Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Spiritual Beginning for 2009

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

We're starting our book club in 2009 with a more light, spiritual-oriented book: The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coehlo.

Here's a book summary:

Best-selling fabulist Coelho continues to transform his trademark combination of mysticism and storytelling into spellbinding examinations of the human soul. In this deceptively simple novel, a bereaved lover attempts to chronicle, dissect, and comprehend the often-twisted path followed by Athena, otherwise known as the Witch of Portobello Road.

An orphaned Romanian gypsy, adopted as an infant by adoring Lebanese parents, Athena recognized and struggled with the power of her magical gifts at an early age. Spurred on by truths and passions inaccessible to most of her contemporaries, she traipsed around Europe and the Middle East in search of acceptance, enlightenment, and a truer path. Developing a cultlike following, she became the object of a modern-day witch hunt that seemingly culminated in tragedy.

Please join us on Sunday January 11 at 2pm at a local coffeeshop (Cup & Cake Cafe in Inner Richmond) in San Francisco for an inspiritional discussion!
Remember: you get a 15% discount at BookSmith, when you purchase your book and say you're a WOW Book Club member* - Support your local bookstore!

Getting to know Julia Alvarez

Hi everyone!

If you would like to listen to a great presentation of Julia Alvarez on her book "Saving the World" I recommend listening to a program that Julia Alvarez did for New York Pulic Library, found at

Also, the owner of our partner bookstore, BookSmith, interviewed Julia Alvarez last year last year as part of their LitMinds literary innovators interviews and shared us this link to enjoy reading the interview...

Happy Reading and Listening!

How do we save the world?

This was a wonderful discussion to end our last book club event of 2008!

This book provided a unique format to sharing two stories in one and we each shared which story attracted us more, Alma (the Dominican woman living in Vermont circa early 2000s) or Isabel (the Spanish rectoress who accompanied the orphaned children to the "New World" who were live carriers for the smallpox vaccine in the early 19th century).

We found parallels between the women as well as the male characters in both stories, where saving the world can be seen is different ways. It seems that with Alma and Isabel, saving the world started within themselves by figuring out their own life path and their own personal contribution to life in general. Whereas with the male charaters, Richard and Don Francisco, they are working towards saving the world, but does the ego and arrogance blinds them to forget the well intentions of doing something good in this world?

It was a great discussion and looking forward to more of them next year!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Title of Hope - Saving the World

We are at the end of 2008 and we'll have our final book discussion on Julia Alvarez's fifth novel: Saving the World (a loaded title, of course).
Here's a summary of her book:
In Alvarez's novel, two women living two centuries apart each face "a crisis of the soul" when their fates are tied to idealistic men whose commitments to medical humanitarian missions end in disillusionment.

Alma Heubner's husband, Richard, goes to the Dominican Republic to help eradicate AIDS, while Alma, a bestselling Latina writer, stays at home in Vermont to work on a story about a real, ill-fated 19th-century expedition chaperoned by Dona Isabel Sendales y Gomez, the spinster director of a Spanish orphanage who agrees to vaccinate 20 of her charges with cowpox and bring them from Spain to Central America to prevent future smallpox epidemics. While the leader of the anti-smallpox expedition, Dr. Francisco Balmis, and Richard see their missions collapse in defeat, Dona Isabel and Alma surmount their personal depressions to find inner strength.

Join us for another great conversation on Sun Dec 14th at 2pm in the Mission District, near 24th Street BART.

The discussion of continual enlightment

It was the story of Wangari Maathai's journey from rural Kenya to becoming a worldwide environmental leader trying to give Kenya and the world a secured sustainable future.

We started with an analysis of her memoir and how more factual than emotional it felt, and was this done on purpose or subconsciously?

We were quite intrigued by her divorce in so many ways: who was this man she married? who would have she become had she not divorced? as well as how discriminated she was for being divorced.

What about her role of mother? We felt her baby was the Green Belt Movement and not so much her children, but we're not exactly sure.

We couldn't stop talking about this book, and there was more to discuss had we not already gone over 2 hours of conversation! I think we all left the discussion with a feeling of inspiration and activism.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Who is Wangari Maathai and why did she win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004?

Read our next book written by 2004 Nobel Peace Price winner from Kenya, Wangari Maathai, who wrote her memoir "Unbowed" about her life and the starting of the Green Belt movement.

Here's a summary of the book:
Born in 1940, Matthai attended primary school at a time when Kenyan girls were not educated; went on to earn a Ph.D. and became head of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi before founding Kenya's Green Belt Movement in 1977, which mobilized thousands of women to plant trees in an effort to restore the country's indigenous forests.

Because Kenya's environmental degradation was largely due to the policies of a corrupt government, she then made the Green Belt Movement part of a broader campaign for democracy. Maathai endured personal attacks by the ruling powers-President Moi denounced her as a "wayward" woman-and engaged in political activities that landed her in jail several times. This memoir (after The Green Belt Movement) documents the remarkable achievements of an influential environmentalist and activist.

Come and join us on our book club discussion on Sunday November 2nd at 2pm in the North Beach district at Cafe Greco (423 Columbus Avenue).

November 2nd is daylight savings day so please take this into account when coming to the book club.

Did his second book come close to his unforgettabe first book?

YES! We all agreed that A thousand Splendid Suns was just as intense but had a distinctive voice from The Kite Runner.

We were all eager to discuss the characters of Mariam and Laila and their relationship to each other. We saw how environments influence one's personality and motivation for living. And even though disastrous situations happened quite frequently in the book, we could appreciate the rare moments of love and loyalty that would arise subtlety throughout the book.

Such a page turner! It was interesting to also follow the stages of Afghanistan in its times from the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan to civil war to post 9/11. Hosseini gaves us a glimpse of how life in Afghanistan has been for many women, whose suffering is invisible and silent.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Did you love The Kite Runner?

Well then... here's your opportunity to read his second book "A Thousand Splendid Suns" that has a focus more targeted to women in Afghanistan (at least that is how I understand it).

Here's a summary of the book:
Afghan-American novelist Hosseini follows up his bestselling The Kite Runner with another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil. The story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban tyranny through the lives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age 15 into marrying the 40-year-old Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal as she fails to produce a child. Eighteen later, Rasheed takes another wife, 14-year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation.

Against a backdrop of unending war, Mariam and Laila become allies in an asymmetrical battle with Rasheed. This tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.

Come and join the discussion in the Lower Haight district at Cafe du Soleil on Sunday September 28 at 2pm

Inspired by a courageous young woman

We had a wonderful meeting discussing the life of Ma Yan and exchanging our experiences when we were her age. We read a mature woman who was consistently optimistic about her future and her values were incredibly solid.

We all learned more personally how life can be for a girl in rural China and we wonder whether we would have the same courage as Ma Yan to be determined to be educated. We were happy to hear that we could find what happened afterwards with Ma Yan.

Ma Yan's journal gives us insight to her family, friends and education. The book did a great job in providing a background context in several sections to get a better sense of her situation when she was writing her journal.

There's something to be said for having a positive attitude - it can make the impossible possible and we see it in Ma Yan's life!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Celebrating the Chinese Olympics with our book!

In order to follow the theme of Chinese Olympics, we'll be reading the book "The Diary of Ma Yan" by 13-year-old Ma Yan, a peasant in the drought-scarred province of Ningxia, China.

Here's a summary of the book:

In 2001, while a French journalist was visiting remote Ningxia province in northwest China, a Muslim woman wearing the white headscarf of the Hui people thrust the diaries of her daughter into his hands. The three small notebooks described the girl's struggle to get an education despite extreme poverty.

Each week Ma Yan and her younger brothers walked seven miles to school where they stayed until Friday night when they returned home. Ma Yan studied hard, but she did not feel successful unless she was number one in her class. When she didn't rank first, she was berated by her mother and made to feel guilty for her lack of effort.

While this book will not hold the interest of average readers because of its overly didactic tone, it does paint a vivid portrait of the daily life of a child in a part of the world seldom visited.

Join us for a great conversation at the Royal Ground Coffee in the Outer Richmond neighborhood on Sunday August 24 at 2pm (Geary & 17th Ave),

Get your 10% discount at BookSmith on our book when you say you're a WOW book club member!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Future Book and Coffee shop Suggestions!

Hi everyone!

It's time to suggest books and coffee shops for future meetings. We've had some great book suggestions already such as:

a) A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini
b) The Saturday Wife by Naomi Ragan
c) Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Please comment with suggestions for a book you'd like to read and what good coffee shops you want to go to in San Francisco!


Fighting for our Rights!

We had a great conversation last Sunday where we discussed Sarah Weddington's book on Roe v Wade and its meaning in our present lives. For everyone, we appreciated being shown how it was before the Roe v Wade decision and how frighteningly close we are to having it been overturned.

We were all pro-choice members so there weren't any ugly scenes at the coffee shop!

Because abortion is legal, more activism has emerged from the anti-abortion activisits. It hasn't been as loud of an activism in the past decade, but fatal consequences and extreme violence has happened. The message we took was that we should be actively aware of what type of laws related to abortion are being presented and take an action in your state as a way to participate in the legal system.

We also talked about our experiences with sex ed classes and the different types of activities we went through when we were young.

Although the book was written in the 1990s during election year - it felt very relevant, as the abortion issue still continues to be controversial.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Our next book for July 2008 is "A Question of Choice" by Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who won the Roe vs. Wade case.

Here's a brief summary of her book:
A milestone in the ongoing battle for abortion rights was achieved more than 20 years ago before the Supreme Court by the then 27-year-old Texas lawyer Weddington who won the Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion in the U.S.

Here she recounts with clarity and fervor the remarkable story of how she, her husband and a few other lawyers, supported by a handful of doctors and pro-choice advocates, researched and prepared briefs invoking the "right of privacy" defense as a main argument to challenge the Texas anti-abortion law. However, certain conditions--trimester viability of the fetus, etc.--imposed by states, limited funding and services, along with well-organized, occasionally violent pro-life factions supported by conservative administrations and their court appointees, threaten to overthrow the 1973 decision.

Join us for a discussion on Sunday July 20 at 2 pm in the Mission Bay/SoMa neighborhood, near the AT&T ballpark at Philz Coffee. You can take the N Judah Muni all the way to the 4th and King street station (next to Caltrain).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A woman's journey to her self!

This was such a great book to talk about. Even though most of us had read it halfway there were lots of themes to discuss. We spent a good time talking about the parallel lives between Nazdeen in London and her sister in Bangladesh.

I think we all got stuck in those letters from the sister, but it was great to have that perspective in the story. It was interesting to have the sister's journey shared with us and the different challenges she came across throughout her life. It felt like she was finding her self through more external actions than Nazdeen was, even though Nazdeen was in more open-minded society.

It was interesting to see the gradual empowerment of Nazdeen and the relationship she had with her husband Chanu, and her friends and Karim.

We talked about how Nazdeen coped with many issues internally and it all emanated from the beginning of her life when it was determined by fate that she would survive.

We're looking forward to the movie! Keep posted for this event!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Moving from Bangladesh to London!

The book that we'll be reading for June 2008 is Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

Here's the book summary:

Monica Ali's debut novel chronicles the life of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl so sickly at birth that the midwife at first declares her stillborn. At 18 her parents arrange a marriage to Chanu, a Bengali immigrant living in England. Although Chanu--who's twice Nazneen's age--turns out to be a foolish blowhard who 'had a face like a frog,' Nazneen accepts her fate, which seems to be the main life lesson taught by the women in her family. Over the next decade-and-a-half Nazneen grows into a strong, confident woman who doesn't defy fate so much as bend it to her will.

Brick Lane combines the wide scope of a social novel about the struggles of Islamic immigrants in pre- and post-9/11 England with the intimate story of Nazneen, one of the more memorable heroines to come along in a long time. If Dickens or Trollope were loosed upon contemporary London, this is exactly the sort of novel they would cook up.

Come join the conversation on Sunday June 15 at 2pm in the Inner Richmond district at the Blue Danube Coffee House on 306 Clement Street (between 4th and 5th Avenue).

The movie "Brick Lane" based on this novel, will be coming out on June 20th. Let's coordinate a movie night aftewards!

The High Price of Dowry

Although we enjoyed the romance of the novel, the story of "The Dowry Bride" brings significant issues to light, which are currently predominant in the Indian culture. Arranged marriages in India is still a highly practiced tradition and the cases of dowry deaths is still very high.

