Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Raven Report: October 18

 Reported by Jeanne
The Nevermore Book Club was very lively this week!  Russell Banks was still under discussion, with one person championing his novel Rule of the Bone as his best, while others praised The Sweet Hereafter.  Director Jud Barry had a serendipitous experience by following Cloudsplitter with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.  He felt the themes of the two books complimented each other.
Michael Connelly was praised by several there, especially his novel The Poet.  When reporter Jack McEvoy finds evidence that a series of suicides might be the work of a serial killer, he finds himself behind the scenes of an investigation.  The killer is leaving quotations from Poe at the scene, so the reader learns quite a lot about Edgar Allan in the course of the investigation.  McEvoy turns up in several other Connelly books, including Scarecrow and The Narrows.
Stuart Woods’ Son of Stone was praised as a fun read as were the books of the late Stephen J. Cannell.  The latter made his name first in television where he was a successful writer and producer, overcoming dyslexia to do so.  His ability to tell a good story makes his Shane Scully novels great escapist reading.
Ken Follett has started a new epic after his best selling Pillars of the Earth.  The new book is Fall of Giants and it follows the fortunes of five families from different countries (England, Germany, Russia, America, and Wales) through the tumultuous years of the First World War.  There are two sequels planned.
At the other end of the scale is Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout which deals with a small New England community in the 1950s.  The town’s minister suffers a terrible loss and finds himself questioning his faith and his community questioning his fitness as church leader.  Strout is also the author of the critically acclaimed Olive Kitteridge.
Non-fiction was well represented, too.  1491 by Charles C. Mann is a new look at the Americans before Columbus. New archaeological research offers challenges to our previously held view of Native American civilizations, which were both thriving, complex and, in some cases, technologically superior to their European counterparts.  Mann is careful to explain how these new conclusions have been reached in a fascinating challenge to conventional views.
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States also questions some standard assumptions.  Zinn’s focus is not on towering individuals but on what he perceives as the struggle between various classes and groups of people.  It was noted that some of what Zinn says might have particular resonance today with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. 
The Greater Journey:  American in Paris by David McCullough is another winning look at history from the man who gave us 1776 and John Adams.  Americans in the 1800s were venturing abroad in goodly numbers, bringing back with them ideas and inspirations that would change their homeland.  At that time France was seen as the center of the arts and sciences, a place where dance and medical advances stood together.  Many of the people were accomplished in several areas, though became known for one:  Samuel Morse, for example, is justly celebrated for his telegraph, but he was also an accomplished painter.  James Fennimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Mary Cassalt, Elizabeth Blackwell and Harriet Beecher Stowe are just a few of the accomplished folk we meet in these pages. As ever, McCullough tells a fine story and makes history come alive.

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