Come Fly the World by Julia Cooke

(Book 153) It is hard to believe we’ve already had our first meeting in our new year of reading! Five of the girls met at my home, where I made them go deep into a theme of airline travel. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t the PanAm fine china and lamb chops sliced at your cloth-covered table kind of airline travel. My VIP lounge served bags of nuts, trail mix and other snack items with tiny bottles of wine poured into plastic cups. They received little suitcases with travel-size necessities packed inside, including the all important pill bottle of mini M&Ms. Also included were those hand-powered face rollers, because we have to keep ourselves looking young(ish) and because the product looks so 60’s.

Once dinner service began, the food offering improved significantly. Our menu was Vietnamese, because that was the most fascinating aspect of the book in my opinion. I served the whole meal at once in little dishes on today’s airline-sized trays. I take no credit for making any portion of this meal; the food was brought in from Bon Bon, a Vietnamese restaurant in our neighborhood. The appetizer was a portion each of shrimp and tofu spring rolls served with peanut sauce, the soup was Chicken Pho (Pho Gà), and the main course was three sections of Bánh Mi sandwiches: the Char Siu Pork, Biulgogi Beef and Coconut Curry Chicken. The official dessert was a Lotus Paste Mooncake, because the Vietnamese eat them in celebration of the harvest. Though it is not September or October, one of our absent members recently harvested stem cells for medical treatment and we celebrated Geri’s good harvest with mooncakes, mango and melon. The unofficial desserts were other Asian pastries that I had to buy as long as I was there at the bakery. Below you see the tray and those darn plastic cups!

I want one of the Báhn Mi now, please.

Now to the book. Everyone enjoyed the book. On a five star scale, its average among the six of us was 4 stars. Some of the girls made comments that the research that went into the book was on par with David McCullough or Eric Larsen. There were facts made fascinating. While some of us (Melissa) had exposure to women who had flown in the early days, most of us were not aware of the education and language requirements that PanAm required. Because many of us were “coming of age” in 1972, we were surprised to realize that 1972 was the first year that unmarried women were allowed to obtain birth control pills. I was pretty sure that was the year I started taking them and one of the girls was able to get them at Planned Parenthood the year before.

We were all very intrigued by the connection to Vietnam. Chris talked to a Vietnam veteran about it, who told her that he clearly remembered taking R&R vacations out of Vietnam. We wracked our brains trying to remember whether we were aware of the baby or orphan airlift as it happened or whether it was something we only learned about later. We talked about some of the stewardess’ stories and had a little trouble keeping them straight.

The only negative that I could voice about the book is that the emotional tone is low. This is true even when a stewardess faces a horrible situation when Guinean passengers are removed from the plane. One of the passengers grabs her arm but is wrenched away, yet the aftermath is summed as “Tori stood at the top of the stairs, catching her breath” and later “she wondered what happened” to the women who gripped her arm. Perhaps because the women related these stories to the author so much later in their lives, the original emotional response is missing, but it sometimes felt a bit blasé for the circumstance.

I know I’ve failed to report plenty of information but it’s hard to keep notes when I’m a guest, and it’s even more difficult when I’m hosting I shouldn’t complain though, because I received so much help from my daughter Frances; she helped by getting the meals on the trays and making the “overhead announcements” about dinner service. And to add even more realism, my grandson came downstairs at one point in the evening and bumped into the back of all the girls’ chairs! It was a fun evening.

Our next meeting will be at Mary’s house to discuss The Known World by Edward P. Jones. We have settled on Monday, February 27.

2023: Welcome to W.O.R.R.L.D. S. World Occupancy: Recommended Re-Location & Departure Services

I have to wonder if any of the girls have listened to the songs on the MP3 player. It’s like the soundtrack of my life using only the songs with the word world in them. The songs include:

I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire (1941) by the Ink Spots

Goodbye Cruel World (1958) by James Darren

The End /Ind/ of the World (1962) by Skeeter Davis

What the World Needs Now (1965) by Jackie DeShannon

My World is Empty Without You (1966) by the Supremes

It’s a Five o’Clock World (1966) by The Vogues

There’s a Kind of Hush All Over the World (1967) by Herman’s Hermits

Colour My World (1967) by Petula Clark

Wild World (1970) by Cat Stevens

Hand Me Down World (1970) by the Guess Who

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (1971) by the New Seekers and all those people in the Coke commercial.

On Top of the World Looking Down on Creation (1972) by The Carpenters

Color My World (1970) by Chicago

Any World That I’m Welcome To (1975) by Steely Dan

Message In a Bottle (1979) by The Police

Imagine by John Lennon

Sweet Dreams (1983) by Annie Lennox

What a Beautiful World It Would Be (1983) by Donald Fagan

World Weary by Noel Coward

Everybody Wants to Rule the World (1985) by Tears for Fears 

We Are the World (1985) by everybody and his brother

It’s the End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M

All Around the World by Paul Simon

What a Wonderful World (1967) sung by Louis Armstrong

Spice World: Spice Up Your Life (1997) by the Spice Girls

The Whole World (2001) by Outkast

Money Makes the World Go Around Fred Ebb and John Kander

Waiting on the World to Change (2007) by John Mayer

All the World is Green (2002) by Tom Waits

When the World’s on Fire by The Carter Family

I’ll Never Find Another You by the Seekers

Viva La Vida (2008) by Cold Play

How the World Works (2021) by Bo Barnham

And the BOOKS, I haven’t forgotten about the books, the books are:

January: Come Fly the World by Julia Cooke (2021)

February: The Known World by Edward P Jones (2003)

March: Dancing at the Edge of the World by Ursula K. LeGuin (1989)

April: The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (2016)

May: Half a World Away by Mike Gayle (2020)

June: The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie (2000)

July: World’s Fair by E. L. Doctorow (1985)

August: Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff (2005) It took him a while but he managed to get the world in there.

