Thursday, February 25, 2016

Books and Beer Club February 2016

I'm on a restricted carb diet so
opted for red wine instead of
beer at last night's meeting.
It's allowed.

We had a very low turnout for last night's Books and Beer Club meeting to discuss The Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer. I never really have expectations of how many people will attend any given book club meeting. Last night there were five of us.

A great show of gratitude goes out to Denise for letting us move inside for our discussion last night. I guess that was made easier since there were only 5 of us there to discuss. It was mighty chilly in the outside night air, with the wind making the 62 degree temperature feel that much lower.

We started our meeting with our resident props provider, Prish. She creates props to bring out the key points of whatever book we're discussing. Her "dirty diaper" and the story that went along with its creation were hysterical. Suffice to say that was one prop that looked very realistic. Prish also came to the meeting bearing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and carrots, two of the foods that Dave's mother would feed Dave... when she was in the mood to feed Dave. (I'm 100% sure that Dave's mother did not serve him the gourmet type of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we enjoyed last night.)

Another shout out of appreciation goes to Jen, a professional counselor who deals with abused children all the time as her career. Whenever I'd ask why, she'd be able to give me some idea of why. My biggest why after reading the book was "Why wouldn't the non-abusive parent do everything in his or her power to protect a child he or she sees being abused by the other parent?" We made comparisons about how society dealt with child abuse back in the 70s to how it's dealt with today. Laws have changed, mandatory reporting has been introduced. Some professionals receive proper training in how to recognize abuse. That didn't happen during Dave's childhood.

As typical, our discussion expanded beyond the book and into our own personal lives. Every reader reads a book with his or her own life experiences. As a result, several different readers can get different things and walk away with different understandings of the same book. We needed to share experiences to come to a more collective sense of the book and of the author's purpose.

Of the five people at the meeting, two had only read the first book, the assigned book for the month. Two of us had read two books in the trilogy. And one member was nearly done with the third book in the series which she felt did go farther in answering a lot more of the questions brought up in the first and second book. I might have to put Dave Pelzer's third book in his trilogy back on my "to be read" list.

Next month, March, is our fantasy month. We'll be reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I came home and got this book on my holds list at the library. I'm #3 on the list, the book is 662 pages long. I think I might need to look for another source for the book.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Run by Ann Patchett

Run is a novel by Ann Patchett that's about families, missing mothers, missing fathers, adoption, ambition, secrets, race, religion, socio-economics. Those are the big ideas!

Run is a novel where a collision between several families takes place, literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, Doyle and his two adopted sons, Tip and Teddy, have just walked out of a political lecture given by Jesse Jackson. It's a snowy, snowy night in Boston. As Tip and his father get into an argument, Tip feels himself being hit. Tennessee, a single mom, has knocked Tip out of the way of an oncoming SUV. Tip gets superficially injured while Tennessee's injuries are more serious. Kenya, Tennessee's daughter, was the sole witness.

Run is a novel about the 24 hours in the lives of Doyle, Tip, Teddy, Sullivan (Doyle's birth son), Father Sullivan (the boys' great uncle), Tennessee and Kenya subsequent to the accident taking place. I'd rather not tell you more about the novel because I don't want to give anything away. The beauty of this book is in the unpredictable path that the book takes to get to a somewhat predictable conclusion.

What I loved most about this book were the plot twists. Just when you thought you knew exactly where the book was heading, it took a major turn. Patchett started most of the chapters with something a little bit confusing, something that you go, "Hmm, do I need to start reading this chapter again?" I also liked the lyrical flow of words that Ann Patchett has put down on paper.

What didn't impress me that much were the almost caricature roles that each of the characters played. Bernadette was the other worldly mother, even before her death. Doyle was the over-involved father. In today's lingo, he's a true helicopter parent. Sullivan is the "bad" boy. Tip is the overly serious brother. Teddy is the sweet brother. Tennessee is the obsessive character. Kenya is the 11-year old with the maturity of a much older person. Maybe if there had been more character development I would have liked the characters more than I did. Kenya was my favorite character. And I liked whom Sullivan became when he was around Kenya. Some of the behavior of the characters was stereotypical as well. Father Sullivan, Tennessee and Kenya most fell into those molds.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, I think I would. I think I'd recommend more it for book clubs than for individuals to read alone. It's an easy read, a rather simplistic story, but it should provide lots of topics to be discussed at my upcoming book club meeting. (It's on March 8th, if you're wondering.)

After reading Run, I think I need to dig up that copy of Bel Canto that I think I have sitting around here somewhere.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Brick-and-mortar vs e-readers? Bookstores vs libraries?

Ultimately, who will be the winner? The brick and mortar book stores or e-book publishers? Will more people use the library or purchase their books?

In the past two weeks, two stories in the news have caught my attention. The first had to do with the opening of some Amazon brick-and-mortar bookstores? Really, the king of online shopping is going to have bookstores that people can actually walk into? Interesting. Who would have ever thought? I probably should research this further to get the corporate thinking behind this. If I do, I will update you here.

I can't remember the specifics of the second news story about last year's e-book sales growth versus brick-and-mortar bookstore sales. I've tried to locate the exact growth statistics to share those here, but I can't find the story anywhere online and I can't recall where I heard it. In a nutshell, though, brick-and-mortar bookstore sales have grown over the previous year. I can't remember if e-book sales increased or stayed the same. The point of the study is that traditional bookstores are still alive and kicking. Hearing this study, my heart was warmed.

Until I started to feel guilty. Why guilty? Because I hardly ever buy books. In my young adulthood, I would pour over the New York Times Book Review, starting on Sunday and savoring it throughout the week. I wanted to buy every book that I wanted to read. If I wanted a book, I went out and bought it. Immediately. I was an impatient reader. Hardcover or trade paperback, it didn't matter. (I tended to shy away from mass market books if I could.) I accumulated shelves and shelves of books. As I got a little older, I started passing along the books that I didn't feel the need to keep so that more readers benefited from my book buying than just myself.

Prices of books kept rising and one day I realized that with the speed I was pouring through my books, I was spending way too many dollars per minute of reading! Plus I was running out of shelf space in my house. And I had a lot of shelves in my house! It was time to get back to the library. Do library books count towards a book getting on the bestsellers list?

Growing up in Brooklyn, the Midwood branch of the Brooklyn Public Library was one of my favorite places to be. I remember the excitement of getting my first library card. I remember the horror of dropping a library copy of The Bobbsey Twins into the bathtub as I was reading while I bathed! I remember hours and hours of browsing the shelves, first in the children's library and then in the main fiction section.

Now it was time to get to know the public library in my town in New Jersey. Not only did I have access to my small town library, I also had access to a consortium that included most of the libraries in my county as well as some of the libraries outside the county. I quickly learned which towns' libraries had the most recently published books. I was still an impatient reader, but I learned how to manage.

When we were looking for neighborhoods in Florida, I had a list of requirements. One item on the list was a good public library system. I think I have a pretty decent one.

Before I moved, I lived alone with my children. It wasn't a problem if I had the light on all night to read. Now that I'm remarried (to a non-reader - gasp!), keeping the light on all night is no longer an option. E-books are harder to come buy (when you're borrowing them from the library). I still wonder what the impact of me mostly reading e-books from the library has on the bestsellers lists.

I still love to browse in book stores. Large chain book stores as well as small independent book stores. Even though I request most of my e-books through the Overdrive app, I enjoy browsing in libraries. Heck, anywhere there are books, I'm happy to browse!

A new used book store near my home
The Next Chapter, Inverness, Florida

Monday, February 15, 2016

Books and Beer Club

Can you read our motto?
We don't always finish the book, but we always finish the beer!
I'd been in Florida for about 2 years, happily ensconced in my community book club, when I saw posts on Facebook made by an acquaintance of mine about her book club. Books and Beer Club.

My community book club meets for one hour in the card room of our activity center. As a result, it's not the most social of book clubs. There's definitely an opportunity to meet like-minded souls and socialize. But our time with our room is too short so we immediately get into business and start discussing the book. (My New Jersey book club, another serious book club, involved 45 minutes of eating snacks and drinking wine before we'd start our book discussion. We'd talk for about an hour and fifteen minutes about the book. Many of us would linger afterwards, helping to clean up, but as much to continue socializing.)

Books and Beer sounded like a book club that wouldn't take itself too seriously and would definitely include socializing. Oh, did I mention that it meets in the beer garden of an Irish Pub? But did I need another book club?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have less time to read now as a retiree than I had as a full-time fifth grade teacher so I was reluctant to join another book club. Until... Until I saw that they were going to be discussing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin as part of their Summer of Banned Books. Uncle Tom's Cabin! I'd been anxious to discuss that book with someone, anyone, since I'd completed reading it in 2008 or 2009.

The Civil War was part of our fifth grade curriculum in New Jersey. I'd been teaching about Uncle Tom's Cabin without having read it for the first 5 or 6 years that I was telling students all about Harriet Beecher Stowe, why she wrote the book, how it was interpreted by both sides, and what Abraham Lincoln thought about it. Sometime around 2006, I thought that I should take the time to read the book. Actually, I think it was seeing the Uncle Tom portion of the King and I in a high school musical that made me think this was a book I needed to read.

I got very bogged down in the dialect the first time I attempted to read the book. I think I got up to about page 73 before I put down the book. I picked it up several months later, couldn't remember what I'd already read so started from the beginning. And again I had trouble with the dialect. I decided this might be a book that was better appreciated as an audio book. It was going to take a staggering 16 hours to listen to the book. Okay, I'd listened to books nearly that long before. At the time, I was doing plenty of driving. I had the time to invest.

I found it much easier to listen to the dialect than to read it. After I can't remember how many hours of listening, I found that I was able to pick up the book and read more - at home in bed, during my DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time at work and then get back to listening when I was in the car. I was enthralled with the story. It brought my teaching about the book to a whole different level. But other than my students, no one wanted to talk to me about it! I went as far as suggesting it to my book club. They weren't interested.

I surveyed friends. "Who's read Uncle Tom's Cabin?" I was disappointed to learn that at least at that time, no one I knew had read the book. So to discover a book club - at an Irish pub - that an acquaintance of mine belonged to that was going to be discussing Uncle Tom's Cabin, this was all the push I needed to show up at a book club meeting.

I hoped this was going to be a serious book club and more about the books than the beer. It's that ... and more. Since joining Books and Beer Club, I've read more classics and more books outside my comfort zone than I have read in any other similar 3 year period, including years when most of my reading was devoted to my academic pursuits. The members of the book club are smart, articulate and interesting. They're real readers.

The format of the meetings is lovely, too. We arrive at the pub sometime between 6:30 and 7:00pm and get comfortable. We find a seat, purchase our beer (or drink of choice) and then settle in. Just at 7:00pm, we begin our discussion. We start with a survey of thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways to see who liked the book, who hated the book and who was in between. The discussion starts normally by hearing from those in the minority when the surveying is done. We discuss the book for a little over an hour. Then we break to get a second drink - or simply to take a break. We come back and finish up our discussion of the month's book. Then we throw out suggestions of titles for the following month. A majority rules and the next book is selected. Some people are quick to leave at this point. Others linger for more drink or more socializing. As I said, lovely.

Back to Uncle Tom's Cabin. Understand, I now live in the south. I can hear you thinking, "Florida, the south? Hmmph!" Well, in Florida, the south is the north and the north is the south. In other words, south Florida has adapted many similarities to northern cultures while my part of Florida maintains many strongly southern sentiments. I wondered what I was getting into. The first question I asked my new book club, right after we gave a thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways about the book was, "Who has lived their whole life in the south?" Many hands went up. One woman  questioned why it mattered.

Did it matter? No. And yes. It didn't matter because I was finally discussing a book I'd long wanted to discuss. It did matter because most of the readers had life experiences that greatly differed from mine. Their takes on lots of the situations in the book were vastly opposed to mine. The discussion was great. I was impressed with the book club. I was hooked. The beer wasn't too shabby either!

Since joining this club, the only other book where I felt the north/south experiences made us perceive a book differently was The Catcher in the Rye. The southerners viewed Holden Caulfield as a very highly exaggerated caricature. I found him just a slightly exaggerated version of a rich, entitled New York City child going to a private prep school in the country. Okay, a troubled, rich, entitled New York City child going to a private prep school in the country. That difference certainly made for a lively discussion!

While my community book club is struggling to come up with a good system to decide what books to read when and to have the titles scheduled several months in advance, Books and Beer Club has its own method which seems to be working. Each month during the year is assigned a genre. A title is decided upon at the end of a meeting for the following month. We are asked to come prepared each month with our suggestions for the Books and Beer Club to read for the following month.

In case you're wondering, our genres are as follows:
  • January - Florida author or story
  • February - Biography, autobiography or memoir
  • March - Fantasy
  • April - Sci-fi
  • May - Mystery
  • June - Non-fiction
  • July - Romance
  • August - Comedy
  • September - Banned book
  • October - Horror
  • November - Inspriration
  • December - Classic
I've read so many books that I wouldn't have otherwise read with this club. For this January, we read The Everglades: Rivers of Grass by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. This month we're reading The Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer. Do any of you have a suggestion for March?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Lost Boy by Dave Pelzer

After completing The Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer with so many questions, I immediately waitlisted myself for an e-copy of the second in his series, The Lost Boy. I was hoping I'd find the answers to my many questions.

Now that I've finished The Lost Boy, I have a few more questions. Since I suspect they won't be answered in the final book in this trilogy, I'll hold off requesting that one for awhile.

The Lost Boy gives a quick recap of Dave's life at home with his mother. And then picks up as he's being rescued and removed from his home and placed into the California foster care system.

I'm not sure if I didn't like the book because it didn't answer my questions or because at times I felt that Dave was too self-congratulatory. I did, however, appreciate reading about the good and the bad of Dave's experience as a foster child in California. I learned that at least during the time he was in foster care, his parents were both able to get in touch with him. Legally, however, he was not supposed to be getting in touch with his mother. That makes no sense since his mother was the one piling on the abuse.

Like the first book, this was a very quick read. And like the first book, it's going to take me some time to process all I've read.

Though I wasn't thrilled with the narrative, at the end of the book were acknowledgements, resources and then commentary from those that helped Dave on his journey from that of an abused child to a functioning, successful adult. I found these well-written, interesting and informative. As much as we often see that the foster care system is broken and we hear horrific stories of children in foster care being neglected - or foster children acting out and harming their foster parents, foster care can be a positive thing. It can be a very positive thing. It might not work perfectly, but often it can work. Things have changed so much from the time Dave was in foster care to the time when this second book was written to today. There have been advances in teacher training, in programs for foster families and the insight of social workers. It was nice to read some positive things since so often we only hear the bad stuff.

The fact remains that social workers are still overworked, it's often difficult to match the proper child to the appropriate foster home and many children still fall between the cracks. As I was reading, I could only imagine some of the discussion that we'd have in my community book club should we ever choose to discuss this book. We're a "Let's Try to Save the World" type of book club. We'd have our hands full with this book.

Would I recommend this book? I gave it three stars on Goodreads. I think I'd recommend it for a book club, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it for an individual to read without discussing. If any of you choose to read this book, I'll be happy to discuss it with you!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Is there an optimal number for a book club discussion?

Just a small portion of the members who attended our February book club meeting

Late last month, I participated in  an Activity Showcase within our community. The purpose was to introduce all the many activities and clubs to residents, new and old alike. In previous showcases, I've had two or three people stop by the book club table. We'd chat a little bit but only infrequently did more than one or two people ever show up at a book club meeting. In January, I was busy talking to prospective members about our book club nearly the entire two hours of the showcase. Not only did we talk about the book club, we also talked about books. I was able to jot down a few recommendations and I sensed I was speaking with many kindred spirits.

A few days before each book club meeting, I send out an email reminding everyone of the date, time and place of our next meeting, what we'll be discussion and who will be facilitating the discussion. By yesterday, my list of whom to expect at the meeting was upwards of 20 people.

I started to panic. Isn't 20-plus people too many to have a good book club discussion? I surely didn't want to say no to any of the prospective members. Nor did I want to tell existing numbers not to attend. I really worried about how we could have a decent meeting with so many people. I worried that long-time members would be disgusted with me and I expected new people to be turned off. I decided to welcome everyone. And to offer a preemptive apology for having so many people at the meeting. 

