Yet another delightful (and invigorating) lunch with intellectuals

August 26, 2011 at 10:18 am (books, Friends and friendship, Travel)

Six of us try to get together once a month. The conversation ranges widely, from politics, to health and medical matters (the mandate here is to keep it brief), to grandchildren (same mandate!), to computers, electronic devices, and e-readers, about which some of us remain deeply ambivalent (same mandate again!), to travel, to items of local interest – and to books, always to books.

This past Monday I was bursting with enthusiasm for two terrific books I just finished: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and The Greater Journey by David McCullough. The McCullough in particular I really loved. In fact, I hated for it to end. All those fascinating stories, equally fascinating people, coming to Paris and recording their impressions of this great cultural capital. Ah well – more about this embarrassment of riches later.


None of my four luncheon companions had read The Greater Journey, but two, Kay and Angie, had read the Ann Patchett novel.  (Ann is now in the process of reading it.) Kay agreed with me that it was excellent; Angie had reservations. I was so over the top enthusiastic about the book that I could hardly credit the latter reaction. (Isn’t that often the way, in the first blush of rapturous reading – “You simply MUST love this as much as I did!”) More about State of Wonder in a subsequent post – and about Angie’s reservations, which are cogently set forth in her Amazon review.

Kay told us about her recent trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. She was telling us about the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a wonderfully named byway that I confess I’d never heard of. Kay also recommended Free Fire by C.J. Box.   This novel, one in the author’s Joe Pickett series, takes place in Yellowstone. Kay has recommended this book to me before and is probably waiting patiently for me to break down and read it! I note that the library is now getting Box’s novels on CD, including this one, so I have duly reserved it. C.J. Box is a fine writer; his terrific standalone Blue Heaven won the Edgar for best novel of 2008.

Once again, we were reminded of how pleasurable it is to read fiction that’s set in your travel destination. I experienced that pleasure during our British sojourn this past May with Phil Rickman’s Midwinter of the Spirit, Edward Marston‘s The Dragons of Archenfield, and Kate Charles’s luminous ecclesiastical novel Appointed To Die. For me, similar confluences occurred with Jane Langton’s God in Concord, read while in historic Concord Massachusetts; Michael Dibdin’s Cosi Fan Tutti, read – or rather re-read – while in Naples, Italy;  Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, read while staying in a B&B in the beautiful Hudson River Valley; and of course, the Navajo mysteries of the great Tony Hillerman, read while in New Mexico. In point of fact, those books were what made me want to see the aptly nicknamed Land of Enchantment in the first place. (Nevada Barr was also mentioned in this context.)

I can recommend two sites for finding books set in a specific locale: Longitude Books and the location index on

Angie belongs to two book clubs: one reads philosophy; the other, science fiction. (Have I got that right, Angie?) She recommended the latest Hugo Award winner: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis. An article in the Guardian newspaper describes this as “two volume time travel sequence” and praised Willis’s depiction of London during the Blitz.

I mentioned that for the first time in many years, I had recently bought a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction, formerly known as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.   I had obtained the July/August issue because it featured a story by Steven Saylor, one of my favorite authors of historical fiction. But when I actually held the digest-sized magazine in my hands and fingered the raspy (pulpy?) paper on which it’s printed, I found myself assailed by distant memories. F&SF, as it is sometimes called, began publishing in 1949. My brother and I used to read it when we were kids.

As it turns out, F&SF put out a sixtieth anniversary edition in 2009:  . I got it from the library. And there they were, the names of some of my favorites, past and present, emblazoned on the cover:

Ursula K. LeGuin

Ray Bradbury (a terrific writer who also has impeccable taste in pets)

Philip K. Dick

Damon Knight

Alfred Bester

William Tenn

William Tenn

Theodore Sturgeon

Angie frequently recommends science fiction to our group. I for one have not followed up on these recommendations; perhaps, the time has come…

  It’s always a delight when someone discovers an author that you already know and like. Ann had just read Other People’s Money by Justin Cartwright and enjoyed it enough to want to read other works by this author. I immediately suggested The Promise of Happiness and To Heaven By Water. An earlier Cartwright title that I also liked very much is Interior. One thing I particularly recall about that novel is that it had a terrific ending, one that was exactly apposite. Since so many modern novels don’t achieve a satisfying culmination, I am always pleased to find one that does.

Justin Cartwright

I’m sure I’ve left out some books and some topics. Feel free to remind me in the comment section, ladies. Meanwhile, I look forward as always to our next get-together.


  1. starrmark said,

    Sorry I missed the group this week, but someone had to rock the baby!

    I am almost finished with the Greater Journey, and I just gave it to my son for his birthday because he and his wife love Paris. Not only does McCullough introduce us to earlier generations of Americans in Paris, but to a span of travel that starts with almost primitive trans-Atlantic travel.

    The group always offers good conversation and great book suggestions. It is a pleasure to hang out with such well-read, well-traveled women. Everyone needs a lunch bunch.

  2. Kay said,

    Intellectuals! I’m flattered–I thought I was just opinionated. Seriously, I love these lunches and have already checked out “Other People’s Money” from the library. Ever since 2008, it seems that the world of finance is just as critical to our lives as love and marriage, the perennial staples of literary novelists. Ditto for the world of science and research, which dominates “State of Wonder.” Anything that gives us a glimmer of insight into these seldom explored realms is a bonus, in my opinion.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      LOL! That’s great, Kay. I didn’t even realize that I was giving “opinion” a pleasant gloss by calling it “intellect!” Oh well – whatever. We have fun, which counts for a great deal.

      And thanks for your comments re finance & science. These two areas of study are producing some surprisingly compelling fiction, I agree.

  3. Angie Boyter said,

    Well, Roberta, since I gave State of Wonder 4 stars, my reservations were obviously not THAT strong.
    I noticed that you posted a picture of William Tenn, from which I infer that he is one of those SF authors of whom you have fond memories. I had the good fortune to meet him not long before his death and heard him give a DELIGHTFUL reading of his story On Venus Have We Got a Rabbi. Reputedly there is a copy of him reading this story floating around somewhere in cyberspace, but even if that is not available, the story is WELL worth your time even without his wonderful interpretation.
    And, no, Kay, you are much too open-minded to be considered opinionated.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks for the comment, Angie. Maybe “reservations” was not the right word – maybe, just points worth considering? Thing is, you were right on the money, IMHO. The novel has its flaws but is wonderful anyway. I guess we’re in accord with that sentiment!

      The William Tenn story strikes a faint bell. And yes, He’s an author whose work I’ve enjoyed.

  4. Thomas at My Porch said,

    Have you read other novels by Patchett? I find her novels reliably enjoyable and amazed by the diversity her subjects.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thomas, BEL CANTO is one of my all time favorite novels. Opera lover that I am, I thought she’d written that book just for me! Imagine my surprise when I learned that when she first got the idea for that novel, she knew nothing whatever about opera & had to set about educating herself. That’s obviously something she’s very good at doing, judging, as you so rightly observed, by the variety of her subject matter.

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