Elephantastic Heroes

January 2017 @ Karen S’s with everyone but Karen C. (she’ll be back!)
Snow earlier today, but no major storm. A variation on the Storm Theme of recent years.

Neighborly News:  Hardware City closing in March (maybe Strosniders coming); Town Planning for empty gas station & Savannah’s = zippo; so many fails at the Frankly Pizza site (but it’s holding); Dish & Dram = new winner (3 pm Happy Hour->KP Moms can hang to 4:15 then meet the bus)

Sue:  GRAND BABY GIRL DUE IN JUNE! So fun!
Kitty:  Madeline getting MARRIED June 10 @ JP + Union Station Party
Choosing last names – who, how, why???
Aging well:  Mary’s mom (99), Sue’s aunt (98)

THE BOOK:  Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke

Katie picked it because:
– craving nonfiction
– loves elephants
– despite being wary of yet another WWII theme/setting, this was so unique >> risked it

 

  • we underestimated elephants before this book (or at least Asians)
  • we want it to be a movie!
  • some patches of writing were ‘fact listing’ and the start was a bit slow while the end seemed a bit rushed – perhaps the pacing was impacted by whether or not Croke had detailed/extensive primary sources…after all, this is not a novel (though it almost reads as one)
  • SO HEROIC – the people (all of them) and the elephants. Wow.
  • Why so much PR on this being a WWII book? It’s so, so much more.
  • Wife Susan was just so cool in the face of the lifestyle & jungle realities (early training with wacky uncle poppy)
  • curmudgeonly mentor relationship – well wrought & ‘entertaining’
  • the return to England = another fascinating chapter
  • relationship with Burmese elephant handler and the layers of reality/hardship of the handlers = so well handled by Croke
  • Oh-So-British: the teas, the cutlery, the protocols for everything
  • priority:  keep it all streamlined & healthy for the benefit of the ELEPHANTS
  • relationship between people and elephants = so nicely revealed
  • his running his hands over elephants to analyze/diagnose them was so organic, advanced and impressively right
  • we liked it!

So disappointing to end such a great discussion with The Stupidest Conversation Ever:  Ryan Reynolds/Ryan Gosling, twins or not? [NOT!]

Next Meeting:  Kitty’s / Karen S’s book

2016’s Top Three & 1 El Stinko

…and the top THREE most popular books of 2016 are (drumroll)
[10 total voters]

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks with 6 votes
  2. A Bear, Backpack & Eight Cases of Vodka  with 6 votes (& 1 el stinko)
  3. The Children Act with 5 votes

EL STINKO:  Ten Days in the Hills with a whopping 4

Sometimes Ordinary Means Bleak

November 2016 @ China Gourmet – our big night out!
Shelley, Liz, Mary, Marie, Kitty, & Yours Truly

Pre Chat:  Lots of catching up & empathy on family health issues…some rather TBD (Katie’s dad), some impressively & lightheartedly long-lived (Mary’s mom), and some a bit icky and fortunately short-acting (Liz’s offspring).

Oh, the conundrum of menu narrowing & entrée selection. We prevailed. Deliciously. After the waitress checked on us – oh so nicely – 3x!

Book Talk:  Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger Image result
Shelley picked it by perusing reviews & noting the setting is 1961 (birth year). Impressions & Inputs:

  • some trouble with suspension of disbelief since one 13-year-old boy, Frank, was responsible for so many key decisions that impacted so many people over a long-ish period of time
  • The Bartender’s Tale had charm & grim reality; this was just pretty bleak, overall…it needed more quirky, a few more twists of flat-out crazy, or shots of levity
  • we hated Doyle for good reason
  • we mostly disliked the mom Ruth, too (shallow, selfish, living in the past & rather a stage mom)
  • Jake = very likeable and realistic
  • Nathan’s/Dad’s job as pastor made it reasonable that this family would know so much about so many situations
  • Warren – intriguingly bitter
  • the concept of grace was handled deftly in terms of showing a realistic span of how different people try to live, share, display grace
    • pastor:  ignore/damp down war PTSD; keep calm & carry on
    • Jake:  allowing others to ignore/deride him – to a point; kind to himself
  • also a good job showing poor examples (boyfriend’s parents)

DESSERT:  Thanks to Hege, we had SUPER YUMMY Norwegian chocolate. So thoughtful. AND she sent us ‘Literary Listography – My Reading Life in Lists.’

The first list is My Top 20 Most Beloved Books. So let’s do this…
Leave a comment with your utmost BELOVED BOOK.

