does knowing that the novel is based on history and archeological findings affect your reading of the book?
Women’s knowledge in The Dovekeepers is handed down from mother to daughter, sister to sister, friend to friend. Why do you think it is so difficult to know what the lives of ancient women were really like? Do you see any connection with the way in which your own family stories are handed down through the generations?
A witty, irreverent tour of history's worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and a celebration of the heroes who fought them.
In 1518, in a small town in Alsace, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced until she was carried away six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had been stricken by the mysterious dancing plague. In late-seventeenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary.
Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the diseases history and circumstance have dropped on them. Some of their responses to those outbreaks are almost too strange to believe in hindsight. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues we’ve suffered as a species, as well as stories of the heroic figures who selflessly fought to ease the suffering of their fellow man. With her signature mix of in-depth research and storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks, and ultimately looks at the surprising ways they’ve shaped history and humanity for almost as long as anyone can remember.
"The purpose of this book is not to scare you. Instead, like all good books, it is intended to distract you from the screaming baby one aisle over from the airplane where you are currently trapped for the next five hours."
It took me a bit to get into this book but once I did, I liked it. It's one of those books that you find yourself pondering long after you've finished reading it. I was aware of many of the diseases discussed in the book but was surprised to discover that I had no idea how gruesome they really were. This is important stuff to know. It's easy to pass them off as though they could never happen again but that is simply a false sense of security. It's critical that we act responsibly in order educate and protect ourselves and our communities from the spreading of disease.
It was interesting to me that things that are common sense today, such as cleanliness, was the culprit of many of the epidemics in early history. (Really? You think it's a good idea to throw your sewage into your basement?) I also find it fascinating that when fear kicks in, people will grasp for anything to help, even nonsensical and usually quite disgusting practices in hopes to cure what ails them - this even happens in the world today.
I wasn't sure what to expect regarding the humor but soon discovered the sarcasm to be pretty entertaining at times. Her references to the X-men, Mumps Matilda, Meningitis Mathew, etc had me giggling. In the end, I learned a lot from this book and I agree with the author's overall message that sick people are not villains to be shunned and isolated. They are simply unwell. We need to be smart and more compassionate. We need to separate the disease from the diseased and "give a damn about our fellow man".
Jennifer Wright is a columnist for the New York Observer and the New York Post, covering sex and dating. She was one of the founding editors of TheGloss.com, and her writing regularly appears in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Maxim. Her breakup cure is gin, reruns of 30 Rock, and historical biographies. She lives and loves in New York City.
Jennifer Wright author "Get Well Soon" on "BookTalk" Radio
Published on Feb 9, 2017
Doug Miles talks with Jennifer Wright ("It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History") about her new book "Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them" on "Talk Across America" (www.dougmilesmedia.com)
There are many heroes and a few villains mentioned in this book. Here's a just a handful of the most memorable ones.
Walter Freeman II, a consummate showman, traveled the country in his Lobotomobile and performed lobotomies to treat everything from "excessive eating" to drug addiction to alcoholism. And to make it even more unbelievable, people were lined up to get one!
...lobotomies, the scariest procedure that you never want performed. This is a plague induced by human stupidity, not disease..."
Runny nose? Sore throat? Wheezing? Painful joints? No — you are not going to die. It is just a winter flu. Probably. Bolstered by antibiotics, brandishing an inhaler and slurping chicken soup, you will likely live to fight another day.
Not so in the past. Then a sore throat could mean death by dinner time. Nearly every generation has had to deal with a widespread infectious disease that swiftly strikes down otherwise healthy individuals. Plagues kill a whole bunch of people. And they can take society and the economy down with them.
The notion that in this interconnected world we’re not likely to experience a massive epidemic is too good to be true. Maybe not this year. Maybe not in your lifetime. But it’s not a question of whether humanity will face another plague. We will. And then we will be faced with how to handle that plague when it comes. Will we respond with science, stoicism and compassion? Or will we just burn our neighbors as witches?
The answers to these questions likely come from the past. Here are some of the most gruesome plagues from my new book “Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them” and what we can learn from them.
There’s a common enough sentiment right now that we’re confronting apocalyptic times. It’s hard not to think that. After all, here in America, we currently have a commander in chief who is basically taunting other world leaders with threats of invasion, to say nothing of his ongoing insistence that climate change is a myth and that vaccines are something about which we should all be skeptical. What a time to be alive, right?
Well, if you’re looking for something to read that will simultaneously stoke and soothe your fears, look no further than Jennifer Wright’s excellent new book, Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them. In it, Wright recounts civilization’s many epic biological disasters. From leprosy to the bubonic plague and the Spanish flu to cholera, Get Well Soon acquaints readers with some of the most deadly periods in human history. And while this might sound like it makes for some pretty depressing reading, Wright manages to make the most dire of topics not only incredibly compelling but also, often, hilariously funny. ....
...We recently spoke with Wright about her new book, why it’s important to laugh during even the most tragic times, and how she thinks our new president would handle an outbreak of the plague. Read on! And try not to get too scared.
Kelly hosted the meeting and provided a fun, relaxing evening full of great discussion, great food, and great drink! We had a thought provoking discussion about the things that fascinated and surprised us most about the plagues. The epilogue topic of AIDS was also discussed and really had us thinking about the possibilities of future plagues, how our leaders would manage (or deny) the situation, and what we believed would be the best course(s) of action.
1. What was your initial recation to the book? Did it hook you immediately, or did it take some time to get into it?
2. How do you think would Donald Trump handle a plague outbreak?
3. What did you think about the humorous aspect of the book?
4. What surprised you the most when you were reading this book?
5. Which of the plagues did you find most intriguing and why?
List of Chapters
Antonine Plague Cholera
Bubonic Plague Leprosy
Dancing Plague Typhoid
Smallpox Spanish Flu
Syphilis Encephalitis Lethargica
Source: Nylon article (above) entitled "How Would Donald Trump Handle a Plague Outbreak?" by Kristin Iversen
1. This book is centered around some of the deadliest, most devastating plagues to wreak havoc upon civilization. Why would Jennifer Wright choose a topic so dark?
2. How did the author manage to keep things witty when covering such dark periods in history?
3. Which were the author's favorite plagues? Why?
4. In times of epic disaster, what separates the heroes from everybody else?
5. Which of the historic figures mentioned in this book do you most admire?
6. Who are history’s straight-up villains when it comes to dealing with plagues?
7. How do you think Trump would be equipped to handle a disaster of that magnitude?
Published April 5th 2016 by Knopf (first published March 1st 2016)
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.
Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.
Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.
Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist who has been pursuing independent research in paleobiology since 1996, when she completed her PhD at UC Berkeley and began teaching and researching first at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given in the Earth Sciences. Currently, she is a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where in 2008 she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories, with support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health.
Interviews & Other Cool Stuff
The secret life of plants — and ‘Lab Girl’ author Hope Jahren
May 24, 2016 at 6:20 PM EDT
'Lab Girl': An Homage To The Wonders Of All Things Green
April 22, 20165:10 AM ET
Heard on Morning Edition
Donna hosted the meeting for Lab Girl and pulled together a beautiful evening full of great discussion and delicious food themed after the book; Potato Dumplings (a true labor of love) and Hungarian Goulash. She also prepared a fresh Cucumber Tomato Salad and served Pickled Beet Salad from Trader Joes. We were all so busy talking and enjoying the meal that we forgot to take photos of the evening so you'll want to look over Donna's recipes and give them a try to experience Lab Girl more fully!
1. How did Jahren's upbringing help determine her dedication to science? Consider her father's background as a science teacher and her mother's love of English literature.
2. One of the literary tropes Jahren uses in her memoir is the comparison of plant life with human life. Talk about the parallels she draws between her subjects and herself. In what ways are we all similar to our rooted, blossoming brethren? Do you see those parallels in your own life?
3. What do you find most remarkable in Jahren's descriptions of the wonders of the natural world? Consider, for instance, the sheer numbers of the plant world. Or how the willow tree clones itself...or the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi...or the airborne signals of trees in their perennial war against insects.
4. Talk about Jahren's struggle with manic depression and how it has affected her life and work.
5. How would you describe Jahren's relationship with her lab partner Bill? What makes both professional and personal relationship work?
6. Describe some of the hardships that make life for any scientist difficult—bucking the status quo, the often endless waiting for results, the grunt work, or the scarcity of funding.
7. Will you ever take a tree—or any plant life—for granted again?
1. Lab Girl opens with a detailed description of the laboratory Jahren loved as a child. How does she transform a cinder-block room stocked with scientific equipment into a “castle” (p. 8)? In what ways do her recollections of her time in the lab and the trips home late at night with her father evoke the mood and magic of fairy tales?
2. Jahren writes of the emotional distances between members of a Scandinavian family, of “growing up in a culture where you can never ask anyone anything about themselves” (p.11). Are Jahren’s feelings about her family shaped solely by cultural tradition?
3. Does Jahren’s observation that “being mother and daughter has always felt like an experiment that we just can’t get right” (p. 16) capture something you have experienced, either as a parent or child? Why do you think Jahren dedicated Lab Girlto her mother?
4. Jahren writes, “I chose science because science gave me what I needed—a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be” (p. 18). Discuss and evaluate the combination of elements that determine her choice, including her attachment to her father and the recognition that “being a scientist wasn’t his job, it was his identity,” the acceptance by her science professors of “the very attributes that rendered me a nuisance to all of my previous teachers,” and her simple declaration that the desire to become a scientist “was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more.” Compare this initial explanation with the self-portrait she offers in the final chapter (p. 277).
[eallen1]Per text of book.
5. In alternating chapters, Jahren forges links between her own life and the plants that have populated it. How does the story of the blue spruce tree (pp. 27–29) set a pattern that is echoed and enhanced throughout the book? What insights do these close examinations of a large variety of plants provide into the needs and the capabilities shared by all living things? Is there a particular topic—for instance, the universal struggle for survival or the interdependence evident in nature—that resonates with you?
6. In recalling her first scientific breakthrough, Jahren writes, “On some deep level, the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known” (p. 71). What are the emotional and practical repercussions of this moment? Is there a moment in most people’s lives that marks a line between who they are and who they might have been?
7. Jahren describes her struggles with mental illness in a gripping and vivid interlude (pp. 144–47). Why do you think she introduces this at the midpoint of her book?
8. Jahren’s relationship with Bill is a sustained theme in Lab Girl. In what ways do Bill’s manner and methods in the lab complement Jahren’s? What qualities shape their behavior toward each other on a personal level? Discuss the sense of intimacy and tolerance at the core of their friendship, as well as the boundaries they establish. What do their long conversations, their reactions to institutional rules, and the misadventures they share on their field trips all add to the book? In what ways does their trip to the Arctic capture the essence of their bond (pp. 195–201)?
9. What previously hidden aspects of Jahren’s character come to light as she describes her meeting and marriage to Clint (pp. 205–209)?
10. Jahren writes of her pregnancy, “I know that I am supposed to be happy and excited. . . . I am supposed to celebrate the ripening fruit of love and luxuriate in the fullness of my womb. But I don’t do any of this” (p. 217). How do such factors as her childhood, her professional ambitions, and her mental illness affect her experience? Why does she “decide that I will not be this child’s mother. Instead, I will be his father” (p. 228).
11. What obstacles does Jahren face in her career as a research scientist? Are some of the setbacks Jahren faces attributable to her being a woman in a male-dominated field?
12. Do you agree that “America may say that it values science, but it sure as hell doesn’t want to pay for it” (p. 123)?
13. Science writing is sometimes criticized for seeming to anthropomorphize scientific subjects. Do you think that Jahren avoids this potential pitfall? In what ways do her choice of words and use of metaphor balance the scientific facts that she wants to convey with having the reader understand and even delight in these facts? What facts did you find most interesting?
14. As you read Lab Girl,were you equally engaged with the autobiographical sections and the chapters on plants and trees, or did you find yourself more drawn to one or the other?
15. Lab Girl makes use of a wide range of language and tones, from the scientific to the colloquial, from biblical references to profanity. Does this range subvert our expectations about how scientists “should” talk? What do the different tones reveal about Hope? How does her varied language help us to see her in multiple lights—as scientist and writer, as friend and human?
