Book Club Update

A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit: A Lakeview Branch Book Club Review

In spite of the seasonal craziness, daily pressures and weeks of heavy rain, five of us came to discuss A Paradise Build in Hell by Rebecca Solnit!
We just launched in and barely took a breath talking about parts that really impressed us. By the time we looked up we had gone over our time! We all agreed that we REALLY liked this book. The only criticism is that it had so much detail and analysis that it slowed the reading down so that the reader had to really think about the concepts. Another member thought that the detail and the analysis was the best part. Not everyone finished this title, but they might finish it. Several of the group tabbed passages that were excellently written and inspiring, with many, many post-it papers!
As a little background, Rebecca Solnit, born in 1961 and lives in San Francisco. She has written on many subjects, including the environment, politics, place and art. She is an editor of Harper's Magazine. A native of Novato, and a victim of family violence.  She did not finish high school. She received a G.E.D., went to junior college, studied in Paris and received her journalism degree form U.C. in Berkeley in 1984. She has been an independent writer since 1988.
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, began as an essay in Harper's Magazine that was published the day that Katrina hit the coast and was inspired by the Loma Prieta earthquake, "when everyday life ground to a halt and people looked around and hunkered down."
One member brought in a book about Katrina she was reading, called 1 Dead in the Attic by Chris Rose and recommended it for further reading that supports Sonit's concepts. 
Some of the topics we discussed in random order were:
The media doesn't report the truth. It is sensationalist and ultimately destructive. One member said that years ago she stopped watching regular tv news and reading newspapers, because they are so slanted with an agenda and so sensational in their approach that it was upsetting. She gets her news from "alternative" news, foreign news programs, which seem more balanced. Conventional media seems to try to stir up the emotions rather than reporting what happened. One example was the tv showing over and over a young black man robbing a store. Once is enough. Over and over is inciting prejudice.
We thought that what is happening now regarding the peaceful marches to call attention to the number of young blacks being killed by police, showed the outpouring of concern from people in all walks of life and from all backgrounds. The social change that Solnit described coming from spontaneous movements that arise over catastrophes is actually happening now!
We talked of the enforcement of "order" from the top down is where the problems really arose. People over the centuries all over the world have spontaneously stopped whatever they were doing to help people in need during a crisis. When government tried to take over to support "elite panic," (the fear of those with power and possessions), that is when the problems happened. Her description of the mayhem during the 1906 earthquake, where troops shot and killed citizens trying to dig people out from under collapsed buildings, where troops killed people retrieving their own belongings from their own homes, where troops looted and robbed stores themselves, and finally set more fires trying to make fire breaks, caused more chaos than the quietly spontaneous efforts of citizens to help each other.
She gave examples from disasters in history that were truly inspiring, from the revolutions in France and Spain brought on by drought, financial debt in France and for Spain an earthquake. Parts that stood out for us were when people helped each other escape from the 911 towers in the pitch black stairwells by putting their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them and calmly leading each other down. In the Halifax explosion a telegrapher stayed and continued to broadcast about the disaster knowing that he would soon be consumed by the fire, people after the Mexican earthquake who organized for the basic fairness of being able to stay in their homes and how a small restaurant owner and wrestler in costume, became the persona of justice, eventually sparking a people's revolution that changed the government of Mexico. We discussed the government corruption after the Nicaraguan earthquake that led to their revolution and the beginnings of real democracy.
We talked of the recent Napa earthquake in which a woman of 79, who had always been independent, lost everything and how people have spontaneously come together to help her be independent once again.
We discussed how our society isolates people. We thought people really want to be part of a community. Some members of our group donate time and know of others who donate time to food kitchens. One story told of recent immigrants to Toronto, who were professionals in their country of origin, have been temporarily reduced to going to a soup kitchen or to a food bank for help, because there are no jobs for them. Emphasis was not judging people in need. In other circumstances it can be we who need help. We noted that hobbies can bring a sense of community where people give of their time and expertise without requiring anything in return.
We were inspired by the work of Dorothy Day, who's work was directly inspired by the community activism and spontaneous organization for help after the 1906 earthquake.
World War I came up as insanity enforced from the top down. We briefly mentioned All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. Both books showed how disaster comes from the top down and in the Silent Night history, the reader learns of the spontaneous efforts at peace and love that came in the form of singing, giving gifts and even playing soccer between the enemy sides. People want to connect. They want to belong to each other.
We talked about how people are taught to objectify others, therefore, making them non-human, and thereby, giving the excuse that they are expendable! We cited the high school experiment  by Jane Elliott, the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise which showed how very fast people can be trained to turn on each other.
We thought that even though competition for place or resources can turn deadly and is visceral, we can see that altruism also is visceral. In the book Dark Nature: A natural history of evil  by zoologist, Lyall Watson, examples were given showing natural altruism in animals as well as people. People are good!
Another amazing example of people rising up to help was the flotilla of ships that showed up at the edge of Battery Pak in lower Manhattan to take people to New Jersey after the towers fell. The number of boats and people was greater than the famous rescue of stranded soldiers at Dunkirk in World War II. Amazing!
We thought people need to learn compassion. People in hard times don't deserve to be there! ...and not just people! Animals were stranded after Katrina! Sometimes there was more compassion for the animals than the people. We noted the example of prisoners locked in, some drowning. They were abandoned without food or water for six days!
We were heartened by the need to have a sense of place. Some families had lived in New Orleans for many generations and have moved back. We thought that FEMA failed in New Orleans and that the time between the hurricane and any help for the city was partly a function of racism as much as poor planning. One of our members spoke of a friend who survived and moved back into a FEMA home and had to deal with the formaldehyde leaking from the walls of the trailer.
One of our group mentioned that a good program to watch is Spike Lee's When the Levee's Broke. You can find it on YouTube and there are many, many copies in OPL.
Over and over, in this book , we saw that individuals and groups rose to help in a truly meaningful way in disasters of all kinds, whereas governments stood in the way or actively added to the problems caused by the disaster. The impromptu solutions to the disasters' effects, often have led to social movements which have brought long term progressive changes!  We thought that this book gave us an entirely new perspective on the future. With the real concerns of global warming and mutant viruses coming in the near future (or present), we very well may likely find ourselves in a disaster. We can be assured that our neighbors, even if we don't know them now, will join us in helping others or even help us. We will plan to be prepared, but will also have confidence that good things will come from the bad! Some of us thought this was a life changing concept! 
We were all glad we read this book! OPL has many of Rebecca Solnit's other books. You might want to look into those!

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd: A Lakeview Book Club Review

What an entertaining discussion of The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd this month!

Eight of us had a wide range of reactions to this book. More of us found this selection not to our taste. There was at least one of us who really liked this book. All of us found intriguing elements and some characters or plot devices we really liked. Almost unanimously we found the sex elements of the seduction of the monk to be of a bodice-ripping nature and humorously so. A few skipped that part entirely. Some literally groaned at those sections of the book..


