Readers' Advisory

Lakeview Book Club Update: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The seven off us, including new member liked the book, even if it wasn't our typical type of book we usually choose to read. Not everyone finished it. A few thought it slowed down in the middle. We all found parts that made us really laugh, some of us more than others. There was a great deal of laughter during the meeting as we discussed some of the sillier and surprising elements.
 
One member thought the plot was predictable and the humor was because of the way the events were described. That member noted that the translator had to have been exceptionally good.
 
We wondered if Jonas Jonasson was really that funny in real life. (I figure he has to be.)
 
Mr. Jonasson, born in 1961, was a journalist who at one time owned a large publication, which he sold so he could write his novel. This novel has been made into a movie. OPL does not own it. I'll have to recommend it. He is currently writing another novel called An Alphabet Who Knew How to Count (the working title).
 
Here is an interview in English (the titles are in German) with the author:
 
 
We went around the circle and talked about what we liked and what we didn't like, but mostly we just mentioned the parts that made us laugh.
 
There was a difference of opinion as to whether our hero, Allan, had knowingly stolen the suitcase of money.
 
Many loved the historical parts, which made us question if anything remotely like what was described actually happened.
 
We talked about how many people from other countries know more about our history than many Americans. We think that Mr. Jonasson really knows his history.
 
We read some sections aloud to each other and laughed all over again.
 
Some elements we really liked:
Allan walking out in slippers and taking the suitcase, because the man at the bus station had greasy hair and was rude.
The elephant sitting on the car and squashing the bad guy.
The coven of characters explaining to the police what "really" happened and Beauty feigning innocent ears and an aversion to salty language (she cussed a blue streak).
The Bibles were the solution.
The strange other deaths of the bad guys...in the freezer, etc.
The attribution of the "death" smell on the railroad push cart to the 100-Year-Old Man, who, after all, while not actually dead, had to be very near to death due to his age.
The body in the barrel being "alive," because his jewelry and identification resurrected in Djibouti.
The drinking bouts with Stalin and Truman.
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek manipulating the Chinese debacle
The escape from Russia through Korea
Allan giving the solution to building the atom bomb.
That the final group of Allen's followers consisted of police, bad guys, quirky friends and an elephant.
Allan marrying Einstein's dumber bother's Philippino wife, who was beautiful and not bright, but became the country's leader.
We liked that he escaped "the home," and thought the description of the home's administrator Alice was really good.
 
While this book was not not everyone's cup of tea, we all got a few good laughs out of it. Many of us got way more than that.
 
I'm waiting for his next book.
Happy Reading!

Discover your next favorite book with NoveList

You may have noticed that our online catalog is looking snazzier these days. We have enhanced it with Novelist Select, offering over 5 million reading suggestions to help you find your next book.

The Readers' Advisory database known as Novelist Plus is not new to us, as we have offered it for several years. OPL patrons have often been delighted to find a NoveList match made in reading heaven for their interests. Here you will find "read-alikes" for favorite titles, authors, and series, or browse by topic or genre for lists of recommended titles. Access to NoveList Plus is also available through a mobile interface

Novelist Select is an extension of this service that has turned our catalog into a place for book discovery, with reader-focused features such as recommendations, series information, book reviews and more. We are seeing NoveList Select gather a community of OPL readers extending beyond the library walls. If you are at home looking for a book recommendation or want to expand your librarian recommendations, NoveList Select can be like a well-read friend who always thinks of the right book just for you.

Say, for instance, you search in the catalog for Flash Boys, a very popular new title by local author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, 2003), holding steady with around 60 holds on our 11 copies. Of course, we have many more copies on order, as we endeavor to maintain a 1 to 3 copies to holds ratio on books. But, while you wait for the supply to catch up with demand, you may scroll down to the bottom of the results screen to find some helpful suggestions about what might interest you in the meantime:

 

Among the titles and authors recommended here is David Wolman's The End of money.

Great. You follow the link to that title and look at reader ratings and reviews on GoodReads, also embedded in the catalog:

You further scan the professional review literature included right there in the catalog:

You place a hold, and pick it up within the next week.               

Done. And, who knows? It may end up being your next favorite book. 

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, Notes from the Lakeview Book Club

We started with a few interesting facts about Thomas Hardy, who like the "Native" in his novel, loved his "heath" wilderness and rual community more than any other place he could choose to live. Hardy has said that he never wanted to grow up. He wanted to stay in the world he lived in when he was 6 years old. Many can relate to that from time to time.

