Ann Patchett, Run: 1/21/10

Ann Patchett, runWe had a lively discussion.

“I was disappointed in Run.  I didn’t find it particularly compelling.  None of the characters drew me in.  It’s nice that the book takes place in Boston, but so what?”

“I thought the book was sappy.  I did not finish.  Mount Auburn Street is not Mount Auburn Drive.  I thought the book was poorly written and the vocabulary was elementary.”

“This is mush…People will come out of this book thinking that Catholics worship statues.  Kenya and her mother, Tennessee, touched me.  I was sorry when the mother died.”

“I can’t believe that this is the same person who wrote Bel Canto.

“I liked this book.  This may be because, after finishing 1,000 Splendid Suns, anything is better.  I did not like the conversation with the dead friend.”

“I found the book very boring and only finished it because the book club was coming up.”

“I loved Bel Canto.  It was one of my favorite books.  I eagerly went to Run and was extremely disappointed.”

“I have a degree in English.  I was wondering what compelled her to write this book.  Was the fish theme related to Jesus and the loaves and fishes?  The book seemed to try to achieve depths that it never quite managed”.

“Maybe this book was meant for a high school audience.  It seemed to be aimed more at women then at men.  Men want to see a central character and a central theme.  Tip’s accident seemed contrived.  Why would he go out into that weather when he was already injured?”

“I liked this book.  I wasn’t looking for fine literature.  I found myself liking the characters.  When Doyle gave Kenya the statue, I was horrified.”

“I thought Doyle held up well when Bernadette died.  The wife was the one who wanted more kids but he took his responsibilities as a father seriously.”

“If you have a priest it’s like God Almighty is in your house.”

“I was offended by the attempt to write about Harvard and not check your facts.  I thought it was lightweight.”

“Tip was a cold fish.”


Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns: 11/12/09

One thousand splendid susnOne member provided halvah and tea for the group this evening, two foods that Laila and Mariam enjoyed in the book.

“Really enjoyed the book. A real page turner….the bombings and the carnage…the burquas.”

“I liked this more than The Kite Runner. It seemed more real.”

One of the group members had heard the author speak in Cambridge. He shared some of the author’s observations with us:

“When the Soviets pulled out ….(it was the) darkest time in Afghanistan’s history because the Taliban came in…..The Qu’oran is actually a beautiful book. The Taliban has perpetrated a violent attitude towards women.”

One member said that the book “seemed empty outside of the events that took place.” Rasheed is a “monster”. Jalil is a “wimp”. Lila’s parents are “ineffectual”.

One person said that they felt “cheated” when Tariq came back and then got over it in the end.

Someone said that the city of Kabul is actually a character in this book.

“I enjoyed the book. It was very sad. I was reading at 2AM. I couldn’t put it down.”

A reader “liked this better than the Kite Runner…. couldn’t believe Rasheed at first. Mariam doesn’t like Laila at first. Jalil acknowledged Mariam to a degree. He had a little bit of sensitivity.”

“I read this right through. Couldn’t put it down. The beauty that happened inside…when they had their tea together. Liked more than The Kite Runner.”

One person commented that they had to put it down during the scene when Rasheed made Mariam chew the rocks. The thing is, she observed, “you can’t go a day without reading about a woman with acid thrown in her face.” This was a “fine and disturbing book”.

People were stunned by the fact that there was no anesthesia for Laila when she was having the baby.

An astute member points out that there were a few “interesting moments when Rasheed was kind. He never got over losing the first child. If you believe what the neighbors say, he was the cause of the death. Even with Zalmai he’s very indulgent and interesting. There’s no ethic for him to be humane.”

“When the Communists came it wasn’t even better”…this person liked the book because it’s about adults and not kids. They also liked Reading Lolita In Tehran. This reader accumulated a vocabulary of Farsi and Pashtu and listened to a biography of Mohammed trying to figure out where the subjugation of women comes from.

One reader liked it less. She felt that is was limited “the plot felt inevitable…like a tidal wave”. She felt that the first half dragged but that the second half was interesting. She noted that it seems like  much of the Muslim world is still caught in the seventh century.

Interestingly, a few people (mostly men) found the plot predictable, the characters wooden. A majority of the group loved the book. None of the women felt that it was a waste of time. Most of the women felt drawn in by the characters.

The facilitator was very taken in by the plight of Laila’s mother who took to her bed while her sons were at war and after their deaths. Others felt annoyed that she couldn’t be more present for her daughter. There, too, one wondered, was there a preference for males over females even on the part of a mother?

The facilitator also was struck by how Mariam saw the picture of Rasheed’s former wife and how she looked like she didn’t want to be where she was. This was very poignant.

Two more books recommended by readers:  Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez, and Places in Between by Rory Stewart.  The author’s web site,, also makes for very interesting reading.


Stewart O’Nan, Last Night at the Lobster: 9/10/09

Last Night at the LobsterI’ve lost my notes from this discussion, so all I can say is that this small poem of a book really touched me, although it was not a favorite of the group as a whole.  During our discussion, we were inspired to share stories of our experiences as waiters and workers in the restaurant business.  In this reader’s opinion, Last Night at the Lobster is a beautifully detailed moment in time about a man who finds it much easier to act with integrity and honor at work than he does in his personal life.   -KT

Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude: 5/14/09

100 Years of Solitude

Some quotes from our discussion:

“Fairy tale style.  A lot of free association.  Told in the author’s grandmother’s tone of voice.”
“Not the kind of book I would read if I didn’t have to.”
“A little too bloodthirsty in some scenes.”
“Glad he spelled out the names.”

“The paragraphs are so incredibly long.”

“You can’t be tired when you’re reading this.”

“Ursula had too many people to deal with.  They were too dysfunctional and weird.”

“I spent most of my time trying to remember the names.”

Was Ursula keeping things too nice for everyone?

She did throw out the son who married Rebeca.

“Thank God this is over.”

“This book shows that we are just so stupid.  We keep repeating the same thing over and over.  If the computer doesn’t work in thirty seconds we just buy a new one.  This book is about progress versus not progress.  I feel like if I read it a third time, I just might get it.”

“If you study opera you have to listen to Wagner even if you can’t stand him.   The same is true of this book.  If you study literature, you have to read it.  A survey around 2000 or 2001.  His first line was considered the best opening line.  Most of the story is in that first line.  Breathless drama packed into the beginning and the end.  The middle felt like a bit of a slog.”

“Took a whole month to get through this book.  A drinking from the firehose kind of thing.  Some dark humor.”

“A friend’s most favorite book.  I read and lost interest.  The crazy dreamlike landscape dropped into a Salvatore Dali landscape. “

“I would love to discuss this book with a native of one of the Latin American countries to get their perspective.”

“Didn’t really like the character of Amaranta.  Always going to the chart and wondering if I should finish this book.”

The group concluded that this book is definitely not light beach reading.   One gets more out of the book by reading and then rereading.  It was agreed by most participants that the discussion was helpful.  Together, we understood more clearly some of the elements that make this novel great.  We discussed ‘magical realism’ and the fact that not all Latin American writers use this style.  It was agreed that the writing is absolutely beautiful.  One can go to almost any page in the book and find lovely writing.  Some of the group members renewed the book, determined to give it another go.

Thanks to Louise Goldstein, guest facilitator & blogger.

2009 List: January – April

Books are available at the Main Circulation Desk during the month before the meeting.

January 8
Anne Tyler , Digging to America
2006, 277 pp.
“Two Baltimore couples, one American and one Iranian-American, meet at the airport as they receive the Korean babies whom they will adopt.” Cynthia Lasker

February 12
Geraldine Brooks, March
2005, 280 pp.
“From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Brooks takes the character of the absent father, telling a tale of an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union.” From

March 12
Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française
Translated by Sandra Smith
2004, 395 pp.
An unfinished historical novel sequence written during the very period that it depicts, telling of daily life in northern France during the German occupation.

April 16
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea
One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
2006, 368 pp.
“The journey that led Mortenson from a failed 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to successfully establish schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Titles for May through November 2009: To Be Announced…

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: 9/11/08

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Our group had an extremely varied and incredibly wide range of reactions to this book. Several book club members found Oskar, Foer’s troubled young main character, lovable and compelling.  Others were more interested in the story of tragedy passed down through generations.  There was a very small overlap between these two groups, with few people who rated the book positively overall.

Apparently Oskar is a character one either likes or dislikes.  The same might be true for Foer’s style of writing here. Many found the grandparents’ stories distracting, seeming to intrude from some other book altogether.  Some of us initially enjoyed the author’s cleverness, but even so, found it tiresome before long.  DS suggested that the gimmicky writing might be a way to convey Oskar’s break from reality, the madness he experiences with the loss of this father.  But she recommends Daniel Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day as a much more successful (nonfiction) exploration of an unusually gifted yet impaired young mind.  CD and I found ourselves thinking back fondly to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Some readers were distressed by the way Foer writes about (and illustrates) the events of September 11, 2001.  JUS questioned whether the book was really about 9/11 – she felt it was just a theatrical setting for these intellectualized characters to inhabit.  This may be one of the very things the others were objecting to.

JSI, RN and JOS did approve of the book: they appreciated the tale of loss and tragedy written with such imagination and humor.  CT fell in love with Oskar, the little guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Others wondered about Oskar’s epic search for the lock and whether it had any convincing meaning for us.  Many of us had really “heavy boots” by the time we got to the last page.  As CD said, a great novel will be written about September 11th, but we are still waiting for it.

Jonathan Safran Foer Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer Up Close and Personal with Book Page

More about Foer & Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  • For more articles on Foer and his books, try Infotrac Onefile, available at the library, or from home
    (with a Minuteman Library Network card).