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The Readers

  • Third Tuesday of the month, 5:00 p.m., in the homes of its members.   Contact davidmorrow@comcast.net or (313-640-9756) for a copy of our current book list or see below.  All MC members are welcome to join our discussion, whether or not you have read the book.

Click for Mens Club Readers 2020 Book List

For Readers Reports archived from previous years click here

The June Readers’ Report

Running in the Family

 by Michael Ondaatje

Last year the Readers enjoyed Michael Ondaatje’s latest novel Warlight, so this year we decided to try some of his earlier work. Running in the Family was published in 1982 and tells the story of his trips to his native Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1978 and 1980. The book is much more than a travelogue, however since it contains stories about many members of the author’s family, including his parents, and has long stretches of fiction and even some poetry. Some call it a memoir/novel/travelogue.

Michael Ondaatje is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet, essayist, novelist, editor, and Running in the Familyfilmmaker. He is the recipient of multiple literary awards such as the Governor General’s Award, the Giller Prize, the Booker Prize, and the Prix Médicis étranger. In 2018 he was awarded the Golden Man Booker, a special prize awarded to the best of the previous 51 winning titles since its inception in 1969, for The English Patient. He left Ceylon when he was 11 for school in England, and from there moved to Canada when he was 19, earning a B.A. in English from the University of Toronto and an M.A. from Queen’s University.

Ondaatje comes from a long line of upper-class Burghers in Sri Lanka. Burghers are descended from Portuguese, Dutch, British and other European men who settled in Sri Lanka and developed relationships with native Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamil women. The family was quite well off until Ondaatje’s parent’s generation, when their fortunes were on the decline. His father Mervyn was an alcoholic whose antics when drunk make for amusing reading. His grandmother Lalla is another character whose eccentricities make her seem larger than life until she was swept away in a flood in 1947. The author’s sources include recollections from relatives whose memories may not be reliable, and Ondaatje’s use of magical realism makes telling fact from fiction a challenge. Reading the book is a dreamlike experience, with beautiful images, odors and sounds enveloping the reader. It could be argued that all of Ondaatje’s prose works are extensions of his poetry, and this volume is a prime example. The Washington Post said, “With a prose style equal to the voluptuousness of [Ondaatje’s] subject and a sense of humor never too far away, Running in the Family is sheer reading pleasure.”

The Readers agreed that this volume was beautifully written and well worth our time, giving it a rating of 4 out of 5. We enjoyed the humor and the imagery and were interested to learn a little of the history, culture and geography of the island nation of Sri Lanka. Our discussion included much shared laughter as we recounted our favorite anecdotes of a remarkable family.

Our next meeting of the Readers is on July 21st at 5 pm when we will discuss Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. We will probably be meeting online using Zoom, but we may decide on an in-person meeting if it is safe to do so. In we have an in-person meeting, we will post the location on The Readers page of the Men’s Club website. If you would like to attend but you have not gotten an email invitation, please call David Morrow at 313-640-9756.              


The May Readers’ Report

There There

 by Tommy Orange

There There There was an important book in 2018. It was a best seller and was named one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times. It was on the “best books of Therethe year” lists of the Washington Post, NPR, Time, The Oprah Magazine, and many others, and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Tommy Orange won the 2019 PEN/Hemingway Award for best debut novel and also an American Book Award. Orange is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland,California.


Orange is seen by some as a rising star in what has been referred to as a Native American Renaissance that began in the late 1960’s and has seen a flowering of literary works by Native American writers such as N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie. As with other such writers, Orange uses fiction to illustrate the lives of modern Native Americans and to correct the histories written by white scholars of the past. There There begins with a prologue that serves as a summary of Native American oppression from 1600’s to the present, including a retelling of the Sand Creek Massacre. He then introduces the first of 12 characters and lets them narrate their journey to the Big Oakland Powwow at the Oakland Coliseum. They are all what he calls Urban Indians, residing in cities rather than reservations or small rural towns.

