Recap of our Block Book Club January 2013 meeting
Recap of the titles we shared [synopsis from Goodreads.com].
1) The Bridge of San Luis Rey
by Thornton Wilder (1927- Pulitzer Prize for Novel in 1928 – 148 pages) presented by J.
“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” With this celebrated sentence Thornton Wilder begins “The Bridge of San Luis Rey, ” one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world.
By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper then embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those320who perished in the tragedy. His search leads to his own death — and to the author’s timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.
2) Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan
by Jamie Zeppa (2000 – 320 pages) presented by me
At age 22 Jamie Zeppa, a Canadian who had never been outside of North America, said goodbye to her fiancé and her plans for graduate school and moved to Bhutan, a remote Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth is an autobiographical work that details her experiences and transformations after spending three years in Bhutan. It is as much a book about Zeppa’s day-to-day life in Bhutan as it is about the personal awakenings and realizations that she had while living there.
Visitors to Bhutan, an increasingly hot tourist destination, are still few and far between, largely because of tight government restrictions on entry, visa requirements, and a law requiring tourists to spend at least $200 a day there. There aren’t many books on Bhutan, and even fewer first-hand accounts of life there. Beyond the Sky and the Earth stands out as both an informative introduction to the people and culture of Bhutan and as a beautiful piece of travel literature set against the backdrop of one of the most remote and unspoiled places on earth.
Zeppa recounts her experiences living abroad, such as learning to live without electricity and carrying on a forbidden affair with one of her students, in such a compelling way that even someone who has never left home will become entranced by her story and captivated by her unique experiences.
Naturally, Zeppa experienced culture shock when she arrived in Bhutan. The hardships she encountered seemed insurmountable, and at first she thought she couldn’t bear it and fantasized about returning to Canada. She had to learn a new language in order to communicate with her students, she had to learn to live on her own, and she had to learn to deal with homesickness. Perhaps her biggest challenge was learning how to reconcile her growing love for Bhutan with her nostalgia for her life in Canada, her family, and her fiancé. But after living among Bhutan’s Himalayan peaks, lush valleys, colorful villages, and friendly people, and after gaining an appreciation for life in a place frozen in time, Zeppa realizes that she feels at home in Bhutan and wants to stay.
Although to Zeppa Bhutan is a magical land, she cautions herself and the reader not to deem it “the last Shangri-La,” as is often done by the lucky travelers who make their way through the red tape required for entry into the kingdom. Bhutan is not without its problems: it is an underdeveloped country plagued by the problems that affect many places cut off from modernity. There is infant mortality, illness, and poverty. There are also domestic and international tensions that stem from the government’s stringent regulations intended to preserve the national culture. Among them are the prohibition of foreign television and a requirement that people wear the national dress, a kira for women and a gho for men.
Few of us will ever get to see the place that was Zeppa’s home. But her narrative is so clear and insightful that you easily feel as though you are sharing this portion of her life with her. Even if you haven’t had the experience of living abroad, or if the prospect of a trip to the furthest reaches of Asia is not in your cards, Zeppa’s book is a worthy read on many levels.
From her powerful use of language to describe the superb beauty of Bhutan’s landscape to her passionate description of her spellbinding relationship with her future husband, Beyond the Sky and the Earth draws readers in and takes them on her rocky ride to self-realization.
When trying to explain to a friend what she finds appealing about Bhutan, Zeppa writes: “It takes a long time to find the true words, to put them in order, to tell the whole story. It is not just this or that, the mountains, the people, it is me and the way I can be here, the freedom to walk unafraid into the great dark night. It is a hundred thousand things and I could never trace or tell all the connections and reflections, the shadows and echoes and secret relations between them.”
But, in fact, Zeppa does tell the reader about these connections and reflections in a lyrical way. After reading the book, you will have a deep understanding, appreciation, and respect for Zeppa’s strength of character and for the wonders of Bhutan.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth is a delight to read in every way. Zeppa’s beautiful prose, peppered alternately with funny observations and profound soul-searching, is a truly special and unique work that will leave you craving an adventure of your own.
3) A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher #17)
by Lee Child (2012 – 416 pages) presented by B.
Reacher is back! A Wanted Man is a new masterpiece of suspense—from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child.
Four people in a car, hoping to make Chicago by morning. One man driving, eyes on the road. Another man next to him, telling stories that don’t add up. A woman in the back, silent and worried. And next to her, a huge man with a broken nose, hitching a ride east to Virginia.
An hour behind them, a man lies stabbed to death in an old pumping station. He was seen going in with two others, but he never came out. He has been executed, the knife work professional, the killers vanished. Within minutes, the police are notified. Within hours, the FBI descends, laying claim to the victim without ever saying who he was or why he was there.
