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Book ClubThe book club gals had a lively discussion Monday night as we debated selections for next season. Our guidelines are: recommend 1 to 3 books which you have already read, all genres allowed, keep the length under 400 pages, consider novels that will ‘stretch’ us to think and discuss.

Here’s what we came up with (descriptions provided by book club members):

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Power – NYT best book in 2012. A profound and moving novel about the Iraq war, set in the fall of 2004 and written by a vet who is a creative writer and poet. The narrator, Bartle, thinks deeply, processes his doubts and emotions, and shares his angst but does so in a way that is intimate and touching, not overbearing. The war and US-Iraq context is only the overlay for what is an examination of deep themes. Is not long or heavy in the reading, as the author is a poet.

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter –  A discovery I made of this important avant garde book and late 1960s sizzler. This book is highly regarded for its classy but frank sensuality and great style. It is the tender story of a love story between an American in southern France and a young French girl. But the narrator is critical; he is an observer and the book is his interpretation of their relationship and a blend of fact, surmise and imagination. Just such an amazing book and not at all dated.

The Dinner by Herman Koch – Civility and friendship slowly disintegrate as two brothers and their wives struggle with a desperate family crisis over a meal at a fashionable Amsterdam restaurant.  Darkly comic, suspenseful and controversial.  This bestselling book has been translated into 21 languages. You can read this book quite quickly. It would be a very interesting book to discuss. There are many layers to it. I went to Elaine Newton’s (well known book reviewer in Toronto) review of it and it was extremely interesting.

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead – The stories of many women, some told by them in their own writings, who were resistance fighters in France, but not for the reasons we might think. They resisted what the French, some in the highest levels of government, did to the French, that is, French Jews. Their story is only being told now and it is quite a revelation to read what traditional history has missed, particularly about where and how these French women (and there were many of them) were punished for what they tried to expose – a remarkable testimony of how women protect each other.

Almost There by Nuala O’Faolain –  Nuala was an opinion columnist for The Irish Times. This is a memoir of of her life in “the crucible of middle age” – forging the shape of the years to come and clarifying and solidifying relationships to friends, lovers, family and self, and a meditation on how good fortune chased out bad, of an accidental harvest of happiness.  Searingly truthful with sparse clear language.  A New York Times Bestseller (2002)

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial That Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray –  In 1915, Bert Massey, a Studebaker salesman and scion of the Massey family [wealthy, influential Canadian family], was shot dead on his veranda on Walmer Road by Carrie Davies, his 18-year old domestic, with a .32 automatic pistol. This book explores the relationships, intentions and factors brought to bear by the family members, the police, the judge and those in the courtroom.

American Innovations by Rivka Galchen – 10 delicious and unnerving little stories crafted in an original and somewhat twisting and mysterious way. Rivaka Galchen captures people on the ground and in the mind – hard to describe, just rivetingly interesting and effective.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged (in 1829) with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. The Observer: “A debut of rare sophistication and beauty.”

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes –  Set before and during the Great War, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. The story of Stephen, a young Englishman who arrives in Amiens in 1910. Over the course of the novel he suffers a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experience of the war itself.

Birdsong was my suggestion in honour of the 100th anniversary of WWI. All in all, a great list: fiction, non-fiction, memoir, short stories, historical, contemporary, love and life, multiple geographies. We’ll be challenged and entertained!