Saturday, May 2, 2020

Virtual Book Club for May/June 2020

Fifteen Dogs cover artAnyone interested in a virtual book club?  

Here's what I'm thinking: 

  1. Listen to this FREE audiobook at your own pace (its 6 hrs 20 min long) anytime in May or June. 
  2. Answer Questions - pop on over to the blog and answer some/all/any of the questions by editing the post and adding your thoughts right here (not in the comments, where it may be hard to follow the train of thought for any particular question).  Feel free to pick&choose from the questions, based on your thoughts/interests.  Absolutely no need to answer ALL of the questions in order to participate.  Include your initials by your answer so we know it's you.
  3. Reply to some/all/any responses, if you like - check back here to see what others thought.  Add a reply directly in the post, adding your initials again.  

Here's the FREE audio book (available until June 28th)

Discussion Questions: 

1. Did you enjoy the book?  Why or why not?

2. What did you think of the audio version of the book?  What did you like/dislike about the way it was read?  If you haven't listened to an audio book before, would you do it again?

3. Which dog are you most drawn to? Least? Why?

4. Can you imagine how the story might have been different if Alexis had chosen cats? What about elephants or mosquitoes? 

5. Hermes and Apollo’s wager is decided by whether or not one of the dogs is happy at the moment of its death. Is it fair to evaluate the quality of one’s life by the quality of one’s end-of-life? How accurate of an evaluation is this in the case of the dogs? 

6. Prince’s poetry delights some of the dogs and enrages others. He is arguably the most isolated of the original pack. Is Alexis suggesting that art is essentially divisive? Or is Prince’s place in the pack a reflection of the nature of being an artist? 

7. Who is more cruel, the gods or the dogs? Why? 

8. Does the version of humanity Alexis presents reflect your own? In what ways do they differ? 

9. Some readers find themselves more moved by the deaths of the fifteen dogs than they would have been if it had been fifteen humans. Why do we sometimes have more compassion for animals than people? Can you think of examples of this in the real world? 

10. True to canine nature, Atticus’s pack is ruled by brute power and a clear sense of hierarchy. But Hermes and Apollo’s wager is about happiness, not power. What is the relationship between power and happiness for the dogs? Is there a clear correlation?
11. If you are familiar with Toronto, did the book allow you to think about the city’s landscape differently? If you aren’t, did the book offer a vivid sense of place? Why or why not? 

12. The novel is preoccupied not only with human consciousness, but also with self-consciousness. What does this suggest about human nature? 

13. Do you find the violence in this novel to be gratuitous? It has been said that violence results from inarticulateness; is it strange that the dogs seem to become more violent after they have come to possess the gift of (human) language? 

14. What does the novel have to say about the relationship between thought and language? If in some way language determines the parameters of our thinking, how does that premise underscore or complicate this idea?

15. Would you recommend this book to others?  To who/why?

Most questions found here:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Temporary Pause?

I suggest we put Book Club on pause until Sept 2020.  Thoughts?  

At that stage, we can consider which of the missed books we'd like to circle back to and reschedule and which books we're okay to let go and let slide.

We could meet via a Zoom meeting but I'm guess that with our kids home and our extra responsibilities right now, we'll have less time to read than usual rather than more!

Just a reminder that the March library kit books need to be returned to Karen as soon as possible!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Feb 2020: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

Meeting Details:  cancelled (maybe next February?!)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did you enjoy the book?  Why or why not?
  2. What did you know about whaling before you read the book? Did that affect your reading of the books?
  3. Would Chase have captained the Essex better than Pollard? Explain.
  4. In your opinion, why does Pollard choose to take another whaling job after the Essex disaster?
  5. Whose account of the disaster do you find more compelling: Chase's or Nickerson's?
  6. Do you think whaling is ethical? Why or why not?
  7. What do you think happened to Henry De Witt?
  8. If you were an Essex survivor, would you have kept sailing, or would you have remained on Henderson Island?
  9. Do you find the eyewitness accounts of the Essex disaster to be accurate? Explain your answer.
  10. In your opinion, what prompts Nickerson to write his own account of the disaster?
  11. Did you watch the movie version?  If so, how did it compare with the book?  What was your favorite part?  What was your least favorite part?
  12. Would you recommend this book to others?  Who and why?

Menu Ideas:  "In the Heart of the Sea"

Inspired by the sea and "hearts", let's enjoy an delicious dinner...

