Wednesday, April 26, 2017

When Breath Becomes Air

Book: When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

Members present: Annette, Shea, Karin, Sue, Christy, Marie, Denise, Sharon, Gina, Lorelei, Terrie

Venue: Mellow Mushroom

Discussion Highlights:

Admittedly, it was difficult to have a proper discussion because it's really loud in Mellow Mushroom. And there were so many members present--which is a good thing!--that you could only hear the people who were sitting next to you. But we did get a little discussion in. All of the people on my end of the table liked the book. We all thought he was brilliant. Some of us thought it was sad and others didn't, which was surprising to me. It's true that his writing style was not that emotional. And I guess if you have to die, it's good to know that you lived your life as purposefully as you could, that you were surrounded by your loved ones, and that your mental facilities were in tact. But I still thought it was sad. Sharon's argument was that he lived a very full life in a short amount of time.

We also discussed how sad it was that he didn't get to finish the book, which he really wanted to do. I can imagine him writing furiously in between surgeries and treatments and playing with his baby. But at least the last line he wrote was about how much joy his daughter brought to his life.

We also talked about tennis and finally had some good gossip to share. But if you weren't there, you miss out on the good stuff!

Next Book:

Our next book will be "A Man Called Ove," by Fredrik Backman, and I will be the host. I have to say, I didn't have high expectations when I started the book, but I liked it so much after the first few chapters that I would only read a chapter a night so that I could savor it for as long as possible. However, you could finish it pretty quickly if you're more of a binge reader. I will aim for the end of May for our next meeting.

Friday, March 10, 2017

White Picket Fences

Book:  White Picket Fences - Susan Meissner

Members Present:  Sue, Lorelei, Shea, Sharon, Christy, Linda

Venue: Lenore's

Discussion Highlights:

We were down to 50% in terms of readers who had finished the book, so we spent most of the time giving a detailed summary. It was a quick and easy read. Most people's favorite part was the story of the two men in the Holocaust, which was the central story that pulled together all of the subplots. It was the least depressing book about the Holocaust that we have read and was unique in terms of depicting how it all started, when Hitler invaded Poland. Some of us did not see why it was such a big deal to hide the story about the fire, and I didn't think that it would have been that traumatizing had it been Chase who started the fire since he was four years old. But Linda thought that was a realistic possibility, and I guess people do feel guilty about stuff that isn't their fault all the time. I would say the moral of the story is that it's better to reveal your deep, dark secrets sooner rather than later, before it ruins your marriage and sets your house on fire. All the more reason I have a job, I guess!

We spent a lot of time talking about food and restaurants downtown. If you need a recommendation, ask Shea.

Also, I encourage all of you to vote for me for Captain of the Year next year for the Mid-Atlantic, because I like to win everything! I need to captain 5 more teams this year, because last year's winner had 13 teams. Maybe I should just be co-captain on everyone else's team.

There was also a discussion about pickle ball, because Sharon sent a picture about the length of the kitchen this morning to the group, but I missed that part.

Next Book:

Sharon has agreed to host our next book club meeting. The book is "When Breath Becomes Air," by Paul Kalanithi. Another quick read, so we will aim for April.

Until then, happy reading!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Book: Truevine - Beth Macy

Members Present: Denise, Cindi, Sue, Marie, Terrie, Sharon, Shea

Venue: Denise's lovely abode

Discussion Highlights:

Truevine by Beth Macy was the book for our gathering on Jan 31. Denise was our hostess and Tom her husband cooked delicious chicken and joined us for dinner. Members present were Denise, Sharon, Shea, Cindi, Terrie and Marie. First time book clubber Sue Lunsford came after tennis in time for dessert.  Unfortunately Gina Keller had to cancel due to a possible ACL injury from tennis but luckily she was able to make the Tres Leches cake!! Get better soon Gina!

Denise, Sharon, Shea and Marie (almost) read the book. Denise really liked the book and we all agreed that it was an interesting story. Most of us were in agreement that the story jumped all over the place and that the writing was not the best. Beth Macy is a journalist and the book was written as such and the story didn’t flow. We also liked all the references to areas we were all familiar with in the Roanoke area.  For those of you who didn’t read the book here is a brief summary ….
The true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.
The year was 1899 and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever. 

