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.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I have been thinking about themes for my next season of Literary Masters book groups.  I have fond memories of the time I did "Literary Masters Falls in Love"--I mean, who can resist that?  I was considering books about marriage, but thought that might get too, I don't know, personal???  Anyway, all of a sudden, just by chance, I ended up reading a bunch of books that fall right into that category.  I don't have time for a long post, so I am just going to WHIRL here, but if you want "Points to Ponder," please let me know.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  I just love this title.  The book is quite good, if a tad dated.  (Is that heretical?)  Four stars, but would probably bump up to five if we discussed it in one of my Literary Masters book groups.  The books always improve in my salons!  I couldn't help but think of other books I've read while I was reading this, such as The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, or Coral Glynn.

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry.  Four stars.  Again, I kept thinking of other books, like Brooklyn.  This is a quiet yet compelling story, and the writing is beautiful.  I almost feel I should read it again, and I might bump it up to five stars.  This book is about much more than marriage, but it deals with that institution in a certain time frame as well.  This book has been on long or short lists for many prestigious prizes, and I can see why.

Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates.  Wow.  This is one hefty book, yet I tore through it.  I had always wanted to read something by this prolific author, and now I have.  I'm glad I chose this book; it was really...creepy, compelling, thought-provoking, and quite a page-turner.  I am considering this for my next season of Literary Masters.

What about YOU?  What have YOU read lately?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pulitzer Prizes Announced--What a Shocker!

I eagerly await the announcement of a literary award, so I was on pins and needles this morning, anticipating the Pulitzer Prize winners--especially for fiction!  Wow!  What a shocker--no award for the fiction category.  Really???

Click here for the link to the site in case you're interested in checking out all the other categories.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Springtime WHIRL with the Stars!

For those of you who are new to this site, welcome!  WHIRL stand for "What Have I Read Lately," and it's just a quick round-up of my reading that I don't have time to make longer posts for. (If you'd like "Points to Ponder--in-depth, thought-provoking questions for your book club--for any of these books, please let me know.)  So...here goes:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  If I gave stars like other sites do, I would give Middlesex by this author five stars, but I would only give The Marriage Plot three stars.  It was extremely disjointed, and although the section on one of the character's descent into depression was so well-written that I felt like I was descending into madness myself, I still think the book as a whole was just not...stellar.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain.  Again, I'd have to give this novel three stars.  That is, if I gave stars.  Hmm, perhaps I'll start.  Anyway, this novel is from another author whom I look forward to reading, but--and this speaks to my philosophy of "low expectations are a good thing"--I was disappointed in this book. Immigrant from Eastern Europe tries to make a success of his life in England.  It went on a bit too long, and I was just glad to be done with it.  Actually, that's too harsh.  I did enjoy the book until the very end, which dragged.  Maybe three and a half or four stars.  Tremain's writing is always good, and her character development is great. 

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  Brutal.  Brilliant but brutal.  Five stars.  Read it.  And see the movie.  I may choose this book for my Literary Masters book groups next season.  I'm not sure, though, because it really is emotionally wrenching.  The portrait of a marriage, and the individuals within it.  A period piece that resonates for anyone in any era who strives to be special, amazing, the best he/she can be...

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron.  Another period piece that resonates with anyone who has ever felt trapped--within a relationship, within a job, within one's own expectations.  Four and a half stars.  At first I thought this novel was rather simplistic, but it stayed with me a long time after I finished it.  If you liked Brooklyn and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, I think you will like this book.

So, what about you?  What have YOU read lately?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Should Your Book Club Read Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga?

You may know Aravind Adiga from his Booker-winning The White Tiger.  I enjoyed that book quite a bit, which propelled me to pick up Last Man in Tower.  I'm glad I did.  It was the March selection for many of my Literary Masters book groups, and it was a great choice.

Warp-speed plot summary:

The setting is Bombay, or Mumbai, depending on your politics, I suppose, and there is a developer who wants to knock down an old, dilapidated apartment building and replace it with something fantastically new, shiny, and ever so 21st century.  He's willing to pay the residents more than market value for their homes so they can become rich off the deal.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, there is one man who refuses to sell, and who therefore threatens to ruin the deal for everyone.  I won't tell you what happens, but I will say that this is a very readable, very literary, very subtle gem of a novel.

So, what can your book club talk about while discussing Last Man in Tower?

You'll want to discuss Masterji and his motivation.  Why does he resist the developer?  What does he want?  Is he heroic?  Is he narcissistic?  Is he to blame?  What would you do in his place?

Is there a hero in this story?  Adiga has stated that the real hero of the novel is Mumbai.  What do you make of this?  Of all the characters, does anyone act in a heroic manner?

Is there a villain in this story?

What do you think of the Shah?  What do you think of his methods of doing business?

You'll really want to discuss all the characters in depth.  Each one has a point at which he or she "turns" --a masterly feat of writing on Adiga's part.  What happens to each one and why?  How do they justify/ rationalize their behavior?  How is the realtor different from all the others?  This novel is in many ways a true study in psychology.

This novel raises many "big questions," and you'll want to discuss some of those.  For instance, can a person even be an individual when living within a society?  How much responsibility does one have towards others when living within a society?  Do individual rights trump those of the collective?  Should they?

Does everyone have a price?  Is it possible for a man to want nothing?

You'll want to discuss the saying "Man is like a goat tied to a pole," and the concept of free will in the novel.

You can delve into what the novel seems to be saying about the "old India" versus the "new India."  Do you think the novel favors one side over the other?  Is there a value system that is privileged in the story?  Is there a message we are meant to take away?

Ask yourselves:  could anyone who isn't Indian have written this novel?  What is the novel saying about corruption?

Make sure to save lots of time to discuss the beautiful imagery and symbolism in the story.  Talk about the birds, the stray dog, the black cross, and the caged animals, just for a start!

This ought to get you started.  Enjoy the book.  If you're anything like me, it will stay with you a long time after you finish it.