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Book Club Reflection: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

15 Aug

My book club met when I returned from my trip and we talked about a book I greatly enjoyed, Commonwealth. Unfortunately, we were deeply divided on how we felt about the book. There were some who, like me, loved the book, and others who felt the best part was the cover flaps that could serve as bookmarks.

One common complaint we could all agree on was that there were too many characters. This became very obvious in the final chapter but even before then, it was a lot to keep track of. We all agreed some could have been deleted, like Father Mike and Beverly’s sister (whose name we didn’t even remember). Some readers felt that none of the characters were easy to relate to while some of us liked Theresa and Franny. One positive we could all agree on was that the time jumps were well done.

The title had a few meanings. The most obvious was a reference to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The second would be an allusion to the book Leon wrote. We felt that it took another definition, in this case referring to a group coming and working together.

The kids took care of themselves. Theresa was involved in her career and Beverly and Bert were involved in each other or themselves, never really paying attention to the kids. When Cal died, it proved that they’d failed at raising each other.

The two families did end up very close to each other. We found three solid examples of the families caring for each other. First was Albie’s involvement in Franny and Leon’s relationship. He cared for her a lot to point out what he saw as problems in their relationship. The second was Franny, Caroline, and Fix taking care of Theresa. This was the most obvious one to me and I thought it really highlighted their relationship well. The third was the close of the book when Franny went to visit Bert.

I felt so bad for Kumar at Beverly’s party. It must have been so demeaning but he took it like a champ. I was furious when Franny left him alone and went to visit Bert. Someone pointed out that it was paralleled to Franny at the beach house with Leon. Leon’s friends treated her like the help and Leon did next to nothing to help out. I would have liked to see her grow from that experience, but it was ironic to see the repetition.

The book Leon wrote was almost therapeutic for the family. It allowed Albie a way to talk about what had happened, a way for things to come into the open that had been ignored for so long before then I think the title as a reference to the book is appropriate, but I still like the community definition as a reason for it all.

It was fun to talk about this book with my club. Our next book is a title I read and reviewed a few years ago so I’m not going to re-read it. Get ready for a surprise and give me your best guess. I’ll give you one clue, it was a controversy when it came out.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

6 Jul

For only the second time ever, I went to my book club meeting without having finished the book. I was fairly confident this wasn’t a book where the ending could be ruined for me and it ended up fine. As I write this, I’m still finishing up the book but by the time this is posted, I’ll have it finished.

The book talks a lot about dialogue and another form of that is a dichotomy. The book was built around dichotomies. Robert and John are the first and most apparent. The way they view their motorcycles, through classic and romantic reasoning, set up the rest of the book. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was another dichotomy that permeated the rest of the book.

The book had three focuses: Self, trip, and quality. The first is Robert’s search to find himself and rediscover his past. The narrator and Phaedrus are at odds much of the time. Robert has trouble understanding why Phaedrus did things he did and how he reached certain conclusions about life and Quality. Robert strongly believed in preparedness and it seems Phaedrus didn’t follow this as well. Robert was always planning and he believed you had to understand how things worked to get unstuck. He talks about this in terms of motorcycle maintenance, but he was searching for the same understanding in himself. Robert seems intent on pleasing people, wondering how Chris is feeling about the trip and how John and Sylvia are holding up. Before, when he was Phaedrus, he destroyed anyone who didn’t agree with him. With the University of Chicago professor, he felt he was being attached and armed himself with the knowledge to attack back.

As for the trip, we wondered for a while why he picked Chris to come with him, not his wife or other son. I’ve been told this is somewhat explained in the end when Robert talks about the shock treatments he’s received and expresses that he’s afraid Chris will have the same issues with mental health that he’s had.

The search for quality was a huge part of the book and there were a few parts of it that we helped each other understand. The first was classic reasoning. Classic reasoning dealt with achieving the necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. On page 114, Pirsig talks about how since all of these things have been achieved, classic reasoning no longer applies. A member pointed out that we’re at another identity crisis now where work is disappearing and being replaced by machines. We may undergo another crisis of values until we’re able to find new values for this modern world.

Another idea we had trouble defining was how man didn’t create the laws of nature. Man identified them but the laws, such as gravity, that man defined, do not cause things to happen because they are named. They existed before they were identified and will continue to exist if the name is forgotten. They are not tangible things.

We roped ourselves into another conversation about quality and education. Since Phaedrus was a teacher, this seemed a big problem for him. In the US, education is all about the grade and not about learning. I know I’ve written certain things in papers because I knew it’s what a teacher wanted to read and not what I thought and I knew if I said what I really thought, I’d get a poor grade. How is that quality?

We’re discussing Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth next month and I’ll be starting it as soon as I finish this book!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss

16 May

I’m back to my book clubs! My class is over for the semester which means I’m free on Monday nights again and can join in on the discussions. I read Once in a Great City a couple of weeks ago and I’ll be posting about it again in a few weeks when author David Maraniss comes to speak in my area.

One issue some people had with the book was the title. We felt it implied that Detroit was no longer a great city, that it had lost that greatness. Our moderator likened it to watching the Titanic movie. This thing is so wonderful and great and you’re looking at it thinking, “Wow! How incredible is this!” and the whole time, you know it’s going to sink because that’s history and you can’t change it. Seeing Detroit built up as this pillar of American modernity and progress just to know that it will be home to terrible race riots, high murder rates, government corruption, economic depression, and bankruptcy feels like watching a beautiful ship sink to the bottom of the ocean. Many of our members remembered when Detroit’s offering of steady employment and strong industry was a draw and sense of price for the city. That’s since faded.

