Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reporting on Book Club

Jenny sent me this article today and we both thought it was worth sharing, since it reiterates what we’ve felt all school year about our Mother-Daughter book club.  Yes, it’s ongoing – and has been a complete hit with our girls. 

There are a lot of similarities between our club and the one discussed in the article:  Both meet once a month (most of the time), both involve food, and we take turns choosing the books we read, as well as the restaurants.  I liked what the author mentioned about gradually turning over the reins in terms of leading discussion to the girls; I think one of my goals as we enter our second year of book club is to introduce that aspect of club participation.  But they main thing about our club is that we love it, our girls love it, and it has been a wonderful learning and bonding time for us all.

I wanted to take a minute to share the list of what we’ve read this year in case any of you are thinking of starting a similar club this summer.  Our choices were generally based on books that Jenny and I had read and loved, or on books that received some sort of “press” – either via A Mighty Girl (such a wonderful resource), or via our individual Facebook feeds (we both have lots of reading friends).  Many (but not all) are fiction, since that’s what Jenny and I love best, and most (but not all) feature strong female characters in the starring role.  (Harry Potter is one exception – but then again, where would Harry be without Hermione?)  We also picked books we felt our girls wouldn’t necessarily pick on their own, but would enjoy.  It was a good way to force them to “branch out” without outright coercion – our group is full of strong-willed females, that’s for certain (and that’s putting it mildly).  And of course, we always looked for books that would spark interesting discussion. 

Anyway, here’s the list so far.  Happy summer!

August 2012 – The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
September 2012 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
October 2012 – The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
November 2012 – From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
January 2013 – Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
February 2013 – Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
March 2013 – The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
May 2013 – The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
June 2013 – A Smart Girl’s Guide to Staying Home Alone by Dottie Raymer

In other news, I just read this wonderful thing via a recommendation from my “grown-up” book club, and it was FABULOUS.  Isn’t the cover art just perfection, also?  Plus, it’s a novel-in-letters (we old English majors are always a sucker for the epistolary novel, be it Les Liasons Dangereuses or Bridget Jones, let’s get real), and it’s funny and smart and the exact right “beach-read” to kick off your summer.  Jonathan Franzen even loved it, and I think he hates everything.

What are you reading this summer, or with your kids?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt

A disclaimer:  This is the first time I’ve tried to write about my mom.  I’m struggling for it not to come across as precious, or trite, or cheesy.  But – this writing thing is a journey.  So, here it is.  I’m a work-in-progress.

This book will knock you down. 

It’s about AIDS in the late ‘80s, and loss, and love, and regret.  It’s also about a family, and shame and grief and forgiveness.  And it’s beautiful and tragic and hold-your-breath, heavy-in-your-lungs magnificent.  And somehow, inexplicably, it’s Carol Rifka Brunt’s very first novel.  You won’t believe it when you read it.  It’s really that good.

Quick background:  The story is told from the perspective of fourteen-year-old June, who loses her favorite relative, Uncle Finn, to AIDS, in 1987.  And because the novel is set in the late ‘80s, there is an incredible amount of shame and secrecy and misinformation surrounding the disease.  As June comes to terms with her loss, she develops a friendship with her uncle’s partner, Toby.  The book chronicles the development of their relationship alongside June’s coming-of-age and the journey of June’s entire family.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but I don’t want to risk telling you too much.  For me, though, this novel did something else.

It was a book that made me remember my mom,  in June of 2001, the summer she was diagnosed with stage IV, inoperable, you’ve-got-three-months-to-live cancer. 

You see, there’s this part I loved – and here I need to quote, because I know my paraphrasing wouldn’t capture the weight of these lines.

Toby told me once that when he and Finn first found out they had AIDS, instead of feeling damaged and like time was running out, they felt just the opposite.  He and Finn felt all-powerful.  Like nothing could touch them.

It made me remember a walk I took with my mom, before she was really sick, before she couldn’t walk anymore.  It wasn’t hot yet – it was one of those perfect Oklahoma evenings in June when the lightning bugs come out and flicker around your ankles and the sky flushes pink and hazy at dusk.  And I asked her if she was scared.

“Scared?  No.  I’m not scared.  Maybe I will be later.  Right now I’m just having a wonderful time.”

And I looked at her, bewildered, because obviously she’d gone crazy. 

But then I got it.  She was doing everything she wanted to do.  She quit her job so she could spend time with her family, and her friends, and so that she could read and rest.  She hired painters and repainted the living room walls.  She planted perennials in her garden, so that they would come back every year.  She took me shopping and bought me a wardrobe of sundresses, spending more money on clothes in one day than we’d ever done before.  She got a puppy.  Our family sat on the back patio every night, and friends came by to bring her wine or milkshakes or casseroles.  She was having a wonderful time.

And then I said, “I understand.  It’s really kind of awesome, to get to live like this, right now, isn’t it?”

I took her hand.  And we walked home.