Thursday, December 18, 2008

The End of an Era

Today marks the end of an era. My mother has been the book group leader at the Mount Olympus Senior Center, in Salt Lake City, for the last 12 years, and today was the last book group meeting she would lead -- at age 89, she is retiring from her volunteer job. She needs to have her own quiet reading time now, and deservedly so.

She chose the last book carefully -- Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, and prepared as she always does for these meetings: she reads the book and then researches the author and the circumstances of the story; Then she rereads the book and marks special passages she wants to share with her group. She was completely ready to share another wonderful book with the loyal, long-time members of this book group (as many as 14 come every month!), but she didn't plan on the snowstorm that kept her housebound and unable to drive or even schedule the shuttle bus, and she was very disappointed.

But snowstorm or not, the fact remains that for the last 12 years, she tirelessly lead the senior center book group members through book after book, and I think her choices were wonderful. It's a remarkable list:

1. The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter
2. This House of Sky, by Ivan Doig
3. The Color of Water, by James McBride
4. The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks
5. Mutant Message/Down Under, by Marlo Morgan
6. The Road From Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway
7. Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams
8. Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
9. A Place of Her Own, by Dori Sanders
10. Angela's Ashes, by James McCourt
11. Katherine Graham, A Personal History
12. Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokow
13. Under a Wing, by Reeve Lindbergh
14. No Ordinary Time (1st half of the book), by Doris Kearns Goodwin
15. No Ordinary Time (2nd half of the book), by Doris Kearns Goodwin
16. Abigail Adams, by Natalie S. Bober
17. Having Our Say & On My Own at 107, by Delany Sisters
18. Jewel, by Brett Lott
19. Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom
20. Four Letters of Love, by Niall Williams
21. Dancing at the Rascal Fair, by Ivan Doig
22. Life and Death in Shanghai, by Nien Cheng
23. Tis, by Frank McCourt
24. The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester
25. Bound Feet and Western Dress, by Pang-Mei Chang
26. Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende
27. Growing Up, by Russell Baker
28. Where Rivers Change Direction, (A Collection of Essays)
29. Chocolat, by Joanne Harris
30. Jefferson: Man on the Mountain, by Natalie S. Bober
31. West With the Night, by Beryl Markham
32. Letters From Yellowstone, by Diane Smith
33. 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff
34. Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, by Jennifer Armstrong
35. Helen Sekaquaptewa: Me and Mine, as told to Louise Udall
36. Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, by Wilma Mankiller & Michael Wallis
37. Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracey Chevalier
38. Wish You Well, by David Baldacci
39. The Professor's House, by Willa Cather
40. Death Comes For the Archbishop, by Willa Cather
41. Barbara Jordon: American Hero, by Mary Beth Rogers
42. Washington, by Meg Greenfield
43. A Kitchen God's Wife, by Amy Tan
44. A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
45. Hanna's Daughters, by Marianne Fredriksson
46. October Sky, by Homer H. Hickam
47. Simon's Family, by Marianne Fredriksson
48. Bend in the Road, by Nicholas Sparks
49. Seldom Disappointed, by Tony Hillerman
50. Galileo's Daughter, by Dava Sobel
51. Yellow Raft on Blue Water, by Michael Dorris
52. The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty
53. First Mothers, by Bonnie Angelo
54. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
55. Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman
56. Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham
57. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie
58. Inside Islam: The Faith, The Conflicts, introduction by Akbar S. Ahmed
59. A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel
60. Thousand Pieces of Gold, by Ruthanne Lum McCunn
61. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger
62. Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand
63. The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
64. The #1 Ladies Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
65. To America: Personal Reflections, by Stephen E. Ambrose
66. Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind, by Ann B. Ross
67. Blessings, by Anna Quindlen
68. Leap of Faith, by Queen Noor
69. Breaking Clean, by Judy Blunt
70. Mount Vernon Love Story, by Mary Higgins Clark
71. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
72. Reason For Hope, by Jane Goodall
73. Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
74. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
75. Kitchen Privileges, by Mary Higgins Clark
76. The Lady and the Unicorn, by Tracy Chevalier
77. Thanks For the Memories, Mr. President, by Helen Thomas
78. Michelangelo and The Pope's Ceiling, by Ross King
79. The Guardian, by Nicholas Sparks
80. The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, by Nasdiff
81. Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts
82. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
83. An Unfinished Life, by Mark Spragg
84. Miss Julia Meets Her Match, by Ann B. Ross
85. The Sinister Pig, by Tony Hillerman
86. When The Emperor Was Divine, by Julia Otsuka
87. Chinese Cinderella, by Adeline Yen Mah
88. The Kite Runner, by Khalad Hasseini
89. A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly
90. True Believer, by Nicholas Sparks
91. Abigail Adams, by Natalie Bober
92. Lucky Child, by Loung Ung
93. All That Matters, by Jan Goldstein
94. A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines
95. Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter
96. My Antonia, by Willa Cather
97. March, by Geraldine Brooks
98. The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle For Equal Rights, by Russell Freedman
99. The Mermaid's Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd
100. The Story of My Life, by Farah Ahmadi
101. Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg
102. Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser
103. Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, by Lisa See
104. After This, by Alice McDermott
105. Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks
106. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
107. Warriors Don't Cry, by Melba Beals
108. Palestine: Peace Not Aparteid, by Jimmy Carter
109. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith
110. The Space Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar
111. The Family Tree, by Barbara Delinsky
112. The Infidel, by Ayaan Hiirisi Ali
113. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
114. Jane Austen (Share a book or movie)
115. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
116. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
117. The Worst Hard Times, by Timothy Egan
118. Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
119. A Thousand White Women, by Jim Fergus
120. Double Cross, by James Patterson
121. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
122. The Innocent Man, by John Grisham
123. Chocolat, by Joanne Harris
124. Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen
125. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
126. Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I am incredibly proud of my mother, and is there any wonder where my own passion for reading comes from, or why I started this blog as another way for us to share books?

