Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Nevermore: Olive Again, Constitution, Symptoms of Being Human, This Is How It Always Is, Historian, Less

Reported by Jeanne

Nevermore opened with praises being sung for Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout.  The first book, Olive Kitteridge, was greatly enjoyed by the group (indeed, someone was currently reading it) and this second one is deemed a most worthy sequel. As with the first book, there are a series of connecting stories about the lives of ordinary people in the small town of Crosby, Maine.  Olive Kitteridge, a retired school teacher, is the link between them.  Olive is a wonderful creation. Blunt, stubborn, curmudgeonly, Olive is still very relatable.  Strout has a gift for creating characters who feel real and for infusing her stories with a deep humanity.  One reader commented that she found it amazing that Ms. Strout, who appears so young could write so movingly and realistically about old age.

How to Read the Constitution and Why by Kim Wehle is a very thorough examination of the U.S. Constitution.  Very. Thorough.  Word by word thorough. And not just the current meaning of some of the words but the historic meanings as well.  Our reader said it was good but slow reading.  She had heard the author speak and found her to be lively and interesting, but that didn’t really show up in the book.  It’s an important book on an important subject, but it was not engaging.

The next reviewer has been reading about the changing concepts of gender and sexuality.  In The Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin, Riley is a fourteen year old who is gender fluid.  Some days Riley feels more masculine, sometimes more feminine.  Riley dresses in a neutral style, but that doesn’t stop bullying by classmates.  To complicate matters further, Riley’s father is a congressman who is running for re-election in a very conservative district, so Riley’s questions of identity must be kept secret. This is a YA novel, so there is a good bit of teen angst but our reader still found it entertaining and informative.

Her second book was Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is which centers around a family with a child with similar issues, but at a younger age. Rosie and Adam have four sons—or so it seemed, but their youngest child, precocious Claude insists that he wants to be a girl when he grows up and wants to wear feminine clothing.The family accepts this, but problems arise as Poppy becomes old enough to attend school. (Kristin reviewed this book back in 2017.)

A new Nevermore attendee was enthusiastic about The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  As the story opens, a young woman finds a dragon-emblazoned book which contains a collection of letters that seem to indicate the legendary Dracula is very real.  This launches a search across countries, with flashbacks to earlier time periods.  The reader said that the book bogged down somewhat in the middle, being packed with well-researched historical information.  There are some genuinely chilling scenes as well--another Nevermore member said she had put it down at times because it was so frightening.

Another character who sets out on an international adventure isn’t so much searching for something as avoiding a situation.  Andrew Less is a middle aged man whose younger lover has decided to marry someone else.  In a desperate attempt to avoid the ceremony, Andrew accepts every professional invitation he can and sets out on what will become an international journey and a voyage of self-discovery.  Our reader called Andrew Sean Greer’s novel Less funny and satiric, but also a poignant book about love.

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