Book Club: Fiction





Around 1991, Har and Dick were at a presentation by a vendor trying to sell them on lead paint abatement treatments. A key point in the demonstration was showing an additive that turned wastewater into clean-up-able jelly. Ice Nine! cried Harold. He and Dick couldn't stop laughing. And no one else around the table knew what they were talking about. So they decided to re-read Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle to see if it stood the test of time. A mixed result on that book but thus was born a monthly mostly Contemporary Fiction Reading Group that Harold and Nora participate in with about eight or so other men and women. And it even provided the locus for matchmaking, as a marriage (and babies!) resulted!

We mourn the passing of Bill Lavner, who for years attended and genially hosted Book Club meetings thoroughly prepared to discuss our books enthusiastically, despite great physical difficulty and travel challenges. We miss his humor, insights, reading suggestions, and dedication. May peace be upon him.

We rear our children, guide them, and advise them, but each child finds his way to a library, which is a world independent of us. There total strangers compete with us. So what can we do? --Naguib Mahfouz

Each participant reads the book and is supposed to come with at least one question for deliberation. We make a real effort to read multi-cultural and/or prize-winning authors and balance "guy" and "chick" books. We find that novels we can easily and enjoyably read on our own don’t usually make for meaty colloquy, and that short story collections are a bit diffuse for discussion purposes. Selected books must be available in paperback (that also makes them more available to get at the library) or e-book, and with a usual limit of less than 400 pages. Meeting at each other's residences after work, we try to pick a take-out dinner that relates to the book. Each session usually concludes with a "what if" casting of the movie adaptation, though we disagree if the dream cast has to be still living and currently the appropriate age. We would like to register a protest against the fact that so much of today’s best fiction features child abuse as we are losing our stomach for reading about it. And now it seems that too many books refer to terrorism in some way or another. (updated 9/12/2015)

Our summer reading book for September 12, 2017 is
Laxness, Halldόr (Icelandic), Independent People, translated by J.A. Thompson, 509 pages, Vintage International, Originally published in 1946, Introduction by Brad Leithauser to the 1997/2009 editions, from his The New York Review of Books piece “A Small Country’s Great Book” – but Amazon reviewers warn it’s full of spoilers! (Nobel Prize) (paperback/Kindle/unabridged audio)

The book we are reading for October 3, 2017 is:
Erdogan, Asli (Turk), The City in Crimson Cloak, translated by Amy Spangler, 192 pages, 1998/English language edition 2007, Soft Skull Press (paperback only)

Readings We Remember (as of July 11, 2017)
(Revisable annotations of discussion summaries by Nora Mandel) (Publication dates are of the English language hard cover.) (Parenthetical dates refer to when we can remember having read the book.):

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (Nigerian), Purple Hibiscus, 2003, 320 pages (All agreed a good, if horrific domestic abuse, read and lively discussion about how the personal is or is not political from the impact of colonialism on Africa and if there's hope for the future in a synthesis of Western and traditional values.) (8/2/2005)

_________________________________, Americanah, 2013, 588 pages (National Book Critics Circle Award; Selected for One Book, One New York) (Having saved this for a long summer read, we were disappointed! While we appreciated her sometimes satirical insights on race, and the cultural differences between Non-American Blacks and African-Americans, we felt the writing style erratic and the characters one-dimensional with inscrutable motivations.) (9/6/2016)

Adiga, Aravind (Indian), The White Tiger, 2008, 304 pages (Booker Prize winner) (While our India experts tried to persuade the rest of us that it concluded with more hope than cynicism, we debated moral and social issues around entrepreneurship encouragement of the author vs. the epistolary narrator.) (2/2/2009) (We compared and contrasted it with Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire).

Alarcón, Daniel (Peruvian-American), Lost City Radio, 2007, 288 pages (All loved this timeless conception of how memories of brutal war under a South American dictatorship grinds down rebellion amidst racial, class and power struggles for people who just want to get on with their lives and loves.) (5/12/2008)

Al Aswany, Alaa (Egyptian), The Yacoubian Building, originally published in Arabic in 2002, English translation by Humphrey T. Davies published in 2005, 272 pages (Despite an unconvincing finale, we were impressed how he used a potboiler soap opera format to deliver devastating social criticism that laid bare causes of the Egyptian revolution, particularly endemic government corruption, class conflict, and women’s restrictive options, even as he didn’t predict that the despairing youth he so well portrays could be a powerful force for demanding positive change.) (7/5/2011)
The 2006 film version, available on DVD, is mostly faithful to the book, losing some of the dualism parallels and fading out modestly on the sex, though showing both the gay man and the Muslim Brother in a bit more extreme situations.
Al Aswany on his inspiration, in “Egypt in the Dentist’s Chair”, The New York Times, 1/2/2014, sounding a lot like my father: “Novelists work hard to acquire human experience. They search for characters who might inspire them. They go to unusual places to collect the necessary material for their novels. I am lucky not to have had to undertake these adventures because I am both a novelist and a dentist. The dentist’s profession enables him to see so many varied examples of humanity that his clinic sometimes resembles the backstage of a theater, where the performers, out of costume and minus makeup, are no longer acting.”


Alexie, Sherman (Native American/Coeur d’Alene Tribe), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, 2007, 259 pages, Little Brown (National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; American Library Association Young Adult Book; California Young Reader Medal) (While there was discussion of some less convincing plot points to suit the YA genre, all were touched by this inside look at the contemporary human consequences of America’s Indian genocide.) (3/7/2017)
Recommended: Smoke Signals, 1998 film with screenplay by Alexie, based on his novel.


Allende, Isabel (Chilean), Daughter of Fortune, Margaret Sayers Peden, (Translator), 1999, 416 pp. (Most felt it was a fascinating historical novel, illustrating the birth of the globalized Pacific Rim, where California is a redemptive place for re-invention and freedom, especially for women, as befits an Oprah Reading Book)

Allison, Dorothy, Bastard Out of Carolina (6/1993)

Alvarez, Julia, (Dominican) In the Time of the Butterflies (5/15/1997)

Amis, Martin (British), Time’s Arrow

Atkinson, Kate (British), Behind the Scenes at the Museum, 1996, 332 pages, (Whitbread aka Costa Award Book of the Year 1995) (paperback, Kindle & unabridged audio) (While we were a bit stumped by the British slang and product names, let alone the extended family tree, we appreciated how the language style changed for each situation and characters, while realistically portraying three generations of women impacted by the two world wars.) (6/7/2016)

Atwood, Margaret (Canadian), The Blind Assassin, 2001, 544 pages (With a few gripes about a presumed man-hating and manipulative author, most found it a fascinating read picking out which character is symbolically titular as the very clever, mature storyteller gives each a unique voice suitable for their personality and age through the twentieth century.) (9/16/2003)

Auster, Paul (Brooklynite), Mr. Vertigo

Bakker, Gerbrand (Dutch), The Twin, English translation by David Colmer, 2010, 343 pages (International Impac Dublin Literary Award winner) (Despite the lack of plot action, we mostly appreciated the portrayal of literally stuck-in-the-mud depressed and repressed men, and glimpses of the women who love them, in rural Netherlands.) (3/13/2013)
The film adaptation has the English title It’s All So Quiet.


Banks, Russell, Rule of the Bone (2/4/1997)

Banville, John (Irish) The Sea, 2005, 208 pages (We all wondered why this won the Man Booker Prize, what with the boring, vocabulary-busting intellectualizing unsympathetic narrator/main character droning on endlessly about life leading to death.) (2/13/2007)

Barbery, Muriel (French), The Elegance of the Hedgehog (translated by Alison Anderson), 2007, 322 pages (More members liked it than found it pretentious, which led to a lively discussion if the class pretensions it punctured were uniquely French. Though no one liked the ending.) (2/1/2010)
My review of the film adaptation: The Hedgehog (Le Hérisson) (previewed at 2010 Rendez-Vous with French Film at Film Society of Lincoln Center)


Barnes, Julian, Sense of an Ending, 2011, 176 pages (Man Booker Prize) (While we could particularly relate by being about the same age as the protagonist, we discussed whether he was “the villain” or the women he misunderstood and how perspective changed as he aged and gained more information and some insight.) (6/5/2012)

- Discussion around Hungarian soup, Fair Trade gelt, and wine
Beatty, Paul (American), The Sellout, 2015, 305 pages, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Man Booker Prize; National Book Critics Circle Award) (Mixed reaction whether it was funny or not – while all admired his wordplay cleverness and wide knowledge, we were disappointed by the lack of character depth and development.) (1/3/2017)

Benioff, David, City of Thieves, 261 pages, 2008 (Reactions ranged widely from too upset to finish reading for discussion, to disgust at stereotyped characters, let alone the wartime violence, to admiration for the writing and historical authenticity, and enjoying it as as a Rabelaisian satire.) (10/7/2014)
Two history books that happened to be on sale the same month through Amazon Kindle were useful context: Reid, Anna, Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1942 – 1944 (512 pages, 2011) and, about broader military tactics, Buttar, Prit, Battleground Prussia: The Assault on Germany's Eastern Front 1944-45 (512 pages, 2010)



: Chinese food is on the same planet, right?
Berger, John (English), G, 1972, 336 pages, Vintage reprint edition 1992 (Booker and James Tait Black Memorial Prize) (We had a rousing discussion of why we disliked the book for each of our different reasons, though half so much they couldn’t finish it, but we agreed that there were a few insightful scenes of pre-World War I European society – the sex fell into both categories.) (4/4/2017)
Available on DVD is the recent bio-documentary Tilda Swinton made with him before his death this year: The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger


Bloom, Amy, Away, 2007, 256 pages, Random House (Some felt it was an uncredible pulp odyssey, others felt it was a literary, feminist tribute to women's survival amidst adversity, particularly immigrants.) (12/14/2010)
A month later I read Grace Paley's story "Goodbye and Good Luck" from the 1950's (in the collection The Little Disturbances of Man: Stories of Men and Women at Love) and was surprised how much Bloom seemed to have borrowed from it.


