Family Secrets

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng gradually reveals the family secrets that have led to the disappearance of their teenage daughter. James Lee is Chinese-American, a husband, father, and college professor whose discomfort with his perceived discrimination colors every aspect of his and his family’s life. His wife who is not Chinese and their three children deal with this in different ways. There are layers of misdirection and deceit that each uses to keep James reassured. Lydia lets her father think she has lots of friends. Nath is super cool. The younger Hannah retreats into her own world and tries to stay out of everyone’s way. Lydia and Nath understand and support each other. The mother, Marilyn struggles with her own history and growing fury over the direction her life has taken. When Lydia disappears, secrets start emerging, as does understanding of all the subterfuge of the past. This is a quick and engaging read with lots of meat for book club discussions.

Note: Your book group can borrow multiple copies of this novel and a discussion guide from the Westport Library. To request these: smadeo@westportlibrary.org

Memories in Love & Time

ETTA AND OTTO AND RUSSELL AND JAMES by Emma Hooper first takes us into the hard scrabble life of quiet Canadian farm as the faraway world sinks into global war. Later, an elderly couple – Otto one of fourteen siblings of a poor and hard working family and Etta his one-time school teacher take time apart, as she decides to walk across the continent to the ocean. (Etta is 82!) He understands, because of his time apart from home when he served in Europe as a soldier. Russell is their longtime friend, neighbor, and lover-from-afar of Etta. James is Etta’s walking companion. The story shifts back and forth in time. The facts shift in and out of reality. It is like a dream, but interspersed with the hard realities they face.  Memory, war, friendship, love, honor, hope, loneliness…these are the underpinnings of an unusual and touching story.

Views &Reflections

Sally Mann’s memoir HOLD STILL does recount the storm that erupted when she published nude photographs of her children…the “scandal”, the stalkers, the vitriolic comments, the FBI involvement…and Mann’s responses, both public and private. But this is a small part of this complicated and wide-ranging book. Sally Mann is a talented artist and a very smart person who has amazing stories to tell and an infectious zest for life. Here are a few of the topics in HOLD STILL: photography (of course), the beauties of rural Virginia, her ancestry, murder and sexual scandals in her family history, boarding school and education, race relations, literature, the value of art, famous friends and acquaintances, parenthood, celebrity, philosophy, death… (you may want to skip an alarming chapter-with photos- about the Body Farm, where dead bodies are deposited to decompose, while the effects of decomposition are studied.)

Particularly poignant are the stories of her father’s life, his struggle choosing science over art, and his life-long romance with the idea of death. And of Gee-Gee, her black caregiver with whom she is most securely attached from childhood on. This is a multi-layered and fascinating book. It’s full of the deep questioning of a sharp mind. The accompanying photos enhance the words with the clear-eyed perceptions of the author. Almost 500 pages zipped by as I enjoyed this unique book.

A BONE TO PICK

How is our food produced, distributed, and cooked? Mark Bittman has lots of information and opinions on the subject in his book A BONE TO PICK. The collection of his best New York Times columns covers big agriculture, meat, “real food” (and the other kind,) diets, legislation, labeling, and a FAQ list with short answers, and many positive and simple suggestions. The book’s subtitle says it all: “The good and bad news about food, with wisdom and advice on diets, food safety, GMOs, farming and more.”

Bittman’s comments reflect his understanding of the complexity of the subject and the simplicity of healthy eating. He calls out bad diets, junk food providers, and over-simplified solutions, including medications. His appealing suggestions for home cooking are easy to prepare.

Read this for a balanced look at our contemporary food. Especially informative for those resolving to live a healthier life.