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Book Club Reflection: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

21 Oct

My work book club is alive and thriving! We’ve gone through another book now, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I have to say, this one was a hit! I loved it and the other two ladies seem to have enjoyed it as well.

The biggest complaint the ladies had about this novel is that it started out very slowly. The love of words was prominent in the big words and long sentences in which the characters spoke. There was a lot of setup so the reader could sympathize with the people as they lost their language. When it got to the part where the people wrote phonetically, it was really fun and those letters seemed to go by faster.

The people seemed to fall into the oppression they were suffering slowly at first. The letter Z is gone, they can live with that. When other letters start to drop, they’re apprehensive. But when people begin to be banned from the island, they’re already so far in that they can’t back out easily. The High Council ended up being not-so-benevolent dictators. We described them more like cult leaders who have imprisoned their citizens. It reminded us of World War II Nazis or the Spanish Inquisition. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

We were surprised there was so little reaction when the High Council closed the libraries. For a people so obsessed with and in love with words, they seemed perfectly contented to see their books away. I would have freaked out. We thought they would have reacted more. However, many of the people had little to no formal education beyond grade school. This seems odd in a place so obsessed with words, but loving words, writing, and reading, doesn’t have to equate with education. It made us feel bad for Aunt Mittie. How could she be expected to teach with no books and while every word she says is scrutinized by children waiting to have their teacher removed so school will be over. The poor woman.

The High Council changed Nollop’s role in their culture from one of reverence to one of devout worship. Nollop was a sort of Jesus figure who created the pangram so people might speak. When Amos created his sentence, Nollop’s status as a deity was instantly gone. He was undermined by a simple tradesman quite by accident. Instead of worshiping Amos, the people realized that Nollop was nothing special. S was quick enough to realize Amos’s sentence was a pangram, but V and I didn’t catch on until Ella pointed it out. And speaking of, what a fun name she has! Ella Minnow Pea, LMNOP. We all loved that.

This book made V miss writing letters. She feels like it’s a lost art. I agree that it ruins the fun of opening the mail. Normally I have bills and credit card applications. Around the holidays, we can all look forward to Christmas Cards (or insert other holiday here) but V remembers the times when she’s get letters from her family back in India. It would make her day to get one. Now we get emails if we’re lucky. Otherwise its texts.

We wondered what would drive Mark Dunn to write this book. He’s a playwright and as with all writers, we’re assuming he loves words. Maybe he’s the kind of guy who does the New York Times crossword every day and loves knowing those words that have five Es or provide a good synonym for joy. We suspect he had the idea for Nollop but couldn’t find a way to do it as a play, and decided to do it as a book instead. It would be hard to do this book visually. You’d need an almost constant voice over. Maybe a cartoon could accommodate. Probably not. A book is good.

And so concludes another book club reflection! V has already finished our next book, The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver and S has started it. I’ll be the last one to dive in!

Until next time, write on.

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