International Reads Book Club

The International Reads Book Club just had its first month in November 2013.  We read The Slynx by Tatyana 310722Tolstaya.  The Slynx could be described as a Russian satiric dystopian novel.  It will bring to mind while reading other great dystopian works like 1984Fahrenheit 451, and A Clockwork Orange.  This was not an easy read and I was well out of my comfort zone, but it was well worth the discovery.  It certainly wasn’t a waste of my time, even though there were a few things that went way over my head.  Readers need to have good knowledge of Russian history and literature to really fully understand The Slynx.  In spite of it all, I found the writing brilliant and the world building intriguing.  There was definitely lots of room for interpretation.  I think this book would make a great movie.  I could really imagine what all the people who survived the blast looked like.  Freaky!

This book club was started by Mercedes over at MercysBookishMusings on You Tube.  She decided that this book club on Goodreads would focus on reading translated works and works from people of colour.  So she united about twelve Booktubers and myself included to compose the core group of the book club.  Each month will be dedicated to a different country so that things don’t get too repetitive and the members will post video discussions/reviews and discuss directly on the International Reads page on the Goodreads site during the month on the chosen book.  At the end of each month, there will be a Google Hangout discussion with a few of the core members to work out the kinks and analyse.  Spoilers! Spoilers! So if you haven’t read the book and are planning to don’t watch the Google Hangout.

This month of December we’re taking a trip to Japan, reading Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata.  In fact, I 10571801haven’t read very much Japanese literature so I’m looking forward to enjoying the perfectionist beauty of Japanese writing that I hear so much about.  All I know is that there is a geisha, mountains, and a rich man involved.  Sounds intriguing right?  If you’re interested in joining, head over to Goodreads, sign up to be a member of International Reads and join in the discussion.  Below are links to Booktubers that are in the core group that you might want to check out.

Colleen –…
Deni –…
Brooke –…
Andi –…
Elli –…
Didi –…
Rincey –…
Kenya –…
Grace –…
Chloe –…
Danielle –…
Christine –…

The Sense of an Ending

I was so happy to have been pushed to read The Sense of an Ending by my book club.  It has been on my TBR 12280827for a while and on my shelves for about 6 months.  I enjoyed this book so much that I’ll be holding it up as an example of why short, sweet, and precise is a lot better than long-winded winding and vague.  What a brilliant book!

The Sense of an Ending is the story of Anthony, nickname Tony.  It ranges from his life as a 15-year-old boy at school till he’s a man in his sixties.  We see how the events of our past aren’t always remembered accurately and are sometimes even completely forgotten.  Barnes constructs a simple story of friendship, love, and life, which gradually becomes something a lot more surprising.  The writing style is simply ingenious and each word was obviously chosen conscientiously.  Some may find Tony a bit of a wimp always complaining and never facing any of the difficulties he was confronted with.  From his failed marriage with Margaret, to his daughter Sophie, and his ex-girlfriend Veronica, frankly, he’s not very reactive.  “He just doesn’t get it.”  The phrase that’s repeated constantly the last quarter of the book.  In spite of all of his whining, I still liked him.  He seemed to be a man trying to lead a very normal life no matter what, which is what most people do.

The ending left me bewildered so my first reflex was to reread the last 20 pages.  That still didn’t help me understand.  At that point I felt that the interaction between Veronica and Tony was a way to fuel the end of the story, particularly Veronica repeating “you just don’t get it” all the time.  Well at my book club discussion we finally worked out the mystery and then things seemed to fall into place a lot better for me.  The Sense of an Ending made sense, however I can see how some people might completely pass over the ending and not getting it.  The clues are in Tony’s past and it’s for the reader to find the sense of the ending.

The only other book I’ve read about the fragmentary nature of memory is Marcel Prout’s Swann’s Way from the  series In Search of Lost Time.  Julian Barnes goes about it in a different way but I feel it’s worth the read and simply special in its own way.  Barnes is English and is known for writing novels, memoirs, short stories, and essays.  He won the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending.  He’s also well-known for having written other memorable novels such as Arthur & George, Flaubert’s Parrot,  and England, England, which were all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  He won the  Prix Médicis Étranger for Flaubert’s Parrot and the  Prix Femina Étranger for Talking it Over.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

7935678It is 1917 and Rachel and Isaac have been married for fourteen years.  They left Chicago to settle in the South Dakota Badlands to farm a large quantity of land bought together.  Rachel and Isaac’s love and family grow through harsh winters, excessive droughts, and back-breaking chores while trying to raise children and make a living from the land.  This was not a typical lifestyle for African-Americans at that time.

Isaac is a strong terribly ambitious ex-buffalo soldier with an extreme hatred for the Native American Indian.  Rachel is a naive, worn down woman who is seeking love, family, and her own home.  They enter into their marriage as a contract both hoping to get what they desire, where the harsh South Dakota Badlands puts them both to the test.

The setting of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree is stark and lonely.  This black family is not only isolated by their location but by their race as well.  They are the only blacks farming in this area and their nearest neighbours are white and at least five miles away. Loneliness and isolation are omnipresent.  Weisgarber got the idea for this novel after seeing a picture of a black woman in front of a sod dugout during one of her trips through the Badlands.  She felt that it was disappointing that this bit of African-American history had been ignored and began writing The Personal History of Rachel DuPree.  This book has a myriad of themes running through it such as racism, feminism, farming life, family, marriage, and the list goes on.  It would make an excellent book club choice.  There is a lot to discuss.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers and longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009.  The Winner was An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay.  The is was an excellent start for Ann Weisgarber as a first novel.  The topic was unusual and attempted in an interesting manner.  In spite of that, I felt that it was strange how I didn’t really feel much for Rachel or any other character in the novel.  I must admit I started to fill better about her by the end of the story.  The best described character in the novel was Mrs. DuPree, Isaac’s mother.  She was a stern, ambitious, mean-spirited, nasty piece of work.  She brought some life to the book though.  You could almost imagine what she looked like.  I enjoyed the chapter on Ida B. Wells-Barnett (the first African-American journalist writing articles defending blacks and women), which was an excellent way of Weisgarber setting Rachel’s standards and expectations of life.  It helped me understand more about why she made the quick decision in the first place to marry Isaac DuPree.  In the end, I was glad to have read it, but I felt as if this book was missing something that I couldn’t seem to put my finger on.

Ann Weisgarber was born and raised in Ohio.  She has a Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Social Work and Sociology. She lives in Texas.  She and her husband love the outdoors and visiting national parks.  Her second novel The Promise was just released in March 2013.  It is another compelling story with intriguing characters, love, and hidden secrets set in the midst of a natural disaster.

Title: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

Genre:  Historical Fiction/African-American/Women’s

Published:  2008

Edition:  Pan Books

Pages:  307

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * 1/2



Stranger in a Strange Land


Stranger in a Strange Land is a novel I’ve heard so much about for a long, that is, not really hearing what it was actually about.  I’ve heard masterpiece, brilliant, bestselling classic (and that was also written on the front cover of my edition), great book, etc.  So in my mind I pictured a great work of science-fiction, that would go clear over my head since I assumed I would get lost in all the science.  Well my vague assumptions were incorrect.  Science-fiction is not my forte at all but when it was chosen as the March read for my book club, I was anxious to finally know what this book was all about. I got the uncut version so that I wouldn’t miss a bit of Heinlein’s first desired words of Stranger in a Strange Land.  Heinlein’s original draft was cut about 160,000 words before being published because a few of the scenes were viewed as being “offensive to public taste”, which is how Virginia Heinlein described it in the preface of the book.

