Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Explore your world: Animal protection

Challenge your group to go beyond conventional reading. With the internet unlocking connections among people, more strength has come to humanitarian and rights movements. In coming weeks, I'll be listing books that revolve around, or argue for, animal welfare, human rights, economic and racial equality. Many contain brilliant writing by thoughtful, philosophical writers; some are explorations of the beauty and interlocking worlds we inhabit. Your group might want to choose one or two to explore a new area of discussion.
First off are books about animal behavior and rights, with the recognition that animals are not simple possessions or objects in our lives, but are in many cases sentient beings with a right to humane treatment.
This notion has grown in recent years. Controversial theorist Peter Singer wrote about it in "Animal Liberation," in 1975. Today's internet, however, has led to widespread pet adoption services, cruelty alerts and social movements surrounding animals. Many of us have read novels and non-fiction about animals, but the movement for animal rights is growing, and should provide intellectual and emotional fodder for book groups.
To begin to explore animal rights and emotions in a light fashion, several popular books consider respect, even awe, toward fellow creatures: T.C. Boyle's "When the Killing's Done," is a fictional account of experiments wreaking havoc; "Merle's Door," by Ted Kerasote, is a highly readable memoir about interpreting canine feelings and needs; Sara Gruen's "Ape House," in which we meet several bonobos, chimpanzees who know sign language. There are more; members will probably be able to suggest helpful books to get started.
Getting into more serious viewpoints is important, however. Jonathan Safron Foer ("Everything is Illuminated;" "Extremely Loud and Exceptionally Close") has written an explanation of how humans justify carnivorous eating in "Eating Animals."
Melanie Joy wrote "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, The Belief System That Enables Us to Eat Some Animals and Not Others." Long title, big topic. It explores how humans blind themselves to needless suffering among animals we eat.  
A well-respected animal rights activist, Tom Regan, has written several books: "The Case for Animal Rights," "Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights" and "Defending Animal Rights" among them.
A recent documentary may also increase your group's understanding of the issue. Steve Wise, of the Nonhuman Rights Project ( is the source of the film, "Unlocking the Cage." Wise argues that animals deserve to be recognized as legal entities with certain fundamental rights. That may be a hard pill for some to swallow, but it's an idea with increasing support. (Wise's TED Talk in 2015 dealt with chimpanzee behaviors—and argues for guaranteed animal rights.)
"Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy" is Matthew Scully's shocking look at the hypocrisy, cruelty and thoughtless ways we deal with animals, ranging from big-game hunts with penned-in animals to modern factory farms, where animals live their lives until they reach the supermarket.
Leading animal rights activist Gene Baur has written "Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food." In it, he Top of Form
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i examines the real cost of the meat on our plates—for both humans and animals alike. You might be surprised, even shocked, at the illusions we preserve about the food we eat.
 Book groups:
The Lancaster Thayer Memorial Library's evening adult group has slated "Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong" by Raymond Bonner (non-fiction) for 6:30 p.m., July 26.
Gale Free Library contemporary book group in Holden has planned discussion of "One America: America, 1927" by Bill Bryson for its Aug. 2 meeting.
At Boylston Public Library, book club members will discuss "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates at 1:30 p.m., Aug. 3.
Audio Book Club in Worcester,, has slated "Half a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Aug. 2. Listeners may call in to Speaking Volumes at 508-752-0557 to join the discussion, 8 to 9 p.m.
Banister Book Group at the Merrick Public Library (Banister Memorial Hall), Brookfield, meets at 7 p.m., July 26 to discuss "Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea" by Morgan Callan Rogers, about a girl coming of age in coastal Maine during the 1960s.
NOW Women's Issues Book Group has slated Suzanne Strempek Shea's memoir, "Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and other Page-turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore" for July 11. After the author takes a job in a local bookstore, she describes her relationship with books and the customers who seek them, and marvels at the strange situation of being a published author ringing up her own works at the counter. Shea lives in western Massachusetts.
At Gardner's Heywood Public Library, the next selection is "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood. Meeting is at 4:30 p.m., July 27.
Reading, Sharing and Laughing meets at the food-tacular Chaibo in Fitchburg for its meetings. Next up, "Fates and Furies" by Lauren Groff at 7 p.m., July 28. Sign up at Meetup to participate in this book group.
Worcester Public Library's Self-Help Spirituality Book Club meets the second Wednesday of each month, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. This book club is for people seeking direction on the road of life. July 13, "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz.
Ann Connery Frantz, a cofounder of Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative, welcomes your group's suggestions for classic reads, plus news of your book club, at Please send in book selection announcements as early as possible.