Next Meeting:  The Holiday TEA Party @ Liz’s
Sunday, December 11th 2:30-5:30.
Bring bubbly & a smashingly posh & delish nibble to share.

January book:  Katie’s pick tba. Location tba.

Save

Save

Life…It’s Complicated

Bootleg September 2016 @ Viviane’s House – ALL in ATTENDANCE!!!

Daily Life (Chatter)

  • National Book Festival in DC (Liz & Sue): Stephen King, Richard Russo, signings, lines, fun, dinner
  • …AND they bought 3 mom-of-groom dresses (Nordstrom!)
  • Sue’s dress photo (none of the above) – selected by Stacey; gorgeous!!!
  • Mary got a new FLIP phone; she’s so FLEEK
  • Karen S:  June/Glacier; July/Capon Springs, WV; Aug/Canada; Sept/here…slumming
  • Summer not over – humidity remains (Katie happy. Anyone else?)
  • Driving in super heavy rain = bad. Whiteout fog? Worse.
  • Kirstie (Shelley’s int’l worker bee):  Snap Chat Queen of Toronto, among other things
  • Karen S’s boys – all appear to be walking on sunshine

Surreal Life (Deeper Chatter)

  • Katie – updated on Dad (he survived pneumonia; time to address tumor again, soon)
  • Viviane – her sister could leave Venezuela as soon as niece is legal resident of Canada! [more below]

Dinner Conversation – all seated at the lovely table

  • pumpkin ravioli – yum! (it’s STILL not full-on autumn, though)
  • long update on the situation in Venezuela:  disappeared people, stress (but lying about it), hunger, shortages, fear…WTF?
  • recommended reads:  The Emperor of All Maladies (Viviane), Persepolis [graphic novel] (Kitty), The Invoice (Katie)

Book Talk:  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Image result for immortal life of henrietta lacks

Karen Castle picked it because she owned it (from her mom who also recommended it).

  • – it was surreal for Katie to be reading it while seeing the Bromo Seltzer tower & trying to keep Dad alive (cancer, etc.)
  • – so many ethical breeches clear with modern era hindsight!
  • – as much about the Lacks family as the evolution of research ethics and informed consent
  • -Skloot did a masterful job of simplifying but not dumbing down the science
  • – yes, Skloot became part of the story…but thank goodness she did…otherwise the Lacks family could STILL be in the dark about so much
  • – Sue says audio version offers a fantastic interview with Skloot
  • – Deborah’s attitude of ‘don’t take your anger into history’ was impressive and hard to imagine doing, but it’s how she survived and even improved
  • it’d be nice for Hopkins to do something for at least a few Lacks family members (not sure what…but a lecture series does not seem quite enough)
  • – Deborah finding out about her sister!!! Oh. My. Goodness. (and another gift from Skloot & that one doctor)
  • – thank goodness for the researcher who finally showed the Lacks cells to Deb and her bro
  • – Henrietta seemed to really have a special spark (even with ‘revisionist history/glowing memories’); did that actually connect to her super-powered telomeres in her cells???

NEXT BOOK:  The Dinner by Herman Koch (Viviane’s pick)

NEXT MEETING:  October 26 @ Shelley’s House (yes, a Wednesday)

The 10 Days that were 9 3/4 too many…

August 31, 2016 @ Karen C’s with Shelley, Liz, Viviane & yours truly

Chatter:

  • go, Larry Hogan…of course school should start after Labor Day
  • annual oohing and aahing over the fabulous screened in porch
  • Karen C’s new beach house (Bethany)
  • school dances:  0-2 slow dances max (it should be a rule if it isn’t)
  • the VMAs were terrible – no surprise
  • Is cable TV dead (within 3 years)?
  • Can live sports transition from cable/networks?
  • Would you watch golf before or after bowling, poker, pool or bull riding?
  • Olympics: awesome to see; waste of architecture & resources in host cities post games (how to repurpose?); opening ceremonies = overblown; make it stop; March of the Athletes is where it’s at…and the torch lighting, natch.

Our Book:  10 Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley 10 days in the hills by Jane Smiley ~~ Read the first chapter and that was it! Not my kind of book. totally bored me. Closed the book forever.:

Liz picked it because she saw Smiley at Nat’l Book Festival 2015 (fascinating speaker); intrigued by her goal to write a title in each genre/category (tragedy, comedy, satire, a trilogy, etc.) – this was her ‘satire’; Liz owned this book already

  • Smiley lampooned Hollywood, but this was not satire – not witty, not acerbic
  • Smiley seemed to identify very directly with Elena – a distractor to the reader
  • Not a plot, but more like Jane’s political diatribes alternated with sex scenes she thought were needed to keep some readers engaged (through the political parts)
  • We all were so very glad to reach the end.
  • We did enjoy recognizing some of the places being described (those of us who’ve lived there).