This is the story of Valentine Michael Smith.  Humankind sent an expedition to Mars, but there were never heard from again.  About twenty-five years later another expedition is sent and they find Valentine Michael Smith, who is the child of two of the original crew sent there.  He has been raised by Martians.  He was later discovered and brought back to Earth.  In the beginning, he is naive, curious, and childlike, not speaking or understanding well Earth language or our customs.  Once on Earth, he becomes the center of attention for mankind, as he teaches them grokking and water-sharing.  What is grokking you may be wondering?  “Grokking, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, is to understand something intuitively or by empathy.”  It states that it is a word invented by Robert A. Heinlein in the 1960s.  It can be used in many verb forms like groks, grokking, or grokked.  It is considered to be used in US informal English.  As I read on, in the beginning I was struggling with this word.  It was everywhere and I started to consciously replace it with “smurf”, while laughing to myself because it reminded me of that.  I quickly began to understand better it was a way of saying a deeper understanding of something, along with a few other meanings.

As a whole, I didn’t enjoy this novel.  I went into it expecting something that it isn’t.  I was expecting lots of spaceships, advanced technology, and lots of other strange and intriguing things.  On the other hand, what I got is a satirical critique on society at the time and on what it was likely to become.  It was like reading about the sixties.  There wasn’t enough technological advancement for my taste.  It’s very heavy on themes about sex, religion, politics, and relationships.  Heinlein couldn’t keep quiet at all during his book.  It was like he had to keep reminding us of the reasons he had for writing it.  That got a little old and was a major turn off for me.  However, there are some great one liners and his forecast of the future has proved to be somewhat accurate for some things.  He seemed to have difficulty though with his female characters who remained so insipid that their names could have been interchanged.  Not to mention their roles are typical for female characters – nurse, assistant, sex object, mother, etc.  Some have accused the book of being down right sexist.  I won’t discourage you from reading this book because I do feel that it will appeal to some, but don’t go into it thinking it will be a typical science-fiction novel because it’s a lot more than that.  There are many themes running through this novel that are worthy of being thought about and discussed in a book club setting for example or among friends.  I gave it only 2 stars because I really didn’t find it enjoyable to read.  That’s my opinion, but I urge you to make your own by picking it up yourself.  Is is the best science-fiction novel ever written?  I’m not so sure about that.  So, what do you think?  Will you put Stranger in a Strange Land on your TBR?  If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it?  Do yon think it’s the best science-fiction novel ever written?  If not What do you think is the best science-fiction novel ever written?

Robert A. Heinlein was most known for having written Stranger in a Strange Land, along with quite a few others.  He was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri.  Heinlein is considered to be “the dean of science-fiction writers”.  He was the focal fiction writer supporting and encouraging other great science-fiction writers such as Ray Bradbury and L. Ron Hubbard.  He hosted an informal gathering of science-fiction writers of the Mañana Literary Society which included Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, L. Sprague de Camp, Henry Kuttner, and C.L. Moore.  Isaac Asimov was recruited by Heinlein from 1942 to 1945, while he was working at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as a service engineer.

Heinlein’s first short story published in 1939 was called Life-Line.  It is the story of Professor Pinero.  He invents a machine that has the capability to predict how long a person will live. He had the intention of writing it for a competition in Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine, where the prize was $50, but instead he submitted it to another magazine called Astounding, and was paid $70.  From there he wrote a plethora of short stories and novels, often encompassing themes of sex, race, religion, the military, and politics.  Heinlein also wrote a series of novels that would be considered Young Adult today called the  Heinlein Juveniles, also known as the Scribner Juveniles, which consists of 12 books written between 1947 and 1958.  They are Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet, Red Planet, Between Planets, The Rolling Stones, Farmer in  the Sky, Starman Jones, The Star Beast, Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Have Space Suit-Will Travel.  Heinlein was a real powerhouse in science-fiction writing, so if you’re interested in his work, there is surely something among his many novels and short stories that will interest you.  Oh and by the way, if you were wondering what the A stands for in his middle name, it’s Anson.  Anson MacDonald was a pseudonym he used.  MacDonald was his second wife’s maiden name.  Check out the clip below for Robert Heinlein quotes.  He was surely a highly intelligent man with a great sense of humour.

