Dear Ernest…

Dear Ernest,

Well, Janet finally convinced us to add one of your books to our book club reading list. No, not one of your novels, but your memoirs from living in Paris, A Moveable Feast. I didn’t realize that the book was finished and published after you died. And I thought it was pretty interesting that it was put together from manuscripts that were found long after your time in Paris living, working, drinking, gambling and hanging out with some of the greatest names in literature at that time. Not many people can say they were welcome to randomly stop by Gertrude Stein’s apartment or that they rode around the European countryside in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s car.

As I read about your time in Paris in the early 1920s, I thought about how your time as an ambulance driver in World War I and the injuries you suffered there might have affected your writing, and, well, your life in general. I imagine your experience had a profound impact on you and it seemed to show up in some of the melancholy and wistfulness of your tone. I wonder if I was the only one who observed sadness in your writing or if my other book club friends noticed it too. I guess I will just have to ask them when we meet today. And not to psychoanalyze you (since I have no training whatsoever), but I also theorize that your time in World War I (and reporting on The Spanish Civil War and World War II) shaped and affected you to such a degree that it probably played some role in the depression and alcoholism you suffered throughout your life, your failed marriages and your eventual suicide in 1961.

But I’ll spare you my judgment or any lectures (since I doubt you would care much anyway), and instead I’ll offer compassion for all of the hard times you experienced during your life. I’ll also thank you for leaving such a literary legacy. I can see why many people enjoy your direct, straightforward style that I am sure your journalistic endeavors helped you to hone.

Out of all of your writings, I’m glad our book club chose A Moveable Feast for our first experience with your work, especially since  part of your literary legacy includes inflicting quite a bit of pain and suffering on high school students, like my husband, who have been assigned The Old Man and the Sea for their high school English classes. Somehow, I think me telling you that would make you smirk a little bit. I had similar feelings about your friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, but we can talk about that another time.

Thank you for your contribution to literature that we get to read and discuss this month!

Sincerely yours,

Gwynne

P.S. I hope you are enjoying your current job in human resources. I am sure helping a young startup company is quite rewarding. 🙂

We hope you can join us to discuss A Moveable Feast this evening, Thursday, November 8 at 7 pm at Catherine’s house (let us know if you need directions).

Here are a few questions to think about for our discussion:

  1. What sort of letter would you write to Ernest Hemingway? A friendly letter, a thank you note, an invitation to dinner, a notice to sue for pain and suffering?
  2. What do you make of Hemingway’s remark in his Preface,”If the reader prefers, this may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”? What is he saying? Is he suggesting little of none of his memoir is true? (Don’t worry if you’re not sure: no one is—the line is a bit of a puzzle.)
  3. Given his later renown and personal excesses (alcoholism, braggadocio and bluster, womanizing, meanness), what do you make of this young Hemingway? How would you describe him? Is he a likable? Admirable?
  4. What was the relationship between Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, as described in A Moveable Feast? Where do you see the fault lines of their marriage? What part did horse racing play? Some have surmised that Hadley was the one woman (wife) he truly loved. What happened?
  5. Talk about Hemingway’s depictions of the famous literary characters in his Paris circle of friends. Whom do you find most interesting? What does he say, for instance, about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? Some readers have found his observations (even his treatment) cruel; others see Hemingway as honest if acerbic. What do you think?
  6. Which episodes do you find particularly funny—perhaps the luncheon incident with Ford Madox Ford? Or Ezra Pound? Or the trip to Lyons with Fitzgerald?
  7. Writing from a distance of some 30 years, Hemingway paints a beauty, even glamour, in being poor and hungry…in Paris…at that moment. Why does this seem to have been such a happy time for him? What lends this work its twilight nostalgia?
  8. Have you read any of Hemingway’s novels or short stories (which some scholars consider his finest writing)? If so, does reading A Moveable Feast affect how you read his fiction? If you have not other Hemingway works, does this book inspire you to do so?

Thanks to Wikipedia for the biographical information and to litlovers.com for discussion questions 2-8!

Update: Dear Mr. Hemingway,
It has come to my attention that I may have caused considerable offense by addressing you as “Ernest” in my letter above, as several of my fellow book club members (who are more attentive readers than I) reminded me that you detest your given first name. Please accept my most sincere apology for this egregious oversight, and I hope this mistake will not cause you detest me any more than you already would have been predisposed to detest me.