One of us thought some of her plot machinations to be similar to Ann Patchett, intricate, interwoven, filled with some suspense and somewhat believable events. Some of the descriptions our group used about this book were, "light, poorly written, titillating, contrived, annoying characters, shocking regarding the finger cutting, "nature held its own" and "like a 10 cent book from a flea market." Yikes! Such comments are a first for our group!


The themes we found in this novel were: The Crazy Mother; The Absent Father, Nature as Religion, and Strong Women. These were also themes in The Secret Life of Bees (2002), Sue Monk Kidd's first novel. The Mermaid Chair was her second novel (2005)


We discussed the ennui of Jesse, our main character, a frustrated housewife, thinking perhaps she was actually depressed and could become suicidal. As Jesse's daughter leaves for college, her life seems sterile, going nowhere. Her retreat to the island, which was her first home, leads to her discovery of secrets about her parents and into her affair with Whit, the monk. Secrets revealed, mysterious happenings, and illicit sex is definitely the drama needed to pull Jesse out of the doldrums.


We liked Whit. Whit was drawn to religion, because of the earthiness of it. He equated it with nature and loved that smell of the earth including that it smelled of manure. We thought his withdrawal from life was, in a way, keeping his love for his deceased wife alive. None of us thought he was a good fit for monastic life and he would not have lasted long there, if it weren't for his nature-measuring duties. His time in the monastery was an escape for him. Whit had thought, that in the monastery, he could live in close relationships with other men, but he found his experience to be a test. All relationships are hard. The monastery, was a variation on a utopia, where members part company with their egos. Such arrangements requiring poverty, chastity and obedience, prevent emotional closeness. Emotional closeness is often the precursor to physical closeness, which is prohibited.


While discussing monasteries and convents we brought up the secrecy involved in trying to be perfect, for example, that monks and nuns are not free to talk about who they are. The scandal of the pedophilia in the Catholic Church and the subsequent cover ups were discussed as a by-product of the structural secrecy of religious lives. In contrast, we thought the closeness of the women friends on the island to be more ideal than the relationships of the men in the monastery.


Some of the description or use of words seemed really creative and very true, such as when an encounter with the husband of Jesse is described as a "disposable moment in a lifetime of them." We were surprised that Jesse went back to her husband. The marriage wasn't broken; Jesse was flawed!


We were surprised her husband took her back at the end of the novel. She didn't deserve that kindness. Her actions had been destructive to her life, her mother's life, her lover's life and her daughter's life. In some ways we thought this novel was like The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Jesse became sexually, spiritually and emotionally "awakened," but rather than end-it-all, as in The Awakening, she went back to the stultifying life of before. Her husband had not changed. He would still be expecting the same things from Jesse.


We discussed that Jesse's husband was a psychologist and that Jung was mentioned in the novel. Jesse was damaged by her mistaken guilt over her father's death and then she married an older man, a father figure. In relationships often one partner loves more than another and the one who loves more is a "smotherer." Jesse's renaissance of her art would not be saving that relationship. Jesse walked back into a codependent relationship and so we did not believe she would be satisfied for long by returning. One member did like the realistic veiled hostility from the husband at the end of the novel. At least it wasn't all sweetness and light with Jesse and her husband skipping happily under a rainbow at the end!


We also thought that Jesse's daughter was "for the birds" i.e., no support for Jesse. The only changes in any character were in Jesse and no person from her previous life would ever understand those changes.


The archetypes of Jung are found in every culture and literature. The extrovert versus the introvert (Jesse and her husband) and the symbols of running water versus stagnation were noted. The island was a microcosm of society.


Regarding the novel's suicide, we talked of the scars left on those remaining. The message to those who remain is that "life is not worth living even if you love me.” We noted that the religious taboos against suicide and the judgment of the very religious small community of the island, would both cause enormous harm to everyone involved in the suicide. It, therefore, made more sense to keep the decision a secret, even though there was immense psychic damage to Jesse (for misunderstanding the death) and to Jesse's mother (who participated in the death with the other women).


We talked of the trends of assisted suicides today and choices people can and do make, including the unreported help from doctors and, also, families in hospice. The times and religious climate for such choices are somewhat better now than when the events in this novel took place.


We liked the strong women on the island who withheld the truth about the father's death and then eventually revealed it to Jesse. They were quirky and interesting, quite their own people, not usually worried what others would think. We understood that the women had to keep the secret.


One patron saw the movie which was made of this story and did not care for it. That member of our group particularly did not like the actress who played Jesse, Kim Basinger.


There was some humor in The Mermaid Chair and overall this novel seemed somewhat lightweight, especially in comparison to the amazing literature we have read recently, such as The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa or Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. While most of us would not recommend this book, we understand why people like it and we acknowledge that we liked parts of it.


Sue Monk Kidd is a successful writer, born in 1948, teaches nursing, works as a nurse, grew up in Georgia and was greatly influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton, a Catholic philosopher and monk. We can see all those influences in this book. We predict she will remain successful with her future writings.

Happy Reading!

Mary Farrell

Lakeview Branch Library

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: A Lakeview Book Club Review

Hello Everyone,
The meeting was really interesting. our discussion leader had much to share with us, including a portrait of Garibaldi, the leader of the "Risorgimento," the civil war between supporters of monarchy and aristocracy and their opponents, who wanted democracy and a unified Italy. The reorganization was completed in the 1860s with a constitutional monarch at the helm of an united Italy. Garibaldi was a very colorful character. We might read a good biography about him later.
The novel, The Leopard, was published posthumously in 1958. It took three years for author, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa to write it and it was rejected several times before it was finally published. Every faction or class depicted in this novel hated Tomasi's interpretation of them and railed against it. The other factions thought the descriptions of the other factions were dead-on accurate. It was so popular, it was a runaway best seller in Italy and remains the best selling Italian novel of all time.
It was the only novel Guiseppi Tomasi di Lampedusa ever wrote. "Di Lampedusa" is the princely title Guiseppi Tomasi inherited upon the death of the previous prince. His novel is based on his Sicilian family in the 1850s and had the sweet sense of the loss of a gentle, successful aristocratic world.
The Leopard in the story is the symbol of the princely family. It was not actually a Leopard, as we visualize, it was in reality a spotted wild cat similar to a serval cat from Africa, which until the 1850s actually lived around Lampedusa. They are now extinct in Europe. The image of the Il Gattopardo (Leopard) was on the Lampedusa coat-of-arms. The main character, The Prince, was considered to be the personification of The Leopard. He was tall, majestic, masculine, strong, commanding, handsome, virile, honorable, brilliant and kind. In contrast, he was attracted to a simple philosophy of life. We noted that he hunted, but he wasn't a good hunter. It was something he did, because it was expected of him. We agreed that the passage where he and his servant are hunting and stop to discuss the coming changes and the recent vote, was tender and memorable. The servant confides that he voted against the coming changes, even though he was expected to vote for them. For the servant, life was understandable and good just as it was.
Images of animals, besides The Leopard, are strong elements in this novel, often symbols of what is going on. Bendico, the dog, was a strong friendly presence, so beloved by the family that after his death, he spent part of his eternity preserved, stuffed and in the family palace. The toad and flies are a strong presence and many of the characters have animal's names, such as Tancredi Falconeri (Black Falcon).
The narrator was omniscient and lyrical in his explanations and descriptions. The weather and seasons became like actual characters contributing to the change coming to The Leopard's family. The hot weather was like a death rattle. Death seemed like a character of its own and it was arriving in this vibrant family. The land of Sicily was a character that drove people to action or ennui. The author states that most people leave Sicily never to return. If they do not leave by the age of 20, then it is too late to leave. Everyone left behind despises all the others in the community.
Women seem to be loved from afar, including the wife, Stella, the female daughters and mistresses. The Prince really likes woman of all kinds, especially Angelica, the lower class, daughter of a nouveau riche power broker businessman. Angelica was to marry his nephew.  His two sons, on the other hand, are barely mentioned and seemed to be disappointments, even though they were "successful." The men whom The Leopard really cared for were a lifetime servant and Tancredi, his nephew, who is a major character in the novel and eventually marries Angelica.
One member of our group felt the end was very sad, because our main character dies years later and his two daughters, who missed out in the few opportunities for love or marriage, become old and alone in the disintegrating palace. Others in the group thought the ending was not sad, but realistic. Children fade away and old age often brings the longing for people who are gone and things which have changed. It is interesting to note that the author said that The Prince lived 73 years, but LIVED only 3 years. He felt life going out of him like an ocean.
We noted that there were a few anachronisms, such as, when the author compares the movement in the novel to airports, which were, of course, not extant in the 1850s. He also made an analogy that compared action in the novel to a 1943 bomb in Pittsburg. Several of us did double and triple takes with those. It was startling since everything else mentioned was in the correct period in history.
Members noted the humorous depiction of the "bumpkins" in the community. We noted that all of the characters, even if The Leopard was irritated by them, were treated respectfully and with love by the author and by The Leopard . We discussed the feuds of the people of the countryside, the sharp rise of the wily businessman with the beautiful daughter Angelica, whose mother is described as a beautiful, but totally unacceptable person for society. We noted the peasant who collected medicinal herbs to sell, who would be forced to pay for a license to collect them and sell them. The peasant felt baffled that something God made would have to be taxed.
We spent some time discussing the role of the Church for this family and community and commented on how accurate it sounded and how rigid the patterns of the day were. Saying the rosary, changing for dinner, having one half hour of free time and then gathering at the exact time, kept order in their lives. The presence of the Church was everywhere, even though the war was trying to dismantle its power. We discussed there is still hostility in mainstream Italy for the power the Church held and still holds over its people.
We also acknowledged the role that proper clothing played. There were many rules about that and the poor choices of the newly rich were discussed at length in the novel.
Tancredi, the nephew, was a favorite character. He would be on the winning side no matter what. He straddled two worlds. His love interests, The Prince's daughter, Concetta, and the daughter of the newly rich village leader, Angelica, were symbols of the Old Ways (Concetta) and the New wild and free World of Sicily (Angelica). Angelica adapted well to her new world, being wily, like her father. The best time in Tancredi's life is when he was "in love," but did not love. All of us loved Tancredi's exploration of the palace and its hidden rooms with Angelica. One member mentioned that if you knew where all the rooms in your palace were, then the palace was not a palace.
Concetta, the Prince's daughter, later in life, blamed herself for the lost opportunity of the love of Tancredi. We discussed the scene where she realized she pushed him away. Some of us thought this was a confusing scene. We wondered why the author included it.
The party at the palace was memorable. They only lit 24 of the 48 candelabras. It was a sign of the beginning of not having the funds they needed. (The Prince spent money as if it were in limitless supply, and it was running out.) The young aristocratic women at the party were ugly and inbred. The Prince thought that at any moment they would be like monkeys climbing the chandeliers and throwing nuts.
We were impressed that as just and intelligent as The Prince was, he turned down a position in the new government.
There are two famous quotes in the book about the coming changes:
From Tancredi, the nephew: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
From The Prince, Don Fabrizio : "We were the Leopards, the Lions, those who'll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals, and sheep, we'll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth."
We discussed the 1963 film, which some of us had seen, The Leopard, directed by Luchino Visconti. Visconti was also from a formerly aristocratic family and completely understood the world which is gone. The scenes are beautiful and very true to the book. Visconti did, however, leave out the ending of the novel. Some thought this was better, because the slow decay described in the book was sad. Some of us preferred the book's ending which resolved all the loose ends and was very true to the characters and to reality. We agreed that Burt Lancaster was a perfect choice to play The Prince.  We recommend that everyone see this film. Oakland Public Library has it. It is in two versions in the same dvd box, English and also Italian with subtitles. The Italian version is better.
The Leopard is a universal story of change written so elegantly, so wisely and lyrically that images and concepts stay long afterward. We all loved this book and recommend it highly. The Observer, a British magazine, mentioned The Leopard as the 10th best historical novel of all time. We can see why!
Happy Reading!

Heartburn by Nora Ephron and Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu, A Lakeview Book Club Report

Eight of us met to discuss these two quickly read books. Heartburn had been on our list for a long time, but we added Leaving Mother Lake, because we wanted to discuss another book with a strong woman. Heartburn was fiction based on fact and Leaving Mother Lake was a memoir, "as told to" anthropologist, Christine Mathieu. Christine Mathieu also added her anthropological analysis of Yang Erche Namu's community in Yunan Province. Our discussion leader for Leaving Mother Lake shared very thorough notes, which brought us all up on the major details.

Yang Erche Namu was born in 1966 in a very remote village in the mountains of Yunnan Province, China. Her isolated community developed a "matrilineal" society over hundreds of years. Anthropologist, Christine Mathieu, conjectures that this evolved from a feudal society under past emperors and warlords. Women own the land and live together in a commune-like setting. All children belong to all the women of a household and are raised in common. There is a leader woman for the large household, but the leadership does not necessarily pass to that woman's daughter. The lead woman chooses her successor from among the female children. The children do not necessarily know who their fathers are. Women choose their sex partners and dismiss them by setting a bag of the man's belongings outside of the home. Women have a private room for their sex lives and call their lovers with a light in a window. The men live separately and conduct business with the outside world.

Because the community is small, primitive and very much dependent on each other for survival, each member of the community is very careful to always be kind and to never gossip about others. They actively repress jealousy and envy. Animosity could have dire consequences.

Yang was a colicky baby and so her mother sent her to another household to live. Yang was even sicker there so was returned to her mother. Yang's mother was the leader of the household. It seems that Yang did not bond strongly with her mother or others and we wondered if that was a consequence of the communal living or a trait of Yang's. Yang was sent as an older child to live remotely with an uncle whose son had left the community. The uncle needed a yak herder in the mountains. Life there was very hard for Yang. She was barefoot and freezing in the winters, even to the point of standing in yak urine to keep her feet warm and to sleep next to the yaks for body warmth.

When she reached puberty, there was a “skirt” ceremony where she had to stand naked before all of the community, which included men and women. She felt beautiful during this ritual, where she received a jade bracelet from her mother.

Soon after, she was chosen by the government to join with other excellent singers from rural areas to perform in various Chinese cities. After her experience she was dissatisfied with her life at home.

She was attracted to a boy in the village and decided to have sex with him, but then changed her mind and refused. In her rage over the experience, she destroyed the village school room and ran away to the city to try to attend a music conservatory. She had to sell her jade bracelet to live. Selling the bracelet and destroying the village school room was such bad behavior, she felt it essentially severed her ties to her village.

Once in the metropolitan world she eventually became a star, a singer, a model and a successful actress. Her biography online points out that she is not popular among many Chinese. We noted that some of her behavior seemed arrogant and cruel by our standards. For example, she carried on a courtship by letter with a young man, but when she met him, she told him he was ugly. She seemed surprised that someone who wrote beautifully could possibly not be handsome.

We were impressed at the successes she had, given that she was illiterate and from an essentially primitive culture. While primitive in some ways we thought that the power and freedom some of the women had in it should be adopted for our own culture. We also thought that the communal living of mothers and children, or at least those mothers and children, resulted in relationships which were not as close as those most of us have had with our mothers and children.

The appendix by the anthropologist was scholarly, but fascinating.

We were glad that we had a window into a rare community, that unfortunately has been changed by Yang Erche Namu’s contact with the modern world and the tourism that has resulted from that and other incursions of modernity.

Yang Erche Namu is a rare strong woman who molded her life with the opportunities she found. We thought that few others would have the courage or strength to plunge into such a foreign life.

It is a fascinating story and one well worth checking into, if you have not yet read it, there are several copies in OPL. 

Heartburn by Nora Ephron was a different sort of book about a strong woman. We found it to be lighter fare, because of the humor involved. One of the lighter elements was the interjection of recipes by the main character. One of our members brought one of those recipes to our meeting, a delicious peach pie. The secret of the recipe was that it had custard in the mix of ingredients. We LOVED that pie! What a treat!

While based on reality, this was a novel. The reality topic was the disintegration of the marriage of Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame. Their marriage was the second marriage for both of them. We liked the characters very much and felt that they were real people, as they probably are. The father was loopy, writing about alternative universes. The mother was an eccentric outspoken woman with some sage advice. Every character had a therapist to discuss the downs in their lives. In group therapy each tried to outdo the other with a horrible situation. (Does this really happen? I bet it does.)

The only part that felt really made up was the mugging of the main character right before a group therapy session. If that story was contrived, it  was important to the plot. It set in motion the quirky and outrageous events that led to the final conclusions.

While humor connected most all events and often made us laugh out loud, there were, in contrast many moments of very real sadness. The main character kept a journal and so must have Nora Ephron, because there would be no way to make up the depth of feeling and amazing details she shared had she not pulled from her reality. 

We noted the passage where her therapist asks why she has to put everything in her life into a story. Her answer was that if she made a story of it, then she had some control over it. Perhaps it was a method to manage the pain. We also discussed the ending events when she gave birth to her second child by Carl Bernstein. She tells the doctor, who would do the Cesarean procedure, not to let her about-to-be-divorced husband, who would be there during the procedure, “Do not let this stranger see me eviscerated.” Her memories of the kind and loving moments of the failed marriage filled her with aching sadness. He would sing to her made up lullabies during the good parts of their marriage. 

He ended up with the wife of their mutual friend. Nora described this woman as a giraffe and made other viscous and witty comments about this woman. We saw in the Wikipedia biography that Carl Bernstein sued Nora Ephron about this book! Maybe his new wife DID look like a giraffe! 

We liked her description of the first husband who seemed to care more for gerbils or hamsters than for people. We thought her humor was viscious, but so entertaining! 

We also noted that her tone throughout seemed to be “one note,” that is, the writing style didn’t keep us captivated throughout. There was a rhythm that seemed too repetitive at times. We also felt that some of the choices and constrictions on the main character’s life were dated, but this book is not a recent book and so much has changed for women since it was published. 

Some of us were surprised that at the end of this marriage and novel; she immediately moved in with another man. According to her biography online, that marriage seemed to have stayed solid. Nora Ephron's last marriage was to writer Nicholas Pileggi. 

Nora Ephron is definitely a strong woman with a great deal of success. She has won many awards and written the screenplays for many unforgettable movies, such as Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, and Julie and Julia.  

She was a playwright as well as a screenwriter and author of books of essays and fiction. She was also a journalist. She died in 2012 of pneumonia brought on by myeloid leukemia. It may be a long time before we see another such intelligent talent with such an original voice.

Happy Reading!

Mary Farrell

Lakeview Library Branch Manager

Even Monsters Deserve a Nice Name

It's Halloween, let's talk monsters!

For Book Club this month, we read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Before I get into my book rant, I'll fill you in on a few details of the author's life. Her biography is arguably more scandalous than the book's plot.

Mary Wollstencraft Shelley was the daughter of a famous feminist and a well known author who were too hip to get married. Her mom died shortly after her birth, so Mary grew up with her dad, her mean stepmom, her mom's daughter from a previous relationship (an affair with a soldier), her stepmother's kids from her previous relationship, and dad and stepmom's new kid. Mary was the poor brown-headed stepchild. As a teen, she met and started a relationship with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy was already married to another woman, but why let that stop the magic. Mary and Percy ran away to Paris and when they returned to England, both Mary and Percy's wife were pregnant. Mrs. Shelley (the first one) was unhappy, she sued for alimony and custody of their kids, but eventually drowned herself, allowing Mary and Percy to be married. The new Mr. and Mrs. Shelley suffered the loss of their first daughter, only one child survived to adulthood. Also, Mary's sister dies. Oh, and shortly after that, Percy fell into an Italian lake and drowned at age 29.  

Onto the book.

It's a story within a story and different characters get to play narrator at different points. The novels is both gothic and romantic, with some seemingly never-ending descriptions of nature and light and feeling.  The meat of the novel concerns the young Swede, Victor Frankenstein. He looses his mother, becomes consumed with thoughts of death and the essence of life, goes off to college and emerges a scientist. He decides to make a man, just because, he makes the man/monster. Man comes alive, Frankenstein freaks out and runs away abandoning his creation. His creature learns to walk and talk and read, he is badly mistreated, he goes on a murderous rampage, Frankenstein vows vengeance on his creation. Excitement ensues. Here's a better annotation

There are 235 entries just in the Oakland library catalog for the term Frankenstein. Many of the books and movies that refer to Frankenstein is the name of the monster, not it's creator. Which brings me to the topic of names. Remember in Roots, when Kunta Kinte's master tries to make him own the name "Toby" and Kunta refuses (it was bad)? Or when the Empress of Fantasia begins to fade and die until Bastian saves her and the whole empire by giving her a name. (And, yes, I did just make a Roots and Neverending Story reference in a post about Frankenstein.) Your name helps you form your identity, it lets others identify you. It's almost as if you're not real without a name. Frankenstein not only abandoned his creation, but, in not naming him, he refused to acknowledge Creature's existence. Dirty and wrong, Victor.

Creature is feared for his ugliness, he's badly beaten and spit upon, and, while he does go on a small killing spree, he has a low opinion of himself, he just wants to be loved, he needed a name. The book doesn't have too many sympathetic characters. In my opinion, Victor Frankenstein was a mad scientist, and a bit of a spoiled brat, driven even more mad by his experiment-gone-awry. His creature was literally a nameless man-child who probably should have known better, but has still captured my sympathies. 

Are you Team Victor or Team Creature?

Submitted 31 October 2014, by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch

THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY by Henry James: From the Lakeview Book Club

The Portrait of a Lady Henry James's grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1789 and was a successful venture capitalist, who owned a canal and made a fortune. The grandfather had 3 wives and 16 children.

Henry's father inherited wealth and was a philosopher. There were five children in the family. Henry was the second child. His sister was an invalid, who only lived to her early 40s. Henry traveled extensively with his family.

Henry was not the only famous James from that family. His brother William was the very famous psychologist. It is said that William wrote psychology as if it were fiction, and Henry wrote fiction as if it were psychology. Both William and Henry were Calvinists, but we didn't see evidence of a religious point of view in this novel.

Portrait of a Lady is considered to be the best of the novels of Henry James. Henry's insight into the lives and emotions of his characters is stunning. His use of language is lyrical. Susan cited where Isabel sees a private conversation taking place between Ms. Merle and Mr. Osmond as the peak psychological scene of hidden meaning where the reader is left in suspense to figure out what the two villains were plotting.

That observation launched us into a discussion of Ms. Merle. We all had mixed feelings about her. Yes, she was evil, but since James didn't really explain all the steps that led her to be that way, we wondered if she were driven to her malevolent choices by her lot in life. Some thought she was a sad character.  In fact, we noted that James leaves us with many, many questions. One person pointed out that James used an ellipsis plot device of skipping over steps in the plot, leaving them unaddressed intentionally. One of the plot points we wanted to know more about was Isabel’s relationship with Goodwood before she moved to Europe. Also, why did she reject him before the book even started? What happened to Ms. Merle’s husband? Was he alive or dead? How did Pansy end up in Osmond’s care? What were the circumstances of Osmond’s and Ms. Merle’s affair? How did the death of Isabelle’s child affect Isabelle and Osmond? After hundreds of pages of delicious writing and detailed description, we wanted to know more!

One person mentioned that Ms. Merle's name meant black bird. That observation led us to Ms. Gemini, who was described as a bird with a beaklike nose, which led us to the deliberate and descriptive choices of names. Mr. Goodwood, who we all liked, seemed the most masculine of Isabel's suitors and his name gave rise to chuckles. Another example of a name that has a meaning is Isabel, who "is a belle."

We found Ms. Gemini very interesting. Though she seemed like a dimwit at times with her scattered conversations, she knew the dirt and had lived through difficult times with her philandering husband. She eventually laid out the truth to Isabelle regarding Ms. Merle and Osmond.

The character of Ms. Stackpole was interesting to us. She truly was an independent woman, self-supporting and free to travel, yet her character, though perhaps less flawed in some ways than Isabel’s, seemed somewhat superficial. She provided some comic relief and insights that were ignored by Isabel.

The history and politics of the world at the time did not intrude on the insulated world of the wealthy and near wealthy expatriates. The Civil War in the United States was taking place during James’ life, yet there is never a reference to that upheaval and carnage. That surprised us.

We also wondered why James chose a female to be a protagonist for his novel. One member of our group thought that James identified with the lot of the female world. For men at that time, the typical choices in life were business, military or religious life. James, a writer, was in the world of the arts, often perceived as more feminine choice.

We wondered about Osmond’s courtship of Isabel. Did he really find her desirable for anything more than her money? Though we get to know Osmond as a miserly, controlling and an emotionally abusive husband and father, we noted that he had charm when he needed it. In fact Isabel thought he was “poor, noble and lonely.”  He thought that Isabel would settle into a submissive role after marriage. Though Isabel certainly tried to be a submissive dutiful wife, ultimately, we thought she would break with Osmond in a stark and final way.

We discussed how the major characters were introduced to us through descriptions of their homes. The description that felt the most unsettling was Osmond’s house. It was dark and filled with his collection of art work and left one with the feeling that once inside, there was no escape. Isabelle became a piece of property of Osmond's, the same as his valuable pieces of art.

We noted that Pansy’s true love, Rosier, was also a collector of fine art. In order to prove to Osmond that he had enough wealth to marry Pansy, he sold his entire collection. Instead of being impressed by the wealth, Osmond was pleased that those pieces of art were now available for purchase!  Pansy was also part of Osmond’s collection.

Isabelle changed considerably from the beginning to the end of the novel, a span of around five years. She was self-centered, independent and naïve. Over time she learned to distrust Merle, upon whom she relied to show her the way of the European world and society. She came to understand that she was used by Merle and her husband. She was strong enough at the beginning to reject suitors who did not appeal to her, but was naïve enough to not understand the malevolent nature of Osmond and Merle, even after being warned about them. Ultimately she understood that Osmond truly hated her. We thought that Isabel needed the betrayal in order to grow. By the end of the novel Isabel defied Osmond by seeing the dying Touchett. She was her strongest there. 

It was interesting to us how James resolved the lives of the suitors. Goodwood, who never stopped loving Isabel, ultimately married  someone else, much to the chagrin of our heroine. Warburton, who was probably 40 years older than Pansy, courted her. We thought he did this to be near Isabel, perhaps putting a subtly incestuous vibe on the possible union.

Ralph Touchett and the narrator seemed to understand the most about all aspects of the story. Ralph loved his cousin Isabel and perhaps was in love with her, but he seemed to be asexual, perhaps because of his illness. He set into motion all the possibilities in Isabel's life by seeing that she became wealthy through inheritance. He lived long enough to see Isabel marry Osmond and to provide Osmond with the funds he needed to continue collecting art and to support the lovely Pansy. In other words, ironically, Isabel helped Osmond the same way Ralph helped her.

This novel was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly. Every chapter ended in suspense and anticipation for the reader. The novel ended the same way, frustrating all of us. In spite of two different endings in different editions, we will, alas, never find out if Isabelle regains her independence, rescues her stepdaughter and at long last finds true love. Perhaps James’ unresolved endings are more realistic than our desire for closure and happy endings. After all, we are all flawed. Fate intrudes. We make poor decisions. We reap the consequences of those decisions and move on. None of us ever really knows what comes next. Do we really want to know?

Obviously this novel struck a harmonic chord with us all. Many  We were all moved and caught up in this gripping story. Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady confirms why a classic earns that name.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan.....The Lakeview Book Club Update

Our discussion leader did an outstanding job in presenting the background story on Zealot.

Dr. Reza Aslan is a non-religious American whose family emigrated from Iran to the United States when he was a child. His family was Muslim. He was invited to go to a Christian summer camp and became a Christian, because it attracted him emotionally and helped him feel he belonged. He was a practicing Evangelical Christian for some years. He was later educated by Jesuits and investigated the historical Jesus, finding that he could no longer be Christian. He studied Islam and found that he was attracted to it intellectually.

In his book about Jesus, he pulled from the few historical records of the time and from the social history of the era. In his research he discovered that much we have all been taught about the life of Jesus does not correspond to the real history of the times. He points out that three fourths of the New Testament was written by Paul, who did not know Jesus and had a perspective different than the Apostles. Aslan defined the concept of Messiah in terms of Judaism. No Jew at that time or in the present would define Jesus as a messiah. Messiah was a royal title, NOT a religious title.

The difference between Jesus and other preachers of the era was that although many performed miracles, Jesus never charged money for the service. Jesus focused on the disenfranchised, the poverty stricken and the exploited Jews of Palestine.

The first gospels were written in 72-75 AD over 40 years after Jesus died. James, the brother of Jesus, took over the management of the followers and focused on the laws of Moses, since at that time all the followers were Jews. (We noted that Catholics are taught that Jesus had no brother, whereas the Gospels mention James as his brother.)

Later when Paul became involved, there was a split between Paul and James. Paul was a product of Rome, spoke Greek and was literate, three qualities that James did not have. Since Paul wrote, his interpretation of the life of Jesus is the one that has had the most influence and has been more lasting.

Paul claims he was the 1st Apostle and he geared his message to the Jews in the Roman Empire.

A little background: Judaism was temple centered before Jesus. The first temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. The second temple was destroyed in 70 A.D by the Romans. The Romans destroyed it, because of the constant rebellious acts against the power of Rome. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed in 70 A.D. and others dispersed. Those Jews were no longer in Israel and in a temple centered life. Eventually many of them were less culturally affiliated with the Judaism of Israel and more drawn to other beliefs, some of those being Christianity.

Aslan points out that Jesus never said he was the Son of God. Jesus, however, was a revolutionary, as in preaching in a way that ultimately would undermine the power of Rome. He was crucified and crucifixion was the execution reserved for sedition. The sign on his cross labeled his crime as Jesus' claiming that he was the King of the Jews. The leaders of the temple were making a lot of money and Jesus' teachings were a direct threat to the temple leader's ways of supporting themselves in the style they liked.

As Paul gained a following of Gentiles (non-Jews) after the death of Jesus, Gentile men could join and not have to be circumcised. There was also no need of a temple and its priests to absolve people of their sins, because "Jesus died for our sins."

In the oral culture of the time there were two elements, "Fact" and "Truth." Fact was not as important as Truth. Truth was the tradition. For example, there was no massacre of first born sons during the early childhood of Jesus. Another example is that Pontius Pilate didn't have the exchange with the crowd of Jews, where the Jews took responsibility for killing Jesus. Paul had to absolve the Romans of guilt for Jesus' death, since he was preaching in a Roman world. After 70 A.D., the generation of non-Jewish followers of Christianity outnumbered the Jewish Christians. It made more sense for Paul to blame the Jews for Jesus's death.

There are other sources that point to other possible historical interpretations of Jesus's life. In the book, How Jesus Became God there is a reference to a papyrus document that mentions that Jesus had a wife.

Before Paul, Judaism and Christianity was only for Jews. The Jews held that they were chosen by God and that infuriated the non-Jews around them.

Another non-truth shows that Jesus was not truly from the House of David. His father Joseph was from the House of David. Jesus was considered at the time to be the illegitimate son of Mary, which would make him a person of ridicule, so his lineage was marked from Joseph's family.

We discussed how some of the issues over which people are currently fighting in the Middle East sound very similar to the issues in Jesus's time, such as power and religious zealotry.

Aslan pointed out that Jesus was in fact a zealot. His Palm Sunday ride into town on a donkey was actually provoking the establishment to retribution. It was a revolutionary act of rebellion, because at that time only Kings rode donkey's in processions. He rode into town with the trappings of a King! It was, therefore, an overt threat to the system.

It was pointed out that if you take all the writings from the Bible attributed to James, Jesus's brother, it amounts to the total of three pages and those pages show the Jesus we would most likely want to know.

One member of our group, who is Hindu, described the evolution of Hindu stories and how they have also changed over time to reflect what people needed to hear to understand reality in the light of belief. She said there are 400 basic Hindu stories that have all changed over time. We can see that the stories about Jesus also changed.

The writer, Alan Dundee, says there are 22 things that make a hero and Jesus has 19 of them, virgin birth, miracles, etc.

We all thought this book was thought provoking and certainly had a new take on the story of Jesus, that he was a Zealot and a candidate to be the King of Jews.

It was Jesus' followers who witnessed his resurrection and the believers of that event, which in turn made the religion expand. Paul's letters all over the new Christian world unified those beliefs among the new followers with gentile origins.

St. Stephan declared that Jesus was the Son of Man while Stephan was being martyred, in effect saying that Jesus of the actual Son of God, equal to God!

That belief was made official when Emperor Constantine, a few hundred years later, called for the Bishops of Rome to make a unified decision on the beliefs of Christianity, hence the creation of the Nician Creed and throwing out of the Bible books which were controversial or did not mesh with what the group at that time believed. This paved the way for the persecutions of heresy and for future rules about what to believe.

We discussed a very popular book that came out in the 1970s that a few of us read at that time, called The Passover Plot, which is by a Jewish Rabbi explaining what he thought of Jesus. There were some correlations Zealot. I recommend trying that one, also, if you liked Zealot.

What a ride! We had a hard time leaving after our discussion. It was truly exciting to share with others how this book affected us.

Our discussion leader emailed an addendum of points she forgot to make that night. She said that Aslan made these points during some fascinating interviews she found online on YouTube. She said:

"I remember some questions that were asked about what Reza Aslan's wish was for the people who read his book. Aslan stated that "faith" and "history" are two separate ways of knowing something. Faith concerns what is *possible* and History concerns what is *likely.* The Jesus of history became more relatable to Aslan than the Christ of faith, so he stopped "believing in the creed." He said that people have a choice of how they can view Jesus.

