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Informative, Difficult, Gloomy
The author describes his relationship with his brother Tony and explores the effect that their mother's suicide had on them and on other family members.

The moderator of the Elberon Book Club, held monthly at the Elberon Branch of the Long Branch Free Public Library, won 10 copies of this title from bookmovement.com. Since that book club reads fiction almost exclusively, she passed them on to me. The Nonfiction Book Club at the Main Library read Blue Genes for our January selection.
The members who attended the January discussion felt, as I did, that Blue Genes, while extremely well written, is a difficult book to read because of its painful subject matter. A number of us found that it brought up some of our own issues with our own families. Some of the members felt that it helped them to better understand bipolar disorder, or manic depressive illness, as it is sometimes called.
I would recommend this book to any book club whose members are willing to tackle such a difficult subject honestly. The list of book discussion questions provided on the Doubleday website is excellent. Rating: 3.5 stars for individual use; 2 stars for book club use.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Slow, Difficult
Difficult But Worth the Effort

As the book club moderator, I decided to allot two months for the club to read Einstein: His Life and Universe, since it is an especially long book. (Not counting the bibliography, footnotes, and index, it totals 551 pages). Even so, none of the book club members attending the meeting finished it, including me. Since I had not finished the last 100 pages, I took a few minutes to skim them before the meeting.

We have an interesting mix of people in our book club. Some of our members would prefer not to read anything that's too long, while one or two of the members are intellectually-minded individuals who will tackle anything. We read only nonfiction, with the exception of a session devoted to poetry once a year. We have read an eclectic mix of books, most of which have been titles members stated that they would not have read if they had not been in the club -- but which they enjoyed nonetheless. However, to my knowledge, none of us is strong in physics or higher mathematics.

One of the book club members attended the discussion but refused to read the book because she objected to Einstein's treatment of his first wife. When I asked the members present if they would recommend this title to other book clubs, one of the members said that she would, with the caveat that I tell them to feel free to skip or skim the physics parts. She felt that one can understand the information about Einstein's life even if one doesn't understand the physics. The other members who had read the book concurred.

I would not recommend this book to the average book club. It is not a good choice for club members who want a "quick read." I WOULD recommend this book for the special book club whose members enjoy reading biographies and who are willing to step outside their comfort zone. However, unless all of the members are retirees with LOTS of time on their hands, I strongly recommend that you allow members two or even three months to read it. Rating: 4 stars for individual reading;
3 stars for book clubs.

 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Interesting, Informative
Victorian Summers at the Grand Hotels of Long Branch, New Jersey

Victorian Summers at the Grand Hotels of Long Branch, New Jersey discusses the summer social season at the boarding houses and grand hotels on Ocean Avenue in Long Branch from the 1830s to the 1890s, with emphasis on the period from 1860 to 1890. It was written by the late George Moss, who served as Monmouth County Historian until his death, and local historian Karen Schnitzspahn. The text is supplemented by reproductions of stereographic views (duplicate photographs intended to be seen through a special viewer) taken by well-known 19th century photographers and by reproductions of illustrations from "Harper's Weekly" and other 19th century New York newspapers. The use of additional commas would have made the book a little clearer, but, otherwise, it is well written.

Two out of three of the people attending the book club meeting liked this title. One of them said that it was a refreshing change from our last two books (Einstein: His Life and Universe, which everybody found intellectually challenging, and Reading Lolita in Tehran, whose theme of life under a repressive theocratic government does not exactly make for light reading).

On the other hand, we had lower attendance than usual at the book club meeting. I have not yet talked with members who did not attend the meeting and, as the moderator, I am not sure whether the poor attendance was solely due to people being especially busy during the holidays or whether it was partly a reflection of members' reactions to the book.

Since the book deals with the history of a particular town, it will not interest the average book club. Obviously, it is of greatest interest to those of us who live either in Long Branch, New Jersey, or in the surrounding area. That being said, I would recommend it to a book club whose members are fascinated by the social life of high society in the northern states after the Civil War. Although this title is out of print, book club members may be able to borrow it on interlibrary loan through their hometown library. If not, copies can be purchased from individual sellers through www.amazon.com or www.alibris.com.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Boring, Insightful
Moving, and thought provoking