Sincerely,

Gwynne

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Having Faith When Everything Has Changed

That was all. Nothing had changed. Mrs. Heemstra continued with her recipe for stretching the tea ration with rose leaves. And yet everything was changed. For in that instant, reality broke through the numbness that had grown in me since the invasion. At any minute, there might be a rap on this door. These children, this mother and father, might be ordered to the back of a truck.

Dr. Heemstra came back to the living room and the conversation rambled on. But under the words, a prayer was forming in my heart.

Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time. 

The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom

This passage from The Hiding Place marks a major turning point in Corrie ten Boom’s life–when nothing on the surface seems to have changed, but everything has. Shortly after she utters this prayer, Corrie becomes involved with the Dutch Resistance to the German occupation of Holland during World War II. The Hiding Place tells us a bit about Corrie’s early life but mainly focuses on her experiences during World War II. These events would go on to profoundly shape the rest of her life, in which she was known for being a prolific writer, speaker and evangelist and a model of what it looks like to practice true forgiveness.

I read The Hiding Place for the first time years ago, and one thing that I remember being struck by that first time, as well as now, is the significant role that her Christian faith played in her life and the lives of all of her family members. As you read the novel (or if you’ve finished all ready), consider all of the ways that faith in Christ influences people’s actions, decisions and responses to adversity. I think you will be impressed, too!

To get you ready for our discussion of The Hiding Place, here are some discussion questions, courtesy of the LitLovers website.

  1. Corrie’s father tells her that he pities the Nazi’s: “They have touched the apple of God’s eye.” What does he mean by that statement. Consider the strength of character it takes to feel pity for a people and a system that means to do harm to fellow beings.
  2. What are the various hiding places, real and symbolic, to which the title of this book refers? How, for instance, do fleas help lead to a “hiding place” for Corrie and Betsie while they are imprisoned?
  3. In addition to the extraordinary kindess and courage of the ten Boom family, what are some of the smaller acts of kindness shown by others in this memoir? Are people inspired to greater compassion, or less, in dire situations? What motivates acts of kindness—in other words, what makes people kind? What makes some people kinder than others?
  4. Talk about the kind of woman Corrire ten Boom and her sister Betsie were. What sustained them during their ordeal in the concentration camps? To what do you attribute Corrie’s courage and survival in the face of so much death and hardship?
  5. Stories like Corrie’s always beg comparison to ourselves and our own lives. We wonder how each of us would behave under similar horrific circumstances? How would you? What inner strengths and courage and compassion would you draw on? Would you have risked your life and the lives of your family (especially, if you have children) to help the Jews or any others subjected to brutal persecution? We know what we are called upon to do, but would many of us find the courage needed to do what is right?
  6. Comment on what Betsie said to Corrie: “I pray every day that we be allowed to do this! To show [the Nazis] that love is greater!” What do you find extraordinary in that statement?
  7. Talk about the incident after the war in which Corrie comes across one of the former SS men at Ravensbruck. How did she respond to him at first…and how did she change? What does this say about the principle of forgiveness—its difficulty and its healing power?
  8. What do you find most surprising…or inspiring in this account of the Nazi era? Did this book change you in any way? Did you come away having learned something…about history…about faith…or about yourself?

I hope you’re enjoying The Hiding Place, and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone for our discussion on Thursday, August 9 at Sheila’s house. The address is in the E-vite. If you didn’t receive it or if you need directions, please comment on this post, on our Facebook page, or get in touch with one of us personally, and we’ll be sure to help you get there.

Happy reading!

Never Underestimate a Young Reader: About Madeleine L’Engle

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle was born in 1918 in New York City. She wrote her first story when she was 5 and began keeping a journal when she was 8. Despite her prowess in writing, she was not a good student. Her family traveled a lot and even lived by the French Alps for a while, and she received most of her education in various boarding schools. Madeleine went on to study English at Smith College from 1937-1941, where she graduated with honors.

After graduation, Madeleine worked in the theater in New York and wrote on the side. During her time in theater, she met actor Hugh Franklin, whom she married in 1946. They moved to the country for a while and ran a general store before returning to New York. L’Engle worked at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine where she was the librarian and writer-in-residence and had an office for more than 30 years.

From the 1960s through the 1980s L’Engle wrote dozens of books for both children and adults. Her most famous novel is our book for this month, A Wrinkle in Time, which was published in 1962 and turns 50 years old this year. The book was very close to never being published, as it received numerous rejections. Publishers complained that that the plot seemed too complicated for children. They didn’t like the mixture of science fiction and philosophy, and science fiction didn’t typically feature female protagonists. It was finally bought by the publishing company Farrar, Straus and Giroux. When an outside reader didn’t like the book, the editor admitted that it was “distinctly odd” but defended it by saying, “I for one believe that the capabilities of young readers are greatly underestimated.” (You can find out more about the story behind the publishing of A Wrinkle in Time in this NPR story.)

