Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The New Barga Book Club

I pass the Gavel to Helen.

General Discussion.
In general we all agreed that the book club offers the opportunity to
read and discuss books that we may not normally choose for ourselves
and enjoy different types of writing. It can extend your reading list
and this we felt is one of the real benefits of the club.
The discussion about the book is a key part of our meetings and it is
important for all members to have equal opportunity to contribute.
We all enjoy the social aspect of the club and want the meals to
continue but feel that meals could be more modest.
In summary, we agreed that the book club should continue, but there
were some aspects that we should change or reaffirm.
The conclusions are as below.

Ground Rules

1. Meetings will be chaired, Helen and Boo have agreed to do this but
any member is free to offer.
2. For Meetings with 10 or less members present, each person may speak
for 5 minutes without interruption. When more than 10 are present the
time will be reduced and agreed at the beginning of the meeting. Once
all members have spoken It will be opened to a general discussion.
3. Whenever possible all members will read the book and be in a
position to contribute to
the discussion.
4. Hosting will rotate.
5. The host will manage the menu asking for specific contributions of
food or wine.
6. Meeting reminder emails will be sent about 10 days before each
meeting. (Helen) 
7. Members will reply to the host 1 week before the
8. The blog will continue. (Helen and Boo have agreed to do this)
Discussed and agreed 31 July 2016

Dr Thorne: Anthony Trollope.
When Dr Thorne was suggested to the book club, many members groaned
with the thought of another “English classic” or “old fashioned book”
but nevertheless once reading began, immediately drawn drawn into the
victorian life of 1858 when the book was first published. Everybody
seemed to conclude that they enjoyed the book and talked
enthusiastically at out meeting.
Several themes where drawn out during the discussion with most of book
club recognising that while the book was essentially a love story, it
is a social period piece analysing people and society, clearly
describing the aristocratic attitudes and behaviour of the day. In
particular we drew out the morality, the importance of status, birth
and manners and probably over and above all other things the need for
money to sustain the aristocratic pride and position in society.
We all felt that a strength of Trollope’s writing was his ability to
portray the characters with honesty and as well as describing their
strengths he also exposed their weaknesses, perhaps with the exception
of Mary, the main female character, who seemed almost saintly and for
some of us too good to be true.
We felt that some characters seemed more progressive for the period,
particularly Frank as he fought against the traditional view of his
aristocratic family. Frank was determined to marry Mary the woman he
loved, even with her low birth and assumed lack of money. He would not
be persuaded that he should “marry for money” to restore the family
estate and hence pride. He was willing to “work” rather than give way
to that pressure. However there was a feeling that Trollope avoided
exploring or developing the idea of the “work ethic” to any great
extent. Although in the case of Lord Scatcherd , it was clear that for
some hard work paid, and while Trollope showed the strength of his
character as he rose from a poor stone mason to a very rich business
man, he was then lost as the flaw or weakness in his character took
over as he drank himself to death. Thus proving that it was only the
aristocracy who have the moral fibre to hold such a position in
Many members commented that Trollope described the hypocrisy of the
aristocrats very well, particularly their ability to sweep aside a
troublesome problem when convenient, as Lady Arabella did on the
discovery that Mary had inherited a great deal of money and that by
marriage to Frank would save the face of the “Greshams of
Greshambury.” It mattered not that it was the “new money” of Lord
Scatherd or that Mary was of low birth.
For Trollope it seemed that writing came easily and the story flowed
with simple language, maybe sometimes over wordy but not convoluted
and perhaps with a hint of Dickens.
The author was ever present as the narrator of the book as he
interacted with the reader, almost as though he invited you to “open a
window and look into other lives” referencing what might come in the
future of this story or books to come, leaving the reader with the
impression they were somehow privy to some private information.
Trollope’s humour was evident through the names he gave his
characters, for example Dr Fillgrave, the lawyers Mr Slow and
Bideawhile, the scrutiniser of accounts Mr Gazebee and of course Lord
and Lady Scatcherd’s son Louis-Phillippe. Some thought that Dr
Thorne was possibly the “thorn in the side “ for many of the
characters as the principled, honest Doctor and confidante who maybe
on occasion was a bit above his station.
Towards the end of our discussion we had some debate about how, or if,
society has really changed and whether the same issues are pertinent
to modern day. We agreed that the gap between the rich and poor is
getting bigger and while the aristocratic class still exists the
social structure of today has changed with the emergence of the “new
rich” who sometimes have adopted aristocratic characteristics but that
they appear to display them differently.
In conclusion this was a book we all enjoyed which raised a number of
very topical issues.
Thank you to Janet and Elliot for hosting the meeting and to everyone
for their contributions.
The future meetings are agreed as:
Tuesday 20 September 7pm
Hosts Barbara and Steve.
Book; The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton proposed by Helen.
Wednesday 19 October 7pm
Host Boo
Book; Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. proposed by Steve.
Thursday 17 November 7pm
Host Liz
Book; Revolution Russell Brand proposed by Liz.
Friday 16 December 7pm
Host Salene
Book; Bird of Passage by Berenice Rubin proposed by Helen/Salene.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Club news

The Barga Book Club is disbanded. Thank you to everyone for your dedicated participation.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The White Tiger

On a mild May evening with the Duomo silhouetted against the sky at sunset an almost unprecedented number of Book Club members met at Localita’ Serra. After a sumptuous supper, but before an equally delicious dessert, the book up for discussion was The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

It is a rags to riches story set in India. The low caste son works and then murders his way to success, destroying, literally, his family in the process. In epistolary form as unsent instructional letters to the Chinese premier, its satiric premise is that India and China are the new frontier and will prevail over the west.

Many readers have first person experience in India and comments were insightful.

Elliot found it vivid at all levels, the primitive vs. flash city life, grinding ahead you could smell India coming out of every page. Themes exploited, extraordinary contrast of poverty and privilege, no recognition as to the dichotomy on the part of the elite, strong sense of exploitation even within the family, exemplified by old crone grandmother with an 18th C. sense of morality. Was the protagonist a hero, likable? But he gets away with murder, conscience? Clever, smart, adept, lucky, beat the system. Good story, well told; Janet enjoyed its insights, it was vivid. Marijke, fascinating, written well, well told recognized Granny, she makes the rules, murder justified?; Cynthia, can’t say she liked it, it has opened her eyes to the situation in India which she knows well, chauffeur had a sense of humor, motivated by ambition, met pity in the eyes of the master, an epiphany; Pietro, realistic, two worlds, injustice, corruption, cycle, is killing justified? Retribution, sympathy.; Bill, have you improved your soul in any way? Knows in southern India you accept your lot in life, descriptive; Krysia, initially didn’t like it, didn’t identify, but ultimately found it a brilliant social, political statement. A completely different reality, sucked into that mentality, why wouldn’t they rebel?; Isobel enjoyed the book until the murder by which integrity was lost; Helen recognized the corruption, money never getting where it was going, invisibility. Brilliantly described but his moral code was unacceptable, unforgivable. Salene, Irritated by 1st person narrative, stirred  strong emotions, distrust, loyalty. The chandelier image of gaudy light verses the ‘darkness’; Steve, clever story about the ills of India, painted a picture clearly of nepotism, corruption, a social statement on a larger scale, same thing happening vis a vis Brazil, Africa, inequality; Barbara, character’s sense of morality changes, justifies killing, corruption manipulating the system, but only helping him; Boo, recognized the business corruption element, author captured the essence very well, turned when he was accused of murder, is unconscionable; Brian, cleverly constructed, likable villain, entrepreneurialism vs heavy socialism, complex, astonishing, conflict, fear, physical cowardice, vulnerability, betrayal.

All in all a stirring read.