September: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes (1989)

October: Homesick for Another World by Otessa Moshfegh (2017)

November: The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina (2021)

December: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (2013)

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

(Book 152) We ended our year of Anatomy of a Book Club with The Stars Beneath Our Feet. As is often the case in our December meeting, discussion of the book took a backseat to the holiday cookie exchange and the announcement of next year’s reading list. But let’s take them one at a time.

This book counts as the second time we’ve read a book for young readers. The first was One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Many of us are, after all, grandmothers and we have to keep our eyes on things to read to the grandchildren. While we all enjoyed One Crazy Summer, only one of us, Karen, enjoyed this month’s read. She said that she appreciated the easy read. (We have tackled some difficult books this year — I’m looking at you An Instance at the Fingerpost.) Chris noted that the book is a strange combination of too many issues. I thought that the story line about the girls starting a detective agency had the feel of a much younger book such as the Nate the Great series. It seemed out of place in the midst of all the other weighty issues.

Chris started a conversation about all of this year’s books by saying that she liked this year’s list better than any of our previous year’s. Our favorites were Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead with three votes (Sharon, Melissa, Teresa), Cat’s Eye with three votes (Susan, Mary, Rosalie) and River Teeth with two votes (Linda and Chris) I could have been in the River Teeth camp as well, it was a difficult choice. Karen chose The Beauty of Your Face and Marcia abstained. Geri couldn’t attend due to her health, but I will be taking her cookies.

Somehow, I failed to get a picture of the cookie exchange and I’m writing this so long after the fact, I will forget what everyone brought. I’m going to use the sign-up sheet my daughter created, but the girls will have to put corrections in the notes. Chris brought us colorful Spritz cookies; Karen gave us bags of Christmas Krack; Linda made her delicious Toffee and something else I can’t remember; Marcia baked us Eggnog Cut-Outs and English Toffee cookies; Mary contributed Christmas Cherry cookies and Spreds; Rosalie made Chocolate Cookies with mint chips and Raspberry Spitzbuben; Sharon baked Walnut Chocolate and Apricot Cookies and Nut Cups (and raised the bar with her packaging); and Susan repeated the excellence of her Cherry Biscotti. Melissa did not use the sign up sheet, so I have no recollection of her cookie treats because I went overboard with the body part theme and still haven’t recovered. My cookies included Rosemary and Orange Marmalade Cat’s Eyes, The Hand That First Held Mine was Wearing a Coconut Lime Mitten, Date and Walnut Bloody Pinwheels, The Stars Beneath the Chocolate Peppermint Boots on our Feet, The Ischl Tart Heart, The Beauty of Santa’s Honey Basil Face, The Peanut Butter and Cinnamon Heads of the Reindeer People, and the Non-Binary Gingerbread Body.

The new reading list will be discussed in full on it’s own page, but for now we will say that in 2023 we will be looking at options for abandoning this world (if only momentarily) and choosing another. All of our titles include the word world. I will be hosting our first meeting of 2023 on January 16, when we will discuss Come Fly the World, the Jet-Age Story of the Women of PanAm, by Julia Cooke.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

(Book 151) Rosalie hosted this event which I was unable to attend because I had to leave the first bad weather days of snow and cold in Chicago to go to Hawaii with my husband. (There was some revenge exacted; I came home with the worst cough and cold of my life.) Typically, if I miss a meeting, Chris picks up on the note-taking and summary email, but Chris had to miss the meeting as well, so Linda was thrown into a baptism by fire, no, wait, by freezing temps. I’ll let Linda speak for herself.

Hi all,

I volunteered to summarize our lovely evening and book discussion. I would put the book discussion on the website, but I didn’t see a way to do that. So here goes. A small but merry (and cold) group assembled at Rosalie’s home to discuss “His Bloody Project”. Rosalie tried to discourage us by not answering her door, but we persisted! And we were glad we did. We entered to a cozy apartment to find delicious appetizers waiting for us. Stuffed crescent rolls, smoked salmon spread and a lovely blue cheese, yum! Assorted white and red wines were poured and we discussed the book.

No one thought to take a poll or get ratings, but the general consensus was positive. I liked the book but wasn’t sure I would recommend it to others – mainly because it was rather depressing. The theme of humans being treated horribly by other humans seems to be a recurring condition – up to modern day. Rosalie mentioned that on a trip to Scotland in the 80’s she visited a small town with a large fancy hotel where the townspeople were not allowed to fish in the waters off their coast. Only guests of the hotel were allowed to fish! And so it goes! Several of our group had wondered about the fiction vs family history aspect of the book. Our conclusion was that the Preface and the use of the author’s surname for the killer’s surname was a device by the author. (We decided it was all pure fiction.)

