WHIRL (What Have I Read Lately) Books is a site for readers to find books for themselves and their book clubs. Liz at Literary Masters runs book groups and literary salons where we "dig deep" into literary treasures.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wrapping Up Doctor Zhivago

This epic novel is not for the faint of heart book club! In one of my groups, half the members were AWOL. (Am I that scary?) All in all, we decided that this is a wonderful, well-worth-reading, important book, but we can't be reading novels like this every month. More than one member thanked me for choosing it, and said she would never have read it without me. Awww...And absolutely everyone who finished it was glad that they had read it. Not in the sense of "Whew! glad that's done and dusted!"--but more in the sense of feeling satisfied at having read such a monumental work.

The conversations were glittering. (Hats off to a certain host who served Russian vodka and piroshkis to accompany our discussion, and whose house was filled with stunning white flowers to represent the ever-present Russian snow. Loved it!) An hour or two just let us scratch the surface, but the main take-aways were:
  • This is a book of BIG IDEAS, and everything else--the plot, the characters, the relationships--are all secondary.
  • This is NOT a love story. The movie with Julie Christie and Omar Sharif focuses on the love element, but the book is a sort of existential study of our earthly predicament.
  • Some members saw Yury as a weak, selfish character, while others felt he was doing the best he could under the circumstances. My favorite comment was from a member who felt Yury was similar to Tiger Woods. Love it!!! I did, of course, immediately raise the level of discussion by asking if a better comparison might not be made with Hamlet.
  • The book is "about" hope, whatever form that hope may take, be it art, passion, literature, or even forgiveness after confession.
  • The imagery of light and dark in the book helps to carry that message of hope to the reader.
  • A very astute and erudite member pointed out that Yury and Strelnikov were polar opposites in life as well as in death (think about how they each died!), and this contrast illustrated the different ways of living life. One was all passion and action, the other thought and caution.
  • Destiny, like the omnipresent train, cannot be stopped. History cannot be stopped, nor made. One must just ride it out, so to speak.
All in all, a success for those who stuck it out! How about you? Have you ever spent a snowy winter all snuggled up with Yury and Lara?

Sunday, February 21, 2010


W.H.I.R.L. Yes, that's right. WHIRL. It stands for "What Have I Read Lately"--and I aim to be "whirling" every so often. That is, I'll be sharing what I've read lately with you. And I would LOVE it if you would WHIRL back to me!!!

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. Loved it. Funny. Poignant.

Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz. Liked it but not my favorite from him.

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng. Liked it A LOT. Very atmospheric. Learned some history--disturbing history, I must say. Malaysia in WWII.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Stunningly beautiful. One of my favorite books.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. Short stories, some masterful, some good but weird. Worth reading, though--Munro always is.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Short stories by someone whose writing reminded me of Alice Munro. Loved it!

The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer. Started out sort of gripping but then became kind of trashy. (If you're in the mood for trashy, you might like it.)

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Loved it! A page-turner!

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga. Didn't love it. In fact, put it down half-way through and then returned it to the library unfinished.

The Thief and the Dogs by Naguib Mahfouz. Liked it a lot. Mahfouz is terribly readable, and I always feel as if I am IN Egypt while reading his books.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. Didn't love it, but feel like I have to re-read it at some point to "get" it.

Sieze the Day by Saul Bellow. Liked it. Liked it better when I read it years ago. I don't know why.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Deeply thought-provoking book. A must-read.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan. A bizarre and disturbing story from one of my favorite authors.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Liked it A LOT although the author's use of "he" for Cromwell became intensely annoying after a short time. This is one long book.

In the Kitchen by Monica Ali. Forced myself to finish it. This book needs an editor--with a large pair of scissors.

The Spare Room by Helen Garner. Very readable and moving. You have to be able to handle a book in which a character is dying from cancer, though.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Wonderful. What a craftswoman Lahiri is.

Blame by Michelle Huneven. Quite good. Very readable. Thought-provoking for a light to medium-dense read.

Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje. Gripping. Disturbing. Wonderful.

Feel free to join in and link to your WHIRL on Mrs. Magoo Reads!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book of the Month: Doctor Zhivago

February's Book of the Month is Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Part history, part philosophy, part love story, this epic novel will transport you to a different place, a different time, a different life. Rich with characters, each reacting uniquely to the historically cataclysmic situation in which they find themselves, Doctor Zhivago is sure to resonate on some, if not many, levels with you. Unlike Anna Karenina, which dazzles from the start, Doctor Zhivago will slowly grow on you and before long you will be caught in its grip, unable to put down this poetic and profound masterpiece. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

New Year's Resolutions Redux

Wow, I had two New Year's resolutions: One, to drink more water. Two, to post more on my blog. Well, I am chagrined to admit that I am still as dry as a desert, and looking at my blog, that metaphor carries through. Dry. Empty of life. Well, of new postings, anyway. Yet, I always say "it's not too late," so here I am, water glass in hand, blogging away. And many of you have contacted me to point out that my website is a tad, um, barren too. Thanks--I am aware! Some of our technical staff have been on an extended vacation, but when they return we will get the entire site spiffed up! Until then, I am lifting my glass of H2O to you all--Cheers!