May Book Club Meeting

Our May book is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.


As a child, Alma is clever, sharp but un-pretty, having the misfortune of looking precisely like her father: "ginger of hair, florid of skin, small of mouth, wide of brown, abundant of nose. Henry's face was far better suited to a grown man than to a little girl. Not that Henry himself objected to this state of affairs; Henry Whittaker enjoyed looking at his image wherever he might encounter it."

The Signature of All Things follows the fortunes of the brilliant Alma Whittaker (daughter of a bold and charismatic botanical explorer) as she comes into her own within the world of plants and science. Growing up surrounded by her family's expansive estate, Alma becomes fascinated by botany and shows herself to have a shrewd business mind. She devours books and has fervid erotic imaginings but no appropriate suitor. Her adopted sister, Prudence, is the beautiful one who attracts many admiring male gazes, but she is difficult to know: an icy, self-contained girl who holds intimacy at bay.

Alma yearns for friendship, for love and for knowledge. Gilbert renders her longing with exquisite precision, conveying both Alma's naivety and her frustration in an age when women were not permitted to admit to any kind of sexual need. In place of romantic fulfillment, Alma becomes fascinated by the study of mosses and, in many ways, these plants reflect the intricate but slow-moving quality of Alma's own existence.

As Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she loves draws her in the opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose is a Utopian artist. But what unites this couple is a shared passion for knowing - a desperate need to understand the workings of this world, and the mechanism behind of all life. The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, this story novel soars across the globe - from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam and beyond. It is written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time. Alma Whittaker is a witness to history, as well as maker of history herself. She stands on the cusp of the modern, with one foot still in the Enlightened Age.

Since our discussion is held at the Nordstrom Market Cafe, I plan on enjoying dinner during our discussion. Eating or drinking is optional but I certainly plan on enjoying something to eat and drink during our discussion. The Nordstrom Market Cafe is located on the second floor of Norstroms in the Columbia Mall.

Book Availability at the Howard Count Public Library

The Signature of All Things is available for checkout at the Howard County Public Library. The Howard County Public Library has:

(45) Copies of the book.

(12) Copies in large print.

(1) Copy as an ebook.

(1) Copy as downloadable audio.

(15) Copies as a book-on-CD.

Howard County Library Central Branch

10375 Little Patuxent Pkwy

Columbia, MD 21044


Branch Hours

Mon. - Thurs. 10 am - 9 pm

Fri. - Sat. 10 am - 6 pm

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  • Pauline P.

    Good to see new people! Loved the discussion.

    May 19

  • Dee

    I'm not doing to make it today. High school activity. The book read is certainly interesting. Until next time. Enjoy

    May 17

  • Miranda

    Had a great time at my first ever Thursday meeting. Thanks! Maybe I'll see some of you at future Saturday meeting. :)

    1 · May 16

  • Mary b.

    Great conversation! :-)

    May 16

  • Pauline

    Great book, terrific discussion!

    Can't wait til you decide what we're reading next Wayne!!!

    May 16

  • Catherine P.

    An interesting discussion of a challenging book.

    1 · May 16

  • Pauline

    This book is so ripe for lots of discussion!

    2 · May 14

  • Wayne M.

    I hope that you had an enjoyable Mother's Day and chances are that you took a break from reading to enjoy this beautiful day. When you start reading again, here is a question to ponder. Let's discuss this at our meeting.

    Prudence and Alma are painted as total opposites but in what ways are they alike? Often Alma seems to envy Prudence, but do you think Prudence ever envied Alma? Why?

    1 · May 11

  • Nicole H.

    Sorry I won't be able to make this meeting. Hopefully will see you for June's meeting.

    1 · May 10

  • sujin s

    Sorry, I'll be in Denver, CO. Have a wonderful discussion. Happy Reading.

    1 · May 10

  • Wayne M.

    I hope that your reading is going well. As you read, here is a question to think about. Lets discuss this at our meeting.

    Why do you think Gilbert made the decision to make Alma "ugly." Our first introduction to Alma refers to her being an ugly baby and looking like her father. Why would ugliness be essential to her character? How might her life have been different if she were prettier?

    May 8

  • Dorothy M.

    Darn, have another appointment so I cannot attend. Will try to make the alternative meeting on Sat. Since when did retired life get this busy?!

    1 · April 25

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