Category Archives: book club

Just Being Neighborly?

June 28th Meeting @ Mary’s w/Shelley, Marie, Karen S, Karen C (!), Marty, Liz, Yours Truly; Viv – NYC, Sue – FL, Kitty – MIA (not Miami), Rose (family issue)

MAJOR NEWS:  Marie is going to have a grandson in November! Robert and Brittany got (so, so quietly per their preference) married in the spring. Marie has known all this since the last meeting but remained ‘mum.’  Her Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Philosophy of Parenting kept her silently rejoicing until the Happy Couple gave the green light to share. Congratulations, all! So much HAPPY!!!

Karen C’s Volunteer Management Technique (based on the Kill Them with Kindness School of Life):  Context is swim team pep rallies; applicable elsewhere. Ahem:
“Oh, so you’d like us to have weekly pep rallies? Well, I think that’s a great idea… So, next year when you’re in charge of everything, you can incorporate that into the calendar and then manage it. Won’t that be great?  …Oh? You work and can’t do any of it? Well, I work, too, and so we’re doing it this way now.”

Vacation Plan Recaps:  Many of us beaching it at some point. Marty may win on mileage and variety:  Maine, midwest (?), and somewhere in the Rockies.

Wedding Wars:  still not enough love in Rhode Island (see earlier posts); mega strategizing required for Philly (but peace abounds, esp. if you ask Shelley’s Ron how it’s all going); apparently Mary & Katie are hosting a bridal shower for a friend’s daughter  (but does that bride know?)

This rarely happens, but Yours Truly has drawn a blank:  Some sort of hilarity ensued during dinner. Something about body parts as labels/symbols for some odd behavior??? Anyway, [insert what we all were laughing about here] then tell me (e.g. comment) the details. Sheesh…

All significant others doing fine. See above for the major news (Marie!).

THE BOOK Our Souls at Night cover

Marie picked Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf because it’s short (suits our compacted reading time), the writing style (clear, economical, revealing, lovely), and she likes the author.

Our comments:

  • We all read it and liked it.
  • Agreed with Marie on writing style. Liz added that it was ‘about nothing,’ yet a scene about making sandwiches was so revealing of setting, time, and character. And a bunch of those sorta nothing scenes added up until big things happen or change. Kind of like life.
  • Haruf’s last book; pretty sure he knew he was dying. So, did some of this experience directly tinge the darker/moodier elements of this story? How could it not?
  • Why sleeping (literally) together? Why not early evening company, the time when you’d normally have reconnected with a spouse. Esp. given that sleeping habits (or insomnia, apnea, etc.) can be so disruptive to self, let alone a bed mate. Clearly, this peaceful co-sleeping was the fictional part of the story…
  • Lovely elements and tone, but overall left a bitter taste. Addie had found a way to live how she wished with Louis (and vice versa), then her independence ends up getting undermined once again by her son’s needs and in ‘defense’ of her relationship with her grandson.
  • Most of us concurred that omitting the son from the story would’ve been quite nice. Would it have had enough tension to be a published story? Probably not.
  • Why the gossip? Why did folks in small town Holt even care? Some of us quickly got that it was ‘the order of things’ that triggered the gossip. Others just did not see the point of anyone caring. A few suggested variations on the idea that nobody was really all that upset, but it was an odd relationship and it was fun/juicy to natter about it a bit. Those who had 1:1 interactions with Addie and/or Louis ended up being fine to fantastic about it. Except the son.
  • We weren’t unsympathetic to the son’s background, but he was stuck in a child’s mindset and was punishing everyone around him with not-so-passive aggression and greed. Jerk.
  • Did Louis deserve to be happy? And why did Addie pick him? The answers interrelate. He came back to his wife; he did what he could to make amends. He was a known commodity and in his current iteration seemed (and then proved) to be a good guy. Example:  seeing the mice, getting the dog. Also, he was right there.
  • Who should play Addie and Louis? Jane Fonda:  minority of strong yeses, more stronger against. Helen Mirren – better in so many ways and her cheek bones are just fine, thanks. Louis:  not Robert Redford, but he’d be better than DeNiro. Paul Newman may be best (but not alive); no clear winner. Well, except that Fonda and Redford were the ones actually cast.

NEXT MEETING:  July 18th is in the running, stand by for final notice. Location to be verified, too. Book is definitely The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.

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Lonely People

May Meeting @ Marie’s (lovely screened-in porch)
New Member Alert:  Welcome, Marty! She meets all the Bootleg Standards of Fabulosity:  charming, bright, well-read, friendly, gorgeous, & (bonus) lives so dang close to the hub
Also:  Viviane, Shelley, Liz, Rose, Mary, Karen S, & Yours Truly (missed you KC & SW)

GENERAL CHATTER

Yours Truly was stuck in another meeting and missed the first ~30 minutes. Sigh. Also, there were a lot of mini chats sprinkled about. Not against the rules during the non-book talk part of the evening, but hard to track.

Shelley’s Tyler is having ALL the weddings – so many details on the impending Philly Vow-palooza (gotta fit in all the USA and Chinese culture options). We all chimed in (shocker) with questions and options which shifted a bit into some interesting and varied considerations of faith-based (or not), traditional (or not) ceremony options.