Although many of the characters are strangers to each other, they are all connected in some way, as it becomes clear when they converge on the powwow. The stories they tell show the challenges they face, including alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, abuse, suicide, and poverty. Most have issues of identity, not knowing where they belong. Many are mixed-blood and have never been taught about their Native culture. When asked, they say they are from Oakland. Orange chose his title from a famous but often misunderstood quote of Gertrude Stein, who wrote of Oakland that “there is no there there.” As Colm Toibin wrote in the New York Times, “Nothing in Orange’s world is simple, least of all his characters and his sense of the relationship between history and the present. Instead, a great deal is subtle and uncertain in this original and complex novel.”

The multiple characters and points of view make There There a challenging read. Several Readers decided it wasn’t worth the effort, but those who finished it gave it four stars out of five. We felt it gave us insight into Native American issues that we wouldn’t otherwise have heard about.

Our next meeting of the Readers is on June 16th at 5 pm when we will discuss Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje. We will probably be meeting online using Zoom, but we may decide on an in-person meeting if it is safe to do so. If we have an in-person meeting, we will post the location on The Readers page of the Men’s Club website. If you would like to attend but you have not gotten an email invitation, please call David Morrow at 313-640-9756.


The April Readers’ Report

Ordinary Grace

 by William Kent Kreuger

William Kent Kreuger is a Minnesota author who has written numerous mystery novels and stories, including 18 mysteries set in the North Woods of Minnesota featuring Cork O’Connor, a former sheriff who is part Ojibwe and part Irish. In 2013, however, he published Ordinary Grace, a novel that is as much a coming of age story as a mystery. A homicide does occur, but there is no sleuth and no shootouts or action scenes. This story is set in southern Minnesota and is narrated by Frank Drum, looking back from middle age to the summer of 1961, when he was 13 years old. “It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” Ordinary Grace was a success for Kreuger, becoming a best seller and winning the 2014 Edgar Award for best mystery novel. The Washington Post said “Krueger’s elegy for innocence is a deeply memorable tale” while Publishers Weekly called it “…elegiac, evocative…. a resonant tale of fury, guilt, and redemption.”

The book is set in a small town in the scenic Minnesota River valley. Nathan Drum, Frank’s father, preaches at three Methodist churches every Sunday. He had planned to be a lawyer, but World War II changed him, and his wife Ruth has not been happy to be a small-town minister’s wife. Frank has an older sister Ariel, who has earned a scholarship to Julliard, which she plans to attend in the fall. Ariel is dating Karl, the only child of the town’s richest family, but Karl has a secret that he is desperate to keep. Frank’s best friend is his younger brother Jake. Jake is very bright but suffers from a stutter severe enough to prevent him from speaking in public. When Ariel disappears, Frank and Jake snoop around in places kids are not supposed to go and overhear secrets that lead them to question what they have been taught to believe.

Kreuger also brings in a host of other characters from the town, including the sheriff and his deputies, a Native American family, a famous musician who is blind and his deaf sister, one of Nathan’s war buddies who serves as the church custodian and is an important part of the family, and various town personalities who could be suspects. As with his other books, Kreuger explores issues of prejudice and discrimination against Native Americans.

The Readers, who met in our first-ever virtual meeting, enjoyed Ordinary Grace and gave it 5 stars out of 5. We felt it was beautifully written and we enjoyed the period details that reminded us of our childhood. Although it lacked the elements of a Hollywood thriller, the story and character development kept us interested to the end. Humorous scenes were interspersed with thought-provoking and even poignant moments that raised issues such as grace, forgiveness and redemption. As the critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote, “…there’s such a quiet beauty in his prose and such depth to his characters that I was completely captivated by this book’s ordinary grace.” We recommend it to anyone who appreciates a well-crafted novel, even if you are not a mystery fan.

Our next meeting of the Readers is on May 21st at 5 pm when we will discuss There There by Tommy Orange, named one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, Time, The Oprah Magazine, and many others, and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. We will be meeting online using Zoom. If you would like to attend but you have not gotten an email invitation, please call David Morrow at 313-640-9756.               


The March Readers’ Report

 

August Snow

 by Stephen Mack Jones

Stephen Mack Jones is a Michigan poet and playwright, and August Snow is his first novel. Jones, originally from Lansing, currently lives in Farmington Hills. Jones is a recipient of the prestigious Kresge Arts in Detroit Literary Fellowship as well as the Hammett Prize and the Nero Award. August Snow was well received by critics and readers, and a second book in the series, Lives Laid Away, was published in 2019. August Snow got the attention of Harvey Weinstein, who wanted to make it into a TV series, but we all know what happened to Harvey.

August Snow grew up in Detroit’s Mexicantown as the son of a Mexican mother and an African American father. Like his father, Snow became a Detroit cop, but not until he had served as a Marine sniper in Afghanistan. Snow was wrongfully discharged for investigating a corrupt Detroit mayor and police officers. After being awarded $12 million in his lawsuit against the City, Snow travelled overseas before returning to his family home in Detroit, finding it empty after the loss of both of his parents. He gets a call from a wealthy Grosse Pointe heiress whose husband’s murder had been investigated by him. She wants him to investigate her suspicions about her Detroit wealth-management firm, but the day after Snow declines the job, she is found dead in her mansion from an apparent suicide. Snow is persona non grata at the Detroit Police Department, so when they and GP police refuse to investigate the suspicious suicide, Snow decides to poke around himself. He is quickly in the middle of an international conspiracy involving money-laundering, murder and extortion.  

The author depicts the decline and beginning rebirth of Mexicantown and other Detroit neighborhoods, and his hero emphasizes the importance of community. His description of well- known restaurants, Mexican dishes and soul food could be a problem for hungry readers. August Snow also knows his weapons, his martial arts, and his liquors, but his generosity and willingness to help the down-and-out makes him a strong force for good in his community.

The small gathering of Readers (less than 10) that gathered on St Patrick’s Day to discuss August Snow generally liked the book, giving it a 3.5 out of  5-star rating. We enjoyed the snappy dialogue, the pop culture references, the Detroit and Northern Michigan locales, and the interesting supporting characters August calls on for help. Some thought the Hollywood-like shootouts and action scenes were overdone, and others questioned the credibility of the plot, but we would recommend it to those that appreciate police procedurals or thrillers.

Our next meeting of the Readers is on April 21st at 5 pm when we will discuss Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger, winner of the 2014 Edgar Award for best novel. We will meet online via Zoom. If you would like to join our meeting and you have not gotten an invitation, contact David Morrow at 313-640-9756.                 

The February Readers’ Report

The Survivor: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Survivor

 by Marcel Moring

Our February book, The Survivor: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Survivor by Marcel Moring, tells the story of Dr. Felix Zandman (1928-2011), who lived in Grodno in north-eastern Poland at the beginning of World War II. Grodno had a population of about 50,000, of which about half were Jewish. The Nazi’s herded them into two ghettos, but in late 1942, they liquidated the ghettos and sent all the Jews to concentration camps. A few escaped the roundup, including Zandman, then 14, his uncle and a couple who were friends of his uncle. They fled into the woods, reaching a summer cabin owned by his Felix’s grandmother but occupied by her former maid and her family. She took them in, first in an external potato cellar and then helping them dig a shallow pit below a bedroom. The pit was only wide enough for the four of them to lay side by side in the dark. A tube was led outside to provide some air, and the floorboards above were covered by some blankets and the bed. Once a day, the maid brought some bread, water and sometimes a potato, removed the slop bucket, and replaced the floorboards. Amazingly, they were able to survive for 17 months before the Russians drove the Germans out of the area in 1944. Felix eventually emigrated to France, graduated from university and obtained a PhD in physics from the Sorbonne. He worked as an electronics researcher for several companies in France and the US before founding his own company in the US in 1962. Today, Vishay Intertechnology has more than 22,000 workers around the world and a market capitalization of $3 billion.

The book is written in a series of short chapters, alternating between Felix’s life before the escape and his life after the war. The time in the pit is grim, but the occupants talk quietly, change positions every two hours, and try not to be overwhelmed by despair. Felix’s time after the war, in contrast, is a story of business success and prosperity, but accompanied by nightmares and an unwillingness to talk about the war. He kept in touch with the maid, her husband and the five children who lived in the cabin while four Jews hid in the pit, knowing that if the Germans ever found them both the Jews and the Catholic family that sheltered them would be shot or hung immediately. Felix had to deal with his desire to avenge the other 40 members of his extended family that were exterminated, but eventually he chose love and forgiveness. Late in his life, he nominated the maid and her husband for a place on Israel’s Righteous Among the Nations list of non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

The Readers found the book easy to read and of enough interest to continue reading to the end. The book was so simply written that several of us thought it was a Young Adult volume. We rated it 3 stars out of five, and might recommend it to those readers, especially younger readers, with an interest in the Holocaust.

Our next meeting of the Readers is on March 17th at 5 pm when we will discuss August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones, a recipient of the prestigious Kresge Arts in Detroit Literary Fellowship. This crime novel is set in Detroit and Grosse Pointe and was called by the Wall Street Journal “[A] witty, mayhem-packed first novel.” We will meet at the home of Joe Schneider, 76 Lochmoor Blvd, Grosse Pointe Shores. RSVP to Joe at (313) 882-6156.                 .         

 

The January Readers’ Report

The Force

by Don Winslow

New York Times bestselling author Don Winslow has written twenty-one novels since 1991, including The Border, The Force, The Kings of Cool, Savages, The Winter of Frankie Machine and the highly acclaimed epics The Power of the Dog and The Cartel. His novels have attracted the attention of filmmakers and actors such as Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Twentieth Century Fox has optioned The Force as well as The Cartel and The Power of the Dog. Two earlier books were also made into films. Winslow majored in African history at the University of Nebraska and earned a master’s degree in Military History. He has also written a non-fiction book and numerous stories and essays. Winslow is the recipient of the Raymond Chandler Award (Italy), the LA Times Book Prize, the Ian Fleming Silver Dagger (UK), The RBA Literary Prize (Spain) and many other prestigious awards.

Denny Malone, the main character in The Force, wants is to be a good cop. He is the “King of Manhattan North,” a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of “Da Force.” Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest–an elite special unit given carte blanche to fight gangs, drugs, and guns. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean. What only a few know is that Denny Malone himself is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all. Critics called it the great cop novel of our time, a haunting story of greed and violence, inequality and race, crime and injustice, retribution and redemption, a story that reveals the seemingly insurmountable tensions between the police and the diverse citizens they serve. Because of its sprawling descriptions of the various forces fighting over the New York City streets, some called it a “Godfather with cops” or “Game of Thrones with cops.” The New York Times says, “He paints a realistic tableau of police privilege, pragmatism, racial bluntness, street smarts, love of partners and loyalty to what they call the Job.” PBS and Publishers Weekly put it on their Best of 2017 lists.

Although The Readers admired Winslow’s writing—the fast-paced style, sharp, realistic dialogue, and the use of Malone’s inner thoughts as narration, we were less impressed than the critics. We gave the book an average rating of 3 out of 5 stars. We felt that the book was too long (479 pages) and depicted a world with widespread corruption, violence, drug use, and betrayal that was too depressing to immerse ourselves in. We found it made us uncomfortable to contemplate that this is really what it takes to be an elite police officer in a major city.

Our next meeting of the Readers on February 18th at 5 pm we will discuss The Survivor: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Survivor by Marcel Moring. We will meet at the home of Jack Cobau, 830 Fairford Rd, Grosse Pointe Woods. RSVP to Jack at (313) 881-1467.                  

 

 
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