Books not in black and white

Reading isn't a given for everyone. Visual impairments, busy schedules, ease of access are all part of that equation, and some people prefer to absorb a book differently, maybe even multi-task a little.
Podcasts are a way to catch modern writing and innovative narrations. They are contemporary and revolve around fresh topics, short stories, poetry, life experiences. A friend grabbed my phone one day and installed podcasts on it—This American Life, PRI (Public Radio International) Selected Shorts, The Moth Radio Hour and something called Dear Sugar, which seems to be offering wedding advice lately, not something I care about.
Anyway, podcasts are great for the gym, and make great bedtime listening (about the only time I settle down enough to listen). They keep building up in my phone, and I have to catch up soon and delete a few. Too much of the time, either I don't think to listen or I lack earphones but need them. I'm determined to go through more of them, though; they're relaxing and great for insomnia. You don't have to use earphones, either. They come through well on the phone speakers.
Brenda Yates of the Full Court Press Book Group in Sutton says a lot of podcasts are available.
"The New Yorker Radio Hour is a very interesting podcast that is very similar to the magazine," she said. "It has literary reviews, author interviews, music reviews, and interesting stories. A new podcast is released every week and they are all interesting."
Along the same vein are audio books, available at libraries and bookstores. "They make great company while driving," said Yates.
I checked out several for a recent road trip. Always bring a few more than you'll listen to. There may be one or two that everyone in the vehicle will like (that's the only glitch I've encountered; they're better for solo trips). Audio tapes are a great way to pass the miles and stay alert while driving.
The voice can make the book, so check who's narrating too. Jeannette Walls narrates her own autobiography, "The Glass Castle." If you haven't read it in awhile—or missed it—you may enjoy this engrossing story of well-meant but dreadfully neglectful parents. Even the kids may enjoy another: actor Tim Curry's narration of a Lemony Snicket story, "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning." Another fine actor, Edward Hermann, narrates David McCullough's wonderful biography, "John Adams." Two others with excellent narration: Toni Morrison reads her own novel, "Song of Solomon" and Betty White is sure to provide laughter in her autobiography, "Here We Go Again."
Said Yates, of the Sutton group: "One audio book that I thoroughly enjoyed is '1776' by David McCullough. He reads the book himself and the history of New England is very interesting, even for a non-history buff like myself."
The web site Slate offers an audio book club you can find at (click on podcasts). It stays on top of current book club favorites and contains book reviews as well.
Author and others offer free podcasts. Do a little searching around online and you'll find more.
Playaway is another new gizmo that provides a way to "read" while on the go: Libraries now offer this tiny, lightweight audio book. You simply attach headphones to this very small cube and turn it on. I tried it; the process is simple. Selection was a bit limited, but ask your library about them. I also had difficulty maneuvering back and forth through the book, though I think more familiarity will ease that problem.
Finally, don't forget the Audio Book Club in Worcester, Listeners may call in to Speaking Volumes, 508-752-0557, to join the 8 p.m. monthly discussion. Up for July 5 is "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt.


"Classic" book suggestion:
Full Court Press Book Group in Sutton recommends "Far from the Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy. "We liked it very much. The recent movie made from the book is very well done too.
Another personal favorite—though it might not be a classic, it's an uplifting read—is "Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck, which chronicles his adventures touring the United States with his dog."
Send your group's suggestion for a great classical read to

Spring books from NE authors

So many good books are being released in May and June, prominently displayed at bookstore tables throughout the region, that I'm unable to buy them all. Yet I want them, and look forward to reading them. Your library will likely have them all before I do!
The first two writers mentioned here are from Massachusetts.
Noted author Michael J. Tougias, of Mendon, whose books dot the New York Times list these days, has a dramatic new historical narrative out. "So Close to Home," published May 3, is a dramatic recounting of the horrors endured by a most unfortunate family aboard the freighter "Heredia" when it was bombed by a German U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II. Survivors held on through sharks, hypothermia and deaths. Tougias's 23 other books include "The Finest Hours," released as a movie earlier this year—about a Coast Guard rescue off Chatham— and "King Philip's War," one of several books about this region's history.
Nantucket resident Nathaniel Philbrick's books have earned numerous prominent awards and consideration for a Pulitzer. His titles include "Mayflower," "Bunker Hill" and "In the Heart of the Sea." The latest is "Valiant Ambition," the story of George Washington and Benedict Arnold during the American Revolution. It promises to be an excellent character study.
 Louise Erdrich, a prominent voice among contemporary Native American writers, has followed such beautifully written novels as "Love Medicine" and "The Round House" with "LaRose." It's the story of a man who atones for killing his neighbor and friend's son by giving him his own son, a traditional gesture. Few authors write about the heart in the way Erdrich does, and she brings to life people who live uncomfortably between Native traditions and modern American expectations.
Next comes Richard Russo, a Pulitzer winner (for "Empire Falls") who returns with a sequel to "Nobody's Fool" (remember Paul Newman in the role of Sully?). It's titled "Everybody's Fool." Sully's life in upstate New York has improved in the interim, but soon he faces a diagnosis that will change the lives of his family and friends. I can't wait for this one, based on the wonderful characters he creates. It's about tough times, humor and, above all, family love.
One of my favorite writers—in terms of rich writing style and character development—is Annie Proulx, a somewhat reclusive Pulitzer-prize-winning Western author known to many for fiction made into movies: "The Shipping News" and the story "Brokeback Mountain." On June 16, her publisher releases a new book, "Barkskins." It centers on two Frenchmen who become wood-cutters, or barkskins, in exchange for land. A multi-generational saga, it revolves around the threats man has brought to forestland. Think greed, revenge, and all those other wonderfully terrible human emotions.
What new books is your group planning to read? Send info to me at the e-mail address below.

What to know in choosing a good selection

"Choosing good books is, I think, the preeminent work of a discussion group. If you choose well, even when you don't have a brilliant discussion, at least you have the satisfaction of reading something you might otherwise have missed."
This comes from Ellen Slezak, author of "The Book Club Group," published in 1994, in which she lets book club members talk about what keeps them interested.
And they're not just about the food and conversation—although munchies help. (Food at meetings is partly a recognition of the fact that we're busy with work, family and community commitments; members sometimes show up without having eaten dinner. Such dedication deserves to be fed.)
Slezak's book presents essays from group members across the country. Its subtitle is "A Thoughtful Guide to Forming and Enjoying a Stimulating Book Discussion Group." The book is fun to read. Slezak visited groups and solicited essays about membership and book choices, as well as the personal benefits of belonging to a group. She sought to learn what tempts people to set time aside from responsibilities and other forms of entertainment for a book club meeting? Responses were quite different, and very enjoyable.
What were their main concerns and enjoyments?
—Discovering authors and books they otherwise might not have tried;
—Getting to know a group of (mostly) women, and learning to consider their viewpoints;
—Indulging their love for reading with others;
—Learning what makes a book good, to become a more thoughtful reader;
—Remembering that there is life after four-year-olds;
—Getting more people into the library;
—Exploring ideas one doesn't necessarily espouse but is willing to discuss;
—Deferring loneliness or isolation;
—Talking about books as a cure for writer's block;
—Finding a support group for biblioholics.

