Category Archives: Great Reads

The Maureen Papers

October 26, 2021:  Apology from your Editor

Have you  had a chance to read “The Maureen Papers and Other Poems” by classmate Susan Higgins Donnell?.  It sounds wonderful, and information about it  can be found under the heading “What We Do: The Arts – Literary

This is a screw up on my part.  I apologize that clearly this is a mistake, to have included both “What We Do:  The Arts: Literary” along with another heading: “What We Do – Books, Great Reads”.  I’m hoping that by some miracle you readers are looking at both.  Aaargh.  I’ll have to revise some headings which involves a lot of other shuffling.  

I’m sure there are other categories of stuff that seem to be in the wrong place, and I would love it if you would please let me know.  As the website grew, I’m afraid the menu and tabs eventually got a bit muddled.

Please consider getting Susan’s book and let us hear from you about it.

From Dee and Allan

Dee enjoyed

  • Susan Orleans, The Library Book (LA Public Library);
  • Madeleine Miller, Circe;
  • RichardPowers, The Overstory – with Eric Rutkow American Canopy);
  • Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don’t See (Flint Water Crisis)

Allan liked

  • Diane Setterfield’s three novels:  Bellman and Black, The Thirteenths Tale (which Dee dismissed as “Gothic”), and Once Upon a River.
  • Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by the 2018 Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk,and a funny book
  •  The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine.

Another Barbara Kingsolver Winner

December, 2019, both Dottie and Judy recommend Kingsolver’s “Unsheltered”.  My apologies, Dottie, because I can’t find your recommendation.  Comments from Judy follows:

Greeting from Puerto Vallarta Mexico where it has been sunny, balmy, breezey, and a constant 75 degrees F since we arrived four days ago.  And also where I have just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered now out in paperback and recently recommended to all of us by Dottie.  
If you are a Kingsolver fan like me, you’ll want to get your hands on this one right away and join Dottie”s discussion of it offline.  It’s a “doozer” that speaks intelligently and carefully to our political divide through the eyes of a multigenerational middle class family living in one house and faced with declining fortunes and options through no fault of their own — composed of a dying conservative and angry MAGA grandfather, a moderate and concerned mother just like most of us, a charming handsome and apolitical dad, and two adult siblings, a 30ish boy looking to cash in on Wall St at the expense of everyone else, and a smart 20ish independent millennium girl with a very different view of what’s happening to the world, why, and how to deal with it.  
As if that’s not enough to digest, this whole story set in 2016 just before the election, is offset chapter for chapter by a second story of another family who lived in the same house in an equally divisive and perilous time for the country, 1870, just after the Civil War.
It’s the kind of novel so filled with ideas that I’m feeling like I should start right back on page 1 and read it all over again.  Thanks so much, Dottie, for prompting me to get a copy as soon as I read your email to the Chat.  It has changed my thinking about the future.
From your editor:  Oh my heavens, what an amazing book.  I, too, am going to read it over again.  How on earth does Barbara Kingsolver come up with these marvelous stories!   Liz Webfoot, February, 2020

The Guest Book (a Judy K must-read)

From Judy Kennedy, 7/2/19:

I’m about 2/3rds of the way through a brand new novel that I think many of you would like — THE GUEST BOOK by Sarah Blake — available as a hardcover or an audio book but not in paperback until next year.   The publisher advertises it by saying “If you’re going to read one book this summer make it this modern-day classic,” which is what caught my eye and made me buy a copy.

Remember the discussion we had several months about “special places?”   Well, if that resonated with you because your family had a summer camp or cottage on a lake (Marian) or an island (Liz) or in the mountains (me) — you’ll identify big time with this book.  A 3 generation saga focused on the three matriarchs of a once very wealthy family (grandmother/mother/daughter) who buys an island off the coast of Maine (near Vinalhaven) in the 30s with a large summer cottage on it as a family retreat, it’s really a story of the island (or such a special place) and how it bonds and divides the various family members for half a century, both keeping and sharing their deepest secrets and feelings.

The book is quite long but I’ve been relishing it because of the good descriptive writing and beautiful character development, once you sort them all out.  Like a good Russian novel, I had to keep a family tree going on a separate piece of paper at first until I got to know them and their relationships, but it was well worth the trouble.

