Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book clubs try short stories on for size

We're all rushed these days, but reading remains important to many. There are solutions for the too-busy-to-read dilemma, and many groups are finding them.
Several area book groups have spoken about dividing a book up into multiple sessions (some even go a full season on one author). This allows members to savor a book, without hurrying to the end before a meeting.
Another solution is to read short stories; groups sometimes select one author and explore his or her work that way. Heywood Library Group recently did short stories by TC Boyle, an unconventional but wildly creative fiction writer.
In Clinton, a short story book club formed in the wake of a 600-page Dostoyevsky work that convinced them to do other things. Members meet in Bigelow Free Library every other week to discuss stories by an author whom they've chosen to explore at length.
"If they miss one session, there's always a different story they can read for the next meeting. Our meetings are on Saturdays from 10 to 12 or so, usually in the basement because we're speaking out loud," said Joan Higbee-Glace, one of the organizers, along with Gordon Graham. They publish notices in the main library area and the Item to let prospective members know what the group is reading.
"We usually read about 20 pages aloud while we're there, so if people don't have time to read the story they can just listen to it being read. Members can interrupt at any point with a question or a comment about the reading," she said.
Right now, members are exploring Bernard Malamud. "Malamud was a New York-based writer, a Jewish man who wrote a lot about poorer people," Glace said. "His family were storeowners, so he writes about people who have fallen on tougher times, lost money. He also writes about some Italian life, Catholics. What an interesting perspective these people have; sometimes the phrases are just beautiful, or sometimes just funny; they catch your eye, and you think, I've got to remember that, 'cause I want to use it someday!"
The group is small, and older, she says—with a core of six, joined by others depending on which author they're exploring. Flannery O'Connor attracted her own fans in addition to the regulars. Come spring, snowbirds return to expand the group.
By taking their time with one author, Glace said, "we see how an author progresses; sometimes the stories are redone, or carried on with same characters. O'Connor sometimes took a theme and changed it. She was from the South, a Roman Catholic when the South was generally protestant; she wrote a lot about the grace of God, but not so much that you would notice it. ... You could see how God worked in someone's life, without actually mentioning it."
They discuss authors before selecting one. "Sometimes, people who don't want to read an author learn that they really enjoy the writer. You really get a feeling for the guy. In a short story, the descriptions of the characters are so wonderful, and you notice that in some stories, certain things are emphasized. O'Connor often talked about the sky and the trees, and she often had a surprise ending. We read 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' and loved it."

The group enjoys ethnic writers. "You get to know how someone else thinks, someone not of your faith or color. That's really wonderful. It leads to stories from members in the group, who remember when some of the older ways were prevalent in their community. For instance, the little grocery stores in Clinton come to mind when we read Malamud. There were ethnic groceries in each neighborhood. Members have stories about what happened in their neighborhood. We relate to the stories deeply."
Anyone is welcome to join. For more info, call Glace at (978) 870-0352 or Gordon Graham at (978) 733-4367. People are welcome to just drop in. "If they call, I'll make a copy of the story and send it to them until they get a book," she said. Next Malamud sessions are: March 7: "The German Refugee," and March 21, "A Choice of Profession."
"We only take off if the library is closed, or there's a storm."

Twenty years of booking it:
The Booklovers' Gourmet in Webster is celebrating 20 years in business this year. Owner Debra Horan says the store will continue to invite regional and nationally known writers in a setting geared toward community gatherings—with food, of course. On Saturday, March 7, The Grey Whisker Pickers will perform from Noon to 2 p.m. at the store, 55 E. Main St., and a memory wall will invite longtime and new customers' comments.

Book groups meet:
Douglas Library book group meets Tuesday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss Laurel Corona's "The Mapmaker's Daughter." New members are welcome; for a copy of the book, call (508) 276-2695.
The NOW Book Group will discuss "We are All Completely Beside Ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler at its March 9 meeting. The group meets at Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St. (Lincoln Plaza), Worcester.
At Heywood Library, book group members will discuss "Riding the Bus With My Sister" by Rachel Simon. Meeting is at 4:30 p.m., March 25.
The newly formed North Central Mass Millennial Book Group will discuss Roxane Gay's "Bad Feminist" at a meeting to be held Feb. 25, 6 p.m., in Ashburnham.  To join and for location, check www.meetup.com.
Off-Track Bookies of Lancaster has slated Christine Baker Klein's "Orphan Train" for its March 12 meeting.
O'Connor's Books, Brew & Banter will discuss Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" at 6:30 p.m., March 25 in O'Connor's Restaurant, 1160 W. Boylston St., Worcester.
Gardner's Heywood Library group will discuss Rachel Simon's "Riding the Bus with My Sister" on March 25.
At Gale Free Library in Holden, contemporary book club members will meet to discuss "A Man Called Ove," by Fredrik Backman. Classic Book Group members will discuss Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer."
At Haston Library in North Brookfield, book group members will discuss "The Boys in the Boat," by Daniel James Brown, at 7 p.m., March 24.
The C.S. Lewis Society of Central Massachusetts will meet several times during March at Auburn Public Library. At 9 a.m., March 14 and 21, discussion centers on Peter Kreeft's "Between Heaven & Hell." A poetry reading, featuring Irma Stevens, Monica Nelson and Stephen Boys, is slated for 9 a.m., March 28.

Ann Connery Frantz writes Read It and Reap for book groups and those who love to read. Send suggestions or questions to ann.frantz@gmail.com.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Kristin Hannah, "The Nightingale"

I've been reading fiction and nonfiction about the decimation of the Jewish people under the Nazis for some years now, and only recently read "Willy Peter Reese's journal, "A Stranger to Myself," about the siege of Leningrad as Allied Forces overtook the Germans during that war.
What crosses the line into Hannah's novel is the portrayal of what happens to common people in war time. The personal losses, hunger, betrayals and failures of humanity when terror and deprivation tear at the fabric of a society are the same, regardless of which nation is touched by war.
I remember being touched similarly by Jenna Blum's absorbing novel, "Those Who Save Us," about a woman forced to collaborate with the Nazis, but living a double life to help stave off the hunger their prisoners must endure.
Equally affecting is Hannah's story, about a young woman, Isabelle, who becomes the "Nightingale" an almost mythic figure the Germans are obsessed with capturing. She leads downed Allied pilots over the mountains to escape France. Her sister, who considers herself far less brave, also rises to the challenge, saving Jewish children from certain death by hiding them within a convent and in her home, under the nose of an abusive Nazi billeted in the house.
Their suffering--no doubt typical of the painful reality endured during the war--is as memorable as their courage. One realizes something about courage in reading this story--that it is not an easy road to take, and it is a way that does not always reward those who take it.
This is a riveting book, and I consider it Hannah's best to date. She has written it nearly flawlessly, and with clear dedication to the people who fought vile German practices in any way they could.