L’Engle’s editor turned out to be right. A Wrinkle in Time was an immediate success,  became a bestseller, won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1963, and has continued to be beloved by generations of readers. L’Engle’s insistence on writing a book that doesn’t talk down to kids or underestimate them is part of the reason why the novel still speaks to kids today.

If you want a little more of a glimpse into what Madeleine L’Engle was like, look no further than A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murry, since L’Engle wrote a lot of herself into the character.  And you can also find out more on the official Madeleine L’Engle website, which also has links to a number of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time.

We hope you’ve been enjoying A Wrinkle in Time and that you can come discuss it with us this Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at Paradise Bakery and Café at Hamilton Town Center. Remember that since this  month is our young reader book, any girls who have read the book are welcome to join us, too!

Happy Reading!

Emma: About the Author

I have SO MUCH to tell you about this month’s author, Jane Austen. When I first found out I would be writing this post, I thought, “This is our 4th Jane Austen book. There won’t be anything else to tell them about her! I’ll have to think of something else to write.”

Except we didn’t start writing About the Author posts until more recently, and there’s only one other post on this dear woman which I wrote in a characteristically lazy manner. So lazy that I said nothing about her! I claimed it would spoil the book or some such nonsense. Ha.

After thoroughly chastising myself, I set about to laboriously research our favorite writer by combing through her Wikipedia article. I’ve seen Becoming Jane. What else could there possibly be to know? And then I chastised myself some more.

She’s a sneaky one. You see she purposefully had many of the documents that could have told us about her life destroyed. How did she know anyone would care? She wasn’t actually famous per se during her lifetime. I mean, the books were well known, but she published under the name “A Lady.” Although some people must have known she wrote them because she was invited to visit the Prince Regent, George IV, who requested she dedicate her next book to him. Since she felt she had no choice but to do so, she did- sarcastically- with Plan of a Novel.

We do know some fascinating tidbits about the timeline of her life. Apparently she decided at the age of 13 to be a serious writer, and from that young age worked consistently on her craft. In her early twenties she began putting the characters of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey on paper. Lack of fortune, want of connections, and- I’m going to guess- war, all had their hand in preventing her from publishing anything until she was 35 years old. Well, that, and a cranky publisher who bought the copyright to Northanger Abbey when she was 22 and never published it. Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion were all written towards the end of her life which ended so early at the age of 41. In fact, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey  were published posthumously with a note from her brother Henry which revealed her as the author of the novels.

Although it has been quite some time since I’ve seen Becoming Jane, I do remember James McAvoy’s character, and indeed there was such a man in her life. Well, Wikipedia didn’t really tell me enough for me to know that she was in love with him, but they did cause some trouble together and apparently his family felt the need to keep them apart, so there must have been some attraction. We also know that she was engaged for one day to a family friend who is also a character in the movie, but unlike the movie, he apparently was, “a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless.” If we know anything about Jane from her stories, we know there is no way you could convince her to marry such a man.

After all my careful toiling through Wikipedia, I have come to just that conclusion: We know Jane from her stories. We know her sensibility, prejudices, and persuasions. She told us herself. I’m enjoying her sense of humor in Emma. I need to get going though, and finish the book. I’ve spent way too much time on this blog post for you all! If you need to find out more for yourself you can always check Wikipedia, but if you really want to know, you’ll read her writings for yourself.

Garrison Keillor, that guy your parents think is funny

Garrison Keillor

Photo from the WikiMedia Commons: Copyright Prairie Home Productions

Garrison (whose real name is actually Gary) Keillor was born in 1942, and he is described as being an “American author, storyteller, humorist and radio personality. His biggest claim to fame is serving as the host of the popular public radio program “A Prairie Home Companion.”

I have memories of riding in the backseat of the car while my family was traveling listening to “A Prairie Home Companion.” I didn’t always get the humor (some things were more funny to a little kid than others), but I always enjoyed listening to Keillor’s storytelling ability (especially during the private eye skits) and hearing the tales of that the fictional town of Lake Wobegone, Minnesota, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” At any rate, my parents thought he was hilarious.