Kudos to you, Mom! You are an inspiration! I love you!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

Steve Martin's book, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, is not a choice I would have made had I not watched an interview with him on TV. I haven't been a fan of his, have seldom seen his comedy acts, and have only seen him in a couple of movies. But I was impressed with his interview, and immediately called the library to put a hold on his book, which came very soon after.

Before I finished reading his book, I read a review by Janet Maslin of the New York Times. I agreed with her when she wrote: "Even for readers already familiar with Martin's solemn side, this is a surprising book: smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin." A pleasant surprise for me, and the reason I've made this reading choice for the two different book groups I'm now working with.

I learned that there was much more to know about Steve Martin besides his comedy acts and his films. After Martin finished high school, he applied to Santa Ana Junior College where he took drama classes, and where he found an interest in English poetry from Donne to Eliot. He also was particularly interested in philosophy, but the junior college didn't offer philosophy classes, so he applied to Long Beach State College (which is now called California State College). He enrolled there, majored in philosophy, and earned a Dean's scholarship for his second year.

His book, which he calls a biography rather than an autobiography, created for me not only a new image of Steve Martin, but a real appreciation for his abilities, his talents and his accomplishments.

Click here to listen to a recent NPR interview with Steve Martin on his new book, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life.


A most unusual surprise took place yesterday at the Senior Book Group. Fourteen of us settled around the table ready to begin our book discussion. I had to scoot a half dozen poetry people out of our room...they always seem to forget it's our space every third Thursday of the month, and this is something I have to do almost every month! So when a tall, nice-looking young man came in the room, I quickly let him know the poetry group was meeting down the hall. But the young man, carrying a thick scrapbook under his arm, walked right on in and stood looking over our group. He then said, while looking directly at me, that he was looking for "LOIS." The book group quickly responded, everyone pointing at me. He went on to say that Lois was his second grade teacher and he had pictures to prove it.

While I have recognized a number of my former second graders after they became adults, this person was lost to me. I could not relate the young Curtis Briggs to this young man. He passed the photo around, showed me his scrapbook that his mother had kept so carefully. He proudly showed me a bit of his writing and several of his Greek Myth pictures. The ladies in the room expressed pleasure at learning a little more about me. After some discussion about our second grade, he was gone...and I sat, quite dumbfounded.

Thinking back on the experience today, I'm delighted but more puzzled than ever. How did he find me, and why? Time may tell. He left me his card, and I gave him my phone number. He was my student in 1972-1973. Just imagine!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

June Book Group Discussion--2007

Choosing a reading list for others is a daunting task. That was surely the case when I put together the book list for January to June--2007 for the Senior Reading Group. Just when I needed to add a last book, Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was published. His book set off a storm of jolting criticism. An article by Deborah E. Lipstadt, published in the Washington Post on January 20, 2007, entitled "Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem," gave a scathing critique. After reading PALESTINE, I hesitantly added this controversial book to our list for the month of June. Then, barely weeks before our book group was to meet, fierce fighting broke out in that part of the world. CNN announced that the Middle East was in flames. Abundant information about the conflict between Israel and Palestine came out every day.

