Wednesday, December 22, 2010

January Meeting

A 19th Century and 21st Century 'classic' this month!

Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections' is a terrific read.
According to one reviewer, 'Franzen has crafted the sort of introspective, character-driven, literary work that Wolfe and other boosters of so-called social realism love to loathe. In this case, it's a domestic drama about the disintegrating Lambert family -- father Alfred, who's slowly melting into a Parkinson's haze; his long-suffering wife, Enid; their successful but miserable son Gary; their less successful, also miserable son Chip; and their sexually befuddled daughter, Denise -- whose emotional lives Franzen fastidiously dissects over the course of 500-plus pages.
It's a big, ambitious, unwieldy hybrid of a book -- a literary novel and a social document, an intimate family portrait and a sprawling cultural landscape, a floor wax and a dessert topping -- but Franzen somehow manages to glue it all together with surprising warmth and wit.'

'Originally designed as a story for boys, Stevenson's novel is narrated by the teenage Jim Hawkins, who outwits a gang of murderous pirates led by that unforgettable avatar of amorality, Long John Silver. But Treasure Island has also had great appeal for adult readers and was admired by Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and (reluctantly) Henry James. The story has a dreamlike quality of a fairy tale and has worked its way into the collective imagination of more than five generations of readers, gaining the power of myth.'

Happy reading!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

In 'Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter' (according to Amazon),'Vargas Llosa uses counterpoint, paradox, and satire to explore the creative process of writing and its relation to the daily lives of writers. One half of the story is an autobiographical account of an aspiring writer named Marito Varguitas, who falls in love with Julia, the divorced sister-in-law of his Uncle Lucho. Marito's success at writing and romance contrasts with the fortunes of Pedro Camacho, the protagonist of the other half of the story, who is a devoted but declining author of radio soap operas.'

'Reality merges with fantasy in this hilarious comic novel about the world of radio soap operas and the pitfalls of forbidden passion by the bestselling author of The Storyteller. Sexy, sophisticated, older Aunt Julia, now divorced, seeks a new mate who can support her in high style. She finds instead her libidinous nephew, and their affair shocks both famiy and community.'

'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' by Louis de Bernieres' is set in the early days of the Second World War, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece, Dr. Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn't so bad--at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of "Heil Hitler" with his own "Heil Puccini," and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn't long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair--despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies, and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.

One reviewer wrote 'De Bernières seems interested in dissecting the nature of history as he tells his ever-darkening tale from many different perspectives. Corelli's Mandolin works on many levels, as a love story, a war story, and a deconstruction of just what determines the facts that make it into the history books.'

Happy reading

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A modern travel story by the master, Bill Bryson and the classic spy story by another master, John Le Carre.

Says one reviewer, 'Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes--and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.'

According to one reviewer 'In this classic, John le Carré's third novel and the first to earn him international acclaim, he created a world unlike any previously experienced in suspense fiction. With unsurpassed knowledge culled from his years in British Intelligence, le Carré brings to light the shadowy dealings of international espionage in the tale of a British agent who longs to end his career but undertakes one final, bone-chilling assignment.

When the last agent under his command is killed and Alec Leamas is called back to London, he hopes to come in from the cold for good. His spymaster, Control, however, has other plans. Determined to bring down the head of East German Intelligence and topple his organization, Control once more sends Leamas into the fray -- this time to play the part of the dishonored spy and lure the enemy to his ultimate defeat.'

Happy reading!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 2010

A book about two comic book creators and the 'bible' for atheism all in the same month!

In Prague, Josef Kavalier is a young apprentice to an aging escape artist. As Nazi occupation intensifies, Josef, with the help of his mentor, smuggles himself out of Nazi territory. He eventually makes it to New York City, home of the newborn comics industry. He comes to live with his Aunt Ethel, where he hooks up with his visionary and ambitious cousin, Sam Klayman. The boy geniuses decide to pour their synergistic talents into comic books.

One reviewer enthuses 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is that elusive holy grail, The Great American Novel. Here, the dreams of that mythical yet all too real land are related, with unerring confidence and great depths of emotion, through the history of its most maligned art form, the comic book, and its even more maligned creators.'

One newspaper review stated 'The God Delusion is carefully crafted, elegantly constructed and skilfully argued. And although the author may be rather rude about God and some of his followers, he is still at pains to point out that atheism is no more than a realistic aspiration, not a moral imperative. In fact, disbelief is in our genes, adds Dawkins. 'I have found an amusing strategy,' he claims, 'when asked whether I am an atheist to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon-Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.''

Happy reading!

Sept 2010

As always, plenty of variety this month!

