Our Library has a brand-new website, and all of our discussion group blogs have moved!    We will leave this WordPress blog up, so that readers may read our archived posts — but starting on March 1, 2014, you may find this book group in our new home: http://www.lislelibrary.org/justthefacts

We will continue to have information on the group, and what we’re reading, on that website.   So please update your information if you have this particular site bookmarked or in a feed reader.    We look forward to seeing you visiting our new site!

Our March discussion will be part of the Big Read programs for The Longest Road by Philip Caputo.   Our group will be co-hosting the discussion with Downers Grove Library on Wednesday, March 5th at 7:00 pm

You can see all the information about The Big Read, including upcoming programs, on www.thebigread.org.

Here’s the information about the book (courtesy of Goodreads):

In The Longest Road, one of America’s most respected writers takes an epic journey across America, Airstream in tow, and asks everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large.

Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.

This evening, the group met to discuss The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby.   As it turned out, we had a lot of the same reactions to the book, so my summary here won’t be very long:

  • Everyone said it was a quick read, and that the setting and time period details were very interesting.
  • However, everyone also felt the overall book was a “meh.”
  • Elaborating on that last comment, readers pointed out a lot of the details in the book that they enjoyed.  For example, the author’s research really made the setting come alive.  Readers enjoyed learning about life during that time period, and found some details to be really interesting.   For example, one person pointed out that she enjoyed reading about how at that time, there were no photo IDs, so people could easily change their names, and travel to other countries pretty easily.   We also talked about the profiling that was being done at the time, and how difficult it could be to solve crimes like the pearl heist.
  • Readers also liked learning about the pearls, and pearl diving.  They also appreciated that at the end of the book, the author followed up on the various people involved — that we could learn about what happened to them (for better or for worse).
  • The one thing that readers mentioned, though, was that they did not feel connected to the people in the book.  One person said she felt that the “Holmes versus Moriarty” aspect was played up, but when she was reading, she didn’t feel that the two men were as much like those characters as she had hoped.
  • One reader commented that he would have enjoyed the book more if there had been details left until the end (revealed in court, etc), making more of a mystery for the reader to solve.  He felt it was a bit too chronological, and this made it less exciting.
  • Overall, readers agreed that this might have been a better book if it were fiction — but because some details cannot be known (or proved), that the author was somewhat restricted by the truth.

We welcome more discussion, so please feel free to add a comment (or two)!


Our February selection is: The Great Pearl Heist: London’s Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard’s Hunt for the World’s Most Valuable Necklace by Molly Caldwell Crosby.

We will be meeting Wednesday, February 12th @ 7:00 pm  

In the summer of 1913, under the cover of London’s perpetual smoggy dusk, two brilliant minds are pitted against each other—a celebrated gentleman thief and a talented Scotland Yard detective—in the greatest jewel heist of the new century. An exquisite strand of pale pink pearls, worth more than the Hope Diamond, has been bought by a Hatton Garden broker. Word of the “Mona Lisa of Pearls” spreads around the world, captivating jewelers as well as thieves. In transit to London from Paris, the necklace vanishes without a trace. Joseph Grizzard, “the King of Fences,” is the charming leader of a vast gang of thieves in London’s East End. Grizzard grew up on the streets of Whitechapel during the terror of Jack the Ripper to rise to the top of the criminal world. Wealthy, married, a father, Grizzard still cannot resist the sport of crime, and the pearl necklace proves an irresistible challenge. Inspector Alfred Ward patrols the city’s dark, befogged streets before joining the brand-new division of the Metropolitan Police known as “detectives.” Ward earns his stripes catching some of the great murderers of Victorian London and, at the height of his career, is asked to turn his forensic talents to finding the missing pearls and the thief who stole them. In the spirit of The Great Train Robbery and the tales of Sherlock Holmes, this is the true story of a psychological cat-and-mouse game set against the backdrop of London’s golden Edwardian era. (summary courtesy of Goodreads)

Last night, the group met to discuss Visiting Tom: A Man, A Highway and the Road to Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry.   Our group had previously discussed one of the author’s other books, Coop, back in July of 2010, so some readers were already familiar with the author.    We had an interesting, and varied discussion — I’ll try to hit some of the highlights of what readers had to say here:

  • Two readers started by mentioning that they just couldn’t get too far into the book.  For one of them, it was a timing issue, but for the other, he just felt that while it was nicely written, he just couldn’t get into it.   Another reader said it felt like at times, it was a lot of “2 guys chewing the fat,” but that she liked the storyline about the author fighting the road commission.
  • Another reader, though, said that she did enjoy it, and liked the framework of the photo sessions in the book.  She mentioned how this book seems sentimental, and another reader agreed, saying that he felt the author waxes sentimental here, but he’s self-conscious about it.   He also said that he felt the book isn’t really nostalgic, although it provides some context for things in the present.
  • We had some general discussion about the author’s writing style.  Some readers, who have read his other books, enjoy his conversational style very much.  A number of people mentioned how much they enjoyed how he writes about his family, in particular.   One reader said she found his phrasing to be delightful (and she also mentioned that she wished Tom lived next door to her to help with her heat….).   Other readers also mentioned that they like his writing style, with one person mentioning how thoughtful he found some things.  He gave the example of “At the end of the day, the heart seeks familiar territory,” as something that struck him.
  • One reader found the book especially resonated with her, since she has lived in that area of Wisconsin and has friends who live there currently.  In fact, one of her friends is right now experiencing frustration with the road commission over the road they live on, which is off a highway.  So, for her, it was really fun to read about the author’s experiences with his own road.   And on the subject of the author’s road situation, one reader said that reading about his snowplowing made him feel less sorry for himself with our recent weather.
  • One person mentioned that he liked that this book was consistent with the author’s other books, and was especially pleased that at the end, Tom and Arlene are still with us (and that it’s not an awful, sad ending).   He also said that this book made him think about how people communicate with each other.  For example, a long time ago, people would visit each other more, and now, this is rare for a lot of people, especially if it’s at night.   We had some general discussion about this, and how people seem to relate to each other differently in a small town.   We also had some general discussion about a comment from a reader, who said that he felt that after reading this book, he felt he knew more about human beings.  He also said that reading about Tom’s skills and inventiveness made him think of the current “maker” movement.
  • Another reader, who has also read the author’s books, said that she particularly enjoyed this one.  She likes the author’s writing style, and noted a few different phrases and parts that struck her.   She mentioned that some of her family came from Peshtigo, Wisconsin (which isn’t as far north as where the author lives) and had farms, and it made her think about some of the stories from her family.  She also said that she has given some of the author’s books to family members, who also enjoy them (so she is now thinking of creating sets of his books to give to some of them).

Michael Perry was gracious enough to answer a few questions that I sent him before our discussion, which I shared with the group (thank you!!).   I don’t think he’d mind if I shared one of them here, and considering the winter weather we’ve had lately, I think this one might resonate:

How’s that “road improvement” this winter?  This has been on my mind, since we recently had pretty awful weather recently here in the Chicago area that made for some fun driving.

Um. If I said what I really think of the improvements, I would have to use language not allowed in polite book groups. It’s a mess. That said, it’s a small mess that we can overcome and doesn’t stack up even for a split second against the real troubles in this world. But yah. The word “improvement” has really been abused here.

We always welcome more discussion, so please feel free to leave a comment or two!

We’re meeting this month to discuss Michael Perry’s book, Visiting Tom, but I wanted to alert everyone that he’s coming to Woodstock, IL —  find the full information HERE

Stories from the Middle of Nowhere
When: March 1, 2014 8:00 pm → 10:00 pm
Where: Woodstock Opera House
121 W. Van Buren Street
Woodstock, IL 60098

Beginning at the moment he found himself lying face-up in the gutter while wearing church clothes, New York Times bestselling author and humorist Michael Perry backtracks through his books and backstories in a humorous monologue drawing on the idea that sometimes the middle of nowhere is the very best place of all.