16. Memoir is a highly intimate form. Do you feel you’ve gotten to know Hope through Lab Girl? Does she seem similar or different to science teachers you have had? Do you see her as an inspiration for young women who want to pursue a career in science?
Published June 29th 1993 by Vintage (first published May 11th 1992)
The national bestseller and the first volume in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses is the tale of John Grady Cole, who at sixteen finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself. With two companions, he sets off for Mexico on a sometimes idyllic, sometimes comic journey to a place where dreams are paid for in blood. Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.
"Every dumb thing I ever done before in my life there was a decision I made before that got me into it."
Despite the pretty title, this is a tough story. John Grady Cole has lost his grandfather and the ranch will be sold. It's all John has ever known. He's a cowboy and that's all he ever wants to be. So he and his cousin, both about 16 years old, leave Texas and ride their horses across the border into Mexico. It's 1949. In Texas they tie their horses up outside cafes and gas stations. The moment they cross into Mexico, they step back in time. Desert. Cactus. No motor vehicles, few settlements. The people they meet lead them to hard life and hard choices; some of them life threatening.
I am so glad I read this book. There were many things I loved about it but many things I didn't. What did I love? The contradictory nature. The depth of the story and characters yet the direct, no frills conversations with little show of emotion. The action yet the slow pace. The beauty yet the harshness. I loved that once they passed into Mexico, the descriptions of the land and many of the discussions between the characters we given in Spanish. There was a very distinct feel that you were no longer in Texas nor in 1949! I liked the boys and was impressed with their maturity at such a young age.
What didn't I love? The lack of quotations caused a lot of confusion for me about who was speaking. At times the story would jump forward to a new scene, leaving me confused about how we got there. McCarthy offers beautiful language but the story is not a lullaby like the title implies. It's not a happy story and I was I left with a strong hope that John Grady Cole will somehow find his place and his happiness.
Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
About the Author
Anthony Doerr was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author of the story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace and All the Light We Cannot See, which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Doerr’s fiction has won four O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. He has won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, the National Magazine Award for Fiction, three Pushcart Prizes, two Pacific Northwest Book Awards, three Ohioana Book Awards, the 2010 Story Prize, which is considered the most prestigious prize in the U.S. for a collection of short stories, and the Sunday Times EFGShort Story Award, which is the largest prize in the world for a single short story. In 2007, the British literary magazine Granta placed Doerr on its list of 21 Best Young American novelists.
Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons. Though he is often asked, as far as he knows he is not related to the late writer Harriet Doerr.
Interviews & Other Cool Stuff
Official Book Trailer
What Does the Title Mean?
“It’s a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” ~ Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr sees the world as a scientist, but feels it as a poet. He knows about everything—radios, diamonds, mollusks, birds, flowers, locks, guns—but he also writes a line so beautiful, creates an image or scene so haunting, it makes you think forever differently about the big things—love, fear, cruelty, kindness, the countless facets of the human heart. Wildly suspenseful, structurally daring, rich in detail and soul, Doerr’s new novel is that novel, the one you savor, and ponder, and happily lose sleep over, then go around urging all your friends to read—now.
… I first encountered Doerr’s work a decade ago when I picked up a copy of The Shell Collector at a small bookstore in Seattle. I carried the book to a nearby coffee shop and spent the rainy afternoon reading it. I had recently graduated college, and I’m not sure if it was my uncertain future or the gloomy day, but this collection of stories had a profound effect on me. I found a precise kind of truth within those pages—the kind that captures human experience in only the way perfectly crafted stories can. I reveled in those wonderful sentences that afternoon, and since then I have always looked forward to reading Doerr’s work.
… All the Light We Cannot See is a book that was ten years in the making, and it is a remarkable novel, but perhaps more than anything, it has reminded me of Doerr’s extraordinary ability to bring together the elements—rhythm and imagery and tone—to somehow perfectly capture the most mysterious parts of our experience—love and fear and fate—with something so simple as a sentence. … [Read the Interview]
An Evening with Anthony Doerr
On April 20th, 2017, our reading group had the opportunity to attend "An Evening with Anthony Doerr", a lecture and dinner for the Idaho Humanities Council's 10th Annual event. For some, this may sound like a torturous evening but I'm here to tell you it was anything but torturous and boring!
Anthony Doerr was gracious, insightful, witty, inspiring, and full of captivating stories that had the audience rolling with laughter. It was such a fun evening! Now we're all eager to gobble down more novels written by Anthony Doerr!
I was especially pleased that his presentation was very similar to that in the video below, which you won't want to miss. Click the play button, sit back and enjoy Anthony Doerr's wit and enthusiasm for discovery. You'll be glad you did!
“Among multiple outstanding experiences at Lake Oswego Reads [Feb 12, 2015] (hosted by the amazing Lake Oswego Public Library), an unforgettable highlight was being handed a warm loaf of bread by master baker Dominique Geulin from St. Honoré Boulangerie. I carried it back home, sliced it, and look what we found inside!”
1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?
2. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?
3. Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?
4. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?
5. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This . . . is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?
6. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?
7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are . . . with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?
8. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?
9. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?
10. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?
11. Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?
Published February 2nd 2016 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
A young orphaned girl in modern-day China discovers the meaning of family in this “heartbreaking, heartwarming, and impressive debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) told in verse, in the tradition of Inside Out and Back Again and Sold.
Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has…but what if Kara secretly wants more?
Told in lyrical, moving verse, Red Butterfly is the story of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.
"Don't worry if your new life has been tough.
Remember, it takes a while for a butterfly's wings to dry."
Every once in a while a book comes along that imprints itself in you and changes you forever. This is one of them.
A tender, tragic, relishing story of hope, isolation, adaptation, kindness, and love in a world where harsh political policies have triggered harsh choices and consequences for families and children. Though a fictional story about a young Chinese girl being raised in China as an American, it truthfully tells of ethical decisions faced by many in China since the One-Child policy was placed into effect in 1980. There are many questions about the characters that are answered with flawless timing as the story beautifully unfolds at a perfect tempo, keeping you intrigued, hopeful, and deeply moved. The Author's Note at the end of the book is powerful and added yet another layer of love and understanding to the story.
I borrowed this booked from our local library but it is one of the few that I will buy and place on my own shelf where I will see it, re-read it, and experience it again and again.
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.
This is a touching story of Vietnamese family that comes to America for refuge due to the fall of Saigon. Ten year old Ha tells her story in verse, which perfectly conveys the young voice of a child facing mature circumstances and events; her father is missing in action, her mother is doing her best to provide for and protect the family on her own, her country no longer exists, her new home in America is safety yet completely unfamiliar, her family must learn to accept assistance and the generosity of many and overlook cruelties inflicted by others, and Ha must learn to compromise, be grateful, and discover that love and family is the ultimate definition of home.
Ha is an adorable, spunky character that bristles at being told she cannot do something simply because she is a girl. She is smart, yet struggles with feeling stupid due to language and cultural barriers. Her moments in the sunshine are delightful. Best of all, is after having fallen in love with Ha, I discovered she was actually the talented author of this book and these were her experiences.
A wonderful, wonderful story for all ages that you won't want to miss.
From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women
Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.
Carol's Rating: ★★★★★
"My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it's the other way around."
This beautiful, moving story of hope and courage stirred my heart and mind through and through. I listened to the audiobook where narrators Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye give a dazzling performance and portrayal of two young women; one white, one black; the same age, the same time period, the same plantation - yet living in two separate worlds of expectations and both yearning for freedom.
The story is rich in symbolism and purpose. "She (mauma) use to say, you got to figure out which end of the needle you gon be, the one that's fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth." I became emotionally connected to these fabulous characters as they took measures to protect their minds and spirits from being broken by society throughout their journeys to stay true to their convictions for human rights. I learned that Sarah and Nina Grimke were true historical figures. I learned about Denmark Vecey, story quilts, and spirit trees. I learned once again that we are all "meant to do something in the world, something larger than (ourselves)".
Read it. You'll love it, too.
About the Author
Sue Monk Kidd lived one of those perfect, small town, southern childhoods (except for the swarm of bees in the walls of her 100-year-old house).
She could walk to the drugstore and charge a cherry Coke to her father. Or to Empire Mercantile and charge a pair of cheerleader socks to her mom. By the time she got home, her parents would know what color socks she’d bought and what size Coke she’d drunk.
But the 1964 Civil Rights Movement changed Sue’s idyll forever. Her high school class became the first to integrate. She was 16 and old enough to understand racism’s cruelty. It stayed with her.
In 1970, Sue earned a B.S. in Nursing from Texas Christian University. She worked as nurse, met her husband, Sanford (Sandy), a Baptist minister, and had two children.
In her 30s, she left nursing for full-time mothering, taught Sunday School, and wrote inspirational essays for Guideposts Christian magazine. They led to her first memoir, God’s Joyful Surprise, published at age 40. Source: Debra Eve's Late Bloomer
In her forties, Kidd turned her attention to writing fiction, winning the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature and the 1996 Poets & Writers Exchange Program in Fiction. Her short stories appeared in TriQuarterly, Nimrod, and other literary journals and received a Katherine Anne Porter award and citations in Best American Short Stories’ 100 Distinguished Stories.
Since then she has written several bestsellers such as The Secret Life of Bees (2002), The Mermaid Chair (2005), Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story (2009), and The Invention of Wings (2014). Her novels have earned international acclaim and multiple literary awards as well as some having been adapted into award wining movies.
Kidd serves on the Writers Council for Poets & Writers, Inc. She lives in Southwest Florida with her husband, Sandy, and dog, Barney. Source: Suemonkkidd.com
Interviews & Other Cool Stuff
After reading The Invention of Wings, I was motivated to learn more about the author and the Grimke sisters. What inspired her to write the story? Where did her research begin and where did it take her? How did she come up with fictional characters and the structure of the story?
I discovered a lot of interesting booty! I'm excited to share it with you - to take you deeper into, and even beyond the book.
Listen to this short, compelling NPR interview where Kidd offers loads of insight into the inspiration behind the story. Then keep scrolling to learn even more!
January 8, 2014 Heard on NPR:All Things Considered Sue Monk Kidd's new novel is a story told by two women whose lives are wrapped together — beginning, against their wills, when they're young girls. One is a slave; the other, her reluctant owner. One strives her whole life to be free; the other rebels against her slave-owning family and becomes a prominent abolitionist and early advocate for women's rights.
The book, The Invention of Wings, takes on both slavery and feminism — and it's inspired by the life of a real historical figure.
Sue Monk Kidd provides a super cool Book Club Kit on her website that includes a conversation with the author, quotes, and recipes. Here are a few tidbits:
History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own."
~ Professor Julius Lester
I first came upon the Grimké sisters in 2007 while visiting Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Their names were listed on the Heritage Panels, which honor 999 women who’ve made important contributions to western history. Later, I was astonished to discover they were from Charleston, South Carolina, the same city in which I was then living. Somehow I’d never heard of these two amazing women, but I immediately dove in, learning everything I could, and the more I learned, the more excited I became. I discovered that Sarah and Angelina were from a wealthy slave-holding family, at the top of the planter class, moving in the elite circles of society, and yet they broke with everything, their family, religion, homeland and traditions, and became the first female abolition agents in America and among the earliest feminist thinkers. They were, arguably, the most radical females to ever come out of the antebellum South. I fell in love with their story. I was especially drawn to Sarah. I was moved by how thoroughly life was arranged against her and what she overcame, by how deeply she yearned to have a voice in the world, by how utterly human she was, and how determinedly she invented her wings.
I was inspired by the quilts of Harriet Powers, who was born into slavery in 1837 in Georgia. She used West African applique technique and designs to tell stories, mostly about Biblical events, legends, and astronomical occurrences. Each of the squares on her two surviving quilts is a masterpiece of art and narration. After viewing her quilt in the archives of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., it seemed more than plausible to me that many enslaved women, who were forbidden to read and write, would have devised subversive ways to voice themselves, to keep their memories alive, and to preserve their African heritage. In the novel, Charlotte is the Grimke’s rebellious and accomplished seamstress, and I envisioned her using needle and cloth the way others use paper and pen, attempting to set down the events of her life in a single quilt. She appliques it with strange, beautiful images—slaves flying through the air, spirit trees with their trunks wrapped in red thread—but she also sews violent and painful images of her punishments and loss. The quilt in the novel is meant to be more than a warm blanket or a nice piece of handiwork. It is Charlotte’s story. As Handful says, “Mauma had sewed where she came from, who she was, what she loved, the things she’d suffered and the things she hoped. She’d found a way to tell it.