Reading Lolita in Tehran is partly memoir, partly literary criticism, and partly a history of Iran during and after the revolution that overthrew the Shah. Nafisi begins with the events that led up to her decision to begin private instruction in American and British literature to female college students in her home. From that point, she looks back on her life. Nafisi discusses her own college years in the United States, where she was part of an Iranian community protesting the United States' support of the Shah, and then goes on to describe her experiences as an English professor at two universities in Iran shortly before, during, and in the years immediately after the Iranian Revolution. She reveals how she had met the students she invited to join her class and the persecutions she and they had already endured separately by the time she begins her private classes. Interwoven into the stories of the author's life and the lives of her students are the teacher's and students' reactions to the novels they read together. It is impossible to write about Iran since the Revolution without writing about the repression of Iranian women. Nafisi writes movingly of life under a totalitarian regime. Through the medium of literature, she discusses a number of compelling issues with her students, including the meaning of the burka to those who wear it by choice versus those who are compelled to wear it and the complicity of the citizens of a country in their oppression by their government. We had a very lively discussion of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Our group includes both men and women. One of the members is an elderly man of Arab descent who was raised in France and he had a great deal to say about the culture of the Middle East. I personally liked the book very much. One of the women did not want to read it because she is upset by the oppression of women in the Middle East. Generally, the members seemed to like it but not as much as I did. Reading Lolita in Tehran is very well written and I found it both moving and thought provoking. It is not recommended for those looking for a quick read or for those who prefer not to read about the darker side of life. It is strongly recommended for book clubs interested in women's issues or the culture and history of other nations.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Fantastic
Mimi Schwartz is an excellent speaker!

This review is of the presentation by Mimi Schwartz. She is an excellent speaker. The audience was rapt throughout her presentation. Although she has written several books, which she had available for sale at the book signing that followed her presentation, her talk focused on Good Neighbors, Bad Times. She usually charges a fee. If your group can meet her fee or if you can guarantee enough participants for a book sale/book signing to follow her presentation, I highly recommend her as a speaker. Her talk would be of particular interest to those interested in the Holocaust. She has also written a book on the craft of writing nonfiction. A talk on this book would be of interest to a writers' group.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Dark
Gripping Account of Good and Evil in 19th Century Chicago Has Something for Everyone

The Devil in the White City is an account of the construction of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and the serial killer who used the draw of the fair to lure his prey. There is plenty here for readers of American history, architecture buffs, and fans of true crime. The reader comes away with a greater understanding of life in the 1890s and a tremendous appreciation for the skills of architect Daniel Burnham, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, and engineer/inventor George Washington Gale Ferris. Chapters alternate focus between those responsible for the construction of the fair (before, during, and after) and Herman Webster Mudgett, aka Dr. H. H. Holmes, whose known victims number 27 but who may have killed as many as 200. The book is extremely well written and makes effective use of foreshadowing and other novelistic techniques to keep the reader engaged. Larson's dropping of the names of people not directly involved with the fair, from Jane Addams and Mark Twain to Walt Disney and Frank Lloyd Wright, helps to anchor the events of the book in time as well as to connect the events of that time with twenty-first century life. In my opinion, the novelistic techniques and the fact that this book has something for almost everyone makes it one of the best choices for a book club. I would personally rate it 5 stars. Of the three other members who attended the meeting, two rated it 3 stars and one rated it 4 stars. The three words chosen to describe the book reflect the group consensus rather than my opinion alone. Personally, the only thing I would fault about the book is that I wish that it had more pictures, either sketches or photographs, both of the fair and of Holmes's victims.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Adventurous, Interesting
A Very Satisfying "Year"!

Peter Mayle and his wife bought a house in Provence, a region in the south of France. A Year in Provence is a month-by-month account of Mayle's experiences during the first year they lived there. Mayle's description of his interactions with his colorful neighbors and the daily routine of life in rural France gives the armchair traveler a good feel for Provencal customs and culture. (The descriptions of meals eaten in local restaurants or prepared from local ingredients will leave the reader drooling.) The workmen Mayle and his wife hired to fix up the house, who were as colorful and opinionated as his neighbors, had, as workmen around the world often do, their own schedules for the work, but the Mayleses came up with a brilliant idea that got the work finished by Christmas. During the summer, they put up with freeloading vacationers, some of whom were acquaintances of acquaintances, who expected accommodations for their summer vacations. The book club members voted this a solid 4* selection for book club use. The only thing we found odd is that Peter Mayle's wife is virtually absent from the book. She is never identified by name and her reactions, when different from his, are never acknowledged. We are waiting for her book on the couple's first year in Provence.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Insightful
A Revealing Look at the World of the Professional Umpire

As They See 'Em takes the reader into the world of the professional umpire. Far from being the lazy incompetents the baseball fan believes them to be, umpires are members of a proud fraternity who aspire to bring integrity to the game they love. Every profession has its own culture. In order to enter the culture of professional umpires and take the reader with him, Weber began by attending umpire school to learn what it takes to become a major league umpire and then spent two years umpiring amateur games and interviewing umpires in both the major and minor leagues. (He eventually was given the opportunity to umpire a pre-season major league game.) The reader comes away from this book not only feeling sorry for umpires because of the way that Major League Baseball treats them but also admiring umpires for the skill and work ethic they bring to their profession. The reader also gains an appreciation for the dangers (which can and does include death threats) of their job. Very few professional umpires ever make it out of the minor leagues, as there are seven times as many openings in the major leagues for players than there are for umpires, so when we look at those who are serving in the major leagues, we are seeing men who are both skilled and driven. Weber discusses the reasons why what the fan sees is different from what the umpire sees, the effect of technology on the profession, the difficulty women and minorities experience in becoming major league umpires, and the effect of the 1999 mass resignation of umpires on the profession, on individual umpires, and on the game. Although all of the book club members said that they would not have read this book on their own, they rated it a 4* title for book discussions.