Boyd, William (Scottish), Restless, 2006, 336 pages (Costa Prize winner) (While all enjoyed the fun read, some thought it not worth trudging out in a snowstorm for not much to discuss or argue about, and all look forward to the entertaining story in a movie version that could add in more historical context. Those who did attend were rewarded with our first home-cooked Book Club meal, courtesy of hostess Sarah Lavner.) (3/5/2009)

Bulawayo, Noviolet (Zimbabwean), We Need New Names, 304 pages, 2013 (PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and shortlisted Man Booker Prize) (Mixed reaction – big plus for the vivid episodes in the clear-eyed point-of-view of a young girl in a changing Africa and as an African immigrant to Michigan, but seemed disjointed.) (7/1/2014)

Camus, Albert (French), The Stranger (originally published in French in 1942, some printings entitled The Outsider, and various lengths over 100 pages, in two major English translations – the first, in British English, by Martin Gilbert, and a more recent one in American English by Matthew Ward) paired with Daoud, Kamel (Algerian), The Meursault Investigation (Meursault, contre-enquête), first published in France in 2014; English translation by John Cullen published 2015, 160 pages (Goncourt prize for first novel, prix Mauriac, Prix des cinq continents de la francophonie, and shortlisted for the Prix Renaudot) (Comparing our youthful impressions of Camus with our mature re-reading, as well as comparing the Camus translations, emphasized that Daoud is as much a admiring literary critic as a trenchant socio-political analyst of Franco colonial attitudes and philosophy.) (10/13/2015)

Carey, Peter (Australian), True History of the Ned Kelly Gang, 2001, 368 pages (one of our favorites -- a tour de force revelation of an iconic national revolutionary, going way beyond Woody Guthrie's ode to Pretty Boy Floyd. From The Advertiser October 14, 2000, "Bushranging History" by Katharine England: "Not a little inspired by Sidney Nolan's paintings, which impressed Carey when he first saw them in 1962 and quite blew him away when he saw them again in New York in 1994, its major impetus was Kelly's own so-called 'Jerilderie Letter', written in 1879 to put the outlaw's case to the public. Carey has described the letter as 'unpunctuated, Irish vindictive prose. It had echoes of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. It was primitive, wildly exciting and modernist.' Its 58 pages . . . became for him 'the character's DNA,' the source from which he could develop an authentic voice and personality for the outlaw." Carey actually incorporates and continues Kelly's language and point-of-view for the whole exciting book. I also recommend Robert Drewe's Our Sunshine, a gripping novella that focuses on the final battle that's clearly as important to Australia as "Remember the Alamo!" is to Texans; it was out of print for a long time, but it's sure to be reprinted due to the Heath Ledger and many other Aussie co-stars and directed movie version that beat out Irishman Neil Jordan-directed movie of the Carey book. [My review of the Australian movie] Next I read a feminist take on the legend, Sister Kate by Jean Bedford, who writes the first part in the tone of the "Jerilderie Letter" and then the rest on the fictional impact of the true lives and the myth: "They will hunt us down and corner us and put fire to us and set us screaming in pain and fear; and the women and girls will be left as always with the dryness ever at the back of their throats and the dark spaces in our heads where the flames crackle and echo and golden fire whooshes through the cracks of the mind. Joe [Byrne], why did you leave me? why did you let them take you and defile you? Why will you not leave me now? Must I drag myself after you burning in my brain for the rest of my life?" (3/26/2002) (supplemented 4/2/2004)

Carey, Peter, Oscar and Lucinda, 1988, 432 pages (We were so enamored of the above Carey book that we broke all our rules and immediately picked a second book by him -- we think there was similarity of theme about Brits vs. Colonials but we couldn't quite figure it out amidst the Protestant theological discussions. We did love the personality portrayals and situational vignettes amidst an Odd Bod plot.) (5/7/2002)

Carr, Caleb, The Alienist

Casey, John, Spartina (Macho guy book) (4/1993)

Chabon, Michael, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, 2007, various editions have 414 - 464 pages with glossary (While some objected that this was just a clever guy book with no character development of its colorful people within a confusing plot, most enjoyed the chutzpah of tying in the realistic with metaphors and the imagined. We look forward to the Coen Brothers’ film adaptation.) (7/23/2008)

From The New York Times, 9/14/2008, F.Y.I. by Michael Pollak: “Sacred Borders: Q. All over Manhattan, I’ve noticed small, thin wires, like fishing line, that connect several street lights together through an eyebolt at the top of each light. What purpose do they serve? A. Jewish law. It seems you are looking at part of an eruv, the ritual boundary of an enclosure where Orthodox Jews are allowed to perform certain activities on the Sabbath that would otherwise be forbidden as work, like carrying prayer shawls, house keys or children in public. Eruvim are not everywhere in Manhattan; they have long been opposed by some Orthodox Jews on the Lower East Side, for instance, and have drawn opposition in some other neighborhoods, as well. But as the city’s Orthodox population has grown in recent years, eruvim have become more common and presumably more noticeable. The city has permitted utility poles to be used in erecting the symbolic walls. The Department of Transportation requires that the eruv consist of an unadorned string about one-quarter-inch thick, and that it hang at least 15 feet above the sidewalk and 18 feet above the roadway. Installers of an eruv must submit detailed plans and drawings to the department for approval, and the applicant is responsible for installation and maintenance. The permit does not bar the city from removing utility poles.”


Chabon, Michael, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, 2000, 636 pages (With all loving the story, the sibling and mentor relationships, the language and the masterful incorporation of history and real people, we further mused about the universality of the Golem from the past and present, and were even inspired to do a field trip to see the silent film version of the legend at the World Financial Center with Tom Nazziola's musical score performed live by The BQE Project.) (1/5/2009)
Note: Also recommended as what is virtually the non-fiction version of the story: The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu, 2008, 448 pages)
My related commentary on X-Men: First Class. (7/29/2011)
Not recommended is the film adaptation of Chabon's debut novel The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh that our group will probably not read. (updated 4/16/2009)


Chabon, Michael (repeat author), Telegraph Avenue, 2012, Penguin, 496 pages (We debated: is this somewhat confusing read, that half of us didn’t finish, an erudite popular culture-packed showing-off about race in California or is that incidental to the portraits of a large ensemble of distinctive characters?) (Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist; various best Books of the Year lists) (2/2/2016)

Christensen, Kate, The Great Man, 2007, 320 pages (PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction) (All enjoyed the cutting satire of the NYC art world past and present, but the lively discussion focused one-by-one on the credibility of each woman character, until we were all convinced they were believable for their time, based on personal reminisces of Women We Knew Like Them, and will be sorry if any film adaptation focuses mostly on them young and not their older sexy lives.) (8/10/2008)

Coetzee, J.M. (South African - now expatriate not surprisingly), Disgrace, 2000, 220 pages (an intense, rip-roaring discussion about how much was literal storytelling and how much was detailed allegory and which elements stood up either way when the main character is so distasteful) (11/3/2003) (
My review of the film version.)

Cunningham, Michael, The Hours, 2000, 230 pages (It was chutzpah to dare a riff on Virginia Woolf's brilliant Mrs. Dalloway (1925, 194 pages), but gosh most of us felt it really worked as commentary, update, tribute and its own contemporary insight.) (My review of the movie)

Danticat, Edwidge (Haitian-American), Breath, Eyes, Memory, 1994, 256 pages (Oprah's Book Club selection 1998) (While we appreciated the portrait of a matriarchy in rural Haiti, we found the writing flat and too simplistic, and the character development not credible.) (8/3/2009)

De Bernieres, Louis, Corelli's Mandolin, 1995, 437 pages (Very effective historical novel of different participants in WWII in Greece, but with a failed sentimental ending as it becomes more contemporary, so none of us have bothered to see the movie.) (8/14/1999)

DeLillo, Don, White Noise, 1985, 336 pages (Prescient, Swiftian satire that starts slowly with easy targets of American academia and commercial culture and ends with more savage glee about a malaise that is even more alarmingly pronounced 20 years later - but we were stuck on a basic question: is this serious literature or just intelligent entertainment?) (9/5/2006)

__________, Cosmopolis, 2003, 224 pages (Note: it makes more contemporized sense to change “yen” for “yuan”, as David Cronenberg’s faithful film adaptation does.) (With debates about whether the protagonist was portrayed as intrinsically smart, or just lucky at making money, whether this was a prescient metaphor of the financial crisis or a darkly comic satire, we appreciated the crossing-town descent into chaos imagery that set up his disintegration.) (11/15/2012)

De Rosnay, Tatiana (French), Sarah's Key, 2007, 320 pages in paperback (Even with special guests who were hidden children during the Holocaust, we felt the contemporary story was cheap chick lit, while the girl's point-of-view was an emotionally effective tool for bringing history to life, even if her post-war life didn't have the same ring of authenticity.) (4/5/2010)
My review of the film adaptation of Sarah’s Key (Elle S'appelait Sarah). (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women)
Notes: Additional features dealing with French secrets and guilt during this period include One Day You’ll Understand (Plus Tard, Tu Comprendras) (by an Israeli filmmaker), Almost Peaceful (Un monde presque paisible), and the Canadian film adaptation of another novel, by Matt Cohen, Emotional Arithmetic, a.k.a. Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning. (The Army of Crime (L’armée du crime) has more unidimensional characters.) La Rafle (The Round Up) is more realistic. Other related documentaries are Being Jewish in France (Comme un Juif en France), Convoys of Shame (Les Convois de la honte), and Murder of a Hatmaker (Assassinat d'une modiste).
Set in Germany, Saviors In The Night (Unter Bauern) (see p. 16) and the documentary Human Failure (Menschliches Versagen) cover related issues of hidden children and appropriated property. (updated 1/16/2013)


Desai, Kiran, (Indian) The Inheritance of Loss, 2006, 384 pages (Man Booker Prize winner) (Were there any sympathetic characters in this depressing but still cynically entertaining examination of a deluded, inter-connected, sweeping ensemble of generations and national identities in post-colonialism/pre-capitalism-boom in a mid-1980’s India Himalayan backwater?) (4/10/2007)
____________, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, 1998, 209 pages (One dissenter thought the author was nasty and condescending, but the rest enjoyed a fun satirical romp through the foibles of human nature, with particular jabs at foolishness unique to an Indian culture not comfortable with self-deprecation.) (2/4/2008)

Diaz, Junot (Dominican-American), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, 2007, 352 pages (Other than some frustration at only being able to infer the meanings of the extensive Spanish vernacular (vs. other people who might not get the Lord of the Rings and other sci fi references), we all loved the creative language that vividly alternated generational and gendered points of view of the Trujillo dictatorship and its impact on DR culture at home and in the U.S. FYI Diaz added incidents in the lives of the colorful characters in other short stories.) (11/17/2008)

Doerr, Anthony, All the Light We Cannot See, 531 pages (Pulitzer Prize; shortlisted National Book Award) (While we objected that only one character, the German soldier, was complex, we admired the alternating perspectives, time shifts and radio technology that brought them together.) (9/10/2015)
The authenticity of a final section is vividly realized in A Woman in Berlin (Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin), that I briefly reviewed at 2009 Film Comments Selects of Film Society of Lincoln Center


Dorris, Michael, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (Quite a sympathetic view of a pedophile) (3/4/1997)

Doyle, Roddy (Irish), Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha

Dufresne, John, Louisiana Power and Light, 1995, 306 pages (A light read that's either parodying or playing on Faulknerian Southern stereotypes.)(2/26/2002)

Dunn, Katherine, Geek Love (Bring a strong stomach.) (8/1995)

Dunne, John Gregory, Nothing Lost, 2004, 352 pages (A fast read, obvious social and political satire, like imitation Tom Wolfe/T.C. Boyle, with one-dimensional characters, though there was an amusing theme of double-ness in names and secrets as the one genuine human connection brings down the whole media-fueled house of cards.) (6/6/2006)

Egan, Jennifer, A Visit from the Goon Squad, 2010, 352 pages in paperback, (Pulitzer Prize/National Book Critics Circle Award) (With much trying to sort out the timeline of each intriguing character’s biography, particularly as a post-9/11 book, and debating who was the keystone, we pondered if the fractured storytelling added substantively to the insightfulness, or was imitative.) (9/6/2011)

Englander, Nathan, The Ministry of Special Cases, 2007, 352 pages (Lively discussion about: how much is specific to the Jewish experience? Argentina under the junta? Other authoritarian societies? Or universal it-could-happen-here intrinsic in human nature?) (10/12/2010)
If it is literal, useful background is: Our Disappeared (Nuestros desaparecidos), that I briefly reviewed at 2009 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum, with more context from its PBS broadcast.


Erdrich, Louise, The Master Butchers Singing Club, 2003, 416 pages (A good-read family saga of a literarily neglected ethnic viewpoint, rural German-Americans from WWI to WWII, but we think the reaching for further symbolism with something about underground, symbolic character names, twinning relationships, let alone bringing in links to Native Americans, were too-deep stretches that didn't quite work.) (11/8/2005)

____________, The Round House, 2012, 336 pages (National Book Award) (Unanimous enthusiasm for the writing and creative, full, complex characters within a story of political and social significance which generated a thoughtful discussion on different modes of justice in different cultures) (11/4/2014) Eugenides, Jeffrey, Middlesex, 2002, 529 pages (A lively discussion of nature vs. nurture in gender identity and a disagreement about the implications of the main character's choices but all loved the humorously epic portrait of a Greek immigrant family battling the culture wars of the 20th century from Asia Minor to Detroit and San Francisco) (1/6/2004) (Note – we read it before it was an Oprah Book Club selection!)

______________, The Marriage Plot, 2011, 416 pages (National Book Critics Circle Award finalist) (Mostly split, gendered reaction led to a heated discussion about the characters, immature college graduates, and who appreciated Jane Austen and the Brontës.) (10/2/2012)

Faulkner, William, The Sound and the Fury (can't remember the date but we read it way before Oprah!)

Ferrante, Elena (pseudonym) (Neapolitan Italian), The Lost Daughter, first published in Italy in 2006; English translation by Ann Goldstein published 2008, 125 pages (This generated our most vociferously gendered discussion! While there were folks of both who didn’t like the book, only the women strongly defended the unsympathetic main female character for admitting the negative feelings of all mothers/daughters, but who lacks impulse control to not act on them. Let alone how many books have we read with reprehensibly unsympathetic male characters?) (11/3/2015)

Ferris, Joshua, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, 352 pages, 2014 (shortlisted, Man Booker Prize, Dylan Thomas Prize) (All enjoyed the language, religious/philosophical/identity exploration, and the imagining of an alternative history of the Amaleks.)
My father Dr. Irwin Mandel would have enjoyed adding this novel to his analysis of The Image of Dentistry in Contemporary Culture. (5/5/2015)


Fishman, Boris, A Replacement Life, 336 pages, 2014 (finalist, Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature) (While some were middling about the Manhattan sections, all appreciated the writing about the past and present of Russian immigrant Brooklyn, with a lively discussion about creatively climbing the slippery slope of the ends justifies the means to get compensation for past sufferings when it leads to endemic corruption.) (6/10/2015)
We avidly discussed the book in situ, while eating Russian cuisine at Tatiana’s on the Brighton Beach boardwalk: .

Fitzgerald, Penelope, The Blue Flower, 1997, 225 pages (If you really care to read a weak Austenesque satire of the German aristocracy at the close of the 18th century based on real people) (7/6/1999)

Ford, Richard, The Sportswriter, 1995, 375 pages (Another in the genre of Alienated Guy Book, but which generated a lot of discussion as to the author's vs. the lead character's viewpoints. More of the same in the award-winning sequel Independence Day but he is neatly portrayed more sympathetically through key commissions and omissions.) (9/14/1999)

Foer, Jonathan Safran, Everything Is Illuminated , 2002, 276 pages (A majority thought it was one of the best reads of the year and a good locus for discussion, as each person had made a different connection or had a different confusion worth elucidation. While the book starts out as comic magic realism in the tradition of I.B. Singer, that innocuous base turns out to have important clues towards an intense exploration of memory, guilt and responsibility pre, during and post-Holocaust, family and American-Ukrainian-Jewish relations through a tour de force of language and imagination. It was made particularly poignant for the group as there were dramatic parallels with the experiences of a member, Tamar Rogoff who choreographed a dance piece The Ivye Project in Belarus around some similar themes.) (4/15/2004) (My review of the movie.)
_________________, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2005, 368 pages (Meeting right after Osama Bin Laden's demise affected our discussion: did this flashily exploit New Yorkers' response to 9/11? [Our member Tamar Rogoff is the movement coach for the young actor playing "Oscar" for the film version that is otherwise by non-New Yorkers.] But we were intrigued by the comparison to the Allies' bombing of civilian Dresden and the generational links from fathers to sons through boxes, and the consistent voice of a kid with Asperger's.) (5/3/2011)

Fountain, Ben, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, 325 pages, 2012 (National Book Critics Circle Award, L.A. Times Book Award, and finalist, National Book Award) (While several were so turned off by the first 50 pages that they couldn’t finish, the rest were drawn into the satire of American consumerism, football, and hypocritical chicken-hawks, and the sympathetically believably maturing central character (3/3/2015)
My additional Notes on the deft treatment of attitudes towards 9/11.


Franzen, Jonathan, The Corrections, 2001, 560 pages (A rollicking social satire through a complicated ensemble of characters, but some of us thought it more significant as an attack on the downfall of patriarchy rather than just a funny skewering of the New Economy) (1/7/2003)

Frasier, Charles, Cold Mountain , 1998, 449 pages (A Civil War "Odyssey" through the Appalachians, with a too superman and too superwoman characters, the picaresque travels through the back country of an anarchic society destroyed by a war irrelevant to them, is nevertheless fascinating-- an entertaining and symbolic page-turner.) (6/19/2001) My movie review

Fuentes, Carlos, The Old Gringo , 1985, 208 pages (Not knowing much about the Mexican Revolution or Ambrose Bierce we're sure that some of the myth debunking passed us by, but the symbolism led to much discussion and rereading of passages.) (6/19/2001)

Gaines, Ernest J., A Lesson Before Dying, 1997, 256 pages (An apropos book to read before McVeigh's execution, a compact revelation of a specific time and place that provoked a lot of discussion about who learned what lesson) (5/7/2001)

Garcia, Cristina, Dreaming In Cuban

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, Love in the Time of Cholera, 348 pages (A classic that we've used as a base of comparison with other books)

Goldberg, Myla, Bee Season, 2001, 288 pages (While a few felt the characters were more intellectual constructs than full-fledged people, all had a great discussion, including pointing out classic lines, about whether all of them were crazy -- and how much could be autobiographical as is usual with first novels) (My review of the movie.(1/22/2002)

Goldman, Francisco,The Ordinary Seaman, 1997, 387 pages (Recommended by John Sayles, some thought better as sociology of Central American emigrants than literature.)

Gordimer, Nadine, My Son's Story, 1991, 277 pages (Not great literature but interesting for South African perspectives) (8/9/1998)
______________, The Pickup, 2001, 288 pages (Our lively discussion focused on the ending – Credible? Permanent? Feminist? Just personal to the character?) (12/3/2007)

Gottlieb, Eli (American – he grew up in Nora’s hometown), Best Boy, 2015, 256 pages (While not all thought the 1st-person autistic man POV was consistent, we all thought it was insightful about the feelings and issues facing such individuals and their families.) (12/6/2016)

Greene, Graham, The End of the Affair, 192 pages (Mixed review, though it was more intriguing than the movie. We admired the writing style, but the atheists in the group balked at the believability of a central character choosing "falling in faith" over "falling in love.") (3/7/2000) (My review of the movie)

Grenville, Kate, (Australian), The Idea of Perfection, 2002, 402 pages (While most of the guys derided this as a chick book, most agreed it was a good read view of small town, middle-aged bush life from different interior perspectives, with different readers picking up different plot and character clues.) (2/6/2006)

_____________, The Secret River, 334 pages, 2005 (Shortlisted Man Booker and other Prizes) This is the first book in “The Colonial Trilogy”, followed by The Lieutenant, 320 pages (2009) and Sarah Thornhill (2012), as well as the useful background memoir Searching for The Secret River, 352 pages (2007) (While we all admired the authenticity of the portrayal of their poor lives in England and their confusion as colonists, we argued about the author’s attitude towards such sympathetic people who could commit genocide and go on to succeed.) (4/7/2014)

Groff, Lauren, Arcadia, 2012, 320 pages (We were impressed by her use of language and understanding of baby-boom utopians from/into the past/present/near-future, but had mixed reactions to the credibility of how the genders were presented, especially the lead male.) (6/12/2013) (She seems to draw on real commune experiences, such as were recalled in documentaries I reviewed: Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie and Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin And The Farm Midwives.)

