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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
AMAZON.COM REVIEW
Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who's "saying" the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. "To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable." Forty years later the stories and history continue.
With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.
From Publishers Weekly
Intensely poetic, startlingly imaginative and moving, this remarkable book will speak to many women, mothers and grown daughters, about the persistent tensions and powerful bonds between generations and cultures. The narrative voice moves among seven characters. Jing-mei "June" Woo recounts her first session in a San Francisco mah-jong club founded by her recently dead, spiritually vital, mother. The three remaining club members and their daughters alternate with stories of their lives, tales that are stunning, funny and heartbreaking. The mothers, all born in China, tell about grueling hardship and misery, the tyranny of family pride and the fear of losing face. The daughters try to reconcile their personalities, shaped by American standards, with seemingly irrational maternal expectations. "My mother and I never understood each other; we translated each other's meanings. I talked to her in English, she answered back in Chinese," says one character. A crippling generation gap is the result: the mothers, superstitious, full of dread, always fearing bad luck, raise their daughters with hope that their lives will be better, but they also mourn the loss of a heritage their daughters cannot comprehend. Deceptively simple, yet inherently dramatic, each chapter can stand alone; yet personalities unfold and details build to deepen the impact and meaning of the whole. Thus, when infants abandoned in China in the first chapter turn up as adults in the last, their reunion with the one remaining family member is a poignant reminder of what is possible and what is not. On the order of Maxine Hong Kingston's work, but more accessible, its Oriental orientation an irresistible magnet, Tan's first novel is a major achievement.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
National Book Award Finalist
National Book Critic's Circle Award Finalist
A Los Angeles Times Notable Book of the Year

PUBLICATION DATE: 1989
PAGES: 288

Amy Tan

is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, and two children's books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, which has now been adapted as a PBS production. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Amazon.com Review

Best known for his Border Trilogy, hailed in the San Francisco Chronicle as "an American classic to stand with the finest literary achievements of the century," Cormac McCarthy has written ten rich and often brutal novels, including the bestselling

No Country for Old Men, and The Road. Profoundly dark, told in spare, searing prose, The Road is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece, one of the best books we've read this year, but in case you need a second (and expert) opinion, we asked Dennis Lehane, author of equally rich, occasionally bleak and brutal novels, to read it and give us his take. Read his glowing review below.
--Daphne Durham
Cormac McCarthy sets his new novel,
The Road, in a post-apocalyptic blight of gray skies that drizzle ash, a world in which all matter of wildlife is extinct, starvation is not only prevalent but nearly all-encompassing, and marauding bands of cannibals roam the environment with pieces of human flesh stuck between their teeth. If this sounds oppressive and dispiriting, it is. McCarthy may have just set to paper the definitive vision of the world after nuclear war, and in this recent age of relentless saber-rattling by the global powers, it's not much of a leap to feel his vision could be not far off the mark nor, sadly, right around the corner. Stealing across this horrific (and that's the only word for it) landscape are an unnamed man and his emaciated son, a boy probably around the age of ten. It is the love the father feels for his son, a love as deep and acute as his grief, that could surprise readers of McCarthy's previous work. McCarthy's Gnostic impressions of mankind have left very little place for love. But here the love of a desperate father for his sickly son transcends all else. McCarthy has always written about the battle between light and darkness; the darkness usually comprises 99.9% of the world, while any illumination is the weak shaft thrown by a penlight running low on batteries. In The Road, those batteries are almost out--the entire world is, quite literally, dying--so the final affirmation of hope in the novel's closing pages is all the more shocking and maybe all the more enduring as the boy takes all of his father's (and McCarthy's) rage at the hopeless folly of man and lays it down, lifting up, in its place, the oddest of all things: faith.
--Dennis Lehane
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.
Violence, in McCarthy's postapocalyptic tour de force, has been visited worldwide in the form of a "long shear of light and then a series of low concussions" that leaves cities and forests burned, birds and fish dead and the earth shrouded in gray clouds of ash. In this landscape, an unnamed man and his young son journey down a road to get to the sea. (The man's wife, who gave birth to the boy after calamity struck, has killed herself.) They carry blankets and scavenged food in a shopping cart, and the man is armed with a revolver loaded with his last two bullets. Beyond the ever-present possibility of starvation lies the threat of roving bands of cannibalistic thugs. The man assures the boy that the two of them are "good guys," but from the way his father treats other stray survivors the boy sees that his father has turned into an amoral survivalist, tenuously attached to the morality of the past by his fierce love for his son. McCarthy establishes himself here as the closest thing in American literature to an Old Testament prophet, trolling the blackest registers of human emotion to create a haunting and grim novel about civilization's slow death after the power goes out. 250,000 announced first printing; BOMC main selection.(Oct.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2006
PAGES: 287
NATIONAL BESTSELLER, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER
National Book Critic's Circle Award Finalist
A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year:
The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The Denver Post, The Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times, New York, People, Rocky Mountain News, Time, The Village Voice, The Washington Post

Cormac McCarthy

was born in Rhode Island. He later went to Chicago, where he worked as an auto mechanic while writing his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, published in 1965. Before publication, McCarthy received a traveling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which he used to travel to Ireland. In 1966 he also received the Rockefeller Foundation Grant, with which he continued to tour Europe, settling on the island of Ibiza. Here, McCarthy completed revisions of his next novel, Outer Dark. In 1967, McCarthy returned to the United States, moving to Tennessee where he wrote Outer Dark (1968), and McCarthy received the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in 1969. His next novel, Child of God, was published in 1973. From 1974 to 1975, McCarthy worked on the screenplay for a PBS film called The Gardener's Son, which premiered in 1977. In the late 1970s, McCarthy moved to Texas, and in 1979 published his fourth novel, Suttree, a book that had occupied his writing life on and off for twenty years. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, and published his fifth novel, Blood Meridian, in 1985. All the Pretty Horses, the first volume of The Border Trilogy, was published by Knopf in 1992. It won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was later turned into a feature film. The Stonemason, a play that McCarthy had written in the mid-1970s and subsequently revised, was published by Ecco Press in 1994. Soon thereafter, Knopf released the second volume of The Border Trilogy, The Crossing; the third volume, Cities of the Plain, was published in 1998. McCarthy's next novel, No Country for Old Men was published in 2005. This was followed in 2006 by a novel in dramatic form, The Sunset Limited, originally performed by Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago and published in paperback by Vintage Books. McCarthy's most recent novel, The Road, was published in 2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien

"To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales." So wrote The New York Times of Tim O'Brien's now classic novel of Vietnam. Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar mixture of horror and hallucination that marked this strangest of wars. In a blend of reality and fantasy, this novel tells the story of a young soldier who one day lays down his rifle and sets off on a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris. In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing from and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel. Ultimately it's about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.

Amazon.com Review

"In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war."
In Tim O'Brien's novel Going After Cacciato the theater of war becomes the theater of the absurd as a private deserts his post in Vietnam, intent on walking 8,000 miles to Paris for the peace talks. The remaining members of his squad are sent after him, but what happens then is anybody's guess: "The facts were simple: They went after Cacciato, they chased him into the mountains, they tried hard. They cornered him on a small grassy hill. They surrounded the hill. They waited through the night. And at dawn they shot the sky full of flares and then they moved in.... That was the end of it. The last known fact. What remained were possibilities."

It is these possibilities that make O'Brien's National Book Award-winning novel so extraordinary. Told from the perspective of squad member Paul Berlin, the search for Cacciato soon enters the realm of the surreal as the men find themselves following an elusive trail of chocolate M&M's through the jungles of Indochina, across India, Iran, Greece, and Yugoslavia to the streets of Paris. The details of this hallucinatory journey alternate with feverish memories of the war--men maimed by landmines, killed in tunnels, engaged in casual acts of brutality that would be unthinkable anywhere else. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Going After Cacciato dishes up a brilliant mix of ferocious comedy and bleak horror that serves to illuminate both the complex psychology of men in battle and the overarching insanity of war.
--Alix Wilber

PUBLICATION DATE: 1978
PAGES: 352
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER

Tim O’Brien

was born in 1946 in Worthington, Minnesota, a small prairie town. In 1968, after graduating summa cum laude from McAlester College in St. Paul with a degree in political science, O’Brien was drafted into the army. Already involved in anti-war demonstrations, he remembers the time prior to induction as "a horrid, confused, traumatic period – the trauma of deciding whether or not to go to Canada." "Horace’s old do-or-die aphorism – Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – was just an epitaph for the insane," O’Brien wrote in his memoir If I Die in Combat Zone , Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), but the prospect of separation from family and friends, and alienation from the country he knew resulted in his service with the U.S. Army’s Fifth Battalion, Forty-Sixth Infantry – the "America Division" – from January 1969 to March 1970. In a terse summary of his time "in country," O’Brien says, "I was a coward. I went to war." Returning to the United States with a Purple Heart in 1970, O’Brien entered a Ph.D. program in government at Harvard. During his time at Harvard, he spent two summers as a reporter for the Washington Post, learning "the discipline of the newspaper story, the importance of correct grammar and active verbs," and published the memoir. In 1975, he published his first novel, Northern Lights. The reviews were mixed, but O’Brien left Harvard without a degree in 1976. "Instead of writing my dissertation," he commented, "I was writing what I needed to write." Going After Cacciato (1978) won the National Book Award and in spite of its wartime setting, O’Brien observed that "if I were to pick up my own book and read it, my feeling would be that I wasn’t really reading a war novel …It’s quirky. It goes somewhere else; it goes away from the war. It starts there and goes to Paris. A peace novel, in a sense." Seven years later, O’Brien’s The Nuclear Age dealt with the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. From the early eighties, he had also been publishing stories in magazines, including "The Things They carried" in 1986, "How to Tell a True War Story" in 1987, and "The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" and "The Lives of the Dead" in 1989. These stories formed the basis of The Things They Carried (1990). Following In the Lake of the Woods (1994), which concerns a Vietnam veteran who carries memories of the My Lai massacre into a political campaign in Minnesota, O’Brien somewhat confounded expectations with the novel Tomcat in Love (1998), but he insisted "though I am known as a ‘Vietnam writer,’ whatever that may be, I always pegged myself more as a ‘love writer,’ and in that regard Tomcat in Love is no departure at all." O’Brien is currently Writer in Residence at Southwest Texas State University in the Creative Writing Program.

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The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Amazon.com Review
Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting "religions the way a dog attracts fleas." Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker ("His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth"). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don't burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat's sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: "It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion."

An award winner in Canada, Life of Pi, Yann Martel's second novel, should prove to be a breakout book in the U.S. At one point in his journey, Pi recounts, "My greatest wish--other than salvation--was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One that I could read again and again, with new eyes and fresh understanding each time." It's safe to say that the fabulous, fablelike Life of Pi is such a book.
--Brad Thomas Parsons --

From Publishers Weekly

A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning, despairing and resilient, this novel is an impressive achievement "a story that will make you believe in God," as one character says. The peripatetic Pi (née the much-taunted Piscine) Patel spends a beguiling boyhood in Pondicherry, India, as the son of a zookeeper. Growing up beside the wild beasts, Pi gathers an encyclopedic knowledge of the animal world. His curious mind also makes the leap from his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam, all three of which he practices with joyous abandon. In his 16th year, Pi sets sail with his family and some of their menagerie to start a new life in Canada. Halfway to Midway Island, the ship sinks into the Pacific, leaving Pi stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After the beast dispatches the others, Pi is left to survive for 227 days with his large feline companion on the 26-foot-long raft, using all his knowledge, wits and faith to keep himself alive. The scenes flow together effortlessly, and the sharp observations of the young narrator keep the tale brisk and engaging. Martel's potentially unbelievable plot line soon demolishes the reader's defenses, cleverly set up by events of young Pi's life that almost naturally lead to his biggest ordeal. This richly patterned work, Martel's second novel, won Canada's 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. In it, Martel displays the clever voice and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2002
PAGES: 326
MAN BOOKER PRIZE WINNER

Yann Martel

the son of diplomats, was born in Spain in 1963. He grew up in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Alaska, and Canada and as an adult has spent time in Iran, Turkey, and India. After studying philosophy in college, he worked at various odd jobs until he began earning his living as a writer at the age of twenty-seven. He lives in Montreal.