Next Meeting:  Viviane’s House (swapping months with Katie) @ 7:15 Sept. 29

Karen C’s pick:  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

 

Vodka & Salt. But no mumus

July 19, 2016 @ Liz’s with all but Karen S. (vacationing!)

CHATTER:

  • Both thanks to Liz:  the new book club drink:  Lemoncello, Blueberry Vodka & Seltzer. Packs a punch AND a blinking light drink cup – Viv’s new favorite accessory
  • Lansdowne Resort – pool, spa, massages, facials; 45 minutes/Leesburg; ask Kitty!
  • Icelandic salt left in the far north (beyond Frederick!); Dresden St. salt (special mix!) replaces & is delightful
  • Mumu vs. Shift Dress/A-line:  mumu swallows up everything from bosoms down; shift is slimming and attractive and comfy

Image result for bear backpack 8 cases vodkaBOOK PICK:  Mary picked A Bear, A Backpack and 8 Crates of Vodka: A Memoir by Lev Golinkin because her Colorado-based book recommending buddy mentioned it a year ago and Mary LOVED it. So despite not being in the library, Mary made it happen!

COMMENTS:

  • catchy title but not really a good match for the book
  • VERY informative about the era, the transition points for families, the cultural changes & strains
  • Liz’s Dad snuck out of Russia – lots of key overlaps for her and this book that were NOT redundant to what she knew/had read
  • Jewish religion vs. ethnicity: striking esp. via the family that had zero knowledge of only a few faith-based traditions (and tried to practice them anyway)
  • VIVID scene:  the passport/final exit…papers, that horrible family who betrayed those behind them in line, burning/hiding the patent info, those (staying) who accompanied them & then returned home
  • The BARON – key role for years; luck/fate/faith???; what if they’d not crossed paths? His guilt as motivator
  • Babushkas as watchers = quite a force!
  • Lev’s mother – real respect and real buck-stops-here power in Russia vs. little traction/lack of English in the US
  • sister:  no looking back; SO ready to be in the US – facility with English quite a boon (& other personality & braininess factors, of course)

ISSUES with the BOOK

  • Lev clearly hits the wall/bottom at some point in early adulthood. Some of us wanted to know a bit more about how/why. Others were fine with that being in the next book (even if we don’t read it/there isn’t one). Did he leave it out because there IS another book or more b/c whatever the issue is/was, it’s too close to write about now?
  • What’s he doing to earn a living? Is writing enough now?
  • A bit of navel gazing (as is normal for memoirs).

OVERALL – Very good storytelling with a convincing ‘young, confused boy’ tone throughout. Good plot/timeline/pace. Nice balance of detail to settings, people, ‘important moments’ and family viewpoints.

Mary’s Dessert:  Apple Charlotte, a Russian apple cake. Yum.

Liz’s Pick for August:  10 Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley

Next Meeting:  August 31 @ Karen C’s

Recommendations:

  1. Souls at Night by Kent Haroof
  2. Wool by Hugh Howie
  3. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

 

Bootleg Backlog

Feb-June 2016:  We skipped ahead/over a few things, but the reading continued throughout…

FEBRUARY 2016:  @ Marie’s (no Viviane or Karen C)
Karen S’s pick:  Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout

  • available in the library (unlike other Strout titles first sought)
  • short enough for the available reading time
  • intrigued by the Congregational church aspect (she grew up in one)

Our Basic Input

  • story/writing so ‘burdened’ = hard to delve into
  • father SO disconnected from daughter = ugh, dark, bleak
  • final redemption was quite nice (and nicely done), but too short/small a portion of the book
  • writing- so clear, so easy to feel/relate to dad’s feelings

MARCH 2016: Eleanor & Park  by Rainbow Rowell (Marie’s pick). Who has notes?

APRIL 2016:  Fortune Smiles, Johnson  (Kitty’s pick). Notes, anyone?

MAY 2016:  No meeting. And yet the world did not come to a screeching halt.