Captured into the circus, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "Ambassadors from Mars." Back home, their mother never accepted that they were "gone" and spent 28 years trying to get them back.

We also discussed that back in the early 1900’s blacks were not treated very well so we felt that the brothers actually had a better life than what they would have had in Truevine and all the freaks living together were like family where no one judged them. This was somewhat proven in the book when the mother found the brothers and brought them home they eventually went back to the circus life.At the end of book discussion we were all happy with the recent news that the Ringling Bros.Circus would be closing down.   

Next Book:

We saw fitting that the next book be chosen by our newbie Sue. She chose White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner. Hopefully we can keep our streak going and read one book a month!! The end of Feb is our goal for the next book club meeting. Thanks again to Denise for hosting!! And thanks, Sharon for taking minutes at the meeting! If you talked about me, you don't have to tell me what you said since I wasn't there, and that's the rule :).

Friday, December 2, 2016

Queen of the Court

Book: Queen of the Court - Melanie Howard, Andrea Leidolf

Members present: Lorelei, Linda, Karin, Christy, Cindi, Marie, Denise, Shea

Venue: Abuelo's

Discussion Highlights

The book is a quick, entertaining read. Shea and I had trouble getting into it but it's worth finishing, and it doesn't take that long to read. We couldn't think of many people who were similar to the characters except for one Hungarian player that we all know and love, although Shea said  this was a realistic portrayal of the types of women who played in the country club scene at Va Beach.

The book was interesting from a local perspective in that both authors graduated from UVA and the book was set in NOVA, where tennis players really are as intense as crazy as they were in the book. They also played at River's Edge, which seems like more than a coincidence.

Marie thought there were too many characters and I thought that some of them had such superficial development that I couldn't even remember who they were and had to look them up. Like Sean, Karen's future boyfriend. And Quinn, Bethany's twin. And it took forever for me to get a sense of what Karen was like.

Next Book

Denise has generously volunteered to be our next host. The book is Truevine, by Beth Macy. It's written by a local author, so maybe we can have her as a guest at our next meeting if we're really ambitious. If we do get her, we'll have to be like a real book club and prepare questions and everyone who attends will have to read the book. But we made our goal of 6 books this year, so who knows what we're capable of in the new year? We'll meet again in January, so you may want to consider asking for the book as a stocking stuffer this holiday.

Friday, October 7, 2016

For the Rest of Her Life

Book: For the Rest of her Life - Laura Moriarty

Members present: Christy, Linda, Karin, Sharon

Venue: Veranda Bistro

Discussion highlights:

Everyone liked the book, but everyone (except me) liked "Defending Jacob" better. Linda felt sorry for Leigh because of her insecurity as a parent as a result of her mother abandoning her at 16. Sharon pointed out that the mother seemed envious of her daughter--how easy her life was, her popularity, her confidence. I thought it was interesting that the mother and daughter both perceived the other person as being critical of them when in reality both of them wanted to be loved by the other. I particularly liked the line where the daughter tells her mom that if she had known that if killing someone would make her mom like her she would have done it a long time ago. Karin added that many relationships are ultimately destroyed because people don't communicate how they really feel.

We also discussed the different responses for what the consequences should be for the daughter. That dad wanted her to go through it with as few consequences as possible so that she could start college and play soccer. The mother wanted her to suffer some consequence which seemed to border on wanting her daughter to be punished. Linda pointed out that this made the dad question whether she wanted the best for her daughter. We discussed how, although the daughter felt the same way as the mother, the mother seemed oblivious of this because she was so focused on the daughter liked her. We all felt that her decision not to postpone college was a good one because it would have been difficult to focus on the typical transitional struggles when you've gone through something traumatic.

Linda brought up Leigh's relationship with her own mother--particularly her decision to abandon her at 16 because she never had a life of her own. How the daughter was so hungry for love that she liked the attention from sketchy guys. I brought up how she was so desperate for help that she slept with someone to get him to help her move her bed. Sharon brought up how she tried to convey an air of confidence about this, even though this was her first sexual experience and she was obviously vulnerable to sexual exploitation. We discussed her conversation with her daughter about sex and how it revealed the mom's own insecurities and her daughter's confidence in herself. Sharon thought the daughter might have been lying about how secure she felt, but I thought the daughter was surprisingly emotionally mature for her age and probably did feel like she wouldn't have sex unless she wanted to, which made the mom feel inferior.

