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Loving Frank August 25, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Book Clubs, Books, Fiction, Great Reads, library programs, Literature, Public libraries, readers, Reading, Second Saturday Book Club, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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Have you read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan?  There’s a good chance that the answer is yes, especially if you’re in a book club.  Our most recent Second Saturday group had one of our liveliest discussions yet about this one, and I would certainly recommend it to you, for single or group readership. 

Here’s a bare bones, non-spoiler summary of the plot:  Mamah Cheney, a well-educated married woman with small children, falls in love with the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  They leave their respective families and journey to Europe together.  There are, of course, consequences for all concerned. 

One of the challenges in reading and discussing the book is remembering that is a fictional account, even though the general outline of events did in fact occur.  In any case, it provoked some very strong responses from our members! 

One person found it very romantic, and thought that Frank and Mamah had found a once in a lifetime love.  Another reader was appalled that Mamah would leave her young children under these circumstances, and yet another had some extremely hostile things to say about Frank.

I enjoyed the book tremendously for a number of reasons, but especially for the portrayal of the life of the mind, not just in the persons of Frank and Mamah, but in the intellectual ferment in Europe and the growing importance of feminism. 

Did I mention that the book is beautifully written and very readable?  Loving Frank is not to be missed!  Highly recommended

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

P.S.  Here’s a link to questions for discussion from the publisher.

Repackaging the Good Life June 4, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, Great Reads, Literature, Mysteries, Reading.
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Alexander McCall Smith is best known in the United States for the Number One Ladies Detective Agency books, a series of gentle mystery novels set in Botswana. 

But if you lived in Edinburgh, you might be more familiar with his ongoing serial in the Scotsman, 44 Scotland Street.  If my calculations are correct, he has published something like 500 short chapters in the newspaper, and will resume the storyline later this year.  Five collections have been published, starting with 44 Scotland Street, and four are currently available in the U.S.

I am a huge fan of this series, even though I will admit it is not for everyone.  If you require a great deal of suspense, drama, and graphic portrayals of sex, you would do well to look elsewhere. 

What you will find here is a series of stories about people living their lives the best way they know how, set against the backdrop of a wonderful city.  Some of the characters are more commendable than others, but McCall Smith leaves the judgment to us.

What I love about the 44 Scotland Street series is that it asks questions about the good life – and gives some answers, too.  For McCall Smith, friendship, art, good food, and good conversation are all part of the good life.  Caring about our fellow human beings is most important of all.

Am I the only one who thinks that as a culture, we seem to have lost track of much of what makes a life good?  These tremendously appealing stories remind us of the importance of the life well lived.   I love the thought that folks in Edinburgh have had an opportunity to think about this when they pick up their daily newspaper.

Thank you, Mr. McCall Smith, for bringing so much pleasure – and food for thought – into my life!  The goal of the classical writer was to delight and to instruct.  You have certainly done that for me.

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

P.S.  Listening to this series on audiobook will definitely enhance your enjoyment!

They’re All Good! February 8, 2008

Posted by bookgoddess in Books, Great Reads, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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As you read this, voting will have ended for Read Together Palm Beach County.  I hope you voted, and I certainly hope you read whichever book is chosen (winning title to be announced on February 25th at noon, right out in front of the West Palm Beach Public Library at 100 Clematis Street). 

But I would actually like to encourage you to read all of the titles.  If you do, you’ll be able to experience the imaginary inner life of an autistic child who solves a mystery (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time); the true story of a gifted child growing up in a tragically dysfunctional family (The Glass Castle); the unintended consequences of a hasty but life-altering decision by a father (The Memory Keeper’s Daughter); the excitement and ambition of a young boy (and future NASA engineer) looking out to space and actually building his own rockets in a coal mining town (Rocket Boys); and the real-life uphill battle of a mountain climber to establish village schools in Pakistan (Three Cups of Tea).

Some of these books are fiction, some are nonfiction; they all are windows on worlds that we may never experience personally.  The magic of reading is that all of these worlds are available to us, at our convenience, and (let’s not forget) free of charge at your public library.

All the best from the Book Goddess!

44 Scotland Street February 5, 2008

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Book Clubs, Books, Fiction, Great Reads, library programs, Reading, Second Saturday Book Club, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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The Second Saturday Book Club’s selection for February is 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith.  Imagine an upscale, but not snooty, neighborhood in the heart of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.  The inhabitants of one particular building, and their close associates, make up the cast of characters.  There’s a college student working at an art gallery, a semi-retired anthropologist, and a wonderful woman named “Big Lou,” who has read practically everything and presides over the local coffee house.  However, my favorite character is the much put-upon child prodigy, Bertie, who just wants to stop going to therapy, learning Italian, and wearing raspberry overalls, and start being a little boy.