Now, several hours after the meeting, I am here to say that you can have a wonderful meeting with lots of people. We had way more than 20 people. I only wish that everyone had RSVPed so I would have been able to arrange for a larger circle of chairs before the meeting. We had 3 or 4 people sitting behind others in the circle, something that bugged me during the entire meeting.

Lots of the credit for the great meeting can go to the book, Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. There was so much to discuss about this book compared to last month's selection, reading a novel by Tim Dorsey. We all love Sue Monk Kidd's style of writing. All but one of us really loved the book, and the only reason that the one member didn't love the movie is because she felt the subject of slavery and women's rights has been beaten to death and she'd like to read a book about something else. Fiction or non-fiction. Lots of credit also goes to the woman who facilitated our discussion. She gave us a great introduction to the book and about the author. And came prepared with discussion questions to get our meeting started.

Usually in a large book club meeting, people sitting near each other break off into sidebar conversations which are annoying and disrespectful. Often in a large meeting - and by large I'm talking about meetings of over 15 people, not over 20 people - the conversation gets really off-track. That didn't happen at all. The meeting was wonderful. The people in attendance are all book lovers, serious readers and really, really smart. We all walked away knowing that we'd experienced something very special. But I think only a few of us realized how nearly miraculously special this meeting truly was.

Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd's latest, is a historical fiction novel that is right up my alley. Kidd tells the story of the real-life famous Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angela by creating a fictionalized account of their early lives and the major contributions both of them towards abolition of slaves and the major stride forward they took in showing that women are just as capable, if not more, than men who are attempting to get a message about abolition across. They are now considered two of the earliest women advocating equal rights for men and women.

Sarah Grimke, disappointed, perhaps even devastated when her father tells her she cannot become an attorney like her brother eventually, through the many terrible things she experiences in pre-Civil War Charleston, finds her place and purpose in life.

As a fifth grade teacher, we had an entire unit on Social Justice, trying to put a more positive spin on all the injustices that occurred in our country from its inception until the present. The Grimke sisters were included to attest to the fact that "one person can make a difference." As such, it was really exciting to me to learn more about the Grimke sisters.

Kidd alternated the telling of the story using both Sarah and Hetty (or Handful), the slave that was given to Sarah for a birthday gift when Sarah turned eleven as narrators. Sue Monk Kidd heard Hetty's voice even louder than Sarah's as she transferred the story from her brain to paper.

Even as a girl, Sarah knew that it wasn't right to own another person. While Sarah and Angelina really existed, and while Sarah did actually receive a slave as a gift when she was a girl, the character of Hetty is fictionalized. Her story is a compilation of slave stories and not just one slave's story.

The story evolves, following Sarah through her teen years and into adulthood. It is based on truth but much of it was fictionalized. As soon as I finished reading the book, I was determined to learn what was fact and what was fiction. Here's a little bit of what I found.

  • Sarah really did want to be an attorney but that just wasn't possible for females at that time.
  • Activist Lucretia Mott was a real activist.
  • Sarah got Angelina to join her on her pursuit to try to convince the public of how horrible slavery was.
  • Denmark Vesesy was a free African-American that was most probably involved in the 1822 slave rebellion in Charleston. 
  • Hetty and the rest of the Grimke slaves were based on many slave stories and were not actual people.
  • Charlotte,  the Grimke mother, was a real person who tried to confirm to the norms of the time, but most of her character was fictional.
I love historical fiction. I love most historical fiction having to do with the years leading up to and including the Civil War. I love when a personality that I taught in fifth grade becomes the character in an adult novel. I love learning more.

Monday, February 8, 2016

How does your book club select books?

I'm now the leader of a book club. While it's certainly not up to me to select the books the club will be reading, it is definitely up to me to make sure that a book is selected for each and every month. And what we've been doing for a long time doesn't seem to be working any longer.

I posed the question on how others select books in their book clubs on my Facebook page. My blog is new... and so is my Facebook page for the most part. I don't have a whole lot of followers. Yet. (If you like my blog, please like me on Facebook, too.) As a result, I still haven't gotten any responses. Sigh.

