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Book Discussion in a Bag

Check out Portage District Library’s Book Discussion in a Bag kits. In each bag, you will find ten copies of a book title, an author bio, book reviews, discussion questions, and further reading all ready for you to sign them out to book group members and dig into a rousing discussion.

Attention Book Groups!

Book Discussion in a Bag kits may be checked out at the Adult Information Desk for six weeks. No more than one kit at a time may be checked out to an individual. Kits may be reserved but not renewed. Borrowers will be charged $1.00 a day for an overdue kit. The entire kit must be returned on the due date. The person who checks out a Book Discussion in a Bag kit is financially responsible for returning the entire kit. Kits include a sign-up sheet to help borrowers keep track of the books.

Please let us know what your book group is reading, so we can provide your members with the titles you are discussing. Library staff also has resources that list recommended book group titles and we’d love to share your favorites with other book groups.

For more information, call the Adult Reference Desk at (269) 585-8739 to find out more about Book Discussion in a Bag.

2014 Book Discussion in a Bag Kits

Click here to see which titles are currently available.

All Over but the Shoutin’ (memoir) by Rick Bragg

This is the moving account of one man’s determination to rewrite his family history and to carve out a life for himself based on the strength of his mother’s encouragement and belief. Rick Bragg was born in the pinewoods of Alabama to a mean-tempered, hard-drinking, mostly absent father and a strong-willed, loving mother, who struggled to protect her sons from the effects of poverty and ignorance.

Annie’s Ghosts (biography/ Great Michigan Read 2013) by Steve Luxenberg

his new book, Annie’s Ghosts, Steve Luxenberg, a senior editor at the Washington Post and Detroit native, explores the story of his aunt, Annie Cohen, who was committed to Detroit’s Eloise Hospital in 1940 when she was 21. She was effectively erased from Luxenberg’s family tree thereafter. In investigating his family’s personal history, Luxenberg embarks on a journey to discover not only his aunt’s story, but the reader from the turn-of-the-century Detroit through its present day.

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (nonfiction / 2004 National Book Award Winner) by Kevin Boyle

In 1925, Detroit was a smoky swirl of jazz and speakeasies, assembly lines and fistfights. The advent of automobiles had brought workers from around the globe to compete for manufacturing jobs, and tensions often flared with the KKK in ascendance and violence rising. Ossian Sweet, a proud Negro doctor-grandson of a slave-had made the long climb from the ghetto to a home of his own in a previously all-white neighborhood. Yet just after his arrival, a mob gathered outside his house; suddenly, shots rang out: Sweet, or one of his defenders, had accidentally killed one of the whites threatening their lives and homes. And so it began-a chain of events that brought America’s greatest attorney, Clarence Darrow, into the fray and transformed Sweet into a controversial symbol of equality. (Description from the book jacket)

The Crows (mystery) by Maris Soule local writer

Described by some as a psychological cozy, The Crows is part mystery, part suspense. Wry humor is combined with fast paced events giving the reader a view of life in a rural Michigan farming community. Follow P.J., a C.P.A who discovers a man dying in her dining room after coming home from an afternoon walk in the woods, as she learns that what appears to be true could be deceiving.

Daughter of Time (historical mystery) by Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey’s intriguing mystery starts with her hero, Inspector Grant, stuck in the hospital with a broken leg. Bored to distraction, he turns to studying faces in historical portraits; and without knowing who he is, he classifies Richard III as a man conscience and integrity. Irked that he has misjudged one of the most notorious murderers in history, Grant starts to read everything he can get his hands on about the original “wicked uncle.” Yet the more he learns, the more he begins to wonder: Could the history books be wrong?

Dear Life by Alice Munro (short stories/ Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature)

With her peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but spacious and timeless stories, Alice Munro illumines the moment a life is shaped — the moment a dream, or sex, or perhaps a simple twist of fate turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into another way of being. Suffused with Munro’s clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these stories (set in the world Munro has made her own: the countryside and towns around Lake Huron) about departures and beginnings, accidents, dangers, and homecomings both virtual and real, paint a vivid and lasting portrait of how strange, dangerous, and extraordinary the ordinary life can be (From the goodreads blog)

Einstein’s God (nonfiction) by Krista Tippett

Both science and religion are set to animate the twenty-first century with new vigor. This will happen whether their practitioners are in dialogue or not. But the dialogue that is possible—and that has developed organically, below the journalistic and political radar—is mutually illuminating and lush with promise. This book is a conversational introduction to interplay between scientific and religious questions—not as argued, but as lived.

Kitchen House (fiction) by Kathleen Grissom

In 1790, Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, arrives on a tobacco plantation where she is put to work as an indentured servant with the kitchen house slaves. Though she becomes deeply bonded to her new family, Lavinia is also slowly accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. As time passes she finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds and when loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare and lives are at risk. The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.

Language of Flowers (fiction) by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers is a mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written modern fairy tale. This novel, beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable young woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (fiction One of goodreads Best Books of 2013)

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization. From the goodreads blog

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (fiction) by Helen Simonson

After the death of his brother, Bertie, the major finds himself unexpectedly unmoored. He strikes up a friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed local shopkeeper, and they bond over Kipling and the loss of their spouses. Mrs. Ali is a lady of quiet thoughtfulness and innate dignity—whose tweedy neighbors don’t even see her because she is Pakistani and runs a shop. Amid the gentility and good breeding of village life lurks intense scrutiny and judgment. Villagers turn their attention to race relations and the result is ripe for satire. With her dry wit and incisive descriptions, Simonson skewers village life as surely as Austen satirized the 19th century.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (memoir) by Rhoda Janzen local author

Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her brilliant husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on Gay.com, but that same week a car accident left her with serious injuries. Rhoda packed her bags and went home. This wasn’t just any home, though. This was a Mennonite home. While Rhoda had long ventured out on her own spiritual path, the conservative community welcomed her back with open arms and offbeat advice. It is in this safe place that Rhoda can come to terms with her failed marriage; her desire, as a young woman, to leave her sheltered world behind; and the choices that both freed and entrapped her. (Description from the book jacket)

Mink River (fiction) by Brian Doyle

Mink River is a lyrical tale of a fictional town on the coast of Oregon. The community is filled with a tangle of relationships and a gaggle of unique, indelible characters from a thoughtful doctor who eats tiny slices of pears while he smokes with his patients; a philosophizing crow; a wood carver named No Horses; a policeman addicted to Puccini and a man who was washed up on the shore and can sense when someone needs help anywhere in town. There are crimes committed, a bicycle careening off a cliff, a man with only days to live, a fisherman who takes off to find to find his fortune and an expedition up a mountain. There are whispering spirits and talking bears, sad endings, heroic actions, Salish stories and a nostalgic afterglow when the tale has been told.

Once Upon a River (fiction) by Bonnie Jo Campbell, award-winning local writer

Margo Crane, a sixteen-year-old sharpshooting beauty is the heroine of this Michigan river odyssey. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo’s childhood paradise is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Bonnie Jo’s American Salvage was nominated for the 2010 National Book Award.

Pomegranate Soup: A Novel (fiction) by Marsha Mehran

The Irish hamlet of Ballinacroagh is the unlikely new home for three Iranian sisters and their new Babylon Cafe. Twenty-seven-year-old Marjan, the most skilled in the kitchen; Bahar, the tentative middle sister; and Layla, the charming teenager, fled the Iranian revolution and, after some years in London, have arrived determined to succeed. Initially wary natives soon fall under the spell of the cafe’s cardamom- and rosewater-scented wonders, But town bully Thomas McGuire, who loathes “feckin’ foreigners,” and gossip Dervla Quigley, who thinks “they’re all sluts,” will do anything to drive the sisters away.

Q Road (fiction) by Bonnie Jo Campbell award-winning local writer

A farm in rural Kalamazoo County, Mich., provides the backdrop for this May-December love story. Rachel Crane, a homely, motherless, foul-mouthed teenager, lives on a houseboat with her reclusive mother, Margo. They are tenants of George Harland, whose wife abandoned him to maintain his declining farm alone. George becomes irresistibly drawn to Rachel and asks her to marry him; she accepts, but just so she can inherit “his damned land.” Only when her young friend David’s life is imperiled, does Rachel begin to allow herself to feel genuine love for anything but the land.

Remarkable Creatures (historical fiction) by Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures is a riveting novel about the real life Mary Anning, who was considered the greatest fossil-hunter ever and Elizabeth Philpot whose fossil fish collection ended up in Oxford. In 1811 when she was 12 (Darwin was two) Mary’s first big find, a “crocodile” later named ichthyosaurus, rocked the scientific world. She later unearthed a plesiosaurus, a pterodactyl and a squaloraja (a transition fish, between sharks and rays). This novel spotlights the limited rights of women in society in general and science specifically. It is the story of a friendship between two women who were indirectly responsible for several male careers and insights including Darwin’s.

Room (fiction) by Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough so she devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck.

Round House (fiction) by Louise Erdrich (2012 National Book Award Winner)

In this haunting, powerful novel, Erdrich tells the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence. Using the quiet, reflective voice of a young boy forced into an early adulthood following a brutal assault on his mother, Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories. (From the National Book Foundation website)

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt: A Novel (fiction) by Beth Hoffman

In 1967 CeeCee, a sweet and smart pre-teen, is living in the only home she has ever known, in Willoughby, Ohio, with her mentally ill mother, Camille, and her often absentee father. When Camille is no longer able to care for CeeCee the young girl is brought to Savannah to live with her Aunt Tootie entering a world right with colorful characters and the textures of women’s relationships. CeeCee is welcomed into the world of wise and strong women who teach her about humor, humility, wisdom and perseverance.

Something That Feels Like Truth (short stories) by Donald Lystra Local author

In sixteen compelling stories, award-winning author Donald Lystra takes us on a page-turning journey through the cities and countryside of the Great Lakes heartland to as far away as Paris. In fierce but tender prose, Lystra writes about ordinary people navigating life’s difficult boundaries—-of age and love and family—-and sometimes finding redemption in the face of searing regret. Although spanning half a century, these are timely stories that speak about the limits we place on ourselves, both from fear and for the sake of those we love, and of our willingness to confront change. (Switchgrass Books)

South of Superior (fiction) by Ellen Airgood

When Madeline Stone walks away from Chicago and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she isn’t prepared for how much her life will change. As Madeline begins to experience the ways of the small, tight-knit town, she is drawn into the lives and dramas of its residents. It’s a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but friendship, community, and compassion run deeper.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner (memoir) by Bich Minh Nguyen

The author and her family fled Saigon by ship on April 29, 1975, the very day Saigon fell to the Communists. Bich’s mother was not at home when the family made their hurried motorbike trip down to the docks, and she was left behind. Eight-month-old Bich, Ahn, their father, Noi, and three uncles arrived in America and settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, along with 4,000 other Vietnamese refugees. This is the story of a young girl living in several conflicting worlds at once. Her home life consisted of Vietnamese foods, language and customs, while the outside world was fast-paced, foreign and fascinating.

Submission (historical fiction) by Amy Waldman

This provocative historical novel begins with a jury gathered in Manhattan after the 9/11 Islamic terrorist attack in New York to choose a memorial for the victims of the devastating attack. After tense deliberations, they select the Garden, which features trees both living and made from salvaged steel. Then the jury discovers that the anonymous architect who created the winning design is an American Muslim. Ron Charles of the Washington Post calls this novel “[A] coherent, timely and fascinating examination of a grieving America’s relationship with itself.”

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (mystery) by Alan Bradley

In his wickedly brilliant first novel Alan Bradley introduces eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.

Unquiet Bones (mystery) by Mel Starr local writer

The main character of this medieval novel, Hugh de Singelton, is a younger son who managed to get through University and then train as a surgeon. Shortly after taking a position in the town of Bampton a body is found, and de Singleton is pulled into investigating the murderer. His journeys (both metaphysical and on a plodding old horse) take him to every class level in his society. The plot is rich in history and suspense. We see the fascinating medieval landscape of vermin infected village inns and learn what was known of medicine at the time.

Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry

What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons? Visit by visit—often with his young daughters in tow—author Michael Perry is about to find out… Tom, famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, has an endless reservoir of stories dating back to days of his prize Model A, and an anti-authoritarian streak refreshed daily by the four-lane interstate that was shoved through his front yard in 1965 and now dumps over 8 million vehicles past his kitchen window every year. And yet Visiting Tom is dominated by the elderly man’s equanimity and ultimately—when he and Perry converse over the kitchen table as husbands and as the fathers of daughters—unvarnished tenderness. (Book cover)

Year of Wonders (fiction) by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee their village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighboring towns and villages, and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself. Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster.

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