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Beehive Book Club Vol. 3: What are you reading?

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It’s time for another installment of The Beehive Book Club. If you recall, I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I’ve become even more of a reading fiend than before — and I thought it’d be fun to create a sort of virtual book club in which the common denominator isn’t so much the same title but simply a love of text in an image-based world.

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So, I want to know: What are you reading?

One of the great things about the Kindle is that you can set it up to read lots of older books for free. So I’ve been diving into more stuff that’s in the public domain. My most recent fave: Willa Cather’s “My Antonia.”

This beautiful, famous, shimmering novel captures not only an iconic strong woman character but the transition of this country from open frontier to “civilized.” The narrator’s recollections of Antonia, a girl with whom he grew up in a small Nebraska farming town, are partly elegiac – a smidge of first crush – and partly matter-of-fact, in the sense that he confronts his own aging process.

Antonia, the daughter of local “Bohemian” immigrants, doesn’t have as rosy a life ahead of her as Jim, who goes to live with his grandparents when his own parents die. In fact, the first winter he knows her, she and her family practically crumble in the cold (and her father ends up committing suicide). But Antonia is strong. As she gets older, she secures a job in town as a domestic. Later, she marries a good, solid man and raises a large family.

There’s another strong woman character as well: Lena, a friend of Antonia, who is sort of a wild teen. But Lena is driven. She goes into the dressmaking business and relishes her independence. It’s interesting that Cather includes both characters – it’s as if they’re two halves of a whole prototype of a liberated woman.

I’ve also recently read:

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** “The Moon and Sixpence” by W. Somerset Maugham. A sturdy, fascinating exercise in taking the general outline of a famed artist and fleshing out his story with fictional flair. The artist in question is Gauguin, the French banker turned Tahiti-bound artist. In this book he’s become Charles Strickland, a British stockbroker who one day leaves his wife and conventional life behind and heads for Paris, where he seems to enjoy living in abject poverty and infuriating art purists.

Maugham livens this smooth endeavor with superb musings on human behavior. Example: Early on, at a dinner party, when the narrator relates meeting Strickland at a tedious dinner party, he writes: “When at last we were all assembled, waiting for dinner to be announced, I reflected, while I chatted with the woman I had been asked to “take in,” that civilized man practices a strange ingenuity in wasting on tedious exercises the brief span of life.” . Oh so true – and what freedom it must have been for Strickland to throw off the shackles of conventionality.

Maugham is a master, of course, and while “Moon and Sixpence” isn’t remembered as one of his greats, it’s a charmer. It’s always fun to riff on the eccentricities and excesses of artists.

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** “At Fault,” by Kate Chopin. I’ve never read “The Awakening,” Chopin’s best-known work, but it’s on my list. For some reason I wanted to read something else by her beforehand. This odd little novel, set in the swamps and backwater of post-Civil War Louisiana, didn’t receive tremendous acclaim from critics or the public. I can see why. It’s a little brittle. But it’s also loaded with fascinating, daring themes for the times. I find it interesting that a permutation of the title, “At Fault,” has become closely associated with divorce in our present-day society – as in “no fault” divorce. I’m sure it was controversial for Chopin to deal with the theme of divorce in this book.

The plot concerns a recent widow, Therese, who is depicted as the story opens as devastated at her husband’s recent death – but has no qualms about being a strong mistress of her plantation. When an entrepreneur approaches her about building a mill on her property, she agrees – and eventually, the man, named David Hosmer, falls in love with her. Yet he divorced his wife because she was an alcoholic, and Therese, being a good Catholic, can’t abide that. So Therese convinces David to return to his wife, remarry her and bring her back to the plantation. Talk about some underlying tension.

The love triangle is interesting because of the odd social dynamic, but even more fascinating is Chopin’s depiction of the world of the poor. Most of the characters in the book are poor free blacks struggling to make their way in a post Civil War world. Chopin is certainly a writer of the times, using such “shocking” terms today as “darkie,” but she also has a deep empathy for these characters. Though the ending is a little too neat – Therese and David are able to marry when his wife dies in an accident – the novel still captures the tumult of changing social mores. I look forward to “The Awakening.”

** “The Coming of Bill,” by P.G. Wodehouse. Have I mentioned that I’m a Wodehouse fanatic? I bought ALL his novels in one Kindle swoop, and I dive in every now and then for a bit of good cheer.

UP NEXT: I’m going soon to Cartagena, Colombia, for vacation, and I want to read a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the city’s favorite scribe. Should I start with “100 Years of Solitude” or “Love in the Time of Cholera”?

Responses to "Beehive Book Club Vol. 3: What are you reading?"

Ashley says:

Right now I’m reading As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl. It’s the true story of David Reimer, who’s penis was damaged in a freak circumcision accident and his parents were convinced by a sex-psychiatrist to raise him as a female. It’s really great so far.
I’m a fan of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which is what basically turned me to this book (one of those ‘if you like this book, you might enjoy’ things).