We moved into the dining room for a delicious dinner – seasonal salad with apples, a fantastic lamb stew, bannock. And a chocolate bundt cake with glaze for dessert (with root beer as a secret ingredient!). What more could anyone want on a cold snowy evening! We opened our monthly gifts – cookie baking tools – very timely. Thank you Teresa. We have chosen Tuesday December 13 for our annual cookie exchange/book discussion extravaganza! We have an open email from Teresa to state what appetizer we will bring. And we will not be celebrating Melissa’s birthday!

To top off the evening with a dramatic display of forgetfulness, I left my phone at Rosalie’s. Thanks to Marcia/Rosalie for notifying me and to Sharon who was kind enough to endure the trip back to collect it. (We were only halfway back to Chicago when we turned around.)

Thank you Rosalie for a wonderful evening, delicious dinner and excellent conversation.

(poor substitute)

In an email after the meeting, Rosalie told us she forgot to give out her Scottish shortbread — two different kinds! But she was reassured by Sharon: “no need to think of the imperfect things……….after a few minutes in your warm welcoming apartment and a few sips of wine then all was well. Also, in my family, it was a running joke to find the missing dish that someone forgot to bring to the table. There always was one. ” Chris and Susan added their stories of forgotten items at dinner parties, and we all take a deep breath and go on.

But, let’s talk about the book just a little more. In her email after the meeting Chris said:

“I personally liked this one a lot. It really made me think about the whole issue—a big one today—of how much a person can endure without losing their mind. Bullying and other forms of oppression never end. I would have loved to be in on a discussion of what “fairness” is and when others should rise up (always, basically).”

This was my second reading of the book. After the first reading, I wrote a short review on Goodreads and gave it 4 stars. “I may come back and give this five stars. I had more desire to read and finish this book than anything I’ve read for at least six months — it is shamefully clever — so much so that it takes a while to realize just how clever it is. It was particularly surprising to be so drawn to this book given my usual avoidance of situations in which a character is powerless to change or protect himself from intimidation, injustice and everydamnotherevilthing!
Really well done.”

After second reading: (11/22)
“Well, i did come back to give it five stars but it took me five years to do it.”

One of the reasons for my higher score was the detail of the footnotes in the trial records. Dr Munro attests: “I have encountered prisoners who spout incomprehensible gibberish; whose speech is nothing more than a stream of unintelligible, unconnected words, or is not even recognisable as language.*** “The footnote attached to this reads “A mischievous sketch in The Scotsman suggested that the prisoners to whom Dr Munro referred might merely have been speaking Gaelic.” I just think that the levels of fictional cleverness are stunning.

The second reason for my higher rating is also based on the quality of writing — one paragraph in particular that just struck me this time. It relates to the grief felt in his family after his mother’s death.

“This event brought about a great number of changes to our family. Chief among these was the general air of gloom which descended on our household and hung there like the reek. My father was the least changed of us, largely because he had never been much given to joviality. If we had once enjoyed some moments of collective amusement, it was always his laughter that died away first. He would cast his eyes downward as though this moment of pleasure shamed him. Now, however, his face acquired an unalterable bleakness, as if fixed by a change in the wind. I do not wish to portray my father as callous or unfeeling, nor do I doubt that his wife’s death grievously affected him. It is rather that he was better adapted to unhappiness, and that to no longer feel obliged to feign pleasure in this world came as a relief to him.” Not having to feign pleasure came as a relief. Stunning.

Finally, I was thinking of the unreliable narrator. As I read the book the second time, I liked Roderick, I wanted to like Roderick. Linda and Chris both mentioned the bullying. How much can a person take? But then there’s this little flash of the unreliable narrator. His neighbor mentions him peeping in windows at her daughters, the violation of Jetta’s private parts never mentioned in Roderick’s confession of his deeds. I’ve spent some time trying to reconcile those aspects with the simple Roderick of his own report. I’ll grant it’s not an easy book to read, but it is genius.

Our next meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, December 13, at my home. I have to go clean it.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

(Book 150) Yes, we’ve reached the milestone of having read 150 books together. I gave each of the girls a new framed document displaying the 50 books we’ve read since the idea for Book Club 101 originated. Perhaps, I’ll add a photo later.

Chris hosted this event and there was much discussion over the appetizers of cheese, paté, tomatoes, olives, crackers and fresh figs stuffed with bacon, sherry vinegar and red pepper flakes. There was great discussion about the deliciousness of the appetizers as well as discussion of the book. Most of us who finished the book agreed that there were times when we thought we wouldn’t finish! Many of us were overwhelmed by the detail of each of the four narrators’ accounts. Some of us wanted to stab one or more of the fictional narrators. But those who finished, agreed that they were very happy to have stayed with it, to reach the fourth narrator’s telling of the story. It’s hard to give a book like that a solid recommendation and yet a few of us did!

Chris noted that she found it surprisingly engaging; we were very intrigued that many of the characters were historical figures cleverly inserted into the story: the mathematician John Wallis, the historian Anthony Wood, the philosopher John Locke, the scientists Robert Boyle and Richard Lower, spymaster John Thurloe, inventor Samuel Morland and the Anglican cleric Thomas Ken. I found it interesting that the author took a bit of a shot at John Locke on p. 107 saying there was: “Something about the man which could always inveigle himself into the good graces of the powerful.” I appreciated the bookended quality of the chapter about the dove and the vacuum; the bird trapped of air seems to die, but returns to life when the air is returned. The same is true for Sarah, or we believe it to be. The historical foundation of the book gives way to the premise that in every generation Jesus Christ is born again, and in each incarnation is doomed to be martyred, come back to life, disappear – and be reborn again in the next generation. My mother would have been proud that I recognized the moment of Peter denying Jesus three times when Anthony Wood reports that people came to him in the Fleur de Lys, the Feathers and finally the Mitre, and “I shrugged, said I did not know, none of my concern, she might have done it for all I know.” Later leaving: “a cock crow strange for this time of night,”

We discussed the medical aspects of the book, the concept that at this time, doctors were just beginning to leave behind the “aspect of Venus” — to move beyond astrology in medicine and concern for the humours. We enjoyed that notion that one of the characters stops for a blood-letting, as we might take a Tylenol, to see if that would make him feel better. Yet there were aspects of medical thought that seemed not unlike those one hears espoused today: You can’t get pregnant if you take no pleasure in the act. I can only imagine the serious blow to population growth if that were true.

And of course we talked about the treatment of women: da Cola tells Anne that Sarah is more outspoken than a girl has a right to be. Anne corrects, she is more outspoken than a girl is allowed to be. “Da Cola: Is there a difference?” When I read this aloud at the meeting, Linda, jumped in with “Yes, sir, there is.” Adamant but polite.

We had a little fun talking about the comment on p. 204, “Every man alive can remember exactly what they were doing when they heard that the King had been beheaded.” While we are used to instant news, our reactions all occur in the same moments, or at least the same day. We are spread all over the world but our reaction is almost simultaneous. With the slow travel of news in the time period, there was probably a fairly wide spread of “when” they heard.

A barrage of thoughts and comments. We gave Geri the floor to address the quote: “The Irish use words of honey to disguise their natures.” We marveled a bit at Anne’s battle cry: “Follow, or I die alone!” I particularly enjoyed the really horrible review of the King Lear production. And again, how pertinent to today is: “You wish to guard the integrity of good society, yet you use the habits of the gutter to do so.”

Finally to dinner. Chris made her own ravioli with her own pasta machine. I buried the lede. She made butternut squash ravioli with sage and it was divine. But I should go back and say that Chris took her theme for the night’s cuisine from da Cola’s Venice, a Venetian evening complete with fireworks. The meal was cleverly influenced by Brunetti’s Cookbook, which includes recipes and excerpts from the Guido Brunetti books by Donna Leon, as well as essays on food and life in Venice. I’ve mentioned the first course of butternut squash ravioli with sage, but I did not mention that it was served with a wonderful caprese salad. The main course was turkey breast stuffed with prosciutto, provolone and spinach served with rosemary-garlic potatoes and a bitter greens and pear salad. Dessert included two offerings (pieces of both came home with me) — a Torta al Ciocolato with apricot jam between the layers and an Apple, Lemon and Orange cake soaked in Grand Marnier.

I’ve been giving “body part party favors” this year and tonight’s was witch’s fingers for this Instance of the Fingerpost. I have to include a photo. Just casually listening. Nothing untoward.

As we enjoyed our desserts, I made the girls give their rating of the book on a five star system. Mary and Melissa gave it 3 stars, Linda gave 3 and 3/4 (!) stars, Susan and Geri gave it 4 stars, and Chris and I gave it 5 stars. I reserved the right to remove 1/2 star for wanting to stab John Wallis in any or all of his body parts.

Our next meeting will take place at Rosalie’s home on Thursday, November 17.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

(Book 149) Geri hosted seven of us for a discussion of The Spinning Heart. She told us about having talked to a friend who suggested she serve three kinds of salmon and three kinds of potatoes. The three kinds of potatoes were clear homage to the Irish setting, characters, author. Many of the book club girls tried to tell Geri that this woman was not her friend, but I understand excessive behavior more than most and I’m going on record as saying it would have been heartbreaking if the salmon en croute had been left out. It had to be.

She started us out with a tray of yummy cheeses while she completed preparations in her kitchen. The meal was a green crunchy salad, boiled potatoes scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, salmon with a brown sugar glaze, salmon with a maple glaze, and salmon en croute with cream cheese and dill. I couldn’t have done without it. For dessert Geri made a an amazing Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey’s flavored icing. She put seven candles on it, one for each of my seven decades. (These girls spoil me — Geri sent a huge slice home with me too. If you happen to talk to my husband, however, it was more of a sliver. ) She also served a delicious bread pudding, a dessert her mother used to make. It was way more work than she should have done, but it was hugely appreciated. Each of us is worried about the next time we host.

The Spinning Heart was written in 2012 and is described as follows:

“In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant. It was the Winner of two Irish Book Awards – Newcomer of The Year and Book of The Year. It was a Library Journal Best Book of the Year for 2014, a Boston Globe bestseller and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.” 

Mary commented that she appreciated the way the book begins with Bobby and ends with his wife, Triona. Though there is a rumor repeated by two or three characters in between, that Bobby is having an affair, Triona is completely confident in her husband’s love and fidelity as is evidenced by the last line of the book: “What matters only love?” Some of the girls thought the story was just too sad, and while I understand that criticism, it seemed to also offer such hope. More than that, it was riddled with a dark humor that begins with the second sentence. The book starts:

“My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn’t yet missed a day of letting me down.”

