What We’re Reading Now

Planning an OLLI social event in today’s world presents challenges. Robyn Cheung decided to try a form of book discussion and I offered to moderate. The result was an invitation to a virtual Book Lovers’ Happy Hour on September 4. Would anybody come? Should we prepare some back-up questions in case the discussion lags? Silly us.

The 15 participants signed in more than ready to talk about their books. There was very little moderating to do except to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak —  plenty of time to marvel at the variety and depth of both selections and accompanying commentary.

Some turned to well-loved favorites: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand or The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. Others, to works inspired by classics: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow, based on Pride and Prejudice, or Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan, a hilarious send-up of Room with a View.

The realities of current times inspired the choice of Stephen King’s The Stand, a monumental apocalyptic novel about a pandemic: “because now I know it can really happen.”

The struggle for racial equality is reflected in The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, a novel about light-skinned Black sisters growing up in the segregated South; and works by Edward P.Jones, Colson Whitehead and James McBride.


Non-fiction was represented by The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson, a testament to the bravery of Londoners during the Blitz, and Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa by Marilyn Chase, a biography of a Japanese-American sculptor.

Two little-known novels generated much discussion: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steve Galloway, the power of music in a war torn city; and Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, a story about the Blue People of Kentucky and the pack horse librarians who traversed the treacherous mountain paths to bring books to the isolated.

There were heads nodding in agreement, smiles of recognition, comments, questions, suggestions for related works or other works by the same author. Over the weekend, we received emails: ”Thank you, What fun, Can we do this again?” Yes, indeed.

Linda Feeney, originally from Boston, moved to Tampa upon retiring from a 17-year career at the Ford Foundation. When Linda first encountered OLLI, she was impressed with the quality and depth of the classes. Since then she has been teaching OLLI courses and has participated in the Leadership Course, which added depth to her knowledge of how OLLI functions. She believes that OLLI is a wonderful example of how a community of members can develop and sustain an organization serving a meaningful purpose.


10 Replies to “What We’re Reading Now”

  1. For those with an interest in history and science I would suggest “The Alchemy of Us” by Ainissa Ramirez. Amazon says “In The Alchemy of Us, scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips—and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Ramirez tells the stories of the woman who sold time, the inventor who inspired Edison, and the hotheaded undertaker whose invention pointed the way to the computer. She describes, among other things, how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway’s writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid’s cameras to create passbooks to track black citizens in apartheid South Africa. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.

    Ramirez shows not only how materials were shaped by inventors but also how those materials shaped culture, chronicling each invention and its consequences—intended and unintended. Filling in the gaps left by other books about technology, Ramirez showcases little-known inventors—particularly people of color and women—who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. Doing so, she shows us the power of telling inclusive stories about technology. She also shows that innovation is universal—whether it’s splicing beats with two turntables and a microphone or splicing genes with two test tubes and CRISPR.”

    1. Thanks, Bharat. You make this book sound so interesting I have to add it to my never ending list of must reads.

  2. I’m adding those books to my reading list! Another good one is “An Unreasonable Woman” by Diane Wilson. It’s a true David and Goliath story between an uneducated fisher woman and mother of five, and a big corporation polluting the water in her Texas hometown. Her writing style is unique.

    She writes the following about her hunger strike on her boat: “…So I considered myself real lucky to be where I was; smack dab by myself in the nuttiest thing I had ever done, and so got to ask the question nobody had the time or energy for: Was it more important to search for meaning and when you found it, be willing to die and bleed, or was it just better to breathe?”

    1. Thanks, Ceci. Great suggestion. Isn’t it wonderful how just talking about books brings out so many possibilities for new ideas.

  3. As my time clears, I would love to participate. Please send out notices well ahead of time to allow reading the material. Another good idea created by the Pandemic! So many books to read, and even now, not enough time.

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