When we met in December, the group went through a list of suggested books to choose which ones we would read in the upcoming months.    We chose a number of great books, but here is the entire list (ones chosen for our next reading cycle are highlighted in color):

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us by Jeffrey Kluger

Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew by Brian Hicks

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist by George D Morgan

Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure by David Rosenfelt

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anna De Courcy

The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science by Sandra Hempel

Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas

Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement by Tea Krulos

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes

The Astaires: Fred & Adele by Kathleen Riley

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Artist, The Philosopher, and The Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern

Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places by Bill Streever

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon

The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story by Michael Hainey

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore

The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles by Bruce Lipton, PhD

Consider the Fork: A History of How we Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation  by Michael Pollan

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Our January selection is Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry.    We have some devoted fans of this author in the group, so I’m anticipating some good discussion.    We’ll meet on Wednesday, January 22nd at 7:00 p.m.

What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons? Visit by visit—often with his young daughters in tow—author Michael Perry is about to find out.

Toiling in a shop Perry describes as “an antique store stocked by Rube Goldberg, curated by Hunter Thompson, and rearranged by a small earthquake,” Tom Hartwig makes gag shovel handles, parts for quarter-million-dollar farm equipment, and—now and then—batches of potentially “extralegal” explosives. As he approaches his sixtieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Arlene, Tom, famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, has an endless reservoir of stories dating back to days of his prize Model A, and an anti-authoritarian streak refreshed daily by the four-lane interstate that was shoved through his front yard in 1965 and now dumps over 8 million vehicles past his kitchen window every year. And yet Visiting Tom is dominated by the elderly man’s equanimity and ultimately—when he and Perry converse over the kitchen table as husbands and as the fathers of daughters—unvarnished tenderness. (summary courtesy of Goodreads)

Our group met on Wednesday evening to discuss James Burke’ book, Connections.  As it turned out, most readers had similar comments about the book, so I’ll hit some of the highlights from our discussion:

  • One reader said the book reminded him of history lessons in school, and he felt he should have retained more from those lessons.  He found the book had a somewhat mechanical nature to it, but it made him appreciate all of the hard work, teamwork, and brilliance of people throughout history.
  • Another reader said she felt the book was too much like a history book, and was almost encyclopedia-like.  She did find it interesting, though.
  • One person mentioned he was familiar with the television program (which is mentioned below) and enjoyed those, but it made the book hard to read.  He said that watching the program meant you saw a diagram in motion, or explained visually.  For him, the book was the exact same information, without those graphics (which made it a drier read).
  • While she found the author’s voice wasn’t very dynamic, one person said that she really liked the first chapter, and how it set things up.  She appreciated all the photos and illustrations, as well.
  • One of our readers said this book reminded him of the work of another author, Stephen Gould, who also takes the tactic of showing how the path to something (like an invention, etc) does not traverse in a straight path.    We talked about this, and how it does seem like even though history lessons tend to focus on an individual (like Pasteur or Edison), that it’s never just one person doing everything or all the work.    We appreciated how Burke shows the connectivity of all of these things and how they lead into more discoveries.
  • The one thing that just about everyone said about this book was that even though it was very interesting, that it was difficult to digest as one book.  One reader said if this had been in monthly National Geographic Magazine installments, it would have been fascinating.  However, she found it was too difficult to move through all the chapters at once.

The book is a companion to the television series, Connections.  The library has the DVDs of this show, if you are interested: DVD 609 CON.   

We will meet a bit earlier in the month, on December 11th, to discuss Connections by James Burke.

How did the popularity of underwear in the twelfth century lead to the invention of the printing press?

How did the waterwheel evolve into the computer?

How did the arrival of the cannon lead eventually to the development of movies?

In this highly acclaimed and bestselling book, James Burke brilliantly examines the ideas, inventions, and coincidences that have culminated in the major technological advances of today. With dazzling insight, he untangles the pattern of interconnecting events: the accidents of time, circumstance, and place that gave rise to the major inventions of the world. 

Says Burke, “My purpose is to acquaint the reader with some of the forces that have caused change in the past, looking in particular at eight innovations — the computer, the production line, telecommunications, the airplane, the atomic bomb, plastics, the guided rocket, and television — which may be most influential in structuring our own futures….Each one of these is part of a family of similar devices, and is the result of a sequence of closely connected events extending from the ancient world until the present day. Each has enormous potential for humankind’s benefit — or destruction.”  (summary courtesy of Goodreads)