- Appetizer like hot crab dip or mini fish taco bites, for example

- Soup or Salad like clam chowder or a fresh green salad,for example

- Side Dish like roasted potatoes or ratatouille, for example

- Dessert like brownies with cinnamon hearts or red velvet cake, for example

Jon & Tessa will take care of the main fish/seafood dish and drinks.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

January 2020: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

     Details: meeting at Tamara's house at 7:30.  
     Discussion to start at 8:00

Discussion Questions:
1. Did you like the book?  Was there anything about the book that surprised you? Were you familiar with Trevor Noah before reading the book? 
2. Trevor Noah opens his memoir with a story about being thrown from a car by his mother. In what ways does this story illustrate the whole story of his early life? These stories weave themselves throughout the book, concluding with a final story about her. In many ways, the book is equally about Trevor’s mother. How would you describe Patricia Noah? 
3. A lot of what happens in this story is told with humor, even though many things were very dark. How did you respond to Trevor’s use of humor in telling stories from his youth? How did humor shape his experience growing up and in the man he became? 
4. Noah describes, with hilarious detail, an incident that happened when he was home alone with his great-grandmother (Koko) and didn’t want to use the outhouse. Which incidents, friends, or family members described in Born a Crime are most memorable to you?
5. What was the role of religion in Trevor’s family’s life? How did Patricia’s faith impact young Trevor, and what do you think has been the lasting impression of faith on Trevor Noah’s life?
6. What role does being of mixed race play in Trevor’s life? How did issues of race play out in Noah’s relationships with those closest to him — his mother, father, grandparents, cousins, and friends? 
7. Noah’s mother insists that he have a relationship with his father: “Because he’s a piece of you,’ she said, ‘and if you don’t find him you won’t find yourself.” What did you think about Trevor’s relationship with his biological father, Robert? What was Trevor’s father like? How did you view him as a person? Do you think Trevor liked/felt good about this relationship? (p. 101ff). 
8. What difference did it make that he knew he was wanted and loved by both parents? Pg 110
9. For such a strong, independent woman, who taught Trevor about valuing a woman, why did Patricia marry Abel when she said she wouldn’t consider marrying Trevor’s father? How does Noah describe and wrestle with the issue of domestic violence? How did it affect his view of local authorities and culture?  How did it shape him and his relationship with his mother?
10. How did the story of Fufi and the other boy shape Trevor’s view of relationships? Pg 100
11. In Born a Crime, Noah wants to dispel the idea that the ending of apartheid was bloodless.  How much did you know about apartheid before reading this book, and what did you learn about the history of South Africa by reading Noah’s story? Did you enjoy/appreciate the explanatory material at the start of every section?
12. Noah explains how language defines people and how it can be used to one’s advantage.  (pg 54-55) He argues that English in South Africa is equated with intelligence. Do you agree with Noah’s assessment of the importance of language? What do his claims suggest about the power of language and the values placed on certain languages over others?  Noah learned to speak six different languages growing up. What impressed you about the ways that Trevor and his mother navigate neighborhoods, cultures, and family; and how did language make that possible?
13. Since I belonged to no group I learned to move seamlessly between groups. I was a chameleon, still, a cultural chameleon” (p. 140). How is Trevor like a chameleon? Why does he do this? What benefit or cost is associated with this for him?
14. Where did Trevor fit in? Who accepted him? Why did Trevor always feel like an outsider? How did he cope with that?
15. Do you think he had a “good” life in younger years? Would you say Noah felt he had a good upbringing?
16. Would you recommend this book to others? If there is a follow-up book, will you read it?  Will you watch a film adaptation?

Let's have a community-celebrating braai like in South Africa...or as close as we can get in Canada in January! :-)  Here are some ideas, feel free to pick one or bring a different one of your choosing...
Biltong as a snack

Bbq'd meat - beef, chicken, veal, lamb, sausage... Tamara (Peri Peri chicken)
Pap or (samp and beans, which is apparently the Xhosa version)
Chakalaka - Marion
Durban Chicken Curry (with rice or served in bread, called Bunny Chow)

melktert - Emily?
Malva pudding - Emily?
Vetkoek with a sweet twist

Amarula don pedro

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Looking Ahead- March 2020-Jan 2021

We were all in a particularly decisive mood yesterday evening and here's the plan for the next while!

