Monday, August 6, 2018

Radium Girls


Radium Girls The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore – To be discussed on Wed Sept. 5, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library





The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.
Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come. 
Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives...

Questions:
1. Trace the emotional trajectory of the women who worked with radium paint—from their initial excitement about their jobs to their realization that it was killing them.

2. What do you find most horrifying about the suffering the women endured as their health deteriorated? Was this too difficult to read? Or did you get through it?

3. Talk about the response of the United States Radium Corporation to the women's complaints—how much did it truly understood about the hazards of radium? What arguments did the company enlist against the health claims of the women?

4. What most outraged you about the treatment the women received? The dentist who approached the company for hush money, for instance? What else?

5. To what extent do today's laws offer workers protection against hazardous materials and other dangers in the workplace? Consider OSHA, for instance. How far have we come? What relevance does this story have in the 21st century?

Notes from August 2018 group


Pawleys Island by Dorothea Benton Frank - Discussed on Aug 1, 2018 at the Geneseo Library



Catapulted from her home, her marriage and her children, artist Rebecca Simms has come to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, to hide herself from herself. Little does she know that on this “arrogantly shabby” family playground, she’ll encounter three people who will change her life: a wise and irresistible octogenarian who will pry her secrets from her, a gallery owner who caters to interior decorators and heaven save us, tourists, and a retired attorney from Columbia who’s complacent in her fat and sassy life until Rebecca’s stormy advent.

This is an easy to read, soap opera style plot with quirky characters.  Pawleys Island is a real island in South Carolina near Myrtle Beach.  We enjoyed the beach setting and descriptions.  The villain was truly a bad, immoral guy.  We had great discussion on the characters and topics of spouse abuse, substance abuse, the trial, family/parent rights, and southern personalities etc.  The trial and ending were unrealistic.  Our group split on comments on this book – half liked it and others had mixed feelings.






Monday, July 9, 2018

Pawley's Island


Pawleys Island by Dorothea Benton Frank – To be discussed on Aug 1, 2018 at the Geneseo Library



Catapulted from her home, her marriage and her children, artist Rebecca Simms has come to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, to hide herself from herself. Little does she know that on this “arrogantly shabby” family playground, she’ll encounter three people who will change her life: a wise and irresistible octogenarian who will pry her secrets from her, a gallery owner who caters to interior decorators and heaven save us, tourists, and a retired attorney from Columbia who’s complacent in her fat and sassy life until Rebecca’s stormy advent..

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

·  Abigail is a confident, independent, educated woman, but she is also extremely hard on herself at times. What does she want to change about her life?
 

·  Why do Abigail and Huey decide to help Rebecca?
 

·  Although the story is mainly told through Abigail’s eyes, some chapters are shown through other points of view. Why might the author have chosen to reveal some of Rebecca’s past, including her abandonment, through Miss Olivia’s perspective? What is revealed about Rebecca’s attitude toward Abigail when we see things from her view, especially in the early chapters?
 

·  At first Rebecca is less than comfortable with the idea of Abigail taking over her case. What leads to her change of heart?
 

·  During her preparations for the trial, Abigail feels like she has stepped into the past while Rebecca is clearly moving forward. Is she merely referring to her reprise as a divorce lawyer, or is there more to it than that?
 

·  Discuss Rebecca’s mild abuse of pharmaceuticals and alcohol. How did this affect your opinion of her, if at all?
 

·  How do issues of socioeconomic power factor into the characters’ motivations? Do you think things would have turned out differently if Rebecca had been hired at the local dry cleaner’s instead of Huey’s gallery?
 

·  Shortly after she finds out about Charlene, Rebecca muses that she could have understood Nat’s infidelity if he’d left her for someone beautiful and aristocratic. Is there any validity to that line of reasoning? How does it speak to her self-esteem?

·  On the surface, Abigail and Rebecca appear to be very different, but they share similar insecurities. How do they help each other?
 

·  Discuss Charlene. Do you think she is a victim of circumstance or a ruthless home wrecker? Perhaps a little of both?
 

·  What does it take for Abigail to finally forgive herself for her son’s death?
 

·  The idea of having secrets—and maintaining protective illusions—is a major theme of Pawleys Island. Abigail hides the crippling guilt she feels about her empty marriage and the death of her son, Rebecca retreats to Pawleys Island to escape public scrutiny of her divorce (or so she thought), and Huey’s lover hides his true identity from Miss Olivia. Discuss how each character liberates him/herself.
 

·  What is Abigail’s philosophy on finding love later in life?
 

·  The subject of the poem in the beginning of Pawleys Island is the idea that a place can absorb one’s “unbearable secrets.” Do you think this is true? Do you have an equivalent of Pawley’s Island in your life? How can such places be both a sanctuary and a crucible for change?






Notes from July 2018 group


Sisters First – Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Pierce Bush – Discussed on Thurs July 5, 2018, at Geneseo Public Library



Born into a political dynasty, Jenna and Barbara Bush grew up in the public eye. As small children, they watched their grandfather become president; just twelve years later they stood by their father's side when he took the same oath. They spent their college years watched over by Secret Service agents and became fodder for the tabloids, with teenage mistakes making national headlines. 
But the tabloids didn't tell the whole story. In SISTERS FIRST, Jenna and Barbara take readers on a revealing, thoughtful, and deeply personal tour behind the scenes of their lives, as they share stories about their family, their unexpected adventures, their loves and losses, and the sisterly bond that means everything to them.

