Reading group discussion – Mao’s last dancer

The Last Thursday Reading Group has talked about ‘Mao’s last dancer‘ by Cunxin Li. Although with some difficulties of understanding the particular period of China, most of members enjoyed their reading immensely.

Mao’s last dancer has bee  published few years ago and getting popular again due to the film that launched not long times ago. It’s a biography of Cunxin Li, a son from a peasent family and a ballet dancer during Mao’s period in China. He struggled to work hard to achieve high. During his visit to US he defacted and couldn’t return to China until after the cultural revolution.

Some members said it is an extraordinary story of courage and sheer resilience. They simply couldn’t put the book down until the last page.

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Review of A week at the airport: a Heathrow diary

Author: Alain de Botton

Title: A week at the airport: a Heathrow diary


Despite all the developments in aviation and the convenience of being able to travel from one side of the world to the other, the usual traveller is probably not often inspired by airports. The buildings are usually very artificial, and the custom areas severe. Alain de Botton is not a usual traveller. He is a writer and a philosopher.  I’m often amused by those who can come up with big ideas when considering some very ordinary things. De Botton is certainly one of these people.

Starting with the first chapter; ‘Approach’, where De Botton devises the premise for the book after being given the opportunity by an airport owner to stay at the new Heathrow airport hotel for a week. De Botton, sets out his chapters as a traveller would move through an airport – from Departure to Airside to Arrival. He writes what he sees, what he thinks and philosophises on what it all means.  

Exploring ‘everyday’ experiences such as the fear of flying, dealing with security, receiving special treatment in Concorde Room – with ‘Leather chairs, marble bathrooms, a spa, a restaurant, a concierge, a manicurist and a hairdresser’, de Botton also covers the rare scenes that a traveller doesn’t usually see, such as preparing meals for eighty thousand or processing twelve thousand pieces of luggage.  And after the author provides his insight, the idea of airport no longer makes one feel irrelevant, temporary or harsh. After all, these stories – fear of death, sadness of departure, a need for self assuredness, frustration at being monitored and joy of reunion on arrival… all these airport experiences are essentially human experiences. The book has some interesting photographs to go with the stories; however one criticism is the size of the text which did make my eyes soar.

Overall though it is a thin, easy read… perfect for the airport.

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Miles Roston – a film maker as a writer

Director Miles Roston is a filmmaker who has filmed around the world from Vietnam to Australia to Sierra Leone. His film, 14 Million Dreams, about five orphans of AIDS in Kenya and Malawi debuted on World Aids Day on the Sundance Channel, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and around the world. His other films have also won him various awards and an Emmy nomination. In addition to documentaries, he co-created, and wrote and directed over 20 episodes of Aliens Among Us, a 65 part children’s series blending animation, drama and documentary for Five in the UK, and airing internationally including on the ABC. His dramatic feature film, also set against the background of the AIDS epidemic, is in pre-production with producers Graham Bradstreet, Marten Rabarts and Xoliswa Sithole.

In his inspirational and daring book ‘Making a world of difference’, Miles Roston tells the tales of people from around the world who, despite unlikely backgrounds, have used their skills and energy to change the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.

These are the stories of people who dared to live their dreams, many against all the odds. When bad luck, misfortune, or tragedy struck them, they changed their lives, and those around them – thousands of lives.

This book will be published in March 1st. Parramatta City Library is going to purchase this book as soon as it’s available. Miles Roston will be coming to the library in March 3rd for the Lunch Hour Author Talk.

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Reading Group Discussion Notes

The First Wed Reading Group had it’s monthly meeting. They discussed ‘In cold blood’ written by Truman Capote. It is the story of the 1959 murder of the four members of a Kansas farming family, the Clutters.

Capote left his jet-set friends and went to Kansas to delve into the small-town life and record the process by which they coped with this loss. During his stay, the two murderers were caught, and Capote began an involved interview with both. For six years, he became enmeshed in the lives of both the killers and the townspeople, taking thousands of pages of notes. Of In Cold Blood, Capote said, “This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” In Cold Blood sold out instantly, and became one of the most talked about books of its time.

The reading group thought the author respected facts and allowed different voices to speak without using journalistic style. While approching the family the author had knowing details. He was able to build suspense and even created sympathy for the murders. It raises questions of good and evil and crime and punishment.

Some members found the motive for killing wasn’t shown that much. But the crime was very detailed. They felt it was a good crime book – journalist crime fiction or not, but it provokes thoughts.  

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Review How to Really Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Title: How to Really Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Author: Henry Hitchings

                                                                                 S Morgan’s pick

The title of this book was the first thing that caught my eye.  Could I really pull-off talking about Leo Tolstoy and James Joyce without ever having read their books?  Well it was certainly worth a shot. 

What I found was a well written book that kept me interested enough to finish it within a few days. With chapters such as “Would You Really Want to Join the Dante Club?” and  “What’s Actually in the Bible?”,  it offers insight into books that may not normally be chosen by the average reader.  

Some might pick up this book to avoid embarrassment during conversations with bookish people. (You know the types, the ones that like to boast about having read War and Peace and Ulysses, gushing about having loved them both.)  I, on the other hand, had hopes of becoming one of those people.  I not only wanted to be able to brag about having read Ulysses, I wanted to profess to having enjoyed it too.  I have to admit that I had not read most of the books it lists, although I have picked up the Bible, the Qur’an, and most books by Shakespeare. 

What I found most appealing about this book is that it gives an uncomplicated description of the titles found inside.  This could mean that for most readers this book will be not used so much as a learning tool in the art of bluffing your way through dinner parties but as an incentive to go to your local library and borrow some of the classics listed within. Since reading this book I have started reading Ulysses and yes, I am enjoying it. Hopefully, it will be the first of many on my list.  

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