Aslan also said that his book attempts to reveal the historical Jesus to provide a sense of who Jesus was and why he was perhaps the most important man who ever lived. Aslan tried to peel back the layers of myth, interpretation, legend, dogma, theology and doctrine that have been placed upon Jesus for millennia. He said that Biblical scholars already know the information he presents in his book.

Aslan said that religion is far more a matter of identity than a matter of beliefs and practices. Living in revolutionary Iran showed him the power of religion and how it can transform a society for good or bad. He stated that after studying the religions of the world it is hard to take any one religion seriously. He said that it's not that Islam is true and correct and other religions are not true, but the language of Islam feels more comfortable to him."

We liked this history, which often read like a novel. We recommend it to anyone interested in a new view of the life of Jesus.

Happy Reading!

Lakeview Book Club Update: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The seven off us, including new member liked the book, even if it wasn't our typical type of book we usually choose to read. Not everyone finished it. A few thought it slowed down in the middle. We all found parts that made us really laugh, some of us more than others. There was a great deal of laughter during the meeting as we discussed some of the sillier and surprising elements.
One member thought the plot was predictable and the humor was because of the way the events were described. That member noted that the translator had to have been exceptionally good.
We wondered if Jonas Jonasson was really that funny in real life. (I figure he has to be.)
Mr. Jonasson, born in 1961, was a journalist who at one time owned a large publication, which he sold so he could write his novel. This novel has been made into a movie. OPL does not own it. I'll have to recommend it. He is currently writing another novel called An Alphabet Who Knew How to Count (the working title).
Here is an interview in English (the titles are in German) with the author:
We went around the circle and talked about what we liked and what we didn't like, but mostly we just mentioned the parts that made us laugh.
There was a difference of opinion as to whether our hero, Allan, had knowingly stolen the suitcase of money.
Many loved the historical parts, which made us question if anything remotely like what was described actually happened.
We talked about how many people from other countries know more about our history than many Americans. We think that Mr. Jonasson really knows his history.
We read some sections aloud to each other and laughed all over again.
Some elements we really liked:
Allan walking out in slippers and taking the suitcase, because the man at the bus station had greasy hair and was rude.
The elephant sitting on the car and squashing the bad guy.
The coven of characters explaining to the police what "really" happened and Beauty feigning innocent ears and an aversion to salty language (she cussed a blue streak).
The Bibles were the solution.
The strange other deaths of the bad the freezer, etc.
The attribution of the "death" smell on the railroad push cart to the 100-Year-Old Man, who, after all, while not actually dead, had to be very near to death due to his age.
The body in the barrel being "alive," because his jewelry and identification resurrected in Djibouti.
The drinking bouts with Stalin and Truman.
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek manipulating the Chinese debacle
The escape from Russia through Korea
Allan giving the solution to building the atom bomb.
That the final group of Allen's followers consisted of police, bad guys, quirky friends and an elephant.
Allan marrying Einstein's dumber bother's Philippino wife, who was beautiful and not bright, but became the country's leader.
We liked that he escaped "the home," and thought the description of the home's administrator Alice was really good.
While this book was not not everyone's cup of tea, we all got a few good laughs out of it. Many of us got way more than that.
I'm waiting for his next book.
Happy Reading!

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, Notes from the Lakeview Book Club

We started with a few interesting facts about Thomas Hardy, who like the "Native" in his novel, loved his "heath" wilderness and rual community more than any other place he could choose to live. Hardy has said that he never wanted to grow up. He wanted to stay in the world he lived in when he was 6 years old. Many can relate to that from time to time.

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and died in 1928. He lived 88 years! During those years life changed drastically in his world, with major industrialization, the changes brought to rural life. The major big thinkers, Freud, Marx, Darwin, Einstein changed the world. Two major authors of his time were Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
For a person who loved his roots, his wilderness, his neighbors, the outside world was alien to him. This was a theme in this wonderful classic. Hardy's wife was probably very much like Eustasia, strong willed, beautiful and someone who did not like the world Hardy chose.
When the public did not embrace his novels the way he wished, he switched to poetry. In this novel, in a footnote, at the end, he even complains bitterly that he did not want to make a happy ending. It didn't fit the story. The publishers insisted, because of public pressure from the serialization of this novel in magazines before it was published in novel form.
The Return of the Native is really a tragedy. Hardy is often compared to Shakespeare, and surely the complexity of this tragedy has Shakespearean elements.
There was quite a range of opinions on this title. A few of us loved it from the start and charged through savoring the language, the descriptions of nature, the characterizations, the surprising plot, the strange "happy" ending. Others never really got into it, finding the language arcane and difficult, the dialects hard to embrace, the characters in some respects one-sided and the combination of all of that made a few not finish it.
There was another set of members within our group, who found it difficult to get into, but then found it very rewarding, liking what ones who loved it savored. We noted that Hardy included comments that were of current events and past history that readers of that era and some now might not know, unless highly educated. Many of us were googling words and we had never heard before. Several of us looked up furse, which are reedy bushes, which the poor people cut to burn for fuel. We commented how Hardy pointed out the class differences, mentioning that wealthy people could burn hard wood! We saw Clym descend into poverty and how he embraced it. Hardy obviously loved his poverty class friends, using their own dialect in the novel. One member of our group actually got the Cliff Notes so she could understand what they were saying! That's dedication!
A few never got into it. They thought the characters were unsympathetic or unengaging. They also could not relate to the plot.
Part of the difficulty of understanding the plot and decisions the characters made was that these decisions were set in Victorian times. Scandal was just an easy mistake about the timing of a marriage or who spends time with whom. We compared it to The House of Mirth which also focused on the tragedy of decisions made against the norm.
We were asked to name our favorite character. For several of us it was the Heath, an ocean of nature that changed from nurturing and lush to cold or extremely hot and deadly. The Heath changed as the story changed, mysterious, sensual, harsh, unforgiving, beautiful and loving.
We also mentioned the Aunt as a strong attractive character. A few wondered at her changing her mind over Thomasin's wedding and her son, Clym's wedding after making strong objections. We thought, after discussing it, that is was indeed believable for the aunt to forgive them. It was the dichotomy of Victorian rules versus a mother's love, with mother's love eventually winning.
Most of us liked Eustasia, even though she was selfish, convinced of her beauty, arrogant and alienated from the community. She was REAL! She was foolish! She was smart. She was young! She was driven by boredom and a dream of Paris and all that entailed. She thought Clym would take her away from the "backwater" world! She thought she could change him, in spite of Clym telling her he would not go back to Paris. We thought that if she could have gone to Paris on her own, which she was planning, that she would have succeeded. She was driven! Though she didn't have the freedom modern women have, she would probably have found a rich husband or sponsor to keep her in style.
We commented that all of the characters lived in their heads and did not understand the motives of the people around them. Hardy has fatalism and desolation in his novels.
All of us liked the Reddleman, Diggery! His was a mysterious role of changing the destinies of the people around him. He recouped the gambling debt, he protected the niece and the aunt's servant and he did it all in secret.
It was pointed out that drama has three elements: Time, Place and Action. For this novel the time was exactly one year, the place was the mysterious/murderous and beautiful heath and action was the many disastrous decisions our main characters made.
We wanted to know what the underlying theme was. One member said it was, "We have little control over the world. We are delusional!" We agreed that this was the theme and we agreed it was true!
We thought the death scene was very dramatic. One wonders if the Hardy's rural community had a waterfall driven whirlpool who claimed lovers.
Another thought she felt the same about The Return of the Native now as she did when she read it as an undergraduate. Other classics, she finds different, such as The Leopard by Giuseppi Di Lampedusa, which is written about what is lost when society changes. Di Lampedusa was at the end of a long rich life, full of war and many harsh changes. Hardy was 38 when Return of the Native was published. It has a younger person's sensibility and focus on mismatched love.
We ended with commenting about how the happy conclusion had the wedding and a carriage driver hired from a larger community who wanted to know after seen the poverty of the area, "Why do you want to live here?" For some of us we understood that this stark rural community had everything anyone would want, friends, relatives, drama, beauty and peace. Who would want more? Maybe Eustasia.
Happy Reading!

