Book Club

Ages 18+

Looking for your next great read? Join our book groups and get in on thought-provoking discussion in the warm company of the JCCSF community.

  • Arts & Ideas
woman reading book

Together, we love sharing ideas — so come ready for eye-opening conversations. Book genres and topics vary. All will strengthen your sense of togetherness with others in the JCCSF community in a social and relaxed setting.

 

Afternoon Book Group

We’re excited to re-start our afternoon book club! The afternoon book group met for over ten years and was on hiatus during the pandemic, but we’re back! The group will continue to read a variety of fiction and nonfiction books chosen by the members.

Interested? Please connect with Shiva Schulz, Director of Lifelong Learning, at sschulz@jccsf.org or call 415-292-1260 to get on the list to join.  

2nd Wednesday of the month unless noted • 2:45 – 4:15 pm at JCCSF.

FEBRUARY 14: BLACK CAKE, BY CHARMAINE WILKERSON

In this moving debut novel, two estranged siblings must set aside their differences to deal with their mother’s death and her hidden past–a journey of discovery that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California and ends with her famous black cake. In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking journey Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child, challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their family, and themselves. Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to ‘share the black cake when the time is right?’ Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever? Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.

MARCH 13: THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE, BY JAMES McBRIDE

In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe. As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community–heaven and earth–that sustain us.

APRIL 10 : THE GOOD EARTH, BY PEARL S. BUCK

Though more than seventy years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. In The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century. Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions, and rewards. Her brilliant novel—beloved by millions of readers—is a universal tale of an ordinary family caught in the tide of history.

MAY 15: MASTER SLAVE HUSBAND, BY ILYAN WOO

In 1848, a year of international democratic revolt, a young, enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, achieved one of the boldest feats of self-emancipation in American history. Posing as master and slave, while sustained by their love as husband and wife, they made their escape together across more than 1,000 miles, riding out in the open on steamboats, carriages, and trains that took them from bondage in Georgia to the free states of the North. Along the way, they dodged slave traders, military officers, and even friends of their enslavers, who might have revealed their true identities. The tale of their adventure soon made them celebrities, and generated headlines around the country. Americans could not get enough of this charismatic young couple, who traveled another 1,000 miles crisscrossing New England, drawing thunderous applause as they spoke alongside some of the greatest abolitionist luminaries of the day—among them Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown. But even then, they were not out of danger. With the passage of an infamous new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, all Americans became accountable for returning refugees like the Crafts to slavery. Then yet another adventure began, as slave hunters came up from Georgia, forcing the Crafts to flee once again—this time from the United States, their lives and thousands more on the line and the stakes never higher. With three epic journeys compressed into one monumental bid for freedom, Master Slave Husband Wife is an American love story—one that would challenge the nation’s core precepts of life, liberty, and justice for all—one that challenges us even now.

JUNE 6: ETHEL ROSENBERG AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, BY ANNE SEBBA

In June 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple with two young sons, were led separately from their prison cells on Death Row and electrocuted moments apart. Both had been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the US government was aware that the evidence against Ethel was shaky at best and based on the perjury of her own brother. This book is the first to focus on one half of that couple in more than thirty years, and much new evidence has surfaced since then. Ethel was a bright girl who might have fulfilled her personal dream of becoming an opera singer, but instead found herself struggling with the social mores of the 1950’s. She longed to be a good wife and perfect mother, while battling the political paranoia of the McCarthy era, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and a mother who never valued her. Because of her profound love for and loyalty to her husband, she refused to incriminate him, despite government pressure on her to do so. Instead, she courageously faced the death penalty for a crime she hadn’t committed, orphaning her children. Seventy years after her trial, this is the first time Ethel’s story has been told with the full use of the dramatic and tragic prison letters she exchanged with her husband, her lawyer and her psychotherapist over a three-year period, two of them in solitary confinement. Hers is the resonant story of what happens when a government motivated by fear tramples on the rights of its citizens.

Evening Book Group

3rd Tuesday of the month unless noted • 7:30 – 8:30 pm

The Evening Book Club is now meeting in person at the JCCSF. To join the Evening Book Group, please contact Shiva Schulz at sschulz@jccsf.org.

FEBRUARY 20: DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, BY WALTER MOSELY

The year is 1948, the town is Los Angeles. Easy Rawlins, a black war veteran, has just been fired from his job at a defense factory plant. Drinking in his friend’s bar, he’s wondering how he’ll manage to make ends meet, when a white man in a linen suit approaches him and offers him good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Money, a missing blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs. Easy has no idea that by taking this job, his life is about to change forever. “More than simply a detective novel…[Mosley is] a talented author with something vital to say about the distance between the black and white worlds, and with a dramatic way to say it” (The New York Times).

MARCH 19: LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN, BY LISA LEE

According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient. From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom. But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights. A captivating story of women helping each other, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a triumphant reimagining of the life of one person who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.

APRIL 16: MASTER SLAVE HUSBAND, BY ILYAN WOO

In 1848, a year of international democratic revolt, a young, enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, achieved one of the boldest feats of self-emancipation in American history. Posing as master and slave, while sustained by their love as husband and wife, they made their escape together across more than 1,000 miles, riding out in the open on steamboats, carriages, and trains that took them from bondage in Georgia to the free states of the North. Along the way, they dodged slave traders, military officers, and even friends of their enslavers, who might have revealed their true identities. The tale of their adventure soon made them celebrities, and generated headlines around the country. Americans could not get enough of this charismatic young couple, who traveled another 1,000 miles crisscrossing New England, drawing thunderous applause as they spoke alongside some of the greatest abolitionist luminaries of the day—among them Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown. But even then, they were not out of danger. With the passage of an infamous new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, all Americans became accountable for returning refugees like the Crafts to slavery. Then yet another adventure began, as slave hunters came up from Georgia, forcing the Crafts to flee once again—this time from the United States, their lives and thousands more on the line and the stakes never higher. With three epic journeys compressed into one monumental bid for freedom, Master Slave Husband Wife is an American love story—one that would challenge the nation’s core precepts of life, liberty, and justice for all—one that challenges us even now.

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