Book Club

The Sellout

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Summary:

A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality - the black Chinese restaurant.

Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens - on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles - the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. 

Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident - the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins - he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This is a book that were I in a different point in life I probably would have gritted my teeth and finished it up.  I gave the book 100 pages and then called it an abandonment.  While I don’t think I disliked the book as much as some people, I did find the book extremely repetitive and very clear that the main themes were going to be visited and revisited.  Although there were some clever twists and satire mixed in, I just dreaded going back to the book and ultimately decided the fact that it won the Booker award wasn’t reason enough to stick with it.

Another difficulty was choosing to read this book with a highly international book club.  Many of the American references were lost on them and style of writing made it incredibly difficult to explain.  I find that another strike against the book as I generally think of books as something accessible to everyone.

Warning: Contains repeated violence.

Rating: 1 stars!

Who should read it? Folks interested in finding out what all the fuss is about and willing to go in for the long haul.

A Man Called Ove

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Summary:

In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness.  So, when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” and “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand”, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This is a book that made me laugh as much as it made me cry.  There are so many things that Ove presents so very matter-of-fact that does make you wonder why things are simpler in life.  The book overall is a bit gloomy, but not in a depressing way.  Instead, the tone of the book is set my Ove himself and he tends to be a bit of a cynic. 

In book club, we all had trouble articulating just why we loved the book so much and I think it’s because we all identified with different aspects of the characters.  Although overall about Ove, the book is also about transitions in life and how people adapt to the challenges they’re presented with.  This was one of the few books that had me staying up extremely past my bedtime to finish and I’d highly recommend to anyone.

Warning: Contains violence, references to suicide and will make you cry.

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone who can appreciate a cranky old man in their life.

When Breath Becomes Air

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Summary:

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. 

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. 

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," he wrote. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'" “When Breath Becomes Air” is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This was a book that reminded me a lot of “The Opposite of Loneliness” where I was overly-aware that my perception of the book was influenced the knowledge that the author was going to die by the end.  That being said, I found this book incredibly poignant and a fantastic reminder of what are the most important things in life.  Thought you can’t live every day like it’s your last (contrary to the saying), the book is a good grounding in what is most important in life.

This was a book that I finished in three sit downs because despite my best intentions, it was one I couldn’t put down and I was desperate to know what happened.  While unsettling, it’s also fascinating to hear what other people do when they know that their time is soon to run out.  Though it left me in tears, it’s a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life!

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Summary:

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant “New York Times” bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

I really wanted to like this one, but I just couldn’t get into the storyline.  I adored “seeing” things through Marie-Laure’s perspective initially however and I was very interested in how she handled things as far as navigating the city.  Werner also had aspects that I found intriguing and I was curious how they were going to meet up.  The jumping storylines and back and forth in time didn’t work for me and I just found myself frustrated rather than enjoying that style.

I also found that the descriptions of things started to drag on me rather than enhancing the story.  After dragging myself through the “future” a few rounds I gave up around 150 pages.  This may be one that I go back to down the line to give another shot, but in the short term it’s a “did not finish”.

Warning: Contains violence.

Rating: 1 stars!

Who should read it? World War II enthusiasts and folks who want to know what the fuss is about.