Title: Stranger in a Strange Land

Genre:  Science-Fiction/Classic/Fantasy/Religion

Published:  1991 edition

Edition:  The Berkley Publishing Group

Pages:  525

Language:  English

My rating:  * * 

My favorite quote:  ”You speak it fluently, I heard you.  Do you grok ‘grok’.” (Stranger in a Strange Land, p. 264)


Cutting for Stone

IMG_1614How in the world did I get through 2009 and didn’t read or hear about this book?  It was simply AMAZING!
What’s it about?  Well, it’s about culture, love, separation, devotion, betrayal, family, and so many other things.  It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away the plot and I don’t like writing reviews full of spoilers, but here’s the overall story.

It’s the 1950s in an Ethiopian mission hospital where twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are born out of a relationship between a young nun and an English surgeon.  There, the two boys grow up with two very different personalities, while their country is going through much governmental upheaval.  Be ready for meetings with fascinating characters, intriguing situations, beautifully described landscapes, smells of spiced Ethiopian dishes, medical procedures, much sadness, and even a bit of mystery.  All of this and more is recounted through India, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the United States.  In essence, it is a story of separation.  Cutting for Stone is epic, exuberant, a must read,  and even more so, if you are interested in this part of the world.

I could rave on and on about how great this book is but of course nothing is perfect.  Cutting for Stone has a few problems in my opinion.  Firstly, it is very heavy in detailed explanations of medical procedures.  If you’re not the squeamish type you won’t have a problem.  In my case, the birth of the twins had my imagination reeling.  I found that part pretty horrific, unfortunately I have a good imagination when the description is well done.  I pictured the scene a little too well.  However, these medical descriptions are very informative for laypeople.  Lastly, the novel falls down a bit in the first part.  The book consists of four parts.  Interestingly enough, parts 2,3, and 4 are not at all written in the same way as part 1.  I say thank goodness once I started to read part 2 the style had changed, otherwise, Verghese would have lost me forever.  Part 1 is written with a slight pretentiousness. It didn’t seem to entice me directly into the story.  The detail was colossal and overbearing; so distracting at times, I found it hard to decide what to focus on.  It just made me proceed reading cautiously and slower, but it was well worth it because by Chapter 11, which is the beginning of Part 2, I felt a welcome shift to the story.  The writing style was more literary and sensitive to my liking.  Sometimes as readers we have to work a little to enjoy the full extent of the reading experience of some books.  This is a good reason not to give up too quickly.  (Part 2 started on page 113.)

Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia in 1955.  His Indian parents were working as teachers in Ethiopia then.  Verghese began his medical training near Addis Ababa.  He later joined his parents in the United States to continue his studies after Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted from power in Ethiopia.  Being a foreign medical graduate at the end of his studies, he only found internships in less popular hospitals and communities.  He wrote about these experiences in his first articles in the New Yorker.  They were called The Cowpath to America.  Verghese continued to practice medicine and to write and published two memoirs called The Tennis Partner and My Own Country, where Verghese writes about being a doctor in a small town in eastern Tennessee.  there he and the town are faced with their first AIDS patient.  The Tennis Partner is about a very close relationship between a doctor and a recovering drug addict intern.  The ritual of playing tennis brings them closer together.  Empathy for the patient and bedside medicine are issues Verghese felt have been stifled among medical training.  He was asked to join Stanford University in 2007 as a tenured professor because of his interest in bedside medicine and his work as a reputable clinician.  Cutting for Stone is fiction, but the theme of patient empathy is a strong element that Verghese emphasizes in many instances in the story, not to mention, there are some similarities with his life.  Check out the video below because you’ll get an excellent insight into what Verghese was trying to depict in Cutting for Stone, very thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Title: Cutting for Stone

Genre:  Adult fiction/Historical fiction

Published:  2009

Edition:  Vintage Books

Pages:  534

My Rating: * * * * *

Favorite quote:  “When a man is a mystery to himself you can hardly call him mysterious.” (Cutting for Stone, p. 31)


46. The Hobbit


The Hobbit was one of those books that has been on my TBR list for a very, very long time.  I didn’t really know what to expect from it.  I’d heard so many things about Tolkien’s writing some good, some excellent, and some even saying that it was overrated.  It’s strange the view we can have on books that we read many years ago.  Our memory somehow focuses on the bad, the slow, and the boring or happily the exceptional.  As most readers will admit the exceptional is just so rare.