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and died in 1928. He lived 88 years! During those years life changed drastically in his world, with major industrialization, the changes brought to rural life. The major big thinkers, Freud, Marx, Darwin, Einstein changed the world. Two major authors of his time were Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
For a person who loved his roots, his wilderness, his neighbors, the outside world was alien to him. This was a theme in this wonderful classic. Hardy's wife was probably very much like Eustasia, strong willed, beautiful and someone who did not like the world Hardy chose.
When the public did not embrace his novels the way he wished, he switched to poetry. In this novel, in a footnote, at the end, he even complains bitterly that he did not want to make a happy ending. It didn't fit the story. The publishers insisted, because of public pressure from the serialization of this novel in magazines before it was published in novel form.
 
The Return of the Native is really a tragedy. Hardy is often compared to Shakespeare, and surely the complexity of this tragedy has Shakespearean elements.
There was quite a range of opinions on this title. A few of us loved it from the start and charged through savoring the language, the descriptions of nature, the characterizations, the surprising plot, the strange "happy" ending. Others never really got into it, finding the language arcane and difficult, the dialects hard to embrace, the characters in some respects one-sided and the combination of all of that made a few not finish it.
 
There was another set of members within our group, who found it difficult to get into, but then found it very rewarding, liking what ones who loved it savored. We noted that Hardy included comments that were of current events and past history that readers of that era and some now might not know, unless highly educated. Many of us were googling words and we had never heard before. Several of us looked up furse, which are reedy bushes, which the poor people cut to burn for fuel. We commented how Hardy pointed out the class differences, mentioning that wealthy people could burn hard wood! We saw Clym descend into poverty and how he embraced it. Hardy obviously loved his poverty class friends, using their own dialect in the novel. One member of our group actually got the Cliff Notes so she could understand what they were saying! That's dedication!
 
A few never got into it. They thought the characters were unsympathetic or unengaging. They also could not relate to the plot.
 
Part of the difficulty of understanding the plot and decisions the characters made was that these decisions were set in Victorian times. Scandal was just an easy mistake about the timing of a marriage or who spends time with whom. We compared it to The House of Mirth which also focused on the tragedy of decisions made against the norm.
We were asked to name our favorite character. For several of us it was the Heath, an ocean of nature that changed from nurturing and lush to cold or extremely hot and deadly. The Heath changed as the story changed, mysterious, sensual, harsh, unforgiving, beautiful and loving.
We also mentioned the Aunt as a strong attractive character. A few wondered at her changing her mind over Thomasin's wedding and her son, Clym's wedding after making strong objections. We thought, after discussing it, that is was indeed believable for the aunt to forgive them. It was the dichotomy of Victorian rules versus a mother's love, with mother's love eventually winning.
Most of us liked Eustasia, even though she was selfish, convinced of her beauty, arrogant and alienated from the community. She was REAL! She was foolish! She was smart. She was young! She was driven by boredom and a dream of Paris and all that entailed. She thought Clym would take her away from the "backwater" world! She thought she could change him, in spite of Clym telling her he would not go back to Paris. We thought that if she could have gone to Paris on her own, which she was planning, that she would have succeeded. She was driven! Though she didn't have the freedom modern women have, she would probably have found a rich husband or sponsor to keep her in style.
We commented that all of the characters lived in their heads and did not understand the motives of the people around them. Hardy has fatalism and desolation in his novels.
All of us liked the Reddleman, Diggery! His was a mysterious role of changing the destinies of the people around him. He recouped the gambling debt, he protected the niece and the aunt's servant and he did it all in secret.
It was pointed out that drama has three elements: Time, Place and Action. For this novel the time was exactly one year, the place was the mysterious/murderous and beautiful heath and action was the many disastrous decisions our main characters made.
We wanted to know what the underlying theme was. One member said it was, "We have little control over the world. We are delusional!" We agreed that this was the theme and we agreed it was true!
We thought the death scene was very dramatic. One wonders if the Hardy's rural community had a waterfall driven whirlpool who claimed lovers.
Another thought she felt the same about The Return of the Native now as she did when she read it as an undergraduate. Other classics, she finds different, such as The Leopard by Giuseppi Di Lampedusa, which is written about what is lost when society changes. Di Lampedusa was at the end of a long rich life, full of war and many harsh changes. Hardy was 38 when Return of the Native was published. It has a younger person's sensibility and focus on mismatched love.
We ended with commenting about how the happy conclusion had the wedding and a carriage driver hired from a larger community who wanted to know after seen the poverty of the area, "Why do you want to live here?" For some of us we understood that this stark rural community had everything anyone would want, friends, relatives, drama, beauty and peace. Who would want more? Maybe Eustasia.
 
Happy Reading!

Lakeview Book Club Update: House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Eight of us discussed House of Mirth and all seemed to really like it a great deal. We agreed that the writing was wonderful and many quotes were shared that pointed out Edith Wharton's fabulous writing style.

Our discussion leader came with a noted biography of Edith Wharton written by Louis Auchincloss, which she passed around so we could see photos of Edith, her home, her husband, her friends and her style of living. Edith Wharton was born a few blocks from Teddy Roosevelt and was of the same incredibly wealthy class of Americans as Teddy Roosevelt. She lived most of her life abroad, (One aside comment was that she may have had to, because her books put her class in a bad light.) During World War I she was involved with raising money from her wealthy friends to aid Belgian refugees and other needed charities. She received the French Legion of Honor for her good works during that war.

 She started writing as a child. Her education was through tutors. Her first major publication was House of Mirth, which made her world famous. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Age of Innocence. She also wrote travel books and books on interior decoration, that are discussed as major influences in that art. A major influence on her work was from her good friend, Henry James. Regarding her knowledge of decorating, we discussed that her descriptions of the world her characters inhabit, made it seem real, that her stories about about the interiors they inhabit and about their own interiors such as the secret lives of their worries, loves, emotions, disappointments, hubris, and despair.

 She had an appropriate marriage with someone from her class of the very wealthy, but it was an unhappy one. Her husband died after a mental breakdown. She had one affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist, who was the great love of her life. Edith Wharton died at the age of 75.

 Before we started discussing the novel, Milena also shared with us a photo of a famous tableau which was the inspiration for the tableau in the novel. We reviewed that a tableau was a popular entertainment during the 1800s where people attending a large ball or party would dress up to match exactly a famous painting, often depicting nymphs and sprites cavorting through the woods. In this tableau the famous woman in the photo was a wearing practically see-through gown and it was considered scandalous. This was a time of corsets and long dresses where even an ankle was considered seductive. We could see how our main character Lily crossed the line if that is the way she dressed in the tableau in the House of Mirth. We also thought that not only did she bare her body, but in the novel her soul was bared to us.

 One member talked about Lily Bart's similarity to Anna Karenina, who also sabotaged her future with impulsive and also carefully planned decisions. We talked of the tragic ending and how many books written in that era, about woman going against the societal rules, often ended tragically. The Awakening by Kate Chopin was also mentioned as an example. We also talked about the double standard for women. Men can gamble and go into debt, but women cannot, in some cases, even gamble. Men can openly have affairs and keep mistresses, but women cannot. Men were in power in the real world, but women were not. There is one rule for men, one rule for married women and another for single women.

The vicious machinations among the women our heroine had to deal with, were compared to Machiavelli.

We talked about the weak men in the novel. Selden was one who came to understand and perhaps love Lily, but would not step forward to help save her from her self-destruction.

We ultimately liked Rosedale, because he was a pragmatist and truly understood the reality of Lily's dilemma, even though he would also not "save" her at the end, because doing so might jeopardize his own social climbing aspirations. We thought Edith Wharton captured the rampant anti-Semitism of the time and noted that even though Rosedale might never be" truly accepted in society," he would be allowed to attend functions and help make money for the "In Crowd."

We noted that Lily Bart needed guidance, especially from her mother, who had long since passed. She did, however, not follow guidance offered her which might have saved her as she spiraled down.

We talked about this being a "Determinist Novel," which ultimately means the dark reality of the big fish eating all the little fish. Poor Lily didn't have a chance surrounded by the sharks of her social milieu.

We discussed Carrie Fisher, who had a symbiotic relationship with the ultra-rich, providing them "happily" with service and therefore being allowed to attend "In" events and therefore be supported. We wondered if it is still the same for the very rich today. Several people offered examples that led us to believe that such relationships are still common with the very rich. We mentioned the Vanity Fair and New York Times social pages which mention the top of society and their gatherings and marriages, etc.

We discussed the difference between the ultra-rich of that era and the ultra-rich of today. Several of us thought that the differences between the 1% and an the rest was much worse then, as compared to today, because there was no true middle class at the time.

We talked of Lily's innocence, but not all agreed that she was innocent. Perhaps she was in denial, or pretending to not understand the consequences of her behavior, gambling, incurring debt from an older man who had ulterior motives and Lily's being a diversion for ladies who wished to dally with men who were not their husbands. Every "innocent" choice led in an escalating pace to her downfall.

Regarding the pace, it seemed at first that the progression of the story was slow. It seemed nothing of huge consequence was happening, that we were watching the idle diversions of the idle rich, when suddenly we realized we were caught with Lily in a tragedy. It seems similar to the analogy of the frog in a bucket of water over a low fire. The frog doesn't notice until it is fatally overcome by the heat. In some ways it felt like a horror story. As we started to realize there was no way out for Lily, we were frantic with frustration and some of us were ultimately in tears.

We discussed some of the class differences and blindness of Lily and others of her world, who had no idea how "the others" lived. We felt sad when Lily realized that her almost thoughtless act of generosity saved a working woman from scandal and that woman found a man who loved her and accepted her in spite of the working woman's mistakes.

We talked about how the pace of the downward rush picked up after the incident at the yacht. We were impressed with Lily's strength under duress and that she took the moral high road in many of her choices. She didn't use the letters to blackmail her way out of her own undeserved scandal as other characters in the novel would.

We noted that today people can discuss their emotions, but then the norm then was to keep those feelings hidden, "stiff upper lip" style. F. Scott Fitzgerald noted that in his writings that nothing is open, nothing is said directly. While talking of other authors we are reading, we noticed many are from this generation. Perhaps someone would like to do a timeline to see the overlap and similar influences of these writers on each other.

Although the title "House of Mirth" has a reference in the book, it is also found in the Bible in Ecclesiastics, "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the House of Mirth." Once you understand what it is all really about, it is hard to be happy and in the moment. The reality is just too very sad.

We discussed the reference to Caliban and Miranda from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Caliban is the monstrous giant with evil intensions from a barbaric place. Other characters were discussed. Many of us thought the early possible love matches for Lily were also boring and oafish, but some did not. It was pointed out that Percy wore galoshes! It just wasn't Done in polite society. It was repellent to Lily.

So, Lily was shallow. Lily was vain. Lily was beautiful and used her beauty, yet she took the high road morally. She never betrayed a friend or stranger. She gained in wisdom as her world melted around her. We were expecting too much from her. She wanted the life she felt entitled to, but didn't want to make the required bargain. As Gerty said of the tragic end, "It is a blessing." Many of us can get weepy just thinking about it.

Edith Wharton nailed her wealthy, American, shallow, ignorant world in this work. Living in France in a world of her own choosing was better. Hurray Edith! You escaped!

Sociopaths, Psychopaths and Antisocials, Oh My!!!!

Lately books on these topics have been all the rage...rage from the victims!
 
We semi-normals, i.e. empaths (having empathy) are trying to figure out why Sociopaths, Psychopaths and Antisocials are the way they are and how we can protect ourselves from them. It's not just the mean kids we endured in grade school, middle school and high school!  Those people grew up and they not only are they still out there, they are all around us, in fact they are running the world through politics and business, or they are a sibling, a spouse, a coworker, a boss, a neighbor, even a best friend! Yikes.
 
So which book to start with? So many to choose from!
 
How about:
The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us by Martha Stout. Martha Stout is a Ph.D. from Harvard and an authority on this topic. This book came out in 2005 and states that Sociopaths may be 4% of the population. That is ONE person out of every 25 we meet!!! This well written, this hard-to-put-down book gives us the overview that makes us aware.
 
Next look into:
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson, author of the Men Who Stare at Goats, interviewed Psychopaths and people who have created the tests that diagnosed their conditions. He discovered that many people in power, such as business leaders and politicians, even world leaders exhibit psychopathic characteristics. It may be that these people, perhaps 1% of the population, have the wherewithall to get the job done, because they don't feel things the way normal people do.
 
A fascinating side note is that this author decided to take the Psychopath Test and found he, himself, was a psychopath. He told his large, loving and extended family of the results and his family agreed that they were not surprised. He did not connect emotionally the same way the others in the family did. He once missed a family event that was important, because he didn't care, but most interestingly, he found out that he is a cousin of the famous ax murderer, Lizzie Borden.......and 15 other murderers from the past in his clan. He wondered why he didn't turn out badly and figured that he has always been surrounded by a VERY loving family, so felt no inclination to act out. So, having the "Bad Seed" doesn't mean that you will necessarily turn out evil.
 
One of these books point out that Japan has fewer sociopaths, because of the societal pressures to conform. In Western countries, such as the United States, where individuality is more valued, your chance of becoming an active psychopath or sociopath is more likely.
 
Next book to try:
Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by M. E. Thomas. It just came out in 2013.

 

M. E. Thomas (a pseudonym) has a blog, Sociopathworld.com. She is a law professor, a practicing Mormon, and not a convicted criminal. Her memoir is a chilling read. Since Sociopaths are such liars, one thinks twice about her seeming honesty about her condition. She attributes her ability to function in the world of empaths to her family, albeit disfunctional, but structured and loving in its way. She gives the history of the psychology world in defining this condition, which is now gravitating toward calling it Antisocial Personality Disorder. In truth the condition is a continuum, but none the less scary.

Of these three books, this one lets you into the mind of a functioning sociopath the best!

Try them all.....

and/or start with the bigger question

Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil by Lyall Watson, a zoologgist, who believes that evil, as we define it, is part of reality from subatomic levels, through to individuals, through entire societies. This 1996 book convincingly makes the case that such "evil" is a necessary evolutionary element. Our psychopaths cull out the weak in the same way that predatory big cats catch the weakest wildebeast.

All these titles and more on this topic are in Oakland Public Library. Reserve your copy now!