 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful
Good Choice for Poetry Discussion Groups!

Langston Hughes is a good choice for a poetry selection for a book discussion group because his work is so accessible. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes provides a good cross-section of his work. There is something for almost everyone; short, lyrical poems are interspersed with longer story poems. Not only is Hughes one of my favorite poets, but everyone who attended the meeting enjoyed it as well.

Native North American Art (Oxford History of Art) by Janet Catherine Berlo, Ruth B. Phillips
 
Informative
Packed with Information but Too Scholarly for Book Clubs

When I got my copy, I realized that choosing Native North American Art for my book club was a mistake. Although it
is well written and copiously illustrated with black and white
and color reproductions of the art of a wide variety of Native
American tribes, the text is dense and in a rather small font.
In my opinion, Native North American Art would make a good choice
for individual reading for an art major or for someone who is interested in Native Peoples but should not be considered as a
book club selection unless the club membership consists solely of
art majors. When I found that I could not remember very many specific facts presented by the authors without re-reading the entire book at least once more, I decided to make the questions very simple: What did you learn from each chapter that you didn't know before? and Which pieces of art in each chapter did you like and why? In this manner, we managed to have an enjoyable discussion. However, the club members agreed with me that the book would rate 3 stars as an individual read but only 2 stars as a book club selection. For a general book club that
wants to read something about art, Museum: Behind the Scenes at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a better choice.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Inspiring
A Fascinating Year on an Apache Reservation!

A Season on the Reservation is a memoir of the year Kareem Abdul Jabbar spent working as an assistant coach for the Alchesay High School basketball team. The reader gains a good sense of the individual behind the headlines. Abdul Jabbar comes across as a very bright, serious individual with diverse interests who is possessed of both curiosity and patience. Both he and his students grew during their year together. A Season on the Reservation has something for almost everyone, as it appeals to sports fans, readers who enjoy memoirs, readers interested in education or cross-cultural experiences, and those who enjoy armchair travel. It would be a particularly good choice for teens. My book club unanimously voted it 4 stars.

 
Slow, Boring, Difficult
Informative Assignment for College Class But Lousy Choice for a Reading Group Selection!

Reading American Photographs: Images as History: Matthew Brady to Walker Evans is a scholarly and informative look at the history of photography in America. Unfortunately, it bombed as a book discussion choice! Packed with information but printed in small type, it is VERY slow going. Members with some background in art found it boring but of some value; other members simply found it boring. The moderator was the only one who actually finished it and she wasn't able to do so until two months after the book club meeting for which it was the selection. None of the members wanted to discuss it so we spent the meeting discussing potential selections for the following year. If your book club wants to include books on the arts, try a biography or memoir!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative
Recommended Only for Book Clubs on the Jersey Shore

Entertaining a Nation is the guidebook to the city of Long Branch written by the Federal Writers Project, as part of the WPA. Published in 1940, it is the earliest published history of Long Branch. We enjoyed the opportunity to compare and contrast Long Branch in the 18th and 19th centuries with the Long Branch of our childhoods and the Long Branch of today. All of the members reported that they learned something. They felt this book would be useful for student doing reports on their city but agreed that it would be suitable as a book club choice only for book clubs located in the area. Other book clubs might want to read the Federal Writers Project volume on their town or state.

Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Beautiful
Romantic Relationships with Something Missing -- We've All Been There!

Giovanni herself identifies Bicycles as a volume of love poems. There are two poems dealing with murders that took place in Blacksburg, VA. The first poem, dedicated to a professor at Virginia Tech, is about the murder of a hospital guard and a deputy sheriff. A later poem, entitled "Virginia Tech," is about the 2007 massacre at the college. However, the rest of the poems are about one or more of Giovanni's romantic relationships. The tone of the love poems varies from wistful longing to the frustration of a lover who has given everything she knows how but feels her love isn't reciprocated. Book club members agreed with me that it would have been better not to read the entire volume in one sitting. Members familiar with Giovanni's work commented that the tone of this volume differs from the poetry of her early, politically activist, period.

In Bicycles, Giovanni writes of complex matters with simple words that the average reader can easily understand. Although some of her poetry is metrical and rhymes, most of it is free verse. The images she uses are striking in their simplicity and homeyness.

If you have a book club that really likes poetry, Bicycles is a very accessible volume. I briefly discussed meter and rhyme, as well as simile, metaphor, and other types of imagery used by poets. Then I asked the members each to read a poem they liked and tell why they liked it, with attention to the elements we had discussed. Book club members rated Bicyles 4 stars for individual use, but only 3 stars for use for a book club discussion because some of them felt that, beyond asking members what they liked, there wasn't enough to discuss.

 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Insightful, Informative
Everybody Deserves a Second Chance!

This book introduces the original members of the group Rescue Ink and describes some of their animal rescues. One of the more dramatic rescues involved the removal of 180 cats from a home. Rescue Ink's rehabilitation of dogs that had been used for fighting or chained so that they could hardly move is nothing short of amazing.

Rescue Ink was featured in a series, Rescue Ink Unleashed, that ran briefly on the National Geographic Channel. None of the book club members had seen the show. While they agreed that the writing was not great prose, all said they enjoyed the book. The average rating was 3.5 stars.

In preparation for the meeting, I did an online search for additional information on the group. I also read reader reviews of the book on other book club sites. Finding one negative post that stressed the fact that several of the original members had criminal records, I looked to see whether any of the other animal rescue groups had any problems with Rescue Ink. Other than this one posting, I found only positive comments. When I asked my book club whether the fact that some of the members had criminal records affected their view of the group and the work that it does, one member said, "Everyone deserves a second chance." Another member talked about how Rescue Ink offered a second chance for its members as well as for the animals it rescues.

Rescue Ink is a quick read and is suitable for all book clubs but will particularly appeal to animal lovers. I recommend it.

Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Boring
We Want a Sequel!

Roger Rosenblatt and his wife moved in with their son-in-law after the death of their daughter, Amy, and helped take care of the grandchildren. One member commented on the dearth of dates and detailed information on the author. I responded that this is more typical of what I would term a "memoir of grief" than of a typical memoir. Members' ratings averaged 3.67. One member commented, and others agreed, "We want a sequel!" Most of the members want to know what has happened since in the Rosenblatts' lives.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Fun
Bryson, On Returning to America

Travel writer Bill Bryson, who has brought us his amusing take on such diverse locales as the Appalachian Trail and Australia, now turns his attention to the United States. This book was originally written as a series of articles that were published weekly in an English newspaper. Bryson is by turns funny and acerbic. He waxes rhapsodic about a New England fall, complains about bureaucracy and other irritations of American life, and tries, with dismal results, to recreate for his children some of his own childhood experiences. I asked club members to react to Bryson's reflections and comments. We then segued into our own reminiscences of returning to the United States after travels abroad.

I, the moderator, felt that I'm a Stranger Here Myself was more enjoyable read in little bits and pieces than all at once. One member said, "It reminds me of Andy Rooney." Another agreed, "Yes, but not as curmudgeonly." The three of us who had read Bryson's In a Sunburned Country felt that this book was not as good. Nevertheless, members rated it a 3.

 
Informative, Dark, Poorly Written
Too Much Crammed into One Book!

Notorious New Jersey provides a brief (generally 3-5 pages each) description of 100 crimes that occurred in New Jersey. I found it very difficult to write discussion questions and do not feel it is a good discussion book. Ratings from the members who attended the meeting varied from 1.5 (mine) to 4. However, two of the five members who did not attend the meeting told me they hated the book. The format of a few pages per crime did not work for me. It felt like watching back-to-back episodes of "America's Most Wanted," without the pleasure of hearing John Walsh's voice. I asked the members how they felt about the format. One person said it was hard to read one [crime] after another. Another member said he would like to see "fewer stories, more details." A third person noted that he found more detail on each story when checking microfilm of old newspapers at the library. On the other hand, one woman said the format was "all right" because "some of them, you don't want to know more." I felt the book was rather poorly written. Other members called it "o.k. but not great."

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Fun
Warning: This Book Will Make You Hungry!

Lee's exploration of the origins of the fortune cookie led her to explore many other matters relating to Chinese food. Among the topics she covers are family (the research for the book led her to a better understanding of her heritage as a Chinese American), culture, immigration, human smuggling, Jewish dietary laws, and international food regulations. At the behest of her editor, she even tried to determine what is the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, outside of China. Lee's engaging, and frequently amusing, writing style draws the reader in so that by the time she gets to such serious topics as human smuggling the reader is fully engaged in the book. The wealth of topics included ensures that there will be plenty for your book club to discuss. I rated the book 5 *. The average of the ratings given by the members who attended the meeting: 4.5 *. Highly recommended for all book clubs!

 
Difficult
We Bit Off More Than We Could Handle!

The library's book club always selects a volume of poetry for National Poetry Month and the group agreed to try Dylan Thomas. Some of the members have a college education, but I (the moderator) am probably the only one who has studied poetry. Our group has discussed Robert Pinsky, Nikki Giovanni, and Langston Hughes in the past and, although I knew Thomas would be a challenge, I thought we could handle his work. About half the members attended the meeting and almost all of them disliked or hated the selection. Even though I love some of Thomas' poems, I found myself mystified by more than half of the poetry in this volume. In the end, I didn't quite finish the book. Not recommended as a book club selection!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Absolutely Riveting!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is really two stories in one. The first is an account of the medical advances that have been developed using the HeLa cell line, a line of cells grown from cancerous cells taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951, which are now in use in every laboratory involved in cellular research. The second is the story of Henrietta and her family and their reaction to the news that some of their mother's cells are still alive. This is perhaps the quickest read our Nonfiction Book Club has ever read. It is fascinating and thought provoking. Nine out of the 12 club members attended this discussion. Seven people rate it 4 *, while I rated in 5 *. (The other club member abstained because she hadn't read the book.) Highly recommended for any book club!

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Insightful, Inspiring
An Eye-opening Bus Ride!

Beth, who lives in an unspecified Pennsylvania city, suffers from mental handicaps. She is not employed but has created a social life for herself by riding the city buses all day. She has cultivated relationships with a dozen or so bus drivers, whose routes she knows by heart and rides regularly. The author, Rachel Simon, a workaholic whose social life had shrunk almost to nothing, is Beth's sister. She had recently become separated from her husband when Beth asked her to ride the buses with her. Rachel agreed to ride the buses with Beth approximately once a week for a year.

This book is an account of that time. Rachel gets to know Beth's friends, the bus drivers. She attends Beth's plan of care meetings, meets the team of social workers who work with her sister, and learns that self-determination is their goal in providing services to Beth. Rachel works through some of her exasperation and other less than charitable feelings towards her sister and learns much more than she had previously known about her condition. The memoir intersperses Beth and Rachel's encounters with various bus drivers with Rachel's memories of growing up with Beth.

Although it is a memoir rather than a treatise on the care of the mentally handicapped,
the book touches on many issues: institutionalization vs. living in the community, sterilization vs. childbearing, and self-determination vs. forcing the mentally handicapped to eat what they should or to wear clothing appropriate for the weather. The one issue that was brought up repeatedly by other passengers of the buses Beth rode was their indignation at having to support Beth, through SSI payments, when she did not have a job and refused to get one. Some of the bus drivers and some of the other passengers supported her right to live as she chose.

By the year's end, Beth is unchanged -- colorful, extremely talkative, frequently stubborn and inflexible, limited in her ability to see another person's point of view but possessed of a strong sense of right vs. wrong, and unwilling to get a job, dress appropriately for the weather or to eat vegetables -- but Rachel has begun to make significant changes in her life. The book inspired me to work on my own family relationships.

The book club discussion was attended by more than half the members. We had a spirited discussion. Members rated Riding the Bus with My Sister 4 stars.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Dramatic
Fantastic Book! A Perfect Book Club Selection!

Destiny of the Republic is an incredibly quick read for a 339-page book! Even though most readers know that Garfield dies in the end, the narrative is gripping and reads as fluidly as a well-written novel. Millard begins with a look at Garfield before he is selected for the nomination of his party and reveals Garfield to be a man of integrity and humility. I found myself mourning the death of a man who died 131 years ago. The latter part of the book details Garfield's slow painful death and the machinations -- and grievous mistakes -- made by the doctor who took charge of the case. Millard presents a winning argument that it was the care provided by Garfield's doctors, especially Dr. Bliss -- and not Guiteau's bullet -- that killed the president. All of the club members rated this book either 4 or 5, with an average rating of 4.4.

Circling My Mother by Mary Gordon
 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Insightful
Good Title!

All of the members of the club present agreed that Circling My Mother was a good title and that the approach Gordon used, of describing her mother's relationships as ever-widening circles was an effective one.

 
Book Club Recommended
An Exotic & Fascinating Childhood

Madhur Jaffrey grew up in a fairly high caste
family in an India still controlled by the British. Independence (and partition) came when she
was in high school. Since this is a memoir of childhood, it ends with the end of Jaffrey's high school years. I was surprised to learn that, although her family was Hindu, they were influenced by Muslim customs. I was not surprised to learn that the women in her family
had much less education than the men, although this began to change with her generation. Jaffrey makes the conflicts within the family -- at least the ones that she was aware of as a child -- quite clear, especially the dysfunctional relationships of her uncle, both with his nuclear family and with
the members of his extended family. However, befitting Jaffrey's career as a writer of cookbooks,
most of the memories she recalls here are centered on experiences involving food: family dinners, family picnics, favorite street food, visits
to her mother's family and accompanying family dinners, and food shared with classmates of different faiths and different food traditions. The book ends with approximately 50 pages of recipes.
Jaffrey's childhood will seem exotic to most Americans so this memoir is suitable for any book club, but it is ideal for a club whose members love food as much as they love books. The seven club members who attended this meeting gave Climbing Mango Trees an average rating of 3.9.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Life Changing, Informative
Highly Rated Study of Alzheimer\'s