So, you’re probably wondering what pushed me to pick up The Hobbit.  Well, the You Tube Book Club( spear-headed by Bunny Cates) discussed it last night on live feed.  When I heard they’d chosen The Hobbit, I wasn’t overwhelmed although it was a book I’ve always wanted to read.  In my mind, I found myself remembering some of the things I had heard people say to me when I asked them if they liked it and The Lord of the Rings.  I’d heard everything from it’s great, to it’s ok, to it’s good but some parts are really slow.  I can’t cope when I’m reading a book that’s slow.  It’s hard for me to not put it down.  Henceforth, the whole Tolkien thing remained on the back burner, knowing I’d eventually get to it.  Finally, here I am and I must admit I’m definitely team Hobbit.  I loved this story and I wish I’d gotten to it much earlier.  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat:  it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” (The Hobbit, p. 9)  Who wouldn’t be interested with a beginning like that.

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit content in his comfortable condition.  He is convinced by Gandalf, the wizard and thirteen dwarfs to go on the hunt for treasure across Middle Earth, in spite of his desire to stay in the comfort of his hobbit hole.  They experience many adventures on their quest for the treasure and to slay the clever, destructive, and murderous dragon, Smaug.  As Bilbo and the dwarves cross Middle Earth, Tolkien’s world building unfolds with each encounter, while being introduced to various original creatures.  I imagine children having this story read to them in 1937, the year Tolkien wrote it, and how excited they must have been to read it or to have it read to them.  Who needs television when you have such a descriptive and action packed fantasy story like this.

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, doesn’t have anything bad about it.  I enjoyed the first half of the book a lot more than the second half, however most people, who are fantasy novel lovers, will probably find the action of the second part more exciting.  The character development that Bilbo goes through is great too.  You can’t help rooting for the underdog.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a British high fantasy writer.  His best known and loved works are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  He was an English Language and Literature professor and was at once close to C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.  My favorite form The Chronicles of Narnia was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  They were both members of a literary group called Inklings.  This group promoted writing narrative and fantasy fiction.  Many member of this group were Christian and Christian themes run clearly through Tolkien and Lewis’ novels.

Last night during the YT Book Club, we discussed quite a bit the movie which is coming out in another week.  I’m not so sure how that’s going to go.  I had heard The Hobbit was going to be two movies, but in fact it’s going to be three.  How do you adapt such a short book into three movies?  We tried to imagine where they would stop and start the movies; not so easy to work out.  I’m shuddering just thinking about it.  I took a look at the trailer, which is just below and I couldn’t help feeling swept up by it.  Whatever you decide to do, read the book first.  I repeat read the book first.  I wouldn’t want that great high fantasy ambiance ruined by three movies that aren’t exactly right.  Another thing, when purchasing The Hobbit, take care to buy the oldest edition you can because there are apparently a slew of different ones out there.  I have a 1973 edition (Made in China, argh!)  and I’m on the hunt now for an even older one, particularly a 1966 edition.  There have been a few things added in, here and there between editions.  I gave the Hobbit 4 stars on Goodreads.  Are you planning to see The Hobbit?  Check out the trailer and of course happy reading…..

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

—— Author Unknown

43. I'm Down

I remember wandering around Borders a couple of years ago, on summer holiday in the States, looking for something different to read.  I ran my eyes along the shelves combing for a good book to read and I happened upon I’m Down.  The book is pitched as:  “Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black.  “He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esque

sweater, gold chains, and a Kangol—telling jokes like Redd Foxx and giving advice like Jesse Jackson.  You couldn’t tell my father he was white.  Believe me, I tried,” writes Wolff.  And so from early childhood on, her father began his crusade to make his daughter down.”

