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.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Everyone Wins at the Used Book Sale

I was at my favorite local bookstore yesterday to buy the non-fiction book I'll be using in my next season of Literary Masters book groups. I can't tell you the title yet; you'll have to wait until I announce my list of books! Suffice to say, it is so captivating, I am having a hard time putting it down. I think everyone will love it!

Anyway, the bookstore was having a sale in its used book annex. The already discounted prices were 50% off to benefit the local hospice. Well, the only thing better than a great used book store is one that is having a sale, so I decided my reading (lots of reading to get through so I can complete next season's list) could wait and I went into the annex.

I came home with a pristine hardback copy of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, some sort of riveting gothic tale. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction. I went on Sarah's official website, and she has a page of "top ten" ghost stories. Check it out:

I also purchased for a few dollars Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. I've been meaning to read this book for ages--it was published in 2006. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

On my way out I picked up Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Everyone seems to love this book. Well, I'll see...you all know what a literary snob I can be!

Anyway, I was happy with my purchases, the bookstore was happy that I bought a current hardback book, and the hospice was happy with the money from the used books I bought. Happiness all around. See what books can do for the world?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wrapping Up My Son's Story by Nadine Gordimer

Well, isn't it funny--here this was the book I was most nervous about my groups reading; I thought people would find it too slow. Instead, save for a very few who found it a difficult read, most everyone just loved it. As you all know by now, it is one of my favorite books.

So, wrapping it up: what did everyone have to say about it? In no particular order:
  • Whose story is this? Well, this was answered on many levels, and more than one group pointed out that it may be the story of South Africa. Sonny, the Shakespeare-loving dad, handing over the reins to Will, who writes the true story of what happened. Or is it liberal-minded, free, and white Hannah handing over the reins to black, rebellious and silently powerful Aila?
  • Hey, but is the story true? Or is it, like one member pointed out, just one child's hand-held video-cam rendition of his family? Remember who is narrating the story. Yes, Will is. So, although we think at times we are getting Sonny's version, or Aila's or Baby's, we are only ever getting their version as mediated through Will.
  • And what kind of a narrator is Will? Hmm, as another member pointed out, only one of the least reliable narrators in literature! His motive: revenge! Will tells us, "...because I've begun a project--call it that--that needs solitude. I've found a use for the state, compromised and deserted, he dumped me in when he walked off so calmly with his blonde after an afternoon at the cinema." (196) And then later he admits to us: "In our story, like all stories, I've made up what I wasn't there to experience myself...Sometimes I can hear my voice breaking through, my judgments, my opinions elbowing in on what are supposed to be other people's. I'll have to watch out for that next time." (275) So, this really is Will's story--told by Will to us, and do we feel betrayed when we realize he's been imagining a lot of it?
  • Hmm...the theme of betrayal is absolutely pervasive. Every which way we connect the dots, we come up wtih betrayal. Sonny betrayed his family, the struggle, himself, and Hannah; Will betrayed his father (when he wrote the story) and his own self (by becoming his father); the struggle betrayed Sonny; Hannah betrayed them while in the country and then when she upped and left; the list goes on...
  • The references to Shakespeare made us all want to read more Shakespeare--King Lear and Hamlet ring throughout this story. And we read Sonnet 13, from which the epigraph is taken, and more than one member was visibly moved by it. Reading this sonnet and realizing why Will is writing the story combines to bring home the absolute devastating effects Sonny and Hannah's actions had on the family. One rather erudite member asked--are we to look at this story as a Shakespearian tragedy?
  • We all loved talking about the Oedipal dynamic going on between Will, Sonny, and Aila. Which brings us to Aila...her silence (representative of black South Africans under apartheid?) was, in the end, more powerful and stronger than any other force in the story. And she was committed to the struggle in a way that white Hannah showed she was not. Hannah, the liberal white wrapped up in the drama of another people. Swooping in like a savior, only to wreak destruction. See the poem on pp. 276-7. Most of us thought that the dove at the end, dashing in swift through the bars and breaking its neck against stone walls, was Hannah.
  • Why did Sonny go to Hannah--when it seemed like he and Aila really loved each other? Most members felt that as Sonny's identity changed, as he became more 'Sonny' than Sonny, as he became the revolutionary as perceived by others, his own identity became tangled up with Hannah--who was also involved in the struggle. The politics, the power, the passion all became intertwined, and they never separated their feelings for each other from the love of the struggle and their positions of power in it.
  • Some members commented on how Sonny and Hannah's relationship was more abstract than anything, well at least more abstract than Sonny and Alia's very concrete day-to-day existence. "Joy. That was what went with it. The light of joy that illuminates long talk of ideas, not the 60-watt bulbs that shine on family matters." (65)
  • And was Sonny treating the struggle in the abstract also? So that when he was called to act at the cleansing of the graves, he was not able to put his beliefs and values into concrete action?
  • Some members pondered whether Sonny's political fall affected Hannah's feelings for him.
  • Some members saw the venue where Will discovers Sonny and Hannah--the cinema--to be significant. I would agree, given his voyeurism that follows as he narrates their love story.
  • Oh gosh, there is so much more to this book, and I could just pick it up right now and read it all over again. However, I have to move on...

But how about you? What did you think of My Son's Story, if you read it? And if you haven't, do you think you will?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wishful Thinking for Summer Reading

You know what I feel like doing? I feel like curling up with The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott, all 1926 pages of it, and reading it from one end to the other. I took it out of the library the other day, something I've meant to do ever since I watched The Jewel in the Crown, the British TV series that I was obsessed with--I had to watch every single episode (again, taken from my wonderful local library) right through from the beginning to the end of the series. I was so sad when it was over, and I wanted more!

Anyway, I was meandering among the fiction shelves and I saw it--The Raj Quartet. By page nine I was hooked. I felt like I was India. I could feel the heat, see the dust. Oh, what a wonderful way to spend a summer. I put it back on the shelf, though. I am being disciplined, as I have a lot of other reading to do. You all know by now that I am furiously reading award-winning books to choose my list for next season's book groups.


The four books within the quartet are titled: The Jewel in the Crown, The Day of the Scorpion, The Towers of Silence, and A Division of the Spoils.

Oh, and if you haven't yet seen the television series, RUN, do not walk, but RUN, knocking down everyone in your way, to your local library or video store to procure it. Or I guess you can Netflix it or some other less energetic way of getting your hands on it. Anyway, get it and watch it--you will thank me.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I just know Mrs. Magoo of www.mrsmagooreads.com will be whirling today, so I'm going to join her and tell you: What Have I Read Lately! Perhaps I should say What Haven't I Read Lately, as I've been reading quite a bit in order to choose JUST the right books for my book groups next season.

Now, because I'm not yet ready to release my book list (I haven't yet completed it!), I can't divulge some of the titles of novels I've seriously enjoyed recently. Sorry, but you'll just have to wait, or better yet, sign up for one of my book groups! I can tell you about some books that I won't be using...not because they aren't good, but for various other reasons.

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl. Wow. I am currently reading this non-fiction book about Frankl's psychological theory, and I am thoroughly captivated. Warning: not an easy read, especially the first part about his experiences in a German concentration camp during WWII. I will WHIRL about this book again when I finish it, so stay tuned.

Summertime by J.M. Coetzee. Hmmm, I really enjoyed this book, but felt a little less than satiated at the end. The structure is unique: Coetzee, the author, writes a fiction about a dead John Coetzee, whose biographer is interviewing five important people from John's life as research for his book. John's notebook fragments on his own writing are also included in the fiction. At times I felt like I was in some sort of hall of mirrors...I'm still really digesting this book, figuring out what I think about it, but I wouldn't mind chewing it over with others in order to extract more from it. Have you read it? What do you make of it?

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Again. A masterpiece. As always.

How about YOU? What have YOU read lately?