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Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The 100-Year-Old-Man - Helpful Timeline

1905         Allan was born in Yxhult near Flen in Sweden

1915         Allan worked in NITROGLYCERINE LTD.

1918         Allan started Karlsson Dynamite Co. and was locked up in jail 4 years

1925-29   Blew up house in Yxjult; worked as an ignitions specialist

                Went to Spain with Esteban, met Franco

1939-45   Went to NY, then Los Alamos; Met Vice President Truman

1945-47   Job with Soong Mei-ling; meets Jiang Qing and Mao Tse-Tung 

1947-48   Met pastor in Tehran jail

                Met Winston Churchill en route  to Sweden

1948-53  Went to Leningrad with Popov

                Dinner with Stalin

                Gulag with Herbert Einstein

                Vladivostok destroyed

                Goes to North Korea and meets Kim il-sung and Kim Jong-il

1953-68  Goes to Bali

               Meets Nixon

               Volcano eruption

1968       Moves to Paris with Ambassador Einstein

               Meets LBJ and DeGaulle

1968-82  Meets Yury Popov at Bolshoi theater opera, job as spy

               Social Services puts Allan in Old Folks' Home

2005       Climbs out the window

               Meets Bolt, Julius, Benny, Beauty, Sonya, Bucket, Boss Pike,

                Bosse (Benny's brother), and Chief Inspector Aronsson, and 

                Pike's mother

              Meets an old Indonesian friend

Who said it?

" If you smoke, you won't be much good at soccer."

"Things are what they are and whatever will be, will be."

"Don't forget, John 8:7"

"Teetotalers in general were a threat to world peace."

Thanks to Cindy T. for this timeline!


Questions for Discussion of "The 100-Year-Old-Man..."


 1. The author describes the book as “an intelligent, very stupid novel”.  What do you think he means?

2.    2.This is a novel with the topic of ageing at its core in which Allan defies the usual stereotypes.  What do you think the author was saying about our society and our attitudes towards aging?

3.    3. Publishers Weekly called this book, a “gentle lampoon of procedurals and thrillers”.  With a detective, a band of criminals and escapees on the run, it seems a valid description.  Are these the terms in which you would describe the novel; if not, how else would you describe it?rrnnb

4.    4.How do the characteristics of humor and optimism of Allan weave throughout the novel?  What do you find funny and why?

5.      5.Allan encounters historical characters and gets involved in episodes that change history.  Which episode did you enjoy the most?

6.      6.Who would you liked Allan to meet during this historical period that was not mentioned?  Who would you like to have met during your lifetime?

7.      7..History and politics sit lightly within the framework of this novel.  What worldview do you think the author seems to hold?

8.      8.Would you call Allan a role model?  Why or why not?

9.      9. Who is the oldest person you know?  What did you learn from that person?       

Sunday, December 12, 2021

On Cold Days and Nights, Will You Think of The Stranger in the Woods?

    We discussed The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel at our 2021 virtual Holiday Party on Zoom. It was good to be there with everyone, but once again, it was sad to have to be in a virtual venue instead of together in a home sharing delicious dishes and holiday cheer.

Christopher Knight was indeed a stranger to almost everyone who encountered him or his existence. He was a hermit and an interesting character; in this case a real one. We enjoyed reading about him. Pam, who found and nominated the book, said she was looking for something “different.” She hit the jackpot with this one! It’s a very unusual true story.

          As usual, our readers had interesting ideas and interpretations of Knight’s personality and his impact on the community surrounding his woodland hideaway. Joyce thought Knight made his choices to live as a hermit and avoid people because he was on the autism spectrum and found social activity to be overstimulating. Several members thought Knight drove into the wilderness until he ran out of gas and proceeded to set up house in the woods without having a real plan. No one said they thought Knight had planned much of his big adventure in advance.

