The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window & Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

About the Book

After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he's still in good health, and in one day, he turns 100. A big celebration is in the works, but Allan really isn't interested (and he'd like a bit more control over his vodka consumption). So he decides to escape. He climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving, among other surprises, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some unpleasant criminals, a friendly hot-dog stand operator, and an elephant (not to mention a death by elephant).

It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, but he has actually played a key role in them. Starting out in munitions as a boy, he somehow finds himself involved in many of the key explosions of the twentieth century and travels the world, sharing meals and more with everyone from Stalin, Churchill, and Truman to Mao, Franco, and de Gaulle.


Hissing Cousins by Mark Petser

About the Book

When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, his beautiful and flamboyant daughter was transformed into “Princess Alice,” arguably the century’s first global celebrity. Thirty-two years later, Alice’s first cousin Eleanor moved into the White House as First Lady. The two women had been born eight months and twenty blocks apart in New York City, spent much of their childhoods together, and were far more alike than most historians acknowledge. But their politics and personalities couldn’t have been more distinct.

Democratic icon Eleanor was committed to social justice and hated the limelight; Republican Alice was an opponent of big government who gained notoriety for her cutting remarks. The cousins liked to play up their rivalry—in the 1930s they even wrote opposing syndicated newspaper columns and embarked on competing nationwide speaking tours. When the family business is politics, winning trumps everything. Lively, intimate, and stylishly written, Hissing Cousins is a double biography of two extraordinary women whose entwined lives give us a sweeping look at the twentieth century in America.


The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

About the Book

On the eve of the World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, is unsure how the fair’s events will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his purpose shifts, and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine, playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, transforms everything when the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.


The Big Short by Michael Lewis

About the Book

The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn't shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower--and middle--class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking.

Michael Lewis creates a fresh, character-driven narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor, a fitting sequel to his #1 bestseller Liar’s Poker. Out of a handful of unlikely--really unlikely--heroes, Lewis fashions a story as compelling and unusual as any of his earlier bestsellers, proving yet again that he is the finest and funniest chronicler of our time.


Fishbowl: A Novel by Bradley Somer

About the Book

A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He’s longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.

There’s the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building’s super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time. Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become.

Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, “An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had.”


Wild Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “Wild” were adapted by our member Jenny. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. “The Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t a world to me then. It was an idea, vague and outlandish, full of promise and mystery. Something bloomed inside me as I traced its jagged line with my finger on a map” (p. 4). Why did the PCT capture Strayed’s imagination at that point in her life?
  2. Each section of the book opens with a literary quote or two. What do they tell you about what’s to come in the pages that follow? How does Strayed’s pairing of, say, Adrienne Rich and Joni Mitchell (p. 45) provide insight into her way of thinking?
  3. Strayed is quite forthright in her description of her own transgressions, and while she’s remorseful, she never seems ashamed. Is this a sign of strength or a character flaw?
  4. “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told” (p. 51). Fear is a major theme in the book. Do you think Strayed was too afraid, or not afraid enough? When were you most afraid for her?
  5. Strayed chose her own last name: “Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately, I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine...: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress” (p. 96). Did she choose well? What did you think when you learned she had assigned this word to herself—that it was no coincidence?
  6. On the trail, Strayed encounters mostly men. How does this work in her favor? What role does gender play when removed from the usual structure of society?
  7. What does the reader learn from the horrific episode in which Strayed and her brother put down their mother’s horse?
  8. Strayed writes that the point of the PCT “had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets” (p. 207). How does this sensation help Strayed to find her way back into the world beyond the wilderness?
  9. On her journey, Strayed carries several totems. What does the black feather mean to her? And the POW bracelet? Why does she find its loss (p. 238) symbolic?
  10. Does the hike help Strayed to get over Paul? If so, how? And if not, why?
  11. Strayed says her mother’s death “had obliterated me.... I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill” (p 267). How did being on the PCT on her mother’s fiftieth birthday help Strayed to heal this wound?
  12. What was it about Strayed that inspired the generosity of so many strangers on the PCT?
  13. “There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another.... But I was pretty certain as I sat there that night that if it hadn’t been for Eddie, I wouldn’t have found myself on the PCT” (p. 304). How does this realization change Strayed’s attitude towards her stepfather?
  14. To lighten her load, Strayed burns each book as she reads it. Why doesn’t she burn the Adrienne Rich collection?
  15. What role do books and reading play in this often solitary journey?

Support our website!

If you like our website, please consider supporting us by buying this book through Amazon. You are directed to Amazon by clicking on the book cover to the left or on book covers displayed throughout our site. Thank you!


 


The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

About the Book

A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover.

Author Patricia Highsmith is best known for her psychological thrillers Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Originally published in 1952 under a pseudonym, The Price of Salt was heralded as “the novel of a love society forbids.” Highsmith’s sensitive treatment of fully realized characters who defy stereotypes about homosexuality marks a departure from previous lesbian pulp fiction. Erotic, eloquent, and suspenseful, this story offers an honest look at the necessity of being true to one’s nature. The book is also the basis of the acclaimed 2015 film Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.


The Invention of Wings Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “The Invention of Wings” were created by our member Jenny. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. Talk about some of the things in “The Invention of Wings” that inspired the title of the book.  Which character comes to mind first when you think of the title?
  2. We'd all like to think we'd be strong and brave when faced with adversity. Were you surprised at Charlotte's fearlessness and risky behavior considering the harsh and sometimes deadly punishment if she got caught?  (Sneaking out, selling goods without permission, faking slave passes, etc.) Do you think you would do the same under such circumstances?
  3. Why do you think Sarah gave Hetty back to her mother? Do you think that was the right thing to do? Do you think she should have kept her so she could someday set her free? Do you think Sarah regretted it?
  4. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers in the fight for, not only abolition, but also for women's rights. Compared to the 1830's, do you think we've come a long way in the fight for women's rights? Or do you think we have a long way to go for equality? Compare the struggles female activists had to deal with back then with those of today.
  5. Did you know anything about the Grimke sisters and their role in abolitionism and women's right before reading this book? What about Denmark Vessey? Do you think Denmark was a positive role model?
  6. What were some of the symbols used throughout the book and what were their significance to the story? (The fleur de lis button, the story quilt, the rabbit head cane, spirit tree)
  7. Sarah was crushed when her father told her she could not study to become a lawyer because she was female. Do you think she gave up too easily? Were you surprised she didn't fight for it given her love of learning and books?
  8. Were you surprised when Sarah declined Isreal's proposal? Do you think she could have been happy had she accepted?
  9. When Sarah became Nina's godmother, and basically her sole caretaker, how did this change Sarah's and Nina's relationship with their mother? Did you think it was odd for a girl so young to become godmother/caretaker?
  10. Talk about the male characters and they're significance in the story. Who did you think was the strongest male character and what made him so?

Support our website!

If you like our website, please consider supporting us by buying this book through Amazon. You are directed to Amazon by clicking on the book cover to the left or on book covers displayed throughout our site. Thank you!


 

Creative Commons License

The Invention of Wings discussion questions are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


Chez Panisse Almond Torte

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 7 oz./200g soft almond paste
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp. almond extract
  • 6 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Beat sugar and almond paste until the almond paste is in fine pieces. Beat in butter and vanilla. Cream mixture until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition so the eggs are thoroughly mixed in.
  3. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat in just until thoroughly blended.
  4. Turn batter into pan, smoothing the top evenly. Bake for 1 to 1¼ hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the center feels springy when you push it gently.
  5. Let cool for about 20 minutes before releasing the sides of the springform pan.

Serves 8-10.

Source: Alexandra’s Kitchen website


My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

About the Book

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.