This book is written by both sisters – each chapter alternates between the two sisters, who have different personalities / styles.  They have remarkably close extended family relationships.  They were raised to have good, down-to-earth values (even though they are wealthy they are humble, hardworking  not spoiled).   Our group enjoyed the twin’s antics and seeing historic events through the Bush’s eyes.  This book gave us insights into their grandparents and parents lives.  Most of my group liked this book.




Friday, June 29, 2018

Sisters First


Sisters First – Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Pierce Bush – To be discussed on Thurs July 5, 2018, at Geneseo Public Library

Born into a political dynasty, Jenna and Barbara Bush grew up in the public eye. As small children, they watched their grandfather become president; just twelve years later they stood by their father's side when he took the same oath. They spent their college years watched over by Secret Service agents and became fodder for the tabloids, with teenage mistakes making national headlines. 
But the tabloids didn't tell the whole story. In SISTERS FIRST, Jenna and Barbara take readers on a revealing, thoughtful, and deeply personal tour behind the scenes of their lives, as they share stories about their family, their unexpected adventures, their loves and losses, and the sisterly bond that means everything to them.

Discussion Questions:

1.       Did you enjoy this book? Why or why not?

2.       Did you find parts of this story humorous?  If so which parts?

3.       Do you believe it would be difficult to be raised in the environment the Bush sisters were raised in?



4.       What were some struggles the Bush sisters faced as they grew up in the public eye?

5.       Was it easy to stay engaged in this book? Did you find it interesting?




6.       Did you think this book was well written?



7.       Discuss the relationship between Barbra and Jenna. Do they have a close relationship?



8.       How has Jenna and Barbra’s childhood experiences shaped them into the women they are today?



9.       Would you recommend this book to someone else? Why or why not?


Notes from June 2018 group

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje- Discussed on Wed June 6, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library



In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table”—as far from the Captain’s Table as can be—with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: they are first exposed to the magical worlds of jazz, women, and literature by their eccentric fellow travelers, and together they spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. By turns poignant and electrifying, The Cat’s Table is a spellbinding story about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood, and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

It seemed our group liked the plot of this story but not the format it was written.  We liked that the story was written from the boy’s point of view but went back and forth in time.  Many in our group thought that the characters were confusing, hard to follow, and the book was difficult to read.  Therefore most people in our group did not like this book.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Cat's Table


The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje – To be Discussed on Wed June 6, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library





In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table”—as far from the Captain’s Table as can be—with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: they are first exposed to the magical worlds of jazz, women, and literature by their eccentric fellow travelers, and together they spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. By turns poignant and electrifying, The Cat’s Table is a spellbinding story about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood, and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

Discussion Questions:

1. The epigraph is taken from the short story “Youth” by Joseph Conrad: “And this is how I see the East…. I see it always from a small boat --- not a light, not a stir, not a sound. We conversed in low whispers, as if afraid to wake up the land…. It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea.” How does this set up the major themes of The Cat’s Table?

2. How is the voyage itself a metaphor for childhood?

3. Why do you think the opening passages of the book are told in third person?

4. We are 133 pages into the novel before Ondaatje gives us an idea of what year it is. How does he use time --- or the sense of timelessness --- to propel the story?

5. The anonymity of ocean travel and the sense that board ship we know only what others want us to know about them come into play at several points in the novel. What is Ondaatje saying about identity?

6. For several characters --- the three boys and Emily among them --- the journey represents a loss of innocence. For whom does it have the greatest impact?

7. Discuss the importance of some of the seemingly minor characters at the table: Mr. Mazappa, Mr. Fonseka, Mr. Nevil. What do they contribute to the story?

8. “What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power,” the narrator realizes (page 75). “Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves.” How does this prove true over the course of the novel?

9. How do the narrator’s experiences breaking and entering with the Baron change his way of looking at the world?

10. Discuss the three boys’ experience during the typhoon. How does it affect their friendship and their attitude toward authority figures?

11. How does the death of Sir Hector factor into the larger story?

12. On page 155, the narrator refers to Ramadhin as “the saint of our clandestine family.” What does he mean?

13. When describing the collapse of his marriage, the narrator says, “Massi said that sometimes, when things overwhelmed me, there was a trick or a habit I had: I turned myself into something that did not belong anywhere. I trusted nothing I was told, not even what I witnessed” (page 203). What made him behave this way? How did it affect his marriage?

14. On page 208, the narrator tells us about a master class given by the filmmaker Luc Dardenne in which “he spoke of how viewers of his films should not assume they understood everything about the characters. As members of an audience we should never feel ourselves wiser than they; we do not have more knowledge than the characters have about themselves.” Why did Ondaatje give us this warning, so far into the novel? What is he telling us?

15. What was your reaction to the revelations about Miss Lasqueti?

16. How do you think her letter to Emily might have changed the events on board the Oronsay? Why didn’t she send it?



17. Miss Laqueti signs off her letter,  “‘Despair young and never look back,’ an Irishman said. And this is what I did” (page 231). What does she mean?

18. Discuss Emily’s relationship with Asuntha. Did she, as the narrator suggests on page 251, see herself in the deaf girl?

19. When Emily says to the narrator, “I don’t think you can love me into safety,” (page 250), to what is she referring? What is the danger, decades after the voyage?

20. The narrator wishes to protect Emily, Cassius has Asuntha, and Ramadhin has Heather Cave. “What happened that the three of us had a desire to protect others seemingly less secure than ourselves?” he asks on page 262. How would you answer that question?