19 Days of Christmas! The countdown continues as we prepare ourselves for Christmas and a new year of reading with our book club.
The first Monday of most months, our book club meets to share a meal and discuss a book that we have read during the month. The first Monday in December is extra special, however, as it is our planning meeting and often, the first Christmas party of the season. For the past few years, we have met at the home of a member who is a wonderful cook, and we all look forward to Mary’s cooking as much as we do making our reading choices for the following year.
The book club began many years ago in our church, and has continued steadily through hundreds of book discussions. We are co-ed, with several married couples in the group, but we also have many people who are single or come without their spouses. We meet in members’ homes, where we share a simple meal our hosts have prepared, followed by book discussion. Everyone chips in $5.00, which usually covers the host’s food costs. We take turns moderating the discussion, and usually choose to moderate the book that we have recommended to the club. There is wine available, but unlike so many jokes about book clubs, our meeting is actually about joining together in community to discuss a book. We have too many people in the club — about 22 people attend each meeting — but we love our group so much we can’t bear to break it up into smaller clubs. And so we continue from year to year, loving books and loving each other.
At the December meeting, members nominate books for the coming year by telling a little about the book. We are careful to choose a mixture of books that will be interesting and readable. We are a group that likes non-fiction, but we always want to balance our non-fiction choices with fiction. We usually choose one “classic” novel and try desperately not to choose 800 page books, no matter how good they are. This year’s Man Booker prize-winner, The Luminaries, is one of the those books that many of us will read anyway, but at 869 pages, it’s not appropriate for the club.
Mary’s Italian specialties are a closely-held group of family recipes, and if I told you the recipe, I’d have to give up my place in the book club. I can, however, share this recipe, which originally appeared in Gourmet magazine, for these luscious shortbread-style pistachio and cranberry cookies. I’m putting the recipe in my Christmas binder for my sweet table!
SOME OF OUR PICKS FOR 2014
My Name is Mary Sutter: A New York Times bestseller and a moving Civil War novel about a young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon.
Fans of Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini will love this New York Times bestselling tale of the Civil War. Mary Sutter is a brilliant young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Eager to run away from recent heartbreak, Mary travels to Washington, D.C., to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of two surgeons, who both fall unwittingly in love with her, and resisting her mother’s pleas to return home to help with the difficult birth of her twin sister’s baby, Mary pursues her medical career against all odds. Rich with historical detail-including cameo appearances by Abraham Lincoln and Dorothea Dix, among others, My Name Is Mary Sutter is certain to be recognized as one of the great novels about the Civil War (amazon.com).
It all started when fourteen-year old Hannah Salwen had a “eureka” moment. Seeing a homeless man in her neighborhood at the precise second a glistening Mercedes coupe pulled up, she said “You know, Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal.”Until that day, the Salwens had been caught up like so many of us in the classic American dream—providing a good life for their children, accumulating more and more stuff, doing their part but not really feeling it. So when Hannah was stopped in her tracks by this glaring disparity, her parents knew they had to act on her urge to do something. As a family, they made the extraordinary decision to sell their Atlanta mansion, downsize to a house half its size, and give half of the sale price to a worthy charity. What began as an outlandish scheme became a remarkable journey that transported them across the globe and well out of their comfort zone. In the end they learned that they had the power to change a little corner of the world—and they found themselves changing, too (amazon.com).
The Heretic’s Wife: From the bestselling author of The Illuminator comes a magnificent tale about the power of love and the perils of faith.
Tudor England is a perilous place for booksellers Kate Gough and her brother John, who sell forbidden translations of the Bible. Caught between warring factions—English Catholics opposed to the Lutheran reformation, and Henry VIII’s growing impatience with the Pope’s refusal to sanction his marriage to Anne Boleyn—Kate embarks on a daring adventure that will lead her into a dangerous marriage and a web of intrigue that pits her against powerful enemies. From the king’s lavish banquet halls to secret dungeons and the inner sanctums of Thomas More, Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s glorious new novel illuminates the public pageantry and the private passions of men and women of conscience in treacherous times (amazon.com).
Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.
Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam’s The Amateurs (amazon.com).
The best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse. Hemingway’s frank portrayal of the love between Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, caught in the inexorable sweep of war, glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature, while his description of the German attack on Caporetto—of lines of fired men marching in the rain, hungry, weary, and demoralized—is one of the greatest moments in literary history. A story of love and pain, of loyalty and desertion, A Farewell to Arms, written when he was thirty years old, represents a new romanticism for Hemingway.
The names Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery may not be well known, but the image of them from September 1957 surely is: a black high school girl, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, and a white girl standing directly behind her, face twisted in hate, screaming racial epithets. This famous photograph captures the full anguish of desegregation—in Little Rock and throughout the South—and an epic moment in the civil rights movement.
In this gripping book, David Margolick tells the remarkable story of two separate lives unexpectedly braided together. He explores how the haunting picture of Elizabeth and Hazel came to be taken, its significance in the wider world, and why, for the next half-century, neither woman has ever escaped from its long shadow. He recounts Elizabeth’s struggle to overcome the trauma of her hate-filled school experience, and Hazel’s long efforts to atone for a fateful, horrible mistake. The book follows the painful journey of the two as they progress from apology to forgiveness to reconciliation and, amazingly, to friendship. This friendship foundered, then collapsed—perhaps inevitably—over the same fissures and misunderstandings that continue to permeate American race relations more than half a century after the unforgettable photograph at Little Rock. And yet, as Margolick explains, a bond between Elizabeth and Hazel, silent but complex, endures (amazon.com).
Lavender farmer Luc Bonet is raised by a wealthy Jewish family in the foothills of the French Alps. When the Second World War breaks out he joins the French Resistance, leaving behind his family’s fortune, their home overrun by soldiers, their lavender fields in disarray. Lisette Forestier is on a mission of her own: to work her way into the heart of a senior German officer – and to bring down the Reich in any way she can. What Luc and Lisette hadn’t counted on was meeting each other. When they come together at the height of the Paris occupation, German traitors are plotting to change the course of history. But who, if anyone, can be trusted? As Luc and Lisette’s emotions threaten to betray them, their love may prove the greatest risk of all.
From the fields of Provence to the streets of wartime Paris, The Lavender Keeper is an extraordinary, moving story of action and adventure, heartbreak and passion, devotion and treachery from an internationally bestselling author (Goodreads).
Getting together with friends to share a meal and our love of books is a year-round pleasure that starts with our December book picks. Maybe you will want to read one of these books along with us!
Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford.
Like a child in wild anticipation,
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”
Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)