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Another way to think about books

I went to a conference this weekend on mystery writing – well it’s really for writers but they took my check.  One of the sessions was on reading as a writer and it was a process that involved identifying subjects/themes/things within a book and tracking them through the book – examples were following the money trail, looking at the ethics, making a time line (remember these are mysteries).  So the question is  — does anyone have a process they follow when they read or are you just reading, hoping for both enlightenment and entertainment?

Today’s Discussion

DSCN4371You have to be really dedicated readers to spend time inside on a day like today — but we are.  This was the discussion featuring Irish authors and books about Ireland or books that brushed against Ireland lightly.  And when readers get together the talk about books often strays off in other directions.  One of the terms that came up frequently in talking about these books was DARK – many of them are very dark – which led to us pondering what impact location and weather has on writers (Scandinavia was mentioned) as well as economic circumstances.  So does anyone have a light funny Irish book to recommend?

Here are some of the books we read

The Gathering by Ann Enright – a booker Prize winner – story of an Irish family but a bit stream of consciousness – well written but not recommended as a book the reader loved.

The Lilac Bus by Maeve Binchy – young people from Dublin head back each week to their Irish village where family histories are shared and scandals don’t stay secret for long.

Edna O’Brien’s books and stories were mentioned but not a specific title.

The Infinities  by John Banville  – On a languid midsummer’s day in the countryside, the Godley family gathers at the bedside of Adam, a renowned mathematician and their patriarch. But they are not alone in their vigil. Around them hovers a clan of mischievous immortals—Zeus, Pan, and Hermes among them —who begin to stir up trouble for the Godleys, to sometimes wildly unintended effect.

The Sea by John Banville  – The Sea – Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time.

(he also writes mystery/thrillers under the name Benjamin Black – Christine Falls is one of his early titles under this name)

John Boyne – A History of Loneliness  – The riveting narrative of an honorable Irish priest who finds the church collapsing around him at a pivotal moment in its history

and The Absolutist – A masterfully told tale of passion, jealousy, heroism and betrayal set in the gruesome trenches of World War I.

A Star of the Sea – Joseph O’Connor – In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by famine and injustice, the Star of the Sea sets sail for NewYork. On board are hundreds of refugees, some optimistic, many more desperate. Among them are a maid with a devastating secret, the bankrupt Lord Merridith, his wife and children, and a killer stalking the decks, hungry for the vengeance that will bring absolution.

Picture of Dorian Gray – by Oscar Wilde – check out the portrait in the attic

Column McCann  Let the Great World Spin Let the Great World Spin (the title comes from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, riffing on themes in old Arabic poetry) is again set in New York, and much of its action takes place on a day in August 1974. Early that morning — in real life, not just this novel — a Frenchman named Philippe Petit used a bow and arrow to sling into place a cable uniting the giant Twin Towers of the recently built World Trade Center. Then, unbelievably, he walked across this cable.

and Dancer  Dancer wove its wide research into the intimately imagined story of Rudolf Nureyev, the driven ballet genius born into Soviet poverty.

Other authors mentioned included William Trevor (Felicia’s Journey), Sebastian Barry(The Sacred Scripture), Katherine Webber (The Music Lesson) and Colin Toibin (Brooklyn)

The bus leaves today for Israel – please plan to join us on December 1 when we will look at Israel – past and present (maybe even future if anyone can find that).

Getting ready for December reading

In December our armchairs will take us to Israel.  Here are some titles to get you thinking about what you’d like to read.

How about a trip back in time to the beginning of the current state – Exodus by Leon Uris the towering novel of the twentieth century’s most dramatic geopolitical event.  Leon Uris magnificently portrays the birth of a new nation in the midst of enemies—the beginning of an earthshaking struggle for power.  Here is the tale that swept the world with its fury: the story of an American nurse, an Israeli freedom fighter caught up in a glorious, heartbreaking, triumphant era.  Here is Exodus —one of the great best-selling novels of all time.

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan – In 1967, Bashir Al-Khayri, a Palestinian twenty-five-year-old, journeyed to Israel, with the goal of seeing the beloved old stone house, with the lemon tree behind it, that he and his family had fled nineteen years earlier. To his surprise, when he found the house he was greeted by Dalia Ashkenazi Landau, a nineteen-year-old Israeli college student, whose family fled Europe for Israel following the Holocaust. On the stoop of their shared home, Dalia and Bashir began a rare friendship, forged in the aftermath of war and tested over the next thirty-five years in ways that neither could imagine on that summer day in 1967. Based on extensive research, and springing from his enormously resonant documentary that aired on NPR’s Fresh Air in 1998, Sandy Tolan brings the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to its most human level, suggesting that even amid the bleakest political realities there exist stories of hope and reconciliation.

