The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 30, 2006


Have you read a good book lately?

These Carlisle women have read lots of books, and they share their suggestions with Mosquito readers. They are members of several of the book clubs in town, who selected their books especially for summer reading. We tried to find a men's book club, or a book club that included men, but were unsuccessful. Happy reading!

Anjli Trehan, Friends of the Gleason Library Book Club, recommends:

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

This book is a timely and articulate explanation of the "flat," a.k.a. connected, world we live in today. Through personal stories and amusing anecdotes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist analyzes how the lowering of trade barriers and the Internet have empowered individuals across the planet (especially in India and China) to compete and collaborate on a global level. He also suggests ways in which America can adapt and better position itself in this new world. I highly recommend this book to high school students and adults since complex ideas are well explained, making it an excellent introduction to 21st century globalization.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This is a vivid and poignant book narrated by a 15-year-old autistic boy, Christopher, who, under the guidance of a special teacher, starts to write a crime book which would uncover the murder of his dog. In spite of Christopher's statement: "This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them," I found this short and easy-to-read novel heartbreakingly funny. At a time when our schools are witnessing increasing enrollments of autistic students, this fascinating book delves into the workings of a mind incapable of processing emotions. It is a must-read for students, teachers and parents.

Kite Runner by Khaled Hossein

This provocative novel is the story of two boys, one from a privileged family and the other a servant's son, who grew up as inseparable friends in Afghanistan in the early 1970s. The story spans 30 years when the protagonist, who has immigrated to California, returns to his ravaged homeland after the Taliban takeover. The plot twists make this debut novel both eloquent and enlightening. I highly recommend this book since it cleverly brings a nation, culture and people to life, of which not much is known to the outside world, through the emotions and relationships of its characters.

Helen Lyons, Mettawee Book Club, recommends:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Lisa See's fourth novel is a fascinating tale of the life-long friendship between two women. Through the voice of Lily, now 80 years old, the reader is transported to rural 19th—century China. Although Lily is the daughter of a peasant farmer, through the good fortune of her age and birth date, she is selected by the local matchmaker to become the "laotang" (or "old same") of Snow Flower, the daughter of a wealthy, higher-stationed family in a nearby village. By the age of 7, Lily and Snow Flower have exchanged their laotang vows and are bound together for life. Together they endure the pain of foot-binding, learn the art of "nu shu," a secret writing used by the women of rural Hunan province, and spend their days sharing their dreams and fears as they prepare for their arranged marriages.

Lily's perfectly bound feet allow her to marry into a family of higher status, while Snow Flower must marry beneath her. Over the years they exchange news of marriage, children, war and famine written in nu shu on a silk fan. As Lily's status within the community rises, her relationship with Snow Flower changes until their laotang bond is tested.

See presents in wonderful period detail, the traditions and rituals of rural China as well as the day to day challenges faced by women in a culture where they are prized not for their character or intelligence but for the beauty of their bound feet.

Stephanie Upton, the History Book Group, recommends:

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr

This is a fascinating account of the discovery of a famous Caravaggio painting, "The Taking of Christ," which had been lost for generations. The various clues to its whereabouts involve three main characters in the search for the painting, the verification of its authenticity and its restoration. It is set in Rome, England and Dublin in the 1990s and revolves around a young graduate student in art history, a restorer of paintings, and a prestigious Caravaggio scholar.

I enjoyed this book because it was a blend of real-life drama and mystery — with even a bit of romance! I learned many interesting details about the art world, set forth in understandable terms. It left me wanting to see the actual painting which remains in Ireland.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin,

This well-written and well-documented account of Lincoln, centers around the members of his cabinet. It begins with a biographical sketch of each of the men who aspired, along with Lincoln, to the presidency and traces the unlikely (in today's world) rise of Lincoln in politics. The book then puts the events of the Civil War in the context of the varied, often competing viewpoints of his cabinet members — whom he chose purposely for their strengths that often put them at loggerheads.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this account of Lincoln and the Civil War years and learned many details about Lincoln the man and the president that I had not known. I also found the book particularly fascinating as a study of personnel management techniques.