Dr. David Snowden chose the School Sisters of Notre Dame as his subjects for a study on aging. Members of a religious community make particularly good test subjects because of the similarity of their diet and other lifestyle factors. In order to get permission from the Mother Superior, Dr. Snowden had to promise to respect them as individuals. The initial study went so well that Dr. Snowden expanded it to include several other convents from the same order. The fact that the sisters had been required to write an essay, upon acceptance into the order, made it possible for Dr. Snowden an his colleagues to conduct a longitudinal study of mental acuity in aging. The Nun Study has become an important study on Alzheimer\'s disease. Dr. Snowden writes well. As he recounts the various phases of the study, he describes individual nuns he came to know well. He details the results of his study and explains the implications. Although it is of greatest concern to seniors, the information this book contains should interest readers of any age. Ten members attended this meeting, but only seven had actually read the book; the rest came to hear the discussion. Those who had read the book gave Aging with Grace an average rating of 4.1.

Americans' Favorite Poems by Favorite Poem Project (U. S.)
 
Book Club Recommended
Favorite Poem Project's First Anthology A Good Choice for Poetry Lovers

Every year, the Nonfiction Book Club reads a selection for National Poetry Month. In the past, we have selected one individual poet and read either a collection of his/her work or distributed several collections among club members. I have prepared a handout on meter in poetry and a list of general questions about poetry for our annual discussions. I ask each club member to select one or two poems and be prepared to discuss what he or she likes about them, especially what makes the poem work. I particularly liked this anthology. Since selections were listed alphabetically by author, adjacent poems shared no similarity of style. If you read them as they come, without consulting the table of contents, there is a serendipitous surprise in the juxtaposition of poems from very different periods. Even though I am a lifelong lover of poetry, I found many poems I had never encountered. Seven of the eight members who attended had read at least a portion of the book. Members voted this anthology a 3.6. Recommended for any book club that likes poetry.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful Look at a Radical Colonial Woman

Discussing theology with friends is one of my favorite pastimes and I found this biography of colonial religious reformer Anne Hutchinson fascinating. LaPlante covers Hutchinson's father's disagreement with the church leaders of his day and briefly discusses Hutchinson's childhood before addressing the controversy that led to Hutchinson's expulsion from the colony of Massachusetts. In this well-written book, the author makes the grounds of Hutchinson's disagreement with the religious leaders of Massachusetts clear. Hutchinson and her opponents all had strong egos. The character of each of the key individuals, their strengths as well as their weaknesses, is revealed in this book. This meeting was one of the most heavily attended our club has had. Nine of the 11 members who attended had read enough of the book to form an opinion. The average rating was 3.5, but viewpoints (and ratings) were all over the place. Four of the members liked the book, two really liked it, and one loved it. Sharing the opposite viewpoint, one member disliked the book and one hated it. Recommended for book clubs interested in reading about religion, strong women, and/or the Colonial Period.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Inspiring
A Tale of Two Families

Rhodes scholar Wes Moore came across a news story about a man who was sought in connection with an armed robbery that led to the death of a police officer. He was struck by the fact that he and this man had the same name and that they both grew up in Baltimore. Most of us would have shaken our heads at the coincidence. Moore didn't. In an attempt to find out how two lives that had began in such similar circumstances had turned out to be so different from each other, he wrote to the other Wes Moore in prison, They continued to correspond and eventually the Rhodes scholar visited the inmate. In his book, Moore describes the difficulties he and the other Wes Moore experienced growing up in a single-parent home in a poor urban community and the efforts their mothers made, successful or not, to keep them out of trouble. He explores the chances they got to change their lives and offers his thoughts on what made a difference for him. The members all liked this book and gave scores ranging from 3 to 5. The average was a solid 4.1.
The Other Wes Moore was excellent selection for our library's observance of Black History Month. Highly recommended for book clubs interested in urban problems, race relations, nature vs. nurture, fate vs. choice, and similar issues.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Inspiring, Adventurous
Take a Trip to Copper Canyon!

Although none of us are runners, let alone ultrarunners, the members of the Nonfiction Book Club vicariously explored the culture of ultrarunners and learned about the Tarahumara people, an indigenous people who live in northern Mexico. Christopher McDougall began the research that led to Born to Run in an attempt to figure out why his foot hurt when he ran. He met
and spoke with ultrarunners (who run 50 km. or more) and scientists who study running. He heard of the existence of the Tarahumara, a tribe in Mexico who run incredibly long distances for the fun of it. McDougall and a group of ultrarunners from the U.S. set out for Mexico's Copper Canyon to find the Tarahumara and challenge them to a race. McDougall introduces his readers to eccentric characters as he combines sports, science, and adventure. Our members voted this book a solid 4. Recommended for most book clubs.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Fun, Adventurous
After Reading This, I Wanted to Take a Road Trip, Too!

Journalist Pascale Le Draoulec, who grew up with tartes rather than pies, decided to find out what role pie has in the United States today. She set out on a road trip to find the best homemade pies, to collect stories about pie, and to find out whether pie has a future in a world in which it is so easy to buy a pie ready-made. Different friends accompanied her on different legs of this journey, as she traveled from San Francisco to the New York area. Along the way, she encounters such characters as Evelyn, who bakes pies at the Ranchman\'s Cafe and warns that \"One of these days y\'all are going to be looking for fresh pie and you\'re going to realize there\'s nobody cookin\' them no more\"; Dave, a bear trapper in Montana who makes huckleberry pies to ward off his demons; and Darrell, a 12-year-old Nyack boy who \"gets a real sense of accomplishment\" from making pies. Although only two of us had ever baked a pie from scratch, all of us enjoyed Le Draoulec\'s road trip. We also enjoyed reading the recipes she included in her book. The average rating was 3.9. Recommended for all book clubs!

 
Book Club Recommended
Think You Know London? You Don't Know the Half of It!

The title of the book, The Days & Nights of London Now -- As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, & Long for It, describes the scope of the book quite well. The book, an oral history, is a fairly quick read. Craig Taylor is an excellent interviewer and a very good writer. He has found fascinating people from all walks of life and helped them to shine. Our group discussed only a few of them, including grief counselor Paul Pimentel, who talked about a terrorist attack on the London subways on July 7, 2005; city planner Peter Rees, who prefers cities that grow naturally rather than planned cities; Mohammed Al Hasan, London born and raised, who talked about being suspected of terrorism and searched twice in one day.; and Tim Turner, who felt he lived a boring life. Each book club that discusses this book could choose different individuals and still find plenty to discuss. Londoners also lends itself to such topics as: comparing professions, immigration, terrorism, the criminal justice system, and London vs. New York. Anyone who reads this book will have a much better grasp of the many facets of London. Suitable for all book clubs. Members of the Nonfiction Book Club gave Londoners an average rating of 3.8.

 
Book Club Recommended
The Civil War Is Not Over!

Tony Horwitz traveled the South observing and interviewing people who still feel connected to the Civil War. In Confederates in the Attic, he tells their stories and reflects on broader questions of race relations, Southern grievance, the symbolism of the Confederate flag, the preservation of historic sites -- or lack thereof, and the changing demographics of the South. Although I forgot to poll the members on how they rated this book, this meeting was the second best attended since our book club began. Clearly, the members felt engaged by this book.

 
Book Club Recommended
Family Secrets & Race Relations

The Grace of Silence will spur a spirited discussion of either family secrets or race relations -- preferably both! After Obama's election, Michele Norris heard family stories none of her relatives had dared to tell before. Among other things, she learned that her grandmother Ione
had worked as a traveling Aunt Jemima, advertising the brand of pancakes. If your book club has a racially mixed membership that is ready for a conversation on race, this is the book for your club. Although I didn't poll the members as to the rating, they voted with their feet. This meeting had the best attendance of any book club meeting we have had to date!

 
Book Club Recommended
Poorly Written, Difficult
The Rich Have Problems, Too!

In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy Burden , who is distantly related to Gloria Vanderbilt, writes of growing up in a wealthy dysfunctional family. After her father's suicide, Wendy and her brothers were shunted between their alcoholic mother's home and their grandparents' estate but were mostly raised by the nanny and other servants. One of her uncles had a Hitler fetish. Two of the adults she grew up with behaved inappropriately towards her. Wendy was a strange child who took Wednesday Addams as her role model. Nevertheless, she fared better than her brothers. Perhaps this is due to the dark sense of humor that permeates her memoir. At a well-attended meeting, members of the Nonfiction Book Club gave this book an average rating of 3.9.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Brilliant, Insightful
The Relationship That Won World War II

In Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, Jon Meacham brings Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to life. He describes Roosevelt\\\'s coterie of friends and advisers and the ups and downs of their influence on Roosevelt. Although Churchill and Roosevelt both came from wealth, Churchill was outgoing and emotional while Roosevelt was enigmatic and secretive. It was Churchill who courted (for that is the only word for it) Roosevelt -- and the western world should be grateful that he succeeded in forging a strong relationship with the American president. This relationship was later tested when Stalin entered the picture, as Roosevelt played Stalin against Churchill. Meacham writes engagingly about two fascinating individuals at the center of one of the most important periods of world history. Our book club enjoyed his book and your will, too.

Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey by Alvin Ailey, A. Peter Bailey
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
A Fascinating Life

Dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey wrote this autobiography with help from Peter Bailey, who interviewed Ailey for as many hours as his final illness would permit. In it, Ailey describes his art and the artists who influenced him, as well as the difficulties he experienced because of his race. Although the book is honest about Ailey\'s sexuality, the emphasis is on his career. Our book club members enjoyed it. Recommended for book clubs with an interest in dance or in the arts generally.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative
Watch What You Eat!

This book is accurately subtitled The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Not a fun read, Schlosser's expose lends itself to discussion not only of the meat packing industry and of government inspection and regulation of the food supply but also of many other pressing issues. Business ethics is one such topic. In particular, what responsibilities, if any, do employers owe to their employees? What should we do about advertising directed at children and how can we protect children without undermining the 1st Amendment? Who is responsible for the obesity of Americans? Should the government be in the business of banning certain types of foods? These questions are as relevant now as when this book was written. Not for the average book club. Recommended for book clubs that enjoy getting into serious discussions of public policy.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
A Charismatic President

Reviews call Jon Meacham's American Lion the definitive biography of Andrew Jackson. Although it is the only biography I have read of Jackson, I suspect the designation is accurate. Meacham portrays Jackson's virtues and flaws as he recounts Jackson's journey to the White House and his actions as president. His virtues included intelligence, charisma, and loyalty, but loyalty and a touch of paranoia hurt him in the end, as he championed the Secretary of War Eaton, whose wife was snubbed by the Washington elite. He made the presidency as important as the other branches of government. In this sense, he is a modern president. Meacham has written an engaging biography of an important president. Recommended for book clubs that enjoy biographies or history.

 
Love Juarez or Fear It?

Journalist Robert Andrew Powell moved to Juarez, Mexico, one of the contenders for murder capital of the world, to follow its soccer team, the Indios, which had surprised everyone with wins that catapulted it into soccer's major league. This is not going to be a Disney movie; the Indios play terribly for most of the year, until it is certain that they will return to the minor leagues. He spends time with the son of the team's owner and with the Karteleros [the pun on cartel is intentional], the team's devoted fan club, as well as with the players. There is much to discuss here: the differences between Juarez and El Paso, Texas; whether the owner of the Indios is complicit in the drug trade and, if so, wittingly or through willful blindness; why Juarenses love their city so much; whether Juarez has a problem with "femicide," women being murdered because they are women or whether it just has a crime problem; the differences between the Karteleros and sports fans everywhere; and whether or not drugs should be legalized. But the book, although well written, is bleak. We had seven out of 12 members at the meeting, but only four had read the book. Votes ranged from 1 to 3.5, with an average of 2.75. Our book club is fairly adventurous. If they didn't like this book, yours won't either.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Fun
Author Reflects on Life in Her 60s

In her latest memoir, Anna Quindlen reflects on her life so far. Her central point is hat she is happier now than she was when she was young. She cites a survey that showed that this is true for the majority of older people under 75. She attributes the greater happiness, in part, to a greater acceptance of her true self, but she also feels that women find aging a liberation from society's expectations, whereas men just find it a shock. Quindlen reflects on the phenomenon of professional women, who have struggled to become something more than caretakers, finding themselves caring for two generations. She notes that the orderly transfer of society's business from one generation to the next has been upended by baby boomers. Quindlen writes extremely well. I found myself putting Post-It notes next to at least a dozen well-turned phrases. There is much to discuss here. In addition to the above topics, our group compared the reasons Quindlen loves books with our own. We discussed Quindlen's observations on the importance of girlfriends, the differences in men's and women's friendships, white lies in marriage, and acceptance of self and others. This meeting broke attendance records for our book club, as five members of another book club asked to join us for this discussion. In addition, several other visitors plan to join our group. However, none of the male members of the group came to this session. The average rating of those in attendance was 3.67. Recommended for women's book clubs.

 
Book Club Recommended
Author Reveals All!

Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an honest and perceptive memoir of the author's struggles with mental illness. Wortmann, who suffers from a variety of OCD that is characterized by obsessive thoughts (in his case, of committing heinous acts) rather than
the stereotypical hand-washing variety of the illness, clearly communicates the terror and confusion of being unable to control one's thoughts. In describing some of the thoughts that he cannot shake, he gives the reader a glimpse into his mind. Writing this memoir was undoubtedly therapeutic for Wortmann. Unlike many literary efforts that began as therapy, Triggered is exceptionally well written. Wortmann has developed a great deal of insight into his illness. The reader comes away from his memoir with a greater understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder and with a tremendous respect for the author, who ought to have a fine future as a writer. There is much in this book for any book club unafraid to tackle difficult subjects to discuss. The only downside in selecting this book was the difficulty we experienced in getting enough copies from public libraries. Clubs whose members are willing to purchase the books they discuss should strongly consider Triggered. Our average rating was 4, but our ratings were evenly split between those who thought the book was o.k. (3 stars) and those who absolutely loved it (5 stars).

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