The story of these interesting characters is told in a series of episodes which appeared as a serial in the Scotsman newspaper over several years.  Two more collections, Espresso Tales and Love over Scotland follow this one.

These stories are not sensational – they mostly deal with the daily social interactions of the characters.  While the book would never be described as heavy, it is far from trivial. I find that McCall Smith has a sensitive and insightful view of human behavior.  He is a highly skilled wordsmith.  The tone and language are just right, and his characters are delightful.  The denizens of 44 Scotland Street encounter challenging situations at times, but generally things work out in a satisfying and often surprising manner.  Listen to the CD, if possible – the mild Scots accent adds to the experience, and the narrator does a brilliant job expressing the voices of the different characters.

Alexander McCall Smith is better known as the author of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency and its several sequels.  These novels are a charming portrayal of a lady detective in a small town in Botswana.  All of his work that I’ve encountered has a very positive outlook on life. 

I like 44 Scotland Street so much that I made it one of my “Staff Picks” here at the Library.  I think you will enjoy it very much!  (And I hope to see you on Saturday, February 9th, at 10:30 a.m. for the Book Club discussion!)

Tina Maura Albee

The Book Goddess

P.S.  If I haven’t yet convinced you to read these books, how about this?  One of the scenes in Espresso Tales involves a nudist picnic in an Edinburgh rainstorm.  I’ll simply say that this should not be missed.

Reading with the Queen January 10, 2008

Posted by bookgoddess in Books, Great Reads, Reading.
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I’m a huge fan of books about books.  You know, books where reading, or books, or bookstores, or book clubs, or even librarians, play an important role.  There are books that range from the deeply moving (Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi) to the really funny (The Librarian by Larry Beinhart).  Yes, I have a list of them for you, and I’m sure you’ll find something fabulous to read.  There are some on the list I haven’t read, and really, I would like to stop typing and start reading.

But before I do that, I want to recommend The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.  One day, the Queen (yes, that one, or actually a fictionalized version of the Queen) loses control of the Corgis.  She runs them down near the kitchen door of the Palace, where a bookmobile is parked.  Out of royal politeness, she checks out a book.  As is often the case, one thing leads to another, and she becomes an avid reader, aided in her selections by one of the Palace servants.  We’re always saying that reading changes lives, and indeed it seems to change the Queen.  She’s not nearly as motivated by the public events and official state appearances as she once was.  Her advisors are appalled, and make vigorous efforts to deter her from this new and dangerous course.

I’m not going to reveal the ending, and I don’t know if I’ve conveyed that this is a very witty book indeed, but I really think you will enjoy it.  And – it’s a novella, so you actually could read it in an evening and credit yourself with having read a whole book!

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess

P.S. – Oh, yes, here’s a link to the “Books About Books” reading list. 

Love in the Time of Cholera – Oprah likes it, too! October 16, 2007

Posted by bookgoddess in Book Clubs, Books, Fiction, Great Reads, Literature, Reading, Second Saturday Book Club.
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I was very pleased to see that Oprah recently picked Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for her Book Club.  The Second Saturday Book Club was a little ahead of the game, as it was our selection for May 2007.  Click here for a link to the review I wrote at that time.  I’m sorry you missed our discussion, but I think you’ll find this to be an amazing book.

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Great Reads) October 12, 2007

Posted by bookgoddess in Books, Fiction, Great Reads, Literature.
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Empire Falls is one of my favorite books to recommend to people, and I don’t think I’ve had a dissatisfied customer yet.

This book has a wonderful sense of place – Empire Falls is a mill town in decline, still ruled over by the elderly daughter of the mill owners. 

Of course, there is a diner.  It’s managed by Miles Roby, the central character.  Once, he was a college boy with a bright future.  But he left school to take care of his aging mother.  Twenty years later, he’s still in Empire Falls and his wife is leaving him for the owner of the local health club.  Oh, dear….

Alongside the narrative of Miles’s midlife slump and the town’s decline, we have vignettes of the history of the leading family.  These stories eventually converge in a startling climax.

By the way, this novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2002.  Besides literary excellence, one of the criteria for the Pulitzer is that the novel portrays an aspect of American life.  I think Empire Falls succeeds admirably on both counts.

What books do you like to recommend?  I would love to know!

Tina Maura Albee

The Book Goddess