          Talking about what material items were essential to Knight, most of which he stole from summer homes in the area, Dennis suggested batteries, such as for his radio and his various flashlights. Joanne mentioned food, the radio, and books. She said he valued the radio because it connected him to the world outside his wooded world. Dennis said Knight wanted that connection only as long as he wasn’t among people. Ken suggested this could be considered a “passive connection.” Cindy T. likened the passive connection to being on Zoom. Pam reminded us that Knight wasn’t interacting with people at all but just listening to the radio. Carla mentioned his needs for clothing and bedding to stay warm in winter. Joanne reminded us that what Knight really stole was the peace of mind of the people who had summer homes and a few year-round homes in the area. The population seemed to consider this as the most significant theft when they discussed Knight after he had been caught.

          We went on a brief tangent about nature’s bothersome-to-dangerous aspects, particularly in the northern United States, where the book took place. Mentioned were mosquitos, ticks and Lyme disease, feral hogs (more likely in Texas), no-see-ums, and black flies. Bears were mentioned. Clearly, though, Knight was close to civilization and, as it turned out, was most threatened by people.

Examining Knight’s relationship with the reporter who wrote the book about him, Ken said it was an on-again, off-again relationship. I said I thought there must have been a monetary agreement based on Knight trading his story for some percentage of whatever the journalist might earn from writing about Knight. Joanne said that Knight would have used any money he received to help his family, who had suffered when they thought they had lost him and who were taking care of him after he was released from prison. Ken thought Knight wasn’t motivated by money, except to earn some because he needed it.

Further tangents toward the end of the discussion included off-the-grid living, which we decided often involves a community of people; introverts; new technology; other newsworthy hermits with online information about them; and squatters’ rights laws.

Our discussions are always interesting, always present perceptive insights, and always touch on important subtle as well as blatant aspects of the book and its characters, whether the story is fiction or nonfiction. Thanks to Pam for leading this discussion!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks to everyone in our Zoom group for our monthly discussions, which bring new thoughts and a temporary escape from the world’s problems. Once-monthly comes around quickly enough, especially as we get older. Knowing that you all are reading with me during the month has been comforting during these times of relative isolation! I hope we will be together in person in 2022, at least occasionally and maybe for our Holiday Party at the end of the year. Special thanks to Lydia for sharing your Zoom account, making possible and hosting our virtual meetings, and working with me to get recordings so that I can relax my notetaking a little.

          I used to get a kick out of saying “See you next year,” in December. This year, it seems different; not as silly, not as much of an entitlement, certainly more precious. The pandemic has gone on too long, and I hope it will ease during 2022.

          Hoping to see you in January!

Sunday, October 24, 2021

We Sit in the Driveway Together Watching The Dutch House

12 of us met on Zoom to discuss The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett. Flo had nominated the book and sent discussion questions. The questions covered the main ideas in the book. We started with question #1 and followed where the answers and our thoughts about the book led us, rather than the list of questions in order.

Questions #1 and #2, regarding why Danny was the story’s narrator instead of Maeve and how the story would have been different if Maeve had been the narrator.

Ken: The ending would have been totally different, not to mention the whole last third of the book.

Pam: If it had been told from Maeve’s perspective, it would have been too hard to follow, since Maeve was all over the place. Danny was the only “normal” person in the book. The other characters all had emotional/mental issues. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the book if it weren’t told from a rational perspective.

Carla: I’m not sure Danny was all that rational.

Ken: I thought Celeste was more normal than Danny. Danny was like his father, gone a lot. Celeste never wanted the house.

Carla: One of the questions we talked about in another book club was about whether Danny was like his father. I noticed he was repeating all the mistakes his father had made.

Ken: The relationship between Maeve and her mother and stepmother versus Danny’s relationships with them. They were opposite. Danny couldn’t forgive his mother for leaving, but Maeve remembered her mother when she was there, when Maeve had time to love her.

Carla: Danny wasn’t expecting to get kicked out by Andrea.

Joyce: Family events fall differently on siblings, depending on where they are in life.

Flo – Question about Danny and Maeve and how their mother’s leaving and her return affected them.

The group figured out that she left when Maeve was about 12 and Danny about 5.

Marcia: Tough age.

Carla: When Andrea kicked Danny out of the Dutch House, Maeve already had her own apartment and full-time job.

Flo: Andrea went to India to save strangers and left her own children to do that.