“Unfortunately, Mishna didn’t quite fit in with the neighborhood kids:  she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t sing,  she couldn’t double Dutch, and she was the worst player on her all-black basketball team…..”

Reading this book infuriated me and made me feel extremely uncomfortable.  Her description of poor black people was stereotypical and put accent on the worst traits of this community.  I don’t think that all poor black people fight,insult each other, and neglect their children and I certainly don’t think it’s a howling laugh.  Unfortunately, those traits are accentuated through a good part of the book.  She makes it sound as if it’s the main reason for her problems.  Her real problem was her dysfunctional family.

In essence, her problem wasn’t fitting into the black community, it was her not having an identity of her own.  Her problem was with her father.  She just happened to be living in a poor black neighborhood.  Moreover, I’m almost sure that if a black person would have written this book, no publisher would have wanted to sign it on.  The attraction was mainly that she was white and living in this poor black neighborhood recounting so-called funny episodes of her life interacting with black children at school.

Wolff attempts to write about her life in a comical fashion, but I didn’t really find it funny at all.  If you decide to read this book, it’s basically a memoir about a dysfunctional poor, white family living in a poor black neighborhood.  White people may find this funny or interesting to read but as a black woman I find it slightly offensive.  It reminded me of modern-day blackface without the make-up.  For example at one point in the book, Mishna learns to “cap” (=insulting someone in a playful way) at camp and then she starts capping her father.  Her father was annoyed by it so he said, “I’m not about to take it from my daughter in my own home…..I take it from the Man everyday.” (I’m Down p. 33)  Really?  Ugghhhh!  There were a lot of other phrases and incidents in the book like that.  Another thing I didn’t like is the way she recounts the story as she’s nine but it sounds too much like an adult, although it’s quite clear early on she seems to be clueless about lots of things.  I rate this book a one star.  If you’re interested shes apparently planning to write a second part to I’m Down, which will begin where I’m Down left off.  I’m not sure about the release date.

If you’re interested in more information about Mishna Wolff and her story, watch the You Tube clip below where she’s speaking at a university in Florida about her book and life.  I found it a little painful to watch because she seems so awkward and strange.  Happy reading……

40. The Paris Wife

I finally finished the second book of the year for my book club, The Paris Wife.  Frankly, I’m not really sure about this book.  At the end, it left me wondering what Paula McLain was really trying to tell me.  I’m sure she must have a secret crush on Hemingway.  The Paris Wife is a fictional biography recounting Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson.  The story is based in Paris during the 20s, which was the period of innovation in the arts, not to mention Paris was the city of the “Lost Generation”.  The Lost Generation was a phrase coined by Gertrude Stein to describe the upcoming generation that developed out of World War I.  Many writers and artists came from the United States,  the United Kingdom, and Canada to settle in Paris where they led bohemian lifestyles, carried on open affairs, lesbian relationships, while partying hard and drinking absinthe, Pernod and whatever else, but of course all while writing some of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century.  “All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…. You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” – Gertrude Stein.

Will Ernest’s and Hadley’s young, new love withstand this hostile environment?  Of course not.  You won’t be reading The Paris Wife to find out how it ends.  You already know how it ends.  What you want to know is how do they get to the end.  Here’s the point where I feel Paula McLain goes wrong.  I really would have preferred she had the courage to write a biography.  I’m sure the fictional biography was written to appeal to the masses, but you can’t help wondering what is real and what is her personal interjection into the story.  She does cite a list of works in her note on sources at the end of the book, but doubt persists, especially when reading the dialogues.  Besides, the end of the novel precisely the last three pages seemed unnecessary to me.  Why would she add them?  The book is called The Paris Wife.  She should have found a way to end it on a Hadley note.  The last thing that bothered me was the cover.  I don’t understand why they have extremely well dressed women on them writing or having coffee.  It doesn’t represent at all the way Hadley is described.  Is this woman supposed to be someone else?  Maybe Pauline?

In the end, I gave this novel two stars on Goodreads.  I changed it from three.  I just felt that the story wasn’t told in an interesting enough way.  Some parts are slow and I would have liked to hear more details about the popular bars and cabarets they went to.  Even though, I thoroughly enjoyed Paula McLain’s exceptional writing style.  It flows and is full of that nostalgic 1920s flair needed for the telling of this melancholy fictional biography.  I haven’t heard much about Paula McLain but she has written poetry, a novel called A Ticket to Ride, and a memoir called Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, which is about the fourteen years she and her two sisters spent as foster children in Fresno County, California.  Check out the video below which has some great old pictures of young Hemingway, Hadley and Pauline, as well as some clear explanations of McLain’s thought process in writing The Paris Wife.  If anything this book has made me want to check out A Moveable Feast, which has always been on my TBR list.  I’m definitely a fan of Hemingway the writer but not so much the man.

Every writer I know has trouble writing.

——-Joseph HELLER

34. The Fountainhead

On a rainy cool day twenty-two years ago, I walked to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore  on the left bank of Paris.  I had two hours to kill before catching my train back to Normandy.  I didn’t have much money on me, but I was determined to find a treasure since I was desperate to read in English.  I was learning French intensively at the Sorbonne and my brain desired nothing more than an English break.

Combing the shelves for something good wasn’t easy because there are so many goodies there, but since I was broke my choice was limited  to a really cheap book.  What did I run across?  A dried water-logged version of The Fountainhead for 2 francs.  I had only heard of this book but hadn’t had the chance to read it at university.  So, for 2 francs I figured I had nothing to lose. It’s was a steal!

I began reading it on the train and found myself immediately engrossed  in this story of Howard Roark, passionate, arrogant, driven architect who’s been thrown out of architecture school.  I was glued all weekend to this book that I found fascinating and intriguing.  I enjoyed immensely the architectural descriptions and the complexity of the story.  Now I realize I really loved this book probably because I was young when I read it.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by such a character; who is self-assured and inspired to build to perfection, no matter who doesn’t like it.

Now it’s twenty-two years later and I’m re-reading The Fountainhead with my book club.  I read it in four days just like the first time but not with the same enthusiasm.  The constant preachy theme of Ayn Rand’s unrealistic philosophy of objectivism was an omnipresent whisper throughout the novel.  Objectivism can best be described as “an uncompromising  defense of self-interest as the engine of progress.”(back cover of the Penguin Classics edition of The Fountainhead)  After researching the philosophy of Rand a bit closer I discovered that objectivism can be broken down into five branches: reality, reason, self-interest, capitalism, and romantic realism.  Did this discovery make me understand and believe in her philosophy more?  Absolutely not.  Rand stated that man’s “highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness, and that he must not force other people, nor accept their right to force him, that each man must live as an end in himself and follow his own rational self-interest.”  Blah, blah, blah…  This is the principle philosophy in all of her books and essays including the well-known Atlas Shrugged, which is a big whopping 1200 pages(surely a lot more of the same) and Anthem, which examines a dystopian world in the future where individuals don’t have names, values, or independence.  Other work by Ayn Rand include The Virtue of Selfishness, We the Living, Capitalism:  The Unknown, and The Romantic Manifesto.

As I read along diligently, I marvelled at the quality of writing and the intricacy of the story, since English was not Rand’s maternal language.  The names of the characters to the descriptions of life, expressions, and so forth are like a step back in time.  The novel is divided into four parts named after the principal characters beginning with Peter Keating, Ellsworth M. Toohey, then Gail Wynand, and finally Howard Roark.  The amazing parade of secondary characters is unbelievable but adds to the quality of the story.  If you go on there is a book discussion for The Fountainhead:  Best character in The Fountainhead and why?  Difficult.  Ellsworth M. Toohey is an amazing antagonist – manipulative, cold, calculating, with a pertinacious cruelty; where Howard Roark is a hard-working, knowledgeable, self-confident, arrogant, perfectionist architect.  You can’t help rooting for Roark and hoping for the violent death of Toohey.  Needless to say, all the characters are low down and despicable!  I have never read a book like that before.

