We have three clubs -- one meets on Tuesdays (coordinated by Ron Schaffer), one on Wednesdays (coordinated by Linda Jones) and a Science Book Club, which also meets on Wednesdays (coordinated by Linda Jones).
If you would like to know more about, or join, our Book Clubs, please contact Ron Schaffer or Linda Jones for details
ARF SCIENCE BOOK CLUB
The ARF Science Book Club met on March 20 at Oviatt Library. Those present were Jim Dole, John Motil, Heidimarie Lundblad, Sandy Jewett, Charles Macune, Helen Saltman, Mary Corcoran, Phyllis Russell and myself.
The book discussed was The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean.
Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.
The book is full of fascinating stories about the individual elements and the scientists who discovered them. Was Robert Lowell’s poetry ruined by lithium which cured his madness? All members present greatly enjoyed the book. The only reservation was a wish for more graphics.
John says the Science Book Club members look like a pretty happy bunch. (Taken at the October 2012 meeting)
TUESDAY BOOK GROUPARF's Tuesday book group, headed by Ron Schaffer, chose for its April reading Barry Unsworth's Booker Prize-winning 1992 novel Sacred Hunger. Those present for the discussion at Ron and Robbie Schaffer's home were Len Pitt, Frank McGinnis, Iris Shah, Jim Allen, and Robbie and Ron. Everyone seemed to enjoy reading this long (600+ pages) but captivating epic.
Sacred Hunger involves the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean colonies during the mid-1700s. Although there are a great many characters, the author focuses particularly on Erasmus Kemp, son in a well-to-do business family in Liverpool, and his cousin Matthew Paris, who signs on as the surgeon on the new slave ship Kemp's father is having built. We see vividly how drunken and penniless men were shanghaied into service as crew on the ship, how slaves were brought out from the coast of West Africa to the ship for potential sale to the captain, how captain Thurso tried to keep his crew in line by flogging for even slight infractions, how slaves were packed into the ship, how they were occasionally made to exercise by dancing in their shackles to a crew member's fiddling, and finally how Paris signaled a stop to Thurso's escalating cruelty to both slaves and crew, with huge consequences.
In addition to learning much about the human costs of the slave trade, we follow the lives of the Kemps back in England and quite a few of the ship's crew, some of whom we meet again after their ship crashes on the coast of Florida. Erasmus Kemp makes his way to the wilds of Florida to bring back his apparently mutinous cousin Paris to be hanged. I won't give away the ending, we all agreed that the entire story gains much power because of the author's underlying moral perspective, focused both on slavery and on how people should treat one another.
Iris Shah hosted our May meeting, when our book was Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks. Those in the discussion were Iris, Frank McGinnis, John Irving, Jim Allen, Len Pitt, and Ron and Robbie Schaffer.
The book takes place mostly during World War I in northeastern France, where the main character, Stephen Wraysford, was one of thousands of British troops trying to push back the Germans near Amiens. We first meet Stephen before the war, when he is in France on business and falls in love with Isabelle, with whom he has a child he only learns about years later. The many war chapters constitute the bulk of the book, but in those chapters we also follow Stephen's attempts to find Isabelle again or find love as he can.
At one point the book leaps unexpectedly ahead to the 1970s and Stephen's granddaughter. Elizabeth, unmarried and pregnant with her first child, is attempting to construct her family history. She is searching for records and any people who might have known her grandfather during the War so that she could interview them. She is partly successful in these efforts. Although we all thought the title of this book was not a good one, in its totality Birdsong seems to be a paean to the importance of love in human life regardless of whether those relationships fulfill traditionally appropriate forms. I also saw the book as a sad commentary on the fact that later generations may never know of key events and loves of family members who came before.
In the war years the author focuses on Wraysford, now an officer in the British army, but we also learn details of the lives, loves, fears, and deaths of many of his men. We readers in the group had all been aware of the trench warfare of World War I, but new to us was the extensive and very complex system of tunnels that miners on both sides constructed beneath and forward of the trenches for the purpose of laying mines. German and English tunnels sometimes came so close to each other that miners could listen to enemy footsteps. Being ripped apart by artillery or machine guns when advancing from trenches was hardly better than being buried alive in a collapsed tunnel. Although probably a good picture of warfare at that time, I and some of the others thought the author spent too much time in detailing trench warfare and tunneling.
Most, but not all of us, liked this book. Toward the end of the book I was quite moved by being immersed as I was in the lives of these different generations. At least one person in the group strongly disagreed, pointing out flaws in the book's construction and writing that made it not good literature.
Our group will not meet in June, but for our July 19 meeting we will read Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire and on August 25 (a Thursday) we will discuss Charles Dicken's Great Expectations. We each may try to see the movie version of Great Expectations prior to our discussion.
Reported by Jim Allen