Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]

Literary Events

Literary Events:
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Chez Zee is having some author events, including James Magnuson (He visited us and we discussed Famous Writers I Have Known). Thanks to Cindy V. for bringing this to the Blogger's attention! Here is the link: http://www.chez-zee.com/join-us-for-these-exciting-events-at-the-gallery-chez-zee-2/

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Dominick Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, will speak at the Georgetown Public Library, on May 12. Doors open at 1:30 PM and tickets are $15.

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The TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL will be held in and around the Capitol Building November 4-6 2016

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Sunday, May 1, 4:00pm, at the Laura Bush Library, when Jo Ivester will discuss her book, The Outskirts of Hope.The book is a memoir of Aura Kruger and her family's life in the small, all-Black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in the 1960s. Those of us who knew the incredible Aura know the basics of her story there, but Jo's book has captured it in a deeply meaningful, relevant way. Promises to be an amazing conversation!


Thursday, April 28, 2016

We Read About Chechnya As a Complex and War Torn Society

I liked the way Marla introduced A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra. She said the author painted a picture of what it was like to live in war-torn Chechnya. She said that ordinary people were forced to experience extraordinary situations, often as part of what theoretically should have been ordinary daily life. The characters in the stories faced physical dangers, possibilities for betrayal that could lead to death or extreme suffering, and moral decisions in addition to the daily pursuit of food and shelter and safety for themselves and their families.

In the book, the title of the book is listed as a Russian dictionary's definition of life. Thia is thought-provoking, as were many of the characters' deeds and descriptions. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Holds together but is made up of parts, scientific but also imaginative.

Marla led us into a discussion by asking questions but also by describing the book. At one point, she said that the characters were striving to find normalcy within the war-torn life that they were surrounded by and forced into. Dennis said that he liked the writing style of the author but found the war to be an unpleasant situation that he didn't like reading about. Carla said that she got involved in the book and wanted to continue reading to find out what would happen to the characters, but that she knew they would have bad and sad things happen to them.

Pam said that the characters would have had their own personalities whether or not there had been a war surrounding them. Thus, she said, Sonja would have been a weird person even without the war. Maybe she would have been a physician, but she would have been the same. Someone said that Akhmed might have been a painter instead of a reticent physician if it hadn't been for the war. But, Akhmed was somewhat of an artist anyhow and created portraits of those who had died. Ken said that in the story, the bizarre was considered normal. Marla added that the image the authors gave of the 8-year-old girl, Havaa, was almost that of a normal girl, but then when the reader got closer to the girl, she was shown to be excessively unkempt and dirty and wearing hand-me-downs; essentially because of the war.

Family relationships was a theme throughout the book. One example of relationship was fathers, from the fathers' points of view as well as from the children's. About Ramzan,  Marla asked the group to discuss whether we felt compassion for him because he had been in 2 wars. Pam noted that Achmed and Ramzan both had the same father but had very different lives and different experiences as sons. She said that Ramzan didn't know they were brothers and resented Akhmed. Carla felt that Ramzan wasn't right psychologically and that this might have been an implication that Ramzan was deeply hurt and deeply, but not on an outer level, aware of the comparison between the way his father treated him and treated Akhmed. Marla brought up how Havaa had a father who loved her and that the author might have been using her family life to express a normal healthy father/child relationship. Regardless of the health of that family, the war tore them apart, but Havaa's short time with her family might have given her the stamina and security and grounding to carry on as was told at the end of the story.

Another flawed familial relationship the author examined was the one between siblings. This was expressed by Ramzan and Akhmed, who lived as if they were not brothers but might have felt the relationship at some level; and Sonja and her sister Natasha, who grew up as opposites and kept their separate personalities but moved toward and away from closeness throughout their lives. Discussing Sonja and Natasha, Carla suggested that throughout Chechnya during the war, the story was about insiders who were outsiders.