Books worth mentioning for the reading list: 

A Question of Loyalties, Allan Massie

The Reader on the 6.27, Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro

The upcoming meetings are as follows:

June 15 The Writing on My Forehead, Nafisa Haji, at Bill and Cynthia's

Sunday Lunch, July 24  at Janet and Elliot's,  Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope

September, The Miniturist, Jessie Burton

Thank you to everyone who contributed.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Va Dove Ti Porta Il Cuore

Follow Your Heart, by Susanna Tamaro

Witnessing another spectacular sunset as its rays splayed out from under the lone long cloud and lit the Pania, book club members gathered in the warm contemporary atmosphere in Tiglio Basso. Continuing to perfect the combined recipe of serious dining and serious literature discussion, we lit into both with gusto.

Follow Your Heart is an epistolary novel of a grandmother's musings as she lives out the late years of her life left alone after suicide, accidental and natural death, and abandonment by the granddaughter she'd raised.

The book resonated strongly with readers who had experienced similar tragedies and or its more poignant circumstances. Otherwise many felt it was irritating and didn't follow a preconceived predictable pattern.

Kerry read it as philosophical musings on an imperfect life, at times spun out of control, but lived to the best of the main character's knowledge and circumstances. Isobel also enjoyed it without over analysing it, and found it interesting with personal associations. Margaret thought it was extremely irritating, saccarine, overly sentimental, contrived, trendy,  and overly metaphorical and objected to an extremely bigoted young catholic writing as an 80 year old woman. Boo found it depressing, written through self gratification and misery. Cynthia found it a reflection on one's life with parallels to her own life and experience, a bit whiny and preachy but made her want to speak to her own grandchildren now. She also appreciated its references to Greek and Roman literature. Anne found it an annoying and lost respect for the protagonist's life's choices lost. Bill also found it annoying, martyrlike, full of cliches and crappy metaphors. Helen didn't feel it came across as an Italian novel in the translation, but that the protagonist didn't learn the lessons she might have and didn't take what she should have from her life.

Thank you to everyone who participated and contributed.

The next meetings are as follows:

May 18  The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, at Pietro and Marijke's

June 15 The Writing on My Forehead, Nafisa Haji, at Bill and Cynthia's

July  at Janet and Elliot's,  Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope

August or September, The Miniturist, Jessie Burton

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Painted House

A small but dedicated group of Book Club members met in the exquisite rustic elegance of Le Trine to discuss  A Painted House by John Grisham. It is the story of a family's struggle with its cotton farm narrated by its 7 year old protagonist. The book was suggested and selected as something of a departure from Grisham's usual oeuvre, and that it was. Most members present enjoyed its description of Arkansan cotton farming in the early '50's. Boo felt it had emotional intensity and appreciated Grisham's refreshingly different writing style. Janet cited its tension and manner of breaking down assumptions, the portrayal of American class conflict, thought it was a good read, a good portrayal of making the best of a bad lot, and noted its reference of the transition to industrial methods. Elliot felt it was efficiently written in characterization but didn't get under the skin, however it was authentic and realistically horrible. Helen enjoyed its imagery and descriptiveness and felt she was right there in the cotton field at times. It gave her sympathy with their situation. It was a good read overall.

Thank you to everyone who came, contributed and participated.

 The upcoming meetings are as follows:

April 13 at Helen's, Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro

May 18 The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, venue to be announced

July 24 at Janet and Elliot's Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope

Other suggested titles were:

God in the Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton

Friday, February 19, 2016

Catching Up

The second half of 2015 got away from me and although we did meet and have interesting discussions of a number of books of remarkable diversity I'll pick up the thread with our November meeting which found us cosseted once again in the warm cozy atmosphere of Anne and Rigo Capanni's hillside home with the lights of Barga and its surroundings twinkling in the distance.

After a delicious meal offered by hosts and guests we got down to discussing Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers. It is the story of a committed spinster who has inherited a small fortune from her close friend and longtime housemate and decides to travel for an extended stay in Venice, and resultant adventures. Throughout the story is woven the biblical legend of Tobias and the Angel, inspired by an intrigue surrounding the painted panels in a church and their disappearance.

Isobel enjoyed it overall, mentioning that the two disconcertingly disparate parts, modern and historical, eventually came together. Helen did not enjoy it at all, found the writing disjointed, laborious but it did spur an interest in Venice.  To our delight, founding member Julie Flynn joined us after a too long absence, and while she compared it to Enchanted April, she felt she liked the process and it represented a good mechanism. Salene felt it represented a personal journey for the protagonist, loved the description of Venice, loved the way it was interwoven with the story of Tobias, and liked the whole book about change developed through friendships. Margaret wondered when it was set, thought the language archaic, there were flashes of a 1920's woman in Liberty bodice, etc., it was overall anachronistic. Kerry felt it was a little like a Nancy Drew mystery. Rigo was bored and put it down immediately. Anne knew this woman. She was credible and she could understand how she got that way. Anne found the descriptions of Venice backstreets interesting and then left us with a delightful anecdote of her own childhood experience when, having always felt she had a guardian angel on her shoulder, she mentioned to her little girl friend that she must have one too, the girl was appalled and tried to brush it away.

As is often the case, opinions diverged but we all enjoyed meeting to discuss them in the warmth of the Capanni home and Anne kindly provided these photos.

The next meeting was graciously hosted by Salene where we discussed The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan.  It is an account of the meeting between a young Palestinian activist and a young Israeli woman in the home from which he was evicted years before and now which she calls home. The book details their personal journeys and the conflicts' facts leading up to the present.

Once again after a wonderful meal we got down to the discussion.  Helen, who had recommended the book, said that she'd wanted to read it to help understand the history of the conflict with the interesting approach of its being presented through the eyes of two families. The history and detail were sometimes dense and reading hard going but it did help challenge the notion that the conflict is unsolvable.  Isobel found it difficult but it made her think deeply about how these people lived and survived.  Liz, who has traveled to Israel and found it very interesting, enjoyed the story yet felt it was about a battlefield, intrenched and intransigent. Salene, although the pull was "home" didn't think the two stories linked. Krysia who also didn't feel the two stories linked well was shocked at the way the Palestinians were treated as reported in the book. Boo found it fascinating and highly educational. Helen closed by saying that she had recommended the book thinking everyone would hate it and was relieved that, though reviews were mixed, it seemed that everyone got something from it.

Krysia brought a most appreciated, extensive list for recommended reading which you will find at the end of this post.

The book selected for March is A Painted House by John Grisham. These photos are from my archive of classic unpainted tin roofed houses in this part of the southern U.S. for image reference.

The next meetings are as follows:

March 16 at Boo's, A Painted House by John Grisham

April 13 at Isobel's Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro (Va' Dove Ti Porta Il Cuore)

Thank you so much to everyone who participated and contributed.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bel Canto

A numerous group of members of The Book Club were graciously welcomed on a lovely May evening into the warm spacious home in the countryside to discuss Bel Canto by Ann Pachette. 

The book was variously described as historical fiction, based on The Lima Crisis, which evoked scenes of the history of the ruthless women of The Shining Path, (Kerry), the Stockholm Syndrome (Cynthia) or just a lovely old fashioned love story (Janet). Reviews were mixed but we all took something away from the reading even if it was an almost immediate passionate rejection! (Liz). 

Among the books we're reading, was recommended Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

Thank you to everyone who participated and contributed. The food and hosting, as always, were superb. 

The next meetings are as follows:

June 17th, At Pietro and Marijke's,  White Masai, Corinne Hofmann

July 22nd, at Fabiana's, The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri

September, On Writing, by Stephen King

October, Miss Garnet's Angel, Sally Vickers