Guterson, David, Snow Falling On Cedars (My review of the movie)
_____________, East of the Mountains, 1999, 304 pages (Most felt this was a thin, didactic tale such that our enjoyable discussion was about criticizing its superficiality and simplistic style.) (9/2003)

Habila, Helon (Nigerian), Measuring Time, 2007, 382 pages (Most thought the narrative style was flat storytelling, but we had a lively discussion about how much to extend this one family in a small village to a depressing window into Africa from pre-colonialism through the 1990’s.) (10/1/2007)

Haddon, Mark, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, 2003, 240 pages, (Marvelous read and we were all impressed at the author's consistency in keeping the POV of an autistic teen and sympathy for characters caught in difficult situations, but the only discussion was about what emotional context means if you can't understand complex emotions.) (4/5/2005)


- of course we ordered in Indian food from Curry Hill
Hamid, Mohsin (Pakistani), The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 193 pages, 2007, Harcourt (Short-listed for Man Booker Prize/Anisfield-Wolf Book Award) (paperback/Kindle/unabridged audio) (Our smaller than usual group had a very mixed and somewhat dissatisfied reaction – about the main character, his actions, about his relation to his audience.) (6/6/2017)

Mira Nair’s 2012 film adaptation is on DVD, and is streaming on Amazon and Netflix.
Harding, Paul, Tinkers, 2009, 192 pages (Pulitzer Prize) (While we were all confused factually by the shifts between father and son, we admired the descriptive language—so much that we were convinced to never spend a winter in northern Maine—and debated the symbolism of clock repair.) (8/9/2011)

Hazzard, Shirley (Australian), Transit of Venus, 1980, 352 pages (Only two of us finished the book, the rest could barely make it to page 40 as they had zero interest in the tiresome characters, so we cancelled the session.) (3/1/2005)
______________________, The Great Fire, 2003, 288 pages in hardcover, 326 pages in paperback (The majority hooted that it read like a lost post-colonial Graham Greene retread from 1952.) (3/1/2010)

Heaney, Seamus (translator), Beowulf, 2000, 215 pages (Most of the group had to be reluctantly convinced to read this atypical for us selection, but the marvelous translation led to a lively discussion of what the three monsters represented, the pagan acts vs. the Christian poet's viewpoint as well as the roles of the other storytellers, and the tenets of valor in a warrior culture.)(12/7/2004) (My movie review)

Hegi, Ursula, Stones from the River, 1994, 525 pages (Mixed vote, down the middle)

Hijuelos, Oscar, Our House in the Last World (His first novel)

Hoban, Russell, Riddley Walker, originally published in 1980; 1998 edition published by Indiana University Press has useful glossary and afterword, 256 pages (A fascinating post-apocalyptic read and essential discussion -- tip, it helps to read tough but phonetic sentences out loud! -- that even though it comes out of 1970's Cold War/Anti-Nuke tensions still has powerfully provocative points about religion, politics, civilization, technology, violence, society, and the power of storytellers and artists. And something about dogs, but not much about women.) (7/5/2005)

Hoffman, Alice, Practical Magic (Much better and more sophisticated than the movie, but heck the movie does have Sandra Bullock and Aidan Quinn)

Hosseini, Khaled, The Kite Runner, 2003, 372 pages (While there's some one-dimensional characters, plot coincidences and autobiographical projections that betray this as a first novel, all were caught up in the gripping story from a culture we don't get to see this close up, of (primarily male) Afghanistan before and during the Taliban. Some saw this as allegorical about the country in general; others saw a religious tale of sin and redemption.) (11/9/2004)

Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World, 288 pages, 1932; Most of the group also read the 2005 foreword by Christopher Hitchens and his 1958 essay collection Brave New World Revisited, 144 pages. (We were impressed that besides his of-his-time-and-class snobbery, sexism, Malthusism, neglect of environmental degradation and expectation of power to government rather than corporations, he was amazingly prescient about social control through bread and circuses.) (3/4/2014)

Hynes, James (Irish), Wild Colonial Boy

Ibsen, Henrik, A Doll House

Ilf, Ilya and Petrov, Evgeny (Russian), The Twelve Chairs, 1928, 2011 Northwestern University Press edition is a new translation by Anne O. Fisher, 480 pages in paperback. (Not on Kindle.) The earlier British translation by John C. Richardson is still around as a used paperback and is available as a free download. (This was the basis for the 1970 Mel Brooks film, which had a different ending.) (After checking out the specific context of U.S.S.R. history to understand the brief window that allowed these funny satirists to publish, we discussed the particulars, that some thought dragged the story out for a contemporary reader, vs. the picaresque universality of the clever con man manipulating any bureaucratic system.) (3/6/2012)

Ishiguro, Kazuo, The Remains of the Day

Jacobson, Howard (British), The Finkler Question, 2010, 320 pages, Bloomsbury USA (Man Booker Prize winner) (While we all enjoyed the excuse to have a repast of Ashkenazi take-out (despite that Katz's Delicatessen wouldn't deliver after 6 pm), a couple of folks were turned off by three unsympathetic men kvetching and couldn't even finish reading it, a couple found it laugh out loud funny, while others appreciated it as a satire of British Jews. I think it referred to an article I couldn't find the full text of: Tom Stoppard's "Another Country," Sunday Telegraph Magazine, (London) 10 October 1999: 14-19, 20-1; I've also seen the article cited as: "On Turning Out To Be Jewish," and "Tom Stoppard Discloses His Past", from when it first appeared in the premiere issue earlier that year of Talk Magazine.) (1/5/2011)
Barney’s Version the book, and to a lesser extent the movie, as discussed in my commentary on the Jewish women, is a lot like a Canadian Jewish version.


Jen, Gish, Mona in the Promised Land, 1996, 304 pages (Mixed vote between those of us who thought it a witty take on ethnic identity and those who thought it a glib rehash of coming-of-age in suburbia in the late '60's.)

Jiles, Paulette (American), News of the World, 240 pages, 2016 (National Book Award Finalist) (All enjoyed the book and admired how well-researched and (mostly) 3-D the period characters were, even feeling guilty pleasure over the Hollywood epilogue.) (7/11/2017)

Jin, Ha, Waiting, 2000, 320 pages (Is it about universal humans or particularistic about Chinese? And are these Chinese particularly Communist or reflective of traditional Chinese culture? Or is this more of a analogue for modern Chinese history?)

Johnson, Adam, The Orphan Master’s Son, 464 pages, 2012 (Pulitzer Prize) (Though some objected to the degree of violence, readability, and if this was old-fashioned propaganda, we had a lively discussion of fact vs. fiction vs. realistic imagining of how human beings would survive in a contemporary dystopian totalitarian society.) (1/7/2014)
Documentaries I recommend on North Korea: Kimjongilia; Yodok Stories; The Red Chapel; and Camp 14: Total Control Zone, that I briefly reviewed at 2013 Death & Politics at Human Rights Watch Film Fest at Film Society of Lincoln Center.


Jones, Edward P., The Known World, 2003, 432 pages (Most felt this was a fascinating recreation of the full range of complexity of the ante-bellum South, where the acceptance of owning other human beings complicates issues of race, sex and class, though this docudrama has a long set-up to get to the suddenly fast-paced surprising conclusion) (10/5/2004)

Joyce, James (Irish), Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (This was one of our few attempts at a classic - and not everyone read it!)

Kashua, Sayed (Arab Israeli), Let It be Morning (translated by Miriam Schlesinger), 2004, 271 pages (We discussed if it was a satire or just satirical elements in encapsulating the ironic future of Israel/Palestine through the lens of an Arab village, north of Tel Aviv, full of believable characters whose politics reflect their personalities and relationships since birth.) (1/5/2010)
Optional addition: Dancing Arabs (translated by Miriam Schlesinger), 2002, 227 pages. He also writes wry newspaper columns about life as an Arab in Israel. My review of the 2009 Other Israel Film Festival included Forever Scared, a documentary about the author.
Post-2014 Gaza war update.
My review of his filmed adaptation of three of his books: A Borrowed Identity (Dancing Arabs aka Second Son) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women.)


Kawabata, Yasunari, Snow Country (Knowledge of Zen poetry and Japanese culture would help) (9/1994)

Khadra, Yasmina (nom de plume for Algerian army officer Mohamed Moulessehoul), The Attack (translated from the French by John Cullen), 2006, 272 pages (We had a lively discussion of just how didactic and one-dimensional is this bleak view of Israeli/Arab/Palestinian relations, especially the opaque central couple.) (4/6/2009)
My review of the film version (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman.) (6/25/2013)


King, Lily, The English Teacher, 2005, 256 pages (Majority, but not all, disliked it, including one who had read Tess of the D'Urbervilles which is used like Mrs. Dalloway is in The Hours, some disliked the characters, some the writing style, some the plot credibility of the central focus on PTSD from rape or the conclusion.) (1/7/2008)

Kingsolver, Barbara, Pigs in Heaven (This is actually a follow-up to The Bean Tree)
_______________, The Poisonwood Bible, 1999, 566 pages (I missed the meeting but all readers were really moved and entertained by the creative writing perspectives of unique characters, though they get a bit stick-figurey towards the end. This beat the sophomore jinx we've experienced of reading books by the same author.) (4/3/2001)

Kinsella, W.K., The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (3/1993) (One of my all time favorite books -- hard to believe that Richard Greenberg didn't read this before writing Take Me Out)

Kirn, Walter, Up in the Air, 2002, 320 pages (Most felt it was a static one-note with no catharsis or interesting characters, even though it does nail business consultants.) (3/9/2004) (Jason Reitman's film adaptation is much better because he included the reactions of real fired people and women who tell off the main character.) (12/10/2009

Krauss, Nicole, The History of Love, 2005, 272 pages (One of our favorites! The discussion started before the meeting time and, unusually, continued through our (Eastern European) take-out dinner. Several members immediately reread the book and we all enjoyed checking the plot twists, but also the themes of love and survival, words and translations and magic realism. And yes, there is a real Universal Edibility Test.) (1/9/2007)
___________, Man Walks Into A Room, 2002, 256 pages (Most felt the central character was too unsympathetic to care about and that the plot became too picaresque, but we liked seeing emerge in this her first novel the author's talent for giving different characters' unique voices and we enjoyed discussing issues of memory and identity.)
Similar issues are raised in the possibly faux doc Unknown White Male and the real, but less interesting, Thomas Lien's Hunting Down Memory, seen at the 2009 DocuWeek.) (3/6/2007)

___________, Great House, 2010, 289 pages (National Book Award Finalist, ABA Indies Choice Honor Award, Anisfield-Wolf Award, Shortlisted for the Orange Prize) (All felt it was the weakest of her books to follow a desk through 20th century Jewish history as too symbolic a gimmick.) (11/6/2013)

Kundera, Milan, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (6/6/1995)

Kunzru, Hari, (British-Kashmiri), Transmission, 2004, 288 pages (A very funny, light-read, globalization satire that some thought was very bitter, with no grown-ups, but all well-hit targets.) (9/10/2007)
_________________________, The Impressionist, 2002, 465 pages (Even without sympathetic characters, its broad satirical scope is impressive, with marvelously outrageous vignettes, for its attack on the British colonial empire and the damaging legacy of racial and cultural identity confused by context and perception.) (9/14/2009)

Kyung-sook, Shin (Korean), Please Look After Mom, 2011, 272 pages (Man Asian Literary Prize) (With each of us finding different strengths and themes in the particular chapter’s points-of-view, we all admired how a book so very culturally specific could still be universal about mothers and children.) (12/11/2012)
Beleaguered mothers have also been powerful recurring images in recent Korean films, including Secret Sunshine (Milyang).