Bobby’s appreciation of his marriage was endearing:

“Having a wife is great. You can say things to your wife that you never knew you thought. It just comes out of you when the person you’re talking to is like a part of yourself. We wet to a play in town one time; I can’t remember the name of it. You couldn’t do that without a wife. Imagine it being found out that you went to see a play, on your own! With a woman, you have an excuse for every kind of soft thing.”

Melissa thought that the book was too complicated by the sub-plots that I won’t go into for spoiler purposes. (I’m pretending other people read these posts.) I just thought it was genius the way the story came through the interconnections of the 21 voices. Though we didn’t rate last month’s book, because it was a collection of short stories, we jumped back on the rating bandwagon with this one. Marcia gave it three stars; Sharon and Melissa gave it 3.5; Susan, Geri, Mary and Chris gave it four stars and I gave it five. That gives it an average of 3.88. A couple of the girls complained that they were chastised for giving previous books five stars, and though I don’t think I was ever critical of anyone’s rating, I have often said that it is very hard for me to give a book a five, that I am stingy with my star ratings. I just thought this book was something close to, if not, genius when I read it the first time and I knew that I wanted to share it with my book club pals!

Our next meeting will be hosted by Chris on Wednesday, October 26, when we will discuss An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. It’s a thick book and I have been advised to start reading it right away, so this will conclude my post for September.

River Teeth by David James Duncan

(Book 148) WOW! This meeting was so long ago! The day after the meeting, my family and I packed a rental car and I drove 2,600 miles from Chicago to Seattle, crossing three major rivers, stopping at four National Parks, four Historical Sites, three National Monuments, two Native American cultural sites, driving through eight National Forests and visiting eight curiosities such as the “Day the Music Died” crash site, the Mitchell Corn Palace, the Irma and Occidental Hotels, the Sierra Silver Mine and of course, Wall Drug. In Seattle, we boarded a cruise ship to Alaska, stopped at four ports in Alaska where I bought a used book from a vending machine in Sitka, we panned for gold, attended a lumberjack show, a salmon bake, saw bears, eagles, and totem poles, and Tom adopted an owl. The ship returned us to Seattle where we took in the Space Needle and Pike Place Market (yes, we saw the fish tossers) and we flew back to Chicago. Denny and I started school a week late and I’ve been putting off trying to remember everything that happened at book club ever since. Since we have had already had our September meeting, I can put it off no longer. I apologize to our hostess, Susan in advance because I’m bound to short-change the incredible evening we spent on her deck.

Starters included a salmon mousse, goat cheese, date nut bread, a lemon ricotta with the texture of cheesecake and a triple brie. There were two amazing salads; one was orzo, spinach, tomato and chickpeas; and the other was arugula, hazelnuts, feta and blueberries. The main course was grilled salmon served with a mustard dill sauce and it was extraordinary. I’ll leave it at that. Dessert was the most refreshing lemon mousse. The food and the weather could not have been better, and we thought Marcia was the only one who could order weather to her liking.

River Teeth is summarized as a “collection of short stories in which characters are undergoing the complex and violent process of transformation, with results both painful and wondrous. Equally affecting are his nonfiction reminiscences, the “river teeth” of the title. He likens his memories to the remains of old-growth trees that fall into Northwestern rivers and are sculpted by time and water. These experiences—shaped by his own river of time—are related with the art and grace of a master storyteller. Author Sherman Alexie offers “David James Duncan is in love with water, the rivers and streams that coursed through his life. Believe me, you will be swept up by his rivers, carried downstream, and deposited in a new place. In that new place, Duncan will build a fire and tell you a bunch of stories. What else could you want?”

We talked first about the concept of ‘river teeth’ and I read part of the definition that Duncan offers at the beginning of the book: “

There are small parts of every human past that resist the natural cycle: there are hard, cross-grained whorls of memory that remain inexplicably lodged in us long after the straight-grained narrative material that housed them has washed away. Most of these whorls are not stories, exactly: more often they’re self-contained moments of shock or of inordinate empathy, moments of violence, uncaught dishonesty, tomfoolery, of mystical terror; lust; preposterous love; preposterous joy. These are our “river teeth” — the time-defying knots of experience that remain in us after most of our autobiographies are gone.

Then, we talked about our favorite teeth. The favorites included Northwest Passage, The Garbage Man’s Daughter, The Mickey Mantle Koan, and Molting. The least appreciated was Kali’s Personal.

Northwest Passage: Sharon, Susan and Geri listed this one as one of their top picks. This story is of two young men (fishing buddies as kids but not as close now in their teens) who drive, then hike to a confluence of rivers. Once there, they were awed by the sight of coho jumping out of the water and splashing back down; as each fish leapt it made a splash followed by an echo. Neither of the boys fished, they just sat and watched. “…for those salmon leaps were language. They were the salmon people’s legend enacted before our eyes.” I think we were all struck by the visual of this one.