March - Library Kit: Book TBD (hostess - Chandra)

April - The Lastest Buzz:  The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (hostess - Danielle)

May - Forgotten FavoritesBroken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer (hostess - Emily)

June - Celebrate CanadaThe Wake by Linden MacIntyre (hostess - Karen)

- - Summer Break - -

September - Reading the Classics: The Wars by Timothy Findley (hostess - Marion)

October - Mystery Night: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (hostess - Shelagh) 

November - Library Kit: Book TBD (hostess - Tamara)

December - Cook Book: Book TBD (hostess - Tessa)       

January - Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains (hostess- Sherrie)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Book Choices: March - December 2020

March - Library Kit... hostess chooses her top 3 picks; then the HPL gives us whichever of these 3 are available (hostess - Chandra)
April - The Lastest Buzz ... one the most talked about novels of the year; any genre or age level as long as there is some buzz around the book lately (hostess - Danielle)
         - some options include:
    • Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris - the story of a young woman's struggle to survive in Auschwitz and Siberia during WW2
    • The Farm by Joanne Ramos - Jane agrees to stay at the farm for 9 months, cut off from her life, in order to secure her future, but at what price? 
    • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood... her long-awaited follow up to The Handmaid's Tale
    • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead - two boys are sentenced to a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida

May - Forgotten Favorites... a classic children's novel; sometimes we push the boundaries on "classic" and read the hottest new book for Middle Graders instead. (hostess - Emily)
         - some options include:
    • The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame... another classic with a subtext about the wonder of reading and writing books
    • Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool... a Newbery Medal Winner; Abeline discovers secrets that change her view of her father and herself; and she changes the town she's visiting too
    • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - 16 year old Starr struggles with balancing her two worlds, grief and racism in this "must read" award-winning teen book
    • Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer - its 2002 and Shirli finds an old violin belonging her her grandfather in the attic; this discovery reveals a family secret and changes Shirli's view of the world

June - Celebrate Canada... a Canadian author writing a story that takes place in Canada - past or present (hostess - Karen)
         - some options include:
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood... her long-awaited follow up to The Handmaid's Tale
  • The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp - a young man in a Northern town struggles to grow up and deal with the trauma in his past
  • Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline - a messed-up, grown-up Metis version of Little Red Riding Hood
  • The Wake by Linden MacIntyre - the true story of a 1929 Tsunami in Newfoundland and how it devastates the community

September - Reading the Classics  (hostess - Marion)
  • Top 10 Canadian Modern Classics:  Have you read all 10 of these?
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munroe; Fall on Your Knees by Anne-Marie Macdonald; The Diviners by Margaret Laurence; Fifth Business by Robertson Davies; Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler; A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry; The Wars by Timothy Findley
October - Mystery Night  (hostess - Shelagh) 
November - Library Kit - hostess chooses her top 3 picks; then the HPL gives us whichever of these 3 are available (hostess - Tamara)

December - Cook Book - hostess chooses an inexpensive cookbook from Bookoutlet and orders for everyone (hostess - Tessa)       

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

November 2019: Family Life by Akhil Sharma

Family Life: A Novel by [Sharma, Akhil]
Meeting Details:  Thursday, Nov 7th; meeting starts at 7:30pm, with discussion to begin at 8pm

Discussion Questions: 
  1. Did you enjoy enjoy the book? Why or why not? Have you read any other books by Akhil Sharma? How does this compare?
  2. The novel opens in the present, when Ajay is forty and his parents are elderly.  How does the opening affect your experience of the rest of the novel, which takes place during Ajay's childhood?
  3. What is the books message? How did you feel about the characters? Whom did you like or not like and why?
  4. America is marvelous to the Mishra family at first.  If tragedy hadn’t struck, do you think that America would have met the Mishra’s expectations for it? Or do you think that at least certain elements of their disillusionment were inevitable?
  5. How does the Mishras’ status as immigrants affect their experience of Birju’s accident? How might their lives following the accident have played out differently if they weren’t strangers in a strange land?
  6. Describe the process through which Ajay becomes a writer. How does writing change the way he experiences his childhood.
  7. In the aftermath of Birju’s accident, Ajay’s mother turns to religion and his father to alcohol. How are these two coping mechanisms different? Do you think they have anything in common? Do you think that Ajay’s own way of coping [academic success] has anything in common with his parents?
  8. Describe the prose style in Family Life. What do you think the author achieves through the candor and lack of sentimentality in his storytelling?
  9. On the second anniversary of his brother’s accident, Ajay thinks, “I couldn’t believe that everything had changed because of three minutes” (p. 129). What do you make of this? How does the brevity of the accident itself affect your experience of the passage of time in the novel, which takes place over many years? Has your own life ever changed so drastically, so quickly?
  10. Compare and contrast the scenes when the family is awaiting news of Ajay’s college acceptances to the scenes when they are awaiting news of Birju’s high school acceptance.
  11. Describe Ajay’s love life in high school and beyond. What is he seeking from his girlfriends? In what ways is he being honest with them, and in what ways, dishonest?  How are his relationships with women affected by his experience with his brother? His experience as an immigrant?
  12. Family Life ends in a moment of ambiguity. “I got happier and happier,” Ajay says. “In the distance was the beach and the breaking waves and the red seaplane bobbing in the water. The happiness was almost heavy. And that was when I knew I had a problem” (page 218).  What is it about this moment and about Ajay’s happiness that tells him he has a problem? How would you describe his problem? Do you think he will ever escape or solve it?
  13. Would you recommend this book? Why or why not?
- Indian or American!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