We also discussed the difference between Leigh and her sister Pam's response to their mother's "parenting." Although Leigh's life turned out well, she struggled with self-confidence and was sensitive to rejection and abandonment. Pam, on the other hand, had more compassion for the mom and did not hold her failings as a mother against her, even though her life sucked. I thought that highlighted how a traumatic upbringing could impact a person's interpersonal relationships even if the person looked "normal" on the outside.

We also discussed Bethany's mother's attack on the daughter. Linda thought it was good that Leigh was eventually able to connect with the mother in a meaningful way--after stalking her--and the daughter and Bethany were able to correspond, as well. Karin brought up how the mother needed some target, even though they were really all victims. There was a quote in the book about this--how there were no victors, only casualties.

We discussed the dad's relationship with the son and how it was similar to the mother's relationship with her daughter in that they didn't share the same interests and had trouble relating to one another. But we all though it was good that the father eventually made an effort to figure out what his son's interests were so that they could have a connection. I liked the quote about how parents try to give their children what they needed, but their children might need something completely different. Linda liked the quote about how, ideally, parenting is like sending the care packages that Leigh sent her daughter--you put things in it and see if it's what she needs, and if it's not, you change the next care box accordingly.

Next book: 

Our next book is Queen of the Court, by Melanie Howard and Andrea Leidolf. Karin gets extra credit for already having noted this from the last blog post and reading ahead of the syllabus. Linda has agreed to host. Thanks, Shea, for the suggestion!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt

Book: Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman

Members present: Christy, Sarah, Annette, Marie, Karin, Linda, Lorelei, Sharon

Venue: Karin's awesome house at the lake! Best venue in the history of book club.

Discussion highlights:

While the book was, as intended, a much lighter choice after reading A Little Life, many of us thought it was a little too light and didn't warrant much discussion. However, Marie really liked it because she likes happy books, and Annette liked it because it was set in Savannah and it reminded her of all the places she saw when she ran a race down there. Annette also liked the discussion of the restoration of the mansions, many of the ancillary female characters, and the story line about the neighbor and her illicit affair with the police officer. Someone liked the relationship between Cee Cee and Oletta. I liked the adventures of the traveling bra. We compared this book to other books in this genre that we've read in book club--Secret Life of Bees, The Help--and agreed that the treatment of racial issues was more superficially addressed in Saving Cee Cee. We discussed why men play a minor role in this genre but I can't remember if we concluded anything.

Marie also brought up how many families probably had an undiagnosed mentally ill parent. We compared Cee Cee's mom to the mom in Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, which was darker and more complex in its description of what mental illness looks like in a parent. I brought up that meds had only come out in the 50's and were only for the most severe cases, and the only treatment was institutionalization. Whereas now, even with something like autism, people can have a diagnosis but be much higher functioning. So in many of these books, parents were bipolar, alcoholic, etc. but no one knew what to do with them and there was no help available, so they just ended up traumatizing their kids (e.g., Tender at the Bone, Glass Castles). However, Sarah pointed out that Cee Cee was unrealistically well-adjusted, considering that her mom had just committed suicide by walking in front of an ice cream truck, she was abandoned by her dad and forced to move to the South to with a great aunt who she didn't know, and she wasn't even allowed to bring her books! She did have a minor breakdown while picking peaches, but I probably have a breakdown like that whenever I don't have tennis scheduled. But perhaps that says more about my own mental stability!

I'm not exactly sure how this came up, but we also talked about how expensive it is to be present at a Ted Talk, and Sarah gave an interesting review of a Ted Talk on how well children lie: neither parents nor observers were able to discern whether or not children were lying when they said they did not eat a cookie. So beware when a teacher says your child or grandchild did something they shouldn't have and s/he denies it!

Marie discussed how she learned to lie because in Catholic School a nun left the room and when she came back she asked if anyone talked while she was gone and Marie raised her hand and she got hit with a ruler. Lorelei agreed that nuns in Catholic school were mean and shared an anecdote of how her husband engaged in antisocial behavior in order to punish the nuns at his school. Sharon also went to Catholic School and agreed that it was terrible. We also talked about how unnatural it is to be a nun, priest, monk, etc. because many of these books highlight inappropriate sexual behavior that resulted from people in these vocations (e.g., A Little Life).

Linda brought up my conversation with her about my inner infant, and I explained the role of parental attunement in helping a child learn how to label and experience their emotions, which leads to healthy ways of regulating affect, like expressing emotions, versus things like drugs, alcohol, internet, gambling, etc. I have written several blog posts about this, and if you're interested, you can check them out at

Wow! That was actually a lot of deep conversation!

But in all honestly, mostly we ate, talked, and played in the pool. So far, Karin wins the prize for Best Book Club Meeting of the Year.

Next book:

Our next book will be For the Rest of Her Life, by Laura Moriarty, and I will be the host. It is about a teenage girl who accidentally kills another girl from her school while driving. The book is told from the mom's perspective and primarily focuses on the strained relationship she has with her daughter. I have read it and thought it was great. I think it will be interesting to compare it to Defending Jacob because it parallels that book in many ways. I also thought it was interesting that each book demonstrates how males and females cope differently with trauma. So this one may push us out of the remedial category, but we're doing pretty good with our discussions, so I think we're ready!

As a preview of what's ahead, Shea has volunteered to do the last book club meeting of the year and has chosen Queen of the Court, by Melanie Howard. I think it's written by someone locally because it references places like River's Edge. It's along the lines of Skinny Dip and is about a murder that takes place among country club tennis players.  That will take us to my goal of 6 books this year, and if we have our next meeting in September and the following meeting in November, if we're feeling really ambitious we can decide to have an end of the year holiday book party in December, and people can bring books they want to give away.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Little Life

Book: A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

Members present: Cindi, Christy, Denise, Shea, Karin, Sharon

Venue: 419 West

Discussion Highlights:

This was an ambitious book that was probably beyond the scope of our remedial book club. Nevertheless, 4 out of the 6 of us read the entire thing--which is no small task, given that it was over 700 pages. Shea and Sharon thought that it was ultimately worth it, but I felt manipulated into reading the whole thing because I wanted to know what happened to Jude and almost stopped reading it several times. And by the end I felt ripped off and concluded that the author is sadistic. I tried to do my usual summary but it was so painful to hear even the cliff notes version that Cindi wanted me to stop. If you haven't read the book because you didn't think you would like it, you were probably right.

Having said all of this, there were some positive things about it. The book is well-written. The length of the book allowed for detailed character development, and there were many characters to develop. The relationship between Willem and Jude was by far the best chapter, even though I was pissed off at the end of it. If I ever met someone like Willem in real life, I will reevaluate my stance on never getting married again. He was that loving. Most of us did not think that Willem was actually gay, but rather that he really loved Jude. The depiction of Jude's grief was particularly good in conveying how painful it is to lose the love of your life.

It was difficult to say what the point of the book was as we tried to summarize it. It's sort of like a Shakespearean tragedy in that everyone dies, but with lots of horrifying trauma described in graphic detail. Sharon could not understand how every single guy he ever met wanted to have sex with him, even as a child. We discussed how, despite the fact that Jude's adult life was filled with success and incredibly loving friends, he was never able to feel deserving of love; the damage that was done could never be undone, and his life was never a happy one. At the same time, he was brilliant and exceptional in many ways, despite his history of trauma, even though he had to rely on excessive self-harm to make life bearable. I was also struck by how well the author was able to convey the complexity of things that seem diametrically opposed but equally true. For example, Brother Luke was clearly a monstrous pedophile and pimp, yet he also taught Jude so many of the things that made him exceptional. Or how the period before his adoption, which was the thing that he had wanted his entire life, was one of the times that he was cutting himself the most because it was so difficult to tolerate something good.

We all think that the author must have had some kind of trauma, or was involved with someone who was severely traumatized, because I'm not sure how you could write this book without knowing what it's like to be that damaged. Karin asked if the book got reviews, and it turns out that the reviews were mixed. There is surprisingly little written on the author. In the book, the author description only says that she lives in New York City. In Wikipedia, it says nothing about her personal life other than that she is of Hawaiian decent, and there is no picture of her. She has another book, but I know I don't want to read it. And if this book is ever turned into a movie, I don't think any of us will go see it. Although I do wonder who they would cast as Jude, because he must have been extraordinarily good-looking.

Next book:

Karin has agreed to host our next meeting, which will be in July at her house at the lake. She has not yet picked a book out, but we all recommended that she choose something lighter and happier.