Karen is having so many ‘He’s ALL MINE!!!’ days & nights – where He is the fabulous grandson. He is cute & photogenic (she has that proof…just keep swiping right!). He is fun. He is a delight. He is hilarious. He is just the BEST. CeCe is fine & dandy, too –  she’s not yet fully, fully animated, yet. Also a PSA:  overnight babysitting can be tough on grandpas. They forget who is at which house & for how long.

Everyone still connected with school is happy it’s winding down. Albeit so sloooowly…

Garden Tidbits – what’s blooming well; who covets what varieties; weeds, weeds, weeds; Marie’s yard (front and back) looks really great (so much work turned out so well)

Kitchen Klatching – Marie and her kitchen helpers were doing some non-stop nattering about apparently very engaging topics, but the porch denizens only heard tones not actual words. Funky/fun playlist ran audible interference, too.

Dinner – YUM! Sangria (so festive). Spinach pie and salad (so healthy & delish). Lemon-y Delight Dessert  (so delightful & from Viviane’s sister! who’s here! in the USA!)

What did I miss/omit???

THE BOOK:  Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine by Gail Honeyman Eleanor Oliphant

Viviane picked it because it came highly recommended from various sources and wasn’t terribly long. And did she say the promise of something amusing was appealing? (That could be true…just not 100% sure she said it as a reason to pick the book)

  • Opening Gambit:  Was it really ‘incredibly funny’ (as per Reese Witherspoon)? Some said absolutely – so many funny moments & quirky interactions with unique twists. Others said absolutely NOT – Eleanor was suffering & her coping made her the butt of jokes and general confusion/missteps. After several rounds this was distilled to:  it’s very, very clever writing showing a lot of miscues and wry insights. Some moments were genuinely funny (and not cruel), while most were tinged with Eleanor’s pain. DEFINITELY more genuine humor appeared as Eleanor became healthier.
  • We like Raymond! What a good guy. Maybe not the greatest packaging, but a heart of gold without pushing any Get Better, Quick agenda. His mom, too! And how nice Eleanor got to tiptoe into that mix.
  • Loved Sammy as a character as well as the type of family he brought to Eleanor (both his own and as a new member of hers)
  • The make up and clothing sales ladies – they just took Eleanor under their wings and truly helped her. Angels are everywhere!
  • Johnnie Lomond, the singer – what a creep. And he was so clear to all of us with such few words. Using social media/texts to convey him was really clever writing.
  • Who knew that Mom was just in Eleanor’s imagination? Some did early on, others appreciated the impact of the reveal.
  • Did anyone NOT think of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby? We know Honeyman was inspired to write about alone-ness vs. loneliness. Frankly, it’s possible she just listened to this song.
  • What’s everyone’s favorite spelling of Eleanor? Elinore was a very UNfavorite. Other variations each had fans:  Elenore, Eleanore.  Eleonore. Eleonor. Either way, it’s a fun name to nickname: Eli, Ellie, Nora, Nelly, Nell, Ella
  • Throwback:  Brief consideration of who to cast (we used to be SO religious about doing this)

Pro Tip/Fun Note:  Bookcompanion.com does a great job listing chapter-by-chapter book characters and brief descriptions. Here’s the list for this book.

Key Excerpt-as-Theme:

Whenever I’d been sad or upset before, the relevant people in my life would simply call m social worker and I’d be moved somewhere else. Raymond hadn’t phoned anyone or asked an outside agency to intervene. He’d elected to look after me himself. I’d been pondering this, and conclude that there must be some people for whom difficult behavior wasn’t a reason to end their relationship with you. If they like you – and I remembered, Raymond and I had agreed that we were pals now – then, it seemed, they were prepare to maintain contact, even if you were sad, or upset, or behaving in very challenging ways. this was something of a revelation.

I wondered if that’s what it would be like in a family – if you had parents, or a sister, say, who would be there, no matter what. It wasn’t that you could take them for granted, as such – heaven knows, nothing can be taken for granted in this life – it was simply that you would know, almost unthinkingly, that they’d be there if you needed them, no matter how bad things got. … Envy was a minor emotion, however, in comparison to the sorrow I felt at never having a chance to experience this…what was it? Unconditional love, I supposed.      ~Eleanor Oliphant, chapter 28

NEXT MEETING:  7:15 on June 28th @ Mary’s House

Marie’s book:  Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Relative Risks: In laws and Outlaws

April 2019 Meeting – Viviane moved us to the Chinese restaurant (for good reason). And Liz got us a reservation (so back off Hostess – the Supreme Court never showed up nor did any other random group of 9). We were small, but mighty (hungry) at:  Liz, Viviane, Shelley, Marie, Mary, and Katie.

[Yes, we ordered a lot of food/person to appease the Grumpy Hostess]

Monsters-in-Law:  lots and lots and lots of information mostly from one member with marriage-aged offspring (ha! THAT narrows it down for any Snoopy Snoopers) about how egregiously rude in-laws-to-be can be. sigh. and sigh again

Monster Outlaws:  or those who think they’re above the law… more desultory details about a certain international situation AND a bit of hope for mindful, specific, and definitive solutions offered with the right kind of support (not that that’s tricky, or anything…). all the sighs…

And in Relatively Fine News:

  • Marie had a GREAT trip to see Robert and FIANCE in San Diego. Oh, the bliss! Just don’t ask him what his new boat’s name is – that simply is not done, you land-lubbing civilians!
  • Sue is TEARING IT UP on her Pickle Ball Palooza Tour
  • all is on cruise control for the rest of us (who reported in)

BOOK PICK:  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston TheirEyesWereWatchingGod.JPG

Liz picked this book because the one she wanted was not readily available and this was a classic that seemed ripe for no longer avoiding.