This brought on some attempts by Book Club members to characterize the Chechen wars. Cindy T noted that she had recently read a book that had the fighting between Sicily and Tunisia as a theme. Sicily had conquered Tunisia, but the fighting continued on and on. This seems to be similar to the Chechen and Russian and Central Asian interactions. The history is complicated. Russia wanted to replace the central Asians with Russians, but the Central Asians wanted Hitler to conquer Russia (probably because the Central Asians couldn't). Carla thought the conflict was over oil, and that whoever controlled Chechnya would control the oil business and make the money. Frank chimed in to say that the Chechens were so poor and oppressed that for many years they were unable to develop the oil industry that the natural resources promised. Frank knew some of the history and told us that the wars in the area stemmed from World War I, when Great Britain was in charge of the map. The Arabic tribes were constantly at war and the Germans and the Russians formed a delicate balance with all these groups.

A complex and war-torn society, indeed!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

But First, Are You Pickwickian?

More than 60 years ago, our Patty went out on a first date with young William Sanford. Conversation turned to books, and William said he was currently reading The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens. What a match! When Patty was getting ready to nominate for January, her husband William suggested The Pickwick Papers. Since they recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, she thought the book was aprapos.

Charles Dickens serialized The Pickwick Papers and became famous at the age of 25 when it was published in 1837. Previously, the Dickens family, including his parents and his 9 siblings, had lived in debt and poverty. At one point, his family was living in a Debtors' Prison. Dickens wrote fiction but managed to incorporate opinions advocating social reform and criticizing injustice. He wrote Little Dorrit specifically against the concept of the Debtors' Prison and eventually was instrumental in the dissolution of the Debtors' Prison in England.

Dickens was a master of the printed word and was able to publish many popular works of fiction, packing each one with satirical social criticism; funny names, e.g., Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol and Job Trotter, Tracy Tupman, and Augustus Snodgrass of The Pickwick Papers; and absurd situations, such as Pickwick falling into a drunken stupor on a hunting outing and ending up asleep in a cart and awakening in prison in The Pickwick Papers.

Patty led our meeting by asking us to choose sections of The Pickwick Papers to read aloud and choosing some herself. The book was good for reading aloud, and it was very enjoyable to listen to the chosen passages and their backgrounds. Then Patty asked some questions, encouraging a discussion about the book.

One part of the discussion evolved around the timely topic of the portrayal of women in The Pickwick Papers. Carla said that women were portrayed as grasping, and wanting only to catch a man. Cindy T noticed that the women in the book were either sweet young things or greedy older ones. Linda H. said that Little Dorrit was a Dickensian heroine but many of Dickens' women characters had bad intentions.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

We Travel Between Ireland and Ellis Island in a Historical Novel

Most everyone, or everyone, at the book club meeting had read Ellis Island, by Kate Kerrigan. Carol told us some details from Kerrigan's life: Kerrigan was indeed Irish, which is not a surprise. She writes for radio and she has written comedies and has a new novel. Carol brought a list of questions to get us talking about the book. Below are some highlights and notes from the discussions of 3 of the questions. Disclaimer: Most of the information is from notes taken during the meeting. Please feel free to note any discrepancies or explain any understandings.

The first question asked us to discuss Ellie's parents and her relationship with them, in comparison with John's parents and Ellie's relationship with them.

               Linda H. said that Ellie's parents were cold.

               Susan noted that Ellis's mother softened a little after her husband, Ellie's strict and religious father, had died. She also said that some of the reason for the couple's distance from Ellie might have been because Ellie was their only child and had been born when they were somewhat older than most parents. This was similar to the situation between Cathy and her parents in Too Close to the Falls.

               Linda H. thought Ellis's mother was emotionally bankrupt. (Good description!)

               Carla said the father's strictness might have stemmed from his having studied to be a priest as a young man and failed to make the priesthood, plus he ended up working for the British, so he followed British law.

               Laura said Ellie's mother couldn't connect.

               Ken stated that Ellie's family was "largely deceased." Could he have been alluding to the characters in the story? Ken also noted that John's mother, Maidy, treated Ellie like a daughter, which might have explained the bonding between them.

Another question asked about the character in New York City, Isobel. Was she a good person?

               Linda H. called Isobel a "low life" and said she was a low-class person.