For those of you who want to learn more about dowry murders in present India, check out this great video at the following link:

Because it was a fiction, the book was easy to read and accessible, but there were many interesting facts that one could find throughout the story that reveals the context Megha, the main character, was living through.

We also talked about how the honour of a family is so valued that one will sacrifice lives to preserve that honour. Also, we discussed how shame is seen in India and how it relates to the dishonour of the families.

Even though Megha had many positive factors to her story, not everyone is so lucky in reality. This brought suspense to the novel and made it quite the page-turner.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Marriage in India can equal Murder?

Our next book for May 2008 is "The Dowry Bride" by Shobhan Bantwal.

Book Summary:

One sultry night, a young bride overhears an extraordinary conversation. The voices speak of a plot to murder a wife who has failed to produce a child and whose family has failed to produce the promised dowry... Megha is sick with horror when she realizes she is the intended victim. Her husband--the very man who tied the sacred necklace of marriage around her neck--and his mother are plotting to kill her!

In the moment of panic, she runs for her life. Frantically racing through Palgaum's deserted streets, her way lit only by the lights strung up for the Diwali festival, her single goal is to escape death by fire. But fleeing from her would-be killers seems impossible--unless she can find someone to help her...

Join us for a book conversation on Saturday May 17 at 2pm in the Inner Sunset district at Tart to Tart (on Irving Street).

A story about a generation of women

We had a wonderful conversation about the book "Eyes, Breath, Memory" where we shared our perspectives on the main character, Sophie. We accompany Sophie at different stages of her life and the lack of continuity might have left out details that were desired to be known. Nevertheless, we could witness a few key events in Sophie's life starting from her leaving her aunt in Haiti to rejoin her mother in the US, falling in love, and returning to Haiti to stay with her aunt and grandma. Some of us wanted to learn more about Haiti, but it was more a story of relationships between mothers and daughters and the cycle of tradition continuing in spite of a change of situation/country or culture.

In any case, it was great book to discuss about and it was a great easy read for us!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let's travel to Haiti!

Our next book for April 2008 is Breathe, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat. Here's a brief description of her book:

A distinctive new voice with a sensitive insight into Haitian culture distinguishes this graceful debut novel about a young girl's coming of age under difficult circumstances. The burden of being a woman in Haiti, where purity and chastity are a matter of family honor, and where "nightmares are passed on through generations like heirlooms," is Danticat's theme.

Born after her mother Martine was raped, Sophie is raised by her Tante Atie in a small town in Haiti. At 12 she joins Martine in New York, while Atie returns to her native village to care for indomitable Grandmother Ife. Neither Sophie nor Martine can escape the weight of the past, resulting in a pattern of insomnia, bulimia, sexual trauma and mental anguish that afflicts both of their lives.
Join our discussion on Sunday April 27, 2008 at 2pm at Cafe Reverie on 848 Cole Street! Don't forget purchasing your book at BookSmith (near our next venue) to get a 10% discount.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Let's discover the history behind our city!

Reading Vowell's book took us on a different path, where we were discovering different factoids about three different US presidents. One of them we all know, President Lincoln and two others that some of us were discovering for the first time: Garfield and McKinley.

The author took us along on her journey as she travels around the US visiting historical places that were relevant to these three presidential assassinations. I think the one thing that we all were inspired to do after reading this book is to take one right here in San Francisco!

Some book club members were not able to get into the book and chickened out on coming to the discussion. Even if you don't like the book or haven't read it, we love for you to join us, as having different opinions makes the discussion more interesting.

Stay tune for a historical tour of our city coming near you!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Support your local independent bookstore!

We've started a great relationship with BookSmith, an independent bookstore in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood (1644 Haight St). The Booksmith has been in business since 1976. To check out their interesting history please go to

BookSmith is very supportive of our book club and will provide us a 10% discount on our book choice for the club when purchsed individually and if we purchase 5 books together, our discount goes to 15%.

In any case, if you're ever in the Haight area, go inside BookSmith and browse around!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What rhymes with vacation?