Cindy T. Sometimes wealthy people seem to feel some guilt about their wealth, so they want to do something for the people in India or become a nun. An interview I watched about The Dutch House stressed that it was about wealth. Elna didn’t care much about the Dutch House, but among the family, including Andrea, there was greed over the Dutch House. It also said that losing the Dutch House was like “Paradise Lost” for Danny and Maeve. I couldn’t picture that house. Could anyone?

Joanne: In Pennsylvania, there are a bunch of old houses that seem like that. I had a specific house in mind when I was reading the book. Some houses are like museums; some rehabbed to live in.

Me: Often wealthy people started towns, with wealth and big houses. These neighborhoods were the original centers of the towns, e.g. Georgetown and even Round Rock to some extent. Then the 'burbs came in via developers and cheaper developments.

We answered all of Flo’s questions! Here’s another example of a conversation that started to be about question #3, the relationship between Danny and Maeve. The conversation branched into other themes of the book. Ann Patchett is an excellent and prize-winning author, so the story and its well-developed characters were interwoven throughout the book.

Pam – Maeve just wanted her job.

Marcia – She was good at numbers.

Pam – She needed to do something with numbers. But she needed the logic of it more.

Joyce – Shouldn’t assume that a job/career is the be-all end-all of life. Maeve was content with her simple life, so why would she want a more demanding, high-powered job?

Ken: She ran things at the job. Danny wanted her to go to an expensive college, but she wanted to keep watching over him; she had taken over the mother role in the family.

Joyce: Maeve told Danny to go to school and he did. We had some discussion about the fact that Maeve wanted Danny to spend as much money as possible on school, since school was paid for by a fund of money that Andrea would get if the kids didn't use it for school. Danny told her to go to school and she said no.

Ken: Elna came back and insisted on driving them to see Andrea. Andrea’s daughter comes downstairs – that scene was crying out for a movie.

Marcia – Maeve was upset because her Mom was going to take care of the failing Andrea (stepmom). Mom Elna comes back from India but ditches her parental responsibilities, and it’s in character for her to want to help Andrea.

Joyce: Danny and Maeve (and Andrea's own 2 children) weren’t needy enough for her.

Ken: Elna was nuts or maybe a saint. They were all nuts!

Marcia: Elna didn’t stay in India long but came back and didn’t go see her kids. Weird for Danny to run into her at the ER.

Ken: Elna told her daughter Maeve that she felt too guilty to visit them.

Carla – Elna told Maeve, but Danny heard, too.

We had those characters all psyched out! Now we know how to avoid the problems that family had and perpetuated.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Questions to Ponder and Links to Visit - The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett, for discussion Monday 10/18/21


1.    Why was the story narrated from Danny’s perspective rather than Maeve’s? How might the story have been different if told from Maeve’s point of view?

2.    There are many descriptions of the Dutch House throughout the novel. In her interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ann Patchett says that while many people have told her the descriptions of the house are very vivid, she truly believes she left a lot of the house up to the individual reader’s imagination. What was your image of the Dutch House? Does it differ from other members of your book club?

3.    How would you describe the relationship between Danny and Maeve? Why do you think they remain so close throughout the novel?

4.    What sort of influence did Danny and Maeve’s father, Cyril Conroy, have over them? How would you characterize Cyril?

5.    How do Danny and Maeve feel about their mother Elna? What sort of effect does her leaving have on them? What about her return? How are Danny and Maeve affected differently by Elna’s departure and return? And why?

6.    Many of reviews of The Dutch House have compared the story to a fairytale: abandoned children, a creepy old house, and evil stepmother…is this a fair comparison? If The Dutch House does have fairytale elements, what purpose does that serve in the story?

7.    In the aforementioned quotation from Ann Patchett, the author reflects on her obsession with wealth, poverty, and class issues. Those issues are obviously at play in this novel, but to what end? What do you think Patchett is trying to say about wealth, poverty, and class in America?

8.    After their stepmother kicks them out of the Dutch House, both Danny and Maeve remain obsessed with their childhood home. For instance, throughout the years, they often sit in a car outside of the house and just look at it. What explains their obsessions with this house? And how do their feelings about the house and about the meaning of “home” change with the passing years?

