I’m presenting here the books we shared
at our last block Book Club meeting
– it’s a potluck book club,
meaning each member shares about his/her latest good read.
Awesome for diversity in books, lively conversations,
and your TBR getting suddenly taller!
(synopsis taken from Goodreads.com)
I forgot to share all the books we talked about in our book club since September. I hope to do it on a regular basis again.
We had a full house in February, for our 5th anniversary, so here are all the books we talked about.
Reminder: in our book club, each member shares (with passion!) about the last book he/she read.
1. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild (1999)
presented by W.
In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million–all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold’s Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold’s Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo–too long forgotten–onto the conscience of the West
2. Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy #1) by Chinua Achebe (1958)
also presented by W.
THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.
The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.
3. My Brilliant Friend (L’amica geniale #1) by Elena Ferrante (2011)
presented by B.
A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.
The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.
Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this novel, the first in a trilogy, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction.
I’m really sure I had read about an upcoming book by Ferrante with clues about her identity, but for the life of me, I can no longer find the title!
4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)
presented by R.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel
With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style.
A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
5. The First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome #1) by Colleen McCullough (1990)
presented by P.
From the bestselling author of The Thorn Birds comes a masterpiece of historical fiction that is fascinating, moving, and gloriously heroic. The reader is swept into the whirlpool of pageantry, passion, splendor, chaos and earth-shattering upheaval that was ancient Rome. Here is the story of Marius, wealthy but lowborn, and Sulla, aristocratic but penniless and debauched — extraordinary men of vision whose ruthless ambition will lay the foundations of the most awesome and enduring empire known to humankind.
A towering saga of great events and mortal frailties, it is peopled with a vast, and vivid cast of unforgettable men and women — soldiers and senators, mistresses and wives, kings and commoners — combined in a richly embroidered human tapestry to bring a remarkable era to bold and breathtaking life.
6. Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernières (2009)
presented by C.
A funny and heartbreaking new book from one of Britain’s favourite and bestselling writers.
Welcome to the village of Notwithstanding where a lady dresses in plus fours and shoots squirrels, a retired general gives up wearing clothes altogether, a spiritualist lives in a cottage with the ghost of her husband, and people think it quite natural to confide in a spider that lives in a potting shed. Based on de Bernières’ recollections of the village he grew up in, Notwithstanding is a funny and moving depiction of a charming vanished England.
7. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger (1957)
presented by E.
The short story, Franny, takes place in an unnamed college town and tells the tale of an undergraduate who is becoming disenchanted with the selfishness and inauthenticity she perceives all around her.
The novella, Zooey, is named for Zooey Glass, the second-youngest member of the Glass family. As his younger sister, Franny, suffers a spiritual and existential breakdown in her parents’ Manhattan living room — leaving Bessie, her mother, deeply concerned — Zooey comes to her aid, offering what he thinks is brotherly love, understanding, and words of sage advice.
8. Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by Drema Hall Berkheimer (2016)
presented by S.
Gypsies, faith-healers, moonshiners, and snake handlers weave through Drema’s childhood in 1940s Appalachia after her father is killed in the coal mines, her mother goes off to work as a Rosie the Riveter, and she is left in the care of devout Pentecostal grandparents. What follows is a spitfire of a memoir that reads like a novel with intrigue, sweeping emotion, and indisputable charm. Drema’s coming of age is colored by tent revivals with Grandpa, poetry-writing hobos, and traveling carnivals, and through it all, she serves witness to a multi-generational family of saints and sinners whose lives defy the stereotypes. Just as she defies her own.
Running On Red Dog Road is proof that truth is stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to life and faith in an Appalachian childhood.
9. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan (2002)
presented by M.
Finally! A book about economics that won’t put you to sleep. In fact, you won’t be able to put this bestseller down. In our challenging economic climate, this perennial favorite of students and general readers is more than a good read, it’s a necessary investment—with a blessedly sure rate of return. Demystifying buzzwords, laying bare the truths behind oft-quoted numbers, and answering the questions you were always too embarrassed to ask, the breezy Naked Economics gives readers the tools they need to engage with pleasure and confidence in the deeply relevant, not so dismal science.
This revised and updated edition adds commentary on hot topics, including the current economic crisis, globalization, the economics of information, the intersection of economics and politics, and the history—and future—of the Federal Reserve.
10. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight (2016)
presented by P.
In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.
In 1962, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his lime green Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In an age of startups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all startups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today.
But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always remained a mystery. Now, for the first time, in a memoir that is candid, humble, gutsy, and wry, he tells his story, beginning with his crossroads moment. At 24, after backpacking around the world, he decided to take the unconventional path, to start his own business—a business that would be dynamic, different.