Keillor grew up in the town of Anoka, Minnesota, which in many ways was the inspiration for Lake Wobegone, and graduated from the University of Minnesota. While there, he began his broadcasting career on the student-run radio station that is known today as Radio K. Keillor went on to host a morning radio show on the Minnesota public radio station and also began writing fiction for The New Yorker. Keillor resigned from the morning program for a short time, citing creative differences over musical selection, but returned later that year, and the show was called “A Prairie Home Companion” upon his return.

The show did its first evening broadcast on July 6, 1974 with variety show style in front of a live audience. In addition to his popularity as a radio personality, Keillor has written articles for newspapers and magazines as well as books for children and adults. He’s done voiceover work for commercials and the Ken Burns documentaries The Civil War and Baseball, and he wrote the screenplay for the film, A Prairie Home Companion. In November of 2006, he also opened a bookstore called Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop. in St. Paul Minnesota. Keillor has had a long and eclectic career in the broadcasting and writing world, and with 4 million people listening to A Prairie Home Companion each week on more than 600 public radio stations, it’s still going strong.

We’ll be getting together on Thursday, February 9 at 7 p.m. at Paradise Bakery and Café at Hamilton Town Center to discuss Happy to Be Here. Whether you have fond memories of “A Prairie Home Companion” and appreciate Keillor’s style, or can’t understand why your parents think he’s so funny, it’s sure to be a lively discussion. We hope you can join us!

In the meantime: What have you thought of the book and Keillor’s style so far? Have you ever listened to “A Prairie Home Companion,” and if so, what did you think? 

About the Author: Kathryn Stockett

The Help is the first novel for this month’s author, Kathryn Stockett, and as her career as a novelist is just beginning, there is little fodder for this month’s post.

However, she used her own childhood experiences in writing the story, and she wrote a bit about how her childhood compared to the novel as a postscript. I think. I already gave my copy away to someone else to read so I can’t say for sure. But assuming you have a copy yourself, you should just go ahead and read that part at the end. I remember enjoying it, so I’m sure you will, too!

I can’t wait to see what she will write next. I imagine she’s feeling a lot of pressure in that regard since her first novel has been on the NY Times Bestseller list for more than 100 weeks. I’m reminded of a TED talk that I really enjoy by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) on Nurturing Creativity that she gave in the aftermath of her own success. This is my advice to you, Kathryn, and I hope we can read more from you in the years to come!

I hope you’ll join us for our discussion on January 12th at 7pm at the Paradise Bakery at Hamilton Town Center. This month is “Bring a Friend” month, and somebody will win a copy of next month’s book at the discussion!

Living the Good Life: About Peter Mayle

I have to admit I’m a little jealous of Peter Mayle. Not only has he established himself as a very successful writer, he also had the opportunity to just up and move to an exotic place. While the January winds of Provence don’t sound appealing, the delicious food year-round and the beautiful weather during other times of the year that Mayle gets to enjoy certainly make me wish I could relocate to France for a while.

Peter Mayle was born in Brighton, England on June 14, 1939. He spent 13 years in the advertising industry before leaving to become an author. He started by writing educational books, including several sex education books. When A Year in Provence was published, it became a bestseller, and Mayle became most famous for his books written about this area of France (See a full list of his books here). Mayle has continued to write articles and books and released his most recent novel The Vintage Caper in 2009.

A Year in Provence won the British Book Award for Best Travel Book of the Year in 1989, and it was even turned into a British TV series that aired in 1993 (although it supposedly wasn’t very good). Mayle won the British Book Award for Author of the Year in 1992.

Want to find out more about Peter Mayle and A Year in Provence? Check out this interesting article The Guardian published in January of 2010 called “A Year in Provence: 20 Years Later.”  Mayle talks about how he happened to write the book when he had intended to write a novel instead, the surprising success of the book when no one thought it would sell, and how his life became more public when the book became a hit. As of the article’s writing, Mayle was still living in Provence. I wish I was there, too!

Since moving to an exotic location is unrealistic right now, I think I’ll settle for warm drinks and delightful conversation at our annual Book Club Christmas party. Hope you can join us on December 8 at 7 p.m. at Sarah J’s house. Please be sure to RSVP, we want to have enough goodies for you all!  **Don’t forget to bring a wrapped favorite book for our exchange game! (See the Evite or Facebook for details.) 

Vinita Still Writes in Chicago

Vinita Hampton Wright, the author of this month’s book, is an editor, writer, teacher and speaker. After several years working as a public schoolteacher in Kansas and Missouri, Wright got her master’s degree in communications from Wheaton College. During her time at Wheaton, she was allowed to do creative writing projects in place of taking exams, provided the writing dealt with a theological theme. With her projects revolving around the theme of grace, Wright wrote what became her first book, Grace at Bender Springs. 