October 2019: The Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Image result for The inheritance Dani shapiro
Discussion Questions

1. The title of this book is Inheritance. What does it mean, in the context of the memoir?

2. Shapiro chose two quotes for her epigraph, one from Sylvia Plath and the other from George Orwell. What do they mean individually, and how does each affect your understanding of the other?

3. "You’re still you," Shapiro reminds herself. What does she mean by this?

4. Much of Shapiro’s understanding of herself comes from what she believes to be her lineage. "These ancestors are the foundation upon which I have built my life," she says on page 12. Would Shapiro feel so strongly if her father’s ancestors weren’t so illustrious? How does Shapiro’s understanding of lineage change over the course of the book?

5. Judaism is passed on from mother to child—the father’s religion holds no importance. So why does Shapiro’s sense of her own Jewishness rely so much on her father?

6. Chapter 7 opens with a discussion of the nature of identity. "What combination of memory, history, imagination, experience, subjectivity, genetic substance, and that ineffable thing called the soul makes us who we are?" Shapiro writes on page 27. What do you believe makes you, you?

7. Shapiro follows that passage with another provocative question: "Is who we are the same as who we believe ourselves to be?" What’s your opinion?

8. Identity is one major theme of the book. Another is the corrosive power of secrets. On page 35, Shapiro writes, "All my life I had known there was a secret. What I hadn’t known: the secret was me." What might have changed if Shapiro had known her origins growing up?

9. On page 43, Shapiro quotes a Delmore Schwartz poem. What does this mean? Why is it significant to Shapiro?
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day;
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.
10. Throughout the memoir, Shapiro uses literary extracts to illuminate what she feels or thinks—poems by Schwartz and Jane Kenyon, passages from Moby Dick and a novel by Thomas Mann. How does this help your understanding?

11. All her life, people had been telling Shapiro she didn’t look Jewish. If this hadn’t been part of her life already, how do you think she might have reacted to the news from her DNA test?

12. After Shapiro located her biological father, she emailed him almost immediately—against the advice of her friend, a genealogy expert. What do you imagine you would have done?

13. Why was it so important to Shapiro to believe that her parents hadn’t known the truth about her conception?

14. Her discovery leads Shapiro to reconsider her memories of her parents: "Her unsteady gaze, her wide, practiced smile. Her self-consciousness, the way every word seemed rehearsed. His stooped shoulders, the downward turn of his mouth. The way he was never quite present. Her rage. His sorrow. Her brittleness. His fragility. Their screaming fights." (page 100)

15. On page 107, when discussing her father’s marriage to Dorothy, Rabbi Lookstein tells Shapiro, "We thought your father was a hero." Shapiro comes back to her father’s decision to go through with the marriage several times in the book. Why?

16. At her aunt Shirley’s house, Shapiro sees a laminated newspaper clipping about the poem recited in a Chevy ad. (page 133) Why does Shapiro include this detail in the book? What is its significance?

17. On page 188, Shapiro writes, "In time, I will question how it could be possible that Ben—a man of medicine, who specialized in medical ethics—had never considered that he might have biological children." How do you explain that?

18. How does Shapiro’s experience with contemporary reproductive medicine affect the way she judges her parents? What do you imagine future generations will say about our current approach to artificial insemination?

19. What do you make of the similarities between Shapiro and her half sister Emily?

20. On page 226, Shapiro brings up a psychoanalytic phrase, "unthought known." How does this apply to her story?

21. What prompts Shapiro to legally change her first name?

22. Shapiro ends her book with a meditation on the Hebrew word hineni, "Here I am." Why is this phrase so powerful?


Comfort food preferably from a specific identifiable ethnic background; Jewish dishes

Monday, September 2, 2019

September 2019: Obasan by Joy Kogawa

Details - Karen's house, 7:30 p.m. September 5, 2019

Discussion Questions: 

1.  Did you enjoy the book, why or why not?
2.  How aware were you of this part of Canadian history prior to reading this book?
3.  How does time funtion in Obasan? How does it affect your understanding of the story?
4.  What effect does Old Man Gower have on Naomi?
5.  Chicks/chickens come up repeatedly throughout the novel, is there significance?
6.  How does Naomi feel about her mother? How are we meant to feel about her? Does the ending of the novel change either of those feelings?
7.  This novel has a lack of strong male characters?  Why is that?  How would the story be different if characters like Naomi's father and Uncle Same were as important to the story as Aunt Emily or Obasan?
8.  Would you recommend this book, why or why not?

