The first Thursday of each month a group of devoted readers gets together at the Community Library to discuss books. The group has been meeting since October 2002, when they read “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver, and they have now read a total of 185 books. We mostly read fiction, but try to include one nonfiction book each year. The group has changed over the years, but a love of reading and talking about books by the members, past and present, has not changed. While we have many favorites, here are three of them.
“The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” by Jan-Phillip Sendker
This debut novel, set in Burma, helps us to think about love and the importance of it in our lives. “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” is a love story about a young crippled girl and a young blind boy: she sees for him, he walks for her. And it is a mystery as the daughter tries to track down what happened to her father.
Four years after Tin Win, a successful New York lawyer, suddenly disappears without a trace, his daughter finds a love letter her father had written many years before to a Burmese woman she has never heard of. Julia Win is amazed to discover he had a life before she was born, a life that he never spoke about, which causes her to wonder “What do we know about our parents, and what do they know about us?” Julia travels to the village of Kalaw where the woman lived. It is there in a tea house she meets U Ba who claims to know what happened to her father. He begins to tell her the story of her father’s childhood and teenage years. With his help Julia is able to find who her father was before she came into the world.
“The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown
This one is a real-life adventure of narrative nonfiction, an inspiring true story weaving together history with the value of teamwork. In 1936 a group of nine young men from the University of Washington arrived in Berlin, Germany, with only one goal — to win the Olympic gold medal in rowing.
The story begins in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression. The boys who made up the team came from lower middle class families of farmers, loggers and fishermen from rural Washington state. Joe Rantz was cast aside by his father and arrived at college feeling like a misfit. The book follows Joe and the rest of the team as they bring the University of Washington’s crew to national prominence. During the 1930s, rowing was a popular sport, attracting huge crowds of spectators. Millions listened to the radio broadcasts of the various crew events all across the country.
As the boys prepare for their Olympic event, we also follow Hitler’s obsession with the 1936 Olympics. The author did his research, going through journals, logs, newspapers and countless photographs and interviews to bring the story of the Washington rowing team to life. As Joe said, the story “is not just about me. It has to be about the boat.”
“Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger
Through the voice of 11-year-old Reuben, an asthmatic boy obsessed with cowboy stories, “Peace Like a River” tells of the Land family’s cross-country search for Reuben’s outlaw older brother, who has been charged with murder. The novel is narrated by the adult Reuben.
Reuben Land was born with no air in his lungs, and it was only when his father, Jeremiah, picked him up and commanded him to breathe that his lungs filled. Reuben struggles with debilitating asthma, so he is a boy who knows firsthand that life is a gift, and also one who suspects that his father can overturn the laws of nature.
On the morning of the trial, Davy escapes from his cell knowing that he is likely to be convicted. When his family hears Davy is on the lam, they get in their Airstream trailer and go looking for him. As they travel through the Midwest from Minnesota to the Badlands this novel has a bit of everything — crime, adventure, romance, miracles, and the enduring love and power of family.
Off the Shelves is published Sundays. Each week a different Kenosha Public Library or Community Library staff member reviews of a handful of books available through the library system.