May Simply Books! Meeting

We had a short but nice meeting over Memorial Day weekend.   There were only two of us, but we shared two good books!

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers–a really nice introduction to this
author, and will definitely try more of his books. This particular
novel is about a man who suffers severe neurological damage after an
accident. He develops a Capgras delusion, where he believes that
everyone close to him is an imposter. His case is so out of the
ordinary that a famous neuroscientist comes to evaluate him.
Overall the book is compelling and interesting (the sections on
neuroscience must have taken a lot of research on the author’s part),
though the bits from the scientist’s point of view can be a little
pedantic and boring. There’s also an element of mystery, which does
get answered, about how exactly the man’s accident happens.

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel–this nonfiction book is about the making of
the Gary Cooper Western “High Noon,” and the toxic political
environment it came out of. When the movie was being made, its
screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was called to testify before the House
Un-American Activities Committee. Frankel talks a lot about the
blacklist in Hollywood, the making of the movie (and how it’s an
allegory for the hearings), as well as providing biographies of the
major players.

Simply Books! is on summer vacation now, so we’ll see you back again in September!  Our next meeting will be Saturday, September 22nd.  I’ll post next year’s meeting schedule in September, too.  If you’d like to get on our mailing list, send me an email at




April Simply Books! Meeting

We held a brief meeting on a beautiful Saturday afternoon this month, and here are the books we shared with each other!

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson–this Pulitzer Prize-winner is a novel
about a pastor from a long line of pastors. He’s in his mid-70’s, and
the story is written as a letter to his seven year old son. The
pastor knows he won’t see his son grow up, so he’s using this letter
to impart fatherly wisdom and lessons. There’s lots of great food for
thought–scripture is used and discussed, but never in a preachy way.
There are several passages worth going back and looking at again. The
only wrong note was the ending–it seemed like it belonged in another

“Our Kind of Traitor” by John le Carre–le Carre’s novels of intrigue
are a lot like knitting argyle socks–lots of threads picking up in
different places! But the characters are incredibly
three-dimensional, you really get inside their heads–they’re people
who often doubt themselves and their motives. The story itself is
about international intrigue and money laundering. It’s hard to put

“Thunderstruck” by Erik Larson–unlike Larson’s “Devil in the White
City,” this book *is* easy to put down. It’s enjoyable, but tough to
get into a narrative flow when there are two stories going on: one
about Marconi and the details behind the invention of the telegraph,
and one about the Crippen murder.

“Miller’s Valley” by Anna Quindlen–this novel is set in the
1950’s/60’s in California, in the area where lots of rivers were being
dammed and lots of property developments going up. It’s centered on a
family fighting these changes, who want their slower way of life to
stay the same. Really good characters. Almost reminds one of the
Waltons–just people who want to live in the old and familiar way.

“Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the
Human Body” by Neil Shubin–this is a very accessible science book,
great if you’re interested in paleontology. It examines the history
of the human body and why and how it evolved the way that it did over
billions of years.

“What Is the What” by Dave Eggers–this novel tells the story of one
of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He comes to America to avoid becoming a
child soldier. It’s a tragic and comedic look at his immigrant
experience in the United States.

“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones–Oprah’s most recent book pick
is about a young black couple who have been married for a year. The
husband is convicted of a crime he did not commit, and goes to prison
for five years. The novel examines their marriage and its
breakup–very sad, but very good.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith–this mystery novel is
about a private detective named Cormoran Strike, who’s trying to solve
the possible murder of a model. He’s a great character, different
from the stereotype of PI’s–he’s a veteran and worked with military
police, and he’s got some issues, but he comes across as generally a
good guy. The descriptions, names, and word choices are all very
evocative. You’d never know this is JK Rowling writing under a pen
name, but once you do, you can see all of her strengths on display.

We also briefly mentioned a few other books, since we had so much time
left over: “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah; “Olive Kitteridge” by
Elizabeth Strout; “The House of Unexpected Sisters” by Alexander
McCall Smith; “Leonardo Da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson.

Our last meeting of this season will be Saturday, May 26th at 2pm in the Jean Picker Room at the library.  After that we’ll be on our summer break June-August, and reconvene on September 22nd!


Simply Books! March Meeting

Here are the books we shared at this month’s Simply Books! meeting:

“Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American
History” by Katy Tur–this memoir is by a journalist who followedT  ru mp on the campaign trail. No new information about the campaignitself, really, but an insight into how hard these journalists work and how much they might have to give up to take such a job (Tur had tomove from her home in London and lost her relationship). Well-written, and you admire the knowledge Tur has.

“Care and Management of Lies” by Jacqueline Winspear–this novel is by the same author who writes the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, but this book is not a mystery. It’s about a husband and wife during World War I writing letters back and forth, each telling comforting lies to reassure the other about how things are going. The wife is left to run the farm, while the husband is enlisted as an officer. Nice historical details, and beautifully written. A lovely read.

“Face Down Upon an Herbal” by Kathy Lynn Emerson–this mystery is the
second in the Lady Appleton series. These books are set in Elizabethan England and star herbalist Susanna, who keeps getting sent to manor houses to solve crimes. Despite the title, you don’t really learn too much about herbs! They’re enjoyable, easy reads, with nice historical details like spying and the role of Mary, Queen of Scots.  In this book, Susanna is sent to a crime scene because the victim was found face-down on a book that she’d written.

“Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins–Robbins is a quirky, funny writer, and this novel is all about the perfume business. It’s got a very involved plot, but it’s fun. You also learn a lot about perfume!

“Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?” by Mary T.
Newport–this book is about Newport’s personal journey in caring for her husband who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and her research into the use of ketones in brain health. That research led to more work in researching how coconut oil, a saturated fat, might effect the brain in a positive way. It’s a fascinating direction to look into, and it’s always good to know what sorts of things might help keep your brain healthy.

“Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World” by Nell
Stevens–this is a piece of creative nonfiction, all about the author’s time in the Falkland Islands as she tried to finish the novel she was working on. Stevens received a travel grant to finish her writing, and rented a house by herself in the Falklands. Part of the
story is about her time there, and what a fascinating part of the world it is. She also includes excerpts from her novel-in-progress.  It’s a delightful, creative picture of this time in her life, and it’s great how she can keep so many layers going at once in the narrative.  The descriptions are wonderful, too.

“Mozart’s Starling” by Lyanda Lynn Haupt–this nonfiction work by naturalist Haupt was a nice surprise! It’s all about starlings, inspired by the story of the starling owned by Mozart. Haupt also adopts a starling as she’s doing her writing and research for the
book, and anecdotes about her bird are interspersed with background about the species. It’s an informative book that covers a lot of topics–music, birds, linguistics, and our relationship to the natural world. Even if you’re philosophically opposed to this invasive
species, it’s a fun and fascinating read!

“Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third
Crusade” by John Reston, Jr.–this dual biography is about Richard the Lionheart and Saladin during the Third Crusade (1189–1192). Saladin, the Muslim leader, had taken back much of the Holy Land, and the Europeans then tried to re-conquer it. This book focuses a lot on Saladin–it’s clear Reston is a fan–and it’s fascinating to hear more
from the Muslim side than the Christian during the conflict. Not far enough along in the book to make a total judgment, but it’s very readable and about a compelling, if terrible, historical episode.

Our next meeting will be Saturday, April 28th at 2pm. There will be
an event in the Picker Room, so we’ll need to meet in our alternate location, the J area just beyond the rotunda.


Simply Books! February Meeting

Here’s a list of the books that we shared at our February Simply Books! meeting of the library’s adult book club!

“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver–this is the best book the reader has ever read. It’s one that really sticks with you.  It’s about a family of missionaries in Africa, and the story is told from each of their five perspectives. The description of Africa is so
rich that it doesn’t feel like fiction. The character voices are all wonderful, each one unique. It also makes for an interesting tragedy for the very religious character who, after conflicts, doesn’t really learn anything.

“Jade Dragon Mountain” by Elsa Hart–this is the first book in the Li Du mystery series (The White Mirror is the second). Set in18th century China, the story follows a librarian who’s been exiled from the Forbidden City, and ends up in a small town near Tibet, where a Jesuit astronomer mysteriously dies. There’s a fantastic sense of place, and the richness of the scenery and of the love and respect for scholarship in the culture really come through. It’s a very interesting time in Chinese history to read about, with the East India Company beginning to take over.

