The Group meets on the second Saturday of the month during November through April from 10:00 am – noon.

Most of our selections are contemporary novels, complemented with a few classics and non-fiction. We enjoy broadening our awareness by reading books set in various parts of the world. Both members and friends of 1st UUPB are welcome to these discussions. Come for one or for all.

 

“Read so as to know the world.”

 

2018 – 2019 Readings & Schedule

Migrations & Identity

 

Program                                                                                       Publication
Date             Title & Author                                       Length      Date

Nov. 10  Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng   352 pps   2017
Dec. 8  Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
  352 pps   2018
Jan. 12  Pachinko by Min Jin Lee    496 pps   2017
Feb. 9  Exit West by Mohsin Hamid   256 pps   2017
Mar. 9  Less by Andrew Sean Greer   272 pps   2017
Apr. 13 The Plot Against America by Philip Roth     400 pps   2005

 

(We “read” our books in a variety of forms these days. I list the number of pages from paperback editions just to help you judge how long they will take to read. I scheduled out two longest books for months when we have five weeks between meetings.)

Migrations….. movements to different places, cultures, environments, religions…….happen regularly, and with these movements come challenges and changes. Five of our six books this year are literary fiction novels and one is a memoir. Following these stories and their insights can strengthen our awareness of the worth and dignity —as well as the challenges— of other people.

Our authors—arranged by age:

  1. Tara Westover age 32, born in Clifton, Idaho; now in Cambridge, England
  2. Celeste Ng age 38, born in Pittsburgh, PA,  at 10 moved to Shaker Heights OH; parents from Hong Kong
  3. Mohsin Hamid age 47, born in Lahore, Pakistan, has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California. (“a mongrel,” he calls himself)
  4. Andrew Sean Greer age 47, born in Washington, DC, now divides his time between San Francisco and Tuscany
  5. Min Jin Lee age 50, born in Seoul, South Korea, moved with her family to New York; lived in Japan for four years, now lives in New York
  6. Philip Roth died at age 85 in May 2018, born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, a pre-eminent figure in 20th-century literature.

 

Insights into these books and Why I choose them:

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng 2017   …..Set in meticulously-planned Shaker Heights, OH (where author Ng grew up), this story traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family with four children and Mia Warren, an enigmatic artist and single mother, who moves into this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl and rents a house from the Richardsons. Set in the 1990s, the city’s leading families are liberal and well meaning, but they are also blind to their privilege. …  Why?  This novel explores many social issues of our times— class,  privilege, simmering racial tensions, and incendiary family dynamics.  In addition, reflecting on the lives and behavior of high school students seems quite timely.

 

  1. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover  2018 …..Author 32-year-old Tara shares her memories of her awkward migration from being a self-educated girl living with her survivalist Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, to getting admitted to Brigham Young University,  and eventually earning a PhD from England’s Cambridge University.  Why? While exhibiting some of the urban-rural divide in our country today, Educated offers an indictment of how a culture dominated by men can distort women’s and girls’ senses of themselves and the world. We also see that different people have different memories of the same events. Again, quite timely.

 

  1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 2017   ….. This story centers on Nadia and Saeed, two young individuals who fall in love, despite religious and societal norms conspiring against them, just as their unnamed Middle Eastern country falls into civil war, forcing them and others to flee for their lives.  Hamid  uses the device of a magical door to transport individuals from one country to another — Greece, Britain, US— and into refugee life. He is less interested in the physical hardships faced by refugees in their crossings than in the psychology of exile and the costs of loss and dislocation.  Why?  In this age of great global migrations and increasing numbers of refugees, Hamid helps us grasp the desperation of individuals fleeing their homes, their families, their cultures for survival.  It was a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker prize, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, and the Kirkus Award.

 

  1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee  2017 …. “History has failed us, but no matter,” our narrator begins. But this historical epic tells the story of four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. Pachinko, a slot-machine-like game ubiquitous throughout Japan, unifies the central concerns of identity, homeland, and belonging.  Why?   This is a National Book Award Finalist.  Also, while the leaders of our country and the two countries of the Korean peninsula tensely explore future options, this novel helps us understand the history of this Asian peninsula and its people in the last century.

 

  1. Less by Andrew Sean Greer   2017   ….This is a comedy about an author named Arthur Less as he is fleeing the humiliations of love, middle-age, and failure by accepting invitations that lead to a trip around the world and back, a trip that also moves him through a lifetime of memories.  As Greer said in an interview: “This is not a ‘gay’ book, but Arthur is gay. This is not a story about middle age, but Arthur is confronting his own aging. This is a story about how humans are constantly swimming upstream against life…..It’s not that I’m not aware of the horrible way the world is. It’s that I can’t bear it. So I wrote a book that tackles that, but is about joy.Why? With all these other serious reads, we’ll need some good smiles by spring. And this novel satirizing a novelist who can’t really accomplish much of anything won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in April 2018, the first comic novel to win the Pulitzer in years.

 

  1. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth   …..Written in 2004, Roth moves us back into an alternative history of the 1940s in which Franklin D. Roosevelt is defeated by the pro-Nazi celebrity Charles Lindbergh. We follow the fortunes of the Roth family, who live in Newark, NJ, (yes, based on Roth’s own family) during the Lindbergh presidency, as Jewish-American families like the Roths are persecuted on various levels. The narrator and central character is the young Philip himself, and we see his whole identity become totally confused.     Why?   American journalist Bob Woodward recently published his non-fiction book Fear: Trump in the White House. It’s hard not to think about that as we read the opening sentence of Roth’s novel: “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear.”  When first published in 2004, this was widely received as an allegory for W.’s administration.  Today it reads as a parable for Trump’s America.  I chose this to honor Roth, a pre-eminent figure in 20th-century literature, who died last May, the last of the great white males: the triumvirate of writers — Saul Bellow and John Updike were the others — who towered over American literature in the second half of the 20th century.