The first book club I belonged to only met 10 months out of the year and only read books at 9 of those meetings. Our final meeting during the school year was devoted to talking about books, gifting each other books, socializing and enjoying a great meal. We'd also select the book that we'd read at our first meeting in September. During the summer months when we didn't meet, we'd submit suggested titles to someone designated to collect the titles and create some sort of ballot that we'd then vote on, selecting our top 5 books of the year. The 8 books with the most votes would be the books we'd read from October through May. In September, we'd then decide during which month we'd discuss each of the books. This system worked then, and from what I understand from friends who are still in the book club, it works now.

The other book club, the one that where I am simply a member, only selects a book at the previous month's meeting. The same two or three people are happy to facilitate each month's discussion. So that isn't an issue at all. To make sure that we're reading from a wide variety of genres, about two years ago we assigned a genre to each month. January's genre isn't so much a genre. It's about a setting. We read books that are of local interest set in local spots. February is biography month (including autobiography and memoir). And so on. As a group, we know what types of titles we need bring to the meeting and then we do a quick informal survey and select the following month's book.

In the book club that I lead, the person who recommends the title is typically the person who will facilitate the discussion. New members are reluctant to suggest titles because they don't want the responsibility of facilitating a meeting. Nearly all of us prefer to get our books from the library so we're always dealing with a limited number of copies of any selected book that have to make the rounds of the club members in a relatively short period of time. We're also a fairly transient group. We're in a community of retirees and snowbirds. People are traveling, going "home," just aren't around all the time. Scheduling becomes a huge issue.

We read 11 months out of the year and spend one meeting a year, either in December or in January, to sharing titles of books we've loved. These can be books that we think would be great book club reads or books that we think others in the group would enjoy reading on their own.

At this month's meeting, which is tomorrow, I plan to suggest that we create a ballot of books, that each member votes, then I assign the months and volunteers can offer to facilitate. I'm wondering if this is too bold a move.

That's why I really wanted the help of others to hear how their book clubs do this! Is is so difficult for other groups? HELP!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

To reread or not to reread, that is the question!

If you're in a book club, I'm sure you've experienced this. You've read a book. You've loved the book. You'd love to discuss the book. It's that good. You wish your book club would decide to read it. And they do. But it's six months, or even a year later. The problem is that all you can remember is how much you loved the book. And you probably can remember the big idea. But you can't remember the details. Do you reread or not?

This wasn't so much of an issue back in the days when I bought my books. I'd pull the book off the shelf, skim through the book, find a few passages I want to discuss and be set to go to the book club meeting and discuss.

But now, for the past many years, I've tried to get most of my books from the library. Whether they're real paper and ink books or e-books, they aren't books I have in my possession. Especially now, when the book club members of both my book clubs borrow books from the same library system, the books are scarce and it's next to impossible to get a copy of a book that close to book club meeting time.

This has happened over and over. It has happened with The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. For that book I remembered some pesky issue I had with the main character using the internet before I was using the internet - and I was an early adopted! It happened with One Thousand White Women. It happened with The Kitchen House. Oh, wasn't there a white slave in that book? To date, the only two books I can remember rereading for a book club are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Catcher in the Rye. Otherwise, I am not a rereader.

Maybe this goes along with the saying Too many books, too little time. Maybe it's because as I read, I do remember things and don't find the book as engaging as I did the first time.

At this Tuesday's book club meeting, we'll be discussing Sue Monk Kidd's Invention of Wings. I love historical fiction. I love Sue Monk Kidd. I read this one shortly after it came out. And now in just two more days I will be discussing this. What to do?

I've thought about taking notes - just in case - but I never do. Besides, that would take the fun out of my pleasure reading. How many times did my fifth grade students tell me that when I assigned them some sort of reading log assignment? When I'm reading a paper and ink book, I do tend to read with post-its, whether I'm reading for book club or not. I want to capture the truly great lines in any book. With the e-reader apps I use on my iPad, I just don't seem to do that. In fact, I'm not even sure I can do that!

Someone else is facilitating our discussion on Tuesday, but I've promised her that I'd write up a few notes about the Grimke sisters, the main characters in Invention of Wings. Perhaps that will jar my memory a bit.

Do you reread or not? I want to know.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I so admire PUBLISHED writers

My good friend, Ronnie Allen, was doing a book signing at a local bookstore this afternoon. I want to support Ronnie in her endeavors and I was curious about the bookstore, relatively new in town. Going to the signing was the perfect opportunity to do both. (To The Next Chapter Bookstore, I will be back.)

Ronnie Allen autographing my copy of Aries: The Sign
Behind the Crime Book #2
Ronnie has just published her second book in what will potentially be a 12-book series called The Sign Behind the Crimes. Her first book is titled Gemini. Aries was released two weeks ago. And she's currently working on the third book in the series, Scorpio.

Once Ronnie decided several years ago that she was going to become a published author, there was no stopping her. We attended a Book Festival in Inverness together. I was interested in seminars I attended. I will admit that Ronnie was much more focused, trying to grab every morsel the experts and published authors were throwing our way. Years later, Ronnie has two published books and a working relationship with a publisher, and I have 2 drafts gathering dust on my computer and in my desk. That's okay. As I mentioned in my first blog post, circumstances took me away from my quest to get published followed by a conscious decision to work on other things first.

As an avid reader and a wanna-be-writer, Ronnie invited me to critique the first or second draft of Gemini. I thought I'd be able to read the book before going to bed, my normal time to read, but I wanted to give the book full attention, not skimming over anything. And I took notes. Lots of notes. Then Ronnie hosted a luncheon where the rest of her non-published writer critique group met and discussed the plot and made suggestions for changes. It was very exciting to be part of the process. Several months later, Ronnie had a publishing deal.

Ronnie's work is psychological thriller with a bit of romance - and sex - thrown in. It's not a genre that I'm naturally drawn to but I am able to recognize the genius of her work. She sure puts together a riveting page turner. She is a master of the plot and her character development is on spot. I can so easily imagine Gemini being transformed to the big screen. I'm also a sucker for books that are written in places that I'm very familiar with. Gemini was set in both Brooklyn, NY, my hometown, and Citrus County, Florida, my current home. I'm not 100% sure but I believe that Aries is set in the five boroughs of NYC. That's always a huge draw to me.

Two of us walked into the book store this afternoon at just about the same time. We'd both read Gemini and were there to get our autographed copies of Aries. The other woman mentioned that she so admires writers. People who can imagine and write down stories. For a brief moment, I thought, "Hey, that's me, too. I can imagine stories and write them down." Then, in my mind, I modified her statement somewhat. I so admire published writers. And I really admire Ronnie.

You should look forward to a review of Aries at this site as soon as I finish reading it. I read through the first few pages on the ride home (no, I was not driving) but still have a few books on my to be read list. I read most of Gemini out on the beach last summer. I'm thinking Aries might make a wonderful beach read for me as well.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What's up, Overdrive?

Not a fan of the latest Overdrive update

I read the bulk of my books as e-books on my iPad. And when given a choice, I've been using the Overdrive app as my reader.

I thought it strange that the formatting and navigation in The Child Called "It" was just like I was in the Kindle app. Naively, I thought it was the e-book. It wasn't until I went back to reading Outlander this morning that I realized it was Overdrive that had changed. Sure enough, I checked to see if Overdrive was a recent automatic update. It was.

It still works. But it's not as intuitive. And in a humongous volume like the Outlander 7-bundle pack, it's more difficult to see how far into the specific book I am. It takes forever for the page numbers to load. And the numbers are so small or light - or something - that I can't see them without my glasses. That's unfortunate as I don't need my glasses to read.

I read some of the reviews of the upgrade. I guess I should be glad my app still works... and keep reading.

The Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer

February is "biography month" for Books and Beer Club. We select each month's month at the previous month's meeting. If people don't come with several titles in mind, we pull out our phones and start throwing out names. One person suggested we read one of the Trump or Hillary books. Nope, we're not going political. Whew, that's a relief. What about a Jesse Owens book? After all, it's Black History Month. There are several books about the Florida woman who started Tupperware. Local interest as well as biography.
Another member and I had been browsing lists which proclaimed themselves to include the top (10, 100, 101...) biographies you need to read. She saw The Child Called "It" pop up on two of the lists. "Hey, here's a book I was supposed to read in college. And it's short." That's how our February book was selected. (I need to check old lists from my community book club. I think this might have been suggested there too awhile back.)
The book was short (less than 200 pages on my iPad with a reasonable font-size. It was also a quick read... but definitely not an easy book to read. It's autobiographical, covers Dave Pelzer from the ages of about 4 to 12, and it's written in a child's voice. Dave Pelzer's life as a victim of child abuse is one of the most extreme cases documented in the state of California. This book is a narrative of what took place and how young Dave struggled to survive.
Beyond the obvious question of how a mother can treat her son in such a horrific way, I was left with many more questions. How did Dave's father allow this to happen? Didn't he have any wish to protect Dave? I wanted to protect my kids every time their father hurled angry, belittling words their way. What about Dave's grandmother? Was she too afraid of her daughter to do anything to remove Dave from the dangerous situation he was living in?
Had times changed so much from the early 1970s to the late 1990s when I began my teacher training? We were given so much instruction on what to do in suspected cases of child abuse. I'm sure handling and reporting has evolved over that time. But we're teachers instructed back then to just look the other way? I didn't find it surprising that the substitute teacher was the first one to show Dave compassion.

While thought provoking, I'm not sure why this was a standalone book. I can see where it can be used as a case study for a college or graduate class. But for an non-academic reader, this leaves far too many of my questions unanswered. In fact, I've already got Book #2 in the series (there are 3 books in total) on hold at the library.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What am I reading now?

I'm sure you're curious as to what I'm reading now.

I'm reading The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon from a 7-Book Bundle that I found in Overdrive. (It's been easier to renew than any of the individual books.) I'm in the very middle of the fifth book of the series, The Fiery Cross. I started the series last July, when one of my book clubs decided to read the first book over a 2-month period. I haven't stopped. I guess that's another reason why I feel like I'm not reading as many books as I used to read. These books are l-o-n-g!

I'm not sure why I avoided the series for so long. "Oh, time travel? I'm not really into that." And for some reason I thought religion played a focal role in the stories. Yes, religion does play a role. But not at all in the way that I thought. And while it is a time travel book, there's probably less comparison between "then" and "now" than I would have included had I attempted to write a similar story.

After completing the first book for book club and summarizing it by writing, "This is the kind of book I would have loved in college..." implying that I wouldn't like it now, I've been stuck into the series for months!

At the same time, I've got  A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer (1995) checked out of the library and waiting for me on Overdrive. Like the Outlander bundle, it's also due in 10 more days. At some point in the next day or two, I'm going to have to stop reading Outlander and start reading "It."

Is three times a sign?

In the past 6 days, I've been asked about my book blog. Three times. Should I take that as a sign that I'm supposed to be blogging about books? Three times?

The first time this came up was last Tuesday. I was manning a table at an Activity Showcase within my community. I'm the lead person of one of the book clubs and a prospective member, hearing my enthusiasm for all things book-related, asked if I kept a book blog. I can't tell if she was disappointed with my negative response but I really didn't think much about it.

Then, on Friday, in one of my photography groups online, somehow the topic of book clubs came up. One of the other photographers mentioned that she'd been keeping a book blog for her book club for years. "Have you ever considered doing that?" In addition to blogging for her book club, she now includes reviews and thoughts about her non-book club related reading. My response was, "Maybe I should think about doing something like that for my book club reads, if not for my book club." I started thinking more seriously about starting a book blog. I really have to feel passionate about a book to want to put fingers to keyboard to develop a book review that makes sense... and I don't often feel passionate about most of the books I've been reading of late. I started thinking more and more. After all, I take the time once a month to write an article about our book club meeting for the local paper. If I can do that, does it mean that I can - or should - blog?

Finally, while playing bocce in our neighborhood league yesterday, I asked a neighbor who I know loves to read, "Whatcha reading these days?" She said, "Today I'm reading..." and mentioned the name of some James Patterson book. Then she asked me not what I'm reading now but if I have a book blog. Yesterday, I said no. Today... I can say yes. Today I have a book blog.

What to expect in my book blog? I'll keep you up to date on all my reading adventures. You'll be apprised of what is going on in both the book clubs I belong to - the one I lead and the one I simply attend. And if I'm lucky enough to find time to read books other than my two book club reads per month, you'll hear about that, too.

Happy reading!