According to one reviewer 'Love in the Time of Cholera' is a novel of patience, devotion, promiscuity, love and death -- not necessarily in that order. The flowery and melodious images of dreaming yield to a surprisingly rewarding ending. But this is not a book for those who cherish an actively developed plot. It is meant to be savored.

The publisher of the hardback edition of 'Unaccustomed Earth' said that the 'Pulitzer Prizewinning author' (gives us) 'eight dazzling stories that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life.
Unaccustomed Earth is rich with the author's signature gifts: exquisite prose, emotional wisdom and subtle renderings of the most intricate workings of the heart and mind. It is the work of a writer at the peak of her powers.'

Saturday, June 26, 2010

July 2010

A modern blockbuster and a classic are on the menu this month!

If you haven't heard of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' then you've probably been in a coma for the last year! Stieg Larsson's novel is the story of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece Harriet. Henrik suspects that someone in his family, the powerful Vanger clan, murdered Harriet over forty years ago.

Starting his investigation, Mikael realizes that Harriet’s disappearance is not a single event, but rather linked to series of gruesome murders in the past. He now crosses paths with Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker, an asocial punk and most importantly, a young woman driven by her vindictiveness.

I've dug up an 1848 review of Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' which should have you rushing to buy the book!

'Jane Eyre is, indeed, one of the coarsest books which we ever perused. It is not that the professed sentiments of the writer are absolutely wrong or forbidding, or that the odd sort of religious notions which she puts forth are much worse than is usual in popular tales. It is rather that there is a tendency to relapse into that class of ideas, expressions, and circumstances, which is most connected with the grosser and more animal portion of our nature; and that the detestable morality of the most prominent character in the story is accompanied with every sort of palliation short of unblushing justification (1848)'

Happy reading!

Monday, May 31, 2010

It will be interesting to compare the styles of these two very different books!

'Kafka on the Shore' makes pendulum swings between the story of how Kafka runs away from home, and how good-hearted old Nakata, the cat whisperer, embarks on a peculiar quest. Kafka and Nakata are not acquainted, but their lives overlap in piquant, spooky ways.
According to one reviewer, 'Murakami's style is rarely less than seductive and I read Kafka on the Shore in one non-stop feeding frenzy. For sheer love of a thumping narrative, the novel delivers gloriously. The author's trademark kookinesses, particularly his talking cats, maybe-phantoms of army deserters and the appropriation of Colonel Saunders, Kentucky Fried Chicken King, add smartness and colour.'

In 'The Catcher in the Rye' by JD Salinger Holden Caulfield, about to be kicked out of yet another boarding school for flunking most of his
courses decides not to wait
until the end of term, and takes off for his hometown, Manhattan, a few days early. He figures he'll hole up in a cheap hotel, look up a few friends, then arrive home on time. But Holden is deeply troubled, by the death of his beloved younger brother from leukemia, as well as the suicide of a classmate. And alone in an uncaring city his already fragile psyche begins to unravel.

One reviewer said:
“The Catcher in the Rye” is a book that every lover of literature should read. Anybody who wants to write, read it twice. You will seldom come across a more exceptional example of the first person point of view.

Happy reading!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Both books this month have a serious purpose with a funny side? Or do they?

'The World According to Garp' by John Irving chronicles, according to one reviewer 'the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields — a feminist leader ahead of her times. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes — even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with "lunacy and sorrow"; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust.'

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave is the story of Sara - an upper-middle class magazine editor living in a London suburb with her husband and young son - and a 16 year-old Nigerian refugee who calls herself Little Bee. The two meet on a Nigerian beach, and the tragic events that transpire link the women's lives together unalterably. As the story opens, Little Bee has spent two years in a detainment center in Great Britain, when she is suddenly released, without explanation, paperwork, or any form of aid. With nowhere to turn, Little Bee calls Sara and her husband, forcing all three to confront the consequences of the chance encounter that changed each of their lives.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A tale of two cities! One book a dissection of New York life and the other from that other famous city ... Brisbane!

Sherman McCoy, the central figure of Tom Wolfe's first novel, is a young investment banker with a fourteen-room apartment in Manhattan. When he is involved in a freak accident in the Bronx, prosecutors, politicians, the press, the police, the clergy, and assorted hustlers high and low close in on him, licking their chops and giving us a gargantuan helping of the human comedy of New York in the last years of the twentieth century, a city boiling over with racial and ethnic hostilities and burning with the itch to Grab It Now. Wolfe's gallery ranges from Wall Street, where people in their thirties feel like small-fry if they're not yet making a million per, to the real streets, where the aim is lower but the itch is just as virulent.

 The True Story of the Butterfish is Nick Earls' highly anticipated first novel for adults in five years. With his chart-topping band, Butterfish, Curtis Holland lived the clichéd rock dream. Residing in hotels and recording studios, traveling in custom-built buses, he got married after a soundcheck in a wedding chapel in Nevada and barely noticed when is wife left him in Lousiville. But what do you do when the cheering from your fans fades?

Curtis has moved back to Brisbane to try a build a new life and is not used to living in the suburbs and having neighbours. So when he receives an invitation to dinner from Kate, next door, he is surprised to find himself becoming a reluctant role model to her two teenagers, Annaliese and Mark. Then, just as Curtis starts to have grow up feelings for Kate, Annaliese begins to show an interest in him that is less than filial.

Filled with acute observations, humour and tenderness, The True Story of Butterfish is Nick Earls at his very best.

Friday, February 26, 2010

march 1010

Both books should inspire plenty of discussion this month!

According to one reviewer "Middlesex' by Jeffrey Eugenides' is 'a dazzling triumph from 'the bestselling author of The Virgin Suicides. It is the astonishing tale of a gene that passes down through three generations of a Greek American family and flowers in the body of Calliope Stephanides.

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."

So begins Jeffrey Eugenides' second novel,
Middlesex, the story of Calliope Stephanides, who discovers at the age of fourteen that she is really a he. Cal traces the story of his transformation and the genetic condition that caused it back to his paternal grandparents, who happen also to be brother and sister, and the Greek village of Bithynios in Asia Minor.

In 1922, Desdemona Stephanides and her brother, Lefty, whose parents were killed in the recent war with the Turks, are living alone in their nearly abandoned village. Pulled together by isolation, sympathy, and, perhaps, fate, Lefty and Desdemona become husband and wife, and a recessive genetic condition begins its journey toward eventual expression in their grandchild Calliope.

Middlesex is a story about what it means to occupy the complex and unnamed middle ground between male and female, Greek and American, past and present. For Cal, caught between these identities, the journey to adulthood is particularly fraught. Jeffrey Eugenides' epic portrayal of Cal's struggle is classical in its structure and scope and contemporary in its content; a tender and honest examination of a battle that is increasingly relevant to us all.

According to one reviewer, the original Consolation of Philosophy (in the singular), written by Boethius in 524 A.D., offers solace to the author by a series of arguments in which Philosophy, personified by a woman, argues the paradoxical point that misfortune is better than good fortune in that the former teaches us a good lesson while the latter perpetually deceives us as to the transitory and illusory nature of all earthly happiness. Let me note in passing that it was in this book that the idea that love makes the world go round got its first forceful formulation.

Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy (in the plural) is more than a worthy successor to the "original." And it doesn't read like a typical philosophical text either. Rather, it reads the way we expect wisdom to read, with charm and whimsy and surprisingly illuminating insights that also tend to turn our thinking about things around (if not upside down). De Botton, the author of On Love: A Novel (1993), The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping, and the Novel (1994), Kiss & Tell: A Novel(1995), and How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), has repeatedly shown his readers how great thinkers can teach us wonderful lessons about ourselves. His novels read more like essays and extended meditations than stories, while his essays intertwine profound thinking with familiar moments in everyday life, thus making the former easily accessible to even the non-philosophically inclined reader.

The book is available in the cheap Penguins for $9.95.

Happy reading!

Friday, January 29, 2010

There's plenty of reading to get your teeth into this month. 'Birdsong' by Sebastian Faulks a novel set before and during the Great War and 'Mao's Last Dancer', a true story of young boy who is plucked out of his village school in China to be taught to dance.

According to one reviewer 'An epic novel of love and war that radically defies conventional
expectations, Birdsong moves back and forth between the second decade of our violent century and the near-present to explore how the absurd carnage of World War I devastated a generation throughout western Europe and left a heritage of confusion and loss.

It is 'A profoundly humane novel that tells a riveting story spanning four generations, Birdsong addresses grand themes of the human experience while also making us care deeply about several individuals yearning to find healing love and a rationale for survival in the midst of unprecedented destruction.'

One reviewer wrote the following about "Mao's Last Dancer'.

In 1961, three years of Mao's Great Leap Forward--along with three years of poor harvests--had left rural China suffering terribly from disease and deprivation. Li Cunxin, his parents' sixth son, lived in a small house with twenty of his relatives and, along with the rest of his family, subsisted for years on the verge of starvation. But when he was eleven years old, Madame Mao decided to revive the Peking Dance Academy, and sent her men into the countryside searching for children to attend.

Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. One part Falling Leaves, one part Billy EliotMao's Last Danceris an unforgettable memoir of hope and courage.

Happy reading!