Category Archives: Book Club

Day 147: A Book Riot

The list I’ve been waiting for arrived on my Facebook page today. 

One of the most important goals of retirement living was supposed to be to give myself time for reading. When Book Riot posted their poll on Facebook, I was quick to vote for my fave five. Happily, they are all here, plus some others I had totally forgotten about. I’m going to group them in order to make them easier to discuss. I’ve denoted in red the ones I have not read. That does not mean I liked all the other ones; some of them I read under duress. 🙂 So let’s get started…

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (126 votes)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Of these five fabulous classics, I vote for The Great Gatsby. While I love J.K. Rowling and what she’s done for a whole generation of young readers, I’m not sure that I would put Harry Potter in the same grouping as these other four amazing classics. And, although I love, love, love Mockingbird, I question whether this poll is heavily weighted on the side of younger people for whom Atticus Finch was a life-changing character.

6. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien

7. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I tried to like Tolkien; I really did. He’s just not my cup of fantasy tea. In this section is my personal number one, Gone With the Wind, but I don’t think I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye. How did that happen? Just in case you didn’t catch it, GWTW allusions are so ubiquitous that Kelly Monaco and Val Chmerkovskiy used Scarlett’s red dress, Rhett’s cravat, and the escape-from-burning-Atlanta wagon on Dancing With the Stars.

11. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

12. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

13. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

14. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

15. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Okay, now we’re getting down to cult classics. Marquez I like, but I’ve never even heard of The Secret History. Apparently I’ve been living under a rock for the last eight years, as it is a highly regarded “modern classic.” I’m putting it on my TBR list.

16. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

17. The Stand by Stephen King

18. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

20. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

This group has some great authors, but given that I’m currently working through Anna Karenina and eagerly awaiting the November 16 release of the movie starring Keira Knightley, I’ll give Tolstoy the nod here. I’m also putting Infinite Jest on my TBR list.

21. Persuasion by Jane Austen

22. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

23. The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

24. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

25. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

To put these authors together in a group is kind of laughable, especially comparing Diana Gabaldon to Dostoevsky. That being said, I devoured all of the Outlander books with a spectacular guilty pleasure!

26. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

27. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

28. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

29. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

30. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

While I haven’t read all of this section, I have to give props to my literary hero, Ray Bradbury. He knew where our society was heading when he wrote F451 in 1953. If you have not read F451, it should be on your Must Read list. But then, so should Persuasion.

31. 1984 by George Orwell

32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

33. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

34. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

35. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I did pretty well in this section. Obviously, Little Women was one of my five votes; I’ve loved Louisa May Alcott since I was a child. I still shudder to think of the graduate class on American Renaissance authors in which I was forced to read Moby Dick. Thank goodness, Melville was punctuated by Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne who made me fall in love with this time period of American literature.

36. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

37. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

38. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

39. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

40. Ulysses by James Joyce

This is another interesting group to compare. Considering that I have a complete set of du Maurier’s novels with their original bookjackets still on them, you probably know what my choice would be here. But how does one compare Douglas Adams to James Joyce, or to Nabokov, for that matter? It’s all a matter of taste and interest level.

41. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

42. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

43. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

45. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Considering that I’ve only read two of these, I don’t know how to rate them, but Middlesex was one of the more interesting books I’ve read in a while. I know, I know; I have to read the two that are currently out in the movie theaters.

46. Dune by Frank Herbert

47. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

48. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

49. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

50. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (13 votes)

And that brings me to the last group. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and is historical fiction in the same ilk as Les Miserables, although it’s set during a different war. The Poisonwood Bible is also an epic novel with a complex plot. The other two are both mystical even though they were written many years apart and each is an extraordinary book in its own right. My final vote is for Les Mis and I’ve included the movie poster just in case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know that there’s a blockbuster movie coming out on Christmas Day in the United States.

Now it’s your turn. What are your top five novels? Did the Book Riot readers get it right?

P.S. I still love every little thing Jane Austen ever wrote. 🙂


Day 145: A Lot of Fun and A Little Knowledge

You may be wondering what happened to me over the last week or so. Life got in my way.

I worked with a family member to book a cruise vacation; because I’m new at this, it took a lot of time and energy. But I learned a lot and am ready to work at my friend’s travel agency for the next week while she vacations in Europe. I’ve been training with her on a regular basis; I don’t feel very “retired.”

I photographed a friend’s glass party. I was scared to death, but it all turned out well. Some of my photos were even good.

We also had a series of social events that just plain wore me out. It’s hell getting old. Going to the Angels Ball to support Rainbow Hospice is always fun, but Music Man and I are both having knee issues. He was a good sport and danced anyway to the amazing band, The Gentlemen of Leisure Band. Awesome music! We played a band concert with the American Wind Band, and I had a solo that was a little nerve-wracking. We celebrated Music Man’s birthday with friends in their home for a lovely surf-and-turf dinner. We also had friends and family in from out-of-town and we went to Saigon Sisters and Kiki’s Bistro for fabulous food and enjoyed visiting. Fun, fun, fun, but by Friday I ran out of steam.

Knowing what happens to me when I’m exhausted (it isn’t pretty, folks), I decided to take a break from the world and I read two books in two days for close to 1000 pages. The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s new adult novel (512 pages), was engaging and worth reading, but its teenage “disaffected youth” characters brought me too close to the kind of kids I want to avoid. Rowling is very concerned about disadvantaged youth and it was an integral part of this novel, which is ostensibly about filling a vacancy on a local government council in small-town England. Bring Up the Bodies (432 pages) is the second book in a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s councilor. It’s rare that I read a book where I learn something new about the Tudors, but Hilary Mantel’s research is wide-ranging and she sheds a new light on Cromwell. It was really good for me to take a break; I needed the solitude and quiet to re-energize.

After that mini-break from life,  I’m back on the exercise and eating-right wagon and tomorrow I go to the office full-time again. I know just enough to be dangerous; I’m a little scared of what I could do to Nadya’s computer system. Keep me in your thoughts; I’m hoping that good karma will hold me up while she’s gone.

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Day 137: In search of a pain au chocolat

I wasn’t asking for much — or so I thought.

A yearning for a simple chocolate croissant has emerged on my consciousness like an enormous elephant standing in front of my garage door. It won’t get out of the way.

I just finished reading a surprisingly good book called French Lessons in which French food plays an important part. Obviously when one is learning to speak French, ordering from a menu and choosing items in markets becomes very important. As the reviewers of this book say, the best part of it is Sussman’s vivid descriptions of Paris and I just wanted a pastry. That shouldn’t be so hard to find, should it?

This started last week; I went to my favorite bakery and was absolutely positive they would be able to satisfy my craving. Mais non! They only make pain au chocolat on the weekends.

Today I decided that I was going to find me some chocolate croissant action — I mean, give me a break. How hard can this be?

First I went to Corner Bakery, where I’m absolutely sure I’ve seen chocolate pastries many times. NOPE. Then I figured I would find something at Starbucks. NOPE again.

I was out of time so I caved in and got my second favorite guilty pleasure, a Rice Krispie treat and a lovely dark cup of coffee. Yummy, but not what I was craving.

While I was at it, I decided to try some more food photography practice, so I arranged said treat and the coffee on my lovely fall plates. My photography is getting better — I did this without flash in a fully manual mode. The big white coffee cup didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, though. I’m still learning, but I’m better than I was last week and the week before that.

Retirement is being very good to me, but I am still looking for that chocolate. Any ideas??

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Day 132: Retirement Reading

I’ve been reading up a storm during these first days of retirement.

In fact, I’ve gotten so many books from the library that I sometimes have to take them back and get in the queue again, with Bring Up the Bodies being a good example of this. Thank goodness a blogger announced that Bodies won the Booker Prize, because I rushed to get a copy from the library before the storm began. I’ve also “thought about” reading some classics, and I really do want to read Anna Karenina before the movie comes out. I never actually picked that one up when I got to the top of the library list. 🙂

Geoff Whaley, one of my blogging friends, talked about reading the classics, and this quote from his post really hit home with me.

I find it awesome that I’m reading books and authors who have inspired countless other authors, musicians and artists to create even more literature and art. The number of books I’ve read which have allusions to or direct references to older classics is staggering and the more I read the classics the more often I find these allusions and references or question whether an author/artist did do this.

Last night on Facebook after the debates, another friend quoted the line from The American President, where Michael Douglas tells Richard Dreyfus, “I AM the president”, which is one of the best movie lines of all time. I worry about the future of classic books and movies — will people “get” literature and film fully without understanding the allusions? I saw this in my classroom; many times I would quote a line from a movie or a book and the kids would look at me with blank stares. They had no idea what I (or the author we were studying) was referring to. It made me feel old, but it also made me sad for them. Do you remember this scene?

Am I the only one who cares about this?

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Day 119: A Senior Moment

Yesterday I was working in the kitchen preparing supper when I realized that I didn’t need to wait to watch Dancing With the Stars on my DVR. I had what I needed right in front of me — my cable box with On Demand TV Entertainment.

There it was in all its sequiney spandexey glory — right on my countertop! Although I don’t have an On Demand button on my remote, if I plug in channel 01, it’s all there waiting for me. This means that we can watch Bones and Castle right at our kitchen island, and I can watch New Girl, Private Practice, and Grey’s Anatomy while I cook. We might even be able to watch Inside the NFL, but I haven’t checked to see if that’s available On Demand. 🙂

I’ve had cable for HOW MANY YEARS? Why has this not occurred to me? Frankly, it reminds me of the book I read this year called No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club. In it the newly retired heroine has what she calls CRAFT moments — can’t remember a f**king thing.

Perhaps that’s my problem.

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Day 118: Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom

I’ve read a lot about Julia Child this summer and I’ve written a lot about her, too.

All you have to do is go to my search field on Got My Reservations and type in Julia Child — you’ll get a lot of links to previous posts.

I’ve even got the large-print edition of Bob Spitz’s new biography of Julia Child entitled, Dearie. At 1008 pages, I don’t think I’ll be lugging it to the gym with me. It’s going to stay on my bedside table. No, I didn’t NEED the large print; it was just what the library had available.

What I have found out in “my summer of Julia Child” is that you really only have to buy one small cookbook to get the essence of Julia’s kitchen wisdom.

Julia and her editor David Nussbaum created a kitchen Bible that has modernized and crystallized all of Julia’s essential teachings into one small volume.

What Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom doesn’t have is the formatting that Julia sweated bullets over when creating Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What it does have is Julia’s cooking notes from her loose-leaf binder that she kept in her kitchen and they are fun to read as well as to cook with.

I’m putting this cookbook on my Amazon wish list and so should you.

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Day 117: Fifty Shades of Chicken

A funny for you today…

I kinda want this book.

Be sure you read the text on the Barnes and Noble page. You will laugh out loud, especially if you’ve read the other Fifty Shades books.

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Day 116: No Regrets Day

I feel positively giddy today. I have very few commitments and I’m looking forward to book club tonight — but I still have to read some more of that darn big book.

I got an email notification from one of my favorite bloggers where she talks about having no regrets. It’s a poignant read — so I shared it with you. I hope that you will click in for some inspiration for today.

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Day 108: The Sunday Review

The Men I Didn’t Marry (2007) by Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger

After being summarily dumped by her husband of 21 years, Hallie first falls into a depression. Then she decides to get back in touch with four former boyfriends to see what she missed when she chose the one who turned out to be a womanizer and a cheat. Although filled with typical chick-lit cliches, the novel moves quickly through Hallie’s soul-searching. It’s your basic beach read, but fun for a quick look at a story about a woman who successfully navigates through a separation and emerges whole. 3/5 Stars

The Lion in Winter (1968) starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole

When Terri suggested that I add The Lion in Winter to my English costume drama queue, I put it in the back of my mind, but didn’t rush out to get it from the library, as I had seen it before in an earlier life. Then one day I just felt like some Hepburn/O’Toole melodrama — and oh, was I rewarded! Telling a highly fictionalized version of a 12th century Christmas season when Henry II and his imprisoned queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, get together to decide which of their three sons will succeed Henry as the next king of England (That’s the Cliff Notes version).  Apparently they were the poster children for the ultimate dysfunctional family, since they plot and scheme against each other for two hours. And did I mention that Henry II had a live-in mistress that he wanted to marry? In a tie with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl, Katherine Hepburn received her third Best Actor in a Leading Role award. Although she was fabulous, I had forgotten that this movie had all that 61-year-old Hepburn shakin’ goin’ on — loved her, but it was distracting. A reviewer on Amazon recommends reading Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine as a companion piece to this movie, and I will do that. 4/5 Stars for eating up the scenery.

Innocent (2011) by Scott Turow

I’ve been waiting patiently for Melinda to give me this book because I absolutely loved Turow’s first book about Rusty Sabich, Presumed Innocent. In Innocent (the sequel), Rusty is again accused of a murder which the reader is pretty sure he didn’t commit. I love how Scott Turow once again creates a complex and nuanced new plot with visits from old friends Tommy Molto and Sandy Stern and new characters in Rusty’s grown son Nathan and eager young lawyer Anna. Told in a flashback/flashforward narrative style with changes in perspective, Turows also fleshes out Rusty’s wife Barbara and what happened to their marriage after his trial for murder in Presumed. I do think you’d like Innocent better if you also read Presumed Innocent, but there’s enough restatement to live without it — or you could watch the movie. Just to remind myself how wonderful Presumed Innocent was and to refresh my memory, I got the movie from the library and watched it. It was as good as I remembered with Harrison Ford managing to convince us that his bumbling treatment of the murder case proved his innocence.

My only problem with Turow’s portrayal of Rusty Sabich in Innocent is that he should have learned something about the law and about human nature in the twenty years since Presumed Innocent, but he still seems silly and self-destructive. Just for that I give it 4.5/5 Stars.

Like Water for Chocolate (1995) by Laura Esquivel

I went to a presentation at the library about great food scenes in movies, and Like Water for Chocolate (1992) was a recommended movie. I had read the book years ago, but didn’t remember much about it, so I got both the book and the movie out of the library. Now I know why I didn’t remember it — I hated the female character and the sexist cultural traps in which the author puts her. Apparently I’m in the minority, because the book is highly rated and the movie won a whole bunch of international awards. Each chapter begins with a recipe, and the movie uses food-based mysticism to drive the plot. As a debut novel, Like Water for Chocolate was intriguing but not my favorite of the week. 2/5 Stars

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Day Twenty Six: Mount Library TBR

Starting from the top of my To Be Read Stack:

The Help — somehow I managed to get through this year without seeing the movie. I’ve read the book twice, and I’m pretty excited about sitting down with Music Man sometime this weekend to catch up with pop culture.

A Year of Wonders — I’ve read several of Geraldine Brooks’s novels and loved them. Looking forward to this one.

The Virgin of Small Plains: A Novel — Our library has book club books grouped together on a dedicated shelf, and I try to read these prior to our annual book choice meeting in December. This one looks interesting, but I’m a little concerned about the reviews that say it’s easy to figure out the mystery. I hope other plot elements keep me reading.

The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island — Linda Greenlaw’s memoir went on my list at the hair salon. It was recommended in one of the tawdry magazines we all read in secret while waiting for our hair to become amazing, and I thought it was interesting that Greenlaw was one of the characters in the movie The Perfect Storm. I love memoirs, so this should be good.

Middlesex — Our book club read this, but I didn’t get around to it for some reason. It’s time.

The Weird Sisters — The reviewers say this book has “voice.” Bring it on.

Sushi for Beginners — Another hair salon choice. We’ll see.

Stay Close — I have read everything Harlan Coben has written, so I grabbed this new entry. Unfortunately, it seems to have bad reviews. It’s a good thing I have lots of other things to read just in case.

Enjoy your holiday and the upcoming weekend. I’ve got lots to do! What do you want to read?

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