               I said she was an alcoholic.

               Dennis said that for the time and with the customs of the time and place, Isobel was a product of her time and place.

               Linda S. said that Irish women make good characters in stories. She said that at home, Ellie wasn't told about good things (such as the clothing and belongings Isobel had) so that Ellie would not get "above herself."        

               Susan said Ellie had to have the position working for Isobel to be qualified to go to Ireland.

The conversation seemed to change direction here, moving toward talking about immigration and immigrants, involving Ireland particularly.

               Lydia shared her family's experience, which was that a generation in her husband's family had emigrated from Ireland; and the order in which they left was the oldest first, and then the next oldest, etc. Lydia said that immigrants were never popular, giving the example of the disliked German immigrants in Little Women.

               Carla said that it's still hard to find work in Ireland, though it's better now than it was during the time in the book.      

               Ken reminded us that we are a nation of immigrants and that mixed nationalities came to America for a variety of reasons, many of which were economic.

Another question was why John didn't go to New York, when Ellie was expecting him and seemed to believe that arrangements had been made.

               Shirley said that John's not being there when he was expected was very disappointing to Ellie, especially since she had sent him a ticket. The distance at that time was very far and communicating across the ocean took a long time and was apparently often incomplete.

               Kathleen suggested that John might not have gotten through Ellis Island and been allowed to stay in Ireland, because of his limp.

A question asked about the relationship between Charles and Ellie.

               Marla remarked that it was interesting to see in the book that love and marriage meant different things then than now. She suggested that had the circumstances been similar in modern days; when John didn't show up, Ellie might have been more likely to run to Charles.

               Patty said that Ellie loved John and made the right decision. She said that if Ellie had stayed in New York City with Charles, but her life there would have been shallow.

               Cindy T. added that Ellie would have had a shallow life in Ireland after she returned, if she hadn't learned in New York City to stand up for herself. Cindy thought Ellie would have stayed poor if she hadn't matured, as she had been poor when she left Ireland.

               Pam said that Ellie was naturally independent and figured out who she was in New York.

So, this was a coming of age story in a way.

As a sort of summary, Patty read aloud the last sentence in the book. Ellis as narrator said, "America had planted the seed of freedom in my heart, but it was the rich soil of home that had enabled it to grow."

Personal note: I grew up with the last name, Ellis. My Dad grew up with that name, too. His parents had entered the USA via Ellis Island in the early 1900s from Russia. I don't know of any other name they had, ie, whether they had a name change at Ellis Island. I know my great uncle and aunt did change their name. Maybe my grandparents changed it before they left Russia or after they were through Ellis Island and in New York.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hogarth Shakespeare (From the New York Times)

