Brown Baggers 2020 Holiday Potluck

The Brown Baggers met virtually on December 17 for their annual holiday potluck, and to pitch and discuss titles for the upcoming June 2021-June 2022 season. Votes will be collected digitally through January 10, 2021. All previous title selections, as well as our next batch of books, once picked, can be seen here. Festivities were slightly hampered by the inability to share food and chat in person, but there was plenty of excitement in looking ahead. Enthusiasm is high for December 2021 (which will hopefully be held in person). 

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on January 21 to discuss The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger, and will be joined by the author himself, a Charlottesville local. Email for details on how to participate via computer or phone.

Titles Suggested:

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The Dutch House by Anne Patchett

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveller’s Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States by Frederick Law Olmstead

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson

Spartina by John Casey

Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

A Perfect Spy by John le Carre

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

In An Instant by Suzanne Redfearn

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez

The Yellow House by Sarah Broom

Blindness by Jose Saramago

A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Travels with Charley: In Search of America  by John Steinbeck. In 1960 Steinbeck loaded up a trailer he named Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse) and his poodle Charley and circumnavigated the US.  Nearing the end of his life, he wanted to see for himself what modern Americans were like. Along the way, he ruminates about social, racial and environmental changes. Charley both provides structure to Steinbeck’s days and is an ambassador to the folks they meet. 

Most book club members had read at least one book by Steinbeck and enjoyed this one. It  has been criticized for being fictionalized but our readers didn’t expect it to be the definitive travelogue. The country is too big with too many cultures for any one story to encompass it. However, Steinbeck introduces us to characters (who may or may not have been composites) who feel genuine and who illuminate mid-century American worries. Each of us could  point to one, like the hairdresser or traveling salesmen, who made a lasting impression. Some of us thought Steinbeck gave himself too much credit for “discovering” the extent of pollution and  racism, but perhaps this was a useful window for his intended white, middle-class readers. 

One book club member called the book a snapshot and argued that it could have been even shorter. In fact, Steinbeck himself seems burned-out halfway through the trip, which we related to. It offered us both a way to travel while staying at home and brought up issues that are still relevant sixty years later. 

Books on Tap will meet again on January 7th via Zoom. For the link, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides, which the library owns in multiple formats. Email Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:
About the author
About the novel
Interview with the author’s son about Travels with Charley

Other Works Discussed
The Truth about Travels with Charley
Svetlana Aleksievich

Upcoming Meetings:
January 7: In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides
February 4: Switched On by John Elder Robison
March : Red at the Bone by Jacquline Woodson
April :  Elevation by Stephen King

“The tattooing has taken only seconds, but Lale’s shock makes time stand still.”

The Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually on Nov. 19th to discuss  The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. 

This book tells the story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, who is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer, tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners. One day, Lale meets another prisoner named Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

The Brown Baggers were impressed with Lale’s character, describing him as flashy, charming, charismatic, optimistic, dogged, and determined. They were less impressed with Gita, mentioning she is hard to empathize with, as she is presented as a fairly flat person, not a well-developed character. Many of the group members felt the reading experience was weird or uncomfortable, due to the romantic plot in such horrific settings, calling it the ‘Hallmark’ version of a WWII story. 

Nevertheless, many enjoyed the read, although cited WWII fatigue after reading A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell last month. There was also much discussion of what concentration camp historical sites are like in the modern day, with several Brown Baggers describing trips they or their family had made to the sites, and the horrors still represented within.

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on Thursday, December 17th at noon to select future titles (for June 2021-May 2022).  Please email for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books Mentioned:

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry


La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful), (1997)


Synchronicity Films to Bring the Tattooist of Auschwitz to the Screen

Daily Mail – The Tattooist of Auschwitz Controversy: Author in Clash with Holocaust Survivor’s Son Over ‘Mistakes’ In International Bestseller

Love To Teach – A Discussion of the Tattooist of Auschwitz