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2017 Book Club Recap


Coming to a library near you: Book Club! Each month, eight to ten adults read the same book and then gather to discuss their thoughts. With 12 months of 2017 Book Club activity in the books (pardon the pun), read on to find out what happens when people stop keeping their opinions to themselves, and start getting real...

Month One

Title: I’ll Take You Therewallylamb

Author: Wally Lamb

Setting: 1950s Brooklyn and a former Connecticut vaudeville theater in the 2000s.

Themes: Hollywood, women in Hollywood, nostalgia, ghosts?

Questions: Why did Lamb choose to use ghosts of Hollywood actresses as a storytelling tool? Does this male author write successfully about women?

Consensus: Ha! There is never a consensus! Some people enjoy the magical realism and others thought it unnecessary. Probably an overall 3 stars.

Highlight: One book club member remembered and sang the Rheingold Beer jingle from the 1950s.


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Group of African American women at an event for contestants for the 1954 Miss Rheingold Contest. The annual Miss Rheingold contest, held from 1941 to 1964, was a popular publicity campaign for the Brooklyn, New York, based brewery. Wally Lamb uses his real life memory of petitioning for a local girl to win the contest as a plot point in this novel.


Month Two

Title: The Book of Harlanmcfadden

Author: Bernice McFadden

Setting: Georgia, Harlem Renaissance, Harlem after WWII, Buchenwald Concentration Camp, France in WWII

Themes: race and “passing”, Holocaust, jazz, trauma,

Questions: In what way are stereotypes used? In what way are stereotypes broken?

Consensus: It was one person’s favorite book of the year in book club! We thought it was a tough read in terms of being emotional. It was an epic life story and a lot to digest but ultimately a “good book” (though that is a relative term).

Highlight: When someone made the connection to the Book of Job and we had to discuss whether Harlan was an Exceptionally Good Man or just average and whether it was bad luck, bad decisions, or just life’s course.

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Louis Armstrong plays alongside Harlan in the novel. McFadden's grandfather was the inspiration for The Book of Harlan.


Month Three

Title: How to Be Bothalismith

Author: Ali Smith

Setting: 1460s Italy, 1990s England

Themes: gender identity, art/artists, political activism

Questions: We see the women coming of age in a way that is atypical - specifically with female and platonic love -what do these relationships reveal about  the characters? What was the significance of the eyes and the camera? Who is watching?

Consensus: We decided it would probably be best to read the present day first and the historical half after. It was a bit split about which half we liked best.

Highlight: The reveal at the end when we discovered that we all read the same part first! 

Month Four

Title: The SelloutBeatty

Author: Paul Beatty

Setting: Downtown L.A.

Themes: race and segregation, black intellectualism,

Questions: What is a sellout? What is being sold out? Who is doing the selling out?

What is it about Paul Beatty's language that is so incendiary? Can you see how some would be offended and others not?

Consensus: Two people chose this as their favorite of 2017 book club. Two people found the book highly offensive! Satire can swing both ways.

Highlight: Just plain old disagreement. It was so important to have people of color at this particular meeting.

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View of street showing segregated taxi cab sign. Beatty plays with the idea of his Black community reinstituting segregation. 


Month Five

Title: Unfamiliar FishesVowell

Author: Sarah Vowell

Setting: Hawaii - 1890s and present day

Themes: colonization, imperialism, Hawaiian culture

Questions: Are there any heroes in this story of the Hawaiian Islands? Any villains? Is the history of the Islands a tragic story...a redemptive one...or something else?

What makes non-fiction successful? Is a lack of bias necessary? Can humor and an informal tone be just as respected?

Consensus: We learned so much about Hawaiian history. Some liked Vowell’s informality but others wish she had remained more neutral.

Highlight: One book club member revealed her secret hobby of hula dancing!


Month Six

Title: Girl Waits with Gunstewart

Author: Amy Stewart

Setting: New Jersey, early 1900s

Themes: organized crime, policewomen, family

Questions: Considering the historical context, if the women did not fall into detective work how would their lives likely change in the coming years?

Consensus: Not as exciting as we hoped.

Highlight: When we learned about the sequels we thought we might try another because the sisters were interesting at least.

New York World's Fair - Employees - Police - Policewoman in uniform

Month Seven


Title: A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

Author: Lucia Berlin

Setting: Mostly California and Mexico in 1980s

Themes: working class, American Southwest, everyday life, strangers and loneliness, alcoholism

Questions: Does Berlin pass judgment on her characters? Are any of them villains? How does she make seemingly bad people likable? When writing autobiographically what is the author’s responsibility to the people in her life who become characters?

Consensus: Berlin takes the everyday and makes it wondrous and interesting. It was a cohesive anthology of short stories.

Highlight: Discussing other short story authors we like and one member’s devotion to those of Raymond Carver.

The maid was in the garden, hanging out the clothes.


Month Eight

Title: The Gustav Sonatatremain

Author: Rose Tremain

Setting: Switzerland WWII and several decades after

Themes: war, marriage, male friendship, anti-semitism, music, self-mastery

Questions: What is the difference between neutrality and morality? How do we see this play out in the book?

Consensus: It was a very moving book and I think we were in agreement that, although it was sad, it was very well written.

Highlight: There were 16 people in attendance - half of which came for the first time!


Month Nine

Title: The Handmaid’s Taleatwood

Author: Margaret Atwood

Setting: near future, former United States

Themes: gender and power, literacy, dystopia, oppression

Questions: What were the methods of control and why did they work? What were the options for the revolutionaries?

Consensus: 2 people chose this as their favorite book of the 2017 book club! The book became relevant again with the TV series so some of us were re-reading after many years while others read it for the first time. It was agreed to be an important book.

Highlight: Comparing the book to the TV series and revelations we had while watching it.


Month Ten

Title: The Wonder

Author: Emma Donoghuedonoghue

Setting: mid-19th C Ireland

Themes: religious fervor, miracles, children, fasting, sickness

Questions: What are the child’s reason for fasting? What are the various adults’ reasons to keep her fasting?

Consensus: Just OK. Not terribly exciting, a little predictable. We did enjoy learning about nursing practices in the mid-19th C though.

Highlight: Our discussion of the great hope that religion brings and the things that go very wrong when religion is used irresponsibly.

Ann Moore, the fasting woman of Tutbury

Month Eleven


Title: Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

Author: Deborah Heiligman

Setting: 1830s-1880s in Holland, London, Brussels, and France

Themes: mental illness, brotherhood, art/artists

Questions: How did Theo mold Vincent’s success, particularly as an art dealer?

What purpose does art serve in our lives? Does the tortured artist need that identity to succeed?

Consensus: 3 people chose this as their favorite book of the 2017 book club! We marveled at the author’s research and her ability to make it read like a novel, giving it appeal to teens and adults alike. Many of us were unaware of how important Theo was and loved hearing about the brothers’ relationship.

Highlight: Remembering or looking at Van Gogh’s art as the author gives it context. Many other famous artists are mentioned in the book since they were in Van Gogh's sphere of influence.


Month Twelve


Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Author: Lisa See

Setting: Hillsides of China in 1980s, present day California

Themes: Identity, adoption, Chinese culture, tea, family, globablization

Questions: What was your reaction to Akha practices in the late 20th century and then how did you feel when these practices were abandoned? Compare the three different mother-daughter relationships.

Consensus: 1 person chose this as their favorite book of the 2017 book club! It was mostly agreed to be a good read. Some people found the coincidences to be too unbelievable and the description of tea harvesting to be a bore.

Highlight: We drank pu’er tea and ate sugar cookies!


A Tea-Plantation with Tea-Pickers at Work.



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