The Garbage Man’s Daughter: This is the story of a little girl born to parents whose love for each other was of a fairy tale variety. In stark contrast to her parents, the daughter just wants the straight facts and eschews all the fictional characters that typically bring joy to a child’s life. She doesn’t believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny but one day she gets the idea that her parents have also made up a character they call the Garbage Man and she can’t imagine why. This one was my favorite and it was also on Linda, Sharon and Susan’s list. My favorite moment is when the daughter imagines: “Maybe there was an outright war going on between real Magic and human fraud!” We all thought that the relationship that developed between the daughter and the garbage man was very touching.

The Mickey Mantle Koan: This was at the top of the list for Linda, Chris and me. This is the story of how shortly after the author’s brother John, who was a complete baseball fanatic, died of heart complications, David receives a signed ball from John’s hero, Mickey Mantle. Chris commented on the hypnotic effect of the boys practicing, the rhythm of throwing and catching, and how reminiscent the sports fanaticism was of her own childhood. Though I held up because of narrative such as “I was moved to a state of tearlessness” because the eulogy seemed to be describing someone other than his brother, I finally broke down in tears on page 131 when he solves the riddle on the ball: ” It was autumn when it happened, the same autumn during which I’d grown a little older than my big brother would ever be.”

Molting: Susan and Chris mentioned this one as a favorite. It is a story of a week long storm in Oregon, water and wind coming off the Pacific, with little chance for outdoor activities. A neighbor comes to borrow some dry wood to burn and after the wood is chopped she points to a meadow for another beautiful visual ending:

We are nearly upon it before it moves. And though it is a hundred beings, two hundred wings, that rise up before us, it is one deft gesture that pierces the rain: one mind, cleaving the whole dark valley, as the hundred sun-bright goldfinches rise from the dead brown yarrow.”

Chris commented that this type of remarkable event reminds us — oh, yes, this is why we put up with all the rain! She added that Duncan’s writing just keeps coming back to nature and how nature will proceed as it intends to proceed. Chris also suggested we check out his novels The River Y and The Brothers K as they are even better than his short stories.

I think I did it. I think I’m done. Next month, we continue our Anatomy of a Book Club with The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

(Book 147) Marcia and Karen hosted the discussion of Cat’s Eye in Marcia’s lovely back yard. We met Marcia’s upstairs neighbor, Terry, who had helped Marcia string the lights over the patio. We also met a new puppy — Neo — who was full of energy and a willing disposition to help if there was food that needed to be wrangled off the table. He was hoping to be well behaved while assessing just how far across the table his nose could reach. He wanted very much to reach the appetizer spread of brie with crackers, veggies with spinach and artichoke dip, and Popcorners, but we were willing to guard it for our own consumption.

As the Fearless Leader of the group, I had to start with a quiz, not an official pencil and paper quiz as I used to do, but a quick quiz about the references to Shakespeare. Because the book is set in Canada, Atwood had opportunity to mention the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and was a bit cheeky in a reference to Tyrone Guthrie! My only quiz question was about the names of the three sisters named for Shakespeare heroines. Chris was the star player identifying Cordelia from King Lear, Miranda from The Tempest, and had help with Perdita from A Winter’s Tale. This lead to a discussion about Cordelia’s need to torment Elaine to which Chris opined that Cordelia had been similarly abused by her sisters. We mentioned that the older sisters in Lear, Regan and Goneril set a precedent for unkindness.

We discussed the larger topic of how girls are unkind to each other. Geri said she had to compartmentalize her feelings in an effort to appreciate the book. She said “I tried not to be traumatized by the way the girls treated Elaine!” Mary foolishly encourages me to read passages from the book, so I read what I thought summed the feelings between little girls: “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To each other, they are not cute — and they are life-sized.” We enjoyed that, as a child, Elaine realized boys were her secret allies. Geri admitted she was a tomboy and like playing with boys better than with girls.

Melissa shared that she didn’t find the novel as appealing as other books by Margaret Atwood because she thought it was too autobiographical. I thought the parts of the book that were likely autobiographical were the best parts! I enjoyed the moments in the woods with her brother and the way he taught her to see in the dark. This made me go on and on about all the references to eyes and seeing that are included in this novel:

  • the radio with its single green eye that moved along the dial as you turn the knob,
  • the horse chestnuts that could put your eye out,
  • the teacher’s eyes that were hard to see behind steel-rimmed glasses,
  • the cat’s eye marble that caused Elaine to see the way a cat sees: “I can see the way it sees – people moving like dolls – shapes, sizes, colors, without feeling. I am alive in my eyes only.”
  • the turtle’s heart beating in the exhibition — “it’s like an eye”
  • regarding Mrs. Smeath, “Her bad heart floats in her body like an eye, an evil eye- it sees me”
  • on page 242: Cordelia shouts out “the evil eye!”
  • the flasher on page 307: “I looked him in the Eye, the eye and I said…”
  • Josef’s doleful eyes,
  • Susie’s sly-eyed calculating,
  • John’s paintings that made your eyes hurt,
  • the description of Van Eyck’s painting, “a round mirror like an eye, a single eye that sees more than anyone else looking”
  • a painting entitled An Eye for an Eye,
  • on page 408: “He died of an eye for an eye, or someone’s idea of it.”
  • on page 418: “my blue cat’s eye — I see my life entire.”
  • on page 427: “self righteous piggy eyes — defeated eyes, uncertain and melancholy and
  • on page 430: the Cat’s Eye painting self portrait, Unified Field Theory — the Virgin of Lost Things holds the cat’s eye.