What do you get when a woman who's obsessed with death and U.S. history goes on vacation? This wacky, weirdly enthralling exploration of the first three presidential assassinations. Vowell (The Partly Cloudy Patriot), a contributor to NPR's This American Life and the voice of teenage superhero Violet Parr in The Incredibles, takes readers on a pilgrimage of sorts to the sites and monuments that pay homage to Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, visiting everything from grave sites and simple plaques to places like the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where fragments of Lincoln's skull are on display.

An expert tour guide, Vowell brings into sharp focus not only the figures involved in the assassinations, but the social and political circumstances that led to each — and she does so in the witty, sometimes irreverent manner that her fans have come to expect.

Vowell also draws frequent connections between past events and the present, noting similarities between McKinley's preemptive war against Cuba and the Philippines and the current war in Iraq. This is history at its most morbid and most fascinating and, fortunately, one needn't share Vowell's interest in the macabre to thoroughly enjoy this unusual tour."

Please join us on Sunday March 16 at 2pm to discuss the book Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell at Maxfield's House of Caffeine in the Mission district.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Story of Survival

We all seem to agree that this book was an easy read in spite of its heavy topic and that the simple yet compelling writing facilitated our access to Cambodian history, awareness and to a story of basic survival. We raised the question of how does a country survive and heal itself after going through what Luong Ung went through in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took over.

Her story and of her family was full of courage at the same time unpredictable. We already know what will happen to the father (thanks to the title), so we're already getting prepared for that event when we start reading the book. Unfortunately, her father's death is only one of the many tragic turns Luong faces as she finds her own way to survive this war.

The author wrote her memoir to share her experience as a way to bring awareness and expose what many Cambodians went through during this time. We felt we needed to continue this awareness, as something we can take away from this book.

One of our book club members has shared an article that brings an update of some justice coming to Cambodia. Please read the following article:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tough Love in February?

This month WOW Exchange Book Group is choosing to read the story of Loung Ung through her memoir "First they killed my father; A daugther of Cambodia remembers."

Here's a brief description of the book:

In 1975, Luong Ung was the five-year-old child of a large, affluent family living in Phnom Penh, the cosmopolitan Cambodian capital. As extraordinarily well-educated Chinese-Cambodians, with the father a government agent, her family was in great danger when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and throughout Pol Pot's barbaric regime. Her parents' strength and her father's knowledge of Khmer Rouge ideology enabled the family to survive together for a while, posing as illiterate peasants, moving first between villages, and then from one work camp to another.

Her restrained, unsentimental account of the four years she spent surviving the regime before escaping with a brother to Thailand and eventually the United States is astonishing--not just because of the tragedies, but also because of the immense love for her family that Ung holds onto, no matter how she is brutalized. Skillfully constructed, this account also stands as an eyewitness history of the period, because as a child Ung was so aware of her surroundings, and because as an adult writer she adds details to clarify the family's moves and separations. Thirty-three years after the rise of the Khmer Rouge, this powerful account is a triumph.

Come join the discussion at Javaholic in the Inner Richmond neighborhood (Balboa St. on the corner of 6th Ave.) on Sunday February 24 at 2pm.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Geraldine Brooks in the Inner Sunset?

So, some of you might've remembered Geraldine Brooks, the author of "Year of Wonders" - our book read for last June. Well, she has decided to come visit San Francisco to promote her latest book "People of the Book" and is arranging a lunch through Books Inc. at our local Park Chow restaurant in the Inner Sunset and you can totally meet her!

Here's the information:
Time: Tuesday, February 5, 2008 at noon
Where: Park Chow, 1240 9th Avenue, San Francisco
Price: $60 - on sale at all Books Inc. locations and will include a signed copy of the book

Lunch with Geraldine Brooks
This event will include appetizer, entree, wine, dessert, a signed copy of People of the Book and great conversation!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Can a story of unrequited love be the greatest love story told?

Some people say that "Love in the Time of Cholera" is the greatest love story of all. I would like to know why. It was not as easy to get into and it was hard to figure out what the story was and which character to follow. Nevertheless, I did eventually get into the story and the more I read the more I got into it. By the end, I was reading non-stop.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the story, but I do have to recognize that the writing is amazing and truly beautiful. Reading it in its original language, I've no idea how the poetic style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's writing can be translated into other languages without losing its magical realism.

For those who are having a hard time to read it, I highly suggest you watch the movie as a guide, which was a good portrayal of the story, staying true to the book.