Friday, July 1, 2011

A Year of Favorite Reads

The Marshall Afternoon Book Club has been meeting at the John Marshall Branch Library for the past 8 years. The book selections are eclectic and include best sellers, classics, and nonfiction. Often, monthly titles are accompanied by field trips and movies which highlight our discussions.

The most recent book club field trip was to the National Gallery of Art to see the special exhibit, “Gauguin: Maker of Myth.” In April, the group read The Moon and Sixpence, a short novel by W. Somerset Maugham which is based on the life of the painter Gauguin. The exhibit was a perfect complement to our earlier discussion.

When club members were asked to vote on their favorite books of the last year, the top choice was Out Stealing Horses, by Per Pettersen. Originally published in Norway, this is the story of Trond, a 67-year-old recluse who is forced to reflect upon a long-ago incident from his youth. After meeting with his only neighbor, Trond is forced to confront the tragic incident that marks the beginning of a series of losses for him and his childhood friend.

A wonderful bestseller was the club’s second choice. The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been a favorite of many book clubs around the country and it will be released as a movie this summer. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s, this is the story of the complicated relationships between white families and their domestic “help.” In the midst of the Civil Rights movement, three women start a risky movement of their own. Their determination changes a town and the way that both black and white women view one another.

Another popular pick was a timely nonfiction selection. The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan was the book that provoked the most enlightening conversation of the year. This is the true story of a remarkable relationship between two families, one Arab and one Jewish, who are brought together by a house and a lemon tree. In 1967, not long after the Six-Day War, three young Arab men ventured into Israel on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes. Their families had been driven out by the Israelis nearly 20 years earlier. Two of these men were turned away, but the third was met at the door by a young Israeli woman who invites them in. So begins a decades long relationship that changes the hearts and minds of those involved. This moving story symbolizes the hope for peace in the Middle East, and it had a great impact on all of our readers.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer is another popular book club selection. It is a story that is told, remarkably, through letters. The setting is the British island of Guernsey which faced German occupation during all of World War II. The intriguing name of this society was born as a spontaneous alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans who occupied their island. Through letters between an aspiring author and a native of Guernsey, this story is born. All of our readers agreed that this was a unique look at a historical time and place that had not been well known.

The final favorite was actually the first selection of the year, the January title. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is the perfect book to sink into on a cold winter night. With elements of a fairy tale and a mystery, this book cast its spell on everyone in the group. Abandoned on a 1913 voyage to Australia, a young girl is found and raised by a dock master and his wife, who do not tell her until she is an adult that she is not their child. This leads that young girl, Nell, to return to England to seek out her story. Unable to unlock the mystery before her death, she hands down her quest for answers to her granddaughter. This is a beautifully written novel that moves through time to show the strong bond that links a grandmother, mother and daughter. It left everyone wanting to read other titles by this new Australian author.

The Marshall Afternoon Book Club meets in the John Marshall Branch Library on the second Wednesday of the month, from 1 – 3 p.m. New members are always welcome. Check the Library website for a listing of the 2011 selections.

Marshall Library Afternoon Book Club

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