There were even more than listed above, but I chose for the variety of reference. I didn’t read all of these at the meeting, but I add them here because I religiously took notes on them all and bygosh, I’m going to use them. Most of the discussion took place before we ate a lovely meal of Mrs. Smeath’s ham, baked beans, and two very fun and refreshing jello salads — one strawberry and one lime with celery and apples. The salads were reminiscent of the book Something From the Oven that we read ten years ago — we’re all happy we still remember! After the lovely meal, we had a gluten-free blueberry cobbler which sparked a short discussion of what makes a crisp, cobbler, Betty, buckle, slump or pandowdy! I’m guessing that Marcia’s cobbler by any other name would taste as sweet. (You see what I did there? We’re back to Shakespeare.) Marcia sent us a link that explains the classifications.

Other thoughts: Melissa loved the answers that Elaine gave the interviewer earning her the adjective ‘crochety’ in the headline. Mary said that though the novel didn’t speak directly to her as some do, the writing was terrific. Susan was amused that Charna put her own interpretation of Elaine’s art pieces on the gallery cards without consulting Elaine. She also appreciated how much the early part of the book reminded her of growing up in a rural area and meeting friends in the woods. Geri loved the powder blue sweat suit! Karen wondered why some aspects of the story were included, thinking some thing to be extraneous to the plot. Chris read the great description of the Frank Sinatra album finding it particularly apt. Chris liked the language and loved the early childhood experiences. We all felt a little horrible about Susie’s DIY solution to her problem given the recent news of of the Supreme Court decision re Roe v. Wade.

Then the ratings: Susan really liked it and gave it an unapologetic 5 stars! We’re not going to intimidate her into lowering her rating! Marcia and Mary both gave it 4.5 stars. Chris, Geri and Karen gave it 4 stars. Melissa gave it 3 stars because of the aforementioned autobiographical aspect, and I gave it 3 stars because I just didn’t like the way the author used the memory loss to allow Elaine to forget what Cordelia had done so that she could become her friend again in high school. Sharon had spent the day volunteering and managed to exit the evening before giving her Russian judge score! She left without collecting her party favor of 2 large squeezy stress eyeballs packaged with several smaller foil-wrapped chocolate eyeballs. She told me in an email that she was sad to later learn that only the smaller eyeballs were the chocolate favors.

Next up: We will be meeting at Susan’s home on Thursday, August 11, to discuss River Teeth, short stories by James Duncan.

Girls, please add any information that I have forgotten.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Our Operation themed cards seem particularly disrespectful for this book!

(Book 146) Melissa sent us an invitation to a pow-wow under the stars on her roof deck, but because of ‘low-reader turnout’ we decided to stay cool and comfy inside. We applaud Melissa for coping with such a big change — as we were leaving she remembered: “You didn’t get to see my lights!” Melissa was dressed for the evening with beaded and turquoise jewelry adorning a cotton dress and the mood was set with a background of Native American music. She served appetizers of fresh vegetables with a spicy Southwestern cauliflower dip as well as chips and salsa. For the main course, we enjoyed bison burgers with grilled onions and mushrooms, bison sirloin tips, a colorful corn and bean salad, and a lovely green salad. For dessert, we had ‘wild berries’ served over a slice of pound cake and topped with vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious!

The book discussion was short and sweet because many of us had difficulty reading about the way white men (and by extension, white women) promised, then lied, then killed, then burned, then relocated, then promised something else, then reneged, then slaughtered, then lied again, then confined, then repeated all of the above. I tried to divert the girls with a discussion of the way the Native Americans named the moons, because Brown always referred to the time of year as “during the moon when ponies shed their shaggy fur” rather than May. I’d made a chart of the moons as they were named in six native languages and I won’t include them all here but I have to do a few.

  • January – Moon of Strong Cold (Cheyenne) Moon When Snow Drifts Into Teepees (Omaha)
  • February – Moon When Trees Crack of Cold (Lakota)
  • March – Sore Eye Moon (Dakota) Moon of the Snowblind (Lakota)
  • April – Geese Laying Moon (Dakota) Moon When Ducks Come Back and Hide (Lakota)
  • May – Moon When Ponies Shed Shaggy Hair (Arapaho)
  • June – Moon of Making Fat (Lakota) Hot Weather Begins Moon (Ponca)
  • July – Moon When Choke Cherries Ripe (Dakota)
  • August – Moon of Red Cherries (Lakota) Corn is in the Silk Moon (Ponca)
  • September – Drying Grass Moon (Cheyenne) Moon When Deer Paw the Earth (Omaha)
  • October – Moon When Wind Shakes Off Leaves (Lakota)
  • November – Deer Rutting Moon (Dakota and Cheyenne)
  • December – Moon When Deer Shed Horns (Dakota) Moon When Wolves Run Together (Cheyenne) Moon of Popping Trees (Arapaho)

Next was a short discussion of Manifest Destiny. When I came upon the phrase while reading this novel, I could picture the social studies book with the heading: Manifest Destiny. Linda remembered learning about it and Sharon said it must not have been a Catholic concept cause she doesn’t remember learning about it. It was amazing to me to think that generations after the fact, young white Americans were being taught that this expansion into all the areas originally inhabited by the Native Americans or promised to the Native Americans was really not so much theft and murder as it was Destiny. Yes, that sounds good, let’s call it Manifest Destiny! That sounds even better!