  • we liked it, for the most part
  • intrigued by the idea of her escaping (in a writerly, not fleeing manner) to Haiti to write it with great speed
  • interesting to see such a close up view of that era: pre Civil Rights and communities of color were bubbling up; some were booming (some asked:  With such a range of options rooting and growing, was there a better way for this cultural evolution to have been maintained & mainstreamed than the riotous 60s?)
  • Janie’s evolution as a person paralleled aspects of cultural/social history:  abrupt change from child to ‘woman,’ sloooow awareness that things should/could be better, bold jump to change things, appreciation then realization that more options exist and can be acquired, legit freedom/joy with Tea Cake – but also a lot of risk at being able to do pretty much anything
  • ending:  did she ‘murder’ him? mercy kill? is it just how it went down with no time for any thought or intentional reactions? we were split on this
  • ending:  larger context that prejudice existed was cleverly portrayed by how Janie’s case was handled (sort of ‘ignored’) by the law… this acknowledged reality but did not undo Janie’s autonomy at all levels
  • ending:  some of us liked her going back home and retelling with what seemed a solid level of contentment while some of us weren’t sure just how content Janie was
  • diction/writing style/accent:  most of us liked it once we got into it, but it took some getting used to
  • author’s insight:  almost shocking that this was written in ~1938 since it offered almost a post-modern attitude (skipping the ‘we are oppressed victims only’ approach and instead building from the ‘hey, I AM a person and together with people I trust, I will work this out).
  • the lazy friend who stayed in the house and survived the flood, etc. just fine – annoying to read; the scenario it sticks with you, practically shouting (esp. in contrast to Tea Cake’s decision to keep going and then getting bitten) sometimes life is really, really unfair (and ‘unfair’ cuts both ways)
  • Tea Cakes:  heroic? just impulsive? super lucky about a lot until he was super unlucky? truly good for Janie? a closet or future abuser? We weren’t sure how all his accounts would balance had he lived.

May Meeting:  Marie’s house, June 4 @7:15 to discuss Viviane’s pick:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This One’s (Mostly) for the Girls

March 2019 @ Liz’s w/Karen S., Marie, Shelley, Viviane, Rose, Yours Truly (& Meghan)

So. Much. Happy. News!

  • Karen S. is a grandma x 2! (Make that, ‘GK.’ Nope, not for Grandma Karen but for Goal Keeper. Duh.). Anyway – it’s a GIRL!!! WELCOME, Carmelia (CeCe) Alane! Sorry your arrival process was a bit complicated, but you seem quite fantabulous now. Our Pink Shower was a bit surreal for GK, the Surrounded-by-Boys pack leader. The adorable gifts awash in tulle, sparkles, and general pink-tivity triggered mild confusion. She was easily revived by a bit of pink bubbly and a slice of pink-dotted chocolate cake. And btw, hanging with grandbaby #1 (Harvey) is an extreme form of Delight not to be overlooked or underestimated in the joy-producing department.
  • Robert is getting married! Marie is over the moon since the Bride-to-Be is a gem. Dates and other details to follow… Marie didn’t query, just shared her great joy with them. Bonus points:  Robert’s April deployment was cancelled (maybe just delayed?). And for the win:  Now Marie can go see him and Brittany next month.
  • Viviane’s sister is in Miami! She finally agreed to leave her dreadful home circumstances and will eventually join her daughter in The Great White North. Such relief and joy!
  • Of particular importance to Meghan (cough, cough):  our meeting coincided with Meghan’s Half Birthday Eve. She’ll be 24 in Sept. and this milestone has nothing to do with those who may or may not think Liz got old at some point…or didn’t. Also, she’s practically at her one-year dating anniversary (shocking, yes?).
  • Shelley had an amazing time in Miami (so many dancing butts) & Key Largo for the wedding of her best friend’s daughter. Bonus:  Kirstie was in the wedding. Also, Shel now refuses to wear socks again b/c Florida is WARM (who cares if it’s in the 30s right now at home).

Other Things

  • When is the best age to have kids? Will today’s young adults live/be healthy long enough to be active grandparents? What is this Give Me a GrandBaby NOW urge that some report?
  • Is it a Thing that parents and grandparents have lots of issues over (Grand)Baby care? Not in most of our cases, but following parental lead and/or making clear that you are or are NOT the go-to Granny may be best for all in the long run.
  • Middle school meanies and other mistakes of misspent youth (a.k.a. major party faux pas/illegalities). One take-away lesson:  If the cops raid & you are skinny, then hide sideways inside a mink coat in the closet. Shorties, dig under a big pile of laundry. Also an option:  Just don’t do it.
  • Forgiveness is hard but not impossible. It’s also not giving the Meanie your grudging approval. It’s more letting that person be responsible for living with their own self and no longer giving them space/time/energy in your own brain/heart/soul. You don’t have to like the behavior(s) or even hang out with the person to forgive. You just have to let go. Which can be especially hard to do if the Meanie was mean to your offspring! We are such protective lionesses. Or Dragons protecting the home front (yes, that was an Easter Egg for this post!)
  • Another brief infomercial for the Calm app. Some of us swear by it, some skip it, but at least now all are aware of it (well, of those attending or reading this).
  • Sue is not coming back from Florida – good on her for full retirement activity. Kitty is AWOL and we’re guessing that won’t change. So, we’d like to add to the Bootleg roster. Two suggestions:  Sheila C (reader, funny, nice, Cedarbrook member – when did THAT become a requirement?). Marti B (teacher-so-must-be-a-reader, nice, Clearbrook Ln. resident – clearly, we need to maintain our quorum!). Any other suggestions???
  • Vocab time! Today’s Expression with a Horrible Visual is:   ‘You can’t swing a cat around here without hitting a…’ (lawyer, or other very common element/person for the time or location). Funny to discover that it wasn’t just the not-originally-American member who learned this saying just now.

