Monday, January 12, 2009

Waterford Book Club

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Book List 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audry Niffenegger
January 28

This clever and inventive tale works on three levels: as an intriguing science fiction concept, a realistic character study and a touching love story. Henry De Tamble is a Chicago librarian with "Chrono Displacement" disorder; at random times, he suddenly disappears without warning and finds himself in the past or future, usually at a time or place of importance in his life. This leads to some wonderful paradoxes. From his point of view, he first met his wife, Clare, when he was 28 and she was 20. She ran up to him exclaiming that she'd known him all her life. He, however, had never seen her before. But when he reaches his 40s, already married to Clare, he suddenly finds himself time travelling to Clare's childhood and meeting her as a 6-year-old. The book alternates between Henry and Clare's points of view, and so does the narration. Reed ably expresses the longing of the one always left behind, the frustrations of their unusual lifestyle, and above all, her overriding love for Henry. Likewise, Burns evokes the fear of a man who never knows where or when he'll turn up, and his gratitude at having Clare, whose love is his anchor. The expressive, evocative performances of both actors convey the protagonists' intense relationship, their personal quirks and their reminiscences, making this a fascinating audio.

Lincoln, a Photobiography
by Russell Freedman
February 25

This work is perhaps the most complete and enjoyable children's book ever written about one of the nation's most fascinating and important figures, Abraham Lincoln. Russell Freedman covers Lincoln's life and career in a balanced treatment that is enhanced by period photographs and drawings. The book won the Newbery Medal, the Jefferson Cup Award and the Golden Kite Honor Book Award, and earned a citation as School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

Family Tree
by Barbara Dellinsky
March 25

When Dana and Hugh Clarke's baby is born into their wealthy, white New England seaside community, the baby's unmistakably African-American features puzzle her thoroughly Anglo-looking parents. Hugh's family pedigree extends back to the Mayflower, and his historian father has made a career of tracing the esteemed Clarke family genealogy, which does not include African-Americans. Dana's mother died when Dana was a child, and Dana never knew her father: she matter-of-factly figures that baby Lizzie's features must hark back to her little-known past. Hugh, a lawyer who has always passionately defended his minority clients, finds his liberal beliefs don't run very deep and demands a paternity test to rule out the possibility of infidelity. By the time the Clarkes have uncovered the tangled roots of their family trees, more than one skeleton has been unearthed, and the couple's relationship not to mention their family loyaltyhas been severely tested.

Julie & Julia
by Julie Powell
April 29

Julie & Julia is the story of Julie Powell's attempt to revitalize her marriage, restore her ambition, and save her soul by cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, in a period of 365 days. The result is a masterful medley of Bridget Jones' Diary meets Like Water for Chocolate, mixed with a healthy dose of original wit, warmth, and inspiration that sets this memoir apart from most tales of personal redemption.

The Other Boleyn Girl:
A Novel by Phillippa Gregory
May 27

Sisterly rivalry is the basis of this fresh, wonderfully vivid retelling of the story of Anne Boleyn. Anne, her sister Mary and their brother George are all brought to the king's court at a young age, as players in their uncle's plans to advance the family's fortunes. Mary, the sweet, blond sister, wins King Henry VIII's favor when she is barely 14 and already married to one of his courtiers. Their affair lasts several years, and she gives Henry a daughter and a son. But her dark, clever, scheming sister, Anne, insinuates herself into Henry's graces, styling herself as his adviser and confidant. Soon she displaces Mary as his lover and begins her machinations to rid him of his wife, Katherine of Aragon. This is only the beginning of the intrigue that Gregory so handily chronicles, capturing beautifully the mingled hate and nearly incestuous love Anne, Mary and George ("kin and enemies all at once") feel for each other and the toll their family's ambition takes on them. Mary, the story's narrator, is the most sympathetic of the siblings, but even she is twisted by the demands of power and status; charming George, an able plotter, finally brings disaster on his own head by falling in love with a male courtier. Anne, most tormented of all, is ruthless in her drive to become queen, and then to give Henry a male heir. Rather than settling for a picturesque rendering of court life, Gregory conveys its claustrophobic, all-consuming nature with consummate skill. In the end, Anne's famous, tragic end is offset by Mary's happier fate, but the self-defeating folly of the quest for power lingers longest in the reader's mind.