Shipping News by Annie Proulx, Notes from the Lakeview Book Club

First A Little About Annie Proulx:

She was born August 22, 1935 in Connecticut, Educated in history in Vermont and currently lives in Wyoming.

She won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Shipping News. She won PEN/Faulkner Award for her first novel, Postcards. She is the first woman to win the PEN/Faulkner Award!

A free spirit, she has divorced three times and has raised alone her three sons and one daughter. She lived many years in small towns in Vermont.

Most of her writing has been nonfiction. She has written both short and long nonfiction. Her controversial and critically acclaimed novella Brokeback Mountain was both a book and a film.

What we thought:

Like The Return of the Native, The Shipping News has “Nature” as a major character. Annie Proulx did a great amount of research, living many times in Newfoundland for months at a time. This showed in the exquisite details of the beauty of that stark, lonely, bleak and transcendent world. From the sparkling water shining as with diamonds at a glowing rainbow sunset, to slate gray, storm-tossed seas hiding its victims! Her knowledge of the details of boats, shipping, fishing and everything related to the ocean community enriched every part of her work.

Our group seemed to universally like or LOVE this book. Some had read it more than once and still really liked it the second time. The only negative comments were about the writing style, which sometimes had sentence fragments or long, run-on sentences. Others disagreed, thinking that these style “rule-breakers” enhanced the rhythm and texture of the narrative. Others didn’t even notice the unconventional style.

A few of us commented that, at first, the main character, Quoyle, his abused early life, his willingness to take abuse, his lack of confidence, made him very unsympathetic. A few wondered about reading on, but kept at it, then, it all changed!

Petal's violent death, his kidnapped very young daughters' close encounter with possible sex slavery, the joint suicide of his parents, the hostile rejection of his brother, and job loss, suddenly thrust our kind, loving, sweet-natured anti-hero into chaos with no future......that is, until his Aunt showed up for the funeral.

His Aunt's down-to-earth sense of reality and belief in redemption from adversity, led them to Newfoundland to try a new life in the harsh sea town, in the ancestral home which was filled with specters of Quoyle ancestors’ century long secrets.

What transpired there was amazing. While still afflicted with hardship, gradually all the characters transformed! The readers could barely see the changes as they occurred. We loved how Annie Proulx pitted each character's weakness, including the peripheral characters, against what that character hated or feared most. Quoyle wrote The Shipping News and he was afraid of water and hated boats. One man, abused as a child, wrote of the local sex crimes. An old bachelor wrote about home decorating and cleaning tips.

We loved the chapter headings from The Ashley Book of Knots. They were symbolic clues of the developments in the coming chapter. We loved the names! Each was such a unique Dickensian invention. Humor was evident throughout, but subtle. We would find ourselves chuckling over made-up newspaper headlines, then immediately pulled back into the plot.

One theme was sexual identity and sexual deviance. Our homegrown newspaper contained all the stories of incest and other sexual abuse they could find. The Aunt, a major character, whose actions saved them all, kept her same-sex relationships secret.

In fact, we loved all the characters, except maybe Petal, the evil wife of Quoyle, who was dispatched by the author early in the book. Without Petal, Quoyle would never have grown. This proves that all adversity, at least adversity in novels, is there for a reason. :>

All the characters were quirky, strong in their own way, honorable, likeable, solid and interesting. We tried to see if we could think of any other novel where all the characters were so engaging and strangely weird and wonderful! One member of our group mentioned Kent Haruf's Plainsong. We all agreed.

We loved the intensity of the dangerous and suspenseful scenes, such as the cheap speedboat capsizing and Guy Quoyle almost drowning, and also, the wind-storm blowing away the ancestral home. We even really liked the historical description of the pirate, inbred family of Quoyles pulling their enormous house across the frozen bay with the angry jeering villagers pursuing! What an image!

We loved the drunken "good-bye" party that destroyed one newspaperman’s trailer home and sank his hand crafted solid boat, which prevented him (temporarily) from leaving. He was loved THAT much!

We noted the themes of the changing economy and even global warming! This book was written long before global warming was widely discussed. Proulx talked of government changes that directly put people out of work, then started companies to rescue those out of work. Those new companies then immediately failed due to poor planning. In contrast the locals found ways to continue in smaller ways, helping each other and still satisfying their deep love of the sea. This was how the newspaper was started!

Bunny, Quoyle’s older daughter, was understandably emotionally disturbed after her trials. She was also "sensitive" to the strangeness of the past and the current mysterious events around her, (the white dog, the dream of the house flying away) yet she slowly and quietly evolved into a normal child. We loved that.

Quoyle's and Wave's transformation from passive, ungainly people into leaders in the community and into confident lovers was so gratifying to the reader. They both clung to loving memories of their deceased spouses only to reveal to each other later that both spouses were cheaters and abusers!

We talked about the scene at the end of the book where Quoyle, after achieving success in his community and acquiring the true love of his life, examines himself in a mirror after a shower. Approaching middle age, his stomach protruding, a loaf of a man, tall, heavy, with tree trunk legs, facial features grouped in the center of his face, thick red hair all over, Quoyle realized he was probably at his prime and he liked what he saw! It was a redemptive moment making the reader smile and almost bringing out happy tears.

We liked the end, which affirmed that winds called by magic knots can blow evil away, the dead can rise again and most importantly, true love can come gradually without obsession and pain.

Annie Proulx deserved her prizes for The Shipping News!