JUNE 2016: @ Mary’s w/Karen S, Kitty, Shelley, Sue, Liz and Katie
Sue’ pick:  That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

  • tried other Russo books, but impending release made them all impossible to check out of the library
  • picked a short, older title from her bookshelf to get that Russo fix

Our Basic Input

  • Russo can turn a phrase!
  • but, this was a steady tone of ‘blah’ and so rather a downer
  • Horrible Mom speaking from the dead = gallows humor & funny; was it really how she was or just his perception? we couldn’t be sure
  • Words to NOT live by:  ‘Can’t afford it. Wouldn’t take it if I was given it.’
  • Russo’s parody/attack of academe (via the parents’ horrible house rental antics and reverse snobbery) was very clever
  • although the way they covered their shame & poverty with hutzpah & brassiness was rather sad in the end
  • 2x yearly they strove for perfection:  Christmas and vacation/summer house; rest of the year was a Hot Mess
  • Sunny & Marguerite served as clear counterpoints for the two kinds of love and relationship that were quite different than Jack & his wife (which was just grin & bear it; missed communication)

Next Meeting – & hopefully more robust notes:  July 19th @ Liz’s

 

It really IS a life and death situation.

Guest blogger:  Mary!
Notes from Bootleg Book club gathering at Karen Schuler’s home, January 19, 2016 (a mere three days before the Snowzilla Event of 2016):
missed Katie’s note taking, had to do with Mary’s mixed up pages

Attending:           Vivianne, Karen S, Karen C, Liz, Shelley, Angelika, Katie, Mary, Marie, Sue

Missing:               Kitty (hope you are feeling better now)

Book: The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan

Appetizers and Chatter:

  • Marie: Robert’s deploying to the Pacific: we are sending him wishes for safe travels
  • Angelika: sharing the tales of the dog watching business: the benefits of daycare dogs vs overnighters, saying yes or no to requests for services and the ramifications, dog clashes
  • Viviane: Daniela is in Hong Kong for the semester. Regimented schedule, 3 week seminar, organizational science and business focus
  • Shelley: brought delicious melted cheese, herb and bread appetizer (YUM), Kirstie’s company opening new office in Toronto (will she go work in the country to our north, eh?)
  • Karen S: All the menfolk were sent to Missoula for skiing with Christopher: holiday for the girls of the house! Making lemonade of lemons: United flights rebooked, had to go through Minneapolis: 6 hour layover enough time for trip to Mall of America! Schuler Men go off book in search of adventure
  • Liz: need more regulation for airlines: they can cancel you and have no responsibilities…
  • Karen C: in anticipating snow storm this weekend (will it be anything or nothing???), Karen books self to leave on Thursday instead of Friday (smart girl) but must travel alone (no hubby for this trip because the idea of leaving grandma with two kids and possibly big snow coming did not seem smart…now into day five of no school for montgomery county…that was the right call)
  • WEATHER: winter storm “Jonas” will it or won’t it…no need to say anymore.

BOOK DISCUSSION:

Viviane’s pick: Why? Recommended by Hege, likes the author Ian McEwan. Initial reaction: liked Atonement better, but once started, wanted to see how it ended. Story interesting.

Most folks had read the whole book.

Liz who didn’t like Atonement, was engaged from page one (points for Viviane!!): amazed that male authors seem to be able to convey what’s in women’s heads so well.

First Topic: the KISS: Mothering concern or romantic? Boundaries crossed? Not know where the line is? Accidental lip to lip? Guilt over kiss drives other decisions? Charged moment?  Oedipal issue?

Conflicts for the judge (Fiona Maye…I realized I forgot her name completely: had to look it up):

  • was Adam Henry the child she never had?
  • Should she not have gone to the hospital to meet the boy Adam? Was she crossing the boundary there? Or was it right that she see for herself his state of mind, as he was so close to being 18 and an adult?
  • Once she made her ruling, which essentially saved Adam’s life, did she have any responsibility to him beyond the ruling? Should she have responded to his attempts to reach her?
  • BIG DISAGREEMENT HERE: (mostly Marie and Mary) over whether the judge should have done more once started to get the letters from Adam: What is role of the judge beyond her ruling.?
    • From a law perspective, she had done her job with her ruling. She did talk to the SW about boy once. Her role in his life stopped there.
    • From a moral perspective, did she owe him more because her ruling had saved his life? The boy’s life unraveled, its religious foundation shaken, and he reached out to the judge. Should she have shared the letters with the boy’s social worker?
    • Was there guilt/embarrassment over the kiss that kept her from doing something more?
  • Separate story: Marital strife: tool to show how Fiona’s work was impacting her life, her marriage. PTSD response to the Siamese twin ruling:
  • Most agree: male author’s perspective: two weeks without sex is long time…
  • Some disagreement: longer book (other characters could be more developed) vs just right length
  • Katie: comments and questions shared after most of group had left:
    • Enjoyed clarity of writing: clinical, under a microscope looking at Fiona’s life
    • Strong intellect: undermined by disconnect with her heart.

