Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nevermore: Florida, Paris, Einstein's Lawn, and When Breath Becomes Air

Reported by Jeanne

The Thang That Ate My Granddaddy’s Dog by John Calvin Rainey was praised by our reviewer as a fun and funny read, though there are some more thought-provoking themes as well.  It’s actually a series of stories set in Florida, told through the eyes of Johnny Woodside, an African American boy who has moved with his mother and sisters from New York City to his grandparents’ rural home. Many of the stories have elements familiar to anyone who has grown up in the country, especially in the South, with extended close-knit families.

Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale has been a favorite for book clubs and has won the author numerous new fans. Set in France during World War II, it tells the story of two very different sisters who find themselves tested by circumstances. Vianne, the older sister, became pregnant as a teenager, married, and moved to the country.  Rebellious Isabelle was kicked out of a series of boarding schools and ended up in Paris. Each offers resistance and bravery in her own way toward the German invaders, and has been described as a tribute to all the women who worked behind the lines during the War.  While several Nevermore members had read and liked the book, it didn’t seem to work its magic on our latest reader.  She praised the setting and the ambiance, but said the characters didn’t ring true for her—a very important point in a book that is largely character driven.  She thought the book overrated.

Another reader felt his book was somewhat misleadingly titled.  Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn by Amanda Gefter is a memoir about the author and her father who bonded over science conventions, beginning when they posed as journalists in order to gain admission to a conference. In the intervening years, the two attended numerous conferences, speaking with some of the most influential thinkers in the field of physics such as Stephen Hawking.  Our reader enjoyed the book, but was a bit disappointed that the focus was less on the science and more on the personalities.  He did recommend it, however.

Finally, a reader had high praise for When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who is suddenly faced with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. In a moment, he is transformed from doctor to patient, and is faced with the need to determine how to best live out his life in the face of death.  This is a beautifully written book which asks a reader to consider life and what it means to live. This book should join other classics of the genre such as The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

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