“Crime and Poetry” by Amanda Flower–the first in the Magical Bookshop series, this book is a very promising start. It’s well-written and very readable. The story is about Violet, who assists her ailing grandmother in her bookshop. Soon there’s a death that ties into an Emily Dickinson poem, and Violet has to solve the mystery. It’s a nice cozy mystery that blends a mystery with books and cats–a classic combination.

“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls–this memoir belongs on any list of books about people triumphing over the obstacles in their lives. Walls writes about her childhood, growing up with two parents who are likely mentally ill. They supported Walls and her siblings in intellectual ways, but let things like food and shelter slide. It’s not particularly well-written, but it is inspiring and compelling.

“Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson–this novel is a good young adult/adult crossover, about two girls battling eating disorders. Lia and Cassie are friends who are in a battle to see who can be the skinniest. Eventually Cassie passes away, and Lia feels guilty about her death. But Lia is still coping with her disorder, and the story describes her struggles and experience in a way that feels a lot more real and better than other similar stories. It’s very poetic and powerful, if a bit too swift and positive an ending.

“Homer & Langley” by E.L. Doctorow–this novel is loosely based on the story of the Collyer brothers, two recluses in New York City in the 1940’s. In this book, Homer lives with his brother in their decaying brownstone, describing the trajectory their lives have taken and how they ended up where they are. The writing has an elegance to it, and Homer gives off the vibe of not being altogether quite “right.” It’s certainly an affecting story, particularly knowing the true story that inspired it.

“There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil
Rights” by Jason Sokel–historian Sokel examines the lives of middle and working-class whites in the south during the Civil Rights era.  The book explores how these white people dealt with the changes in their society, from resistance to acceptance and many other feelings in between. The issues discussed in the book really feed into issues
of today.

“Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrmann–Fuhrmann is a regular on PBS, and he’s published a couple of books outlining his thoughts on how focusing diet on greens, fruits, and grains can make an enormous difference to health. He also talks a lot about processed foods and how bad they are for us, and how the food industry keeps pushing them.

“The Elephant Keeper” by Christopher Nicholson–this historical novel is set in the 18th century, on a grand estate. The main character is a young man who serves as the elephant keeper on the estate, and his deep relationship with the elephant he takes care of. It’s a fascinating, slow burn kind of story.

“Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality” by Pauline
Chen–this memoir relates how Chen, a surgeon, came to the realization that surgeons should work more closely with and support their patients during end of life care. Surgeons generally disconnect themselves from end of life decisions, and it comes from a desire to save lives rather than deal with the end of them. While she didn’t really present her thesis very well, it’s still an interesting reflection to read about.

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen–this novel is about the Vietnam war, including characters from South Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and an American. It’s intriguing, a little bit of a spy novel, and a bit visceral about the horrors of war. It’s very plot driven, and the
characters generate interest but not a lot of sympathy. But the phrasing is great, with wonderful imagery and a real way with language.

“Stranger from the Sea” by Winston Graham–this is the eighth book in the Poldark series, and it’s just as engaging with just as good a sense of history and place as the others. In this installment, it’s 1810 and Poldark is in his fifties with nearly grown children. While
most of the story focuses on the children, the grander backdrop is the ongoing war against Napoleon.

“Maine’s Favorite Birds” by Jeffrey and Allison Wells–a must-have for birders when the birds come back to the feeders this time of year!  Includes the common birds seen in Maine, and accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Evan Barbour. Beautiful and easy to use.

“A Painted House” by John Grisham–this novel is unlike Grisham’s other books. it deals with cotton farmers in the Arkansas delta, and it’s very enjoyable. Much better than his law books!

“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed–this memoir is about how the author hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo after some tough personal losses. It’s easy to admire her even if you’re not particularly outdoorsy or physical. She’s a great writer, too, and it’s clear she gained a lot of personal insight from her hike. One to stay up late and keep reading!

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


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






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!