A year and a half ago, the novelist Jeanette Winterson got an irresistible offer from a publisher. The assignment: Choose any Shakespeare play she wanted, and adapt it into a novel. “I said, ‘That would be great, put me down for “The Winter’s Tale,” ’ and they looked at me like I was insane,” Ms. Winterson recalled. “They said, ‘Do you really want to do that?’ And I said, ‘That’s the play, no question.’ ” Ms. Winterson was one of the first writers to sign on for a project conceived by the publisher, Hogarth, which asked contemporary writers to reimagine Shakespeare’s plays. She more or less had her pick of the canon and could have chosen “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “King Lear” or “Othello,” juicy dramas that were later snapped up by the novelists Gillian Flynn, Jo Nesbo, Edward St. Aubyn and Tracy Chevalier. Instead, she surprised her publisher and picked “The Winter’s Tale,” one of Shakespeare’s most baffling, jarring and uneven plays. The opening acts build up to a tragic climax that leaves the king, Leontes, mourning the loss of his wife, son and infant daughter, who is abandoned in the wilderness on his orders. Then, after a memorable stage direction – “Exit, pursued by a bear” – and a 16-year gap, the play morphs into a wacky pastoral romp, with a statue that comes to life and one of the most awkward family reunions in all of literature. In her adaptation, “The Gap of Time,” which comes out on Tuesday, Ms. Winterson manages to preserve the play’s weirdness and uncomfortable blend of tragedy and humor. “It is an odd play,” said Ms. Winterson, 56. “It’s almost as if Shakespeare couldn’t be bothered to finish it.” “The Gap of Time” takes the play’s themes of love, jealousy and estrangement and spins them into a taut contemporary tale about an insecure London banker who accuses his wife of cheating on him, and destroys his marriage and a friendship in the process. It’s a promising start to an ambitious new series from Hogarth, which has assembled an all-star roster of stylistically diverse writers to translate Shakespeare’s timeless plays into prose. So far, eight novelists have joined the series, which arrives in time for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death next year. Ms. Chevalier, author of “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” is tackling “Othello.” Margaret Atwood is reimagining Shakespeare’s wild fantasy tale “The Tempest,” set in a prison. Ms. Flynn, author of the best-selling novel “Gone Girl,” is adapting the tragedy “Hamlet” into a novel about murder, betrayal, revenge and madness. Mr. St. Aubyn, who has written about his profoundly dysfunctional family in his best-selling Patrick Melrose series, is recasting the dark, tangled family drama of “King Lear.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Anne Tyler took on “The Taming of the Shrew” and set the tale in contemporary Baltimore, where a young preschool teacher, Kate, is pressured to marry her father’s awkward lab assistant, who faces deportation. All Hogarth had to do to recruit award-winning authors for the series was drop the name Shakespeare, which apparently is the literary equivalent of catnip. “It seemed to be a very visceral thing for most of these writers,” said Becky Hardie, the deputy publishing director of Chatto & Windus/Hogarth in Britain, where the books are being published simultaneously. “If you put the greatest storyteller of all time together with some of our greatest storytellers of now, you get this alchemy.” William Shakespeare wrote nearly 40 plays, and there have been countless adaptations of his dramas over the centuries. Jane Smiley used the plot architecture and character archetypes from “King Lear” in her novel “A Thousand Acres,” and Tom Stoppard took two side characters from “Hamlet” and made them the stars of his existentialist comedy “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Shakespeare himself was a notorious mooch who borrowed liberally from other people’s plots, raiding Greek tragedies and British history as well as works by his rivals. “Shakespeare was unbelievably clever at figuring out what stories have long lives,” said Stephen Greenblatt, author of “Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare.” “He was a great recycler of stories, and there’s no reason why his stories shouldn’t be recycled.” Most of the writers Hogarth approached were game, and immediately had a play in mind. “I said, ‘If I can have “Macbeth,” then I’m in,’ ” said Mr. Nesbo, the best-selling Norwegian crime writer. Mr. Nesbo was drawn to the moral ambiguities in “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s tragedy about a Scottish nobleman whose hunger for power drives him to murder the king, Duncan, at the behest of three witches. In Mr. Nesbo’s version, due out in 2017, Macbeth is the leader of a SWAT team in a gloomy, coastal European city, where crime and corruption are rampant. The three witches are making illegal drugs rather than a witches’ brew, and promise Macbeth that he will ascend through police ranks – but only if he kills Duncan. “Those classic plays, they read like crime stories,” Mr. Nesbo said. Not all the writers got their first choice. Howard Jacobson, whose work often grapples with Jewish identity, said he somewhat grudgingly took on “The Merchant of Venice,” one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, after his first few suggestions were rejected. “I was hesitant, because I’d never liked that play,” said Mr. Jacobson, the Man Booker Prize-winning British novelist. When he first read the play as a teenager, Mr. Jacobson said, he was troubled by the depiction of Shylock, a Jewish merchant who seeks “a pound of flesh” from a gentile who owes him money. But when he reread it more recently, he saw Shylock as a more subtle and sympathetic figure rather than a crass Jewish caricature. In “Shylock Is My Name,” due out in February, Mr. Jacobson imports Shylock into a wealthy enclave south of Manchester, England. Shylock becomes an unlikely friend to a grieving father whose daughter has taken up with a gentile, a soccer player. While Mr. Jacobson modernizes the story, he made sure to preserve the problematic aspects of the play, he said. “I would never dream of cleaning up Shakespeare,” he said. A similar sort of fraught emotional chemistry infused Ms. Winterson’s version of “The Winter’s Tale.” Ms. Winterson, author of “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” chose the play partly because she related to the abandoned baby at the center of the story. Ms. Winterson was taken in by well meaning strangers after her mother gave her up for adoption, an experience she recounts in her memoir, “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” “As someone who was given away and is a foundling, I’ve always worked with the idea of the lost child,” she says. “It’s like starting a book with some of the pages missing. You know you missed something, but that sense of exile can also become a place of creativity, because you have to be self-invented.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Book Buzz title we couldn't remember at Monday's discussion was...

...The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton.  An image search for that title and author will reinforce the consensus that the second cover--dark, with oncoming truck--was far more effective than a dreamy white distance shot of two unidentifiable folks.

I want to express the library's thanks to everyone who attended Book Buzz 2016.  We value your participation, and we'll definitely alert the group when we have dates for future events.

I can forward a digital copy of the Book Buzz handout to anyone who would like one; just email me at lsappenfield@roundrocktexas.gov.  Included on the four-page handout, along with book covers and blurbs, is information about Penguin Random House's First Look Book Club and their Ask a Librarian feature.

Oh, and you can find Library Reads, the monthly list of ten librarian-recommended new and forthcoming titles, at libraryreads.org.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Too Close to the Falls

What a cleverly named book! The star of this refreshing autobiographical book of episodic chapters, Catherine Gildiner, ventured too close to Niagara falls in the fifth and final chapters. In the chapter called "ice,"  at approximately 7 years of age, the author followed the example of some boys and sledded down a "straight drop that was solid ice," which was the gorge of the Niagara Escarpment, to land unhurt but close to the Niagara River, where she could hear the cold water babbling under the ice. In the last chapter, somewhat under the influence of more than enough of her first carafe of wine, she went outside to an outdoor deck of the restaurant overlooking Niagara falls, and she went down some stairs toward the gorge below and got dizzy and almost fell.

The book took Cathy from age 4 to age 12; and Jay, who nominated and presented the book, took us from beginning to end with a series of questions that were fun to think about. Example: Describe Cathy. I couldn't get everyone's name, but from the group's offerings, I wrote down "precocious, intelligent, and had a wry sense of humor." Another example: What were the skills Cathy used at her job at the pharmacy, starting at age 4? Answers: Reading, packing, running the car, lighting cigarettes, reading maps, talking with customers, being non-judgmental, and being non-racist.

Book club members shared childhood memories after answers to Jay's questions were given. This made the questions even more fun. Such questions as, "Was there some loss of innocence in the story?" and "Was the Catholic school in the book too restrictive?" brought answers such as the story of finding out about Santa Claus when one's father suggested a fire in the fireplace on Christmas eve, overhearing one's parents discussing one's IQ and comparing it to one's brother's, and noticing that the kids who had been in Catholic school until they were 13 and then joined the mainstream school tended to be wild.

Several members noted that the story reminded them of the book we discussed at our holiday party several years ago, Wishin' & Hopin', by Wally Lamb.

Too Close to the Falls was a delightful book, though it got a little darker as Cathy became a teenager. The author's next 2 memoirs cover her young adult and adult life and promise the reader many happy hours with Cathy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Buzz 2016 at Round Rock Public Library

I'm looking forward to February's Ellis Island discussion but also wanted to get the word out: registration is now open for Book Buzz 2016:  Discovering New Stars, at Round Rock Public Library.  The event will be Tuesday, February 9 at 7:00 P.M.

This Buzz will be very much like last year's: attendees will hear the inside scoop on forthcoming books from our Penguin Random House rep--and everyone will get a free "Keep Calm and Read On" tote bag and a pre-publication sampler book.  We'll also have refreshments (I understand that the cheesecake will be back by popular demand) and drawings for door prizes.

You can register online here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-buzz-discovering-new-stars-tickets-20624650886 (the link is also on the library's Facebook page).  Or, if you'd rather, call the reference desk at 512.218.7000 and we can complete the registration for you.  Hope to see many of you there!