James Baldwin

James Baldwin was a black writer before the Civil Rights movement; a gay writer in homophobic mid-century America; a passionate maverick stylist who was swept into the destructive arena of politics.

In fiction, he drew heavily on his own self and was prepared to explore difficult truths about his life. He understood guilt and rage in a way few of his contemporaries did. But it was in his essays, Hilton Als argues that, unencumbered by the requirements of narrative form, character, and incident, that his voice was most fully realized.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

First published in 1953, Baldwin’s first novel is a short but intense, semi-autobiographical exploration of the troubled life of the Grimes family in Harlem during the Depression.

Giovanni’s Room

When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened, while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy.

Another Country

The story of the suicide of jazz-musician Rufus Scott and the friends who search for an understanding of his life and death, discovering uncomfortable truths about themselves along the way.

The Fire Next Time

Since it was first published, this famous study of the Black Problem in America has become a classic.
Powerful, haunting, and prophetic, it sounds a clarion warning to the world.


Notes of a Native Son

Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, the essays collected in ‘Notes of a Native Son’ capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement. This book inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the 20th century and it is the book that established Baldwin’s voice as a social critic.


Nobody Knows My Name

In his introduction to the book Baldwin describes the writer as requiring ‘every ounce of stamina he can summon to attempt to look on himself and the world as they are’. This collection contains ‘Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem’, polemical pieces on the tragedies inflicted by racial segregation and a poignant account of his first journey to ‘the Old Country’, the southern states.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

About the book

LuLing Young is in her eighties, and finally beginning to feel the effects of old age. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write down all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China. Meanwhile, her daughter Ruth, a ghostwriter for authors of self-help books, is losing the ability to speak up for herself in front of the man she lives with. LuLing can only look on, helpless: her prickly relationship with her daughter does not make it easy to discuss such matters. In turn, Ruth has begun to suspect that something is wrong with her mother: she says so many confusing and contradictory things.

Ruth decides to move in with her ailing mother, and while tending to her discovers the story LuLing wrote in Chinese, of her tumultuous life growing up in a remote mountain village known as Immortal Heart. LuLing tells of the secrets passed along by her mute nursemaid, Precious Auntie; of a cave where dragon bones are mined and where Peking Man was discovered; of the crumbling ravine known as the End of the World, where Precious Auntie’s bones lie, and of the curse that LuLing believes she released through betrayal. Like layers of sediment being removed, each page unfolds into an even greater mystery: Who was Precious Auntie, whose suicide changed the path of LuLing’s life?

Reviewed by Godshill WI

we were evenly divided on this book. Some thought it tedious and boring – others were fascinated by the historical detail. It was agreed that the first part, in California, was too long. Also those who’d read her other books had a sense of ‘déjà vu’ The same theme was explored. All found the mother irritating – but she was supposed to be!

star rating ****

 

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Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

About the book

The son of a black African father and a white American mother, Obama was only two years old when his father walked out on the family. Many years later, Obama receives a phone call from Nairobi: his father is dead. This sudden news inspires an emotional odyssey for Obama, determined to learn the truth of his father’s life and reconcile his divided inheritance. Written at the age of thirty-three, Dreams from my Father is an unforgettable read. it illuminates not only Obama’s journey, but also our universal desire to understand our history, and what makes us the people we are.

Reviewed by  King’s Somborne Reading Group:

Most of the group really enjoyed this book and found it very interesting and beautifully written. An eye opener into the problems of identity of a mixed race child whose father is absent. Some were more sceptical and thought it may be self serving.

Star rating: ****

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Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

About the book

Frances Mayes – widely published poet, gourmet cook and travel writer – opens the door on a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. She finds faded frescoes beneath the whitewash in the dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles – and even a wayward scorpion under her pillow. And from her traditional kitchen and simple garden she creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes, all included in this book.
In the vibrant local markets and neighbouring hill towns, the author explores the nuances of the Italian landscape, history and cuisine. Each adventure yields delightful surprises – the perfect panettone, an unforgettable wine, or painted Etruscan tombs. Doing for Tuscany what Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion. A celebration of the extraordinary quality of life in Tuscany, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN is a feast for all the senses.

Reviewed by Selborne Book Circle:

Although all our group agreed that it was well written and very evocative of Tuscany sun, scenery, hill top towns and markets, some of us thought the theme of restoring old houses in foreign parts has become hackneyed. The rest of us enjoyed the book and felt it was almost as good as a holiday. We mostly felt that the recipes and wine sampling were excessive.

Star rating: ***

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The Boy With No Shoes by William Horwood

About the book

Five-year-old Jimmy Rova is the unwanted child of a mother who rejects him, and whose other children bully him. The one thing he can call his own is a pair of shoes, a present from the only person he feels has ever loved him. When they are cruelly taken away, Jimmy spirals down into a state of loneliness and terrible loss from which there seems no recovery. This triumphant story of a boy’s struggle with early trauma and his remarkable journey into adulthood is based on William Horwood’s own remarkable childhood in south-east England after the Second World War. Using all the skills that went into the creation of his modern classics, Horwood has written an inspiring story of a journey from a past too painful to imagine to the future every child deserves.

Reviewed by Ladies of an Age Reading Group:

Made some of us laugh and cry. An evocative view of childhood in a coastal town in post-war Britain. Prompted lots of discussion within our group. Glad to see a happy ending!

Star rating: ***

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Mukiwa by Peter Godwin

About the book

Peter Godwin grew up in Rhodesia in the 1960s, dimly aware of the divisions that would lead to civil war. This book tells of the guerilla killings, Godwin’s conscription into the army aged 17, and his return to Zimbabwe as a reporter for the “Sunday Times” after studying law in England.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI reading group:

Excellent book. Really brought home the present problems. Educational. Well written; Group will read follow-up books.

Star rating: ****

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

About the book

The literary sensation of the year, a book that redefines both family and narrative for the twenty-first century. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the moving memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.

Reviewed by Jennie’s Friends Reading Group:

Not an easy read. Well written and showing great insight and understanding of a young man’s problems when dealing with his parents death and the consequent responsibility for his younger brother’s upbringing. Tongue in cheek at times.

Star rating: ***

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The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

About the book

264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie’s Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined. From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke’s journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.

Reviewed by King’s Somborne Reading Group:

Slow beginning but well worth persevering with. A beautiful evocation of a family and the times they lived in, of European history and the position of Jews. Written with a charmingly lucid style. Intricate, intoxicating, enthralling and revealing. The majority of the group awarded it top marks.

Rating: 5 Stars

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

About the book

Some say that the first hint that Bill Bryson was not of Planet Earth came when his mother sent him to school in lime-green Capri pants. Others think it all started with his discovery, at the age of six, of a woollen jersey of rare fineness. Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people’s hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman. Bill Bryson’s first travel book opened with the immortal line, ‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.’ In his deeply funny new memoir, he travels back in time to explore the ordinary kid he once was, and the curious world of 1950s America. It was a happy time, when almost everything was good for you, including DDT, cigarettes and nuclear fallout. This is a book about growing up in a specific time and place. But in Bryson’s hands, it becomes everyone’s story, one that will speak volumes – especially to anyone who has ever been young.

Reviewed by Biscuits, Books and Banter Reading Group:

 All members found something in the book that made them laugh. Really appealed to those who also grew up in 1950’s but even younger members liked the mix of historical fact and human life story.

Star rating: ***

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A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett

About the book

Alan Bennett’s A Life Like Other People’s is a poignant family memoir offering a portrait of his parents’ marriage and recalling his Leeds childhood, Christmases with Grandma Peel, and the lives, loves and deaths of his unforgettable aunties Kathleen and Myra. Bennett’s powerful account of his mother’s descent into depression and later dementia comes hand in hand with the uncovering of a long-held tragic secret. A heartrending and at times irresistibly funny work of autobiography by one of the best-loved English writers alive today.

Reviewed by CC Readers Reading Group:

All enjoyed this – found it moving, touching, humorous. Beautiful spare writing. Sad but not depressing. Evoked our pasts and the people from our pasts. some found it a little too intimate – like prying into people’s lives. Very direct criticism of the care of elderly people and especially those with dementia.

Star rating: ***

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