Did not cast book. Shared books that we have read and enjoyed:

Liz: Elizabeth the First Wife by Lian Dolan: quality chick lit/not historical fiction

Shelley: Matilda: read first, then saw at the Ken Cen

Viviane: Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

Mary: A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

Marie: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Katie: Gutenberg:  How One Man Remade the World with Words by John Man

Karen C: Gray Mountain by John Grisham, Persuader by Lee Child, Deep Freeze by ??

 

Next book club: Marie’s house. Stay tuned for time/place/book to be picked by Karen Schuler

 

Pandering or Pondering Science

November 2015 @ Viviane’s w/Marie, Shelley, Kitty, Liz, Angelika, Karen C, Karen S, Katie, Brennah! & Vanessa!

CHATTER:  Thanksgiving Recap:  home, parents, beach, non-traffic/no woes (locally); Betsy Silbur got engaged on Veteran’s Day (her b’day). Time to meet the Ohio inlaws-to-be; Big Snows/Storms:  power outages fun or not? abandoned streets = bonus; RULE AMENDMENT:  Bringing supplies/food when you must cancel at the last minute is NOT required when you are ill (contagious…); Updating crockpots>>longer & lower; Ben ill but

BOOK:  The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey
Shelley picked it because Kirstie recommended it based on her book club pick.

  • trendy title/topic; zombies overdone but still semi-likeable
  • any monster would’ve worked
  • themes we noted/liked:  science v. compassion; the value of education; Pandora myth/irony; science of infection; individual sacrifice for/vs. the greater good
  • justice meted out rather well to all main characters without being too pat or overdone
  • cohesive ending…not cheerful, but cohesive
  • some found the plot very murky – not enough clues about the hows and whys of what went wrong (too-fast reading or writing issues?)
  • Dr. Caldwell was a fanatic in the Religion of Science; non-emotional demeanor notwithstanding
  • clues were there like bread crumbs; some clunky reveals
  • whole book trying to convey humans are not good enough = unpalatable to some of us
  • Pandora >>>releasing all the horrors and ‘trapping’ hope? is troubling; original Pandora myth varies from this a bit
  • atonement & redemption in the end = pretty satisfying to readers
  • 2nd half of book moved so much faster – some disliked this, others found it fit the plot (1st – learn the daily routines & setting…later race through the danger)
  • as a zombie story, it’s really quite good

CASTING:  no great consensus except for Glenn Close for Dr. Caldwell
SONG:  Zombie by The Cranberries or End of the World as We Know It by REM

January 2016 pick by Viviane is The Children Act by Ian McEwan

First Impressions & Life Sentences

October 2015 @ Shelley’s House with Liz, Mary, Marie, Viviane, & Yours Truly. (We miss you both Karens, Angelika &  Kitty.)
First Time EVER since 1988:  book selector (Sue) not present (date confusion)…she attended virtually!

Chatter

  • Marine Corps Marathon – Katie ran it the day before; Liz’s Nannie Squad (from days of yore) also was represented..INSPIRING event
  • Mary vs. Seltzer bottle opening:  going to the kitchen ‘Is just too easy.’ One must wait out those dastardly bubbles.
  • Boatright’s Awesome Basement Fix up – who says back ups + asbestos = nothing but bad?
  • Halloween: even from Oslo, Queen of Creepy Decor Hege reigns
  • Whole Foods a.k.a. Whole Paycheck. Nuf said.
  • Did anyone else notice that each time we meet at Shelley’s Kirstie comes home from work with another story about that day’s party?
  • new Bethesda/Rockville shopping mass – not user-friendly! parking? nope. enough stuff open? not really. better, but who is marketing this? do they visit the site or talk to people who have the real-time construction info?

The Book:  The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens Front Cover

Sue picked it because she found it via an Amazon search & it looked good. Sue, Katie, Liz, Mary, Viviane read it all.

  • easy read, nobody thinks they’ll rush to read another Eskens book
  • some of us:  found writing way too simple & characters not very engaging…but, thought there were interesting plot points/’nuggets’ that showed (not fully developed) promise
  • some of us: hated the ‘nuggets’/themes (police procedural, abuse all around), but the writing & some intriguing characters were the factors that kept us going
  • Was the mystery predictable? Kind of. But that didn’t defray the tension of the big scenes.

No casting – we just weren’t feeling it. But the character Gary Sinise played in Forest Gump could be Carl Iverson.

Song –
Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads
(but not for the character one first may think…)

Sample lyrics:
You start a conversation you can’t even finish it.
You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?