Her second novel (and our book this month), Velma Still Cooks in Leeway explores the theme of forgiveness. Wright’s ability to make her characters come alive and the art of her storytelling in this book have been highly praised. In 2007 Dwelling Places, her third novel, won Christianity Today’s award for best fiction.

According to her website, Vinita now lives in Chicago and has been working as an editor for almost 20 years. She also leads workshops helping artists connect their creative work and spiritual lives. Much like her character Velma cooked her way through life, Vinita is still writing today, working on another novel and a book of essays.

If you’d like to learn more about Vinita Hampton Wright, take a look at her website, or check out the article that appeared in Christianity Today shortly after Velma Still Cooks in Leeway was published.

Join us next Thursday, November 10 at 7 p.m. at Paradise Café and Bakery at Hamilton Town Center as we discuss Velma Still Cooks in Leeway. Hope to see you there!

The gift of storytelling

Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)

Winning a Pulitzer Prize for our current book club novel: Gone With The Wind, her only published novel, she is known by most. Gone With The Wind is on the best-seller list having sold 30 million copies!

Born November 8, 1900 in Atlanta Georgia, she grew up hearing stories of the Civil War which laid the ground work for this masterpiece early on in her life.

In 1922 she took the next step leading to her literary fame when she began writing for the Atlanta Journal, a very uncommon career for a female in that time. In her short time a the paper (’22-’26) she became their leading feature writer.

Believing a husband should support the wife she quit in 1926 to return home and to her fiction when her husband was financially able to support them. Her fiction was the manuscript that would introduce us to Scarlett and Rhett and the war from the Southern point of view. She worked on her novel for roughly 10 years.

A very rough draft was first read by an editor at Macmillian Publishing, Harold Lantham, void of a first chapter, but he new the gem it would become. She, on the other hand, was reluctant to think it would amount to anything, but Lantham promptly sent her a check to encourage her to finish.

Her fame grew quickly as the book was published on June 30, 1936, then winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and the movie released in 1939.

Mark your calendars and join us at 7:00 Thursday July 28th at Geist Park for a picnic and discussion of this epic novel! Bring a salad to share, your own dishes and your lovely selves!

If the past has anything to teach me, the summer goes fast… so I’ll see you all in a few short weeks!!

Happy Reading,
Sarah


Laughing in the Face of Tragedy: J. M. Barrie

“The combination of laughter and tears, or the effort to make his audience laugh in the face of tragedy, distinguishes all of J. M. Barrie’s writing We encounter the most flawless example of this mixture of humor and heartbreak in Peter Pan—the story of a never-aging boy who takes other children on fantastic adventures and is eventually abandoned by them.” —Amy Billone

James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9, 1860 and was no stranger to tragedy throughout his life. When Barrie was six years old, his older brother David died in a skating accident, an accident that haunted Barrie for the rest of his life, and his mother never fully recovered from the trauma. Barrie had a love for the theater, and was a prolific writer of plays. Two years after his first commercial theatrical success in 1892, he married Mary Ansell, an actress who had performed a leading role in the play. Later he went on to publish novels and a memoir about his mother.

Barrie became good friends with George and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and their sons George and Jack in 1897, and his playacting with the boys was the principal source of material for his play Peter Pan, which also developed as a novel, Peter and Wendy that is now known as Peter Pan.

Barrie and his wife divorced in 1909, but in 1910, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies died, and because her husband had died in 1907, Barrie adopted all five of their sons. But in the midst of this joy, pain was still to come. George, the oldest boy was killed in World War I. Several years later, the fourth of the Llewelyn Davies boys drowned while swimming in a millpond with a friend. Barrie never recovered from the death, and his writing pretty much ceased after this. Barrie’s last play, which reflected aspects of his life, including the death of his brother was not successful. He died in 1937.

Despite all of this tragedy, J. M. Barrie has created one of the most beloved pieces of children’s literature of all time, filled with fantasy, delight and humor. But as the quote above mentions, it is tinged with some sadness. Nonetheless, I look forward to our journey to Neverland this month with Wendy, John, Michael, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell as we meet Tiger Lily, the Lost Boys and pirates and battle the evil Captain Hook. Let’s all be kids for a while and enjoy this time to “fly”.

See you at Paradise Bakery and Cafe on May 12 at 7 as we discuss Peter Pan!