All in all, this is a must read.  I don’t agree with Rand’s philosophy at all but it’s an intriguing, well-written story on capitalism and how it can go wrong (like we don’t already know) and that was written over sixty years ago.  When I first rated it on Goodreads I gave it five stars but I’ve decided to take off a star because of the philosophy even though I know this book wouldn’t be what it is without it.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian-American author, playwright, and screenwriter.  In 1926, she came to the United States where she worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and produced a play on Broadway.  Her first novel The Fountainhead got her noticed but Atlas Shrugged is her best-known novel.  She was largely ignored in the literary world because of her philosophy of objectivism.  In her early life, Rand’s father was a pharmacist in Saint Petersburg and his shop was confiscated by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.  Her family then fled to Crimea.  Rand was twelve years old at the time and that incident no doubt contributed to her development of objectivism.  Check out the video below of Rand ardently defending her philosophy to Mike Wallace!

19. Unbroken

Well this book was a real surprise for me, but also for my book club!  I didn’t originally vote for it but it passed the cut for the list of books to read for my book club 2011-2012.  Everybody enjoyed the story and said they learned so many things.  Reading the synopsis frightened me.  I thought, “Oh God not another World War II book and on top of that about the Pacific and Japan.”  I was cringing and trying to avoid it because I was dreading the pages about his captivity(about 150 pages), but happily I was wrong and strong. It was that but so much more than that.  This was a fantastic read about a true American hero that I hadn’t heard of, Lieutenant Louie Zamperini.  This biography follows Zamperini’s life from the beginning, turbulent and headstrong, all the way through becoming a bombardier in the Air Corps in world War II, to his capture and internment in POW camps in Japan, and life after the war.  He is an extraordinary person who survived many excruciating trials when most people would have given up.  Just as it’s written in the title: “It’s a story of survivall, resilience, and redemption.”  It’s obvious that his incredible strong will and confidence helped him pull through it all.

Unbroken is a 406 page book but what a page turner, along with a bit of suspense toward the end!  I learned so many different things about the war, the Olympics, B-24s, etc.  I must admit thinking back to high school I realized that the Pacific hadn’t been covered in the same depth as the Normandy invasion.  I knew very little about it.  So, for all of you out there like me, you should read this book.  Hillenbrand’s style of writing is smooth, informative but most of all easy to appreciate.  Moreover, everything is so well described that your imagination comes alive while reading.  Certain descriptions of the bomber planes and flying incidents are very clearly explained.

Laura Hillenbrand is known for having written another extraordinary true story called Seabiscuit which is about  a race horse.  It’s amazing to see how much thorough information she acquired from Louie Zamperini and his family members, not to mention the help from people who corrected her writing of the flying scenes so that they would be more true to life.  Some people have criticized Hillenbrand’s style saying that it was written like a movie script, which I find harsh.   Personally I don’t have a problem with that.  I think it made it more readable and very intriguing.  The only real mistakes I thought she made was when she occasionally let her personal opinion creep in on a situation where it wasn’t necessary or when she goes on about thee feelings of certain people when she couldn’t know exactly what they would have thought and felt.  Nevertheless, once you get started you will plunge into the story and won’t be able to put it down.  I read this book in 3 days and started to wonder about the audiobook of Unbroken.  I imagined it would be very captivating to listen to because of the storyline. So I checked it out on You Tube and found an extract.  Click below. I give this book 4 and a half stars and am so glad I read it.  Thanks Sonia for suggesting it and sorry I teased you so much about it.  We missed you at the meeting.   Check it out everybody!