Another book suggestion for the group – “The Which Way Tree” by Elizabeth Crook.  Told in the delightful voice of an uneducated teenager from Texas hill country in 1866.  A mixed bag of characters try to catch a panther with sometimes hilarious, sometimes disastrous results.
 — Carol Benson

Williamstown Mini-Reunion Booklist

Book List from the Williamstown weekend, October 12-14, 2018

The Overstory, Richard Powers
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
The Fire This Time, Jesmyn Ward
Sing Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward
Sapiens, a Brief History of Mankind, Yuval Noah Harari
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish
The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, Kelli Estes
The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death can Teach Us about Living Fully, Frank Ostaseski
The Art of Flourishing, Jeffrey Rubin
The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp

Judy Informs Us Again

From Judy Kennedy:  Here’s what one of our favorite authors, Chris Bohjalian, has been reading this summer.  Thought some of you might be interested in his choices.  By the way, his new novel, The Flight Attendant, is one of his best — and very timely, since it’s about Russian spying, not flying!  Thanks, Judy

Some of you have asked what I’ve been reading this summer – before the summer comes to an end.  In alphabetical order, here are some of my favorites. I can recommend them all with unfettered enthusiasm:

  • Cristina Alger, The Banker’s Wife
  • Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach
  • Megan Maclean Weir, The Book of Essie
  • Stephen King, The Outsider
  • Ann Mah, The Lost Vintage
  • Paula McLain, Love and Ruins
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

I’m currently reading (and loving):

  • Megan Abbot, Give Me Your Hand
  • Jodi Picoult, A Spark of Light

Editor’s note:  Another Louise Penny from Mette Lian on 11/11/18:  “Kingdom of the Blind“.  I guess I’m going to have to start with her first book and get reading!  I’m busy reading “Sapiens” which is both astonishing and fascinating.   

Louise Penny

From Freya Olafson and Judy Kennedy:  THE SATURDAY PROFILE

An Affable Canadian Author With a Penchant for Murder

From Dee, July 25, 2018:  I’ve also been reading Louise Penny books, and just thought about the Eastern Townships she writes about.  We drove to Montreal through some of them in May, and stopped for lunch in Frelighsbourg,certainly bigger than Three Pines, but we ate lunch in a delightful Bistro – Aux deux clochers – that seemed like an inspiration for the Bistro in the Louise Penny books – a charming restaurant with a patio over a brook, and a regular clientele, mostly speaking French, who came in to share lunch with each other. It certainly had the aura of Three Pines, if not the bucolic setting!

Judy Kennedy, March ’18

My guess is that most of us know and love someone with mental health issues — and we all have suffered with them and because of them.  If you want to look into a mirror and see the dynamics of that relationship clearly — your very own relationship perhaps, certainly mine for over twenty years —  read THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER by Laurel Davis Huber, published last year by She Writes Press.  Huber the author is a Smith graduate and it shows in her beautiful writing and emotional openness on a subject that deserves more discussion and understanding.

The book is a “fictionalized memoir” of Margery Williams Bianco, the author of one of the most beloved children’s books of all times, THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, and her daughter Pamela Bianco, a world-renowned child prodigy artist who struggles with severe depression and the symptoms of what we now call Bi-Polar Disease or one of the many other such diseases with similar symptoms and results.  In addition, what hooked me on the book was this tag line from it’s promotion which delivered big time on its promise:  “It is also a fascinating look at the glamorous art world of Europe and New York in the early twentieth century with a supporting cast of luminaries including Eugene O’Neill, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney who provide a vivid backdrop to this multifaceted, illuminating story of art, family, and the consequences of genius touched by madness.”

It’s surely one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time — and we were fortunate enough to have the author join our book club discussion last month which was fascinating and insightful.  She and her husband split their time between New Jersey and Maine.  We caught her when she was up north but she is available as a speaker elsewhere and seems to enjoy it.  

Book List from Rocki

Know we have avid readers in our group. Found this on LitHub. Other “state” choices?  –Rocki Hill Hughes  

Jan ’18 Book Posts

From Judy Kennedy:  Read a lot of good books while south of Trump’s wall, the best of which was MSNBC’s Chris Mathews’ new biography of BOBBY KENNEDY.  The good news is that it made me feel a tad better  — but only a tad — about the current political situation in Washington DC.  We’ve lived through very troubling, difficult times before as this book reminds, and survived.  Yet that’s the bad news too, as we don’t seem to learn much from our past experiences.

From Dee:  I loved A Gentleman in Moscow last summer (really delightful book about a count who is sentenced to house arrest in the poshest hotel in Moscow in the 1920s, and his life there), and right now am reading books for our upcoming Literary Women authors festival – so far, I liked To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey (Alaska expedition in the 19th century),  History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund, and Rise of the Rocket Girls, about the women computers at the Jet Propulsion Lab, and their role in space exploration.  

From Rocki:  One of my book groups is about to discuss The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore, an (ahem) ‘electrifying’ account of the battle between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison to take credit for inventing the lightbulb and controlling its future.  Nicola Tesla is a key eccentric character.  Very readable!

From Betsy:  We are discussing The Little Paris Book Shop, which is a great book..especially if you love France!