Louise W. Knight, author and historian, provides some great history about the sisters and even addresses the issue of the unflattering "photographs" of the women that are widely associated with them. I was happy to see some different photos of them; ones taken when they were in their 70's (Sarah) and 60's (Angelina). Plus, if you're ever in Charleston, the Preservation Society offers a Grimke Sisters Tour. How cool is that?
Born near the turn of the 19th century, Sarah and Angelina Grimké were white Southern aristocrats of Charleston, South Carolina whose fate at birth seem sealed: by rights they should have married well, mothered many children and managed the slaves who ran their households. Instead, they rejected slavery, which they hated, moved to Philadelphia, and converted to Quakerism, wrongly supposing that it continued to embrace the cause of antislavery. In time, rejected by the Quakers for their reform work, the sisters became social activists in the causes of abolition and ending racial prejudice. Making the principle that no man should have dominion over another man their own, they became the first American women to make a fully developed case against the oppression of women and for women's equal rights.
Sarah Grimké (1792-1873)
Sarah, the older sister, had a scholar's bent, with a judicious mind. Once she established her carefully arrived at conclusions, she never budged, regardless of the consequences. A deeply spiritual person, she was the more tender-hearted of the two sisters. Older by 13 years, Sarah devoted herself to Angelina's care and education to such a degree that Angelina called her "mother" until she reached her twenties. One of the fascinating stories in the book is that of Angelina's influence on Sarah, her beloved and admired sister, at a crucial turning point in their lives. Sarah turned down two marriage proposals, her ambition being aimed in a more unusual direction - that of being a Quaker minister. Sarah was a moderately skilled speaker but her brilliant mind (she had aspired to be a judge, like their father) produced some of the strongest arguments for women's rights ever penned in her Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (1837/1838). She also published a moving pamphlet appealing to Christian ministers of the south to oppose slavery (1837). In 1838, she went to live with the newly married Angelina in Fort Lee, New Jersey, helped raise three children, taught in the schools Angelina and her husband Theodore Weld founded, and continued to engage in social action -- particularly the growing women's rights movement of the 1850s, though rarely in person.
Angelina Grimké (1805-1879)
Angelina was by instinct a woman of action, and a natural prosecutor, ready to make a forceful case. Compelled by her hunger for the truth, she possessed great courage in the face of condemnation. Though a gentle personality, she was also a passionate speaker who could command audiences of thousands with the force of her arguments and her unmatched eloquence. She published an appeal to (white) Christian women of the south to petition state legislatures to end slavery, and an appeal to white and black women of the north to join the abolitionist cause. She also was the first American woman to address a legislative body. The opening of her speech, in support of abolitionist petitions to the Massachusetts state legislature, is posted on this website under "Long form blog." (LINK). When she was 33 years old, and at the peak of her fame as a public speaker and organizer, Angelina Grimké married the nation's most prominent abolitionist speaker and organizer, Theodore Weld. Now Angelina Grimké Weld, she and her sister lived with Theodore for the rest of their lives. They raised three children, founded and taught in many schools, and continued to engage in social action, although in less frequent and less prominent way.
What about Those Famous Pictures of the Sisters?
The images to the left (Sarah, far left, Angelina, immediate left) are widely used, both in books and on the internet. The reason is that for many years they were the only images available. Furthermore, they appear to be of the period when the sisters were active in social change campaigns. The two photos above, less frequently published, were taken when they were much older.
But there is a problem with these images. First of all, although they are frequently described as "photographs," they are not. They are not even daguerreotypes. Rather they are wood engravings based on daguerreotypes that have since disappeared.
Thus the first question to ask about these images is -- Are they accurate as representations? The answer, obviously, is no. Indeed, while I have yet to track down where these engravings were first published, it is very likely they appeared first in a periodical of the 1830s that disapproved of the sisters for being abolitionists and wished to portray them as peculiar and unappealing. This was a common practice of the time -- to draw people as ugly if you disapproved of their politics or, in the case of African Americans, of their race. I see these engravings more as political cartoons than as legitimate representations of the sisters.
In this video adapted from theAmerican Experience: “The Abolitionists,” featuring historical reenactments, learn about the daughter of South Carolina slaveholders who devoted her life to ending slavery and winning equal rights for women. Angelina Grimké and her sister Sarah drew upon their strong religious beliefs from an early age to oppose slavery in their native state and throughout the United States. After moving north, they became prominent writers and speakers in both the abolitionist movement and the struggle to obtain equal rights for women. This resource is part of the American Experience collection.
Book Club Mojo
Our entire reading group enjoyed reading and discussing The Invention of Wings.
We discussed how thankful we are for these women and the sacrifices they made toward equal rights that allow women and black people of today so many more freedoms than were ever experienced in their own time period. We talked of having to repress your aspirations for the sake of societal expectations, the alternating perspectives of the two main characters, Sarah and Handful, the complicated relationships between the characters, and how learning to read is a form of freedom in itself.
The topics led to further discussions about why groups of people oppress other groups of people, and why the oppressors will follow along with such behavior? We noted this to be a common thread among some of the books we've read, for example,The Handmaid's Tale, and yet how slavery and oppression have spanned nearly every culture and nationality from ancient times to the present. The WHY of it remains to be our biggest, unanswered question.
Here's another great way to get some discussion going.
The Invention of Wings is loaded with symbols representing deeply personal and empowering significance to the characters throughout the story. This short presentation by Juliana Bush highlights a few of them such as Sarah's fleur de lis button, needle and thread, Handful's rabbit-head cane, Charlotte's story quilt, and the spirit tree.
And of course, Discussion Questions from the Author!
1. The title The Invention of Wings was one of the first inspirations that came to Sue Monk Kidd as she began the novel. Why is the title an apt one for Kidd's novel? What are some of the ways that the author uses the imagery and symbolism of birds, wings, and flight?
2. What were the qualities in Handful that you most admired? As you read the novel, could you imagine yourself in her situation? How did Handful continue her relentless pursuit of self and freedom in the face of such a brutal system?
3. After laying aside her aspirations to become a lawyer, Sarah remarks that the Graveyard of Failed Hopes is "an all-female establishment." What makes her say so? What was your experience of reading Kidd's portrayal of women's lives in the nineteenth century?
4. In what ways does Sarah struggle against the dictates of her family, society, and religion? Can you relate to her need to break away from the life she had in order to create a new and unknown life? What sort of risk and courage does this call for?
5. The story of The Invention of Wings includes a number of physical objects that have a special significance for the characters: Sarah's fleur-de-lis button, Charlotte's story quilt, the rabbit-head cane that Handful receives from Goodis, and the spirit tree. Choose one or more of these objects and discuss their significance in the novel.
6. Were you aware of the role that Sarah and Angelina Grimke played in abolition and women's rights? Have women's achievements in history been lost or overlooked? What do you think it takes to be a reformer today?
7. How would you describe Sarah and Angelina's unusual bond? Do you think either one of them could have accomplished what they did on their own? Have you known women who experienced this sort of relationship as sisters?
8. Some of the staunchest enemies of slavery believed the time had not yet come for women's rights and pressured Sarah and Angelina to desist from the cause, fearing it would split the cause of abolition. How do you think the sisters should have responded to their demand? At the end of the novel, Sarah asks, "Was it ever right to sacrifice one's truth for expedience?"
9. What are some of the examples of Handful's wit and sense of irony, and how do they help her cope with the burdens of slavery?
10. Contrast Handful's relationship with her mother with the relationship between Sarah and the elder Mary Grimke. How are the two younger women formed-and malformed-by their mothers?
11. Kidd portrays an array of male characters in the novel: Sarah's father; Sarah's brother, Thomas; Theodore Weld; Denmark Vesey; Goodis Grimke, Israel Morris, Burke Williams. Some of them are men of their time, some are ahead of their time. Which of these male characters did you find most compelling? What positive and negative roles did they play in Sarah and Handful's evolvement?
12. How has your understanding of slavery been changed by reading The Invention of Wings? What did you learn about it that you didn't know before?
13. Sarah believed she could not have a vocation and marriage, both. Do you think she made the right decision in turning down Israel's proposal? How does her situation compare with Angelina's marriage to Theodore? In what ways are women today still asking the question of whether they can have it all?
14. How does the spirit tree function in Handful's life? What do you think of the rituals and meanings surrounding it?
15. Had you heard of the Denmark Vesey slave plot before reading this novel? Were you aware of the extent that slaves resisted? Why do you think the myth of the happy, compliant slave endured? What were some of the more inventive or cunning ways that Charlotte, Handful, and other characters rebelled and subverted the system?
16. The Invention of Wings takes the reader back to the roots of racism in America. How has slavery left its mark on American life? To what extent has the wound been healed? Do you think slavery has been a taboo topic in American life?
17. Are there ways in which Kidd's novel can help us see our own lives differently? How is this story relevant for us today?
Pages: 311 pages / Audiobook: 11 hrs
Published March 16th 1998 by Anchor Books (first published 1985)
The Handmaid's Tale is not only a radical and brilliant departure for Margaret Atwood, it is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.
The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment's calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid's Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.
Pages: 321 / Audio book: 6 hrs 56 min
Published May 13th 2008 by Harper Collins (first published June 1st 2006)
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.
On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoe, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoe at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.
A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life...as only a dog could tell it.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★★
This is an unputdownable story that will touch your heart and your funny bone. It somewhat reminded me of Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom in that it is full of love, compassion, wit, wisdom, and inspiration. Read it, you'll be glad you did.
Garth Stein was born in Los Angeles on December 6, 1964, but spent most of his childhood growing up in Seattle. His father, a Brooklyn native, was the child of Austrian Jewish immigrants, while Stein's Alaskan mother comes from Tlingit and Irish descent. Stein later revisited his Tlingit heritage in his first novel, Raven Stole the Moon.
Stein earned a B.A. from Columbia College of Columbia University (1987) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in film from the University's School of the Arts (1990).
Stein has worked as a director, producer and/or writer of documentary films, several of which won awards. In 1991, he co-produced an Academy Award winning short film,The Lunch Date. He then co-produced The Last Party, a film commentating on the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Stein also produced and directed a documentary about his sister's brain surgery, entitled When Your Head's Not a Head, It's a Nut.
After films, Stein took up creative writing. At one time, he taught creative writing at Tacoma School of the Arts. His published works include three books and two plays.Brother Jones, his first play, was produced in Los Angeles, California in 2005. Garth wrote another play (No One Calls Me Mutt Anymore, 2010) for the theatrical department at his alma mater, Shorewood High School in Shoreline, WA.
Stein was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Seattle, and after spending 18 years in New York City, returned to Seattle where he lives with his wife, Andrea Perlbinder Stein, sons Caleb, Eamon and Dashiell — and the family dog, Comet, a lab/poodle mix. When living in New York, played in a rock band, called Zero Band, that rehearsed but rarely performed.
Interviews, Quotes & More
Garth Stein discusses his novel The Art of Racing in the Rain, a heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.
Seattle author Garth Stein has a new distinction to add to his resume: his best selling book “The Art of Racing in the Rain” has been banned by a Texas high school.
Stein’s acclaimed novel tells the story of an aspiring Seattle race car driver and mechanic struggling with the death of his wife through the eyes of his dog Enzo, who’s convinced he’ll be reincarnated as a human.
“It’s about perseverance, it’s about self reliance and it’s really about how to lead a good life,” Stein tells KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz.
But some parents at Dallas’ Highland Park High School objected to some sexual themes and subject matter. In one section, the driver is falsely accused of sexual molestation by an underage girl who tries to force herself on him.
After a heated school board meeting, the school board ordered the 10th grade English class to stop reading the book, along with six other books considered objectionable, The Dallas Morning News reports.
Stein defends the book, and teaching it to 10th graders, saying even the controversial subject matter was “taken quite seriously and with gravitas.”
“Things do happen in this world that are inappropriate and people get themselves into situations where mistakes are made and things are compromised,” he says.
“I think in 10th grade, it’s time to be able to have these discussions about adult subject matter and I think it’s important to do so in a responsible and thoughtful way.”
Stein says he respects the rights of parents to raise concerns about potentially objectionable content. But he’s concerned the parents in Texas didn’t actually read the whole book.
“I think that somebody pulled out a passage and said look at this and then they passed it around and a bunch of people signed their names to it,” he says.
Stein says he believes in the value of a teacher guiding discussions of challenging or controversial subject matter, but says parents should be involved as well.
“I think the objective is to raise the awareness by having a discussion about these things rather than by suppressing the discussion.”
Stein’s book will be reviewed by a committee of parents, teachers and students. The superintendent of schools there says the process could take several months.
Stein questions the way the situation was handled, although he believes both the parents and teachers involved have the best interests of students in mind.
“They should be teaching their students to raise those objections themselves,” he says of potential concerns. “Maybe what’s going on now will lead to schools evaluating how they choose their curriculum, how the community participates in the choosing of that curriculum.”
He’s hopeful that doesn’t include banning books.
Everyone in our reading group enjoyed this book and the lively discussion. Donna hosted our meeting and prepared a wonderful meal that included Squash Soup and Apple Dumplings. To top it off, she cleverly printed our discussion questions on dogbone-shaped slips of paper. Woof!
Many online sources — Reading Group Guides,Harper Collins, the books publisher, and others — have shamelessly plagiarized one another’s reading guide questions. Here they are, in all their commonality :Some early readers of the novel have observed that viewing the world through a dog’s eyes makes for a greater appreciation of being human. Why do you think this is?
Enzo’s observations throughout the novel provide insight into his world view. For example:
“The visible becomes inevitable.”
“Understanding the truth is simple. Allowing oneself to experience it, is often terrifically difficult.”
“No race has ever been won in the first corner; many races have been lost there.”
How does his philosophy apply to real life?
In the book’s darkest moments, one of Zoe’s stuffed animals — the zebra — comes to life and threatens him. What does the zebra symbolize?
Can you imagine the novel being told from Denny’s point of view? How would it make the story different?
In the first chapter, Enzo says: “It’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul. And my soul is very human.” How does Enzo’s situation — a human soul trapped in a dog’s body — influence his opinions about what he sees around him? How do you feel about the ideas of reincarnation and karma as Enzo defines them?
Do you find yourself looking at your own dog differently after reading this novel?
In the book, we get glimpses into the mindset and mentality of a race car driver. What parallels can you think of between the art of racing and the art of living?
The character of Ayrton Senna, as he is presented in the book, is heroic, almost a mythic figure. Why do you think this character resonates so strongly for Denny?
OTHER DISCUSSION GUIDE QUESTIONS
A deeper plunge of the Internet provides more unique discussion guide questions. The blog Read to Enrich offers these for discussion:
What was your favorite scene in the novel?
Did you like the technique of making Enzo be the narrator? Would the story have worked if the narrator was one of the humans?
Do you think dogs or other animals can really understand humans and have the desire to communicate with them?
Discuss Enzo’s more human characteristics:
His feelings after Eve died (and his animal reaction of chasing and eating the squirrel ) [page 165]
Advising people to learn to listen (page 102)
Can dogs and other animals sense things that humans cannot? Enzo smelled Eve’s cancer well before anyone made a diagnosis.
What did you think of Enzo’s description of communication, “…there are so many moving parts. There’s presentation and there’s interpretation and they’re so dependent on each other it makes things very difficult.” (page 5) Was this a good analysis?
What did you think about Enzo’s analysis of his death? He said about Denny, “He needs me to free him to be brilliant.” (page 5)
The author wrote, “A true hero is flawed. The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.” (page 135) Do you agree? What do you think about the obstacles “being of his own making?” Can you name anyone who you think is a hero? Does he or she fit this description?
About a champion, he wrote “It makes one realize that the physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak; a true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.” (page 65) Do you agree?
One of Denny’s favorite statements was “…that which we manifest is before us.” (page 43) What did he mean? Do you agree?
The author stated that women and dogs feel pain the same (“tap directly into the pain” page 62) whereas men “are all filters and deflectors and timed release.” (page 63) Is this an accurate description? Do you think there is a difference in how men, women and dogs experience pain?
Regarding the evil zebra, at the end Enzo realizes that the zebra is,“not something outside of us. The zebra is something inside of us. Our fears. Our own self-destructive nature. The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times. The demon is us!” (page 264) Do you agree? Can you think of any examples from other books you have read where the characters were their own worst enemies?
There were many comments in the book about life in general. What comparisons were made between driving a race car and life? Can you add others?
Pages: 256 / Audiobook: 7 hrs 46 min
Published 2006 by Scribner (first published 1926)
The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway's masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway's most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions. First published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises helped to establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★
So This Is Hemingway...
This was my first Hemingway book and I was engaged from the start.
I was amused by the characters, often disturbed by their behavior, and slightly confused that there didn't seem to be a plot to the story. There were no specific descriptions regarding the physical appearance yet the animated conversations gave a real sense of the characters personalities - flighty, self-absorbed, and with no real purpose other than seeking out the next superficial experience, which usually took place at the next bar or cafe. The characters didn't grow into better people and they were ceaselessly drunk and rude.
Yet I could not stop reading it. Why did I like this book so much?
I loved Hemingway's writing style; he conveys so much in so few words. He gives powerful, short descriptions of surroundings and emotions. Even though the characters were rather awful people, I found their banter to be very entertaining. I particularly liked Bill and his discussions about "utilizing" things (often bottles of alcohol) and Brett, so dramatically stating things like, "Oh, please let's not talk about it" and yet she is the only one that continues to "talk about it". There is a lot of symbolism in the story that offers insight and depth to the otherwise aloof characters, but you have to pay attention to pick up on it. I didn't at first and thought the entire story was pretty shallow. Then in contemplation and discussion I began to understand the symbols and was taken aback at how clever Hemingway's writing was. In the end I loved the story and now realize why Hemingway is known as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
Catherine's Rating: ★★★★
I was surprised to find that this book reminds me of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," although I suppose it shouldn't have because the two books were written at nearly the same time by men who were friends. You really get the feel of this "Lost Generation" not really sure of their place in the world. The spare details of the dialog always make you feel as if you walked in midway on a conversation of other people and missed the background and details -- but that is what makes the book more lifelike than many books that over-explain everything for you. With this novel, you really feel like you are sitting there with the characters as they truly are (which is drunk most of the time, so that was a bit tiresome).
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), born in Oak Park, Illinois, started his career as a writer in a newspaper office in Kansas City at the age of seventeen. After the United States entered the First World War, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. Serving at the front, he was wounded, was decorated by the Italian Government, and spent considerable time in hospitals. After his return to the United States, he became a reporter for Canadian and American newspapers and was soon sent back to Europe to cover such events as the Greek Revolution.
During the twenties, Hemingway became a member of the group of expatriate Americans in Paris, which he described in his first important work, The Sun Also Rises (1926). Equally successful was A Farewell to Arms (1929), the study of an American ambulance officer's disillusionment in the war and his role as a deserter. Hemingway used his experiences as a reporter during the civil war in Spain as the background for his most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Among his later works, the most outstanding is the short novel, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the story of an old fisherman's journey, his long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, and his victory in defeat.
Hemingway - himself a great sportsman - liked to portray soldiers, hunters, bullfighters - tough, at times primitive people whose courage and honesty are set against the brutal ways of modern society, and who in this confrontation lose hope and faith. His straightforward prose, his spare dialogue, and his predilection for understatement are particularly effective in his short stories, some of which are collected in Men Without Women (1927) and The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938). Hemingway died in Idaho in 1961.
The true story of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is told in Lesley Blume's book, Everybody Behaves Badly. She talks to NPR's Scott Simon about what made Hemingway's book such a breakthrough.
Earnest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" has never been out of print since it was published in 1926 and is universally acclaimed a masterpiece. A few Americans and British ex-pats take a trip to Spain to see the bullfights. They spend the road trip getting drunk, seeing pointless gore, sleeping with and turning on each other to become symbols of what Hemingway's friend Gertrude Stein christened the lost generation that found no meaning in life after the mass losses of World War I.
It's the novel that made Ernest Hemingway a huge literary force, admired, mocked and imitated to this day. But the characters he brought to life were already alive - people close to Hemingway who made that trip to Spain just the year before. Lesley M. M. Blume, a contributor to Vanity Fair, Vogue and The Wall Street Journal, has written the story of the actual trip that led to the literary one - "Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises."
The True Story of the Booze, Bullfights, and Brawls That Inspired Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway’s debut novel gave a voice to the Lost Generation—often by lifting it directly from his affluent expat circle in post-war Paris. A new book by Lesley M. M. Blume recounts the scandalous trip to Pamplona that inspired Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn, and the characters from literature’s greatest roman à clef.
BY LESLEY M. M. BLUME | VANITY FAIR | MAY 12, 2016 3:00 PM
In the middle of June 1925, Ernest Hemingway sat down to write. He pulled out a stenographer’s notebook, otherwise used for list-making. The back contained a rundown of letters he “must write”; intended recipients included Ezra Pound—a mentor of his—and his Aunt Grace. Also scribbled there: a list of stories the 25-year-old writer, who had moved to Paris in 1921, had recently submitted to various publications. On this day, he opened the notebook to a fresh page and scrawled in pencil across the top:
ALONG WITH YOUTH
began writing a sea adventure, set on a troop transport ship in 1918 and featuring a character named Nick Adams. Exactly two months earlier, Hemingway had informed Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, the prestigious publishing house in New York City, that he considered the novel to be an artificial and played-out genre. (Perkins had heard through the grapevine that Hemingway was doing some remarkable writing.) Yet here he was, making a bid to jump-start one.
It was not his first attempt. Hemingway’s literary ambition at this time was seemingly limitless—yet he was still a frustrated nobody as far as the wider public was concerned. He had long been trying to sell his experimental stories to publishers back in the States, with no success. F. Scott Fitzgerald—then the celebrated oracle of the Jazz Age and the friend who had been championing Hemingway to Perkins at Scribner’s—published practically everywhere, but no commercial publication or publisher would touch Hemingway. So far, he’d managed to place stories with small literary magazines; his first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems, was published in 1923 in a run of merely 300 copies. When Hemingway’s second book, In Our Time, appeared in 1924, only 170 copies were available for sale.
“I knew I would have to write a novel,” he later recalled. After all, this is what Fitzgerald had done. Before Fitzgerald had published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, he too had been a regular in the slush pile. After Perkins brought out This Side of Paradisewith Scribner’s, Fitzgerald remembered later, “editors and publishers were open to me, impresarios begged plays, the movies panted for screen material.” This was precisely the sort of success that Hemingway craved, and a blockbuster novel was key.
Already there had been two false starts. When Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, had moved to Paris, four years earlier, he had taken along with him the pages of a starter novel—which Hadley lost in a careless accident, along with most of his other “Juvenilia,” as he described the writings to Ezra Pound. He then hatched and abandoned an idea for another novel, satirizing a dictatorial colleague at the Toronto Star, where Hemingway had worked as a deadline reporter.
Along with Youth was destined to peter out after 27 pages. Hemingway decided that he would simply have to “let the pressure build”: when the moment came, his debut novel would simply happen. “When I had to write it,” he later recalled, “then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice.”
Little did he know that, at that moment, in June 1925, all of the elements were falling into place at last; he was just one fateful event away from getting the material he so desperately needed to join the novel club. With the resulting book—which would come to be called The Sun Also Rises, published 90 years ago this year—Hemingway would capture several coveted prizes: he would essentially broker for mainstream audiences a new era of modern writing, find himself dubbed the voice of a “Lost Generation,” and become launched as an international sensation.
More immediately on the horizon, though, was the month of July, which for Hemingway meant an annual trip to Pamplona, Spain, to take part in the San Fermin bullfighting festival. The bulls had become an obsession over the last few years. “He [first] heard about bullfighting from me,” Gertrude Stein later sniffed, but several friends had played a role in getting him hooked. He had gone to the Pamplona fiesta twice before. The first time, in 1923, it had been a romantic adventure for him and Hadley: at the bullfights, Hemingway had been enraptured (it was like “having a ringside seat at the war with nothing going to happen to you,” he wrote to a friend); Hadley—then pregnant with their son—had sat calmly at his side, stitching clothes for their baby and “embroidering in the presence of all that brutality,” as she later put it.