Amos Oz – according to Wikipedia – is regarded as Israel’s most famous living author.  He has published 38 books including 13 novels, 4 collections of stories, children’s books and nine books of articles and essays.  His memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness was named best Jewish Book of the Year in 2005.

A family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history. A Tale of Love and Darkness is the story of a boy who grows up in war-torn Jerusalem, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. The story of an adolescent whose life has been changed forever by his mother’s suicide. The story of a man who leaves the constraints of his family and community to join a kibbutz, change his name, marry, have children. The story of a writer who becomes an active participant in the political life of his nation.


Bagels and Books (now masquerading as tea and cookies) will meet on Tuesday, Nov 3 at 2:30 at the Maynard Library when we will spend a happy hour talking about what we have been reading – subject (location) is Ireland.


when we will be “visiting” Ireland.  I put some books by Irish authors on the bottom shelf – right side – of the on-going sale bookcase at the Library and there are laminated squares with all the meeting dates and selected countries – pick one up so you can keep your eyes open for books that will fit into them.


Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Leaving her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady’s intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation. In the quiet character of Eilis Lacey, Colm Tóibín has created one of fiction’s most memorable heroines and in Brooklyn, a luminous novel of devastating power. Tóibín demonstrates once again his astonishing range and that he is a true master of nuanced prose, emotional depth, and narrative virtuosity.

In the Woods by Tana French – As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne – When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

The Woman Who Walked into Doors  by Roddy Doyle – Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors will astonish readers with its heartrending story of a woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem. Paula Spencer recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her feeling powerless. Capturing both her vulnerability and her strength, Doyle gives Paula a voice that is real and unforgettable.

A Woman of no Importance – Oscar Wilde – Fantastic Reading !!! Very Enjoyable !!! Highly Recommend !!!
One of the most famous plays by Oscar WIlde, A Woman of No Importance was first staged in 1893. Generous in wit and cynicism, the play indulges in the decadent rituals of the upper-class in late XIX century London, exposing its secrets and concealed immoralities until a secret that changes the life of the protagonists is revealed.

The Award Season Moves on

Notice that A Little Life is one of the ones you have been recommending Lynette – I am currently reading – in the midst of many other books – Fates and Furies and liking it.

National Book Awards 2015

Finalists for Fiction

Karen E. Bender, Refund (Counterpoint Press)

Angela Flournoy, The Turner House(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies(Riverhead Books)

Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles(Random House)

Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life(Doubleday)

Finalists for Nonfiction

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau)

Sally Mann, Hold Still (Little, Brown)

Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus(Atria Books)

Carla Power, If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran (Henry Holt)

Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light, published by Alfred A. Knopf

First meeting this afternoon

Always fun to talk about books and find some you HAVE TO READ RIGHT NOW!

Schedule for this season (following our virtual world tour theme)

November 3 – Ireland

December 1 – Israel

January 5 – India

February 2 – Scandinavia (and to keep the I’s going we’re including Iceland in this month)

March 1 – Africa

We started in the American South and got some great recommendations – turns out several of us are Faulkner fans.

The Snopes Trilogy – The Hamlet,  TheTown, The Mansion

The Sound and the Fury

The Faulkner Reader

Go Down Moses (short story collection)

Three mysteries were mentioned

Have You Seen Dawn by Steven Saylor – set in Texas about missing teenagers

Knock Off Rhonda Pollero  (and because knowing what you don’t want to read is important too, this wasn’t recommended – the main character is mostly interested in buying cheap versions of designer clothes)

Rituals of the Season by Margaret Maron – one of her Deborah Knotts series – the first in the series is The Bootlegger’s Daughter

Anything by Pat Conroy or Donna Tartt

The Water is Wide is Pat Conroy’s story of his years teaching black children on an island off the coast of South Carolina – highly recommended

South Toward Home by Margaret Eby – a Southern literary travelogue as the author visits the homes of her favorite southern authors including Welty, Wright, Faulkner, Lee, Capote and others

I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down – Collected stories by William Gay – shows Faulkner influence

The Whisper of the River and Run with the Horseman by Ferrol Sams – fiction based on his life – Run with the Horseman was the story of his childhood – The Whisper of the River is set during WWII as a rural boy heads off to college.  Also shows a Faulkner influence.

The Help by  Kathryn Stockett – set in Mississippi in the 1960’s about African american maids working in white households.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (The People in the Trees – not as highly recommended) – long and intense but well worth reading. – not sure this is on the Southern theme but when book people get together all kinds of books get mentioned.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin -an American classic written in the late 1800’s

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle – set in a retirement community

GospelWilton Barnhart – search for a lost first-century gospel of the Bible – a document that could shake the foundations of Christianity.

Natchez Burning Greg Iles – mystery that looks at the racial conflicts of the south

Deep South Paul Theroux – non-fiction look at modern day south, especially the small towns, the poverty, and the racial divides.


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