Book Club Books

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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Comments:
• I absolutely loved this book. It has changed my professional practice. I love that it is told in first person. I have told everyone I know about this book. – Carrie
• I liked this book for its different point of view. As a person with short-term memory problems, this book SKERRED me! – Kerry
• I enjoyed this book. It was a wonderful insight into the life of a person dealing with Alzheimer’s. – Melissa
• Loved this book. It was a fast read. I really enjoyed the insight of the person telling the story. Definitely recommend it to others. – Tami
• This book was so resonant of my days working with Alzheimer’s patients. It just inspired such empathy and compassion for people stricken by the disease, and the families that have to pick up the pieces. I loved the first hand narrative and understanding that the future is so blurry. – Marlo
• To its credit, it was not long enough to dislike but long enough to connect and like. – Sarah
• I appreciated getting and Alzheimer’s perspective; really getting a look at what the patients go through. I didn’t love it because it is not my cup of tea. But I appreciated this perspective. – Mari

Conclusion: We had a long, in depth discussion related to this book. Even those that didn’t read it could contribute and those that usually don’t read, finished and enjoyed it. Definitely a conversation starter.

Reading Group Guide

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

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Comments:
• I didn’t get far, but did enjoy what I read. There were some interesting ideas and correlations presented. – Marlo
• It was good. He had really unique ways of looking at the world. – Sarah
• Very interesting. The sociological perspective made economics much easier for me to grasp. – Kerry
• I really enjoyed this sociological study but was disappointed at how short it felt. I thought I was only halfway through when I indeed was at the end. – Danica

Conclusion: We spoke very briefly but those who did read it, enjoyed it.

Reading Group Guide

Street Gang by Michael Davis

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Comments:
• It was a great book… about Captain Kangaroo. – Melissa
• I just couldn’t get past the per-amble – I was on something like chapter 6 and Sesame Street still had not been in production. I just couldn’t take any more background so I put it down. – Danica

Conclusion: We were pretty excited about this one, but no one ended up even finishing it!

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

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Comments:
• It was a little boring. I guess I just did not get it. Fast read. – Sarah
• I enjoyed the book, still not finished. I will finish it, two books in a row, yah!! I now want to see the movie. – Tami
• I only read 30 pages, so I don’t know if my opinion would have changed, but it wasn’t really my style of book. – Amy
• One chapter was enough for me. The format of a graphic novel had my interest. However, the story subject matter was not my cup of tea, to say the least, and I found the format distracting. – Marlo
• I really enjoyed the story but was having trouble with the graphic novel format. I think the drawings could have been better too – I kept getting confused and some plot points would have made greater impact had they been more iconic. – Danica

Conclusion: This was a great experiment but most of the group would have rather read a novel.

Beyond the Pale by Elana Dykewomon

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Comments:
• Trying to be like The Jungle but just not as good. Really, come on, does everyone really need to be gay? – Sarah
• I do not finish many books, but I got into this one and really enjoyed it. It was a quick read. I liked how the author switched narrators, and it easily transitioned through the rest of the book. – Tami
• There were parts (like the first half) which were great and really realistic. The second half sort of lost steam and became a statement piece that lost its way. There were a few different characters that narrate the story but the way they were written, the voice was the same – a little disappointing and confusing on that end. Overall I liked it but didn’t love it. – Danica
• I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to get into the lives of the women and their experiences. – Carrie
• The was the most enjoyable read I’ve picked up in awhile. Although I’ve read many books growing up about Eastern European immigration and pogroms, this was not romanticized, but felt realistic. I didn’t feel that the love story was quite realistic, but enjoyed the characters anyway. – Marlo

Conclusion: This was mostly well liked and we were so eager to talk about it that we skipped our usual book club business conversation and dove straight into the discussion.

To Hold the Crown by Jean Plaidy

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Comments:
• I’m just about to finish it. I liked reading about the royal family and customs, but didn’t feel tied to any character. – Kerry
• I usually like this genre of book but this one was just not good. It jumped around too much and the author constantly repeated herself. Your time would be better spent reading something by Phillipa Gregory. – Sarah
• Do not expect this book to follow the description on the cover. It was good for what it was, but many parts of the story were redundant. I enjoyed it enough to finish it, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. – Carrie
• This one wasn’t very interesting to me, despite normally liking the genre. I never felt engaged with the characters, and felt like there wasn’t anything new to offer in telling this history. – Marlo
• I slogged through this even though being disappointed in the first 50 pages. She introduces a whole lot of densely packed history, characters and motivations in the beginning and then sort of gets into the story. As soon as you are attached to any one character, they are gone and you are back to reading about a bunch of things that don’t really matter and you really don’t care about. I agree with Sarah about reading Phillipa Gregory’s work instead. – Danica

Conclusion: Not much of a discussion went on except for voicing our dislike. It felt like there wasn’t much to say.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Comments:
• I enjoyed this book very much! I loved her writing and was so touched by the themes of how it feels to be an immigrant, Indian and even human. -Kerry
• I loved this book. Each story was so unique and had such great themes running through. The writing style was also quick and easy. It makes me hungry for Indian food, too. -Carrie
• Although I only read about a third of this, I am really enjoying it. The author has quite a way of portraying “quiet discontent” without making characters blatantly sad. There was a sense of acceptance of customs regarding family, mixed with a restlessness to break free of binding foreign cultures. -Marlo
• I enjoyed her writing style and really felt the theme as it wound itself through each of the stories. There were a few that hit very close to home and made me really sad, but I guess that means that the characters were relatable and believable. -Danica

Conclusion: We really didn’t spend much time on a discussion but I think it may have just been that we were really chatty this meeting. I had a really hard time getting everyone to focus on our regular book club business of choosing whose house next, a date, voting on a book and ordering.

Reading Group Guide

Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama

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Comments:
• I enjoyed parts of the book. About halfway through I could have been done, but continued to gather more insight into the passions of our future president. Had he not been recently elected, I probably would not have finished. – Carrie
• I am in the first section and I am enjoying it. Plan to continue and finish this one. – Tami
• Very engaging. I enjoyed the personal voice and self deprecation humor that sprinkled the dialogue. I can’t help but wonder if I might have read it differently pre-presidential campaign. – Marlo
• I have to admit, I cheated a bit… got the audio book read by Obama. Hearing it in his owm voice was AMAZING!! He actually changed accents and was so mesmerizing. – Brandi
• I enjoyed reading this book. I think it provides great insight into the life of a man who promises to be a significant figure in modern history. – Kerry
• I enjoyed parts of the book but was bored during most of the community service in Chicago part. I think I would have enjoyed Obama’s second book The Audacity of Hope more because it was written with a more political/ideological purpose. I want to know more about him in his own words but this felt neither completely an autobiography nor completely an ideological tome. Both became watered down because of the other. – Danica

Conclusion:
I am really proud of us, we had a really civilized conversation that lasted a nice portion of book club. Most of us had read all or a nice chunk of the book and were ready to talk about it. Because we are in this moment in history, I think we read this book at the perfect time and it lent itself really well to a wonderful discussion.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley

Another year, another book club anniversary (7th), another picture
: )

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Reading Group Guide

Comments:
• Powerful. I can see why this is such a classic. Everyone should read this. I especially enjoyed the beginning when Kunte was still happy in Africa. Alex Haley did an excellent job making all want the transoceanic crossing to end! Of course, I would have loved to know what happened to certain people, but I suppose the point was that those people didn’t get to say goodbye. – Marlo
• I am so glad that I read this book. My favorite part was the last chapter. All throughout the book I wondered how he was able to trace his roots back to Africa. Amazing! – Kerry
• Ditto to what Marlo wrote. – Carrie
• I did not like that they dropped story lines. Also, the book could have been cut by half. The whole cock fighting this was just boring. – Sarah
• I didn’t read it : ( – Steph
• This is my favorite book of all time. – Melissa
• I really enjoyed the majority of this book a lot. I could have done without so much detail regarding Chicken George and his story but other than that, I found it fascinating. The end gave me goose bumps once we find out how everything links up and allows him to tell the story of his “Roots”. – Danica

Conclusion: This is the second meeting we have had with the new way of handling talking about the books. It was a wonderful book for a discussion and although Melissa (who led this one) hates doing the questions, it did spark some nice conversation. We didn’t even decorate the tree because we spent more time discussing and exchanging gifts.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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Comments:
• I loved it. Nothing like a classic! – Sarah
• I didn’t finish, so I can’t say I disliked it with qualification. I felt very uncomfortable reading about a pedophile protagonist and worried deeply about my daughters. – Steph
• I enjoyed this book a lot. I was surprised how the story portrays Lolita not as an aggressor but more of a flippant, flirty child and how the current pop culture reference to Lolita is more of aggressive jail bait. – Danica
• Although I am not done yet, I’m loving it. – Melissa
• Although there were many, many disturbing scenes, and flippantly dropped tidbits, I love Nabokov’s play with language. He manages to portray a cynical, despicable madman. Oh… and Lolita was a brat. – Marlo
• Very interesting. I’m glad I have a better knowledge of the Lolita reference. – Kerry

Conclusion: This was the first meeting where we had the person who brought the book in lead the discussion. I think it worked out really well. Those of us who had read it actually did get into quite a nice discussion about the content, writing style and pop culture references.

Reading Group Guide

Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic

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Comments:
• Didn’t get into it. – Carrie
• This book is not for everyone. There are no characters to get emotionally attached to and it has to be read like a bunch of short stories. – Sarah
• I read the first of the three sections. There just wasn’t enough of an interest there to keep me wanting to read more. – Danica
• Although I started this with high hopes and good intentions, even trying alternate methods to read through it, I decided I could make better use of my time by reading an encyclopedia or dictionary. – Marlo
• Another one I didn’t read : ( Darn kids! – Steph

Conclusion: Only one member actually made it through the book – while we sometimes have pretty bad statistics, this is really really bad stats!

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

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Comments:
• I first read this in high school and loved it then. Re-reading it has been so much fun. I’m seeing everything with a new perspective. I love the story and creativity behind it. It will always be one of my favorites. – Carrie
• This book was a waste of time, paper and ink. – Sarah
• I couldn’t push through it. Too many unnecessary details. – Melissa
• Ditto. Couldn’t finish it. Got bogged down. – Brandi
• I went into reading this book with very low expectations and the content as a complete fantasy, I think that helped me enjoy it and get more involved with the characters rather than the details. – Danica
• I really, really like this book – only got 1/2 way through. If I finish it, I think I might “Love It”. – Steph
• I am enjoying it but as usual, not done : ( – Tami
• This has been one of my favorites since junior high. The characters are so well described that I feel like I actually know them. I even enjoy the extensive description of the local flora & fauna. Can’t say enough about this one. – Marlo
• I couldn’t get into it. – Kerry

Conclusion: All I can say is that the group was extremely polarized by this book. It seems like you either love it or hate it…

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

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Comments:
• Way too much history – I just did not care. – Sarah
• Although I love her style and enjoyed the story, it was too heavy handed on the history. – Melissa
• This book ranks among my top favorites. I love the writing style, and just felt completely immersed in the adventure. Inez was such a strong, spunky lady and her storytelling had me completely captivated. This second read was as enjoyable as the first. – Marlo
• I really enjoyed the story, but I got lost with some of the history. At times it felt like a history book, with a story entwined. – Carrie
• I enjoyed the book although not as much as some of her other books. I know she did extensive historical research but she did not strike a good balance between the fiction and the history. – Danica
• This was not the usual type of book I read, but I really enjoyed it. The writing was great and the story fascinating. I found the history very disturbing. – Hillary
• I’m a fan of Allende and went to the book reading when this book came out. I enjoyed her and the book very much. – Kerry

Conclusion: As mentioned by Kerry a small group of us went to a signing and author talk when this came out. Allende is a great speaker and anytime there is a chance to see her speak, we highly recommend the trip. As for the book club, we mostly enjoyed this one although the consensus with those who are her fans was that this was good but not her best work. We had a great discussion about the history, and the viewpoint of both the Conquistadors and the Native Americans.

Reading Group Guide

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

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Comments:
• The main story line is OK, but there was a lot of stuff I just did not get. – Sarah
• I read about 100 pages and just couldn’t identify with the characters and get into the story. I didn’t like it and put it down. – Danica
• Not a fan of this one. There were some interesting ideas, and as always, beautiful language, but I felt the story was a bit disjointed. It just didn’t engage me. – Marlo
• Beautifully written, but slow going. The ideas were interesting, but I didn’t feel any connection to the characters. – Hillary

Conclusion: Most didn’t finish this one because no one could get into the story. For us, it was a dud. There was some mention that we should have read one of Morrison’s other works.

Rashi’s Daughters, Book I: Joheved by Maggie Anton

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Comments:
• Though I haven’t finished it, I love it! – Stacey
• I have not finished it! I loved it though. It will be finished. Looking forward to the wedding. – Tami
• I liked it, a fun read. It made me remember a lot of my religious learning from when I was a child through the talmud learning in the book. It also made me realize why I approached my studies and thesis the way I did in grad school. It seemed natural to me at the time whereas now I see that it was the way I was taught to approach learning in general. – Danica
• Again, historical fiction is always a favorite of mine. I really connected with the characters. – Melissa
• This was a new subject matter for me, and I found it so interesting. I learned a lot. – Kerry
• I really enjoyed this book. Looking at the female side of this time period was enlightening. I have already finished book 2 and anxiously await book 3. – Carrie
• Since I am newly married to a Jewish man, I find that I’m fascinated by the Jewish religion and I keep wanting to learn more. This book helped me explore my thirst for knowledge. Plus, it was great historical fiction – well developed characters within an interesting setting. – Rachelle
• I’m loving it so far! Can’t wait to finish it! – Brandi
• Very much a woman’s book. I enjoyed the intimate relationships I was able to have with the family in the books. The characters are relatable and enjoyable to spend time with. – Marlo

Conclusion: We really enjoyed reading this especially because we got to meet with the author! We had a wonderful meeting and a great time speaking with Maggie.

Reading Group Guide

In anticipation of our author visit with Maggie Anton, we have emailed a list of questions to her. Since the list is so long, she has emailed some of her responses already. Here are the questions with the answers that we have received. Ms. Anton’s answers are noted with an “MA:”

1. Where did you find your inspiration for the character traits of each daughter?
MA: Each of the daughters is based on my own different traits.

2. Was Rashi known to have a temper? How much is known about him and his family?

3. Judaism praises and mandates modesty in all aspects of life, from business to love. What really happens especially when it comes to wealth and modesty is another discussion altogether… How do you reconcile including such explicit sex scenes into a relationship that more than likely was healthy however would have been much more modest living in such proximity to the rest of the family?

4. Which character is your favorite? Does one resonate more closely to you than another?
MA: As I write each book, that character becomes my favorite.

5. When you finish a book, do you “miss” your characters?
MA: Haven’t finished the series yet.

6. What is your best writing tool? ie: quiet room? lucky typewriter? cat in your lap?
MA: Quiet room with no interruptions. Instrumental music is OK, but no singing or talking.

7. How did you decide which talmudic passages to include?

8. Have you been to that region of France?
MA: Yes, for 3 weeks in March 1998.

9. You wrote the characters to be very similar in ritual and practice to today’s Orthodox Judaism however the everyday interactions and relationships seemed much more liberal in comparison. Do you feel that the Jews of that period were not as separationist, strict and regimented in all aspects of life as today’s ultra Orthodox community has become in the last 20 years?

10. What do you feel you gained/learned the most in writing this story?

11. Do you have any advice for an aspiring novel writer?

12. Can you compare/contrast the roles of women in Judaism then and today?

13. The inclusion of the demonology surprised me because it seems to have fallen away as such a strong element of Judaism and life today. Do you feel that it was a reflection and influence of the time? or a part of the religion that has fallen away to make room for more modern thought?

14. Did differing views/interpretations of the Talmud cause disharmony within communities?
MA: Sometimes.
Were accepted interpretations consistent in schools, communities, geographical areas? MA: No.

15. Can you clarify the issue of Kashrut that Rashi disputed? Specifically, if there were, why were there different slaughtering laws or customs for different communities?

16. Why was the term “Christian” not used?
MA:”Christ” means Messiah; so Jews, for whom the Messiah hasn’t come yet, never use it to refer to Jesus.

17. You noted on your website that you were surprised to learn that few Jews made a living as moneylenders. Why do you think that is a common perception?
MA: Maybe Shakespeare and his character Shylock? But there are many misperceptions about how Jews lived in 11th-12th century Europe.

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

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Comments:
• I cried practically through the entire book. It was deeply moving. I also enjoyed the attention to historical detail. – Melissa
• I totally enjoyed this book. It was fun, interesting, sad and everything all into one. – Sarah
• I liked this book so much! I didn’t finish it – but I will soon… – Steph
• I loved this book. I got so attached to the main character. The history was fascinating. Very moving! – Carrie
• I read this book a long time ago. Beautiful story! – Kerry
• I have not finished it, but I love it and will finish it soon! It is a great story! – Tami
• This was a really interesting book to me as I’ve never read anything about this subject. I felt like I really knew the characters and that they were real people rather than characters. So much was heartbreaking yet I also understood a society wanting to contain a contagious disease that wasn’t understood at the time. – Marlo
• I immediately was sucked into this story. I loved it all the way through! -Danica

Conclusion: This was very well liked by all the members. I definitely would recommend this to other book clubs.

Reading Group Guide

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