Writers as Readers Discuss “Big Magic”

by Linda Kleczkowski

WAR - Big MagicPut a group of writers together to talk about creativity and sparks will fly, sparks of inspiration that is. Such was the case at the last Writers as Readers (WaR) Book Club meeting as we discussed Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book on creativity, Big Magic (http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/).

Gilbert’s approach is a fresh one, based on the concepts in her famous TED talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius”, and her popular Facebook posts. She speaks of creativity being serious business but that it should also be taken lightly; “art is absolutely meaningless,” writes Gilbert. “It is, however, also deeply meaningful” (pg 134). The idea being that, to live artistically, your creativity must be one of the most important things in the world to you, however, don’t take yourself so seriously that you scare yourself into not creating or not sharing your work with the world. “You have to make a lot of room in your head for her paradoxes,” remarked Mary Lamphere.

Gilbert gave voice to my own feelings that we are all creators. She views her creativity as a universal energy force that yearns for expression; one that beckons us to play, invent, engage, and explore this magnificent existence that we happen to be experiencing together.

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WaR Review – Lived Through This

War - Lived Through Thisby Catherine Conroy

The Writers as Readers Book Club meeting, November 1, 2015, was an astonishing experience. The author, Anne Ream, petite, vibrant, in 5” heels, and her Operations Manager, Julie Burgener, joined a circle of book club members and guests at Barnes & Noble for a compelling discussion of her book Lived Through This, Listening to the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors.

Anne, articulate and poised, revealed her ten year journey from genesis to publication of her book. Its pages are packed with powerful stories told in digestible three to ten page chapters. In her book, Anne narrates twenty stories of men and women, including her own life-altering experience. The stories create a singular voice of triumph. In Anne’s words, “living reminders of all that remains possible in the wake of the terrible.”

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WaR Review – The Cielo: A Novel of Wartime Tuscany

by Marion Applegate

The Cielo CoverAt the latest WaR meeting, members met to exchange views on the historical novel, The Cielo: A Novel of Wartime Tuscany, by Paul Salsini, an instructor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Marion Applegate led the discussion of this first time author. The setting of The Cielo is Tuscany during the last year of WWII. Ordered by the Germans to evacuate, a group of Italian villagers run to the hills to escape the brutality of war. These neighbors move into an abandoned farmhouse. During their stay they face betrayal by a neighbor, death for harboring an escaped prisoner, and Nazi terrorism for being Italian.

The WaR members were bursting with enthusiasm as the meeting began. Salsini’s portrait of Italian life and customs is vivid. Told in third person, the reader could understand the villagers’ lives during wartime and even comprehend but not accept the Nazi rationale of their cruelty. Participants were excited about responding to the questions about the author’s craft. Our readers enjoyed his method of integrating setting, characters, and theme while keeping the action moving.

For history buffs The Cielo is a must read. Salsini has four more novels in this series that span from WWII to the 1980s.

WaR Review – Die Easy

WAR - Die Easyby Mary Lamphere

The July book club selection was number nine in the International best selling Charlie Fox Crime thriller series. An unusual selection for a book club read, we writers as readers still found value in the choice. Series are HUGE sellers, there’s much to learn from the books and the authors who write them. As writers, we need to step outside our own genre and voice and research the market. This book was an easy read. Quick, action-packed, not particularly believable, but really, fans of action series are looking for escape and this book delivered. We discussed character development, plot, pacing, and logic. The group seemed divided on whether or not they liked the protagonist, Charlie Fox, or bought the nastiness of the antagonist (no spoilers), but agreed that the back story was handled well. As part of a series, it stood on it’s own. This book inspired one member to read the entire series. One more reason to consider writing a series! With the Writers as Readers book club, it’s really less about the reading and more about the discussion. Whether we liked the book or not, we certainly got our money’s worth out of dissecting it

Writers as Readers Review – Animal Dreams


by Linda Kleczkowski

The first Tuesday in June was a perfect spring evening, sunny skies and balmy temperatures. No wonder nearly half of our WaR group was MIA. Despite the lower than normal attendance, discussion of our June book selection, Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver was lively and insightful.

Animal Dreams, published in 1990, is a stunning ride in visual imagery. Set in the 1980s against a backdrop of questionable corporate mining practices in the southwest and the US backed unrest in Nicaragua, the story takes place in a fictional mining town called Grace, Arizona. The protagonist Cosima “Codi” Noline reluctantly returns to her hometown to care for her father who is beginning to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

The one person in the world who Codi feels truly connected to, her younger sister Halimeda “Hallie”, has left Tucson, where they lived, to help the people of Nicaragua with crop cultivation, which leaves Codi to have to deal with their distant father by herself.

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WaR Review – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot Seeby Caryl Barnes

In May the Writers as Readers group discussed Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is a work of literary fiction 530 pages long and comprised of 167 short chapters. While most of us liked the book and all of us found much to admire, we agreed, as we do about most books we read for group, that it could have been shorter. We disagreed, however, about what could have been cut without damaging the complex and wonderful plot.

The book tells the painful stories of a competent blind French girl and a brilliant German boy before, during, and after World War II. They are complex and deep characters, and a lot of our conversation was about their natures, experiences, and fates. There is a third main character about whom reviewers and our group disagree. He’s a bad man, a stereotypical Nazi, who pursues a valuable diamond surrounded in myth. Some think this plot element detracts from the profound and fascinating stories of Marie Lore and Werner; others see it as integral to the themes of the book.

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WaR Review – Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein

by Mary Lamphere

WAR - Orphan TrainOrphan Train is a fine read for a reader. This book is quick and familiar and stylistically paced with alternating voices and timelines. Although the story is weighted with teen angst and historical misfortune, it’s an easy read.

Orphan Train is a challenging read for a writer. Bringing a writer’s critical eye to the novel, the Writers as Readers group was able to discuss at length what worked, what didn’t, and why.

We opened our WaR meeting with a brief overview of Tropes. A trope is a tool of storytelling. And there’re a million of them. It’s when a trope becomes too familiar, overused and/or abused that it becomes a problem—a cliché. This book is chock full of cliché. The characters, the plotline, even the title are overly familiar. The author did nothing to step up her characters, dig deeper in to their story, or make her novel unique.

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Writers as Readers Review – The Fault in our Stars


Written by Cindy Kremer

The January selection of Writers As Readers (WaR) was The Fault in our Stars. The February selection was The Fault in our Stars. The March selection became The Fault in our Stars. FINALLY, we were able to meet one week after our regularly scheduled meeting in March. The fault was the beastly weather we experienced this winter.

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Writers as Readers Review – Bedrock Faith

Written by Catherine Conroy

BedrockFaith2-533x800Writers as Readers met Tuesday evening, November 4, to discuss Eric Charles May’s novel, Bedrock Faith. Eric May is an associate professor of Fiction Writing at Columbia College in Chicago and was a reporter for the Washington Post. With numerous publishing credits, Bedrock Faith, ten years in the creating, is his first novel.

Set in Chicago’s far south side of Parkland – “all black since 1870” – Stew Pot returns to the 129th Street neighborhood he terrorized until he was sent to prison when he was eighteen. Now, fourteen years later, in 1993, he goes to his next door neighbor, Mrs. Motley – whose garage he had burnt down – and asks to borrow a Bible. Later Stewpot tells her, “…my spiritual awakening came as a result of counsel from Brother Crown. He’s a man of God walking day and night in The Light. He’s turned a lot of fellows in prison around. The way I see it, sinning Stew Pot is dead. God gave me the strength to kill him.”

The neighborhood is thrown into chaos by Stew Pot when he reveals secrets in the name of bringing people into The Light. Relationships are turned upside-down. Retaliation is rampant. Near the end of the book, Mrs. Motely remembers that her mother always said, “The truth is in the light. The truth will set you free.” And we, the reader, are left to contemplate if this is true after all that has transpired.

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WaR Review – Ordinary Grace

On Tuesday, September 9th, 2014, the In Print Writers as Readers Book Club met to discuss William Kent Krueger’s Edgar Award-winning novel Ordinary Grace. It was our first anniversary and the first time that everyone liked the assigned book. We agreed that Krueger’s writing was clear and straight-forward with convincing dialogue and wonderful visuals. A few of us saw the similarities between this book and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Body by Stephen King (which was made into the movie “Stand by Me”).

Ordinary Grace is set in:

“New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” (Book Synopsis)

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