It was a year ago this month that the Best Montclair Book Club had its first meeting. None of us had ever met. Judy started things off on the NextDoor app, looking for book club recommendations, to which several of us replied for her to let us know when she found one in our area. I forget who suggested we form our own club, but we did! Now that a year has gone by, our number has thinned a bit (but we would welcome more, hint hint). We have read 11 books (we took July off as everyone was traveling), but a few of us met at the movies to see Inside Out, which we thoroughly enjoyed. While I think I have a physical resemblance to Sadness, and sometimes an attitudinal one, I really try to be more like Joy (only if Joy was a little bit shy and bookish).
Draw glasses on my picture, you’ll see.
Here is our year in books! (opinions expressed are solely those of the blogger, not the group.)
- We started off with Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, the story of the real life Grimké sisters told in tandem with that of slave Hetty.
The metaphor of wings and learning to fly applies to spirited Hetty in her search for freedom and to the Grimké sisters, Sarah in particular, as they forge their way against oppression as women and abolitionists. The interweaving of the women’s stories is an effective tool in illustrating how oppression works at all levels, some blatant and some quite subtle. On a side note, Sarah Grimké describes her sister Angelina as quite a beauty. Here are their portraits that you can find online. Not so sure about that.
2. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón (translated by Lucia Graves)
I love this book. I had read it once before and was very happy to read it again. I think the general feeling of the group was that it was “dark”, which it is. Zafón creates a moody, spooky atmosphere in post-war Barcelona. There are stories within stories, twists and turns, and the wonderfully labyrinthian Cemetery of Lost Books. The evil and twisted Inspector Fumero will have you cringing. If there is ever a deal to make a movie out of this, I want to know!
3. The Greatest Gift, Philip Van Doren Stern
This was our holiday reading pick, and it being a short story made it that much more of a gift of time! This is the story that the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life was based on.
The story itself is quite short but the publication includes an afterword written by the author’s daughter describing how he couldn’t find a publisher for the story, so he printed 200 copies himself and sent them as Christmas cards in 1943. The story was embellished for the 1946 film, which was made after RKO Pictures bought the rights to make a film starring Cary Grant. The rights were eventually sold to Frank Capra’s production company. Though the final credits don’t mention her name, Dorothy Parker was one of the many writers who worked on the screenplay.
4. We started out 2015 with Robin Black’s Life Drawing.
Unfortunately, I was sick the night of our club meeting so I don’t know how the rest of the group felt about the book! I quite enjoyed it. It’s not a happy book, by any means, as it revolves around marital infidelity. There is also some suspense, and an underlying story of artist Gus (Augusta) and her struggles with a painting of young WWI soldiers she works on throughout the story, having found some compelling photographs inside the walls of the old country house she shares with her husband Owen. It was a perfect read for being sick at home with a cup of tea and a cat in my lap.
5. Next up, a little change of pace with The Rosie Project, the debut novel by Australian writer and information systems consultant Graeme Simsion, who has since published a second book, The Rosie Effect.
I found the book to be charming and lighthearted, but there are some real issues about Asperger’s Syndrome and family relationships in genetics professor Don Tillman’s search for the theoretically perfect wife. There is a movie in the works; Jennifer Lawrence is supposedly set to play Rosie, and last I hear, director Richard Linklater was a possibility.
6. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
I absolutely adore Anne Tyler and have read every one of her books, so maybe I am a little biased on this one! Other members of the group lamented that “nothing happens” but I find it to be a lovely reflection on love and family and disappointment and the importance of home.
The usual Anne Tyler elements are all there: multi generations of the same middle-class family; the slightly ditzy mother Abby; the grown children with mid-life problems; the black sheep son Denny; the illusion of ordinary happiness. Dysfunctional families in literature can become clichéd, yet I always find Tyler’s characters to be engaging and sad and heartwarming all at the same time.
7. Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
This was my pick, partly because it’s not very long and partly because it had been sitting on my bedside table for a long time and I decided it was a good way to get me to finally read it. I don’t know what took me so long, because I love hearing Neil Gaiman talk and I love hearing his stories read on NPR Selected Shorts. If you can find a recording of Jane Curtin reading “Chivalry” please take the time to listen.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane can be described as many things: fantasy, allegory, ghost story, a reflection on the disconnect between childhood and adulthood. It’s a very visual read, and brings up those childhood feelings of warmth and comfort as well as fear and anxiety. Another one I’d love to see as a film.
8. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Book 1 in the Neapolitan Novels)
This one reminded me a bit of Margaret Atwood’s Cats Eye in its story of two girlhood friends and the nature of friendship.
I enjoyed the book, but I am not convinced I will go on to read books 2 and 3 in the series. Some in the group loved it; I was not quite there. I put Cat’s Eye in my then Top Ten when I read it a few years ago, so I’d pick Margaret Atwood over Elena Ferrante (sorry).
9. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train
Wow. Talk about a thriller! I was sucked in and couldn’t put it down. There are the inevitable comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, with unreliable narrators and “girl” in the title.
But it’s definitely its own book with lots of red herrings and characters who make you crazy. If you are looking for a thrilling page-turner, this is it! No one complained that nothings happens in this one.
10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I posted how much I loved this book when I was reading it this summer in Norway. I can’t say enough. It is so beautifully written that it can be painful at times to read as Marie-Laure and Werner are separately and then together unalterably changed by World War II. There’s a creepy, Lord of the Flies quality to Werner’s time in training for the Hitler Youth, and an insight into the poverty and desperation that got him there. This is in my current Top Ten. A must read.
11. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder
Disclaimer: I only just started this one and am going to have to scramble to finish it for the club meeting in 2 days. This is also not the type of book that I am typically drawn to, but part of belonging to a book club is to try new things and get out of my comfort zone a little. What I am learning: high finance is ruthless, watch your back, and I made the right choice going into the arts and not business.
Just today, a suggestion was made that our next book be Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity. I did not love The Corrections, but I did like Freedom. I find Jonathan Franzen to be a very interesting person in interviews and am ready to jump into this one.
If you live in the vicinity of Montclair in Oakland, California or in the East Bay and don’t mind making your way to Montclair, and want to join us, you can find us on GoodReads. If you love books and talking about books (and pets, most of us have pets so when we meet at our various houses the dogs and cats tend to be a part of things too), then look us up: The Best Montclair Book Club!