All Reacher wanted was a ride to Virginia. All he did was stick out his thumb. But he soon discovers he has hitched more than a ride. He has tied himself to a massive conspiracy that makes him a threat—to both sides at once.
In Lee Child’s white-hot thriller, nothing is what it seems, and nobody is telling the truth. As the tension rises, the twists come fast and furious, keeping readers guessing and gasping until the explosive finale.
A single story arc: 61 HOURS, WORTH DYING FOR and now A WANTED MAN. Simply a man trying to get to a warm, sexy voice he heard over the phone lines coming from Virginia.
4) This World We Live In (The Last Survivors #3)
by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2010 – 239 pages) presented by P.
It’s been a year since a meteor collided with the moon, catastrophically altering the earth’s climate. For Miranda Evans, life as she knew it no longer exists. Her friends and neighbors are dead, the landscape is frozen, and food is increasingly scarce.
The struggle to survive intensifies when Miranda’s father and stepmother arrive with a baby and three strangers in tow. One of the newcomers is Alex Morales, and as Miranda’s complicated feelings for him turn to love, his plans for his future thwart their relationship. Then a devastating tornado hits the town of Howell, and Miranda makes a decision that will change their lives forever.
5) The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green (2012 – 313 pages) presented by P.
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.
Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.
6) Life Itself
by Roger Ebert (2011 – 448 pages) presented by R.
Roger Ebert is the best-known film critic of our time. He has been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and was the first film critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. He has appeared on television for four decades, including twenty-three years as cohost of Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.
In 2006, complications from thyroid cancer treatment resulted in the loss of his ability to eat, drink, or speak. But with the loss of his voice, Ebert has only become a more prolific and influential writer. And now, for the first time, he tells the full, dramatic story of his life and career.
Roger Ebert’s journalism carried him on a path far from his nearly idyllic childhood in Urbana, Illinois. It is a journey that began as a reporter for his local daily, and took him to Chicago, where he was unexpectedly given the job of film critic for the Sun-Times, launching a lifetime’s adventures.
In this candid, personal history, Ebert chronicles it all: his loves, losses, and obsessions; his struggle and recovery from alcoholism; his marriage; his politics; and his spiritual beliefs. He writes about his years at the Sun-Times, his colorful newspaper friends, and his life-changing collaboration with Gene Siskel. He remembers his friendships with Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Oprah Winfrey, and Russ Meyer (for whom he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and an ill-fated Sex Pistols movie). He shares his insights into movie stars and directors like John Wayne, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese.
This is a story that only Roger Ebert could tell. Filled with the same deep insight, dry wit, and sharp observations that his readers have long cherished, this is more than a memoir-it is a singular, warm-hearted, inspiring look at life itself.
7) The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story
by Ashok Rajamani (2013 – 256 pages) presented by J.
After a full-throttle brain bleed at the age of twenty-five, Ashok Rajamani, a first-generation Indian American, had to relearn everything: how to eat, how to walk and to speak, even things as basic as his sexual orientation. With humor and insight, he describes the events of that day (his brain exploded just before his brother’s wedding!), as well as the long, difficult recovery period. In the process, he introduces readers to his family–his principal support group, as well as a constant source of frustration and amazement. Irreverent, coruscating, angry, at times shocking, but always revelatory, his memoir takes the reader into unfamiliar territory, much like the experience Alice had when she fell down the rabbit hole. That he lived to tell the story is miraculous; that he tells it with such aplomb is simply remarkable.More than a decade later he has finally reestablished a productive artistic life for himself, still dealing with the effects of his injury–life-long half-blindness and epilepsy– but forging ahead as a survivor dedicated to helping others who have suffered a similar catastrophe.
8) Half Broke Horses
by Jeannette Walls (2009 – 272 pages) presented by M.
Lily Casey Smith, this novel’s feisty Texas protagonist, is a frontier teacher, a rancher, a rodeo rider, a poker player, and bootlegger. In Half Broke Horses, she survives droughts, tornados, floods, poverty, and whatever else fate can throw against her. Based on author Jeannette Walls’s grandmother, Lily is a plausible character because she has a voice that synchronizes with her history. This novel lives up to the still gathering acclaim for Walls’s novel The Glass Castle.
9) A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
by George R.R. Martin (2009 – 864 pages) presented by R.
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.
Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
Unparalleled in scope and execution, A Game of Thrones is one of those rare reading experiences that catch you up from the opening pages, won’t let you go until the end, and leave you yearning for more.
HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THOSE?
WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE?