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Beautiful Ruins

Vista Book Group: Beautiful Ruins

The Vista Book Group met in January to discuss Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012 by the New York Times Book Review. It was also named Best Book of the Year by Esquire Magazine and NPR-Fresh Air, as well as being included in numerous top ten lists for 2012.

Beautiful Ruins begins in 1962 when mysterious, ailing American starlet Dee Moray, working on the film set of Cleopatra in Rome, arrives at the tiny Italian coastal village of Porto Vergogna. Dee is staying in the town’s only hotel and the proprietor, Pasquale Tursi, falls immediately in love with her. The story flashes forward to present day Hollywood where Claire, production assistant to a legendary producer, is swiftly losing her idealism. As she slogs through another Friday of listening to terrible movie pitches from people the producer has met through the years (many to whom he owes favors), she meets Pasquale, who has come to Hollywood to find out what happened to Dee all those years ago. The story moves back and forth through time and we find out what happened to Dee; we meet Richard Burton in 1962 Italy; we spend time in a forgotten World War II-era German bunker filled with beautiful paintings; and we find out if Claire will be completely disillusioned by modern-day reality TV and give up on her dreams of making movies.

This book provided fodder for a lively and thoroughly entertaining discussion. Most of our group really enjoyed Beautiful Ruins. Walter’s writing style is engaging and easy to read, and there is quite a bit of humor in the book: things like the name of the hotel in Porto Vergogna (the Hotel Adequate View), the portrayal of Richard Burton as a wild and crazy movie star, and some of the movie pitches Claire encounters (particularly the pitch for a dark movie about the trials of the Donner Party called Donner!). While hopping back and forth across continents and through time could have the potential of confusing the reader, Walter is clear in his differentiation of time and place. There is very little confusion and this style makes the story more interesting than a direct chronological telling would.

Everyone in our group was asked to rate the book on a scale of 1 to 5, and the average was a 4. One problem people had was the lack of character development for a few of the main characters. However, in the scheme of the entire book, this lack of development did not really impede on the enjoyment of the story. Full of satire, wit, and beautiful locations, Beautiful Ruins makes a great read, whether it’s for your book group or just to enjoy on your own while dreaming of a vacation in Italy!

Here are a few read-alikes for Beautiful Ruins:

  • The Pirate’s Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
  • High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
  • The Bridge: A Novel, by Karen Kingsbury
  • Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Fowler
  • Please join us on Wednesday, February 26, from 6:00 to 7:30 when we will be discussing the One Book, Columbia selection My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy. We will meet in Film and Sound, located on the first level of the Richland Library Main. If you would like to pick up a copy of the book, please call 929-3400 or stop by the General Reference/Research Desk on the second level of Richland Library Main. We look forward to seeing you there!


    The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
    Amazon Says: “Back in America, little was known of my life in Jamaica,” wrote Errol Flynn. In 1946, a storm-wrecked boat carrying Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler shored up on th more...
    Amazon Says: “Back in America, little was known of my life in Jamaica,” wrote Errol Flynn. In 1946, a storm-wrecked boat carrying Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler shored up on the coast of Jamaica, and the glamorous world of 1940’s Hollywood converged with that of a small West Indian society. After a long and storied career on the silver screen, Errol Flynn spent much of the last years of his life on a small island off of Jamaica, throwing parties and sleeping with increasingly younger teenaged girls. Based on those years, The Pirate’s Daughter is the story of Ida, a local girl who has an affair with Flynn that produces a daughter, May, who meets her father but once. Spanning two generations of women whose destinies become inextricably linked with the matinee idol’s, this lively novel tells the provocative history of a vanished era, of uncommon kinships, compelling attachments, betrayal and atonement in a paradisal, tropical setting. As adept with Jamaican vernacular as she is at revealing the internal machinations of a fading and bloated matinee idol, Margaret Cezair-Thompson weaves a saga of a mother and daughter finding their way in a nation struggling to rise to the challenge of independence. less...
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    Amazon Says: Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, trouble more...
    Amazon Says: Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa. We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city’s demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life—divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house—and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang—who thrived and who faltered—and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both—and escape the merciless progress of time—in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers. less...
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    High Fidelity: A Novel by Nick Hornby
    Amazon Says: Now a major motion picture from Touchstone Pictures. Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the g more...
    Amazon Says: Now a major motion picture from Touchstone Pictures. Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films (Reservoir Dogs...); top five Elvis Costello songs ("Alison"...); top five episodes of Cheers (the one where Woody sang his stupid song to Kelly...). Rob tries dating a singer whose rendition of "Baby, I Love Your Way" makes him cry. But maybe it's just that he's always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think (awful as it sounds) that life as an episode of thirtysomething, with all the kids and marriages and barbecues and k.d. lang CD's that this implies, might not be so bad. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: "Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages...A timely debut that not onl more...
    Amazon Says: "Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages...A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices."-- Kirkus Reviews “A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel." -- Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain “Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.” -- Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol. This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept. Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago. Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart. less...
    Amazon

    The Bridge: A Novel by Karen Kingsbury
    Amazon Says: Number one New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury delivers an instant classic with this heartwarming Christmas story about a hundred-year flood, lost love, and the more...
    Amazon Says: Number one New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury delivers an instant classic with this heartwarming Christmas story about a hundred-year flood, lost love, and the beauty of enduring friendships. Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but she left her heart back in Tennessee with a man she walked away from five years ago. They had a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since. Ryan Kelly lives in Nashville after a broken engagement and several years on the road touring with a country music duo. He can still hear Molly’s voice encouraging him to follow his dreams; Molly, whose memory stays with him. At least he can visit The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—and remember the hours he and Molly once spent there. For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of middle Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books—even through dismal book sales and the rise of digital books. Then in May, the hundred-year flood swept through Franklin and destroyed nearly every book in the store. Now the bank is pulling the lease on The Bridge. Despondent and without answers, Charlie considers the unthinkable. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly, everything changes. In the face of desperate brokenness and lost opportunities, could the miracle of a second chance actually unfold? The Bridge is a love story set against the struggle of the American bookstore, a love story you will never forget. less...
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    Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
    Amazon Says: I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we more...
    Amazon Says: I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed. When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.     less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his  funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet more...
    Amazon Says: The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his  funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet: the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 . . . and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later.  “Why mince words? Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece.” —Richard Russo“A ridiculously talented writer.” —New York Times less...
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    Jess Walter Answers Questions from Goodreads about Beautiful Ruins
    Elizabeth H. Says: Jess Walter answers questions from Goodreads about Beautiful Ruins
    YouTube Says: Jess Walter answers questions from Goodreads members about his bestselling novel, Beautiful Ruins, now in paperback wherever books are sold. More info here: http://ow.ly/k1bMm...
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