March 2020 Book Club Selection

Tacoma Stories
Wiley, Richard*: Tacoma Stories (2019)

* RPCV South Korea 1967-1969

Discussion: Thursday, March 19, 2020, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Jane and Mike Waite, 7008 Kansas St in Vancouver WA, 360-314-4117. Participating in our discussion–-in person-–will be Richard Wiley, the book’s author! Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Publishers Weekly: Wiley’s antic, wrenching collection of 14 interlocking stories reveals the subtle connections among a dozen characters whose unpredictable lives evolve through the decades in the title city. The first story, “Your Life Should Have Meaning on the Day You Die,” takes place on St. Patrick’s Day in a formerly popular Tacoma, Wash., bar that has “started on its coast to oblivion.” The story stands on its own, but it also introduces the characters who will populate the rest of the volume. Lindy, for example, introduced in the first story as “a woman whose ex was doing time at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary,” appears in the following one, “A Goat’s Breath Carol,” as a ninth grader asking her reluctant seventh grader neighbor to “show her his weenie.” Ralph, an English teacher in his 50s who plays a minor role in the first story, stars in a story set 10 years later, “Anyone Can Master Grief but He Who Has It.” Readers may need to take notes to keep track of the characters and their connections, but that close reading will pay off. The collection provides a tentatively affirmative answer to the question raised by a fictional version of the daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth: “Do you think a town can act as a hedge against the unabated loneliness of the human heart?”

Where to find it:
Libraries: Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

February 2020 Book Club Selection

The Other Side of Paradise
Cooke, Julia: The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba (2014)

Discussion: Tuesday, February 11, 2020, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Paul and Susie Robillard, 5405 NW Deerfield Way in Portland, 503-430-1776. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Booklist: As the title suggests, this is a rather dreary portrait of post-Fidel Cuba. Cooke is a journalist and teacher at the New School in New York. Her observations are the result of living in Cuba and interacting with a variety of ordinary Cuban citizens over a five-year period. Her account is absorbing, touching, but certainly depressing. As described here, Cuba is a postrevolutionary culture in which the fires of revolution have burned out. So largely gone is the optimism, the spirit of community and self-sacrifice, and the belief in the creation of “the new socialist man.” What remains, unfortunately, is the political repression, stifling bureaucracy, and material deprivation. Cooke’s narrative includes wonderful vignettes covering the daily lives of Cubans in which their hopes, dreams, and frustrations are revealed. Lucia, a well-educated and relatively privileged young woman, sees little future for herself in Cuba and hopes to emigrate. So does Sandra, a street-smart prostitute who refutes government claims to have ended “exploitation.” But there are snippets of optimism, as citizens bravely and brazenly complain about their government.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

January 2020 Book Club Selection

Timbuktu
de Villiers, Marq, and Sheila Hirtle: Timbuktu: The Sahara’s Fabled City of Gold (2007)

Discussion: Tuesday, January 14, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Carol McCormac Wild, 7865 SW Parrway Dr in Portland, 503-292-3385. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Booklist: Timbuktu is a city in central Mali near the Niger River. Founded in the eleventh century by the Tuareg, it became a major trading center primarily for gold and silver by the fourteenth century. It was invaded by a Moroccan army in 1590 and later was seized by Tuareg nomads. In their copiously researched book, the authors write of the city’s origins, its relation to the Niger River, its first and second golden ages, the coming of the Moroccans, and its long decline. De Villiers and Hirtle are co-authors of Sahara: The Extraordinary History of the World’s Largest Desert (2002) and Sable Island (2004), and this book, with maps and 12 black-and-white photographs, is a work of large scope, absorbing in its detail.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble