Second Saturday Book Group
Second Saturday Book Group Announces Our
Dorie Maxwell, leader
Dates: Second Saturday mornings – November through April Time: 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
We’re living in anxious times —with coronaviruses still surging, our government still divided, and our congregation with our interim minister still not meeting in person. Yet we seem less stressed than a year ago—we’re adjusting, we’re transitioning. In fact, the whole world seems to be in transition. When the 2020 census was released last August, it affirmed that our nation is definitely transitioning culturally. We’ve become more racially and ethnically diverse that ever before. The six books that we’ll will be reading and discussing this season will give us a deeper understanding of some of that diversity.
We’re dedicating this season and especially our January selection A Thousand Acres, an American classic, to Marilynn Thomas, our devoted book group member and friend who died in January. When asked for ideas for our group last year, Marilynn recommended novels “that have won or been short-listed for book prizes in the past” and especially” an American classic.” So, here’s to you, Marilynn!
For our normal meetings on second Saturday mornings November through April, from 10:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., we sit in a circle in the sanctuary. And some of us usually go out for lunch at Brio’s afterward. For now, however, we continue Zooming—same time, same days. Once we can resume in person meetings, we hope to continue zooming, as well. ….. We’re transitioning!
In our season’s schedule below, the main characters’ ethnicity and the time period of the story—all in the U.S.— are given to help us grasp the transitioning of our diversity. The number of pages of some version is given for reference in planning your reading time. We’ll be reading these in the order of the time period of these settings, starting in the 1950s.
All are welcome to these discussions. Join us for one or for all. We’ll be using my Zoom account, and I’ll send out a new invitation each month. If you’re interested in joining our discussions and are not already on our group’s email list, contact me with your information and I’ll add you to it: That’s to Dorie Maxwell: firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-301-4204.
Schedule 2021-2022 Season
Nov. 13 The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, 464 pages. Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Native American Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa; 1950s.
Dec. 11 The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. 343 pages. A #1 New York Times Best Seller. Women’s Prize Finalist. African-American; 1960s-1970s.
Jan. 8 A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. 367 pages. Winner of 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction & 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. European-American Iowa farm family; 1970s+.
Feb. 12 Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar. 368 pages. Finalist for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Pakistani-American Muslim immigrants; 1970s to 2020.
Mar. 12 Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. 288 pages. Winner, National Book Award for Fiction 2020 . “Generic Asian” American; 2020s.
Apr. 9 Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. 307 pages. Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021. Ishiguro was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. AF—Artificial Friend & an ill “lifted-GM” American girl; near future.
Previews of These Books
with dates of publication
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. March 3, 2020
Louise Erdrich pays poignant homage to her grandfather in this sweeping novel about Native American dispossession in the 1950s. Like her grandfather, our titular hero is a humble night watchman, also the tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. Initially an uneventful post, Thomas Wazhashk’s life is upended when he learns that the U.S. government has earmarked them for “emancipation” (an odd term, he points out, since they were not enslaved). The Night Watchman follows Thomas’s tireless efforts to persuade the U.S. government to honor treaties that protected what remained of their already picked-over lands. And Erdrich further expounds on the scourge of systemic racism, sexual exploitation, and other unsavory sundries through the stories of his extended family, and those in their orbit. Dark much? Yes. But The Night Watchman is tempered by Erdrich’s signature wit and humanity, exposing the light in the wounds of individuals, and a people, fighting for their place in the world. —Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. June 2020
……The Vanishing Half examines sisterhood, black identity, and parenthood with compassion and conviction. The Vignes twins grew up inseparable in the ’60s in Mallard, Louisiana, a small town reserved for black residents with light skin. Stella and Desiree Vignes are tall and beautiful, and they dream of lives beyond the lynching of their father and housekeeping for white people, like their mother does. When they flee to New Orleans as teenagers, Stella discovers that she can pass as white, and so begins the fracture that will forever separate the twins. Stella disappears in California and continues to play the part of a white woman, keeping her past a secret from her husband and daughter. After leaving her abusive marriage, Desiree returns to Mallard with her daughter, Jude, who is “black as tar.” Jude, desperate to find a place where she fits in, goes to college in California and discovers she was searching not just for herself but for her mother’s sister. Told in flashbacks and alternating points of view, this novel asks what is personal identity, if not your past. A riveting and sympathetic story about the bonds of sisterhood and just how strong they are, even at their weakest. —Al Woodworth, Amazon Book Review
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. 1991
This book follows the fortunes and failures of a Mid-Western farming family. The initial situation is based on King Lear with three daughters vying for their father’s favors and affections. But don’t let that put you off. It follows its own narrative with its own plot, revelations, and development. The family members are exposed not only to their own internal conflicts but also to powerful forces changing the world around them. An outstanding book that keeps the reader involved every step of the way. Amazon reader.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar. September 2020
Memoir, fiction, autofiction, autobiography, metafiction, non-fiction? A mix of all of the above? However you choose to label it, Homeland Elegies is a terrific story. Akhtar mixes love for the idea of America with rage at its imperfections and sadness at how far we’ve slipped from whatever noble ideals we once held. Three major threads run through Homeland Elegies. First there’s the family dynamic. Akhtar’s mother and father emigrated to Wisconsin from Pakistan. His mother never adapts to America, forever mourning the loss of her homeland. His father is an unforgettable character, a talented surgeon with large appetites who throws himself enthusiastically into the American pool without ever quite learning how to swim in it. Second, we get a broader look at the Muslim experience in America from the author’s encounters with high-achieving immigrants and their children. They’ve mastered the economic system while staying skeptical about the culture that props it up. Finally, there’s Akhtar’s own life story – upper-middle class kid in Wisconsin, struggling writer in New York, globetrotting public intellectual rubbing shoulders with marquee names in politics, arts and tech. Amazon.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. January 2020
An actor, Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as the protagonist in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but always he is relegated to a prop. Yet every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. Or is it?
After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis finds himself launched into a wider world than he’s ever known, discovering not only the secret history of Chinatown, but the buried legacy of his own family. Infinitely inventive and deeply personal, exploring the themes of pop culture, assimilation, and immigration—Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterful novel yet. Amazon.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. March 2021
Here is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love? Amazon
In her review for The New York Times, Radhika Jones notes that Klara and the Sun returns to the theme of The Remains of the Day as “Ishiguro gives voice to: not the human, but the clone; not the lord, but the servant. Klara and the Sun complements his brilliant vision, though it doesn’t reach the artistic heights of his past achievements. . .when Klara says, “I have my memories to go through and place in the right order,” it strikes the quintessential Ishiguro chord.” Wikipedia.