Summertime, and the Reading Is Excellent

Ann@BooksontheTable:

I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I’d share a post from one of my favorite blogs, Musing: A Laid-Back Lit Journal. Musing is the brainchild of author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett and her staff at Parnassus Books in Nashville. I’m always happy when I see a new post from Musings in my in-box!

Originally posted on musing:

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Summer is a great season to be a bibliophile, because it’s considered a totally normal activity to sit in a beach/pool/lawn/whatever chair and plow through books one after the other. (Speaking of which, check out Zadie Smith’s fantastic What It Means to Be Addicted to Reading: “The beach is one of the few places pathological readers can pass undetected among their civilian cousins.”) In addition to Ann’s current favorites, here’s what our staff is reading and loving right now.

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WWW Wednesday — Mother/Daughter Version

This week, I’m joining in a weekly event hosted by another blog, Should Be Reading. The questions asked every Wednesday are:

What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you plan to read next?

IMG_0742I’m on vacation in New Hampshire, at my mother’s summer house on Lake Sunapee. We had family members coming and going for the past few days, but now it’s quiet . . . so quiet that a pair of loons swam right past our dock late yesterday afternoon.

Here’s what we are currently reading:

I’m reading The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day. It’s a debut mystery novel by a Chicago writer, set at a university very much like Northwestern. Sociology professor Amelia Emmet thought violence was a research topic, not a personal issue — until she was shot by a student.

My mother is reading Heather Gudenkauf’s page-turner, Little Mercies, the story of a veteran social worker and devoted mother who makes a horrible mistake. Gudenkauf says she’s not sure how to categorize her books: “Are they literary mysteries, thrillers, or emotional family dramas? My hope is that they are all of these!”

coverThe last book I finished was The Arsonist, by Sue Miller — one of my favorite authors. It turned out to be quite appropriate, since it’s set in a small New Hampshire town. The novel centers on Frankie, a burned-out relief worker who’s returned home from Africa to spend time with her aging parents while she figures out what to do with the rest of her life. Almost as soon as Frankie arrives, an arsonist begins destroying the homes of summer residents. The most compelling part of the book for me was the portrayal of Frankie’s mother trying to cope with her husband, a retired professor slipping into dementia.

My mother has outread me on this vacation (I don’t think “outread” is a real word, but I’m going to pretend that it is.) She’s just read — and recommends —  I Can’t Complain, a book of essays by Elinor Lipman, Restless, a terrific espionage novel by William Boyd, and We Are Water, Wally Lamb’s latest. Maybe I’ll have to try We Are Water again — when I first tried reading it, I couldn’t get into it.

0814-9781460330197-bigwWhat’s next? I thought I had brought Chris Bohjalian’s new book, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, in my bag, because my mother wanted to read it — but it’s gone AWOL, so we may have to make a trip to the local bookstore to pick up a copy. I think the next book in her pile is an ARC of Mary Kubica’s debut suspense novel The Good Girl. (I was lucky enough to meet Mary at a publisher dinner earlier this year. The book has been getting a lot of buzz, including being chosen as an Indie Next Pick for August. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Mary at an author event in Lake Forest on August 20.)

I’m planning on reading Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore ( a family story set in a summer retreat in Vermont, recommended by my most trusted source, Sue Boucher) and No Longer and Not Yet, by Joanna Clapps Hermann (a collection of stories that take place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).

We’d love to hear what you’ve just read, what you’re reading now, and what you’re planning to read next!

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Endangered — Book Review

The cover of Endangered doesn’t do it justice. It makes the book look like a middle-grade or YA novel, which it is not –although it would make great reading for high school students. Endangered is a legal thriller that tells the “ripped from the headlines” story of Malik Williams, a 15-year-old African-American boy in Philadelphia who is arrested for a murder he didn’t commit.

Malik’s story is told through the perspective of his mother, Janae. When a human rights Endangeredorganization, headed by skilled attorney Roger Whitford, offers to take on Malik’s case at no charge, Janae is dubious. Is her son really part of an “endangered species”, as Roger claims?

“Wait! Endangered? I’m not following you. How will Malik get out of jail? How is this going to help my son? I haven’t even seen him . . . The dan-ger, the real danger, is in him being in jail, which is not where he belongs.”