I feared the Book Group discussion to come. Twelve people came to the discussion that afternoon, and as I observed, every person brought the book and had read it. Two men I'd never seen before joined the discussion. I braced myself when one faithful group member, the first to respond, said she didn't like the book. She objected to "self-righteousness" she detected in Jimmy Carter's writing. However, her contributions during the discussion that followed were thoughtful and balanced. Current events added legitimacy to Carter's book. We acknowledged that he has put a great deal of effort into trying to understand and help resolve the conflict. One of the new men in the group read a number of passages that he found meaningful and added thoughtful contributions.

Chapter Seven of the book dealt with Carter's interviews with a number of Palestinians, which described many of the personal problems the citizens encountered day after day. The human interest stories added poignancy to our discussion. A number of people in the group felt that we didn't often get the Palestinian point-of-view, and suggested more dialogue would be helpful. Another concerned member expressed the thought the the subject seemed almost taboo. At the end of our discussion, there was an audible chuckle when I confessed that book group leaders are advised to avoid politics and religion. The Book Group met the challenge notably.

A few days after the meeting, the woman who began the discussion by saying she didn't like the book sent me this email: "Thank you for handling such a volatile topic with so much grace. I have felt sad and discouraged about our nation, and I guess it came out. This is something I must resolve within myself; there isn't a thing to do about it. Some of my friends don't want to read or listen to what's going on, but that's not the way for me."

What a nice ending to this adventurous book choice.

Other interesting links:
UC Berkeley Webcast of President Carter discussing his book. (May 2, 2007)

NPR interview with President Carter on his book. (January 25, 2007)

PBS interview with President Carter by Judy Woodruff (November 28, 2006)

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

After hearing an interview on Public Television with Khaled Hosseini, the author of A Thousand Splendid Suns, I knew I wanted to read it. When I called the library and was told I'd be 364th on their list, I was too impatient to wait. Surely A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of the most powerful books I've ever read. In the few days it took to read it, I found it hard to put down, but then looked to the time I could pick it up again. Reading this book, I remembered again and again something the author said in the PBS interview. When it was suggested that the story was difficult, Hosseini responded by saying: "Yes, the story was dark, but it needed to be told. The women's story needed to be told."

The cover page of the book describes it so well:
"A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS is a heartbreaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years--from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding--that put the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives--the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness--are inextricable from the history playing all around them. It is a striking, wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love--a stunning accomplishment."

Also, praise from the back cover of this book, USA Today wrote:

"Spectacular...Hosseini's writing makes our hearts and emotions reel...(He) tells this saddest of stories in achingly beautiful prose through stunningly heroic characters whose spirits somehow grasp the dimmest rays of hope."

This novel seemed to take possession of me, forcing me to contemplate what is happening daily to families in Afghanistan. Bombs drop, severing some people's lives. Yet it's so far away. We're detached. But Hosseini's story tells us the real meaning of war.

Other interviews with Hosseini:
Click here to listen to an NPR interview.
Click here to read a Powell's interview.

Monday, May 21, 2007

WARRIORS DON'T CRY: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High School

I've been accused of liking and reading mostly memoirs. Maybe so, but I'm cautious because I always wonder how honest a person is writing about one's self. What to include about yourself and what to leave out? I think about what Jill Ker Conway had to say at the beginning of one of her memoirs. She wrote, "Memoirs are the most popular form of fiction today." (Her first memoir was The Road From Coorain.)

Melba Pattillo Beal's book, Warriors Don't Cry, is a powerful story of survival with lots of public information to back it up. Melba was one of nine black students to enter Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, following the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to integrate the public schools. Melba Beals described that year in moving detail. What courage it must have taken for this sixteen-year-old girl to enter that building each day not knowing what would or could happen to her! When the State National Guard failed to protect those nine students, President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division soldiers. Melba described how one soldier guarding her saved her eyesight after a student threw some chemical in her face. Danny doused her face over and over with water, which the doctor later declared had saved her eyesight. In discussing Melba's experiences, those of us in the Book Group wondered whether we would have had the courage to face every day what those nine students had to fear as they entered that building!

Melba found encouragement at home from a loving family, a mother named Lois, who taught English in a Black school, a grandmother who stayed close to her and encouraged her to write her feelings and repeatedly reminded her that "warriors don't cry." Melba Pattillo Beals has written a sequel to her book, called White is a State of Mind. I have read it yet. Her website tells me more of where she is now and what she is doing.

Several in our Book Group felt this book should be required reading in our high schools.


Friday, May 18, 2007

The Avenger Takes His Place

When I walked to the library yesterday morning to pick up a book on hold for me, I surprised myself with the book I brought back. Browsing through the New Books display, one book on the nonfiction shelf caught my eye. The cover first and then the title caused me to pick it up and decide I wanted to read this book: The Avenger Takes His Place, with the subtitle Andrew Johnson and 45 Days That Changed the Nation. Howard Mean's book was published in 2006, but was in our library for the first time.