Lahiri, Jhumpa, The Namesake , 2003, 304 pages (Most of the group were fascinated by the generational saga of Bengali immigrants to the U.S., though the scenes worked better as a series of sharp short stories than a novel overall. Gogol's The Overcoat has some sort of thematic and structural link that we didn't get because we didn't read it.) (2/1/2005) (I was disappointed by the film adaptation.) For other novels reflective of the Immigrant Experience in America: classics, not all semi-autobiographical and newer books, not all fiction or for adults.

Le Clézio, J.M.G. (French) (Nobel Prize winner), Onitsha (translated by Alison Anderson) 1991, 206 pages (The dream-like linking of the Nile and Niger Rivers through African history lifted this above his bitter childhood memories of British colonial racism as the empire ran aground, symbolically and in fact.) (11/2/2009)

Lee, Chang-rae, The Native Speaker (Korean-American)
___________, Aloft, 2004, 384 pages (While we appreciated amusing vignettes of Queens and Long Island types, almost all were disappointed in this Updike imitation with an inauthentic sounding and feeling first person narration by an unappealing guy with the titular attitude to his life. A big let down from his debut above that we really liked.) (9/11/2005)

Lethem, Jonathan, Motherless Brooklyn, 1999, 311 pages (We all fell in love with the language of this very NY book, and especially with the protagonist, a Tourette's-afflicted detective.) (1/2/2001)
_____________, The Fortress of Solitude, 2003, 528 pages (The bare quorum who read it appreciated a white-boy's changing language to experience and reflect on the ambiguous legacy of Brooklyn gentrification, from realism to magic realism.) (9/7/2010)
_____________, Dissident Gardens, 2013, 384 pages (We were so enthused to read about Queens, Lower East Side, and leftist politics we were familiar, from an author whose earlier work we admired, that we read it before it was available in paperback, so we were disappointed at the lack of in-depth characterizations in superficial, even snarky, takes on unsympathetic people.) 2/4/2014)

Levy, Andrea, Small Island , 2004, 448 pages (All enjoyed this perceptive examination of the fall of the British Empire from the perspective of male and female, black, white and mixed race colonials and the Mother Country.) (5/11/2005)


-- Enjoying a period repast of frank & beans, mac & cheese, pudding & Jell-O & fruit cup
Lewis, Sinclair (American), It Can’t Happen Here, 1935 (but a Top 10 seller on Amazon this year), 499 pages, Signet 2014 reprint includes Introduction by Prof. Michael Meyer and Afterword by Prof. Gary Scharnhorst) (We were all impressed how well it still worked both as a bitter satire of applying Hitler’s and Huey Long’s appropriation of democracy for fascism to the U.S., with striking prescience for the rise of another right-wing populist president in 2016.) (5/2/2017)

Lightman, Alan, The Diagnosis, 370 pages (With one dissent by the scientist in our group, the rest thought the writing pedestrian, the characters one-note and the meaning either cliche or confusing, other than a few vivid scenes that felt like separate short stories) (6/11/2002)

Lively, Penelope (British), Moon Tiger, 1988, 208 pages, also available in Kindle/Nook/unabridged audio (Booker Prize) (Mixed reaction – folks who liked the lead character as an exemplar of an unusual career woman facing down a colorful portrait of the British declining empire through 20th century tended to like the book; those who found her cranky and annoying, as well as the plotting inconsistent, didn’t.) (2/7/2012)

Livesey, Margot (Scottish), The Missing World, 2000, 336 pages (We mostly parsed why this manipulatively plotted book, with its static, unappealing, narcissistic characters, was acclaimed, and reminisced about other books on this list we had preferred reading.) (The possibly faux doc Unknown White Male came to a different conclusion about an amnesiac's second chances.) (5/11/2009)

Llosa, Mario Vargas (Peruvian, Nobel Prize winner), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, originally published in English in 1982, translation by Helen R. Lane, 384 pages (After confessing it took us a bit ways in to figure out the author's witty style, we honed in on how the two titular people affectionately made this a comic coming-of-age story.) (2/8/2011)

Lodge, David, Therapy, 1995, 321 pages (Veddy English - is it a "guy" or "chick" book?)
Reading Paulo Coelho’s spiritually too-serious The Pilgrimage (to Santiago de Compostela) puts it in context for comparison.


Lorca, Frederico, The House of Bernarda Alba (Play, whose translations vary in quality)

Lynch, Jim, The Highest Tide, 2005, 272 pages (An enjoyable and educational read around Earth Day with both colorful human and marine characters, leading to discussions about the narrator and if there was metaphor or satire, in addition to surprising parallels with the TV series Surface.) (5/1/2007)

MacLeod, Alistair (Canadian), No Great Mischief, 1999, 283 pages (Impac Dublin Literary Award winner) (With a few gripes about repetition, most were struck by the powerful evocation of family tribal history and concomitant obligations, particularly vividly described between men and about death – even though no one wanted to listen to my large collection of traditional Cape Breton and Scottish fiddle music and laments.) (4/7/2008)

Mahfouz, Naguib (Egyptian), Palace Walk, originally published in Arabic in 1956, in English in 1990, 498 pages (Made us wonder if the concept of hypocrisy is culturally defined. I also read the remaining two books in the trilogy to satisfy my curiosity as to what happens to the characters; this first is the best written and most subtle.)

Mallon, Thomas, Henry and Clara, 1995 (8/14/1997)

Malouf, David (Australian), An Imaginary Life , 1978, 154 pages (What we didn't know that we didn't know about Ovid meets Truffaut's L'enfant Sauvage in beautiful wordplay.)
__________, The Great World, 1991, 330 pages in hardcover, 340 pages in paperback (While not quite a quorum read it in the heat of the summer that also distracted our discussion, we admired the author's sympathy for three generations affected by war, particularly those sharing PTSD over decades. However, we protest the poor quality of Vintage's typeface selection and printing that made it that much harder to read.) (7/11/2010)
__________, Ransom, 2010, 240 pages (While almost all of us neglected to really read Book XXIV of The Iliad for background context, we were impressed how those legendary figures were brought to such human life, including capricious gods, with beautiful language and added midrashic insight into a universal, and ongoing, story of war and grief.) (11/1/2011)

Márai, Sándor (Hungarian), Casanova in Bolzano, originally published in 1940, 2004 translation by George Szirtes, 294 pages (While half our group was daunted by the book and didn’t show up, the rest had a tremendously lively discussion about the characters and what metaphors they represented – were they power/order vs. hedonism/ego-centricity vs. love/beauty?-- in general and in the context of European politics when the book was written, as prescient post-modern deconstruction or satire.) (6/3/2008)


Russian herring and black bread prologue:
Marra, Anthony (American), The Tsar of Love and Techno - Stories, 2015, 384 pages, Hogarth (American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Prize; National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist; Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Books of 2015) (All loved it! We loved the language, the linked story structure, the cynical capturing of decades of corrupt Russian society from Stalinism through glasnost to entrepreneurial capitalism, and the ambiguous ending for group discussion.) (2/7/2017)

Martel, Yann (Canadian), Life of Pi, 2002, 348 pages (Lively discussion -- particularly when we discovered that there were two different versions of the paperback editions that changed a crucial paragraph--according to the simplistic "reading group notes" at the end--as we tried to figure out if the author was really dissing religion in "telling the better story" or intending the book to be taken metaphorically straight. Much disagreement as to whether it was about evil vs. religion or about nature vs. civilization or if those were the same things.) (10/7/2003)

Martin, Valerie, Property, 2003, 208 pages (Through the eyes of a surprisingly unsympathetic yet fascinatingly consistent protagonist, a searing look at how complicity in a morally corrupt system--here slavery--corrupts the oppressor almost as much as it damages the victim) (8/3/2004)

Matar, Hisham (Libyan), In the Country of Men, 272 pages, 2006 (Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book award for Europe and South Asia and shortlisted Man Booker Prize) (Not only were we impressed by the language and the consistency of a child’s point of view of complicated parents, we were struck by the portrait of a dysfunctional society through protesters against Gaddafi and the sensitive sympathy for oppressed Arab Muslim women.) (5/6/2014)

Matthiessen, Peter (RIP), At Play in the Fields of the Lord, 373 pages, 1965 (A mixed vote whether or not were the stereotypes the missionaries and “heroes” characters, even though one was a “Native American” seeking his indigenous roots, and the hallucinogenic language and jungle descriptions.) (6/3/2014)

McCann, Colum, Let the Great World Spin, 2009, 368 pages in hardcover, 400 pages in paperback (While some disagreed with the author that it was a 9/11 book, all agreed it well evoked diverse all-borough voices in NYC of the 1970's, and admired his use of the impact of Pettit's high-wire walk more for kismet than coincidence.) (6/7/2010) (The title is taken from Tennyson's "Locksley Hall": "Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,/Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change."

McCarthy, Cormac, All The Pretty Horses
_______________, The Crossing (Mixed vote on it being pretentious and redux.)
_______________, The Road, 2006, 304 pages (selected by both Oprah and the Pulitzer Prize) (Though all appreciated the language, story-telling and portrait of paternal devotion, mixed vote on the author’s continuing obsession with the warrior mensch, as well as credibility about science, individualistic vs. social human nature and the meaning of it all.) (6/11/2007) (The movie adaptation expands on the mystery of the wife/mother, but is grimly faithful.)

McCarthy, Tom (British), Remainder, 2006, 308 pages (Most of the group was so put off by the central character's unappealing lack of morality and empathy ---let alone no one wanting to have liver for dinner--that we barely got around to issues of humanity, control, uncertainty, and memory.) (11/15/2010)
It reminded me of the fictional artist in Synecdoche, New York and the real, brain-injured mastermind of his own village of dolls in Marwencol.