People come out of their shells as the discussion moves from Point A to Point Z, in no particular order. Something usually interests the non-talkers enough to bring them into the talk. I've also witnessed the reverse, in which a conversation hoarder learns to listen—also welcome.
A writer from Charlottesville, Va., spoke of her group's decision not to solicit male members. "As professional women, we were all painfully aware that even forceful, aggressive, highly paid professional women talked less in the presence of men," she wrote. "A book club discussion was the last discussion we wanted to give men the chance to dominate." This was written two decades ago, but things have changed little. Some men have evolved, but others expect to—shall we say—rule the roost. The writer also pointed out that it was nice to be able to discuss a book from the female perspective without having to explain or defend it.
The adult services librarian at Deerfield Public Library in Chicago discovered that books exploring family relationships brought more people into the conversation. "Books are a way for us to touch each other and explore ourselves in surprising ways," said Martha Sloan. "People feel free to share family secrets and personal longings. In a strange way, books provide the safety of distance, but also are an avenue to our more real lives." Well put.
At a feminist book club in San Jose, Calif., members choose a theme—spiritual, erotica, history, etc.—and members bring in a book in that theme area and talk about it. Members are introduced to several good reads that way, and the topic frees them from "having" to read a specific book that month. That's a godsend in busy lives.
They're dated, but extensive book lists are included. Readers will find a number of commonly selected authors, like Anne Tyler, John Irving, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, E.L. Doctorow, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich. The list is long and an invaluable source of reading choices.
There are also some "rules":
—Don't pick a book about God for your first group meeting. Get to know each other first;
—Don't select books just because you "should;"
—Don't let the conversation stray too far off topic;
—Wait until a book is available in paperback, or the library can order bulk copies;
—Don't give up on a book someone else has suggested—you may wind up loving it;
—It should be obvious, but don't belittle (humorously dismiss, ignore or scorn) someone else's viewpoint.
There you have it. The book is, as it says, a "thoughtful guide" and an excellent reading choice for book groups.
Popular library requests:
Joe Mulé, director of Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster, shared a list of most-requested books within the regional inter-library loan system (cw mars) for a week in April. These are favorites not necessarily from book clubs, but clearly popular among readers. They may spark a suggestion for your upcoming meetings: "Fool Me Once" by Harlan Coben; "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi; "15th Affair" by James Patterson; "Private Paris" by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan; "The Last Mile" by David Baldacci; "The Obsession" by Nora Roberts; "My Name is Lucy Barton" by Elizabeth Strout; "The Summer Before the War" by Helen Simonson, and "The Nest" by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.
It's easy to see that borrowers prefer suspense, but there are some good reads on the list, if those don't interest you.
A sequel worth checking:
"After You" by Jojo Moyes, follows "Me Before You," a beautifully written novel about loving someone who is bent on assisted suicide. Moyes remains powerful with the story of what happens to Louisa Clark after the death of a man she loved. It is strong, unpredictable and memorable—and hard to put down.
To emerge from grief, Louisa Clark faces up to Will's last message: "You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
She does, but it isn't an automatic adjustment.
“Think Elizabeth Bennet after Darcy's eventual death; Alice after Gertrude; Wilbur after Charlotte," says Maureen Corrigan of National Public Radio. "The 'aftermath' is a subject most writers understandably avoid, but Moyes has tackled it and given readers an affecting, even entertaining female adventure tale about a broken heroine who ultimately rouses herself and falls in love again, this time with the possibilities in her own future."

Newly published:
"All the Single Ladies," by Rebecca Traister, is subtitled "Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation." Traister writes about "historical triumphs and difficulties experienced by women who rejected heterosexual marriage as a first or easy answer." This is a book sure to give rise to some very interesting conversations in many groups, including women's rights and current political issues.
Club suggestion:
"We just finished 'A Tale for the Time Being' by Ruth Ozeki," said Brenda Yates of Full Court Press Book Club in Sutton. "This had very mixed reviews by the group. The story is very dark and can be rather disturbing. The Japanese culture that the author weaves into the story is very interesting, however the author takes some fairly bizarre twists with the story, which many of us found disconcerting. All in all, it was interesting but strange. If a group wants to read something different that will generate discussion then this might be a good choice."
Classic book recommendation:
Brookfield Library's Classics Book Group recommends two books members "truly enjoyed" this year: Daniel Dafoe's "Robinson Crusoe," their favorite true adventure-style writing, and Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."