The author, Jean Love Cush, is a journalist and an attorney. A native of Philadelphia, she started her career at the District Attorney’s office there. Then she joined Legal Aid as a family law attorney, helping battered women escape domestic violence. She also hosted a weekly current affairs radio show, “A View From the Summit”, which led her to investigate gun violence in the inner city and the impact on black boys:

What I learned was devastating. It inspired me to write a story exploring violence, race and the criminal justice system from the perspective of an African-American mother. This turned into my novel Endangered . . .

I read Endangered in just a couple of sittings, anxious to know if Malik would be exonerated and if the real murderer would be found. The plot is well-constructed, with plenty of tension and some twists and turns. The legal complexities of the case fascinated me — particularly the issue of juvenile offenders being tried as adults. Clearly, Jean Love Cush knows Philadelphia and she knows Pennsylvania law. I get frustrated with legal mysteries (like Scott Turow’s) that take place in fictional locations. Setting the story in a real place gives the book an extra dose of reality. William Landay successfully did this in Defending Jacob, one of my favorite recent legal thrillers, and Cush brings Philadelphia and its court system to life in the same way.

As a mother, I identified with Janae — her deep love for her son, as well as her pain and frustration. Any mother, when faced with a child in trouble, would second-guess her own culpability, as Janae does:

I keep replaying the past fifteen years in my head, about how I’ve been raising Malik. I’ve been living my life in a dark haze, drifting aimlessly with Malik in tow. Before his arrest, I was so preoccupied with trying to provide for his basic needs that I neglected the most important things . . .I just want him to be a strong man, a good man.

Cush’s portrayal of Roger Whitford is particularly strong. He is blunt, brilliant, and a bit mysterious. What are his motivations for running CPHR (Center for the Protection of Human Rights) and taking Malik’s case? Cush gradually reveals Whitford’s character and background, eventually drawing a portrait of a complex man.

Calvin Moore, the African-American attorney who made it out of the inner city to join a white-shoe Philadelphia law firm, was less interesting to me. He seems like more of a stock character — the success story who ignores the plight of his own community. When  first asked to take the case, he says, “‘I get it that black boys are in trouble. I lived it. I still live it. But I would like to believe that a lot of the trouble, at least now, is self-inflicted’”.  Later, Calvin changes his opinion . . . which may or may to have something to do with his feelings for Janae.

The voice that is missing from Endangered is Malik’s. Obviously, Cush’s intention was to tell Malik’s story from the point of view of the adults surrounding him — but I would have liked to have heard about Malik’s ordeal from his perspective. Perhaps Cush structured the novel in this way because Malik is meant to stand for all black boys who are treated unfairly by the legal system? But I wanted to know more about Malik as an individual.

The novel clearly was meant to be more than a page-turner. It was intended to make a point — that our justice system is unfair to black youth– and it successfully makes that point. But is that what fiction should do? Endangered seems a little heavy-handed and polemical to me. It is definitely an “issue” novel as much as it is a legal thriller. There are, of course, many well-regarded novels that focus on social problems — The Jungle, Sister Carrie, The Grapes of Wrath,Native Son, to name just a few — and scholars have always argued about the relationship of literature to social issues.

I’ve read several outstanding nonfiction books about African-American single mothers trying to raise sons in difficult environments. I  highly recommend A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. They are filled with real-life Janaes and Maliks.

I reviewed Endangered for TLC Book Tours. Please check out the other stops on the tour!

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The Tilted World — Book Review

9780062069184When Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin visited our store last fall as part of their tour for The Tilted World, I mentioned in my introduction that they were the first husband-wife writing team we’d ever hosted. In fact, they were the first writing team we had ever hosted. Sure, we’ve organized events for pairs of authors and illustrators. But two people who collaborated on a novel? That was a first.

Not many novels have been written by co-authors, and very few by co-authors who are married to each other. The only work of fiction I could think of that was written by a married couple is The Crown of Columbus by Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich. A little Internet research showed me that I am hopelessly out of touch and that there are a number of couples writing fiction together. Many of them combine their names and write under a shared pseudonym: Nicci Gerrard and Sean French write crime fiction under the name “Nicci French”; Alexandra Coelho and Alexander Ahndoril write novels together as “Lars Kepler”; and Michael Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio are “Michael Gregorio” in the literary world.

Swedish authors Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who wrote a series of ten police procedurals about detective Martin Beck in the 1960s and 1970s and are considered the forerunners to Stieg Larsson, are common-law spouses. Maybe that’s why they didn’t come up with a joint pen name?

These collaborative novels all have one thing in common: they are plot-driven and suspenseful. The Tilted World is no exception. The book grabbed me from the first page, when the protagonist, bootlegger Dixie Clay Holliver, finds what she believes to be a baby’s coffin in the swollen creek near her home in rural Mississippi. The stream was called “Gawiwatchee” (“Place Where the World Tilts”) by the Indians — “or so Jesse’d said”. Jesse, Dixie Clay’s husband, is not known for his honesty.

Dixie Clay is a bit of a stock Southern female character — she’s plucky and determined, doing what needs to be done in the face of hardship. Remember Scarlett O’Hara? She saves her husband from two  federal revenue agents who are investigating the moonshine operation:

Now she aimed the Winchester . . . She remembered the years of hunting alongside her father, remembered shooting a panther out of a pin oak. She visualized that shot, and visualized this one. She squeezed the trigger. The pie plate rang and danced  on its cord and the birdseed exploded, then bounced on the floor and rolled still. She used the diversion to scuttle behind the sassafras, the last shelter before the downhill slide to the front gallery forty feet away.

I found myself more interested in Dixie Clay’s nemesis and eventual love interest, Prohibition agent Teddy Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s history as an orphan and World War I soldier brings texture to his character. Jesse, and his girlfriend, Jeannette, are villains through and through. Jesse has one blue eye and one green eye, hinting that he has two sides to his personality: one charming and smooth-talking, the other ugly and violent.

Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin reading, October 2013

Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin reading, October 2013

The Tilted World takes place in 1927, during Prohibition and the Great Flood that decimated the South. In the authors’ note at the beginning of the book, Fennelly and Franklin comment that the flood, “largely forgotten today . . .  is considered by many to be the worst natural disaster our country has endured.” Certain disasters — the sinking of the Titanic, the Chicago fire, the San Francisco earthquake — have taken hold of the popular imagination, while others — the Peshtigo fire, the sinking of the Eastland in Lake Michigan, the Galveston hurricane — have become footnotes to history. It’s interesting to contemplate why that is. In the book’s acknowledgments, Fennelly and Franklin cite John M. Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America “as an amazing work of research and journalism, to which our novel is indebted”. I’m adding it to my reading list.

Revenue agents, bootleggers, murderers, and abandoned babies, all set against the background of a flood of Biblical proportions, create a dramatic page-turner filled with tension. It’s also a literary novel, filled with enough religious imagery and symbolism to satisfy this aging English major.  The Tilted World, like all the best historical fiction, leaves the reader with the gratifying feeling of having learned something new about a particular time and place. The novel also places the flood in context, showing how this massive disaster would shape American politics and race relations in the 20th century.

Fennelly and Franklin are both enormously talented writers.They met as MFA students at the University of Arkansas, and, says Franklin, “We both teach in the Ole Miss MFA program, which Beth Ann also directs. In other words, she’s my boss.” Franklin has written several other novels and a collection of short stories, all set in his native Deep South; Fennelly, a Northerner, is the author of three poetry collections and a nonfiction book, Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother.  Franklin’s evocation of the Southern atmosphere and Fennelly’s poetic depiction of maternal love combine beautifully in The Tilted World.

The authors with Beth Ann Fennelly's proud mother!

The authors with Beth Ann Fennelly’s proud mother!

How did Fennelly and Franklin write the book? Did they write alternating chapters, or did they actually sit and write together? When we hosted our reading with the two authors, that was the first question that was asked in the Q and A session. In an essay that’s reprinted in the paperback version of The Tilted World, Fennelly addresses this question at length. The short answer is: they did both. They started out with Tom writing from the point of view of Ted Ingersoll and Beth Ann writing from the point of view of Dixie Clay. But things changed:

One day, Tommy out of town, I realized I couldn’t push further with Dixie Clay until I knew what Ingersoll was up to. I wrote an Ingersoll scene, and it was liberating to give myself permission to get to know this character, too. Thereafter, we started mucking things about in each other’s pages, coloring outside the lines . . . And then we took our collaborating further, because we began crafting scenes together, kneecap to kneecap in my tiny office, talking and writing together, stringing words into sentences. That’s when the novel really started cooking– and finally became fun to write — when we adopted the method we called “dueling laptops”, writing side by side on the same passages at the same time, then reading aloud and discussing and jointly moving forward.

Will Fennelly and Franklin collaborate on a novel again — perhaps a sequel? I want to know more about Dixie Clay’s father. And maybe this time Fennelly’s name will come first, since she is her husband’s boss . . .

To read more reviews of The Tilted World, check out the stops on TLC Book Tours.

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A Replacement Life — Book Review

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Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.
Albert Camus

Slava Gelman, the protagonist of Boris Fishman’s brilliant debut novel, is a junior staff member at “Century” magazine. He hopes one day to be published in the magazine: “Only a byline in the New Yorker meant as much. Entire book contracts were given out on the basis of a byline in Century.” A Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union, Slava has distanced himself from his family. He rarely ventures to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn, preferring his spartan studio in the Upper East Side. Slava believes that if he is to achieve his dream of becoming a successful American journalist, he must exile himself to Manhattan:

But if Slava wished to become an American, to strip from his writing the pollution that repossessed it every time he returned to the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn, if Slava Gelman — immigrant, baby barbarian, the forking road spread-eagled before him — wished to write for Century, he would have to get away. Dialyze himself, like Grandmother’s kidneys.

A journalist is just another kind of storyteller, and, ironically, Slava finds that the stories he tells best are the stories of his fellow immigrants. His grandfather shows Slava a letter to Grandmother from “The Conference on Material Claims Against Germany”, offering restitution to Holocaust victims. Slava’s deceased grandmother was indeed a victim, having survived the Minsk Ghetto. Grandfather, despite having escaped German persecution as defined in the official letter (“ghettos, forced labor, concentration camps”), feels entitled to restitution and cannot understand why his grandson’s moral scruples prevent him from immediately agreeing to submit a false claim.

Grandfather has survived and prospered, in the Soviet Union and in the United States, because of his ability to outwit the system. One of his fellow refugees explains to Slava that Grandfather “‘got what needed to be got”, whether it was round-the-clock home nurses from the City of New York for his wife or house calls from Soviet doctors for his daughter. He was able to get his family out of the Soviet Union and to the United States only by lying: “At every step, everyone had lied about everything so the one truth at the heart of it all — that abused people might flee the place of abuse — could be told.”

A Replacement Life examines the relationship between truth and fiction. As Boris Fishman says in his author’s note, “The line between fact and fiction, invention and theft, is as loose as the line between truth and justice.” As Slava forges more and more “tales of woe and deceit” for Grandfather’s associates, he begins to forget what’s fact and what’s fiction. And, he wonders, does it matter? The power of the stories he’s writing intoxicates him: “He was a middleman, a loan shark, an alchemist — he turned lies into facts, words into money, silence into knowledge at last.” The stories he fabricates help him understand his family, his culture, and himself more deeply. Before he began forging restitution claims, Slava tried desperately to write articles that would appeal to the editors of Century. All are rejected, and Slava doesn’t understand why. He doesn’t really become a writer until he begins writing with passion, seeking justice for Soviet émigrés.

Slava is confronted with many moral dilemmas in the course of the novel, just as his grandparents had to make difficult choices during World War II and afterwards. Informants, falsified documents, government bureaucrats, the black market, the exchange of valuable information . . . all these things existed in the Soviet Union, and they still exist in Slava’s world. The novel asks us to consider the ways that circumstances shape us. In a conversation with his girlfriend, who is a fact-checker at Century, Slava says, “‘I can imagine myself as the person who’s forging. But I can also imagine myself as the person who turns in the forger. How can that be?’” The answer, the reader supposes, is that like Grandfather, most people do what they need to do to survive.

The novel is thought-provoking, full of wit and humor, and provides great material for a book club discussion. I usually take blurbs with a grain of salt, but Walter Kirn’s summarizes the book very well:

Buy this book for the story, but read it for the character of Grandfather, a fearless, exasperating, tormented, and singular creation. I wouldn’t want to meet him in an alley, but I could have read another book about him. A Replacement Life is that rare thing: a novel that asks the big questions, embedded in a page-turner haunted by characters that walk off the page.

To read more reviews of The Replacement Life, check out the stops on TLC Book Tours. Also, the New York Times recently gave the novel an excellent review — but be warned, the review contains spoilers. Visit Boris Fishman’s website to learn more about the author. He has several readings scheduled in New York this summer and fall.

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Literary Giveaway Blog Hop — Girls’ Edition

Because it’s finally summer . . . and it’s Saturday . . . and Books on the Table has never participated in something like this before . . . please join the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop!

I’m offering giveaways of two books: Hemingway’s Girl, by Erika Robuck, and The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica. (Hemingway’s Girl is a published paperback and The Good Girl is an ARC, due to be published in July.) What’s the connection? They both have the word “girl” in the title and they’re both terrific summer reading. And several critics have compared The Good Girl to another “girl” book — Gone Girl.

Reviews from Publishers Weekly:

0814-9780778316558-bigwAt the outset of Kubica’s powerful debut, free-spirited 24-year-old Mia Dennett, an art teacher at an alternative high school and a member of a well-heeled, well-connected Chicago family, goes missing. As puzzling as Mia’s presumed kidnapping initially appears, things turn infinitely stranger after her eventual return, seemingly with no memory of what happened to her or, indeed, of her identity as Mia. Key characters share the narrative in chapters labeled either “Before” or “After,” allowing the reader to join shattered mother Eve and sympathetic Det. Gabe Hoffman on their treacherous journey to solve the mystery and truly save Mia. Almost nothing turns out as expected, which, along with the novel’s structure and deep Midwestern roots, will encourage comparisons to Gone Girl. Unlike that dazzling duel between what prove to be a pair of sociopaths, this Girl has heart—which makes it all the more devastating when the author breaks it.

9780451467515MRobuck drops the fictional 19-year-old Mariella Bennet into the life of Ernest Hemingway in her richly realized newest (after Receive Me Falling), set in Depression-era Key West, Fla. Mariella’s father has just died. In order to raise money to care for her mother and sisters, Mariella bets on a boxing match refereed by Hemingway. Though she loses the bet, Mariella befriends the famous writer and is hired as a housemaid for Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline. Soon after, Mariella and Papa Hemingway attend another bout where one of the fighters, WWI veteran and Overseas Highway worker Gavin Murray, becomes smitten with Mariella. As she struggles to balance her fascination with the Hemingways’ glamorous life and the prospect of settling down with Gavin, an enormous hurricane careens toward the Keys. As the winds pick up and the rains fall down, tensions rise and Mariella must choose which way to run. Robuck brings Key West to life, and her Hemingway is fully fleshed out and believable, as are Mariella and others. Readers will delight in the complex relationships and vivid setting.

How it works:

  • You can enter for one or both of the books. To enter, leave a comment or email me at bksonthetable@gmail.com.
  • The giveaway is eligible to followers of Books on the Table in the United States.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly on June 25 and notified by email.
  • There are over 30 other blogs participating in the blog hop and they are offering some great giveaways, so check them out!

Link List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Misfortune of Knowing
  3. Bibliosue
  4. Too Fond
  5. Under a Gray Sky
  6. Read Her Like an Open Book (US)
  7. My Devotional Thoughts
  8. WildmooBooks
  9. Guiltless Reading
  10. Fourth Street Review
  11. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  12. Word by Word
  13. Words And Peace (US)
  14. Ciska’s Book Chest
  15. Falling Letters
  16. Roof Beam Reader
  17. Readerbuzz
  18. The Relentless Reader (US)
  19. Mom’s Small Victories (US)
  20. Daily Mayo (US)
  1. The Emerald City Book Review (US)
  2. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
  3. Lost Generation Reader
  4. Booklover Book Reviews
  5. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  6. River City Reading (US)
  7. Books Speak Volumes
  8. Words for Worms
  9. Wensend
  10. Bibliophile’s Retreat
  11. Readers’ Oasis
  12. The Book Musings
  13. My Book Retreat (N. Am.)
  14. Books on the Table (US)

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Book Club Spotlight — The Breakfast Club

9780143124726MMany years ago, some friends and I started meeting for breakfast whenever one of our birthdays rolled around. We were all busy mothers of grade school children, with jobs and volunteer commitments, and breakfast fit nicely into our schedules. We crowded into booths at our local version of a diner, Egg Harbor, and exchanged funny cards and little gifts. As our children got older and our homes became neater, we started getting together at each other’s houses, serving bacon, eggs, and pancakes along with endless cups of coffee. We also started meeting when it wasn’t even anyone’s birthday. We even went out for dinner a few times — but never lunch. The Breakfast Club does not do lunch.

At one of these get-togethers, we talked about starting a book club. Along with families, work, vacation plans, community goings-on, and home renovations, we always end up talking about books and movies. So we decided our club would not be an ordinary book club; it would have a twist. We would read books that were related to movies, and then we’d watch the movies together.  Here’s my original email sales pitch to the group:

A friend in Winnetka belongs to a movie/book club. They choose a movie that’s based on a book, and everyone has a choice: either read the book and see the movie, just read the book, or just see the movie. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes they go to the movie as a group (as many of them as possible) or watch the movie together at someone’s house, or sometimes they all end up going separately. Their recent choice was The Book Thief. We could do Philomena or Monuments Men — both based on books. Or we could read a book that is related to the movie — for example, Dallas Buyers Club isn’t based on a book, but it would pair with Abraham Verghese’s My Own Country (about treating AIDS patients). I just checked the movie releases for this month and there’s one due out at the end of the month called Nymphomaniac Part I. Not sure if it’s based on a book (?!)the-lost-child-of-philomena-lee-978033051836902

As anyone knows who’s tried to organize a book club, choosing the book is the most difficult task. I won’t bore you with the details of the decision-making process, but I will tell you that the email chain was very long. (That might be because the discussion also involved choosing a date for our inaugural meeting.) There are seven of us, all with full schedules and strong opinions.

Finally, we chose a book/movie AND a date/willing hostess. Despite one member’s wish to avoid anything sad or depressing, we picked Philomena. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but somehow we convinced her it wasn’t that sad.  Philomena is the true story of an Irish girl whose family abandons her to cruel nuns when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock.  The nuns force her to give her child up for adoption and prevent her from ever seeing him again, or even knowing if he is all right. (Honestly, you couldn’t come up with a more sad story than that.) It was a great choice and inspired an interesting discussion (and a few tears).  Our discussion centered on the completely different perspectives of the book and the film. The book focuses on the life of Philomena’s son, Michael Hess — as an adoptee, closeted gay man, and Republican political advisor. Philomena herself is peripheral to the book (originally titled The Lost Child of Philomena Lee), which was written by a British journalist, Martin Sixsmith. The movie, on the other hand, is Philomena’s story — and Martin Sixsmith’s.

9780142424179MBuoyed by the success of our first meeting, we chose another book/movie combination – The Fault In Our Stars. If anything is more tragic than a young woman forced to relinquish her beloved son, it’s two teenagers with terminal cancer. Our group loved John Green’s beautiful novel, and was anxious to see the screen adaptation. One of my favorite aspects of the book is Hazel’s obsession with a novel:

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.

In the case of The Fault In Our Stars, the screenplay remains almost completely faithful to the book. It didn’t occur to most of us that we would be the only “mature” women in the theater, surrounded by groups of lovesick teenage girls, alternately giggling and crying. (One girl behind us said, “He’s so cute! He’s so cute!” almost every time teen heartthrob Ansel Elgort appeared on screen.) The youthful audience applauded when Hazel and Gus exchanged their first kiss, and got out of their seats many, many times for trips to the snack bar and restroom. I was so distracted that I did not need the Kleenex that my friends thoughtfully passed my way.

One of the things we discussed over dinner, after the movie, was whether movie versions of books are ever better than the books. I said I thought there were quite a few, but I could only come up with one example on the spot — Sarah’s Key. Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on it, I’ve thought of some more: The Devil Wears Prada . . . The Shawshank Redemption . . . Mystic River.  I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that came to mind. We are looking forward to seeing the movie Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, this fall. I liked the book, but wasn’t wild about it (sorry! couldn’t resist); will the movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, be superior? Now, we need to make a choice for our summer get-together. Two that sound good to me are Tracks and The Hundred-Foot Journey.  Suggestions are welcome!

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