McDermott, Alice, Charming Billy, 1998, 280 pages (Are these Irish-American stereotypes or an evocative portrait of a family network that enables alcoholism and self-deluding romanticism? They missed the chance to cast Richard Harris in a movie version – maybe Aiden Quinn is old enough now.) (3/9/1999)

McEwan, Ian, (British) Atonement, 2002, 368 pages (Sharp schisms in a passionate discussion even of the facts in the story: turned off by a distasteful narrator, some thought it was too much literary manipulation; others appreciated turning literary conventions from Austen to Hemingway and beyond on their heads in dealing with class and culpability, among many other issues.) (6/3/2003) (My review of the movie)

Millhauser, Steven, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, 1997, 293 pages (Mixed reaction) (11/18/1997)

Mitchell, David, (British) Ghostwritten, 2000, 448 pages (I recommended this because one character of the intersecting ensemble includes a transmigrating spirit from Mongolia, but we all enjoyed this clever puzzle of a read, with each picking up different clues with different interpretations of the penultimate chapter and The Meaning of It All -- spiritual? sci fi? and eerily prescient about religious fanatic terrorists.) (12/4/2001)
____________, Cloud Atlas, 2004, 509 pages, (A rollicking tour de force that was a font for discussion--and every reader picks up other clues and connections to reveal to other readers--with a sextet of spiraling tales of history past and future, each written in a different, full-fledged genre and voice from a satirically witty array of literature and film -- Huxley, Hitchcock, Kesey, Melville, and Vonnegut to name a handful -- for a cynically original commentary on globalism and human civilization.) (6/7/2005)
The 2012 film adaptation more reflects recurring themes of the directors, the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, than Mitchell’s corrosive points, let alone witty styles.

___________, Black Swan Green, 2006, 304 pages (A surprisingly straight-forward but still layered, semi-autobiographical feeling examination of bullies--in the family, school, community and nations-- from the POV of a young teen boy in 1980's exurbs, with amusing references to characters from his earlier novels.) (12/6/2006)

___________, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, 2010, 512 pages in paperback, also available in Kindle/Nook (National Book Critics Circle Award) (Unanimous praise, for story and the language, with especial admiration for how three cultures at the turn of 1800 –Dutch, Japanese, and English—are presented so vividly, as well as the individuals, in a captivating story.) (1/3/2012)

Mo, Yan (Chinese) (Nobel Prize winner) Red Sorghum: A Novel of China, 1987, English translation by Howard Goldblatt, 1993, 368 pages (Yimou Zhang’s 1987 film adaptation is difficult to find with English subtitles on U.S. playable DVD.) (While some were so turned off by the bloody, graphic violence that they couldn’t finish it, the rest were intrigued by how the author got around censorship by portraying Japanese as monsters and pre-revolutionary society as abusing peasants with internecine battles, but we weren’t sure about his message about how the Communists were different.) (1/8/2013)

Modiano, Patrick (French) (translated by Daniel Weissbort), Missing Person, 1978/English edition 2014, 168 pages (Prix Goncourt/Nobel Prize) (While all enjoyed reading the book as a detective story, our lively discussion of the exploration of the protagonist’s changing sense of identity drew out metaphors of France’s amnesia of its collaborations under Nazi Occupation.) (2/3/2015)
We warmly met in Brooklyn on an icy evening (thanks to Debbie Bernick for the photos):


Moore, Alan (writer) and Gibbons, Dave (illustrator), Watchmen, 1995, 416 pages, DC Comics (compilation of the 12 "magazine" issues originally published from 1986-1987- our first graphic novel) (Half our members were so annoyed at the selection and the politics, slowness and violence of the work that they found excuses not to come, but the Rest of Us were intrigued by its multi-layered contemporization of Nietzschean superman analysis through interweaving the far and recent past, present and future of an alternative history of the Cold War with eerie echoes today. Who is a liberal? Who is a conservative? Who is evil? Who is insane? Can the end justify the means? We have not seen the movie adaptation.) (6/1/2009)

Morrison, Toni, Beloved (Absolutely shocking that this is not on the Modern Libary list of 20th Century classics)
____________, Home, 2012, 160 pages (also available on Kindle/Nook and unabridged audio) (Most felt it was a striking evocation of mid-20th century American life for black men, particularly for a veteran of the “forgotten” Korean War going across the country, and women creating community, especially in the segregated South.) (4/2/2013)
____________, God Help the Child, 2015, 192 pages (paperback and Kindle) (We all agreed this was the weakest of her books we’ve read, feeling it seemed incomplete or rushed, despite its insights on skin shade discrimination within African-American families and the lasting impact of child neglect.) (5/3/2016)

Murakami, Haruki (Japanese), South of the Border, West of the Sun, 1998, 224 pages (Is it a guy book or a girl book? Is she real or fantasy? Is he having a psychotic breakdown or just a mid-life crisis? And how much is autobiographical? Great discussion! The group was disappointed that I didn't think to bring illustrative jazz CDs. We liked it so much we're reading his longer, more difficult master work next.) (8/20/2002)
_____________,The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1997, 607 pages (We all agreed this was a special, unpredictable book that we could only run out of time to discuss all the recurring themes (pain, water, animals, dark, isolation, clairvoyance), metaphors (what are men? what are women? Japan and its militaristic past vs. individual history?), characters (who is real and who isn't?) Even though he repeats some elements from the later book of his we read, we would even love to read this one by a different translator for comparison. (10/3/2002)
_____________, Kafka on the Shore, 2005, 480 pages (The most accessible of his books in a captivating page-turning story, brimming with direct and indirect high and pop culture references, from inspirational to satirical, in fusing an East/West mythology with his ongoing themes that made for a lively discussion about metaphors, memory, guilt and temporal anomalies.) (9/4/2006)
_____________, IQ84, 2011, 944 pages in hardcover, 1184 pages in 3-volume Vintage paperback boxed set, also available in Kindle/Nook/unabridged audio (We assigned it for first August, then September 2012, several members read it, or at least started reading it (to mixed reactions), but the consensus was that it was just too long for a club assignment.) (8/6/2012)
Tony Takitani is the first full-length movie adaptation of a Murakami story.


Murdoch, Iris (Irish), The Bell, originally published 1958, 320 pages (paperback, Kindle and unabridged audio) (Though not all enjoyed reading the book, there was a vigorous discussion and disagreements about what each of the characters represented, let alone the bells, in terms of sex and religion in the 1950’s setting, and the author’s atittude.) (7/12/2016)
Recommended related film: Richard Eyre’s bio-pic Iris (2001), based on the memoir by her husband John Bayley.


Naipaul, V.S. (Indian diaspora), A Bend in the River (5/1993)

Ndibe, Okey (Nigerian), Foreign Gods, Inc., 352 pages, 2014 (Mixed reaction to the writing style, but all appreciated the satire of different points of view well-captured once the main character is back home in Africa.) (4/10/2015)

Némirovsky, Irène, (French), Suite Française, originally written 1942, published 2006 in a British English translation by Sandra Smith, 448 pages (All were astounded by this incisive and fairly bitter critique of France’s La Comédie humaine amidst war and occupation, written astonishingly clear-eyed while the events were happening, and lots of discussion about the “what if. . .” of being left uncompleted by a Russian ex-pat not anticipating her own murder at the hands of what she thought was a civilized enemy. Catherine Bernstein’s documentary Murder of a Hatmaker, seen at the NY Jewish Film Festival, is useful contextual complement.) (11/12/2007 and (12/28/2007)
We missed the Museum of Jewish Heritage's exhibition Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française
My commentary on the film version: Suite Française

Ninh, Bao (Vietnamese), The Sorrow of War (translated by Phan Thanh Hao, edited by Frank Palmos) 1995, 224 pages (While we debated whether the characters were metaphors for the country, all were fascinated by this vivid, unideological, view of the ravages of the war, on men and women, from the opposite perspective than what we were told, like an updated All Quiet on the Western Front.) (10/5/2009)

Norman, Howard (Canadian), The Bird Artist (12/17/1997)

Nunez, Sigrid, The Last of Her Kind, 2006, 384 pages (While all the baby boomers relished the evocation of our social and political awakenings here in New York City, most found the characters shallow and not completely credible.) (12/7/2009)

Oates, Joyce Carol, We Were the Mulvaneys, 1996, 464 pages (Oprah's Book Club selection 2001) (While several members couldn't get into it and gave up, the rest got involved in the family saga full of symbolism, even if not all the characters' actions were credible. Oops, we forgot to cast it!) (7/6/2009)

Obreht, Téa (Serbian-American), The Tiger’s Wife (Orange Prize), 2011, 352 pages, also available in Kindle/Nook/unabridged audio (We were all astonished that a young, debut novelist could be so in touch with the past, death, and myths, let alone with spare and beautiful language, surprising characters, and striking images, not that we could figure out all the symbols.) (5/1/2012)

O’Brien, Tim, In the Lake in the Woods (Effective evocation that the Vietnam War still isn't over in hearts and minds)

Oe, Kenzaburo, A Personal Matter, 1969 (Wrenching, whether or not it's considered a Japanese critique or a universal young man's book) (1/5/1999)

Ondaatje, Michael, The English Patient (We liked the book much better than the movie.)
______________, Anil's Ghost, 2001, 320 pages (Our session was originally scheduled for 9/12/01 -- what a difference reading it before 9/11 and discussing it after, with terrorism come to our home town. Much discussion of whether one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter and if religion and art can be a salvation, or just an excuse and an escape. And who is her ghost?) (10/23/2001)
______________, The Cat's Table, 2011, 288 pages (We enjoyed the imagery of young boys run amuck on a lively multi-cultural, multi-class ship full of distinctive characters who aren’t who they seem, and the metaphor of a symbol of the end of empire moving through the cusp of post-colonial changes.) (2/5/2013)

Onetti, Juan Carlos (Uruguayan), A Brief Life, translated by Hortense Carpentier, originally published in Spanish in 1950, 304 pages in paperback (Only two of us even finished it, and though we considered if the translation contributed to the turgidity, the consensus was the writer/protagonists pretentiously played with unsympathetic characters.) (6/7/2011)
Here's a film out on DVD based on one of his short stories: Bad Day To Go Fishing (Mal Día Para Pescar)


Osborne, John, Look Back in Anger (a play) (5/11/1999)

Otsuka, Julie, When the Emperor Was Divine, 2002, 160 pages (While we all admired the literary style of the individual voices and points of view of the experiences of members of a Japanese-American family vs. their neighbors after Pearl Harbor, most of our conversation centered on how chillingly it showed how it could absolutely happen again -- and is thisclose to happening again. The moving doc The Cats of Mirikitani vividly brings all these connections home.) (1/3/2006, supplemented 3/24/2007)
___________ The Buddha in the Attic, 2011, 144 pages, also available in Kindle/Nook/unabridged audio (Pen/Faulkner award) (While some objected to the lack of plot and to whether it was even a novel, all agreed on the poetic language and unique look at Japanese immigrant history through the eyes and feelings of women.) (8/6/2012) (My History Reading Group read and reviewed several of the books she used as source material.)

Oz, Amos, (Israeli) Black Box, 259 pages (Very effective epistolary novel that we all felt works sensitively about very individual Israelis and some felt was also specific metaphors for Israel.) (late ‘90’s)<

Ozeki, Ruth (Canadian-American Buddhist), A Tale for the Time Being, 2013, Penguin, 432 pages (Los Angeles Times Book Prize; shortlisted for Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award) (While we debated magic-realism vs. simplistic scientific explanations vs. author’s arbitrary manipulation, all found the treatment of continuities in generations of a Japanese family over a century richly imagined.) (12/8/2015)

Pamuk, Orhan (Turkish), Snow, 2004, 448 pages (While we felt we had to slog through characters at first spouting different viewpoints, the fascination of the absurd takes over, as he cynically savages all views, including his role as a writer, in Turkish society for fusing the personal and the sexual with the religious and the political so we divided on whether to laugh at it as a satire or cry at it as a pessimistic observation on the role of suicide. It certainly made us aware of his legal problems with the government and the debate on Turkey's admission to the EU with more clarity.) (10/11/2005)

Parks, Suzan-Lori, Getting Mother's Body, 2003, 257 pages (Unanimous admiration for richly drawn characters who speak in vivid vernacular across a cinematic landscape.) (3/1/2011)
The author also recorded the mother's blues in Songs From Getting Mother's Body.


Patchett, Ann, Bel Canto, 2001, 336 pages (The majority enjoyed this imaginative riff off a real political hostage taking in Lima, Peru into an examination of fate, opportunity, and self-fulfillment from different perspectives.) (5/6/2003)
The novel was inspired by the real situation portrayed in the documentary The Siege (La Toma) (briefly reviewed at 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, dedicated in memory to my activist dad)


Pears, Iain (English), The Dream of Scipio, 2002, 416 pages in paperback (Not all of us appreciated trying to follow the century-jumping in the storylines, but we had a lively discussion on the parallels of civilization vs. the barbarians, what each character represented, and if the same actor should play the same themed character in a film version to add to the parallelism.) (4/5/2011)
A character is inspired by the central figure portrayed in the film Agora.


Percy, Walker (Southern American), The Moviegoer, 1961, 256 pages (It just seemed as if all his existential malaise wasn’t any more profound than could be cured by the coming of change.) (early ‘90’s)
Interesting background on the context of his Southern patrician family in Barry, John M., Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, discussed by my History Reading Group.


Perez-Reverte, Arturo, The Club Dumas, 1997, 384 pages (A too-look-at-me-I'm-clever detective yarn filled with literary references, especially about book collecting and classic mysteries, with a dollop of male fantasy fulfillment. Instead, read Agatha Christie's The Murder of Dr. Roger Ackroyd or Sherlock Holmes or catch an The X Files for more interesting treatment of the attraction of the devil.) (7/6/2004)

Petterson, Per (Norwegian), Out Stealing Horses, (translated into British vernacular by Anne Born), 2007, 256 pages (All admired the spare language style that matched the physical environment to memory and aging, even though we had to parse out plot interpretations.) (10/20/2008)

__________, I Curse the River of Time, 2008, translated into British vernacular with Charlotte Barslund, first published 2010, 240 pages (While we continued to admire his language, most of us were very disappointed by the limited story compared to his earlier book and this very unsympathetic lead character—we spent some time coming up with suitable derogatory adjectives--plus it was crucial to have read the prequel In the Wake, 2000, English translation by Anne Born first published 2006, 240 pages) (10/4/2011)
A member noted what was still unresolved in our discussion: “Why did he write this story and why did he end it that way? What did the author want us to feel in the end?”


Proulx, E. Annie, The Shipping News

Ratner, Vaddey (Cambodian-American), In The Shadow Of The Banyan, 2012, 352 pages (available on Kindle/Nook and unabridged audio) (Finalist for PEN/Hemingway Award) (selected in memory of Bill Lavner as his recommendation) (We admired the author’s honesty to fictionalize her childhood’s and her mother’s memories instead of following the fashion of artful memoir, but we missed the broader context and explanations.) (7/23/2013)
Recommended related documentaries: Enemies Of The People (also briefly reviewed at 2010 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival); Brother Number One (briefly reviewed at 2012 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, both seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center); Adrian Maben’s 2011 Comrade Duch: The Bookkeeper of Death; Rithy Panh’s S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003), Duch: Master Of The Forges Of Hell (2011), and The Missing Picture (L'image manquante) (previewed at 2013 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center) (My additional notes.)


Robbins, Tom, Skinny Legs and All (8/1993) (Prescient satire)

Robinson, Marilynne, Housekeeping, 1981, 224 pages (Though all loved the imagery, mixed reaction, with half either falling asleep or not finishing it, but spirited discussion as to whether characters were eccentric or just plain crazy.) (11/10/2006)

Roth, Philip, Goodbye Columbus
_________, Operation Shylock
_________, The Plot Against America, 2004, 416 pages (While there was one vote that it was over the top, the rest of us marveled that even though this was part of the "Roth" novels that are inspired by vividly recalled details from his real life, here his youth in ethnic Newark, it was misogyny-free and even mother-affectionate as it step by step from the real to the surreal created another, more artistic version of It Could Happen Here that most felt had scarily contemporary warnings.) (3/7/2006)

Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1), (the Americanized title), 312 pages; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, (Book 2), 352 pages; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3), 435 pages, (all Scholastic). Also available unabridged on tape and CD (from Random House Listening Library). (The consensus was that this is classic children's "cross-over" literature for adults too, on a par with "Alice in Wonderland.")(8/2000) My reviews of the movies: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Roy, Arundhati (Indian), The God of Small Things, 1998, 336 pages (Dazzling view of the English language from India post The Jewel in the Crown.)

Rushdie, Salman, (Indian) The Ground Beneath Her Feet, 2000, 575 pages (A rock 'n' roll Orpheus and Euridice) (While some complained that the length could have been trimmed and that the author was showing off his multicultural and popular culture erudition, all concurred the book is phenomenal and engendered much enthusiastic discussion.)

_____________, Midnight’s Children, 1981, 632 pages in hardcover/536 pages in paperback (available on Kindle/Nook/unabridged audio) (Winner of the Booker of Bookers) (While being a bit intimidated by his intellect, erudition, and sweeping knowledge of the 20th century history and politics of the Indian sub-continent, we enjoyed his humor and discussing his views of religion, nature vs. nurture, and women’s options, with admiring comparisons to Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain.) (9/3/2013)
The impact of this period on the Sikh community is thrillingly shown in the Bollywood epic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (My additional notes.)


Russell, Karen, Swamplandia!, 2011, 336 pages in hardcover/416 pages in paperback (available on Kindle/Nook) (Finalist for Pulitzer Prize, ALA’s Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and Orange Prize) (All agreed it took almost half the book to get involved beyond the colorful descriptions and affection for the Everglades environment, but then the story really kicked in, especially as powerful metaphor of Florida past and present.) (5/7/2013)
Harold was reminded of a Summer 1956 trip to a comparable Florida attraction:


Russo, Richard, Empire Falls, 2001, 483 pages (An enjoyable, cinematic, small-town, family saga that also works on a metaphorical level, encouraged by the symbolically named characters.) (4/1/2003)

___________, Straight Man, 1997, 391 pages, also available in Kindle/Nook/unabridged audio (Though the female members in attendance felt the women were not very credible, all appreciated the satire of academia and the amusing word play.) (4/3/2012)

Saramago, Jose, Baltasar and Blimunda, 1987 (Portuguese) (A tough read --OK it took me months to finish it-- but quite an audacious Balzacian take on Portugal in the 1700's.) (4/13/1999)
____________, The Cave, 2002, 320 pages (While several members noted that this is a Marxist interpretation of Plato's Cave with an idealized, intellectual proletariat that all noted is a slow stream-of-consciousness read, the conception of a we're-almost-there-yet future of controlling capitalism vs. people enlivened by creative production was intriguing.) (6/1/2004)

Schlink, Bernhard (German), The Reader, 1995 (Ignoring the lack of character development and focusing on the complex symbolism, this fast read spurred one of our best discussions as it explores the banality of evil in post-Holocaust Germany.) (2/1/2000)
My review of the film, and my commentary on the Jewish women. Thoughtful Schlink interview about the book and film. The documentary 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Him (2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß) raises similar issues.


Sebald, W.G. (German), Austerlitz, 2001, 304 pages (Split down the middle: half thought it was intellectual pretension, the other half thought it was an insightful tour of memory and cultural and personal identity of Europe from Napoleon to Hitler to the EU.) (11/11/2002)
We won’t be reading Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (1992), but it covers some of the same themes, that are sifted in the documentary Patience (After Sebald) I briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center.)


Sembène. Ousmane (Senegalese), God's Bits of Wood, first published in English in 1962, as translated by Francis Price; paperback most recently re-published by Longman, 2008 (originally published in French as Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu in 1960) 252 pages (Not available on Kindle) (Though several had problems reading the book, both as a tough slog with a large ensemble, with complicated names and relationships, and the small print that required reading glasses or a magnifying glass, all appreciated our first-time look at the point-of-view inside Africa from a French colony and a Communist’s rejection of capitalism, colonialism, Islam, and traditional culture, with hope for the involvement of women, as the most powerful characters, in achieving a modernizing society.) (1/5/2016)
My review of the bio-documentary Sembène!, plus my commentary on the missing Jewish women, for background to the novel.





Here’s our own dancer (and choreographer) Tamar Rogoff accepting audience applause at the NYC premiere of her documentary Enter the Faun at the Margaret Mead Film Festival

Shakespeare, Nicholas, The Dancer Upstairs, 1997, 288 pages (I missed the meeting, but the group reported the discussion centered around the hopelessness of the middle between extremists.) (7/15/2003) (My review of the movie)

Shakespeare, William, Merchant of Venice (multiple editions/recorded performances) (All intrigued by the change-of-pace to visit/re-visit a classic, we focused on why it’s a comedy, the anti-Semitism, male relationships, the unlikability of most of the characters, and how Portia steals the show.) (9/4/2012) (My review of the 2004 film version)

Shields, Carol (Canadian), Stone Diaries, 1994, 386 pages (late-‘90’s)

-Gary Shteyngart speaking very personally as a former HIAS client, from USSR, at the Jews for Refugees Rally, 2/12/2017, in front of what my Grandma Rose always called "Kessel Garden", where she first entered the U.S. as a 15 year old traveling alone to meet up with her siblings here. Took me years to realize that was Castle Garden, the immigration depot that was built on the top of what has now been restored back to Castle Clinton, the Revolutionary War fort.
Shteyngart, Gary, Absurdistan, 2006, 352 pages (LOL at some scenes, the majority felt it was a repetitive display of too-clever crude humor that overstayed its welcome with unsympathetic, unchanging characters by an author who did himself no favor claiming the mantle of a Russian-American satirist in the vein of Heller, Sterne, Swift and Voltaire.) (3/3/2008)

Singer, Isaac Bashevis, Satan in Goray, 160 pages (And he was only 26 when he wrote this vividly mature first novel.)

Smiley, Jane, The Age of Grief, 1987, 213 pages (a novella and short stories, which led to our policy decision that short story collections don't make for good discussions.) My review of the movie version - The Secret Lives of Dentists(2/1993)
__________, A Thousand Acres (5/13/1997)

Smith, Zadie, White Teeth, 2000, 464 pages (We all enjoyed this ensemble romp through the multi-cultural British empire that is now London. While this debut novel was particularly sharp on adolescent experiences close to the author's very young age, we had a jolly good discussion about fate, chance, and who is actually representing Britain. And about the differences in how the author looks in her photo on the hard-cover edition vs. the paperback edition.)

Sofer, Dalia, (Iranian-American), The Septembers of Shiraz, 2007, 368 pages (While we debated how much was autobiographical in bringing to vivid life the travails of Jews in Iran under the Shah and the mullahs, our discussion parsed the author’s views of torture vs. the unsympathetic aspects of the central characters.) (9/22/2008)

Soueif, Ahdaf (Egyptian), Map of Love, 1999, 544 pages (Our discussion was better than the book, which we all agreed required a great suspension of disbelief for its plot, inconvenient gaps, and not always convincing changes in POV. We ended up having more of a discussion of the historical, colonial roots of the current Mess O' Potamia and the hopeless future of liberals anywhere in the world than its literary merits.) (8/13/2006)
As quoted in a lecture on "Resurrecting Empire: The End of Year II of the Occupation of Iraq" by Professor Rashid Khalidi: T.E. Lawrence in The Sunday Times, August 1920 - "The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster…. Our unfortunate troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Baghdad… but the responsibility in this case is not on the army, which has acted only upon the request of the civil authorities."


Spragg, Mark, The Fruit of Stone, 2002, 304 pages (Is it a guy book or about laconic, taciturn Westerners for whom loyalty is more important than communicating?) (12/13/2005)

St. Aubyn, Edward (British), “The Patrick Melrose Novel Series” -- Recommended by Michael Chabon: Never Mind (1992), in hardcover 208 pages, in paperback 128 pages; Bad News (1994) 128 pages; the third book Some Home (1994), 224 pages, originally was the collective name to the trilogy; then the fourth book Mother's Milk (2005), 320 pages, was shortlisted for 2006 Man Booker Prize, and, finally, At Last (2012), 272 pages (We assigned the first and shortest two books, but those who read on to the deft social satires were relieved to get past the literately written, but horrendous difficult-to-read child and drug abuse, though we all appreciated the realism more when we read his Wikipedia bio.) (4/5/2016)
We made it to the Upper West Side despite MTA breakdowns:


Stegner, Wallace, Crossing to Safety, 1987, 341 pages (No sex, no child abuse, no adultery, just married couples struggling with the frustrations of academic and real life. Starts off in the '30's but feels very contemporary.) (2/9/1999)

Straight, Susan, I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots, 1993, 355 pages (While there were complaints that the heroine was a super-hero and the two parts of her life seemed like two books stitched together, we were impressed by the evocation of the rural and urban South at the turn of the civil rights movement.) (12/7/1999)

Szabó, Magda (Hungarian), The Door, originally published in Hungarian in 1987, English translation by Len Rix published by NYRB Classics in 2015, 288 pages (Winner of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize and the Prix Femina Étranger) (Even those who were turned off by one or both of the two women lead characters, all were intrigued by their cynically metaphorical representation of class tensions through 20th century Hungarian social and political history.) (7/14/2015)

Tartt, Donna, The Goldfinch, 784 pages, 2013 (Split reactions led to lively discussion about the writing style, length, detailed descriptions reflecting post-recession time and NYC/Vegas/Amsterdam places, credibility of the young male POV, literalness vs. philosophical metaphors of authenticity and art) (Pulitzer Prize winner) (9/2/2014)

Tezza, Cristovão (Brazilian), Space Between Color and Shade, 276 pages, 1998 (paperback/Kindle/audio unabridged) (Machado de Assis Award for Best Novel from the National Library of Brazil) (While the majority disliked it for the unsympathetic protagonist and his narcissistic story, the insights of our art teacher member helped us more appreciate the art history references and allusions about artists, the creative process, and fakes.) (1/6/2015)

Tóibín, Colm (Irish), Brooklyn, 262 pages, 2009 (paperback/Kindle/audio unabridged) (short/long listed for IMPAC/Booker prizes) (Mixed vote – while some appreciated the social history of a female Irish immigrant in the 1950’s, others found the characters too one-dimensional.) (12/2/2014)
At the New York Film Festival press conference at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, I’m the first questioner, challenging that the film adaptation removed what grit there was in the novel, making the film too sentimental. Scripter Nick Hornby, his wife and producer Amanda Poseys, director John Crowley, and the novelist took considerable umbrage!



in Whitney Museum of American Art collection
Tutuola, Amos (Nigerian), The Palm-Wine Drinkard (written in 1946; published in 1952) and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (originally published 1954), 256 pages, Grove Press (in a single volume paperback, but not available in Kindle) (Though not everyone was intrigued enough to read both books, we were fascinated at the sophisticated use of the structure of African folk tales as a way to communicate the richness of pre-colonial spirituality with gods and ghosts, and the pre-Freudian power of dreams.) (3/8/2016)

Unsworth, Barry, Stone Virgin, 1995, 309 pages (A meticulously organized look at the erotic in artistic impulse inspired by the madonna/whore duality of the Annunciation through history- yeah, a guy book.) (2/13/2003)

Verghese, Abraham, (Ethiopian/Keralan, India-American), Cutting for Stone, 2009, 560 pages in hardcover, 688 pages in paperback, unabridged audio book available on CD and Audible download, and on Kindle (While this book gave us the opportunity to do our first take-out dinner from an Ethiopian restaurant, we enjoyed the narrative detail about distinctive Ethiopians, Indians and colonials, but found little of depth to discuss.) (5/17/2010)
_______________, Tennis Partner, 1998, 352 pages (A memoir the group enjoyed reading.) (10/1/2013)

Vonnegut, Kurt, Timequake, 1997, 272 pages (Read in commemoration of his work having inspired founding of the Book Club, all enjoyed and admired how he used humor in a valedictory last blending of fiction with his real life and the world.) (6/11/2007)

- Relieving stress of reading uncomfortable trilogy on the Lower East Side by feasting on Eastern European appetizing delicacies from Russ and Daughters.

Wiesel, Elie (Romanian) in memoriam, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day: Night, memoir originally published in French in 1955 as La Nuit, 148 pages, new translation by Marion Weisel (Oprah’s Book Club selection); Dawn, novel, originally published 1960, 100 pages, various translations; Day aka The Accident, novel, originally published 1961, 132 pages, various translations (While we saw the first, very moving book as the anchor, we had a vigorous debate about the moral philosophy of the second, with its eerie parallels to contemporary terrorism, and the somewhat confusing nihilism of the very male-oriented third.) (10/6/2016)

Whitehead, Colson (Brooklynite), The Intuitionist, 1999, 256 pages (Is it a satire or an allegory on race as it re-imagines urban race relations and the zen of elevators?)
_______________, John Henry Days, 2001, 400 pages (While a couple of members were so turned off by an early, unsympathetic protagonist to not finish the book, the rest were fascinated by the structure of multiple contacts with an African-American musical and cultural myth, as we tried to work through understanding the ending--accompanied by many versions of the song from my CD collection.)
_______________, Apex Hides the Hurt, 2006, 224 pages (Split vote on whether this entertaining read rose to the level of Swiftian satire or was just shallow with a racial and historical overlay.) (8/7/2007)
Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin and the follow-up documentary Banished for background on and the impact of memories of African-Americans driven from their communities.

_______________, The Underground Railroad, 2016, 320 pages (Oprah’s and Obama’s favorite book of the year) (While we found disjointed style changes a bit awkward and the ending a bit abrupt though we appreciated the Huck Finn connection, we all loved the blending of magic realism and substantial characters with the incorporation of historic truths about chattel slavery as this country’s original sin.) (11/1/2016)
There are many related references on slavery in the Annnotated Bibliography of my History Reading Group, including works the author cites in his “Acknowledgements”.


Wiggins, Marianne, Evidence of Things Unseen , 2003, 400 pages (We were all charmed by a sympathetic family saga of the Harry Truman generation that becomes an allegory about America's tragic faith in science and technology. The lovely love stories and the language withstood the obsessive references to Moby Dick.) (1/11/2005)

Winton, Tim (Australian), The Riders, 1995, 384 pages (We still can't decide what the horses represent.)
_________, Dirt Music: A Novel, 2002, 416 pages. There's also an accompanying 2 CD "riff" on the book with Winton's commentary on his music selections (scroll down). (Mixed vote on the likability of the main characters and the outcome of their triangle but all liked the use of language and evocation of a distinct place and culture.) (2/3/2004)

Woolf, Virginia, Jacob’s Room, 175 pages (2/6/1996)

Yalom, Irvin D., When Nietzsche Wept (Well, if you want to read about a philosopher.)

Yehoshua, A.B. (Israeli), The Liberated Bride (somewhat awkwardly translated by Hillel Hankin), 2003, 576 pages (Even with an obnoxious narrator, we all enjoyed the satirical vignettes, some that were very funny, though we were split on interpretations of the dysfunctional family elements and political allegories such that we weren't sure the book as a whole hung together.) (4/18/2006)

Zabor, Rafi, The Bear Comes Home, 1998, 484 pages (We spent most of the lively discussion--to the sounds of jazz CDs-- on the first question: "Why a bear?" Is he a metaphor? a literary device? really a man?)

Here’s nonfiction recommendations from my History Reading Group.

To the Mandel Maven's Nest
Comments, corrections, additions, questions welcome! Contact Nora Lee Mandel at mandelshultz@yahoo.com

Hold a book in your hand and you’re a pilgrim at the gates of a new city.

--attributed as a Hebrew saying by Anne Michaels in Fugitive Pieces

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