St. James Book Club
Book Club meetings are held at 6.30 p.m in the parlour.
Contact Joanie (465-3557) for more information.
2016-17 Season

The winner of the Man Booker prize in 2015, this is a history of postcolonial Jamaica from 1976 to 1985, told in multiple voices. Simply put, a failed assassination attempt on singer Bob Marley is followed by a series of revenge killings. But it is far from simple. This chronicle of politics and gang wars manages to shock and mesmerise at the same time. It is long, complex, detailed, raw, tragic, and uncompromising, a gripping tale in which music, drugs, sex, and violence collide with explosive results. We were all impressed but agreed that it is not for everyone. The unending violence and foul language make it difficult to recommend.

Katherine Boo spent three years studying Annawadi, a slum in the shadow of Mumbai's International Airport and luxury hotels. The inhabitants live in cardboard shacks. They struggle to earn a living, or to simply survive, nurturing far-fetched dreams of a better life. Sewage runs raw after storms, education is almost nonexistent, and corruption is everywhere. Sympathetic yet objective and eloquently rendered, this book is filled with horror and despair but there are also elements of hope and humour. Although it reads like a novel, it is narrative non-fiction. The people are real, the incidents really happened. We were mightily impressed and recommend it.

Lucia Berlin lived in many towns and cities in the United States, Mexico, and Chile, suffered from childhood with a painful spinal condition, had three failed marriages, a lifelong battle with the bottle, and a variety of disparate jobs. The forty-three stories in A Manual for Cleaning Women offer detailed portraits of working-class lives; many are autobiographical, with different characters standing in for the author. Berlin writes with ferocity, courage, and elegance. The stories are explorations of society's rougher corners, with moments of grace; they are sad, funny, compassionate, and uncompromising, and display a genius for streetwise erudition and sudden, soul-baring epiphanies. At times, they feel like stream-of-consciousness memories. The style is economical yet lyrical. The pacing, structure, dialogue, characterization, and description are of the highest order. Largely ignored during her lifetime, Berlin is now being compared to the best short story writers. This is a brilliant collection.

January 3
Marian, a college graduate in her mid-20's, writes questionnaires for a survey company. Her boyfriend of a few months surprises her with a marriage proposal and she accepts. Soon, she begins a strange relationship with food, finding she cannot eat steak, then eggs, etc., until she is subsisting on lettuce. As her marriage approaches, she feels as if she is being devoured and her life spins out of control. There is a large cast of characters, including professionals, academics, and working women, most of them young and all of  them memorable. And Atwood makes every one of them look ridiculous. The Edible Woman is funny, engaging,  and insightful. It is also thematically rich, gender roles and consumerism being among the major issues. This is Atwood's debut novel and an important milestone in her brilliant career in letters. Unanimously recommended.

January 31
Emily Dickinson, a lifelong spinster, was eccentric and reclusive. During her lifetime, she had a handful of poems published anonymously, yet is now considered a major American poet. Her work has influenced generations of poets and artists. Her poems, covering the breadth of human experience, are personal but universal. They are surprising, thoughtful, wise, witty, sympathetic, and thought-provoking. Many are about death, many more about nature, and some reveal her decidedly unconventional views on religion and marriage. She uses language brilliantly, conveying a great deal of meaning with very few words and displaying great powers of observation and description. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening with Emily Dickinson.

With the sudden and unexpected death of her beloved father, Macdonald becomes disoriented and unstable and feels she must withdraw from the world. She decides to buy and train a goshawk, a violent and murderous predator. This remarkable nonfiction book chronicles the next few years in painstaking detail. Much more than a memoir and a training manual, it is a eulogy and an elegy, a conversation about death and community and what it means to be human. It is filled with passion, pain, and terror. As she bonds with the bird (Mabel), its wildness seeps into her consciousness. The reader is spellbound, even breathless, as Macdonald struggles to complete the difficult task she has undertaken. A historian and poet, she skillfully sketches the history of falconry and produces superb nature writing. It is impossible to overstate the superlatives elicited from the book club members. An extraordinary, unforgettable book.

Groff tells her story from the perspective of Ridley (Bit) Stone, the first child born in the 1970s commune Arcadia. Our reactions, most of them negative, varied widely. Some liked the beginning, some the end. There are many characters but most are not fleshed out and few are appealing. Bit, it seems, was the only child in the commune who received unconditional love. His struggle to make sense of the world is quite moving. Also interesting was the idealism of the commune movement vs. reality and human nature. All of us admired Groff's writing ability but few of us were taken with the story. It's worth noting that Arcadia generally received favourable reviews from critics and readers. For the most part, we didn't agree.

All My Puny Sorrows is about grief, guilt, sorrow, anxiety, anger, depression, love, loss, and living. Yoli, the narrator, is funny, ironic, and self-deprecating, with a fierce but tender love for her family and friends. Her sister Elf is a world-class pianist who seemingly has everything to live for, but she wants to die and begs Yoli to help her end her life. Despite its heavy premise, this novel is life-affirming, full of joy and love. It has a pulse, which strengthens and weakens with perfect pacing that effortlessly carries the reader along. The story draws heavily on the author's Mennonite background and family suicides. Our lively discussion touched on many things, including mental illness and assisted death. Miriam Toews has established herself as one of Canada's finest writers. This is a talented novelist in top form. High praise from everyone.

June 5
A young, talented marathon runner is forced to flee his homeland and live illegally in another country. An interesting premise. But then we meet a large cast of one-dimensional characters and are subjected to a series of implausible incidents. Despite its relevant topic, this novel fails on every level. It has boring characters, wooden dialogue, an unbelievable plot, and a laughable ending. It lacks any depth or nuance. A high school student could have done better. Our derisive comments, however, were entertaining. Our advice on The Illegal: don't go there.

June 27
In this highly personalized account of European-Native relations, the renowned story-teller Thomas King dispels myths and stereotypes and helps us understand the breadth and diversity of the indigenous people of North America. It is written in an engaging conversational style with much humour but with an appropriate amount of cynicism, sarcasm, and anger. European greed and the unquenchable desire to own all of the land on this vast continent are cited as the root of the conflict. King doesn't pull his punches. "Ignorance has never been the problem", he says. "The problem was and continues to be unexamined confidence in western civilization and the unwarranted certainty of Christianity. And arrogance." For those who want to understand the "Indian problem", this is a must-read. We strongly recommend it for the high quality of the writing and for its educational value.