This Covid-19 thing has changed a lot, including many book discussion groups. I led my last in-person discussion March 3, and since the it's been Zoom or nothing.
The upside to all this enforced confinement is more time to read. And, although there are constant technical problems, the Zoom discussions have worked pretty well.
But back in January I had begun to think about cutting back on my involvement in library discussion groups. Beginning in 2003, I've regularly led five a month. In recent years four of them have required a 45 to 60 minute schlep by freeway, and I was beginning to think that it might be a good time to step back. The novel coronavirus added a new level of concern: while I'm in quite good health, I'm statically in one of the groups that is "at risk."
A couple of the libraries have been on board for Zoom discussions but others are much more reluctant, so I've decided to call it quits, except for the group that I can get to on nearby public transit--and that one will operate by Zoom until 2021.
Here's the reading list for it, in case you're looking for a good read.
The Plague by Albert Camus 322 pages
In Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, the plague begins as a series
of portents, unheeded by the people. It gradually becomes a omnipresent
reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to
almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion. A story
published in 1947 that is very relevant today.
Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah 320 pages
The story of the loyal men and women who carried explorer and
missionary Dr. David Livingstone's body, his papers and maps, fifteen
hundred miles across the continent of Africa, so his remains could be
returned home to England and his work preserved there. Narrated by
Halima, the doctor's sharp-tongued cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a rigidly
pious freed slave, this is a story that encompasses all of the hypocrisy
of slavery and colonization—the hypocrisy at the core of the human
heart—while celebrating resilience, loyalty, and love.
American War by Omar El Akkad 432 pages
In a disturbingly believable near future, the need for sustainable
energy has torn the United States apart. The South wants to maintain the
use of fossil fuels, even though the government in The North has
outlawed them. Now, unmanned drones patrol the skies, and future martyrs
walk the markets. For the first time in three hundred years, America is
caught up in a civil war. Out of this turmoil comes Sarat Chestnut, a
southern girl born into the ongoing conflict. At a displaced persons
camp, a mysterious older man takes her under his wing, and while her
family tries to survive, Sarat is made into a deadly instrument of war,
with consequences for the entire nation.
The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen 384 pages
Many people have fled London, and those who stayed behind find
themselves thrown together in an odd intimacy born of crisis. Stella
Rodney is one of those who chose to stay. But for her, the sense of
impending catastrophe becomes acutely personal when she discovers that
her lover, Robert, is suspected of selling secrets to the enemy, and
that the man who is following him wants Stella herself as the price of
his silence. Caught between these two men, not sure whom to believe,
Stella finds her world crumbling as she learns how little we can truly
know of those around us.
The Dishwasher by Stéphane Larue 464 pages
It’s October in Montreal, 2002, and winter is coming on fast. Past due on his
first freelance gig and ensnared in lies to his family and friends, a graphic
design student with a gambling addiction goes after the first job that promises
a paycheck: dishwasher at the sophisticated La Trattoria. Though he feels out
of place in the posh dining room, warned by the manager not to enter through
the front and coolly assessed by the waitstaff in their tailored shirts,
nothing could have prepared him for the tension and noise of the kitchen, or
the dishpit’s clamor and steam. Thrust on his first night into a roiling cast
of characters all moving with the whirlwind speed of the evening rush, it’s not
long before he finds himself in over his head once again. A vivid, magnificent
debut, with a soundtrack by Iron Maiden, The Dishwasher plunges us into a world
in which everyone depends on each other—for better and for worse.
Emma Donoghue's upcoming The Pull of Stars, 304 pages (available in July 2020)
In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an
understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come
down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s
regimented world step two outsiders—Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the
police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.
The Overstory by Richard Powers 502 pages
An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved
by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic
portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying
undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back
into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired
scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four,
and five other strangers—each summoned in different ways by trees—are brought
together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining
acres of virgin forest.
And the Birds Rained Down Paperback – 160 pages
by Jocelyne Saucier (Author), Rhonda Mullins (Translator)
Deep in a Northern Ontario forest live Tom and Charlie, two octogenarians
determined to live out the rest of their lives on their own terms: free of all
ties and responsibilities, their only connection to civilization two pot
farmers who bring them whatever they can't eke out for themselves. But their
solitude is disrupted by the arrival of two women. The first is a photographer
searching for survivors of a series of catastrophic fires nearly a century
earlier; the second is an elderly escapee from a psychiatric institution. The
little hideaway in the woods will never be the same. Originally published in
French, And the Birds Rained Down is the recipient of several prestigious prize
Rules of Civility - Amor Towle 362 pages
On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a
second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker,
happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its
startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper
echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than
a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.
With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery
and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the
hearts of readers and critics alike.