Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Kiko's House Book Club

Ava Gardner
Will the fifth meeting of the Kiko’s House Book Club come to order. Thank you.

We have for your perusing pleasure today five books recommended by visitors to Kiko’s House and Yours Truly. Four of the books are marked with an asterisk (*), which means they are available in paperback.

The books at our first meeting tended toward the spiritual. They ranged from the earthy to the feminine at our second meeting, while the selections at the third were very much a mixed lot. The fourth included a long and a very long novel and three books with geopolitical themes, while this time around Kiko's House readers seem kind of fixated on bios about and books written by women with four of the five selections.
Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing
By Lee Server (St. Martin's Press, 2006)

This great new biography chronicles the tumultuous life of one of the most beautiful women to ever come out of Hollywood. (Actually, she came out of Tobacco Road in North Carolina, but that's another story.)

Server details Gardner's up-and-down movie career, three marriages, numerous affairs, binges and sexual appetites with a reverence that at times seems fawning, but then who can deny what an incredible piece of work she was. And, in the end, an atypically honest star who lived her liberated life hard and always wore love on her sleeve.

Imperial Reckoning:
The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya

By Caroline Elkins (Henry Holt, 2005) (*)

This book is the well-deserved winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Elkins, a Harvard history professor, spent a decade researching the little known detention of nearly 1.5 million Kikuyu, who are native Kenyans, by British colonialists from 1952 to 1960.

The British Colonial Office, struggling to preserve its far-flung empire after World War II, created hysteria over the Mau Mau independence movement by depicting the Kikuyu as terrorists and savages. It treated the Kikuyu brutally and then conveniently destroyed most of the documents about the detention camps in which they were confined.

In Cold Blood:
A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

By Truman Capote (Vintage, 1994) (*)

Capote is much in the news these days because of a new bio flick, a flurry of new books and attendant book review letters column catfights between people who praise and damn the late great . . . uh, whatever Capote was. That itself is a matter of dispute, but there is no disputing that "In Cold Blood" is a masterpiece.

Originally published in 1965, "In Cold Blood" is the story of the savage 1959 murder of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas. Although Capote lays out the murders in the opening chapter and then backtracks to the events that led up to and then followed them, the book is incredibly suspenseful and provides insights into why American society is so violent. (Be aware that Clutter family members, responding to a new book about "In Cold Blood," have disputed key elements of Capote's account. )

Margot Fonteyn
By Meredith Daneman (Viking, 2004) (*)

Margot Fonteyn (1919–1991) was among the greatest of prima ballerinas by virtue of a work ethic that translated into an elegant presence and extraordinary musicality. She was the muse of the incomparably great Frederick Ashton, the British choreographer, and famously partnered with Rudolf Nureyev when she was in her 40s.

Alas, Fonteyn's private life was a mess and true happiness elusive as Daneman relates in this highly readable bio. She had many lovers (probably including Nureyev) before finally marrying Roberto Arias, a former Panamanian ambassador who had been paralyzed in an assassination attempt. Go figure.

By George Eliot (Oxford University Press, 1997) (*)

Eliot has been the bane of many an English literature student, and who can blame them after slogging through "Silas Marner." But "Middlemarch" is a whole different kettle of fish and chips and some people claim it is the best novel written in English.

"Middlemarch" is the
story of Dorothea, a young, beautiful and idealistic woman who has a mind of her own and resists being married off to a local baron who would seem to be her ideal mate. She opts for Casaubon, an elderly cleric who is in ill health. The pairing has consequences, of course, but not the ones you would suspect, as well as lessons that should reverberate in modern-day society.

Whenever you read a good book or may have read one in the past that you'd recommend to your fellow Kiko's House visitors, e-mail me at

Include in the body of the e-mail the book's title, author and type (fiction, nonfiction, bio, advice, etc.) and a few words about why you enjoyed and would recommend it. I'll post your recommendations at the next Book Club meeting.


America at the Crossroads by Francis Fukuyama (Yale University Press, 2005)

The Assassin’s Gate: American In Iraq
by George Packer (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005)

Candide: Or Optimism by Voltaire (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2005)

The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror by Nathan Sharansky with Ron Dermer (Public Affairs, 2004)

A Dance To the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (Mandarin, 1997)

Daniel Martin by John Fowles (Jonathan Cape, 1997)

Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir by Danielle Trussoni (Henry Holt, 2006)

The Fall of Lucifer (Chronicles of Brothers) by Wendy Alec (Realms, 2005)

The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, The Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves by Andrew Levy (Random House, 2005)

Freedom at Midnight: The Epic Drama of India's Struggle for Independence by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre (Simon & Schuster, 1975)

Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse (Picador, 1994)

I Am Charlotte Simons by Tom Wolff (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2004)

In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing 'The Second World War' by David Reynolds (Random House: 2005)

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant (Random House, 2006)

The Life of Pi: A Novel by Yann Martel (Canongate, 2001)

Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality by Richard Slotkin (Henry Holt and Co., 2005)

The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan by Ben Macintyre (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)

Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel by Arthur Golden (Vintage, 1997)

The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds by Gretchen Edgren (Taschen, 2006)

The Seashell on the Mountaintop: A Story of Science, Sainthood and the Humble Genius Who Discovered a New History of the Earth by Alan Cutler (Dutton, 2003)

The Second World War by Winston Churchill (Houghton Mifflin, 1948-53)

What Is Life Worth? The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11 by Kenneth R. Feinberg (Public Affairs, 2005)

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