THE BOOK:  A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

History of Dragons

Katie picked it because she:

  • wanted something really different from anything we’d read lately… or ever (would Bootleg tolerate light fantasy???)
  • likes dragons
  • enjoyed the scientific voice and approach; is generally fascinated with the process of new discovery to body of research to ‘common knowledge’ and this story reveals the beginning of that flow
  • liked the ‘historical’ fiction elements
  • was hoping to dig into a ‘worthy’ series

Other Comments

  • overall, really well-liked (all but one read it)
  • reads like Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures (well, plus dragons)
  • Lady Trent/Isabella is a go-getter with fortitude (well, also impulsiveness), but author couches her tendencies with what seem to be quite realistic options for her station and the time period
  • we like Sparklings!
  • fun and clever to see how Isabella’s dad quietly supported her with books
  • what a great thing to have
  • the Meet Cute was quite good – nice that the relationship was rooted in a common passion and recognition of similar acumen
  • Did her husband have to die? Well, the equally-matched-and-she-gets-choices theme was well & fully addressed in Book 1. Also, would she really have become the Lifetime Adventurer if her traditional marriage were in place?
  • we liked the relationship with her ‘lady’s maid’ (sorry, not sorry); it got better & deeper for good reasons, but never lost its salty-appealing edge
  • Memoir elements we liked:  the meta of what certain things met…hindsight added depth; the ‘Easter egg’ foreshadowing (by looking back, actually) of other adventures to be covered in other books; the awareness that her understanding of cultures/demographics, dragons, & adventuring were much more mature as the older memoir writer than at the time of the actual events (e.g. reading journals from her time in Eriga would reveal horrible naivte/bias against the residents)
  • Lots of weird words! Did Brennan have to make up so many & then just leave them in one place? David says YES – it’s called World Building, Liz! AND, Stephen King says it’s a good thing (On Writing – such a great book). Some of us enjoyed looking up words that were real yet unfamiliar (e.g. boyar). Others liked how some words (e.g. boyar) revealed the Russian-like roots of Eriga. Others of us (ok, just one) declared that if it was an unknown word, that meant it was a made up word. Ok.
  • The treatment of the dragons was hard. Yet it was a realistic approach to how a lot of natural science was first discovered/addressed. Also, it revealed some cool ways that dragons work in this world. Here’s hoping better understanding & treatment of dragons comes quickly in the series.
  • Smugglers as eco-upsetters was an interesting layer. There could’ve been enough just in getting to know the dragons as a Lady Adventurer. Yet, this smuggling ring brought in local/regional politics as well as a more intricate puzzle and some spurts of page-turning drama.
  • Pacing was a bit off for some of our liking. Slow, steady stuff then bam! bam! bam! A series of Big Deal stuff. This does not seem uncommon in fiction.
  • Marie bought a copy and donated to the NIH Patient Library. She’ll also get book 2, and maybe more. Now that is a ringing endorsement!
  • At least a few of us will read the series. Book 2 is rumored to be Sophomore Slump-ish, but 3 picks up apace. [Btw, how dare JK Rowling make prequel 2, Fantastic Beasts:  The Crimes of Grindelwald simply a bridge between prequels 1 & 3? Ugh.]

April Meeting:  date & location TBA (Liz must check who’s hosting)

April Book:  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Wor(l)dly Wise

February 2019 @ Katie’s House with everyone but Sue and Karen C. (Kitty>>hiatus)
Our pick-from-a-hat selection was A Gentleman in Moscow:  A Novel by Amor Towles

Gentleman in Moscow cover

 

Shelley had put the name in the hat. Many others intended to read it anyway, so  – Yay.

She’s heard/seen good reviews, knew his other book was quite good, yada, yada, yada.

We learned some new words and phrases and other things while reading and discussing. Here’s a quick review of the newest terms in the Bootleg lexicon (in no particular order):

 

triumvirate – 1. vodka, caviar, & borscht (up there as one of the most on-point Bootleg menus ever!); 2. the true rulers of the Metropol & perhaps Moscow (def. ‘white shadow’ Moscow), our favorite characters in many ways; 3. no openings for any RI-based power trios (sorry, Liz); 4. Insert other samples of household or national governance foibles here (we skipped school-itics, pool-itics, and K-town altogether) – at your own risk.

asymptotically – 1. describing the bell-curve (or mantel clock) shape; 2. when plotting the IQ of Team Metropol, most would be plotted quite high and narrowly to the middle of this curve; 3. ditto for the research, literary acumen, and deft understatements to convey personal drama and sweeping historical change as done by Amor Towles; 4. also see geometry (not geography)

understatement – 1. probably should be Alexander Rostov’s middle name; 2. word efficiency that one would think could do great disservice to the rise of Stalin, suicidal actions, tests of will on all scale, loyalty, massive social change, dark undercurrents, blatant injustice, wrenching losses, trust… but in this case, one would be wrong; 3. nice contrast with blurts and bombast of party officials as well as Misha’s unparalleled passion for proletariat patriotism, poetry and pacing.