Knight details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream—along with his early triumphs. Above all, he recalls the formative relationships with his first partners and employees, a ragtag group of misfits and seekers who became a tight-knit band of brothers. Together, harnessing the transcendent power of a shared mission, and a deep belief in the spirit of sport, they built a brand that changed everything.
11. The Great Game of Business: Unlocking the Power and Profitability of Open-Book Management by Jack Stack (1994)
presented by B.
In the early 1980s, Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation (SRC) in Springfield, Missouri, was a near bankrupt division of International Harvester. That’s when a green young manager, Jack Stack, took over and turned it around. He didn’t know how to “manage” a company, but he did know about the principal, of athletic competition and democracy: keeping score, having fun, playing fair, providing choice, and having a voice. With these principals he created his own style of management — open-book management. The key is to let everyone in on financial decisions. At SRC, everyone learns how to read a P&L — even those without a high school education know how much the toilet paper they use cuts into profits.
SRC people have a piece of the action and a vote in company matters. Imagine having a vote on your bonus and on what businesses the company should be in. SRC restored the dignity of economic freedom to its people. Stack’s “open-book management” is the key — a system which, as he describes it here, is literally a game, and one so simple anyone can use it.
As part of the Currency paperback line, the book includes a “User’s Guide” — an introduction and discussion guide created for the paperback by the author — to help readers make practical use of the book’s ideas. Jack Stack is the president and CEO of the Springfield
12. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger (2016)
presented by J.
Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of War and The Perfect Storm, takes a critical look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the many challenges today’s returning veterans face in modern society.
There are ancient tribal human behaviors-loyalty, inter-reliance, cooperation-that flare up in communities during times of turmoil and suffering. These are the very same behaviors that typify good soldiering and foster a sense of belonging among troops, whether they’re fighting on the front lines or engaged in non-combat activities away from the action. Drawing from history, psychology, and anthropology, bestselling author Sebastian Junger shows us just how at odds the structure of modern society is with our tribal instincts, arguing that the difficulties many veterans face upon returning home from war do not stem entirely from the trauma they’ve suffered, but also from the individualist societies they must reintegrate into.
A 2011 study by the Canadian Forces and Statistics Canada reveals that 78 percent of military suicides from 1972 to the end of 2006 involved veterans. Though these numbers present an implicit call to action, the government is only just taking steps now to address the problems veterans face when they return home. But can the government ever truly eliminate the challenges faced by returning veterans? Or is the problem deeper, woven into the very fabric of our modern existence? Perhaps our circumstances are not so bleak, and simply understanding that beneath our modern guises we all belong to one tribe or another would help us face not just the problems of our nation but of our individual lives as well.
Well-researched and compellingly written, this timely look at how veterans react to coming home will reconceive our approach to veteran’s affairs and help us to repair our current social dynamic.
13. Summit Lake by Charlie Donlea (2016)
presented by B.
Some places seem too beautiful to be touched by horror. Summit Lake, nestled in North Carolina s Blue Ridge Mountains, is that kind of place. But two weeks ago, Becca Eckersley, a first-year law student and daughter of a powerful attorney, was brutally murdered there. Now the town is reeling with grief, and the police are baffled.
At first, investigative reporter Kelsey Castle thinks of the assignment as a fluff piece. But the savagery of the crime, and the efforts to keep it quiet, hint at something far more sinister than a random attack by a stranger. As Kelsey digs deeper, despite danger and warnings, she feels a growing connection to the dead girl. And the more she learns about Becca’s friendships, her love life and her secrets the more convinced she becomes that walking in Becca’s footsteps could lead her out of her own dark past.
14. Two By Two by Nicholas Sparks (2016)
presented by M.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with an emotionally powerful story of unconditional love, its challenges, its risks and most of all, its rewards.
At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear…and no one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down.
In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality. Throwing himself into the wilderness of single parenting, Russ embarks on a journey at once terrifying and rewarding—one that will test his abilities and his emotional resources beyond anything he ever imagined.
15. Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre (to be released in English in July 2017)
presented by Emma
Three days at the edge of the new millennium, one moment of madness and one young life’s course altered forever. A dazzling new thriller from the master of noir.
Antoine is twelve years old. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother in Beauval, a small, backwater town surrounded by forests, where everyone knows everyone’s business, and nothing much ever happens. But in the last days of 1999, a series of events unfolds, culminating in the shocking vanishing without trace of a young child. The adults of the town are at a loss to explain the disappearance, but for Antoine, it all begins with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog. From that one brutal act, his fate and the fate of his neighbour’s six year old son are bound forever.
In the years following Rémi’s disappearance, Antoine wrestles with the role his actions played. As a seemingly inescapable net begins to tighten, breaking free from the suffocating environs of Beauval becomes a gnawing obsession. But how far does he have to run, and how long will it take before his past catches up with him again?