Julia Child was America’s French chef until her death in 2004. At the end of her life she was working on a book that detailed her years in France and her foray into the culinary profession but, she died before it was completed. Fortunately her grandson, Alex Prud’Homme, was able to complete her memoir and the result is the amusing and lighthearted, My Life in France. In this book, Julia describes herself as a loud Californian who met her more sophisticated husband, Paul, while working in the OSS during World War II. In 1949 Julia and Paul moved to France and she decided to take cooking classes. Julia’s natural cooking talent was quickly evident, and it wasn’t long before she started her own school and eventually published the culinary tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My Life in France is a rich, charming tale that shows the beauty of Paris in the 1950’s and the making of America’s first celebrity chef. What were you surprised to learn about Julia’s life? What did you like about this book? Has Julia influenced your cooking?
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The Namesake is by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, chronicles the life of an immigrant family in America. The Gangulis start their young married life in Boston. Away from their friends and relatives, they make a family of their own while they struggle to hold on to the traditions of their native homeland, India. Their son is torn between two worlds, the United States where he is born and raised, and India where his parents attempt to keep ties. As he grows up he feels confused and even bitter toward his parents, his name and his ethnic heritage. In a sense, this book details the process by which all of us struggle through adolescence in an attempt to find the person we really are, or really wish to be. Many can relate to this story of an immigrant family searching for the balance between assimilating into a new society while remaining a part of the place that was left behind. What insights have you gained from this story that apply to your immigrant ancestors? If you are an immigrant or a child of immigrants, can you relate to the charachters in this book?
Hollywood Pictures’ release Quiz Show was a 1994 Academy Award nominee for Best Picture. The movie details the infamous 1950’s television quiz show scandals and focuses on real-life people who were affected by them. First we have Herbie Stempel, played by John Tuturro, a nerdy and unattractive middle-class husband and father who has an extensive knowledge of trivia. Herbie is the reigning Twenty-One champion but the producers feel he’s no longer captivating viewers. Along comes a new contestant, handsome, debonair Columbia professor Charles Van Doren played by Ralph Fiennes. The producers think he will capture a large audience and in a grievous lapse in judgment, they ask Herbie to intentionally lose to Charles. Eventually Charles, wrapped up in his new celebrity status, also agrees to cheat in order to keep winning. When a congressional investigator, played by Rob Morrow, suspects something is crooked, frustrated Herbie is all too willing to come forward and expose the scam. The quiz show scandals were a dark moment for an idealistic post-war generation becoming acquainted with the lure of television and Quiz Show uniquely captures that drama in a poignant and complex film. How well does the film portray the characters? To whom would you recommend Quiz Show?
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd takes place on Egret Island off the coast of South Carolina. Years ago, a seemingly happy family was dealt a terrible blow. The father of the family died in a boating accident, and his wife and two children never fully recovered. Years later we find his daughter, Jessie, is once again living a seemingly happy life with her husband and daughter when she receives a call telling her that her mother, Nelle, has chopped off her own finger. Alarmed and confused, Jessie travels back to the island of her childhood, desperate to know what drove her mother to hurt herself and determined to help her regain her sanity. On the island, Jessie grows distant from her husband and falls in love with a monk who lives in a monastery near her mother’s house. As her mother’s condition worsens and her own life becomes complicated and bleak, Jessie realizes she must find out the truth about what happened to her father and how it all connects to a myth-laden chair carved in the shape of a mermaid that resides in the monastery. How do you think The Mermaid Chair compared with Kidd’s debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees?
The hustle and bustle of a wedding in New Dehli leads to love, tears and laughs in Monsoon Wedding, a 2001 release distributed by Mirabai Films. A father plans an elaborate wedding to celebrate the arranged marriage of his daughter to a successful man who lives in America. Modern and traditional elements of Indian life intertwine as younger and older members of the family explore their hopes and dreams in anticipation of the big event. The sweltering summer heat adds to the tension even as a dramatic, cooling monsoon rain threatens to pour down on it all. Do you feel Monsoon Wedding gave an accurate portrayal of modern-day New Dehli and the struggles people face trying to retain their culture in the modern world? What did you learn from the movie?
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer tells the story of Joan Castleman as she reflects upon her long marriage to a successful author, Joe Castleman. When they first met decades before, he was her professor and she was his child’s babysitter. She was a talented student writer and he, an aspiring professional writer who felt he didn’t have enough of a gift to make it. But Joe’s admiration of Joan’s talent quickly turned to passion and inspired by her confidence in him, Joe left his wife, quit his job, married Joan and turned his attention wholly to writing. Joan played a loyal and supportive wife who gave Joe the freedom to do whatever he needed to advance his career while she devoted herself to being a housewife and mother. After all those years, Joe’s numerous infidelities, and her own abandonment of a writing career for herself, Joan now wonders if she made the right choices in life. What caught you off guard in this book? Would you suggest this book to a friend? Why or why not?
Chicago writer and lawyer Scott Turow has penned seven best-sellers. His 2005 book, Ordinary Heroes, tells the story of a young man who researches his father’s past during World War II. He finds that his father, who rescued his mother from a concentration camp, had previously been engaged to another woman, and as a JAG lawyer was called to make some complicated and difficult choices. Like Turow’s other books, including Presumed Innocent and The Burden of Proof, Ordinary Heroes is an insider’s view of the legal system with exciting plot turns and rich characters. What do like about Turow’s writing style? If you were going to make Ordinary Heroes a feature film or TV movie (as has been done with Presumed Innocent and The Burden of Proof) who would you cast? Which of Turow’s other books would make good movies?
The film La Vita e bella tells the story of a sweet and funny Jewish man named Guido, living in Italy in the 1930’s. Guido falls in love with a beautiful woman, Dora, and woos her to marry him even though she is not Jewish and social sentiment in her elite circle is becoming increasingly anti-Semitic. Together they live a happy life with their beautiful young son until the Nazi persecution manifests itself when Guido and his son are forced to relocate to a concentration camp. This is a truly touching and surprisingly humorous film that focuses on the beauty and sanctity of life, even in the face of unimaginable cruelty. How would you describe this film to someone who had not seen it? What message or moral does the film convey? What do you think of Roberto Benigni’s directing, co-writing and acting in the film? Did you know his wife in the film is played by his real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi? Have you seen any of Benigni’s other films? If so what about them surprised you?
Jodi Picoult has recently published her latest book, Nineteen Minutes. Picoult fans can expect this new novel to explore controversial themes with her characteristic pull-no-punches style. Her earlier books dealt with issues including children’s medical emancipation rights in My Sister’s Keeper, eugenics in Second Glance and teenage suicide pacts in The Pact. What makes Picoult’s writing so compelling? What techniques does she use to captivate you and pull you into her stories? Are you looking forward to reading her newest book, Nineteen Minutes?
The Book of Dave: A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future is the newest title from author Will Self. Reference librarian Dale sums up the books by saying, “The Book of Dave takes place on the post-apocalyptic isle of Ham in the year 500 A.D. (After Dave), where everyday life is based on the mad ramblings of a late 20 th century London cab driver. Through alternating chapters, the story of how Dave came to write his book and how it came to be regarded as holy is revealed.” How would you classify this book? Do you think it’s on par with Self’s earlier books? What other authors would you compare with Will Self?