denizen – 1. citizen/comrade; 2. Former Person; resident of the shadow Metropol…thanks to Nina, risk-taking staff, and a whole lotta gold Catherines in the desk legs; Bootleg member who listens, cares, laughs, holds high standards (yes, in this case we’re looking at you…fondly, Viviane), & knows just when to fill in with the drinks, apps, dessert, salads, bread or other – month after month and year after year.

calm – 1. how one must appear after racing up the back stairs to be seated and reading in anticipation of another’s arrival; 2. the reader’s attitude in order to finish and enjoy this very long, very Russian tome; 3. Rose’s get-to-sleep story, sound, and get-out-of-my-bedroom, Matthew McConaughey app

zut! – 1. exclamation upon losing a round of the very-engaging and endearing game of threes between Alexander and Sophia (we loved this reveal of so many of their character traits & the cultural context); 2. what one could say within earshot of family members without being overtly offensive so they may – or may not – know they’ve been annoying

borscht – 1. peasant food (sorry, Alexander); 2. sentence heard from first-time borscht maker (Katie):  I did not think my hands would return to a normal color; 3. sentence heard from first-time borscht eater & full-time vegetable hater (Liz):  It’s borscht and I really like it! [Note:  this wasn’t even the meat-version, but the veg-only version!]; 4. sentence heard from other first-time eater (Katie’s daughter): It’s weird. But it was…good.

capricious – 1. given to sudden and unaccountable swings in mood or behavior; 2. synonym:  Russia  (esp. in this time period); 3. some of the plot twists/turns – at times quite slow for many of us (but it’s a Russian novel, people…); 4. some of the suspension of disbelief moments (e.g. the freedom/power of the Triumvirate, that Sophia was allowed to stay, that the escape worked so well, that Osip was able to be in power for so long…so, his apparent nastiness outside of the Metropol didn’t equate with sudden rush to save Sophia with best surgeons, etc.

willowy – 1. slyly-used character marker for Anna because:  a. snobby & strident is how we meet her, b. it also marks the most poignant scenes & shared character development for Anna and Alexander, c. the ending

The Bishop – 1. the perfect imperfect foil, 2. personified USSR’s ugly elements

Sasha, Misha, Anna… – 1. there are only about 7 names in Russian novels; 2. Every Man (well done, Towles…again)

friends overestimate – never underestimate – their friends’ capabilities – 1. one example of many lovely descriptions of truth; 2. and a nod to Montaigne and ‘how to live-isms’ applied as a type of Russian philosophy; 3. aristocratic behavior isn’t all bad

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – 1. Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina; 2. except… Alexander created a unique happiness with a unique family AND he grew to appreciate he was the luckiest man in Moscow; 3. antonym/stark contrast to Misha & Katerina and Nina with her husband in Siberia (unique or at least distinct forms of unhappy misery)

Next Meeting:  March 26th, 7:15 @ Liz’s house.

Next Book:  A Natural History of Dragons:  A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan (Katie’s pick)

American Dreams

January 2019 – Karen S’s cozy Storm Retreat (yes, yet another winter hit on the eve of her hosting date… this time ‘the Polar Vortex’ sent ice, a bit of snow, and single-digit temps) + Marie, Rose, Liz, Shelley, Yours Truly, and…

… New American Citizen (as of 1/23/19) & the finally-anointed Gringa:  Viviane!

Gringas 2019

Champagne, a little gift, a gorgeous cake, and a lovely recap of her prep and swearing-in experiences made for some thoughtful and proud moments. Here’s the gist:
Proud to Be an American (Lee Greenwood version)
Proud to Be an American (Beyoncé version)
And, yes, the links intentionally do reflect that while we Bootleggers all are proud,
there is range and variation to the theme.

Shining Moment of Team Thesaurus-ism:  abjure means renounce, not abhor (phew).

Our other Guest of Honor:  Ellen Prentiss Campbell, author of the Karen S’s January pick, bowl w gold seams campbellThe Bowl with Gold Seams. Karen picked it for its deft treatment of a US-based perspective on the oft-addressed WWII theme, similar in tone to an earlier & popular Bootleg read, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Also, she was able via her ‘literati mom’ to invite Ellen to our meeting.

Comments:

– we thoroughly enjoyed answers/examples for how story content was based on a lot of research of primary sources, contemporary accounts, and archived location details

– we liked the contrast of documentary-bro’s strong advice to interview directly vs. Ellen’s priority on poetic license and preference to maintain her (other) career-long professional standard of maintaining confidentiality regarding personal life stories

– People magazine moments:  getting the inside scoop on some characters e.g. one real-life counterpart was ‘really nasty,’ while another apparently sprang from 2 real-life fathers; yet most all were NOT based on actual people

-parsing out the truth about Bedford, PA was similarly engaging:  yes, there was a prison like that; no, it’s not likely Bedford was a gold-star town; yes, the hotel still exists (newly revitalized)

– The Universe is Cool moment:  much of the setting, tone, and even some actual character and/or plot details have been confirmed post-publication via various ironies or coincidences… including a now long-standing connection with a person who was at Bedford Springs during the time of this novel