Menu-there were a few food items mentioned in the book,

- miso soup
- rice bowls
- rice osushis
- pound cake

otherwise feel free to find a Japanese recipe you'd like to try.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

June-ish 2019: Corvus by Harold Johnson

Corvus, by Harold Johnson

Meeting Details: 
Date: July 4, 7:30pm. Discussion to start 8pm
Place: Emily's

Discussion Questions:

1. Did you like the book? Why/why not?

2. How do you feel about the author's use of the Raven and did it add to or detract from the book for you? How did the Raven come into play for George? for Katherine? for Lenore? for Richard?
3. Did the relationship between Richard and Lenore have any meaningful effect? Was there a reason for the author to have included it?

4. Think about the four different communities- the Ashram, Regis, the First Nations, La Ronge. What type of people live in each one? Do you think that people can be divided into those four categories? Which one would you live in, which would you like to live in?

5. What are some of the themes and issues in the book? Was the author convincing of his opinions?

6. Reviewers were divided on Johnson's view of women. Did you feel he tried to empower women in this novel, or was he only paying lip service and actually show a disregard?

7. Did Lenore's experience in the war shock or suprise you when it was finally described? How did it affect her?

8. What did you think of George's concerns about prosecuting, especially regarding incarceration time? Do you agree with him?

9. Do you think this book deserved to be on the Canada Reads list? Why or why not?

10. Would you recommend this book?

Menu: Sustainable eating
Items that might have been eaten by the First Nations community or on the Ashram. Bonus points for using produce you have grown yourself!

Soup (Karen)

3 sisters stew
Deer or bison (Marion)
Vegetables- roasted?

Berry dish (Tessa)

I will supply drinks, including tea in honour of Katherine, and Rose wine for Lenore

Friday, April 26, 2019

May 2019: The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

Image result for princess and the goblin

Meeting Details: meeting at Danielle's house on Thursday, May 2nd at 7:30pm. Discussion to begin at 8 pm.

Discussion Questions:

1. Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?

2. Who is your favourite character in the story and why?

3. Lootie, the nurse, is responsible for taking care of Irene. Describe their relationship and explain why MacDonald included Lootie's character in the story.

4. In the big battle scene, the goblins almost capture Lootie rather than Irene, their intended victim. What is the significance of this?
5. Besides Lootie, the other adult female in the story is Curdie's mother. Compare the function of Curdie's mother in the story to that of Lootie and Grandmother.
6. Explain what the goblins are (how they turned into goblins). Why are they so angry? What do they hate? What is their plan for revenge?
7. Though the goblins are ruthless, they are also clever and even witty. Why does MacDonald give them this combination of characteristics? Does their wittiness make them less forceful as villains?
8. Besides the goblins' wit, what other examples of humor are there in the story? Is such humor appropriate in a story that has a serious theme?
9. There are several themes running through The Princess and the Goblin, such as the importance of courage and belief. What do you think Curdie learns by the end of the story?

10. What do you imagine would have happened to Princess Irene if she hadn't been saved from the goblins?

11. Are there any other books that you can think of which have been influenced by this fairy tale?

12. Does any part of the story (or any of its characters) remind you of another book? Explain your comparison.

13. Would you recommend this book? Why or why not?

Menu Ideas: Famous Welsh Foods

In Wales, they have a strong tradition of living off the land, stretching back as far as the ancient Celts. Food has historically been simple wholesome fare – thrifty dishes made with just a few simple, quality ingredients. This was fuel designed to satisfy the hearty appetites of those working the land: farmers, quarry workers, coal miners and fishermen.

Although the book does not specify a geographical location, but some can tell from the landscape descriptions that it is set in Wales (ahem, Em). So we will travel to that part of the world and create dishes that will satisfy our potential mining urges. 

Here are a few suggestions:

Drinks will be provided by Danielle

Friday, April 5, 2019

Book Choices - May 2019-Feb 2020

May - The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
hostess: Danielle

June - Corvus by Harold Johnson
hostess: Emily

July/August - summer vacation 

September - Obasan by Joy Kogawa
hostess: Karen

October - Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
hostess: Marion

November - Library Kit (tbd by Karen and Shelagh)
hostess: Shelagh

December - cookbook tbd by Sherrie 
(we'll order something from the Book Outlet for less than $15)
hostess: Sherrie

January - Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
hostess: Tamara

February - In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
hostess: Tessa