Dairy Queen: A Novel
by Catherin Gilbert Murdock
June 24

D. J.'s family members don't talk much, especially about the fact that 15-year-old D. J. does all the heavy work on their Wisconsin dairy farm since her father broke his hip and her two older brothers left for college. Nor do they talk about why D. J.'s mom, a teacher, is so busy filling in for the middle-school principal that she's never home. And they never, ever discuss the reason why her brothers haven't called home for more than six months. So when D. J. decides to try out for the Red Bend football team, even though she's been secretly training (and falling for) Brian Nelson, the cute quarterback from Hawley, Red Bend's rival, she becomes the talk of the town. Suddenly, her family has quite a bit to say.

Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Co.: A Road Novel with Literary License
by Maria Amparo Escandon
July 29

Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co is a fascinating story of womanhood, crime and punishment and ultimately "libertad." The story is set in a Mexicali Women's prison where Libertad has started a reading club with the other women inmates. What they don't know is that through her read alouds she is actually telling the story of her childhood and how she came to be an inmate.

While the Locust Slept
by Peter Razor
August 26

IA stirring tale of a Native American childhood, this debut draws on personal memories and official records to track Razor's painful yet triumphant years as a ward of the state of Minnesota. Abandoned by a jobless, alcoholic Chippewa father and an emotionally troubled, institutionalized mother in 1930, Razor was taken at 17 months to the State Public School at Owatonna, which he describes as a rigid, Spartan institution, where he awaited an adoption that never happened. At 15, having endured prejudice, isolation, neglect and terrible physical abuse by the staff, he was sent to work for a local farmer named John. Via a series of detailed flashbacks, Razor recounts his oppressive relationship with his new employer in spare prose loaded with feeling and insight. John's cruel treatment of Razor and of John's own wife, only stiffens the orphan's will. Meanwhile, at school, a savage hammer attack by one of the staff leaves Peter seriously injured and unable to attend classes or work for weeks. Upon returning to school, Razor finds new friends and experiences in the local high school, recounted with great energy and humor. But his situation on John's farm worsens, and eventually he's removed. While the book's conclusion is credible, it rushes toward a feel-good finish that does not live up to the power and grit of the early chapters. The epilogue of this valuable coming of age story sketches Razor's adult livelihood as a journeyman electrician, his decision to investigate his reviled Native heritage and the three children who have enriched his life. National advertising; regional author appearances.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer
September 24

The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate and not-so-articulate neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving that one forgives the authors (Shaffer died earlier this year) for not being able to settle on a single person or plot. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life as will readers.

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
October 28

Violence, in McCarthy's postapocalyptic tour de force, has been visited worldwide in the form of a "long shear of light and then a series of low concussions" that leaves cities and forests burned, birds and fish dead and the earth shrouded in gray clouds of ash. In this landscape, an unnamed man and his young son journey down a road to get to the sea. (The man's wife, who gave birth to the boy after calamity struck, has killed herself.) They carry blankets and scavenged food in a shopping cart, and the man is armed with a revolver loaded with his last two bullets. Beyond the ever-present possibility of starvation lies the threat of roving bands of cannibalistic thugs. The man assures the boy that the two of them are "good guys," but from the way his father treats other stray survivors the boy sees that his father has turned into an amoral survivalist, tenuously attached to the morality of the past by his fierce love for his son. McCarthy establishes himself here as the closest thing in American literature to an Old Testament prophet, trolling the blackest registers of human emotion to create a haunting and grim novel about civilization's slow death after the power goes out.

The World Without Us
by Alan Weisman
December 1

Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story, in which the whole earth is the haunted house. Among the highlights: with pumps not working, the New York City subways would fill with water within days, while weeds and then trees would retake the buckled streets and wild predators would ravage the domesticated dogs. Texas s unattended petrochemical complexes might ignite, scattering hydrogen cyanide to the winds a "mini chemical nuclear winter." After thousands of years, the Chunnel, rubber tires, and more than a billion tons of plastic might remain, but eventually a polymer-eating microbe could evolve, and, with the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden.

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