– story structure:  the story frame w/prologue of Hazel as headmistress was always intended, first as a device Ellen likes and perhaps later as a way to link the school setting and the hotel setting (as stalwart places facing specific difficulties with no clearly correct solution); some liked that framing device, some stuck with their ‘aversion’ to prologues habit & skipped it, some found knowing Hazel’s future a bit distracting

– we all enjoyed the clear intensity of the novel’s more dramatic scenes; well balanced with explaining the perhaps quieter or undergirding nuances of the daily interactions of the townie vs. outside authority vs. interned people; all this and on the background of doing right/being compassionate/being human

– the familiar geography – schools, roads, DC stuff… fun to recognize and nice that it was so right

– at least one Bootlegger wanted more physical description of Hazel… interesting that Ellen noted she spent so much time speaking/writing as her that apparently ‘self-description’ seemed… immaterial

– we found some of Hazel’s personal relationship behaviors discordant with her Quaker upbringing and professional goals:  maybe her extra-marital affairs spoke to carrying some ‘foxhole behavior’ (past affair) into an ongoing PTSD-like inability to really connect, but it still struck most of us as not ideal (both for her and maybe for us as readers)

– some expected the suicide, others not so much (for the record, it was an intended plot element from early stages)

– some of us felt that Hazel’s decision at the school (accepting the resignation) was a win-win since the school stayed safe while nobody was mud-dragged… others felt it may have been ‘safe’ but it was not any kind of win since every student, staff member, and probably family would know that the difficult student/father had won after all

– some discussion of the creative process:  Ellen’s specifically and other peoples’ or in other media (e.g. Viviane’s painting)

– There was more, but this gets the gist.

Dinner was delish! Karen S. concocted a hearty, creamy miso & veggie soup by merging two recipes. And having a son with wicked-fast chopping skills. Appetizers and sides made for happy tummies. The petite chocolate cake (that deconstructed into ginormous slices) was just as good.

February’s book – picked from a hat – is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

Katie is hosting; date TBA.

 

 

A Light Touch for Heavy Fare

November 2018 @ China Gourmet Restaurant – missing Karen C (last-minute Mom work), Sue (Florida), & Kitty (still on leave).

We blew into the restaurant in shifts (super-blustery day), some enjoying the available hot tea & others getting icier libations. It took a moment, but the music volume was properly dropped & the glass doors to our room were closed. We simply must have the proper environs, after all. A note about the music – the very unique (read:  strange) mix that has been played in years past has been jettisoned for plain old Christmas carols. No dis to carols, but the quirky audio mix was missed by some.

Chatter:

  • Thanksgiving recaps – who fed whom
  • Thanksgiving drama – short version:  NYC rent makes people crazy; medium version:  sisters don’t always make the best roommates since the older pulls rank; moral of the story:  do not rent out an apartment from underneath your rent-paying roommate (& expect that everyone will be fine with it)
  • anyone reading good books? yes, but nobody had major recommendations
  • calm down, everyone – it’s not until the JANUARY meeting that you must bring your Pot Luck Book Pick title for the next selection
  • trip down Memory Lane for early days of Bootleg, including stories of member (or bossy guest) extreme rudeness and related invitations to leave (consider yourself warned)
  • let’s be clear:  a certain service provider on a certain lane is most certainly not doing anything other than providing top-notch service (in varying industries) and anyone thinking said service provider is providing access to anything related to recreational pharmaceuticals would be well-served to think otherwise immediately
  • our typical brag (or worry)-about-your-kids (or grandkids) segment was mostly replaced by selecting items from the menu; it took a while, but we all ate good stuff

THE BOOK:  Rose picked The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah because it was on her list. Make that… List. It was recommended, it seemed good. The Nightingale

Discussion:

  • was anyone surprised by who survived? Not really… Some read and looked for clues all along, others saw the logical conclusion well in advance of the conclusion.
  • several variations of:  “Oh, man…do I want to read another WWII book? Nope.” and then…”Oh, it’s the French story – this insight could be new/good/super-worthwhile.”
  • VERY simple (almost middle grade) structure and theme development.
    • Wild Sister: Meek Sister (both beautiful! which one is our heroine?!? :: Rebel French : Lame French
    • Clearly Good Nazi (he’s handsome! never mind the oxymoron) / Bad Nazi (he’s ugly, he’s fertile)
  • Yet, the language, word count, and esp. treatment of several topics is clearly for the adult reader.
  • So:  K Hannah did a ton of research and wrote in rather trope-heavy ways in order to launch a hefty theme at the ‘casual, chick-lit, beach-read’ audience
  • reminded us of the Jody Picoult of history (as opposed to bio-med law).
  • Some of us wanted more actual history of the French beyond these two sisters and their small networks. No arguments there (but that’s a different audience)
    • e.g. Rose’s hubby would read that version of the book after he finishes Oppenheim’s biography
  • Point:  just keep publishing highly-readable WWII based books because We Can Never Forget.
  • Distinct Contrast:  at least one of us thought the concentration camp scenes were horrible while at least one other thought the scenes were ‘mild’ (as compared to other books not as compared to normal human standards)
  • Marie shared details about the woman who was the real woman who inspired this book, a Belgian countess named Andree de Jongh. Her amazing work in WWII was only a stop-gap of sorts. After WWII she fulfilled her dream of helping lepers in Africa (as a nurse) until retiring to Brussels when older.
  • Was it ‘okay’ that Nightingale got to see her True Love one more time & just in time before expiring? Pretty much. It completed her character (from abandoned to well-met) and it served the intended reader.
  • Jumping to modern era ‘every 200 pages or so’ was a bit jarring (as opposed to written as smooth interludes)
  • Of course the son turned out to be Perfect (angels singing). We didn’t mind that too much, though.
  • How did Weak Sister become so Stone Cold Solid that she never cracked and told family/son any truth (or had destructive behavior to indicate she had issues)?
  • Some of us were impressed by the sisters’ father’s heroics while others saw it a bit more as a convenient plot-turning ploy. It was both. Related point:  his self-sacrifice put the Nightingale in the camps so he didn’t do her any ‘practical’ favors, but the effort mattered b/c it was meaningful to him, the family, and the ‘do right’ message of the story.

The Dessert Rule – a case study

  1. The previous month’s host always brings dessert to the successive meeting. Historically, the frozen turtle pie from Safeway was the default easiest no-brainer for the person who’d sweated out hosting the month before. Complicating it by creating bananas Foster or similar is the dessert-bringers prerogative.
  2. Since starting November meetings at China Gourmet, the rule has stood. Dessert has been brought in from outside b/c fortune cookies are pretty unfortunate, actually.
  3. Nobody updated newbie Rose on the Dessert Rule. Some of us intentionally (not to trip up Rose but b/c of Thanksgiving Dessert Overload Syndrome).
  4. We all survived.

Happy Outcome 1:  Fans of fortune cookies got to revel in full enjoyment of said cookies. Even though at least 6 of our 8 fortunes were 1,000% lame-o. What has happened in the fortune writing industry?

Happy Outcome 2:  There will be no Dessert Bringer Flurry for the January meeting. It’s Rose’s job. How easy is that?

Next Meeting:  Karen S’s house AND Karen S’s book (because she’s inviting the author; she’s fancy like that).

January 24th-ish (don’t quote me) @ 7-ish (ditto)

Title (probably is):  The Bowl with Gold Seams by Ellen Prentiss Campbell

 

 

With Friends Like These…

October 2018  Meeting with Rose in her Cozy Home* plus Mary, Marie, Karen S., Liz, Yours Truly, Shelley, & Sue…also, Leo (big, sweet, lug-of-a-dog). Viviane & Karen C were semi-awol; Kitty is on leave.                                          *New location – a delight!

General Chatter:

  • Karen S. is having a GIRL!!!! Well, a girl grandchild. In her gene pool (all eddies) this is rarer than the Hope Diamond x winning MegaMillions x air on Mars x the combined height in millimeters of ALL her boys. March Madness will take on a new meaning in 2019 (due date).
  • Shelley is a cr@ck dealer. Her dealers is onion-creamy and served on toast rounds. And made from 110% legal everything. But still… You. Are. Warned. She’s also getting a (practically) brand new bathroom thanks to an odd leak and a contractor who was not the least impressed or swayed by Ron’s plan to ‘keep everything’ and ‘just tile over stuff.’ Nicely done, Shel.
  • Sue came back for her Not Actually Happening Retirement Not Actually a Party (more like ‘organized, extended Happy Hours). Sadly, since it was left to Former Boss to organize (oh, the strain of sending an email!!!), it never got on the books. Silver lining 1:  we got to see her. Silver lining 2:  she heads back to FL 1 day early.
  • Liz accomplished 3 miles (nice progress, Hip Lady!) of a 4-mile hike at Black Hills Regional Park. Her co-hikers just left her at mile 3. No…they drove through the woods to get her. Actually, it was 2 miles in/out on a drivable path. So, EZ pick up.
  • Rose is DONE buying Christmas gifts – she’s buying the family a trip, instead. Parameters & options well-sifted, we heartily endorsed Vegas, baby!
  • Mary’s working too much. This is not news – not even close. However, her reasons (colleague needs) are totally legit. We’re just glad she had time to join us for a while.
  • Marie’s Margaret has a job in NYC publishing. The 2 principles (it’s a new company) have legit CVs, but the work flow is odd. Take lunch, Margaret!
  • My Katelyn is back home and up to her eyeballs as Athletic Trainer at University of Maryland – Cross Country, Track & Field. She’s insulated from the May tragedy. We’re happy she’s home (socking away all that rent & grocery money!).

THE BOOK:  Sue picked Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russonobodys fool

  1. She’d gotten Everybody’s Fool a while back (at a Russo event) and needed to read our pick since it precedes the book that’d been on her shelf for so long.
  2. She liked Empire Falls (an earlier Bootleg read, btw) and other Russo titles.

Our Comments:

  • Most everyone loved it.
  • It’s real, it’s familiar. It’s ‘all boy’ and ‘men are like that.’ It’s funny. It’s how ‘they’ talk to each other.
  • Small town life is so insular & over-lapping. This is well-depicted.
  • Some favorite characters include Wirf (his napkin notes), the diner staff (esp. ‘the one black man in town’), Beryl Peoples (a voice of reason…except when not hearing voices), and Sully (so many who hate him also love him).
  • Karen S. did find (and others agreed) that there were many scenes of lengthy description. A lot of telling (not enough showing/doing) for long spurts.
  • Katie was the lone dissenter. Not unfamiliar people. But not funny. Writing skill quite good overall. BIG ISSUE:  If you’re going to write about what’s hard, then why must you squash every avenue to (or even small glimmer of) hope? Most all treatment of Rub and young girl – unacceptable. And I’ll stop here.
    • Post meeting recollection: one funny part is the snow blower thievery.

 

NEXT MEETING:  China Gourmet @ 7 p.m. date TBA

Rose’s Book Pick:  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

 

A Long, Strange Trip

September 2018 at Sue’s Shangri-La with Rose, Shelley, and Marie
elsewhere: Liz (b’day), Katie (beach work), Mary (wedding), Karen S. (work work)
sabbatical:  Kitty                         attendance/activity tba: 
Karen C. 

Thanks, Guest Blogger, Shelley!

Rose, Marie and I hunkered down for the long road trip.
Rose was the co-pilot and navigator.  Looking at the directions, “Wait, this is way past Fredrick. Sue said she lives in Fredrick.”

Sue looked fit and fab with her Florida tan and her pickle ball physique!

Lots of appetizers(Sue’s homemade salsa, yum!), Sue made a great pasta dish and Marie filled in as salad queen.

Margaret got a writing job! She’s been working in a restaurant and really enjoyed it but is happy to have a real job (as they say in the biz).

Kitchen Confidential

Shelley’s Pick:  Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Rose and I read the book, Marie read half of the book and then a patient wanted it. Sue listened on tape.

We all liked the book and writing style.
I gave some background on Anthony Bourdain and we all decided the guy didn’t need much sleep.

Those who hadn’t read the afterword were glad to hear that the author writes that many of the practices in the book no longer happen these days.

I related some restaurant stories from my experiences and Ron’s.

An eerie discussion about ghosts seemed apropos in the very dark back yard.

Sue’s deck was lovely with candles,  Tiki torches and a beautiful sunset view through the trees.
Alas, no hot tubing but a very fun evening.

Next Book:  Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Pick a Side…thoughtfully

August 2018 Shelley’s House with Marie, Mary, Karen C,. Viviane, Rose & Yours Truly
Liz–35th anniversary in Canada, Kitty & Karen S. work, Sue in FL

CHATTER

  • Shelley’s new kitchen is gorgeous (and so much more space with the just-right updates). New DR is cool-cozy, too! Made the always-delish food even better & it’s like we were eating in a fancy foodie magazine. Well, even better…since Shelley updated (renovated?) Martha’s cold soup recipe, too. Just don’t say the word ‘corn’ to Shelley this month.
  • Speaking of food… the raspberries added to beverages were beyond perfect (thx, Marie) and the blueberry buckle/crumble (ack! which one is it, Karen?) was over-the-top yummy
  • Karen C & family are recent drag racing converts. The real deal (not some over-priced, wimpy county fair version, either).
  • Mary’s son has moved/upgraded his NYC apartment. However, his kitchen is the 10-million percent opposite of Shelley’s. Otherwise, actual living space & a new 3rd roomie make it all work great.
  • Speaking of NYC & kids, 2 of Viviane’s daughters are surviving each other as roommates (the padlocked closet may or may not help). Also, Airbnb-ing their place when out of town lessens the money issues. Silly-but-smart girls.
  • Katie’s Katelyn has a new job:  head athletic trainer for track & field at U of Md. Effective Sept. 17 (sorry, Yale…she’s gotta go)
  • Marie moved 3,000 pounds of rock as a major step in her overall landscaping design (where ‘design’ means undo doggie damage and get something, anything green to grow…this is a common design theme for many of us)
  • Rose has her hands full. Her dad recently passed and helping her mom get oriented (and hopefully) moved is all quite a challenge. It was nice to hear about her childhood home and community, though.

Segue – Somebody said the word ‘America’ for some reason and Shelley quickly called ‘segue to the book!’

THE BOOK:  The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Karen C. picked it because she’d read it long ago and liked it (and she Quiet Americanpicks classics/reading list titles).

  • She did not like it as much as she recalls liking it ‘back then,’ but isn’t quite sure why. This is not an uncommon thing with re-reading after many years.
  • Some of us liked/didn’t mind Fowler, others did not like him much at all. The ones who were more pro-Fowler did not have distinct reasons other than he introduced keen observations on the situations at hand. The anti-Fowler set disliked how it was a point of pride for him to have no set values/standards; he was an overly-droll, snobby coward with a major opium problem.
  •  All were taken by Greene’s awareness of just how complicated Vietnam already was in 1955.
  • Greene’s great economy with words impressed us. So much conveyed in such crisp, tidy phrasing.
  • Pyle was considered the true bad guy by many. Others saw him as the ‘know enough to be very dangerous’ bumbling fool.
  • We considered Phuong to be quite resilient and liked her subtle autonomy (well, except from her older sister). Phuong seemed to represent the most logical (while still not ideal) way to manage horrible circumstances. She was an interesting combo of determination, subservience, and suspected subversive activity. A survivor who revealed little of her true self.
  • The French lived up to all the bad stereotypes about them. The inspector was, we admitted, quite clever & insightful.
  • Some of us were very surprised by the ending and Fowler’s role. Others not so much. Either way, it was quite cynical of Greene (even disturbingly so) that Fowler finally took a stand and ended up more miserable than ever (but it was b/c he finally had a conscience, perhaps).

NEXT BOOK:  Shelley’s pick, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

NEXT MEETING:  Road trip! Sue’s house. Date tbd.