(This column was published in the Frankenmuth News on Nov. 18, 2020, by Roz Weedman.)
Nine of us, including a first-time person (welcome, Beth!), Zoomed our way through a lively book discussion last week.
Susan led us off on a discussion about how pandemic lit will or won’t look different from “regular” dystopian lit, and the critics have given this some thought, too. The book in question is Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. The plot sounds like a creepy thriller. A couple and their two teens rent a Long Island house hoping for a real family vacation away from everything. Who arrives unexpectedly but an older couple who claim to be the owners of the house and are, for unclear reasons, fleeing some catastrophe in NYC and sheltering now with the renters.
There are words and more words that critics use for books, and this book has garnered a lot of interesting ones. Descriptions come from NPR and the NYT and more, like “a slippery and duplicitous marvel,” “genius thriller, a brilliant distillation of our anxious age,” one that deserves instant membership “among the classics in dystopian lit.” I’m taking this book seriously. It was also featured on Jenna’s Today Show Book Club.
Judy, however, went another direction with her pandemic reading, the wonderful world of escape. She has been listening to Balducci books while quilting (if you’re a mystery fan, you’ll already know Balducci), as well as Barbara Bush’s Pearls of Wisdom and Alex Trebek’s memoir, The Answer Is. Many of us were sorry to hear of Trebek’s passing recently. He has taped enough new shows to go up to December 23. Jeopardy fans know it’s the end of an era.
Two books that people like are Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights and The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim. These two books are in the same paragraph because of the comments on the audiobooks. While actor McConaughey’s memoir is recommended in audio because he reads it himself (“Awright awright awright!”), Pam points out that the Mina Lee novel should be read, not listened to, because the reader isn’t good. But the story itself, about unraveling the mysterious death of Mina Lee and her daughter’s discovery of how little she knew of her mother is a good book that takes readers on a historical trip to Korea.
I love it when people don’t agree on books they’ve read. It just makes it interesting to hear why someone loved it and another didn’t. In the case of Sue Monk Kidd’s, The Book of Longings, we’ve had rave reviews from several members of our group, but remember I said there are words and more words critics use to describe books? One person trotted out the word “cheesy” on this one. Just like with real cheese, palates diverge widely.
A few years back, Fredrik Backman published a big hit, A Man Called Ove, that many of us loved. He also wrote the more recent Beartown. An economically distressed Swedish town in the woods puts its hopes on its junior ice hockey team that has earned a place in the semi-final national competition. Critics note its compelling and well-drawn characters, as well as wrenching and dark moments.
Two more non-fiction books sound good – David Sedaris’s The Best of Me for those who love his stories and humor drawn from many years of keeping journals, and Grownup Anger by David Wolff. Wolff’s book draws together Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and the Calumet, Michigan, massacre of 1913. Seventy-four people died at a union family Christmas party (the union was on strike at the time), including 59 children. It is an important piece of Michigan labor history as well as definitive of the roots of first Guthrie’s and then Dylan’s music.
Join us any time for Books for Lunch the second Tuesday of each month at 12:30 on (for now) Zoom. Just let someone at the library know that you’d like a Zoom invitation to join in the fun. My reading list grows each month listening to the discussion. Contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you at the Library!