In 1924, the couple returned with a raucous entourage that included writers John Dos Passos and Donald Ogden Stewart. Pamplona still felt as pure and insular as it had the summer before, untainted by Americans and other tourists.
The town, Stewart wrote later, “was ours. No one else had discovered it. It was vintage Hemingway. It was a happy time.” No one was happier there than Hemingway. “He stuck like a leech till he had every phase of the business in his blood,” Dos Passos recalled, “and saturated himself to the bursting point.” It was a feeling Hemingway insisted his friends share. “[Hemingway] had an evangelistic streak,” Dos Passos went on, “that made him work to convert his friends to whatever mania he was encouraging at the time.”
The Hemingway crew started each sweltering day by slugging black coffee; they then moved on to Pernod. They lost one another in the bacchanal and found one another again—sometimes not until the following day. Every night, the drinking continued until the sun came up or you passed out, whichever came first. Hemingway goaded his friends into the bullring for amateur fights. “Ernest was somebody you went along with, or else,” Stewart noted. Their feats in the ring earned Stewart a few broken ribs and some breathless coverage in newspapers back home.
Hemingway now started rounding up a new fiesta entourage for the 1925 excursion. Stewart agreed to make a return appearance. Another expat who made the cut: the 34-year-old writer Harold Loeb, the product of Princeton (where he boxed and wrestled) and two of New York’s wealthiest and most prominent Jewish families. (Peggy Guggenheim was his cousin.) Loeb met Hemingway at a party in 1924 and became one of his tennis friends and most ardent supporters. In Loeb’s eyes, Hemingway was cool and unpretentious, with “a shy, disarming smile” and a “zest for living.” As he would remember years later, “I thought never before had I encountered an American so unaffected by living in Paris.”
By June 1925, however, Loeb was keeping a secret from his friend: he was having an illicit affair with a British expat named Lady Duff Twysden. One spring afternoon, Loeb had stationed himself at the Select, the Montparnasse café near the Dôme and the Rotonde, working on revisions to a novel. “I heard a laugh so gay and musical that it seemed to brighten the dingy room,” he would later write. “Low-pitched, it had the liquid quality of the lilt of a mockingbird singing to the moon.” He glanced up and spotted a long, lean woman perched on a barstool, surrounded by men. Her light hair had been shorn into a boyish cut; though she sometimes favored rakishly angled men’s fedoras, on this day she wore a slouch hat. A simple jersey sweater and tweed skirt completed the ensemble. Her strong, spare features were devoid of makeup. All in all, it seemed a fairly chaste presentation, almost masculine, yet she was arresting and sexy. This woman had, Loeb thought, a “certain aloof splendor.”
Loeb was merely the latest man intrigued by the charms of Lady Duff: she had been captivating men throughout the Quarter. “We were all in love with her,” recalled Stewart. “It was hard not to be. She played her cards so well.” Lady Duff had acquired her title by marriage, but was soon to lose it: like many other expat ladies in Paris, dubbed the “alimony gang,” she had come to Paris to weather a nasty divorce from an aristocratic husband—Sir Roger Thomas Twysden, a naval officer and baronet—who’d remained back in the U.K. Though a notoriously hard drinker, she handled her liquor admirably for such a fashionably gaunt creature. “I wondered how long she could keep it up without losing her looks,” Loeb wrote.
Despite the English title, there was said to be something feral about Lady Duff; some maintained that she didn’t bother to bathe regularly. She was gregarious—one of the boys—but also exuded an air of unattainability, a necessary attribute for any successful siren. Men followed Lady Duff wherever she went—including Hemingway.
“I [introduced] Hemingway to Lady Duff and the title seemed to electrify him,” claimed Robert McAlmon, an acid-tongued expat writer and editor, years later. After that, Hemingway was seen for weeks on end in Montmartre, buying drinks for both her and her official paramour, Patrick Guthrie, a dissipated thirtysomething Briton who subsisted on checks from his rich mother back in Scotland. Sometimes Hadley joined these excursions with Lady Duff, but they were not happy outings for her. She often burst into tears, and Hemingway would prevail upon McAlmon or their friend Josephine Brooks to take his wife home while he stayed out drinking with Lady Duff.
I am coming on the Pamplona trip with Hem and your lot. . . . With Pat of course,” Lady Duff wrote to Loeb. “Can you bear it?”
Hemingway had written Loeb a jovial note about the upcoming Pamplona trip, promising it would be “damned good.” Now, after a flurry of letters back and forth among Hemingway, Loeb, and Lady Duff, Loeb was left with a “low feeling which I could not shake off.” This feeling was replaced with one of genuine foreboding when he received yet another missive from Lady Duff. “I expect I shall have a bit of time managing the situation,” she wrote, adding, “Hem has promised to be good and we ought to have really a marvelous time.”
Loeb was dumbfounded. Why on earth had Hemingway pledged good behavior? Was he sleeping with Duff now as well?
Hemingway had, in any case, learned about her liaison with Loeb. Their secret had been working its way through the Left Bank gossip mill. When a mutual friend told Hemingway the news, he had been furious. Everyone around the Quarter began to wonder, like Loeb, if Hemingway was sleeping with Lady Duff. The upcoming Pamplona trip was starting to look like a powder keg.
Yet no one backed out. Hemingway, Loeb, and Lady Duff all put on their best poker faces. “By all means come,” Loeb replied to Lady Duff with affected breeziness. He even pledged to escort her and Guthrie to Pamplona.
In the meantime, Hemingway and Hadley dispatched their 21-month-old son, Bumby, to Brittany with his nanny, packed their bags, and left Paris, heading to a quiet, remote Basque village in the Pyrenees called Burguete to kick off the Pamplona holiday with a week of trout fishing. But the trout were in no position to oblige them. A logging company had destroyed the local pools, broken down dams, and run logs down the river. The loggers’ trash was everywhere. Hemingway was in despair over the sight. It was not an auspicious start to the excursion.
Loeb skipped Burguete and went to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where he was to meet Lady Duff and Guthrie. He grew upset the moment Lady Duff stepped off the train onto the platform. Instead of her usual man’s fedora, she was wearing a beret. “I did not like her in a beret,” Loeb grumbled. “Hem usually wore a beret.” Like Hemingway, Guthrie had now been apprised of the Loeb–Lady Duff interlude. Unlike Hemingway, he had no intention of pretending not to know. “Oh, you’re here, are you?” he said, greeting Loeb on the platform with a breezy snarl.
The party immediately repaired to the station bar, which Loeb and Lady Duff had graced together just a few weeks earlier. Three martinis later, Guthrie adjourned to the pissoir. Loeb began to interrogate Lady Duff. Her behavior toward him had changed, he said. What had happened?
“Pat broke the spell,” she told him. “He worked hard at it.”
“I see,” Loeb responded quietly. The trio hired a car for the awkward 50-mile journey to Pamplona. When they reached the Hotel Quintana, where Hemingway had booked rooms for the entourage, Lady Duff and Guthrie went to one room and Loeb to another. Hemingway, Hadley, and the Burguete group arrived the next morning in similarly petulant spirits.
A round of absinthe, a large Spanish lunch, and a walk through the town helped alleviate the atmosphere, but already it was clear that the jubilance of the previous year was probably not going to be repeated. First of all, Pamplona itself had changed. Just as Paris had become overrun with tourists, Pamplona now also included the appalling presence of some of the group’s compatriots. “We were no longer the exclusive foreign participants in the show,” Stewart later observed. “The establishment had caught up with the frontier.”
Rolls-Royces now idled outside the hotel. The American ambassador materialized in a limousine; to Hemingway, the functionary’s presence at the festival seemed particularly intrusive and symbolic of the shift. The town suddenly felt “cluttered and ordinary,” Stewart recalled. “Pamplona seemed to be getting ready for the hand of Elsa Maxwell”—one of the era’s most prominent gossip columnists.
Yet Lady Duff would prove the most disruptive intruder of all. “Someone had left the door open and Eve had walked into my male Garden of Eden,” wrote Stewart. Suddenly, in her presence, “Ernest had changed,” he noted. “Hadley wasn’t the same . . . the fun was going out of everybody.” That is, except for one person: Lady Duff, who looked especially beautiful and aloof that first morning in a broad-brimmed Spanish hat.
e next day, everyone scraped themselves out of bed in time to see the bulls driven from their corral to the stadium, with the usual crowd of men scrambling ahead of the herd. When the bullring was opened for the amateur hour, Hemingway, Loeb, and Hemingway’s childhood friend Bill Smith leapt in. The press corps was on hand, including photographers.
Hemingway, wearing a beret and white pants, got right down to the business of baiting the bulls. One bull knocked Smith down; it then turned and faced Loeb, who took off his sweater and waved it at the animal. The bull charged; its horn caught the sweater, which dangled from the bull’s head as it then galloped around the arena.
The real bullfights began that afternoon. In front of the Hemingway crew, a bull gored a horse, which took a death-throes run through the arena, trailing its intestines. At another point, a bull tried to escape by jumping over the wall surrounding the ring. “Perhaps he felt that it wasn’t his party,” Loeb said. He became increasingly dismayed by the spectacle; he even “considered oléing the bulls that refused to charge,” he recalled. “It seemed, in some obscure way, shameful.”
After the fight, the entourage reconvened on a café terrace. The fiesta was in full swing. Hundreds of people filled the main square, along with the relentless thump of drums and shrill piping of fifes. Hemingway asked Loeb what he thought of his first bullfight. When Loeb replied that he was not “too keen on the theme,” Hemingway was predictably unsympathetic. “We all have to die,” Loeb told him, “but I don’t like to be reminded of it more than twice a day.”
“Balls,” Hemingway said, and then turned his back on him. Being less than reverential about bullfighting was one of the surest ways to antagonize Hemingway. The only worse offense might be stealing the limelight from him. Later, when Hemingway, Guthrie, and Stewart were swept up in a parade streaming in an endless circuit around the square, Loeb began to quiz Hemingway’s old friend Bill Smith. “Hem seems to be bitter about something,” he ventured. Smith cut to the chase. Hemingway was angry about Loeb’s fling with Lady Duff. When Loeb pressed Smith about whether Hemingway was also in love with Lady Duff, Smith refused to give a straight answer. The conversation abruptly ended when Loeb realized that Lady Duff and Hadley—sitting together at the far end of the table—had gone silent. Loeb quickly changed the subject. If Hadley had indeed overheard the chat and entertained her own suspicions about a possible affair between her husband and Lady Duff, she appears to have kept them to herself.
In the morning, Hemingway, Loeb, and Smith headed back to the bullring for amateur hour. To spare his wardrobe any further indignities, Loeb came armed with a hotel towel. This time when a bull charged him, there was no chance to get out of the way. Loeb dropped the towel, and as the bull lowered its head to butt him, Loeb turned around, grasped its horns, and sat on the bull’s head.
The bull loped across the arena and eventually tossed Loeb into the air. Miraculously, he landed on his feet, as though the entire episode had been a choreographed stunt. The crowd went mad; photographers caught his moment of glory. Hemingway, not to be outdone, then emerged from the sidelines and approached a bull from behind. He grabbed the animal and then managed to catch hold of its horns and wrestle it to the ground. The other amateur bullfighters closed in on the downed bull. “For an instant it looked as if they would tear the animal’s limbs off,” Loeb reported in horror, but ring attendants came to the rescue.
Yet despite Hemingway’s herculean feat, Loeb was the king of the ring, treated like a hero around town. Apparently the locals were in awe of the first man (or the first foreigner, anyway) in living memory who had ridden a bull’s head. His newfound fame even carried across the Atlantic: pictures of Loeb perched atop the bull, legs scissoring in the air, eventually appeared in New York publications. Hemingway had been outshone—and by a man who scoffed at the whole sport.
But Loeb’s heroics weren’t enough to win Lady Duff back. She visited him in his room before lunch that day and told him that she was sorry he was having such a tough time on her account. She was worth it, Loeb replied and tried to embrace her, only to be rejected yet again. He thought of leaving Pamplona, but it would look as if he was running away.
