January Simply Books! List

Here are the books we shared at our latest Simply Books! book club meeting at the library!

“Four Swans” by Winston Graham–a novel in the “Poldark” series, set
in Cornwall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This particular
story deals with the “four swans”–four women in Ross Poldark’s life.
It’s a bit of an old-fashioned soap opera, but so much wonderful
scene-setting and lots of context of the times. Very enjoyable.

“The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan–set in India, this
novel follows both the victims and perpetrators of a terrorist
bombing. The characters are three-dimensional, you really get into
their heads, especially the terrorist who eventually feels empathy for
his victims. The language is wonderful, really creative descriptions.

“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan–this novel follows a young woman
at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, with an ambition to be
a diver. It’s her life story, with all its trials and tribulations,
including an absent father and a gangster boyfriend. It’s very
informative fiction, you really get a sense of getting into these
characters’ lives.

“Ruthless River” by Holly Fitzgerald–a true story of survival in the
Amazon. It’s inspiring to know that people survived an ordeal like
this. It’s a story of a couple who becomes lost on a rafting trip in
the Amazon, and nearly die. It’s incredibly emotionally intense–way
too intense in places!

“Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English” by Natasha Solomons–this novel is
set in England during the decades around World War II, and follows a
German Jew who escaped Germany just ahead of the war. He’s determined
to follow all the rules to becoming a proper Englishman, but has a lot
of trouble being accepted into English society. The writing is very
evocative, and the book is fascinating–it takes a little while to
narrow down what it’s all about, but it’s worth it in the end.

“Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” by Audre Lorde–Lorde called this
book a “biomythology”–a nod to the fact that while she’s telling her
life story, she takes a few liberties. She writes like a poet about
her childhood in Harlem and about her coming of age and activism.

“The Jersey Brothers” by Sally Matt Freeman–Freeman is the daughter
of one of the brothers of the title. She set out to find out more
about her father’s youngest brother, a man nobody in her family really
talked about. He was a Japanese POW in the Philippines during World
War II, and his brothers (also in the military in different roles)
tried to figure out what happened to him.

“Personal History” by Katherine Graham–a memoir by the publisher of
the Washington Post, all about her upbringing around the paper and her
eventual ownership of it. She was the leader during the paper’s most
famous period, the release of the Pentagon Papers (and the most
exciting part of the book). An incredible read that won the Pulitzer.

“Bury Your Dead” by Louise Penny–one of the Inspector Gamache books,
this is a favorite so far. Interesting construction, with three
storylines at once. In one Gamache is dealing with the aftermath of
having to make a decision that he’s haunted by, as well as a case he
thought was closed. Another storyline is about an historian obsessed
with Champlain, and trying to find his remains.

“Jungle of Stone” by William Carlsen–this nonfiction book is about an
expedition to South America in the 1830’s, taken by John Stephens and
Frederick Catherwood. They were trying (and succeeded!) in finding
long-lost Mayan ruins in the jungle. Stephens wrote a book about the
experience accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Catherwood. The
book talks about their trip, their friendship, and a bit about the
Mayan culture they helped to uncover.

If you’d like to join us at a Simply Books! meeting, we hold them the fourth Saturday of every month at 2pm at the library.  If you’d like to be on our email list (for meeting reminders and meeting summaries), please send me a message at mstickney@librarycamden.org.







Marie’s Reading: “Spill Simmer Falter Wither” by Sara Baume

spill simmer falter witherThanks very much to the Simply Books! book club reader who shared this one at our May meeting.  I’ll use her description, as taken down in my notes:

“This slim novel is unsettling, compelling but hard to read.  It’s the story of a man and his dog, both of them damaged.  The man has had a horrible childhood of isolation, no education or nurturing.  Like the dog he adopts, he’s pretty much feral.  Layers of his history are peeled back with each season, and the dog is his only connection.  The language is beautiful–since the man grew up so isolated, he practically speaks a language of his own.  Sad, grisly, blackly funny, traumatic…this novel has a lot going on, right up to the ambiguous ending.”



I devoured this novel.  Our SB reader was spot-on in her description, in everything from the plot to the language to the words she chose to evoke the feel of the story.

The language really is gorgeous.  Baume’s descriptive language is beautiful, especially when talking about the weather and the landscape and the change in seasons.  Her choice of words and her phrasing are unique and interesting, matching the rhythm of someone used to living mostly in his own head.  The second-person narrative, directed at One Eye (as the dog is dubbed), makes for a great depiction of empathy and connection.

Ray’s has been a life of total isolation.  He never went to school, only left the house for Mass, and now that his father has died he only leaves for his Tuesday trips to the shops.  Ray and One Eye find themselves on the run after a run-in with a neighborhood dog, and the tone of the book moves from sad and heart-wrenching to desperate and heart-wrenching as the seasons pass.

A reflection on the forgotten and the marginalized, as well as on how affectionate bonds can be forged in the most unlikely places.


April Simply Books! Meeting

Thank goodness for the stalwart Simply Books! crew.  Gentlefolk and scholars all.

I was sick on Saturday.  While I chugged Dayquil and herbal tea and watched Spaced on YouTube, four of our regulars got together and had a great meeting.  So I’ll say again: thank goodness for this wonderful group!  I can’t tell you how nice it is that they don’t even need a facilitator around.

Many many thanks to the member who served as scribe this month, and then sent me the list!  I appreciate it immensely!

Here’s the list of books the Simply Books! members talked about this month:

improve marriage the constant princess


all the lightOur next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, May 23rd at 2pm at the library.  It will be our last official meeting of the season!  Hard to believe summer break is already upon us.  As ever, we’ll reconvene in September.

See you in May!


Simply Books! March Meeting

Soooo I forgot to mention this at the meeting (and in my email to group members, whoops) but March is the Simply Books! Group birthday month!

Happy Four Years, Simply Books!  Hard to believe it’s been that long.  It’s an honor to spend Saturday afternoons with you all!

"We wish it was our birthday, so we could party, too!" (courtesy of buzzfeed)

“Happy happy birthday, from all of us to you!  We wish it was our birthday, so we could party, too!”
(courtesy of buzzfeed)

Now onward to the books!  Here are the titles we shared at the March meeting:Trigger Warning

at home black river blacklight blue calico bush dared and done monkfish moon tenth circleAs great a mix as ever, and the conversation was just as fun!

Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 25th, at 2pm.  Hope to see you there!


February Simply Books! Meeting

No one was able to come last Saturday.

That’s never happened before.

I asked my dear friend Bridget Jones to re-enact how I spent the hour that Simply Books! was to occupy:

One member did send me their February read by email: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  She’s enjoying it, finding it a pretty universal story of relationships and foibles.

Until next time, friends.   Next time is scheduled for Saturday, March 28th at 2pm.  Hope to see you there!

But if everyone’s busy I know what I’ll be doing….

all by myself



January Simply Books! Meeting

Foiled!  Foiled by snow!  Snow!  Who knew that happened in Maine in the wintertime?!

The good news is that we weren’t entirely foiled.   We had a small but hardy band of people who live close by last Saturday.  Here are the books we talked about this month, as the storm raged outside:

saudi arabiaOn Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines, and Future by Karen Elliott House

some luckSome Luck by Jane Smiley

my brilliant friendMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

bravemuleBravemule: The Incredibly True Story of Raul the Coolest Mule In School Who Stood Up to Segregation  by Bennet Geis and Henry Chamberlin

reaperThe Reaper  by Peter Lovesey

secret placeThe Secret Place by Tana French

ChewChew by John Layman and Rob Guillory

If I survive yet another drive home tonight in the snowy blustery darkness, I’ll be facilitating our next meeting on Saturday, February 28th at 2pm in the Jean Picker Room.  If I don’t, it’s up to current members of Simply Books! to choose a successor.  And avenge me, of course.

Be safe, everyone!


December Simply Books! Meeting

A fresh new year means fresh new reads from the Simply Books! group.  Though technically, this was our December meeting, I’m counting it as 2015.

Here are the titles we talked about last Saturday!  I’ve included the reader’s comments and descriptions, which I noted to the best of my ability.  (It’s hard to take notes with this crew, they’re so fast and funny and smart, I always miss a few things….a good problem to have):

War in Val D’Orcia, 1943-1944 by Iris Origo
Origo wrote this diary during WWII, and it  was published largely unedited in 1947.  Origo wanted to keep the emotional immediacy of  her experiences, and it was well worth the effort. During the war Origo and her husband  owned a 4,000 acre farm complex in Tuscany, where they took in twenty-three children from the city as well as housed and protected deserters and travelers.  She wrote every day  for two years, describing their activities on the farm, the visitors they’d had, the  German inspections. Her story of life “on the ground” during wartime makes you think  about what war does to people–how many soldiers are just regular people who would rather  not be where they are, and how sometimes war can bring out the best in people.

Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson
This was a re-read of the hefty but rich  biography of O’Keeffe.  The artist was a fiercely independent extreme introvert who loved nature, and felt that art comes from feeling and intuition (which made her a bit of a maverick in the art world of her time).  Her nuances and complexities make her a  compelling subject for biography.  Robinson also includes a lot of discussion about  schools and theories of art, which adds to the already rich life story.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This modern classic centers on an impeccable  butler named Mr. Stevens, who has spent his life in service to one Lord Darlington at  Darlington Hall.  The plot centers on Mr. Stevens taking a road trip (with his new  employer’s car) to retrieve the housekeeper he used to work with.  Along the way,  disturbing, rattling memories begin to surface, as well as the realization that the man  Stevens idolized wasn’t as wonderful as he seemed.  A fascinating character study as well as an instructive meditation on the human ability to self-deceive.

The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson
A delightful, charming, witty story of a vicar and  his four daughters in a small quirky village in England during the second world war.   It’s fun but not frivolous, very much of its time.  A lovely read.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
A novel which tells the story of Jacob’s only daughter,  Dinah.  This fictionalized account of her life is very rich in Biblical history, womens’  issues, and relationships (the red tent is where the women of the tribe go in times of  menstruation and childbirth, to receive guidance and support from fellow tribeswomen).   It’s nice to hear a Bible story from a woman’s perspective, and to learn more about daily  life in that time and place.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The reader had just started this novel, but had read  The Kite Runner and was very impressed with Hosseini’s phenomenal job of portraying  both a woman’s perspective and that of modern Afghanistan.

Revival by Stephen King
He did this story at least twice already, and did it better  and scarier in Pet Sematary, and better and more heartrending in The Green Mile. Namely, the exploration of grief and what comes after death–in this story, it has to do  with a former minister broken by loss and grief and obsessed with what he calls “secret  electricity.”  All of the good elements of King are there, his characters and compelling  storytelling ability.  What’s missing is either drama or horror this time around, at least not in the usual doses.

There you have it!  If you’d like to join us for our January meeting, bring your latest greatest read to the Jean Picker Room on Saturday, January 24th at 2pm.