I have also been slowly working on reading the Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc), which I’m also enjoying. It’s really funny and I love the main character.

rob says:

just finished the girl who kicked the hornet’s nest by steig larsson

start with 100 years of solitude; its epic and very faulkneresque

probably going to reread spook country by gibson

Betsy Lumbye says:

Donald, ever since you convinced me to get a Kindle last month, I’ve stepped up my reading too. It’s very easy on the eyes and terrific for traveling.
Here’s what I’ve read since I got it:
–”The Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini. A story of friendship, betrayal, courage and redemption in Afghanistan. Compelling story line, fairly average writing.
–”The Help,” Kathryn Stockett. A young white woman who yearns to be a writer convinces black maids in 1960s Mississippi to take a huge risk and let her tell their stories. It’s easy to see why this one is a bestseller. Great read about the nobility and the cruelty of human nature. I’ve seen it compared to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I really didn’t want to put it down.
–”Tinkers,” Paul Harding. This is the best book I’ve read in years; in fact, I read it twice. It was the surprise winner of thIs year’s Pulitzer Prize for literature–the author’s first novel, published by a tiny publishing house. As a clock repairer lies dying, the stories of three generations of New England men unfold through various narratives and voices. The language is just stunning at times, and the book is mesmerizing on so many levels.
–Now I’m about two-thirds through “Let the Great World Spin,” by Colum McCann. This was the National Book Award winner for 2009. It’s a collection of stories threaded together by one real-life event: a high wire walker who walked, hopped and danced on a cable betweend New York’s Twin Towers when they were still new in 1974. To me, that device is a little contrived, and the writing is a little uneven, but it’s still awfully good.
As to your question about “100 Years of Solitude” vs. “Love in the Time of Cholera,” I’d say read both, but if you only have time for one, start with “100 Years.” It will alter your brain chemistry. In a good way.

Kristin says:

I just finished ‘Lady’s Maid’ by Margaret Forster, about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s maid. I liked the style of the writing, but found that the story really made me dislike one of my favorite poets and it was a bit of a trudge since, though well built, I didn’t like most of the characters.
‘The Awakening’ is one of my favorite novels, so I hope you enjoy it. In the same vein, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte is a beautiful piece of lit, far ahead of it’s time.
As for the Marquez, I would go with ’100 Years’. I know lots of people love ‘Cholera’, but I could not get through it.

Linda B. says:

Just finished “Still Alice” by Dr. Lisa Genova, written from the perspective of a 50-year-old with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Shockingly similar to my wonderful father-in-law’s last few months, it reassured me that we had done all that we could for him.
And, since we have friends headed for Mali to do medical mission work, I read “Monique and the Mango Rains” by Kris Holloway and “To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger” by Mark Jenkins to get a feel for the area and its culture. “Monique” was written by a Peace Corps volunteer about her 2 years w/Monique, the only midwife in the area. “Timbuktu” was a holy cow extreme adventure trip into Africa to find the source of the Nile and follow it to its end.
Can’t decide on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez books. Loved both, but the loooooong sentences in 100 Years drove me insane.

susanne says:

I am still under the influence of Infinite Jest. Can Lenz be redeemed? He just took out a large dog….I can still deal with him as long as he does not progress to Golden Retrievers.

As for your summer vacation reading……I have read both Cholera and 100 years and I would suggest you go for the 100 years…..you kind of have to just let yourself go with it, and vacations require a certain letting go so it would fit right in.

don’t forget to take a million pictures while you are gone….you never know when a photo will turn out in some astonishing way!!! have fun.

Katrina says:

I am in the middle of “And justice for some” by Wendy Murphy. It’s an expose written by a former prosecutor about lawyers and judges that help repeat offending criminals go free. The foreword is written by Bill O’Reilly. Scary and interesting so far.

Heather says:

I wrote a 20-page paper on “My Antonia” in college. Sadly, your brief description above was more insightful.

Right now I’m halfway through “Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk. I thought it would be more shocking, which maybe says something about how desensitized I am (thank you, cable TV).

If you’re going to Cartagena, Colombia, you need to watch “Romancing the Stone.” I learned many things from that movie, like don’t go to Cartagena, Colombia.

pk says:

For some of the older out of copyright books(when you said you bought Wodehouse, that is one and all the classics) go to the:

http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page
and more:
http://ireaderreview.com/2008/01/19/free-books-for-the-amazon-kindle/
and I like to listen to book mp3′s and find alot through the site:
http://www.librivox.org/
(you have to get used to different readers for different chapters…..but it is free!)

jimguy says:

I would never have a Kindle after reading the New Yorker article about Amazon using Kindle to bully publishers and through publishers authors into accepting lower compensation. Now to mention one of the best things about books is that you can share them with your friends. Kindle prevents that.

That said, the best book I’ve read in some time is “Shadow Country,” the Peter Matthiessen meganovel about legendary Florida outlaw and planter EJ Watson.

Sharon says:

So many books, not enough time…. Reading classic literature has been my endeaver of choice since I was 15 years old (that’s over 30 years}. The reading is immensly rewarding but a lonely enterprise as it’s hard to find someone who’s actually read the same books. I read “Oh Pioneers” by Willa Cather a year or so ago and found it very sweet. Have you ever read “Lorna Doone” by Richard Blackwell? A whole world you’ll never forget. “Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper? “The Lewis and Clark Diaries”? “A Study in Scarlet” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? All in the pioneering spirit. I love a book that changes me forever but I’m still turning the musty pages by hand.

blake says:

Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World
—Haruki Murakami

The Making of Americans
–Gertrude Stein (ok, I’ve only read about 4 pages and I realize it’ll be a 4 page at a time for the rest of my life kinda book)

The Clash
—a sort of coffee table sized book about the classic punk band made up of interviews with the band members.Inspirational!

Donald Munro says:

I’ve never read anything by Richard Blackwell, Sharon, but thanks for the recommendation. After “My Antonia,” I know going to work my way through more of Willa Cather’s body of work.

Donald Munro says:

Hi PK, thanks for posting the link — after I bought the Wodehouse book on Kindle, I found out all about Gutenberg and have now been happily downloading for free ever since. I do have to say, though, that I sorta like my Wodehouse purchase: It’s all of his complete novels in one place, and it was only $4.

A question for you: How does listening to free book mp3s work? Do you download them to an iPod and then listen to them in the car?

Donald Munro says:

I recently listened to “Spook Country” on CD in my car. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I like the ending.

Sharon says:

Reading by author used to be my favorite way to find new books. After reading something that moved me in some way, I’d move through all the other available works of that author. Now I just use a world literature recommendation list that I acquired through an estate sale. I did order Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” and “Song of the Lark” through the FC library. I’d love to compare notes if the latter makes your reading list.

pk says:

I have been listening to books now since tape!! Then CD and now mp3′s…..I have the little Creative player 2gig ( WMP- Windows Media Player format)am sure it is the same for Ipod, you will see dual tabs and you would just go to the ipod format, download to your ‘media manager’ and then transfer to your device ….Have an Audible subscription (since 2005 started on my Palm!) and between that, the library, and now Librivox, plus lots of free shows on the Public Radio site (http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_directory.php–or check by show or podcast tab)(your tax dollars at work!) keep me busy during walks and in the car–I always have audible books and written books going…plus the npr shows…(Car Talk, Splendid Table are a couple of faves) lots to listen to!!

I have also found Rick Steves’s travel site has lots of podcasts of tours to download…awesome!

Just google “free mp3″ or “free podcasts” and you can find lots to listen to….

Don’t have the Kindle ….and still not sure about it(used to use the Palm reader feature, but didn’t like it)…my audiobooks keep me going, and there have been a few that you would say ‘would be a better ‘read’ than a ‘listen’ but there is so much out there now…it is easy to move on to the next thing, book or audiobook!

pk says:

and if you like Wodehouse you might enjoy
Alexander McCall Smith (the Sunday Philosophy Club and more)
for a free download of his serialized novel that was a daily feature in the Telegraph UK last year go to:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/donotmigrate/3673938/Corduroy-Mansions-by-Alexander-McCall-Smith.html

Kim Burly says:

Until further notice, I’ll be in the middle of War and Peace. I’m almost 1,000 pages in, so the end is near…. ish.

Lynn says:

I just finished “Strength in what remains” a tale of how a brilliant young man escapes a horrific war in Burundi (borders Rowanda) and comes to the U.S., simply riveting. Just started “Cutting for Stone” and I am already glued to it. An easy read,and I loved the way it was written in letter form was “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” I passed this on to lots of friends who loved it as well. “Middlesex” a very thought provoking book. “The Good Earth” a must read!

suzanne grazyna says:

I’m in the middle of Requiem for a Dream right now.

I love Garcia Marquez. My persoanl favorite from him is Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Its short but very very him.

Finished:

* David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Not as good as Infinite Jest by a long shot, but still pretty captivating. It’s a collection of stories that they turned into a movie, thought I can’t imagine it being any good.

* The Bad Seed by William March. This was a fun read. In a current context, it’s not that shocking a story, but was probably pretty raw for the times.

Currently reading:

* Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Picked up the 25th Anniversary Edition. This is where my friend’s bandband got its name. The book still has relevance and power (maybe more so) 25 years on.

Janet Hardy says:

I just finished “Quiet Hero.” After her mother died Rita Cosby was going through her possesions and found an old suitcase filled with war memorabilia. It turns out her father was in the Polish Resistance Army in WWII, something she never knew. The book is his recollections of the war years, including his time in a German POW camp. When I think of what I consider the tough times I’ve been through, I realize how easy my life has been.

gst says:

Viva Wodehouse!

Re Garcia Marquez and Cartagena: I enjoyed The General In His Labyrinth, about Bolivar’s last days in Santa Marta, near Cartagena.