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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

     Written by Muriel Barbery and translated from the French language, this novel is set in Paris and tells the story of two females, Madame Renee Michel, the middle-aged, unattractive concierge of an upscale apartment building and Paloma Josse, the twelve-year-old daughter of one of the resident families. Although barely aware of one another at first, each hides a secret. Renee is a closet intellectual who lives for her pursuits in philosophy, literature and film. Paloma also is a highly intelligent and perceptive individual who plans to commit suicide by her next birthday, in order to avoid life’s disappointments.
      The reader is treated to an analysis of French upper middle-class society, with some of its strengths and many of its weaknesses in full display. Several of the interactions between Renee and her tenants, and between Paloma and her family, are quite humorous.
     There is a change in the atmosphere when a new Japanese tenant, Kakuro Ozu, arrives on the scene. He recognizes the qualities of both Renee and Paloma, initiates friendships with them and sets the courses of their lives on different paths.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jane Eyre

     This timeless classic was written by Charlotte Bronte and published in 1847 under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. At this time in British society, women were not thought to be capable of writing literary works. However, Jane and two of her surviving sisters (as well as their brother) all were accomplished writers.

     The story is presented as an “autobiography” of Jane Eyre. We learn of Jane’s harsh childhood as an orphan living in the home of an aunt by marriage, verbally and physically abused by the aunt and her cousins. Jane is sent off to a school for orphans where at first she and the other students endure much hardship, being half-starved and living in an unhealthy residence. After several students die of tuberculosis, new management improves the school’s living conditions. Jane perseveres and is able to obtain a well-rounded education. At the age of eighteen, she seeks employment as a governess. She obtains a position as instructor to the female ward of Mr. Rochester, a wealthy landowner who is often absent from home. When Mr. Rochester does return, there is an instant attraction between him and Jane. Their relationship develops and leads to a marriage proposal. However, a mysterious “presence” in the attic of the manor turns out to be Rochester’s current wife, a madwoman unable to be controlled and who has been hidden from society. The discovery made just before Jane and Rochester’s marriage convinces Jane that it is better for her to flee rather than remain as Rochester’s mistress.
     Fleeing with no worldly possessions, Jane wanders the countryside starving and without shelter. She finally is taken in by the Reverend Saint John Rivers and his two sisters. Although Jane hides her identity to prevent being discovered by Rochester, she is found out when an Eyre cousin dies and leaves his money to Jane. It turns out that Saint John and his sisters also are Jane’s cousins. Jane shares her inheritance with them; Saint John plans to use his money to work as a missionary in India and proposes that Jane marry him and works with him in India too. However, since there is no love in this match, and Saint John is too controlling, Jane resists.

     In a mystical occurrence, Jane hears Rochester calling her. She immediately returns to Thornfield where she discovers the manor destroyed by fire and learns of the death of Rochester’s wife while he tried to rescue her. He is blinded as a result. Jane goes to see him; they marry.

     This is a novel of many themes, one being that of the inequality of opportunity for females in comparison to males, another is the inequality between the classes. It is a moral tale, with one example being Jane’s refusal to be with Rochester while he is married, and one of superstition and mysticism. All of the characters are well-developed. Above all, Jane Eyre is a strongly emotional work that captivates the reader from beginning to end.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Short Story Discussion Group

No time to read a whole novel? Why not try our short story discussion
group? Our group meets every second Friday of the month at 11 a.m.

Upcoming sessions:
     July 13 -- The Stories of Junot Diaz
     August 11 -- The Stories of H.G. Wells.
Pick up stories at the Circulation Desk.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Afternoon Book Discussions

     Join us once a month, on a Wednesday afternoon from 1:00 to 2:00 pm, to discuss a fiction or non-fiction book selection. Coffee, tea and cookies are served. Books are available at the Circulation Desk four weeks before the discussion date. Our schedule is:  

July 18th
Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, written by Jeannette Walls
The author offers a novel based on the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who learned to break horses in childhood, journeyed 500 miles on a pony as a teen to become a teacher, and ran a vast ranch in Arizona with her husband while raising two children, including Rosemary Smith Walls, portrayed in the author's acclaimed The Glass Castle.

August 15th
Clara and Mr. Tiffany, written by Susan Vreeland
Hoping to honor his father and the family business with innovative glass designs, Louis Comfort Tiffany launches the iconic Tiffany lamp as designed by women's division head Clara Driscoll, who struggles with the mass production of her creations.

September 19th
Dreams of Joy: A Novel, written by Lisa See
A continuation of Shanghai Girls finds a devastated Joy fleeing to China to search for her real father while her mother, Pearl, desperately pursues her, a dual quest marked by their encounters with the nation's intolerant Communist culture.

October 17th
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, written by Stieg Larsson
Forty years after the disappearance of Harriet Vanger from the secluded island owned and inhabited by her powerful family, her uncle, convinced that she had been murdered by someone from her own deeply dysfunctional clan, hires journalist Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander, an unconventional young hacker, to investigate.

November 21st
The Time Traveler’s Wife, written by Audrey Niffenegger
Passionately in love, Clare and Henry vow to hold onto each other and their marriage as they struggle with the effects of Chrono-Displacement Disorder, a condition that casts Henry involuntarily into the world of time travel.

December 19th
The Kids are All Right: A Memoir, written by Diana Welch
The poignant, harrowing story of four siblings--Amanda, Liz, Dan, and Diana Welch -- who despite their wrenching loss and subsequent separation, retained the resilience and humor that both their mother and father endowed them with--growing up as lost souls, taking disastrous turns along the way, but eventually coming out right side up and being together again.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Imagine: How Creativity Works

       It is a misconception that only a few individuals are truly creative, and that they are born with this trait. Creativity is within reach of all humans; author Jonah Lehrer describes how we can attain this higher level of thinking.

       What is necessary to expand creative thought? Lehrer reveals these techniques chapter by chapter. One is thinking outside the box. Another is relying on the right side of the brain; this hemisphere emphasizes insight over analysis. Others include relaxation, enjoying a different perspective through travel, collaborating with others, receiving constructive criticism, working in densely populated environments much like large cities, and more. Lehrer describes fascinating examples of creative individuals at work in the arts, sciences, businesses, schools, and other domains. At the end of the book, Lehrer admits that the creative process is never easy but is very necessary for future human advancement.

       Jonah Lehrer is a journalist (New York Times, Nature, New Yorker, and Scientific American) contributing editor (Wired) and author of books on the topics of psychology and neuroscience.