Stephanie Upton also belongs to the No Guilt Book Group and recommends:

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

The most recent novel from this well-known author is set in New Hampshire around three generations of a family, come together from different "agendas" for a yearly retreat. The book opens with an accidental shooting of one of the family members and retraces the days and hours leading up to this event in order to solve the mystery of what actually happened. As each member of the family reacts in a different way, the novel is really a deep exploration of personal and family relationships and moral dilemmas.

While several members of my book group did not care for this book as they thought the characters were not well-enough drawn, I actually liked it because it offered food for thought on everything from gun control and environmental concerns to issues facing adolescents, their parents and different lifestyles and life-views.

Susan Mills, the Bas Bleu Book Club, recommends:

Forever by Pete Hamill

An exciting mix of fantasy and reality, Forever traces the life of an Irish Jew named Cormac O'Connor, born in Ireland, the son of a blacksmith, in the early 1700s. After the untimely deaths of his parents, Cormac immigrates to New York to pursue the Earl of Warren, the man responsible for the deaths. In New York, Cormac is granted the gift of immortality on the condition that he never leave the island of Manhattan. Through Cormac's narrative and memories, the book then becomes a story of Manhattan from the mid 1700s through the events of 9/11/2001. The story is filled with wonderful descriptions of the transformation of Manhattan from a small settlement on the tip of the island to today's metropolis.

This is a quick-moving, enjoyable summer read. The descriptions of Manhattan through the ages are vivid, the character of Cormac is very likeable and his observations are both entertaining and poignant. While clearly a novel, the elements of history help to ground the story and make Cormac's life seem glorious and real.

Hannelore Munson, Page Turners Book Club, recommends:

The Unwanted by Kien Nguyen

This is even better than Kite Runner. It's the story of a young Amerasian boy at the end of the Vietnam War, left behind in Communist Vietnam in 1975 when the U.S. troops pulled out. Nguyen tells of his descent from wealth and privilege into the depths of despair and deprivation, until his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1985. It's a riveting story.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

This is about the bubonic plague in 17th-century England. I couldn't put it down. A small village is quarantined, the wealthy leave and food is dropped to the survivors who try to control the spread of the deadly disease. A widow, Anna, loses nearly everything — her children, her friends, her sanity — trying to save the village. The book makes you think of our fears of Avian flu and terrorist biological attacks and the quarantines that might result.

Gertrud Behn, First Edition Book Club, recommends:

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan

This is a nonfiction account of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who both lay claim to the same small house in Ramla in Israel. The Israeli family has lived in it since it was abandoned by the family of the Palestinian man in 1948. An unlikely friendship develops between the two in 1967 when the Palestinian man returns to the house. Over several decades, we learn the stories of both families. As the two main characters grow and age, their lives intersect in intriguing ways. This beautifully written narrative puts a human face on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the people it affects, but it doesn't propose a solution to the dilemma.

Nikki Spencer and Ariel Morrison (daughters of Christy Barbee and Phyllis Zinicola), Concord-Carlisle Mother-Daughter Book Club, recommend:

The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Paula Spencer is a working class mother of four trying to make ends meet in Dublin, Ireland. Not only is she a recovering alcoholic, but she is also recuperating from the death of her estranged husband, Charlo. Their relationship is a complex one. As a battered wife, she both hates and fears him, but she lives for the occasional glimpse of kindness and love. Doyle's narrative spirals back and forth from the past to the present, examining the build-up of Paula's life through her colorful memories and her emotions surrounding Charlo's death.

Thankfully, this book's serious content is offset by Doyle's inherent Irish humor, which makes such an intense topic possible to read. Doyle does not seem to struggle with writing from a woman's perspective, and Paula's confusing search to discover what she did wrong to deserve such abuse is both compelling and heartrending. His words are not just for women, however, and anyone can enjoy this story of love for others and ultimately, for self.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito