Friday, December 29, 2017

Not Fiction Book Discussion Titles for 2018

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time” 
Homer, The Odyssey

As we near the border crossing into 2018, take a moment to consider the new list of recent nonfiction for us to discuss, posted on the right.

These titles share themes of trails and borders; journeys and the meaning of home; landscapes both exterior and interior; love and war; the complicated and tender relationship between parents and children; deception and detection; identity and resilience; memories of the past, appreciation of the now, and hopes for a better future.

Choose one or read them all and travel with us.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Readalikes: If you enjoyed December's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Time Travel: A History by James Gleick, then check out the "Sources and Further Reading" section in the book and skim through his index as well for hundreds of reading suggestions. Our book discussion members also suggested two not found on Gleick's list, the Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon and television show based on them and The Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

December Not Fiction Book Discussions

The books we have read this year have a loose connecting theme of place and time--how we know where and when--and who--we are. They investigate our sometimes contradictory desires to belong and to leave, to prevent change and to find out what-if. They capture the large view--our planet as a vast web of connections--and the small--a single blade of grass or a precise moment of time and light rendered in paint. They take us home and to work, through history and deep into culture. They explore family ties and friendship, places beloved and haunted. Our last book, Time Travel: A History by James Gleick, even considers our fascination with time travel.

Gleick, who has written about scientific genius, chaos theory, information technology, and "the acceleration of just about everything," here gives us a whirlwind tour of the history of time travel, a revolutionary shift in our world view. He traces the idea from the moment in the early twentieth century when H.G. Wells' novel The Time Machine crystallized the cultural anxieties and anticipations created by the technological innovations of the industrial age, through the evolution of the concept of time travel in science, philosophy, art, literature, and popular culture, to the instantaneity and simultaneity of our current age, where the present is everything and the past and the future have faded in relative importance. He examines the basic physics of time travel as well as the philosophical implications for our very existence and our happiness.

What do you think? As Gleick asks, "If you could take one ride in a time machine, which way would you go? The future or the past?" Or would you stay right here--or rather, now? Is this the only world possible? Is it, as Voltaire's Pangloss believed, "the best of all possible worlds"? Why do you think we as a culture are so fascinated by the idea of time travel? Gleick is an excellent synthesizer of science, history, and culture--which aspects of his narrative did you find most interesting? Did he create a good blend? As Emily Dickinson wrote, "There is no Frigate like a Book . . . " Are stories ultimately time machines? What is your favorite story about time travel? For that matter, what is time?

If Gleick somehow missed your favorite story of time travel, you can add it to his list and see other readers' favorites as well here on his blog:

We hope you will join the discussion: Tuesday, December 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, December 21, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here (or now?) on the blog.

Friday, November 17, 2017

If you enjoyed H is for Hawk . . .

If you enjoyed H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, which we read in 2016, then you might like to watch a recent episode of the PBS program Nature, "H is for Hawk: A New Chapter" in which Macdonald explores the world of goshawks by following a family of these raptors in the wild and raising another goshawk of her own.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Readalikes: If you enjoyed November's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King, then you might like these books and films recommended by our discussion group members:


  • The Judgement of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King
  • The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe
  • Linnea in Monet's Garden by Cristine Bjork and Lena Anderson
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  • Francois le Champi by Georges Sand
  • The Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau
  • "The White Waterlily" by Stephane Mallarme
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough
  • Lust for Life: The Novel of Vincent Van Gogh by Irving Stone
  • Depths of Glory: The Novel of Camille Pisarro by Irving Stone
  • The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
  • Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell


  • Midnight in Paris written and directed by Woody Allen
  • Loving Vincent directed by Doreta Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Monday, November 6, 2017

November Not Fiction Book Discussions

In conversation with his publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, author and art historian Ross King said, "Most of my books have been studies of crucial and difficult moments in the lives of artists. I'm interested in drilling down deeply into the years when they struggle with the works that ultimately become their greatest achievements. I'm fascinated by how historical events and personal relationships have an impact on these masterpieces." In Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies, King explores in expansive biographical, historical, and cultural detail the twelve years during which Claude Monet painted the enormous canvasses of his Water Lilies series.

Monet intended for his Water Lilies paintings, ultimately gifted to the French public and housed in the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, to be "an asylum of peaceful meditation." However, in these last twelve years of his life, he was troubled by the dangers and privations of World War I, the loss of friends and family to age and illness, his own failing eyesight, and challenges to his artistic prominence by a new generation of artists. Most of all, Monet was challenged by his attempt to create for his viewers a fully immersive experience of the moment-to-moment shifting of light, color, and form that he perceived at his beloved lily ponds at Giverny. Like author Marcel Proust in his massive novel In Search of Lost Time, Monet was attempting to capture time itself. 

What do you think? Were you familiar with Monet's Water Lilies before reading Mad Enchantment? Have you seen them in person? What were your thoughts and feelings about these paintings before reading King's book? How has your understanding of this work changed after reading the book? What kind of person was Claude Monet? Did anything about his life or personality surprise you? What was the importance of family and friendship, especially his friendship with journalist and politician Georges Clemenceau, to his late work and reputation? How do the Water Lilies reflect their historical and cultural moment? What did Monet's contemporary, the writer Henri Ghéon, mean when he said that Monet "paints in time"? To what degree do you think Monet's loss of vision affected the style of his late paintings, and to what degree "his determination to push the boundaries of painting," his "mad enchantment" with the "luminous abyss" of his water lily ponds, or his suppression of the female image? How do you explain the rise and fall and rise again of Monet's popularity and artistic reputation as well as that of Impressionism in general? What is Monet's legacy to the history of art? Do you think he would be pleased with this legacy?

Enjoy a virtual visit with the Water Lilies at the Musée de l'Orangerie.

We hope you will join the discussion: Tuesday, November 7, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, November 16, at 11:00 a.m. at the Earth Fare Café (the West Ashley Branch Library is closed until further notice due to Tropical Storm Irma).

Monday, October 30, 2017

Juliet Nicolson, author of A House Full of Daughters, to speak in Charleston Friday, November 3

Juliet Nicolson, the author of our selection for August, A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations, will be speaking this Friday, November 3, at the Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival:


  • St. Stephen's Episcopal Church 
Charleston UK and Charleston SC epitomize the theory of six degrees of separation. Charles Anson and Juliet Nicolson, who live close to Charleston, Sussex, have unexpected local connections and will share their tales at a historic church in downtown Charleston's historic Ansonborough district. Stay for the reception to meet author Edward Ball.
Tickets: $25
Lecture & Reception: $50

Visit for more information.

Thanks to our discussion group member Isabel for sharing this information with the group!