A Book Club Gathering to Propose Next Year’s Reading List

This is a group of Excellent Women.  (That’s what we call ourselves.)  My book club.  My dear friends of dozens of years.  I took my turn this last year as the President and passed that job on to the next this evening.  Every April we meet for dinner and an evening of sharing book recommendations for the coming year.

We met here last night and had a great meal and a great evening.  I served Buddha Bowls (see this post:  https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2022/12/13/buddha-bowls/), Kennedy brought her delicious artisan bread and Cathy made some really fun and decorative desserts.

I should mention that I’ve kept the African decor up after hosting a few African friends and gatherings here this last month.  Next month is my turn to lead the discussion and the book is “Someone Knows My Name,” an Excellent read about an African slave girl’s life from her capture in Sierra Leone (near Mali) to the end of her life.  I’ve already read it twice (it’s that good!).

After our meal, we gathered in the living room for the business part of the evening.  Virginia put together a slide show of pictures of our book club meetings from the last several years.  That was fun.  So many good memories of discussions and retreats and good friendship.

Then we announced the new officers and paid our dues for the coming year before taking turns with our book suggestions.  Everyone can suggest up to 5 books.  We come with our homework done and a form filled in with information about the books we’re suggesting.  We try to keep the ball moving by giving each person about 5 minutes to speak and promote their suggestions.  We all take notes on the books we’d like to read, or not and turn those in as well.

Just for the record, these are the 5 books I suggested this year (the summaries are from Goodreads with my comments below them):

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

Jill Lepore
4,434 ratings 817 reviews
From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians-a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister, whose obscurity and poverty were matched only by her brother’s fame and wealth but who, like him, was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator.

It is a life that has never been examined before: that of the sister of one of the most remarkable men of their time, living unknown to the world at large, but a constant presence and influence in her brother’s life through their correspondence (he wrote more letters to her than to anyone else). Making use of an astonishing cache of little-studied material, including documents, objects, and portraits only just discovered, Jill Lepore brings Jane Franklin to life in a way that illuminates not only this one extraordinary woman but an entire world. Lepore’s life of Jane Franklin, with its strikingly original vantage on Benjamin Franklin, is at once a wholly different account of the founding and one of the great untold stories of American history and letters.

Ann’ review:
I LOVED this book. I loved the writing of a brilliant historian who did her homework. This book spoke to me on every level. I’ve copied so many excerpts from it about writing and recording history from the words Jane and her brother and others who lived in a time long ago and did just that.

I love the idea of our “Remains.” What will we leave behind? How will we be remembered?

“What remains of a life? “Remains” means what remains of the body after death. But remains are also what remains of a person’s body of work. “Literary remains” are unpublished papers. And “remains” can also mean descendants: what remains of the family line.”

“What remains of anyone’s life is what’s kept.

“Sorrows rolled upon Jane Franklin like waves of the sea. She left in their wake these gifts, her remains: needles and pens, letters and books, politics and opinions, this history, this archive, a quiet story of a quiet life of quiet sorrow and quieter beauty.”

“History is what is written and can be found; what isn’t saved is lost, sunken and rotted, eaten by earth.”

A Spool of Blue Thread

Anne Tyler
91,384 ratings 10,431 reviews
Goodreads Choice AwardNominee for Best Fiction (2015)
From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author–now in the fiftieth year of her remarkable career–a brilliantly observed, joyful and wrenching, funny and true new novel that reveals, as only she can, the very nature of a family’s life.
“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.” This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family–their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog–is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red’s father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler’s hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

Ann’s review:
This was not typically my type of book–a current, sort of dysfunctional family, in every day life with problems. But I really enjoyed it–the writing is outstanding. On every page, I felt like I was IN THE ROOM with them, listening to the conversations. Most of the book, I realized without thinking about it, is dialogue and narrative between family members. The details are amazing. Honestly, I felt like I was Right There with them. I love that the author felt invisible to me and that her words so effortlessly seemed to create the world I stepped into. How do you write like that??? Bravo, Anne Tyler. Well done. Thank you.

A.D. Chronicles #1 (There are 12 books in the series. I’ve read and loved each one.)
First Light

Bodie Thoene
3,371 ratings 250 reviews

Go back in time to first-century Jerusalem. It’s a dark time in the world’s holiest and most turbulent city. Walk with Peniel, the blind beggar who longs for rescue from his suffering. Peek into the lives of Susannah and Manaen, two lovers separated by overwhelming odds. And meet an unusual healer, who ignites a spark of controversy in the fire of hatred, deceit, and betrayal that is always burning in this ancient city. This first book in the A.D. Chronicles series will bring you face-to-face with the man called Yeshua.

Ann’s review:
I’m happy to have access to this series on my device over here in Mali, West Africa. It’s good reading. I love Biblical historical fiction and this series so far has been great. I feel like I am seeing the world I’m reading about out my window here. Not much has changed in this place. I have stepped back in time. The Thoenes are master story tellers.

I went on to read all 12 books, one after then next. I Really enjoyed them. The writing is great, the stories are inspiring, and seeing Jesus through the eyes of those around him was wonderful. Each book shows different New Testament stories through the eyes of different people in the NT. These would be a great read in this Come Follow Me NT year!

The Sound of Gravel

Ruth Wariner
46,090 ratings 5,222 reviews
Goodreads Choice AwardNominee for Best Memoir & Autobiography (2016)
A riveting, deeply affecting true story of one girl’s coming-of-age in a polygamist family.

RUTH WARINER was the thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children. Growing up on a farm in rural Mexico, where authorities turn a blind eye to the practices of her community, Ruth lives in a ramshackle house without indoor plumbing or electricity. At church, preachers teach that God will punish the wicked by destroying the world and that women can only ascend to Heaven by entering into polygamous marriages and giving birth to as many children as possible. After Ruth’s father—the man who had been the founding prophet of the colony—is brutally murdered by his brother in a bid for church power, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife of another faithful congregant.

In need of government assistance and supplemental income, Ruth and her siblings are carted back and forth between Mexico and the United States, where Ruth’s mother collects welfare and her stepfather works a variety of odd jobs. Ruth comes to love the time she spends in the States, realizing that perhaps the community into which she was born is not the right one for her. As she begins to doubt her family’s beliefs and question her mother’s choices, she struggles to balance her fierce love for her siblings with her determination to forge a better life for herself.

Recounted from the innocent and hopeful perspective of a child, The Sound of Gravel is the remarkable memoir of one girl’s fight for peace and love. This is an intimate, gripping tale of triumph, courage, and resilience.

Ann’s review:
I read this in one sitting. Riveting. Heartbreaking. Astounding.
I’d put this on the same shelf as The Glass Castle, Zippy, Escape and Educated.
It’s amazing to me to see how evil can grab onto religion and twist it to pieces.
Ruth Wariner shows us those pieces up close.
I’m so glad she was able to escape to a more normal world.
This memoir was well-written, up close and personal.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Amy Krouse Rosenthal
6,511 ratings 1,157 reviews
If you’re looking for quotes from newspapers and magazines, NPR, book reviews, endorsements from thousands of readers and bloggers, google Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and just see for yourself how people everywhere are responding to this book.

In Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal has ingeniously adapted the centuries-old format of the encyclopedia to convey the accumulated knowledge of her lifetime in a poignant, wise, often funny, fully realized memoir. Using mostly short entries organized from A to Z, many of which are cross-referenced, Rosenthal captures in wonderful and episodic detail the moments, observations, and emotions that comprise a contemporary life. Start anywhere—preferably at the beginning—and see how one young woman’s alphabetized existence can open up and define the world in new and unexpected ways.

An ordinary life, perhaps, but an extraordinary book.

To get a true sense of the book, I have to spend a minute inside. I’ll glance at the first couple pages, then flip to the middle, see if the language matches me somehow. It’s like dating, only with sentences. Some sentences, no matter how well-dressed or nice, just don’t do it for me. Others I click with instantly. It could be something as simple yet weirdly potent as a single word choice (tangerine). We’re meant to be, that sentence and me. And when it happens, you just know.

240 pages, Paperback
First published January 25, 2005

Ann’s review:
I’ve just read this book for a second time, having read it 8 years ago. I’ve never forgotten it and loved reading it again. This memoir speaks to me and helps me see and appreciate the importance of words and capturing impressions and ideas. I had no idea Amy Rosenthal had died. I went to see what else she’s written since this book and learned she died of cancer in 2017 at age 52. I felt like a carpet was pulled out from under me, like I’d lost a friend.
Amy left us with a gift, a way of seeing the world through her eyes. Most valuable to me is the idea that I can do the same and my words are of value too. I love the idea of organized random thoughts that expose one’s heart. I want to do more of this kind of writing. Thank you, Amy.

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