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Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Club : February Notes

An Extraordinary Beginning

Our newly reorganized book club held its first meeting on February 7th.  And our first book of the year was very strange indeed: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

Image from Google

The novel is set in Brooklyn around 1911.  In addition to other sites, much of the action takes place at the Museum of Extraordinary Things located on Coney Island where freaks of Nature, human and otherwise, were put on display by Coralie's father for the entertainment of the public (and of course for the purpose of filling his bank account). 

We all agreed we enjoyed the book.  Each of us was able to find among the oddities populating the pages, something we really loved.  Here is a quick bulleted list of some of the things we liked about the book:

  • the beautiful use of language by the author, Alice Hoffman - her descriptions were detailed and sensative
  • the book's historical references were fascinating and led some to do further research on the Shirtwaist Factory fire and the great 1911 fire at Dreamland located across the way from the Museum of the novel
  • learning that not so very long ago, NYC was not such a concrete jungle - one could actually find wooded unsettled areas and even fish and swim in the Hudson River
  • the stories of immigrants when they arrived penniless to NYC- their struggles but especially the strength of spirit, the pride, the tenacity of these people
  • the clever twists in the plot, especially the surprises and connections between characters that were revealed along the way
  • the view into a world not many of us know -  that of people living with abnormalities and how they struggle to live a normal life
  • the strangeness of it all 
The book provoked a good discussion... then it was on to"What should we read next?"

We came up with the following  potential reads for the March meeting:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Allie and Bea by Cathering Ryan Hyde
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

As is our routine, we went home, looked at reviews and voted on our FB groupsite.

Our March read will be A Gentleman in Moscow...though I'm sure some of us will read several of the other choices on our own as well!

image from Google

Hope you are enjoying some great winter reads.  I'd love to hear what you are reading...use comment section to share.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

2018 Reading Goals

Update: January

I set out at the beginning of the year,  to read twelve types of books in 2018. This month I decided to start by reading a book that has won a prize for excellence.

 A while back Amazon was offering a great deal on a YA book that had won acclaim, and I downloaded it onto my Kindle.  It has sat in my Kindle library for quite a while.  In scanning my library, I noticed One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia, had won five literary awards: A Newbery Honor Book, Scott O'Delll Award for Historical Fiction, Coretta Scott King Award, ALA Best Fiction For Young Adults and a National Book Award Finalist - a perfect pick for award-winning book.
image from Amazon

One Crazy Summer is actually the first in a series of three books about the Gaither sisters: Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern.  Delphine, the eldest sister, is the narrator and a very responsible one at that.  In true big sister fashion, she takes charge of her siblings as they travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to visit their mother who left them soon after Fern, the youngest Gaither sister, was born. Neither Vonetta nor Fern have any memory of their mother, and they have hopes of a tender reunion and visits to glamorous places like Disneyland. Upon arrival they are quickly awoken to reality.  Their mother did not ask to have them visit and is anything but welcoming.  She shoves them daily out the door to fend for themselves at a Black Panther Day Camp for kids.  The year is 1968.

Image from Google

FLASHBACK!  I soon found myself thinking back to my high school and college days- the age of protests and sit-ins. Back then the Black Panther Party was a scary thing to me.  I'm ashamed to admit, I do not know a great deal about it, other than it was not the peaceful Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King.  But One Crazy Summer led me to learn a little more about it's co-founder Huey Newton and some of the workings of the movement. The historical perspective of this book alone is worth the reading, but the endearing Gaither sisters, especially Delphine, make the reading delightful.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Time To Step It Up

Stepping Forward

I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions.  In fact, I gave up on that practice a long time ago. I never kept my resolutions, and who wants to feel like a failure all the time?

But, I do like setting goals and trying to achieve them, because then, even if you don't reach your goals, there is progress forward in trying to achieve them. Giving yourself a goal line to shoot for gives your life direction and purpose.

So, in that spirit, I am setting a goal for myself. Just one. To walk 10,000 steps a day. Years ago, my doctor started a side business on this very principal.  Apparently, science discovered that you don't really need an expensive gym membership to get fit. All you really need is what God gave you...your two feet! 

I was inspired initially when my doctor mentioned this simple fact, but my enthusiasm soon waned when I discovered I didn't walk anything  close to 10,000 steps a day. I was still working (at a sedentary job) and was too tired to do much else. Using that lame excuse, my step-counting days soon fell by the wayside.

Now as I SIT here in retirement, watching my body implode (aging really SUCKS) I feel like it's time (Biggest Understatement Ever) to take charge. Set a goal. Do something.  That something will be to walk, and walk, and walk.  (Please dear knees don't let me down yet). 

I've dug out my Fitbit, charged it up, and strapped it on.  I've written this post, to hold myself accountable.  Wish me luck.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Reading Goals for 2018

Reading Goals For 2018

Last year my goal for reading was very general: read more than the year before.
I barely accomplished this. I read 41 books in 2017, which was only two books more than the year before.

In 2018, I want to be more specific with my reading goals. Not only do I want to increase the number of books I read by at least 1, but I would also like to read specifically and with purpose.  So here is a list of the types of books I am going to attempt to read.  Maybe you would like to follow along?

Here is my list (to be read in no particular order):

  • A book published in 2018
  • A book that is considered a classic that I have not read
  • A non-fiction book about an American historical figure
  • A book for spiritual enlightenment
  • A play by William Shakespeare that I have not yet read
  • A book by a British author
  • A book that has won a prize for excellence
  • A book of poetry
  • A mystery by Louise Penny
  • A book set in a bookshop/library
  • A book that is hot on the YA reading list
  • A book published the year I was born
There are twelve categories.  I plan to tackle one a month.  I will keep you posted about what I've chosen and review the book. 

I think I will start by browsing my own home library and making some selections from books I have not yet read.  That way, I can begin one of my other New Year's resolutions - be more financially responsible!


 I hope you make your own reading resolutions for 2018.  Use some, or all of my categories, if you like. I'd love to hear from you, and what you are reading.  Whatever your goals, whatever your choices - Enjoy a wonderful year of reading!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

You're Gonna Win The Snow Globe Award!

Here's to my hometown...Erie PA!!! You are famous yet again.  Yes, you have wonderful people. Yes, you have a beautiful Great Lake with a beautiful recreational peninsula which draws thousands every summer.  But what you are best at is SNOW!!!!!

This holiday is one for the record books as you all know as you look out your windows dreading the moment you have to once again shovel out.  The average snowfall for Erie, in a year, is 101 inches and Erieland has received more than that just in the month of December...and most of that has fallen since Christmas Day.  I remember when I was five we had a record breaking snow like was such fun as a kid.  I know it is a beautiful winter wonderland right now, so try to enjoy the beautiful sight, grab a blankie and a hot cup of cocoa and wait it out.

Scenes from 1956 Erie Blizzard

Our little house on Parade Blvd.  That's Dad digging out the driveway.

A neighboring house.  Can you see the hood of the car in foreground?

Our street.  That large truck is the National Guard to the rescue!!

Meanwhile, enjoy this little poem I wrote a while back not knowing a record-breaker was on its way to you.  Sending love a good wishes to all of my family and friends back home in Erie. Miss you!

Lake Effect Snow Sonnet

You who do not live on a lake
Will never understand snow.
You may have seen a soft white flake,
But you can’t begin to know,

The blinding white that will not stop,
The drifts that pile miles high,
Cars that lie covered to the top,
The roads one can’t get by.

This snow topples lines and trees,
It can even crush a roof.
Plows give up and let things freeze.
Do you need any more proof?

This snow’s a snow that will leave you wheezing.
This snow’s a snow that grows unceasing.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Regarding Reading

What To Do On Cold Wintry Days

There is something about winter that makes the reader in me content.  When the thermometer dips below freezing (heck even when it goes below 45 degrees) I long to stay indoors and find my fun with a book, a blanket and a mug of rich coffee. Reading seldom fails to lift my spirits, even when the skies are so gray and the trees so bare you feel like you just want to hide until spring.

Stephen King once wrote: Books are a uniquely portable magic. I couldn't agree more. Within the pages of a book, I can live for awhile in a place I've only imagined, ( a family-owned vineyard in California, for example as in Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave) or be the person I often wished to be, ( a confident, enthusiastic, motivating writer such as Claire Cook in her self-improvement book Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention), or lead a life I've only dreamed about  ( as Sara does when she opens a bookstore and introduces a community to the joys of reading in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald) .

So during these next few wintry months...Indulge. Go places. Try on new identities. Live a dream or two. Browse your bookshelves, download a new title on your Kindle, run to the library if you dare; but for goodness sake...get a book  and cuddle up.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book Club Survives and Thrives

Book Club Year-End Review

The Maple Glen Book Club, my neighborhood group, has survived another year of reading and discussion.  This may sound trivial, but I know that many book clubs do not last for very long. Our group is well into its second year and membership has grown rather than diminished!

In fact, I think having a neighborhood book club has helped us to understand our neighbors better and to feel more a part of the community.  One of the new members was new to the neighborhood, so the book club was a good way for her to meet new people and network with others about the community. Another member, moved to a different neighborhood but continued attending our book club.  It provided her with a way to stay connected to a place she had lived in for decades.  What a nice feeling it is to see the book club help people navigate life changes.

The year wasn't without its struggles!  The most difficult thing for us is to choose a book we all want to read.  After several depressing reads that provoked tons of moaning and groaning, we decided we needed to come up with a few new parameters for choosing books.

The culprits that created our turmoil:

January's Choice - Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This story of generations of Africans sweeps through 300 years of struggle from Ghana to America.  Though beginning chapters were detailed and well researched, we found latter parts very thin and at times relying on stereotypes.

February's Choice - They May Not Mean To But They Do by Cathleen Schine

The group chose this book because it was touted as funny and full of family antics.  Ha! It was so depressing to see the suffering and loneliness of aging parents. We found nothing to laugh about.

March's Choice - Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Again this book came with great reviews but our group found this tale of two families blended by divorce even more depressing than Schine's book. Replete with adultery and borderline child neglect, we just couldn't see why the reviews were so glowing.

April's Choice - Emma by Jane Austen

So, in desperation we decided to do a classic.  Bomb big time!  However, there were maybe a couple members (I mean me) who enjoyed the book. To make up to the group for forcing Emma on them, we discussed the book over an English tea compete with lavender bread, scones (with jams and clotted cream) and of course two types of perfectly brewed tea.  My hubby graciously played butler and served our tea hot from the pot.

May's Choice - any book by self-help author Andrew Mathews

As I look back on our choices this one seems kind of prophetic. Were we searching for help?  Many in the group chose the title Being Happy. Well... all I can say is we hadn't found yet how to be happy with our selections.

June's Choice - Crimes Against the Book Club by Kathy Cooperman

You just have to love our Freudian choice!!! I think we chose this in a desperate, sarcastic attempt to save the group from mass suicide.  But this was a turning point for our selection process.  It marked the one-year anniversary of the organization of our group, so we took the occasion to re-visit ways to improve book selection. This is what we came up with:

  • no self-help books
  • nothing political in nature
  • no misery porn
  • no celebrity autobiographies   

Additionally, we came up with a new way of selecting the next book.  We would decide on four titles as a group.  Then we would vote for our favorite on our group Facebook page, assigning a 4 for our favorite choice, down to a 1 for our least favorite choice.  Points would be tallied and the title with the most points would be our next read. This gave everyone a chance to look at summaries and reviews and decide which one they liked best.  Plus, there was no peer pressure applied because you didn't have to vote with the whole group sitting in front of you.  This seemed to work quite well...most of the group enjoyed the remaining reads for the year.

July's Choice - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

An apocalyptic sci-fi novel.

August's Choice - Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

An historical novel set in WW II, that follows the story of three women ( a socialite in America drumming up support for war victims in France, a Polish concentration camp prisoner who endured medical experiments, and a German doctor who conducted those experiments).

September's Choice- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lot's of great discussion about this classic

October's Choice - The Dream Life of Astronauts by Patrick Ryan

This was probably the one bomb of our post-revised selection era.  The characters were deplorable people with few redeeming qualities...the plot was not what the reviews hyped it to be.  Good attempt by us to try different genres and topics ... we'll keep plugging away.

November's Choice - At Home In Mitford, Jan Karon

Determined to enter the holiday season with a feel-good read, this book, the first in a series about Mitford, NC, was a sure winner.  We had a great time reading it and lots of fun at our discussion meeting.  Here are a few pics of the Mitford "goodies" shared at our November meeting.

Esther Bollick's famous orange marmalade cake that sent Fr. Tim into a diabetic swoon.

Puny's cornbread that she made for Fr. Tim.

December/January's Choice - What Alice Forgot, Lian Moriarity

We are looking forward to reading this over the holiday!

Final thoughts...Maple Glen Book Club had quite a reading year. We read quite a diverse group of books, lots of different genres. We overcame a flagging selection process. Made new friends.  Kept the old. And celebrated the joy of reading with friends and neighbors.

Have a great reading year in 2018 everyone!