Walking home, I pondered this president I knew so little about....or more honestly...nothing. Reading the preface I found some consolation that historians had all but ignored him. Johnson is mentioned only in passing in Ken Burns's PBS series The Civil War. The preface states that Shelby Foote pays little attention to him. The only President Andrew I knew was Andrew Jackson. Now I found it interesting that while Andrew Jackson was our 7th president, Andrew Johnson was our 17th president. His presidency followed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Also of interest to me was that when Johnson became President there was no one in line to take his place if something happened to him. New details kept me wanting to know more: that he was drunk and loquacious when he was sworn in as Vice President, and that here was a southern senator who cared passionately about preserving the Union and made enemies in the South because of his "thunderous denunciation of secession."

To add to my interest, browsing the New York Times this morning, Wednesday, the 16th of May, a footnote caught my eye: "On May 16th 1868, the United States Senate failed by one vote to convict Andrew Johnson as it took it's first ballot on one of 11 articles of impeachment against him, (Johnson was acquitted of all charges)."

See where the cover of a book, and a dramatic title, can lead you?


Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Review of Two Books

I blinked myself back into my world after finishing a powerful novel by Thrity Umrigar, The Space Between Us, which had completely captured me. Sitting in my own space, I was introduced to Bombay, India, in a way I could never have been had I been there as a traveler. For a number of days I was connected to Bhima's life as a domestic servant of the well-to-do Sera, a Parsi housewife. Bhima, an illiterate domestic with serious troubles of her own, was for twenty years devoted to her educated and well brought up Sera. Devoted to one another, yet deep distances remained between them. The distance is physically shown while they sip tea together. Bhima sits on the floor while Sera sits at the table. Several family members object to Sera treating Bhima so kindly, knowing it can only lead to trouble. Rich and poor, and worlds apart, yet connected in ways we learn fully only at the end of the story. Book group members will like this book and it will make for an interesting and, perhaps, vigorous discussion.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, introduced me to the world of the Circus. This novel came highly recommended and didn't fail to fascinate me. I wanted to sum it up by simply saying that a world of circus people and their relationships with one another and with the animals is bound to have lots of intrigue. But it's much more complicated than that and could take a good while to adequately describe. Trainers, acrobats, management, the Depression, freaks of nature, parades, and Rosie the elephant make up a tale full of passion, anger, love and hate--bound together to entertain while finding ways to survive.


Wednesday, April 4, 2007

No Dull Moments

Too bleary-eyed to finish my book last night, I gave up at ten thirty and decided I wanted to be fresh to read the ending. Family Tree, a novel by Barbara Delinsky, kept me captivated. I finished it today in broad daylight and clear vision. That the characters in Family Tree met at times in a lovely knitting shop was pleasing, to be sure. Knitters and knitting take part in weaving the tale together. Delinsky's novel challenges family relationships, secrets, biases, and choices the characters make. Members of the Book Group will like this story, I feel sure.

Other books I've read recently: Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks; The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri; and A Perfect Union: Dolly Madison and the Creation of the American Nation, by Catherine Allgor. (Namesake is now out as a movie which I hope to see soon.)
Learning what a powerful figure Dolly Madison was made me wonder why I knew so little about her. In the more than 400 pages, some parts did lag a bit which made it easy to put down and turn to something else. Dolly was a beautiful and talented woman who contributed immeasurably to her husband, President James Madison, and to America.

Now I'll finish reading The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, another book I could put down and pick up at opportune moments. There are no dull moments, or moments to spare, with so many wonderful books to read!

Reviews by Lois

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

January to June 2007

Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, by Lisa See
After This, by Alice McDermott
Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks
The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
Warriors Don't Cry, by Melba Beals
Palestine: Peace Not Aparteid, by Jimmy Carter

Books Read in 2006

Abigail Adams, by Natalie Bober
Lucky Child, by Loung Ung
All That Matters, by Jan Goldstein
A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines
Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter
My Antonia, by Willa Cather
March, by Geraldine Brooks
The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle For Equal Rights, by Russell Freedman
The Mermaid's Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd
The Story of My Life, by Farah Ahmadi
Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg
Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser

Books Read in 2005

The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, by Nasdiff
Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
An Unfinished Life, by Mark Spragg
Miss Julia Meets Her Match, by Ann B. Ross
The Sinister Pig, by Tony Hillerman
When The Emperor Was Divine, by Julia Otsuka
Chinese Cinderella, by Adeline Yen Mah
The Kite Runner, by Khalad Hasseini
A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly
True Believer, by Nicholas Sparks