That evening he cornered Lady Duff in the Plaza del Castillo and finally persuaded her to come have a drink alone with him. They walked off together to a small café and then got swept into a private party in one of the buildings overlooking the plaza. As the festivities stretched into the night, Loeb unsuccessfully tried to wrench Lady Duff away from the party. He drank himself into oblivion and woke up the next morning in his bed with no memory of having come back to the Hotel Quintana.
Loeb staggered out to meet Hemingway and the crew for lunch. Guthrie was in an ugly mood, Hadley had lost her kindly smile, and Smith wore a grim look. Lady Duff turned up later, accessorized not with a beret or a fedora, but rather with a black eye and a bruised forehead. Loeb demanded to know what had happened to her, but before she could respond, Hemingway interrupted, saying that she had fallen. No one else—including Lady Duff—offered an explanation, and Loeb made no further inquiries. Once again he considered leaving the fiesta, but once again he was afraid of looking like a coward. He stayed put.
As usual, Loeb noted, “there was too much lunch.”
The one bright, joyous presence in that week was Hemingway’s new friend, Cayetano Ordoñez, a 19-year-old matador who had been thrilling aficionados throughout Spain. “He was sincerity and purity of style itself with the cape,” Hemingway wrote of him later, adding that he “looked like the messiah who had come to save bullfighting if ever any one did.” When Ordoñez was awarded a bull’s ear after a particularly good corrida, he gave it to Hadley. “[She] wrapped it up in a handkerchief which, thank God was Don Stewarts [sic],” Hemingway reported to Gertrude Stein. Hemingway, however, was probably less than delighted when Ordoñez praised Loeb’s performance in the ring.
On the second-to-last evening in Pamplona, Hemingway informed his friends that Ordoñez had assured him that the following day’s bulls were going to be the best in Spain. They were all were sitting around a café table in the square after dinner, drinking brandy. As Loeb recalled, Hemingway then turned to him and said, “I suppose you’d like it better if they shipped in goats.” Loeb was close to losing his temper. He responded that while he didn’t dislike bullfighting he simply sympathized with the victims. Guthrie snickered. “Our sensitive chum is considerate of the bull’s feelings,” he said. “But what about ours?”
The situation was coming to a head. Hemingway accused Loeb of ruining their party. Guthrie sputtered “Why don’t you get out? I don’t want you here. Hem doesn’t want you here. Nobody wants you here, though some may be too decent to say so.”
“I will,” Loeb replied, “the instant Duff wants it.” Lady Duff quietly turned to him. “You know that I do not want you to go,” she said. “You lousy bastard,” Hemingway exclaimed to Loeb. “Running to a woman.”
Loeb asked Hemingway to step outside. Hemingway followed him. Loeb was scared to fight his friend in the dark. Firstly, Hemingway outweighed him by 40 pounds. Secondly, Loeb could usually tell when Hemingway’s punches were coming by the way his pupils “jiggled,” and in the dark he wouldn’t be able to see his eyes. Perhaps more disorienting was the realization that Hemingway had gone so quickly from being a close friend to a “bitter, lashing enemy.” The two men marched toward the edge of the plaza and walked down a few steps onto an ill-lit street. Loeb took off his jacket and slipped his glasses in the side pocket. He squinted around, looking for a safe place to put the garment.
“My glasses,” he explained to Hemingway. “If they’re broken I couldn’t get them fixed here.”
To Loeb’s surprise, he looked up and saw Hemingway smiling. It was a boyish, contagious smile—and even in that moment, that grin made it hard for Loeb to dislike him. He even offered to hold Loeb’s jacket. Loeb then offered to hold his. Their mutual rage seeped away. The men unclenched their fists, put their jackets on, and walked back through the plaza. “Duff,” Loeb later wrote, “no longer seemed to matter.”
The next morning, Loeb received a note from Hemingway. “I was terribly tight and nasty to you last night,” he wrote. He wished that he could wipe out what had happened, he went on, adding that he was ashamed of his behavior and of the “stinking, unjust uncalled for things I said.”
Loeb turned up at lunch and afterward accepted Hemingway’s apology in person. He hoped they could be friends as before, he told him. “But I knew we wouldn’t be,” he wrote later. He couldn’t have guessed that Hemingway would soon do something that would link them for the rest of their lives and beyond.
Mercifully, it was time to depart. Stewart, who was heading next to Sara and Gerald Murphy’s villa on the Riviera, later wrote, “It occurred to me that the events of the past week might make interesting material for a novel.” He was not the only one to think so.
For Hemingway, the events in Pamplona had become practically priceless. Here was the heaven-sent trigger he had been waiting for. “Let the pressure build,” he had told himself. “When I had to write [a novel], then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice.” He had now reached that point. Just when the pressure surrounding him as a virtually unknown writer had built to an almost intolerable level—financial woes, living with Hadley in squalor, fears of obscurity, excruciating writer’s block—Lady Duff Twysden had saved the day. As Hemingway watched her at the fiesta—a jezebel in Arcadia, manipulating her suitors like marionettes—he knew that he had figured out the puzzle at last.
A story began to shape itself in Hemingway’s mind—the intense, poignant story that, in short order, would become The Sun Also Rises. Suddenly every Pamplona confrontation, insult, hangover, and bit of frazzled sexual tension took on literary currency. Once he started working, he could not stop. He and Hadley moved into the Pensión Aguilar, in Madrid, where he wrote furiously in the mornings. During the afternoons, he went with Hadley to the bullfights. The next morning he would begin again. “Have been working like hell,” he reported to Bill Smith a week after the fiesta had broken up.
By early August, he started letting it be known that he was officially about to join the novel club. Expatriate bookseller and publisher Sylvia Beach, of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company, was the first to get the news. “I’ve written six chapters on [sic] a novel and am going great,” he wrote to her. By that time, he and Hadley had moved on to Valencia; they had seen 17 bullfights, and he had completed 15,000 words on loose-leaf paper. His handwriting—smooth, even, and upright—belied the urgency with which the story poured out of him.
Hemingway’s tale was a précis of dialogue and events that had gone down in Pamplona—from his conversations with Quintana and Ordoñez to his aversion to the American ambassador to the affair between Lady Duff and Loeb, who, he wrote, “was in love with Duff and she had slept with him while Pat was away in Scotland and told Pat about it and it had not seemed to make any difference but now whenever he got drunk he kept coming back to it. She had slept with other men before but they had not been of Harold’s race and had not come on parties afterwards.”
l of the Pamplona entourage appeared under their own names in this draft. Guthrie was depicted as drunk and belligerent, repeatedly informing Ordoñez that “bulls have no balls.” Stewart was the resident jester. Lady Duff smoldered and quipped and undressed the handsome Ordoñez with her eyes; her probable corruption of the young bullfighter—and her corrupting potential in general—promised almost unlimited dramatic potential.
Not only did the book depict in painful detail events that had transpired in Pamplona (and Paris), but vast swaths of their personal backgrounds had been blatantly used as the characters’ biographies. Hemingway generally declined to warn his characters’ real-life prototypes that they were about to star in his big literary coup. But one evening he leaked the news to Kitty Cannell, the expat fashion writer who happened to be Loeb’s former girlfriend (and another one of the novel’s unwitting models). Back in Paris, some of the Pamplona crew gathered for dinner one night to make amends. Nerves were still raw from the fiesta, which had concluded nearly two months earlier. After dinner, the group walked to a café. Hemingway and Cannell were strolling together when he suddenly made a startling admission. “I’m writing a book,” he told her. “Everybody’s in it. And I’m going to tear these two bastards apart,” he added, indicating Loeb and Smith, who were walking along nearby. Furthermore, Hemingway informed her, “that kike Loeb is the villain.”
In due time, they were all assigned their familiar fictional names, but they remained identifiable. Loeb was the hapless, insufferable Robert Cohn. Lady Duff was translated into the glamorous but anguished Lady Brett Ashley. The caricature permanently branded her as an “alcoholic nymphomaniac” as Hemingway would later unapologetically refer to her. Stewart and Smith were combined into the wry Bill Gorton. Guthrie became Mike Campbell. Hemingway poured in details about his friends’ failed past marriages, college sporting activities, speaking idiosyncrasies, and assorted indiscretions.
He also inserted a version of himself into the manuscript, at first under the name Hem. The character would become Jake Barnes. In Hemingway’s pages, both Loeb/Cohn and Hemingway/Jake fall in love with Duff/Brett. And in Hemingway’s pages, Loeb/Cohn has an affair with Duff/Brett, which drives a wedge between Loeb/Cohn and Hemingway/Jake, who happens to be impotent, thanks to a war wound.
It was a bold decision to make about a character who would surely be read as the author’s alter ego—especially one created by a writer known for goading friends into bullrings. Hemingway eventually downplayed the gravitas of his choice. “Impotence is a pretty dull subject compared with war or love or the old lucha por la vida [life struggle],” he would later write to Max Perkins. But Jake’s impotence made it clear that Hemingway was willing to take wild risks—even ones that might even compromise his personal dignity, for there would certainly be assumptions that he had based Jake’s condition on Hemingway’s own well-known wartime injuries. Though he had already been enjoying an almost aggressively masculine image—one that was about to prove immensely bankable—he would be the first to challenge that image if doing so would serve his art.
He soon put this loose-leaf draft aside, but a good deal of material from these first pages would eventually be transplanted wholesale into The Sun Also Rises. His vision was startlingly clear from the beginning. Earlier that spring, Hemingway had described his ingenious something-for-everyone writing formula to publisher Horace Liveright, who had brought out his collection In Our Time: “My book will be praised by highbrows and can be read by lowbrows,” he had written. “There is no writing in it that anybody with a high-school education cannot read.”
The Sun Also Rises—which Scribner’s would publish in October of 1926 to rapturous reviews (The New York Times would call it “an event”)—magnificently showcased Hemingway’s “highbrow-lowbrow” formula. Its terse, innovative prose would titillate the literary crowd, and the simplicity of the style would make it accessible to mainstream readers. “It is a hell of a fine novel,” Hemingway wrote to an editor acquaintance before the book came out, adding that it would “let these bastards who say yes he can write very beautiful little paragraphs know where they get off at.”
He was right. With the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s generation—the generation Fitzgerald had written about in The Great Gatsby the year before—was informed that it was not giddy after all. It was simply lost. The Great War had ruined everyone, so everyone might as well start drinking even more—preferably in Paris and Pamplona. Back in America, the college set gleefully adopted the label of “the Lost Generation,” a term that Hemingway borrowed from Gertrude Stein and popularized with his novel, using it as an epigraph. The Sun Also Rises became the guidebook to youth culture. Parisian cafés teemed with Hemingway-inspired poseurs: the hard-drinking Jake Barnes and the studiously blasé Lady Brett Ashley became role models. The reason this pioneering youth movement still shimmers with dissipated glamour has a lot to do with The Sun Also Rises.
No one seemed a better representative of that lost world than Hemingway himself, thanks to the public-relations machine that plugged him as a personality along with his breakthrough novel, which would sell 19,000 copies within the first six months of its publication. (By the time of Hemingway’s death, in 1961, an estimated one million copies had been sold.) Those charged with marketing Hemingway’s work were aware of their good fortune: in a sense, they were getting two juicy stories for the price of one. It quickly became apparent that the public’s appetite for Hemingway was as great as that for his writing. Here was a new breed of writer—brainy yet brawny, a far cry from Proust and his dusty, sequestered ilk, or even the dandyish Fitzgerald. Charles Scribner III, a former director of Scribner’s, which published both Fitzgerald and Hemingway for the majority of their careers, said that Fitzgerald “was the last of the romantics. He was Strauss.” Hemingway, by contrast, was Stravinsky. In him, a truly modern literature had arrived.
The portraits would haunt Lady Duff and the others for the rest of their lives. (Duff would die of tuberculosis in Santa Fe in 1938.) But, for Hemingway, his friends were simply collateral damage. After all, he was revolutionizing literature, and in every revolution some heads must roll. And if readers weren’t interested in a revolution, they still got a scandalousroman à clef featuring dissolute representatives from the worlds of wealth and ambition.
“There is a lot of dope about high society in it,” Hemingway wryly noted. “And that is always interesting.”
Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” was almost called something else.
