Book Group — Tuesday, February 14 — 2 pm

On Tuesday, February 14, at 2 pm we will be discussing The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. This is the second Tuesday of the month, as usual. To RSVP, please email tonilin@aol.com.

The list of the books for the rest of 2023 is included below.

February 14, 2023 — The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout – 2013, 352 pp —
Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer prize-winning American writer whose reputation has grown steadily since her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, which was shortlisted for the Orange prize. She also works as a lawyer, and her expertise informs the plot of The Burgess Boys, where a legal drama is at the center of the story.

In the end …, this is not a story of good versus evil but a complex and bold examination of political and family relationships, of the long-term effect of guilt and lies, of people’s motives and failures and muddled intentions.

March 14, 2023    Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again – by Norah Vincent, 2006, 287 pp.

There’s so much codification of pronouns and pressure now at prepubescent ages to make irreversible sex changes (many of them later regretted), that this book seems refreshing.. It’s about a woman who is a tomboy going to see what it’s like to be a man, without wanting to be one. I think the politically correct stuff with transgender in the States is a bit stultifying and here’s a book that precedes it, but shows a way that might be less traumatic for young people. (Like, skip the procedures and just be gay.) Right now society says one has to be transgender, and choose one gender over the other; it’s rather homophobic really, right? I’m not sure but would love to discuss and to read this book, which apparently shows the problems of being either sex.

April 11, 2023   Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – 305 pp, 2018 — From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement.

“Warlight is a quiet new masterpiece from Michael Ondaatje…An elegiac thriller [with] the immediate allure of a dark fairy tale. In Warlight, all is illuminated, at first dimly then starkly, but always brilliantly.” —Anna Mundow, The Washington Post

“Mr. Ondaatje has stepped into John de la Carré’s world of spies and criminals…his novel views history as a child would, in ignorance but also innocence and wonder.” —Sam Sacks, WSJ 

May 9, 2023  A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, 288 pages, a classic, 1934

Evelyn Waugh’s 1934 novel is a bitingly funny vision of aristocratic decadence in England between the wars. It tells the story of Tony Last, who, to the irritation of his wife, is inordinately obsessed with his Victorian Gothic country house and life. When Lady Brenda Last embarks on an affair with the worthless John Beaver out of boredom with her husband, she sets in motion a sequence of tragicomic disasters that reveal Waugh at his most scathing.


June 13, 2023      The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian – 496 pp. Online blurb: “Today’s “machine-learning” systems, trained by data, are so effective that we’ve invited them to see and hear for us―and to make decisions on our behalf. But alarm bells are ringing. Recent years have seen an eruption of concern as the field of machine learning advances. When the systems we attempt to teach will not, in the end, do what we want or what we expect, ethical and potentially existential risks emerge. Researchers call this the alignment problem.

Systems cull résumés until, years later, we discover that they have inherent gender biases. Algorithms decide bail and parole―and appear to assess Black and White defendants differently. We can no longer assume that our mortgage application, or even our medical tests, will be seen by human eyes. And as autonomous vehicles share our streets, we are increasingly putting our lives in their hands.

July 11, 2023    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese, 256 pp – 2016

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

August 8, 2023    Less – Andrew Sean Greer – 272 pp. — 2017

Well written, insightful in humorous ways. Reminds me of Stegner a bit. Gay writer on world tour of writing retreats, trying to forget ex and get handle on with his life at 50. Light and funny… with dabs of dark.

A struggling novelist travels the world to avoid an awkward wedding in this hilarious Pulitzer Prize-winning novel full of “arresting lyricism and beauty” (The New York Times Book Review).

September 12, 2023   Mendeleyev’s Dream, by Paul Strathern. 2019, 320 pp. The history of chemistry is filled with quirky characters like Dimitri Mendeleyev, the Russian scientist who first proposed the periodic table after it allegedly came to him in a dream. Strathern’s book traces that history all the way back to its origins in ancient Greece. It’s a fascinating look at how science develops and how human curiosity has evolved over the millennia.

October 10, 2023    Silverview by John le Carré – 2021 – 215 pp.     In his last completed novel, John le Carré turns his focus to the world that occupied his writing for the past sixty years—the secret world itself.

“[Le Carré] was often considered one of the finest novelists, period, since World War II. It’s not that he ‘transcended the genre,’ as the tired saying goes; it’s that he elevated the level of play… [Silverview’s] sense of moral ambivalence remains exquisitely calibrated.” —The New York Times Book Review

Silverview is the mesmerizing story of an encounter between innocence and experience and between public duty and private morals. In his inimitable voice John le Carré, the greatest chronicler of our age, seeks to answer the question of what we truly owe to the people we love.

November 14, 2023    Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson – 2022, 192 pp.   ONE OF BARACK OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2022 * An NPR and Time Best Book of the Year * Longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize (Canada) * Finalist for CALIBA’s 2022 Golden Poppy Awards

A successful art dealer confesses the story of his meteoric rise in this “powerful, intoxicating, and shocking” (The New York Times) novel that’s a “slow burn à la Patricia Highsmith” (Oprah Daily). “You’ll struggle not to rip through in one sitting” (Vogue).

December 12, 2021   Kindred by  Octavia Butler – 2009, 264 pp. “In what is considered a literary masterpiece and Butler’s most popular novel, Kindred follows a young Black woman named Dana. Though she lives in 1976 L.A., she’s suddenly transported to a Civil War-era plantation in Maryland. Soon, the more frequently Dana travels back in time, the longer she stays, as she faces a danger that threatens her life in the future.”

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