We talked about how we appreciated that the chapters began with a list of other events that were happening in the world at the same time and we were all a little surprised to realize that these battles with the Native Americans were taking place while the Civil War was going on. We came back a few times after to talk about the repetitive nature of promise, reneg, murder, but there were Supreme Court decisions to talk about, so little more was said about the book. Below are a few things we might have talked about:

This quote in The Long Walk of the Navahos:

“The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is not only an interesting but a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years, they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with a heroism which any people might be proud to emulate, but when at length, they found it was their destiny, too as it had been that of their brethren, tribe after tribe, away back toward the rising of the sun, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race, they threw down their arms, and, as brave men entitled to our admiration and respect, have come to us with confidence in our magnanimity and feeling that we are too powerful and too just a people to repay that confidence with meanness or neglect — feeling that having sacrificed to us their beautiful country, their homes, the associations of their lives, the scenes rendered classic in their traditions, we will not dole out to them a miser’s pittance in return for what they know to be and what we know to be a princely realm.”

Brown attributes this unctuous support of Manifest Destiny to Star Chief General Carleton and the reader wonders how he could even say (or write) the words. There was no doubt in his mind that he/ his race was superior. Where do you get that kind of confidence?

Another bit I would have liked to discuss is the origin of the horrible aphorism: The only good Indian is a dead Indian. Clearly we’ve come a long way from Carleton’s ‘admiration and respect’ speech above! The quote was attributed to General Sheridan though not word for word. His comment was “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Lieutenant Charles Nordstrom remembered the words, passed them on and through time they became “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Sheridan was the guy who implemented the “Total War” strategy against the Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche.

Third on my list of things to discuss was the Cochise quote: “Why is it that the Apaches want to die, that they carry their lives on their fingernails?” I tried to Google search the expression ‘to carry your life on your fingernails’ and after several articles about healthy fingernails, I found the quote but no discussion. It’s just a very poetic way of saying you aren’t guarding your life as you once did? akin to “wearing your heart on your sleeve” maybe? Discuss in the comment section.

Finally, I wanted to discuss the fact that at some point during the 1880’s Sitting Bull spoke to Annie Oakley and shared an opinion of the white man that is just as true today. He told her he could not understand how white men could be so unmindful of their own poor. “The white man knows how to make everything, but he does not know how to distribute it.” After I finished reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I started reading a book we considered reading once before but it wasn’t chosen for our list, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. I’m not trying to diss Christianity but I found this thought-provoking: “Christianity separated the people from themselves, it tried to crush the single clan name, encouraging each person to stand alone, because Jesus Christ would save only the individual soul: Jesus Christ was not like the Mother who loved and cared for them as her children, her family.” Again, discuss, in the comments.

The Party Favor: This month’s party favor didn’t inspire the humor that the tiny hands did for last month’s book, but Sharon has told me that she’s already found it useful. The party favor was a small Foam Kneeling Pad. Attached to the pad was an acetate bag that contained two Warming Herbal Pain Plasters for knee pain, two American Meadows Wildflower Seed Packets and an assortment of Solid Milk Chocolate Pansies. The sign on the package said: “We can’t undo white man’s misdeeds*, but we can restore a little nature. BURY THIS SEED ON AGED KNEE.” Marcia asked if she could take one for Karen and I allowed it this time — but girls, the party favors are for those who attend the party! Linda said it might be based on how many I want to take home, but I’ve had knee surgery on both knees and chocolate is my best friend. (Sorry to any of you who thought you might be,) You don’t have to have read the book, but you DO have to come to the party to get a party favor! It’s a reward, just in case the wine, great food, and sparkling conversation isn’t enough! Oh and next month’s favor might be a coupon for free blepharoplasty, so y’all come.

The next meeting is Tuesday June 26 at Marcia’s home with Karen and Marcia hosting a discussion of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. It’s a long one: start reading right after you read this last part!

Happy Birthday to Chris! Happy Anniversary to Marcia! And Happy _____________ to anyone I’ve forgotten!

*I don’t mean to suggest there is nothing we can do, but you know, it was a gift tag.

Book Club 101 Has a Little Free Library!

My daughter, Frances, made this happen for me. After the weight gain of the early pandemic, Frances and I took walks around our extended neighborhood and I was charmed to find two Little Free Libraries in our area. I began exchanging books with both, while Frances secretly worked on getting me one of my own. She painted it to match our home, the lighter cream color represents the bricks. Frances is not as interested in reading as I am; she’s more into movies, British TV and radio shows; but she is ever so gracious about allowing me to read favorite passages to her. She once had me watch just a portion of the movie About Time because a father (one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy) and son shared the same reading relationship. I’m a lucky mom.

This picture was taken on its very first day just after a friend, Chris, dug the post hole, leveled it, and secured the library to the post. He wasn’t interested in any of the books I had available at this time, but I’ll find one he’ll enjoy the next time he comes over to fix something for me. I am lucky to have gotten to know Chris and his wife Kathy at St. Josaphat Summerfest back in the day.

On Day 2 of its existence outside my home, my grandson and I checked on it before walking to school and found that six books were already off to new homes. Today, Day 3, three more books are gone and TWELVE new donations have joined them. As you may be able to guess, I feel lucky to be SO fascinated by this new addition to my life!