9.    How did you feel about the jumps in time in the novel? Did the places where the narration moved forward in time make sense? Did it seem necessary for this novel to span such a large expanse of time in these characters’ lives? If the story focused on a smaller period of time, would it change the way we viewed the themes of this novel?

10.        Did the book end the way you thought it might end when Danny’s daughter May buys the Dutch House? Does the Dutch House take on new meaning for Danny under this new ownership? Did it take on new meaning for you as the reader?


What to do now that you’ve finished reading The Dutch House? Aside from the previously mentioned interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer ( Ann Patchett has given a lot of great interviews about this book that could help enrich your book club discussion. Some of my favorites: this interview with Time, and this one with The Guardian. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Introverts Have It!

Our discussion of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, began with discussing our results from the 16 Personalities Test. It was fascinating! It seemed everybody had taken the test; anyone who hadn’t must have kept very QUIET – (You’re an introvert!) Here’s what we found out about our friends, in alphabetical order:

Carla is 62% introvert and 38% extrovert, a Mediator, and an INFP – Advocate.

Carol is an introvert and an Advocate.

Cindy T., like Carla, is 62% introvert and 38% extrovert. She’s an INFJ – Turbulent and an Advocate. I saw online that the INFJ combination is the most rare, at 1% to 2% of those tested. At our meeting, 20% of us were INFJ (Cindy and Claudia). I saw another website about the Meyers-Briggs test that said that INFJ is the third rarest. There’s lots of this kind of information online (and lots of it is inexact and much, unfortunately, is absolutely misinformation)! 

Claudia is 64% introverted, INFJ – Turbulent, and an Advocate.

Dennis is an INFP- Assertive, and an Advocate.

Flo is our extrovert, at 79%! She is a Diplomat.

Joanne was a surprising 9% less than an extrovert, with 41% introvert.

Ken is 53% extrovert, an EMTP, and a Turbulent Debater.

Lydia is an introvert and a Logician.

Marcia is an ambivert (equal introvert and extrovert scores).

Shirl is an ISFJ, which is a Defender (and an introvert).

There were a lot of variables discussed in the test. It was not a strict Meyers-Briggs test, but it was similar. The 4-letter designations follow the Meyers- Briggs formula.

Some of our answers might have been skewed toward the introvert side because we have been distancing during the pandemic, but it seems logical that readers would tend toward the introverted side. Carla said it seems likely that a reader would be an introvert, because reading “…is like a journey in your mind.”

We discussed the questions that were on the website and were sent to everyone before the meeting. I was the only one who did the lemon juice test, with kind of bland results. I used bottled lemon juice, which isn’t very tasty, and I didn’t have a strong reaction. Dennis wondered whether people who have reduced senses of smell and taste during/after getting COVID would become more extroverted!

There was a variety of answers about the Free Trait Theory, which says that a person has basic personality traits but can act in opposite ways at certain times, if the acting enhances a core personal project or value. Flo thought salespeople are like that. Dennis suggested everyone has some multiple personality in them. Shirley had an experience of advocating for a child in a courtroom. She said that although she is an introvert, she had strong convictions about the child, so she forced herself to speak up strongly, even though it was difficult for her. Marcia mentioned the example of teachers having to speak to groups of students all the time. Carla said that if a person is invested in what they are doing, they will do it regardless of a personal trait that makes it difficult to act that way.

Discussing the written questions, we shared lots of examples about our children and some personal experiences. Marcia said the movie, “The Interns,” starring Ann Hathaway, is a good example of an open office without everyone having separate walled work spaces. Joanne reminded us about many people bringing their computer work to public places, such as McDonald’s or Starbucks. This idea of being among people but not directly interacting with them seems to appeal to a broad spectrum of introverts and extroverts.

At the end of the meeting, some of us mentioned our favorite “restorative niches.”

Marcia: reading and movies

Shirley: exercise and quiet meditation

Carla: walking

Ken: books, the back patio, or at a specific picnic table at the end of a peninsula near Lake Travis

Claudia: resting with a book and often falling asleep

Lydia: gardening and movies

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Last Hermit

I am so glad that I read Quiet before reading The Stranger in the Woods.