Monday, June 30, 2014

This Just In: KC Bookies Give Pulitzer-Winning 'The Goldfinch' Two Thumbs-Down

Much to our dismay, the Pulitzer-Prize winning "epic" novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was an epic disappointment (oh, snap!). Was the author paid by the word? Felt like it. Was it worth trudging through 750 pages? Hardly. Did we have a good time and great conversation anyway? Oh yeah.

"We Need New Names" Review on NPR

Now that we have We Need New Names  on our reading list for August, thought I'd share this review via NPR.

And as I've mentioned, the author, NoViolet Bulaweyo, is a friend-of-a-friend, so I'll be working on seeing if we can get in touch with her to ask her some questions about the book before our August meeting!

Read the review >

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer Reads 2014

Getting back to the blog! Here's the list of our books for the summer:

JUNE The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

JULY Sense and Sensibility* by Jane Austin

AUGUST We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulaweyo

SEPTEMBER Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

*Remember when we read "The Hobbit" and everyone had fun, different book covers and we had a photo shoot? Likely to happen again on this one...

Monday, August 12, 2013

the danger of a single story


I wanted to share the following Ted talk with you.  This is the author of our current book, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and it is one of my favorite Ted talks (and one of the main reasons that I wanted to read a book by her).  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Historical Relationship between the United Kingdom, Ireland and Northern Ireland

From Wikipedia:


In 1609, Scottish and English settlers, known as planters, were given land confiscated from the native Irish in the Plantation of Ulster.[32] Coupled with Protestant immigration to "unplanted" areas of Ulster, particularly Antrim and Down, this resulted in conflict between the native Catholics and the "planters", leading in turn to two bloody ethno-religious conflicts known as the Irish Confederate Wars (1641–1653) and the Williamite war (1689–1691), both of which resulted in Protestant victories.
British Protestant political dominance in Ireland was ensured by the passage of the penal laws that curtailed the religious, legal, and political rights of anyone (including both Catholics and [Protestant] Dissenters, such as Presbyterians) who did not conform to the state church, the Anglican Church of Ireland.
As the penal laws broke down in the latter part of the 18th century, there was more competition for land, as restrictions were lifted on the Catholic Irish ability to rent. With Roman Catholics allowed to buy land and enter trades from which they had formerly been banned, tensions arose resulting in the Protestant "Peep O'Day Boys" .[33] and Catholic "The Defenders". This created polarisation between the communities and a dramatic reduction in reformers within the Protestant community which had been growing more receptive to ideas of democratic reform.
Following the foundation of the nationalist-based Society of the United Irishmen by Presbyterians, Catholics, and liberal Anglicans, and the resulting failed Irish Rebellion of 1798, sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants continued. The Orange Order (founded in 1795), with its stated goal of upholding the Protestant faith and loyalty to William of Orange and his heirs, dates from this period and remains active to this day.[34]
In 1801, a new political framework was formed with the abolition of the Irish Parliament and incorporation of Ireland into the United Kingdom. The result was a closer tie between the former, largely pro-republican Presbyterians and Anglicans as part of a "loyal" Protestant community. Though Catholic Emancipation was achieved in 1829, in large part by Daniel O'Connell, largely eliminating official discrimination against Catholics (around 75% of Ireland's population), Jews, and Dissenters, O'Connell's long-term goals of Repeal of the 1801 Union and Home Rule were never achieved. The Home Rule movement served to define the divide between most nationalists (often Catholics), who sought the restoration of an Irish Parliament, and most unionists (often Protestants), who were afraid of being a minority in a Catholic-dominated Irish Parliament and tended to support continuing union with Britain. Unionists and Home-Rule advocates countered each other during the career of Charles Stuart Parnell, a repealer, and onwards.[35]


The Ulster Covenant was issued in protest against the Third Home Rule Bill in September 1912.
The Proclamation of the Irish Republicwas issued during the Easter Rising of April 1916.
By the second decade of the 20th century, Home Rule, or limited Irish self-government, was on the brink of being conceded due to the agitation of the Irish Parliamentary Party. In response, unionists, mostly Protestant and concentrated in Ulster, resisted both self-government and independence for Ireland, fearing for their future in an overwhelmingly Catholic country dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1912, unionists led by Edward Carson signed the Ulster Covenant and pledged to resist Home Rule by force if necessary. To this end, they formed the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers and imported arms from Germany (the Easter Rising insurrectionists did the same several years later).
Nationalists formed the Irish Volunteers, whose ostensible goal was to oppose the Ulster Volunteers and ensure the enactment of the Third Home Rule Bill in the event of British or unionist recalcitrance. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 temporarily averted possible civil war and delayed the resolution of the question of Irish independence. Home Rule, though passed in the British Parliament with Royal Assent, was suspended for the duration of the war.
Following the nationalist Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the executions of fifteen of the Rising's leaders, the separatist Sinn Féin party won a majority of seats in Ireland and set up the First Dáil (Irish Parliament) in Dublin. Their victory was aided by the threat of conscription to the British Army. Ireland essentially seceded from the United Kingdom. The Irish War for Independence followed, leading to eventual independence for the Republic of Ireland. In Ulster, however, and particularly in the six counties which became Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin fared poorly in the 1918 election, and Unionists won a strong majority.
The Government of Ireland Act 1920 partitioned the island of Ireland into two separate jurisdictions, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, both devolved regions of the United Kingdom. This partition of Ireland was confirmed when the Parliament of Northern Ireland exercised its right in December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 to opt out of the newly established Irish Free State.
A part of the treaty signed in 1922 stated that a boundary commission would sit in due course to decide where the frontier of the northern state would be in relation to its southern neighbour. With the two key signatories from the South of Ireland dead during the Irish Civil War of 1922–23, this part of the treaty was given less priority by the new Southern Irish government led by Cosgrave, and was quietly dropped.
The idea of the boundary commission was to include as many of the nationalist and loyalist communities in their respective states as fairly as possible. As counties Fermanagh and Tyrone and border areas of LondonderryArmagh, and Downwere mainly nationalist, the boundary commission could have rendered Northern Ireland untenable, as at best a four-county state and possibly even smaller.
Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom, albeit under a separate system of government whereby it was given its own Parliament and devolved government. While this arrangement met the desires of unionists to remain part of the United Kingdom, nationalists largely viewed the partition of Ireland as an illegal and arbitrary division of the island against the will of the majority of its people. They argued that the Northern Ireland state was neither legitimate nor democratic, but created with a deliberately gerrymandered unionist majority. Catholics initially composed about 33% of its population.[36]
Northern Ireland came into being in a violent manner – a total of 557 people were killed in political or sectarian violence from 1920 to 1922, during and after the Irish War of Independence, mostly Catholics.[37] (See also; Irish War of Independence in the North East.) The result was communal strife between Catholics and Protestants, with nationalists characterising this violence, especially that in Belfast, as a "pogrom" against their community, although one historian argues that the reciprocity of northern violence does not fit the pogrom model or imagery so well.[38]

Monday, July 8, 2013


Where to start? This is partly because I thought I might offer some interesting insight for those wanting to understand it a little more, but also, it's for selfish reasons so that someday soon when we come back to Kansas City, at least a few of my friends will have a slightly better picture of the struggle of the place we've been living in this past year. I purposely don't dwell on these things on social media, so most of my distant relatives and casual acquaintances are pretty sure I'm married to a prince and that we live in a palace in London (because all of the UK is really London, right? And all of life is what you see on Facebook, right?) That said, please don't share or reference any of this on Facebook because I have added friends from Northern Ireland on there. And everyone in Belfast has a strong feeling about all of it, and it's both a reality and an embarrassment for many of them. Most have relatives that were very much tied up in the Troubles, so it's best to never make a direct comment on it. It still feels like nearly every interaction, spoken or unspoken, is still connected to the sectarianism.

Anyway, I thought at first I'd wait and read the whole book and then comment, but then I was afraid I'd forget some of the things I wanted to reference. So in no particular order, here are the things that came to mind after reading the chapter, "para bellum." This chapter references spring of 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed with the help of George Mitchell, who I just read was also later appointed by Obama for peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East and served as chairman for The Walt Disney Company a few years after that. Maybe there was more tension between Mickey and Minnie than we really knew about? (wah, wah....)

Much of this chapter was set at Stormont, the beautiful government building about a mile and a half up the road from us. I think it's one of the prettiest places in Belfast.

Strange that some of the political names in there (Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, etc.) are still the hot political names in the press today.

Regarding the Good Friday Agreement itself, I've pasted some major components from Wikipedia that go a long way in simplifying a very complex social, religious and political dynamic:

The Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement (IrishComhaontú Bhéal Feirste or Comhaontú Aoine an ChéastaUlster-ScotsBilfawst Greeance or Guid Friday Greeance)[1] was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s. Northern Ireland's present devolved system of government is based on the Agreement. The Agreement also created a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
The Agreement is made up of two inter-related documents, both agreed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998:
  1. a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland's political parties;
  2. an international agreement between the British and Irish governments (the British-Irish Agreement).
The Agreement set out a complex series of provisions relating to a number of areas including:
  • The status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. (Strand 1)
  • The relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Strand 2)
  • The relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. (Strand 3)
Issues relating to civil and cultural rightsdecommissioning of weapons, justice and policing were central to the Agreement.
The Agreement comprises two elements:
  • the legal agreement between the two governments, signed by the leaders of the two governments; and
  • a more substantial agreement between the eight political parties and the two governments.
The Agreement acknowledged:
  • that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom;
  • that a "substantial section" of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wished to bring about a united Ireland.
Both of these views were acknowledged as being legitimate.
The agreement reached was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under "a binding obligation" to implement that choice.
Irrespective of Northern Ireland's constitutional status within the United Kingdom, or part of a united Ireland, the right of people in Northern Ireland "to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both" (as well as their right to hold either or both British and Irish citizenship) was recognised.

So on the one hand, the issue is about the Unionists (the extremes are called Loyalists)/Protestants/those that identify with the UK and want to fly the union flag:

and the Republicans/Catholics/the extremes associated with the IRA/those that identify with Ireland and want to fly the tricolor (they say it "tricola") flag:

But on the other hand, it's divided into many, many, many more factions. Note the list of active political parties here. The list of inactive parties totals 58. 

Unionist and loyalist[edit]

Nationalist and republican[edit]


So while the Good Friday Agreement did make real progress toward peace and recognizing the identities of both sides, it was never going to erase the decades of anger, violence and partisanship that already existed. We live in East Belfast, which is almost entirely protestant, and there are several such murals in our area. (At least the Catholic areas have more colorful militant tributes in their areas! :)  

It really did tense me up at first to be living daily life around these murals, but they became part of the landscape quickly. And then the first week of December 2012, the politicians at Stormont voted to not fly the union flag at city hall every day of the year, but only on 15 designated days a year (which is really all that it's flown even in England...) But it was perceived as an attack on the identity of the Loyalists, who then came out in numbers every night for at least two months to protest, which often led to rioting. The police and politicians who supported the decision were the ones targeted by the violence, in addition to the unfortunate pocket of Catholics that live in the mainly Protestant area. All of a sudden, union flags were flown everywhere. They'd pop up in communities over night, showing who was staking what claim to which areas. Those flags still make me nervous, especially because they're creeping much closer to us because of the time of year it is.  

The beginning of those protests also paved the way for a crazy lady to become something of an icon in the protests. It was strange to read the phrase "No surrender" multiple times in that chapter, because obviously they are words that have stuck through the years:

Because most of these protests happened within two miles of us (and therefore hindered bus routes/was right where I went to the gym/made me worry for Michael coming home in the evenings), I was relieved to escape off to England for our wedding and away from the daily helicopter sounds and constant armed police presence. (Funny thing about the police - they mostly just stood there and tried to avoid the bricks and petrol bombs thrown at them. Because if they really made significant arrests and shut down the city-stopping protests, then as individuals they/their families would be targets of the violence.) Anyway, I was sure that all of it would have quieted down by the time we returned, but the protests/riots lingered I'd say at least through March. They said the last time it had been this bad was in the late 1990s, about the time of the Good Friday Agreement. Then they reared up again at Easter because of historical significance, which also kicked off "marching season." Since then there have been random acts of violence attributed to the sectarianism - someone shot, a petrol bomb thrown in a Catholic play area, etc., but not a lot of massive group protests.

But marching season really comes into it's own this week, so many businesses are closed and people get out of town to avoid it all. The cafe where I'm working has closed because of it. On Thursday night, the Eleventh Night, there will be the bonfires to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. In several neighborhoods the Loyalists have been building massive piles of wood and tires and guarding them at night to set them ablaze on Thursday night. They'll also burn the tricolor flag, which helps to rile things up for the The Twelfth on Friday, which is when parades and marches will take place all over Northern Ireland. It has something to do with the Orange Order, which I don't really understand, but I know has to do with William of Orange rather than the orange in the tricolor flag. Lots of different protestant groups will have actual marching bands that come out in full uniform and drum roll and parade down the streets. It should be quite a spectacle. However, it's also a taunting device, in that they'll parade past certain landmarks and Catholic churches and play certain songs that will express their supremacy and their hatred for the other side. So I will go watch during part of the morning and then come home, as violence and riots are expected to kick off later in the day. (With all of the riots, as long as you don't go around them when you know they're happening, you're safe.) The protests and riots are then expected to continue through the summer, tapering off at a final point in September.

So to bring it back to the book, it was very strange to read this chapter. In some ways, it felt entirely distant and watered down, but maybe the way he subtly described the desperate hope of the people with pain still fresh in their eyes was the most accurate. While there are a lot of people still fiery with hatred, a whole lot of other people just want to move forward in peace. Much of it still feels the same today.

Hopefully that paints a broader picture and a continuation of the story!

Hugs to you all,

Monday, April 8, 2013

Michelle Brings the Heat

First, she says "I'm not coming." With a little persuasion though, she rolls into book club an hour late, presents us with this spontaneously penned rubric, then performs a dramatic reading of the incredible work of fiction that she wrote as a 12-year old. That she had in her car. That she had dug out of a box in her basement specifically for book club. Because she wasn't coming, anyway.

"This is what book club is all about."

Highly caffeinated author of 'Monkey Business' makes amazing showing at book club (photo by bet).