Early title contenders were “Fiesta: A Novel” (as the book was subsequently known in England), “Two Lie Together,” and even “For in much wisdom is much grief and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow”—a line that, like the winning candidate, comes from Ecclesiastes, and that, it is safe to assume, Hemingway might have abridged further if he’d used it. The evidence for these alternatives comes from early notes and manuscripts, which are included in a new edition of the novel, published this month.
There are signs of other felicitous decisions. The real-life socialite Lady Duff Twysden was given a better name, Brett Ashley. Maudlin dialogue was struck, as when the ill-starred Brett says to Jake Barnes, the narrator, “I love you and I’ll love you always.” (In the finished text, lines like “Well, let’s shut up about it” are more in the spirit of their unconsummated affair.) And Hemingway settled on a perfect final line. After Brett says, “Oh Jake . . . we could have had such a damned good time together,” the author at first had Jake respond, “It’s nice as hell to think so,” but later scribbled “Isn’t it nice to think so.” By the time the manuscript went to the printer, it had been altered again, to the sharp and sad and perfectly balanced “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Early drafts of the book are well known to scholars, and are available at the Hemingway Collection, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, in Boston. But this new edition puts them in handy appendices, giving us lay readers a sense of Hemingway’s writing process, and, more importantly, of how different a novel “The Sun Also Rises” might have been.
All of Hemingway’s major changes to his manuscript move it toward a greater simplicity. In early drafts, the novel began in the middle of the story, at the bullfights during the festival of San Fermín, in Pamplona. Later, Hemingway opted for a more straightforward, chronological order, introducing the American expats Jake, Brett, and Robert Cohn in Paris, before they travel to Spain. In the manuscript that he sent to his editor at Scribner, Maxwell Perkins, the first two chapters detailed the characters’ histories and motivations. “This is a novel about a lady,” it began:
Her name is Lady Ashley and when the story begins she is living in Paris and it is Spring. That should be a good setting for a romantic but highly moral story. As everyone knows, Paris is a very romantic place. Spring in Paris is a very happy and romantic time. Autumn in Paris, although very beautiful, might give a note of sadness or melancholy that we shall try to keep out of this story.
It is diverting to consider how the novel would have been different if Brett were indeed the main character and the heroine—if it really were a story about a lady, rather than about the various men who loved her, or couldn’t. But more intriguing still is the second part of the opening, in which Hemingway breaks into the narrative to address the reader directly, and, in so doing, calls out the artifice implicit in the writing and reading of fiction. It is a wink at the marketplace—readers want lively, lighthearted tales from abroad—and alludes to the novel’s central dark, repeated joke: that everything awful in life, in all of its sadness and melancholy, is better laughed at.
Later, in another section that was cut, Hemingway writes:
I did not want to tell this story in the first person, but I find that I must. I wanted to stay well outside of the story so that I would not be touched by it in any way, and handle all the people in it with that irony and pity that are so essential to good writing.
Jake Barnes was named Hem in the early drafts, and in the version he sent to his editor, Hemingway retained the conceit that the book was not merely based on his real-life experiences but was actually a memoir: “I made the unfortunate mistake, for a writer, of first having been Mr. Jake Barnes.”
All of this was cut at the suggestion of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, after reading the version that Hemingway had sent to Perkins, wrote a long, dismayed-sounding letter to Hemingway, in which he said, “I think that there are about 24 sneers, superiorities, and nose-thumbings-at-nothing that mar the whole narrative up to P. 29 where (after a false start on the introduction of Cohn) it really gets going.” Though Hemingway would later downplay Fitzgerald’s editorial influence, the published novel begins with the sentence: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”
In the letter, Fitzgerald also criticized Hemingway for injecting his own writerly persona into the text: “That biography from you, who allways believed in the superiority (the preferability) of the imagined to the seen not to say to the merelyrecounted.” With this fragment of a sentence, Fitzgerald gives Hemingway the familiar writing-class advice—show, don’t tell; less is more; and what is left out can sometimes be more meaningful than what is included. Earlier versions of the novel contained even more of this “biography”; Fitzgerald had caught the remnants of nervous self-consciousness that Hemingway himself had curtailed as he wrote.
There are several striking examples, in the drafts, of this uneasiness. After a digression about a washed-up but popular bullfighter, Hemingway writes: “Well none of that has anything to do with the story and I suppose you think there isn’t any story anyway but it sort of moves along in time and anyway there is a lot of dope about high society in it and that is always interesting.” Later, after describing the habits of his social set: “I don’t know why I have to put all this down. It may mix up the story but I wanted to show you what a fine crowd we were.” These moments, which did not survive the editing process, have a superficial confidence, an edgy bravado, but they are also anxious, the sign of a writer trying to figure out where his voice fits in among those of his characters.
The meatiest example of this kind of curious metafiction is in the second chapter of the novel’s first draft. Hemingway writes:
Probably any amount of this does not seem to have anything to do with the story and perhaps it has not. I am sick of those ones with their clear restrained writing and I am going to try to get in the whole business and to do that there has to be things that seem as though they did had nothing to do with it just as in life. In life people are not conscious of these special moments that novelists build their whole structures on. That is most people are not. That surely has nothing to do with the story but you can not tell until you finish it because none of the significant things are going to have any literary signs marking them. You have to figure them out for yourself.
At the start, it seems, Hemingway was attempting to write a novel very different from what would become “The Sun Also Rises,” which made his name as one of “those ones with their clear restrained writing.” He imagined a book in which the “whole business” of life gets expressed, in all of its messy detours and associations. In the same draft chapter, Hemingway goes on: “Now when my friends read this they will say it is awful. It is not what they had hoped or expected from me. Gertrude Stein once told me that remarks are not literature. All right, let it go at that. Only this time all the remarks are going in and if it is not literature who claimed it was anyway.”
This minor manifesto, embedded in a draft of his first novel, conceives of a book with greater intellectual and artistic ambitions than Hemingway ever produced—one akin to the more abstract fictions of the modernists. The line that he struck through—“It is not what they had hoped or expected from me”—becomes a potentially radical departure that Hemingway never realized, and that was nearly lost to history. Yet “The Sun Also Rises” is far from being a lesser thing, for all of its restrained clarity. It is partly a book of “literary signs,” perhaps against Hemingway’s own intentions. But it is also a book—Gertrude Stein be damned—of remarks, both in the elliptical declarations that the characters make to one another, and in the weighted silences that linger between them. “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together.” That line, which belongs to the narrator, and to the author, was there from the beginning. It is an echo of Hemingway’s more eager and brash equivocations in the drafts, a claim that there was an unseen depth to his plainspoken prose. It is an author’s note, a statement of purpose—subtly and skillfully absorbed into the art of storytelling.
Ian Crouch is a contributing writer and producer for newyorker.com. He lives in Maine. ~
1. When Jake Barnes rebuffs the prostitute Georgette because he is "sick," she says, "Everybody's sick. I'm sick, too" (p.23). Is Georgette's observation an appropriate description of the people in the novel? Why is Jake's emasculating wound such an effective symbol?
2. When Jake and Bill walk during the Paris evening looking at Notre Dame, watching young lovers, and savoring cooking smells, Jake asks whether Bill would like a drink. Why does Bill respond, "No...I don't need it" (p. 83)? Why does Jake say that for Cohn the Bayonne cathedral was "a very good example of something or other" (p. 96)?
3. Is Jake and Bill's fishing trip to Burguete relevant to the epigraph from Ecclesiastes? How do their conversations in Burguete differ from those they have back in Pamplona? How do Robert's, Mike's, and Brett's absences from the fishing trip set them apart from Jake and Bill? Why is the Englishman Harris included in the Burguete scene?
4. How would you describe Jake Barnes's relationship with Brett? Does he love her; understand her? Is his view of Brett constant? How does he see her at the close of the novel? What does he mean when he says, "Isn't it pretty to think so," when Brett tells him that they "could have had such a damned good time together" (p. 251)?
5. If Hemingway's novel is about "the lost generation," do we conclude that all five of the persons who have gone to Pamplona are lost? Is there evidence that moral or spiritual cleansing ever takes place in the novel?
After Reading the Novel
It would be difficult to overstate the remarkable influence of The Sun Also Rises upon its millions of readers. Not only did Hemingway's novel influence our prose and our conduct, it introduced Paris and Pamplona to many of us and made them so real that when we visit them, we feel as if we are returning for a closer look rather than seeing them for the first time. Several guides to Hemingway's Paris, complete with maps, photographs, and walking tours are in print which would provide your group with an opportunity to follow Jake Barnes's footsteps down the little side street Rue Delambre at the intersection of the Boulevard Raspail and Montparnasse to the Dingo Bar, where Jake and Brett had drinks, and Ernest Hemingway met Scott Fitzgerald for the first time in the spring of 1925. Guidebooks will also lead you through narrow streets of Pamplona where the bulls run and along Paseo Hemingway to the bullring, where a bust of the famous writer stands, bearing a statement of gratitude to him from the people of Spain.
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.
Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.
When Ben and Emma fake a separation - a strategic decision to further Jonah's case in an upcoming tribunal - Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben's elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men - one who can't talk; two who won't - are thrown together.
A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★
His mind is like a dictionary with the pages glued together.
Shtum is a story about love and acceptance and how words can often be the least effective form of communication.
“Words become meaningless if you don’t tell your truth and they become weapons if you try to tell someone else theirs.”
The story sheds light on the complexities of raising an extremely autistic child and the fallibility of the systems intended to benefit them. It moves at a good pace and while it was predictable at times, I was continually surprised by the depth of devotion, gentleness, and wisdom expressed by some characters and the lack of it by others. I was surprised and gladdened by the growth in some characters, too.
Jem Lester’s writing is fluid and powerful as it easily carries you through heartaches, personal demons, joys, and triumphs to an ending where we learn the truths that made the characters who they are and leaves us loving them all the more.
A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest
Ladies of the Canyons is the true story of remarkable women who left the security and comforts of genteel Victorian society and journeyed to the American Southwest in search of a wider view of themselves and their world.
Educated, restless, and inquisitive, Natalie Curtis, Carol Stanley, Alice Klauber, and Mary Cabot Wheelwright were plucky, intrepid women whose lives were transformed in the first decades of the twentieth century by the people and the landscape of the American Southwest. Part of an influential circle of women that included Louisa Wade Wetherill, Alice Corbin Henderson, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mary Austin, and Willa Cather, these ladies imagined and created a new home territory, a new society, and a new identity for themselves and for the women who would follow them.
Their adventures were shared with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Robert Henri, Edgar Hewett and Charles Lummis, Chief Tawakwaptiwa of the Hopi, and Hostiin Klah of the Navajo. Their journeys took them to Monument Valley and Rainbow Bridge, into Canyon de Chelly, and across the high mesas of the Hopi, down through the Grand Canyon, and over the red desert of the Four Corners, to the pueblos along the Rio Grande and the villages in the mountains between Santa Fe and Taos.
Although their stories converge in the outback of the American Southwest, the saga of Ladies of the Canyons is also the tale of Boston’s Brahmins, the Greenwich Village avant-garde, the birth of American modern art, and Santa Fe’s art and literary colony.
Ladies of the Canyons is the story of New Women stepping boldly into the New World of inconspicuous success, ambitious failure, and the personal challenges experienced by women and men during the emergence of the Modern Age.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★
What a wonderful book! Fully intriguing and enlightening! I was surprised and impressed by these independent, educated, visionary women who made deliberate choices to live their lives as they desired -- free from the customary dictates of marriage, materialism, and society of their Eastern upbringing. It was fascinating to learn of their adventures and accomplishments and most importantly, the legacies they left to preserve elements of the precious cultures of the region.
Catherine's Rating: ★★★★
This book pleasantly surprised me to be more interesting than I anticipated. The parallels between the lives of these independent, courageous, hardy women was fascinating. Their determination not to let their gender determine their fates was very remarkable.
When Alizée Benoit, a young American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), vanishes in New York City in 1940, no one knows what happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her arts patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-knit group of friends and fellow WPA painters, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner. And, some seventy years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who, while working at Christie’s auction house, uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind works by those now famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt?
Entwining the lives of both historical and fictional characters, and moving between the past and the present, The Muralist plunges readers into the divisiveness of prewar politics and the largely forgotten plight of European refugees refused entrance to the United States. It captures both the inner workings of New York’s art scene and the beginnings of the vibrant and quintessentially American school of Abstract Expressionism.
As she did in her bestselling novel The Art Forger, B. A. Shapiro tells a gripping story while exploring provocative themes. In Alizée and Danielle she has created two unforgettable women, artists both, who compel us to ask: What happens when luminous talent collides with unstoppable historical forces? Does great art have the power to change the world?
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★
This was an intriguing book that entwines the lives of historical figures with fictional charters in a cleverly crafted story. Rich in historic detail, it traces specific events in two lives; Danielle, an art assistant at Christie's Gallery NYC in 2015 and Alizee, Danielle's great-aunt that suddenly disappeared while working as a young artist for the Works Progress Administration at the brink of WWII in the late 1930's.
I learned a great deal from this book; mainly about Roosevelt's WPA program and the beginning of abstract impressionist art and artists, which I knew close to nothing about. I was inspired to seek out images of the art and artists and to bake some delightful, delicious Pain d'Amande for my book club friends. It took me a few chapters to really get into the book but once I did, I was eager to continue reading at any free moment. Even though I didn't love this book as much as I hoped to, I still enjoyed it.
My thoughts are often drawn back into the story as I ponder the desperation felt by families trying to bring their loved ones to America before the war broke out. Given our current political climate, it sadly occurs to me that some things never seem to change. I am reminded of the poem written by Martin Niemoller thatMalala Yousafzai states her father kept tucked inside his pocket:
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Catherine's Rating: ★★★
Intriguing beginning but it seems like the author didn't know where to go with it and how to end it. There wasn't a great flow between the present and the past. The art and the Works Project Administration historical bits are interesting. The ending was rushed, not plausible, and just left one a bit disappointed.
About the Author
B.A. Shapiro is the award winning, NYT bestselling author
of THE MURALIST and THE ART FORGER, both stories of art, mystery and history with a bit of romance thrown in.
She's also written five suspense novels -- THE SAFE ROOM, BLIND SPOT, SEE NO EVIL, BLAMELESS and SHATTERED ECHOES -- four screenplays and the nonfiction book, THE BIG SQUEEZE.
In her previous career incarnations, she directed research projects for a residential substance abuse facility, worked as a systems analyst/statistician, headed the Boston office of a software development firm, and served as an adjunct professor teaching sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University.
She began her writing career when she quit her high-pressure job after the birth of her second child. Nervous about what to do next, she said to her mother, "If I'm not playing at being superwoman anymore, I don't know who I am." Her mother answered with the question: "If you had one year to live, how would you want to spend it?" The answer: write a novel and spend more time with her children. And that's exactly what she did. Smart mother.
After writing seven novels and raising her children, she now lives in Boston with her husband Dan and her dog Sagan. And yes, she's working on yet another novel but has no plans to raise any more children.
Art, Interviews, Quotes, & More
These cookies were delicious. Alizee spoke of them in her story and I couldn't wait to try them. They are now one of my favorites!
Catherine, one of our members, attended Ogden High School, known as "The Million Dollar School".
"I went to Ogden High School in Ogden, Utah. It was the first high school in the nation to cost over a million dollars. It was built as a Works Project Administration project during the depression -- meant to put people to work and stimulate the economy. Even though the school was 50 years old when I attended it, it was still beautiful -- maple chairs with real leather upholstery in the auditorium, with gold leaf decorations on the walls & ceiling; marble in the hallways; an attractive art deco exterior. We were proud to attend such a classy school. Now another 25+ years has passed and the school is still beautiful and in full use. It is too bad that more schools aren't built with quality materials to last for 80+ years."
1. The Muralist exposes many facts about the situation in the United States before World War II, including the denial of visas to qualified refugees, the majority of the country’s opposition to entering the war, and the open discrimination against Jews. Did you find any of this surprising? In the wake of the Allies’ victory, how has history generally portrayed this prewar period in America? Do you think there are parallels to the United States in the twenty-first century?
2. The issue of refugees running from war and oppression is as current today as it was during World War II. What similarities and differences to do you see between nations’ responses today and those before World War II? What about in attitudes among U.S. citizens?
3. The author places Alizée, a fictional character, among the real-life artists who created the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York in the 1940s. How did living there at that time inform their art? What do you think makes Abstract Expressionism a quintessential American form?
4. Alizée and her friends are employed by the Federal Art Project, a New Deal program funded by the government to give work to artists. Do you think a government program like this could happen in today’s political climate? How are art and artists valued or supported differently in today's society?
5. In what ways might artistic talent and mental illness be linked? Did you see manifestations of a link in Alizée? How did that differ from the portrayals of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko?
6. Alizée wants to believe that art can change the world. Does art have the power to affect history? What are some examples that illustrate the transforming power of art?
7. Alizée does something illegal in the hopes of thwarting a greater wrong. Do you agree with what she does? Are there times when such decisions are justifiable? What was her state of mind when she made the decision?
8. How much do the times in which you live affect your individual life choices? How might Alizée’s life have been different if she had lived in the twenty-first century? Would her artistic dreams have been realized? How does Alizée’s artistic life compare with that of her grandniece Danielle?
9. When Danielle finds out the truth about what happened to her aunt, she seems able to become the artist she was meant to be. Why? Which was more important: finding the answer, or asking the question in the first place?
10. Were you surprised at how Alizée’s life turned out? Relieved? How do you think Alizée felt about it? How did her art define her life, even amid drastic change?
Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
Winner of the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties.
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★
Did I enjoy this book? Not really.
Am I glad I read it? Absolutely.
I'll be the first to admit I don't know much about history. I know very little about Vietnam and the fall of Saigon and even less about the Vietnamese people. By the time I reached the 5th chapter I stopped because I could not figure out what was going on. I was lost. I put the book down and hit the internet for some background on the fall of Saigon and interviews with the author. Not everyone will need to do this but it certainly helped me get my mind into the proper context in preparation for the book.
While this book was a fictional story about a double agent, it weaves in a great deal of history, culture and many-layered characters. It makes you think. It truly is deserving of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award, as it is well-written with many beautiful descriptions, double-meanings, broad vocabulary, and metaphors, which I loved and I hated. By the last third of the book all the descriptions and metaphors became tedious and I began impatiently skimming over the words to move things along. Even so, the story was interesting, eye-opening, and at times, touching. You'll ponder the story and events long after finishing the book. I'm glad I read it. In fact, I'm liking it now far more than I did while reading it. I appreciate the skills and talents of the author. He certainly achieved one of his goals -- I now have a much greater awareness and understanding that "Vietnam is a country, not a war".
Catherine's Rating: ★★★★★
This book was fascinating. Why aren't there more books about Vietnam? The few books/films out there are only about the American soldiers fighting in the jungle and not about why the war was fought or how the Vietnamese people felt about it. It was interesting to hear a Vietnamese perspective for once, one that somewhat told "both" sides of the story.
About the Author
Interview with the Author
Viet Thanh Nguyen
(pronounced as: Viet Tang When)
Viet was born in Buon Me Thuot, Vietnam. He came to the United States as a refugee in 1975 with his family and was initially settled in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, one of four such camps for Vietnamese refugees. From there, he moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he lived until 1978.
Seeking better economic opportunities, his parents moved to San Jose, California, and opened one of the first Vietnamese grocery stores in the city. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, San Jose had not yet been transformed by the Silicon Valley economy, and was in many ways a rough place to live, at least in the downtown area where Viet’s parents worked. He commemorates this time in his short story “The War Years” (TriQuarterly 135/136, 2009).
Viet attended St. Patrick School and Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose. After high school, he briefly attended UC Riverside and UCLA before settling on UC Berkeley, where he graduated with degrees in English and ethnic studies. He stayed at Berkeley, earning his Ph.D. in English.
After getting his degree, Viet moved to Los Angeles for a teaching position at the University of Southern California, and has been there ever since.
Scholar and writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner and associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, has endorsed BDS and the cultural and academic boycott of Israel in support of Palestinian rights.
Always remember, never forget. These powerful words compel us to think about both the injustices of the past and the injustices of the present. One of those contemporary injustices that we struggle to remember is the Israeli occupation and the deprivation of Palestinian rights. For any of us concerned with justice, the imperative is clear: we must stand with the disempowered and the forgotten against militarism and the state,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen joins two other Pulitzer Prize winners, Junot Diaz and Alice Walker, in endorsing the call of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Nguyen is the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002) and the novel The Sympathizer, from Grove/Atlantic (2015). The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, a California Book Award, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. It was also a finalist for thePEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. The novel made it to over thirty book-of-the-year lists, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, Slate.com, and The Washington Post.
His latest book is Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, which is the critical bookend to a creative project whose fictional bookend is The Sympathizer. Nothing Ever Dies examines how the so-called Vietnam War has been remembered by many countries and people, from the US to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and South Korea. Harvard University Press published it in March 2016. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.”
Learn about the decision to evacuate Americans and South Vietnamese from the U.S. embassy and about the experience of a South Vietnamese Army lieutenant who stayed behind in this media gallery adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam.
By mid-April 1975, it was clear that the North Vietnamese Army would attack Saigon. While the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham Martin, had been hopeful that Saigon would be spared, he ultimately sanctioned the helicopter airlift that helped 1,100 threatened South Vietnamese to their freedom. Lieutenant Dam Pham was not among those evacuated. He was arrested and spent 13 years in a communist re-education camp.
A Moral Obligation
With just 24 hours in which to complete an evacuation of Americans still in the embassy in Saigon, Ambassador Martin decides to airlift as many South Vietnamese as possible to safety from the advancing North Vietnamese Army, in this video adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam. (2 min 30 sec)
Lieutenant Dam Pham
Dam Pham, a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Army who remained in Saigon after its fall, reflects on the war’s outcome. (2 min 11 sec)
Last Days in Vietnam - Documentary Feature
Directed and Produced by Rory Kennedy
Academy Award® Nominee - American Experience Films
In April of 1975, the North Vietnamese Army was closing in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance was crumbling. Approximately 5,000 Americans remained with roughly 24 hours to get out. Their South Vietnamese allies, co-workers, and friends faced certain imprisonment and possible death if they remained behind, yet there was no official evacuation plan in place. Still, over the last days in Vietnam, with the clock ticking and the city under fire, 135,000 South Vietnamese managed to escape with help from a number of heroic Americans who took matters into their own hands, engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations in a desperate effort to save as many people as possible.(2 min 15 sec)
....the Commissar has to keep interrogating him for (like everything else in the novel) two reasons:
1) The structure of post-war Vietnam demands that anyone tainted with Western thinking be taught to think like the "restored" country. In that light, our protagonist has to find his own way to the Ho Chi Minh truism that "Nothing" is more important than life and liberty. That's the kind of insight the Commandant values, a mindless literalism that's become dogma in the new country.
2) The Commissar recognizes that mindless truism as dogma, though, as an intellectual betrayal of what motivated them to commit to the revolution as young men. In that light "Nothing" -- pointlessness, the recognition that no thing has any real meaning -- has become more important than the life and liberty for which they were supposed to have committed their lives. Only the Commissar can teach that lesson, and only our protagonist can learn it.
That duality (echoing the divided self of our narrator) strikes me as brilliantly undermining the ideals of the revolution while still echoing the whole book. I loved this one, really loved it.
What does the narrator mean when he tells us, "I am a man of two minds"? How does this statement reverberate throughout the book?
Comparisons of this work have been made to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, an absurdist take on World War II. Nguyen includes similar satire in The Sympathizer. One such example is this statement:
It was a smashingly successful cease-fire, for in the last two years only 150,000 soldiers had died. Imagine how many would have died without a truce!
Can you find other examples where the author employs similar satiric wit? What affect does such a stylistic device have on your reading? Does the black humor lessen the horror of the war, or draw more attention to it?
Talk about the conclusion of the book, which many describe as shattering. Was it so for you? How has the narrator been changed by his experiences? What has he come to learn about himself, his culpability, his identity, the war, America and Vietnam?
The narrator says that the war in Vietnam "was the first war where the losers would write history instead of the victors." What does he mean by that? What do you know (or remember) about the war—and how did you come to know it? How does point of view, who does the telling, alter one's understanding of history?
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.