The best description of the book a member gave was “interesting and tedious.” The topics were interesting and Maraniss picked a good time in Detroit history to focus on. It was very well researched, maybe too much so. The level of detail made it dense. For someone from Detroit, the topic was engaging enough because we are around the thing he’s talking about. For someone from another area, they’d likely get bogged down in the details and not want to continue.

Speaking of being from here, many of us were surprised to hear about the Ford Rotunda. It does help explain the road in Dearborn called Rotunda, though. The number of tourists and fame described was astounding and those in our group who were alive to see it feel it may have been a bit exaggerated.

We enjoyed the chapters about Detroit’s Olympic bid. We were all surprised to hear about it. The way Maraniss built it up it seemed like it would be a close battle between Detroit and Mexico City, but the results were a blowout. I wonder if Detroit will ever be a serious contender for the Olympics again.

There were some things we felt were missing from the book. The mob story was glossed over a bit. People think of Chicago when they think of the mob in America but Detroit has a strong mob background as well. The book also focused very strongly on Ford, ignoring General Motors and Chrysler culture. Maybe GM and Chrysler are less controversial and scandalous as they’re not run by a single family. The Fords have dark sides like anti-Semitic backgrounds, affairs, and a distaste for immigrants. That makes for a good book in the times leading to a race riot.

It was great to be back with these ladies and discuss a book again. We’re moving back to fiction next month and I’ll be reading that book soon. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

7 Feb

My book club met last week to discuss a book I loved, South of Broad by Pat Conroy. I was surprised to find most people who were big Conroy fans hated the book. Apparently, this one is considered one of his worst! Critics say it’s melodramatic and the prose is over the top at times. A favorite criticism our group read was from author Chris Bohjalian:

It’s possible that the sobbing and sniveling occasionally felt inauthentic to me because I am a priggish New Englander who is uncomfortable with what may be a Southern penchant for drama. But as a novelist, I know all too well that there are few easier ways to wrest sniffles from a reader than to have a couple of real men cry like babies in each other’s arms or a good woman stoically sniff back her tears. Been there, done that.

I’m a fan of Bohjalian and despite the negativity, I would say I’m not a fan of Conroy. As always, we started with a little background on the author. Conroy lives in San Francisco and went to Citadel. His father was in the military and he moved a lot as a child. His father was violent and abusive and Conroy wrote about this in his book, The Great Santini. The book was presented as evidence in his parents’ divorce case. Conroy taught English and was fired from one of his jobs for pointing out racial problems in the school. So much of this made it into the story of Leo King and I’m amazed one person could experience so much and turn it into a story, let alone the number of books Conroy has written that draw inspiration from his life.

It was hard to ignore all the terrible things Leo and his friends had to face in the book. All the bad parts of their high-school years and adulthood came up: AIDS, child abuse from the clergy, Hurricane Hugo, racial integration, and racism. Some people thought it was over the top that all of these things happened in the same novel, but I think leaving them out would have been an omission of the times.

The one thing that could have been left out might be Steve’s abuse at the hands of Monsignor Max. Steve was the perfect son to his parents and I think that put a lot of pressure on him to act perfectly. That almost set him up to fail. It’s hard to maintain that level of expectation. If Steve had told his parents, we’re not sure they would have believed him anyway.

Leo was a very kind person and unfortunately, some of the other characters took advantage of him. He was used by Molly, Starla, and Sheba most notably. Maybe it was him not willing to stand up to a woman. He would do things for people that were beyond what was asked of him, like making benne wafers for his new neighbors when it could have been simple chocolate chip cookies. He cleaned and washed Mr. Cannon’s feet in an obvious impersonation of Mary Magdalen and Cannon appreciated it so much he gave him a house.

Starla used Leo more than anyone else. No one wanted them to stay together, even his staunchly Catholic mother. Mrs. King might have preferred seeing him with Sheba! We thought he only stayed with Starla because of his strong Catholic beliefs. This was as much a criticism of marriage as it was of the church.

The group of friends was such a rag-tag bunch that it seemed strange. They had to overcome socioeconomic status (the twins and the Rutledge’s) and race (Ike) but it somehow worked. Fraser and Niles’ relationship was a big bond for the group and Chad was roped in because of football despite his racist father and upbringing.

The twins’ father’s death seemed almost a little convenient. Someone wondered if Niles knew he was in the shed and that’s why he locked him in there. I proposed that Charleston killed him. The city was brought to life so much in the book it was almost a character. Maybe this was the one thing Charleston could do for our human characters.

I’m going to be missing this group until May because of school and I’m very sad about that. I do look forward to reading some books of my choosing, but I’ll miss having someone to discuss them with.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

22 Dec

I’m not alone in my dislike of the characters in this novel but it seems a lot of my fellow readers didn’t dislike the whole book because of it. I was surprised at the mixed reactions of our group when we got together to discuss The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante. We wanted to read this one because Time Magazine lists Ferrante as one of the most influential people. She’s also called the ‘best known least known’ writer in Italy. Despite her popularity, no one knows who she is, only that she lives in Naples. She’s credited with linking the old Italian writing style with a new style. I’m going to have to give her writing another try.

One of the women who attended our group was a guest to us. She’s active in other groups in the area but hadn’t been to one of our meetings before. She decided to come because she lived in Italy for a part of her childhood before moving to the US and had wanted to read one of Ferrante’s books. She read a few more after this one before our group met and loved them all. She said she wanted to know what American-born readers thought. Listening to her talk about her experience with the book made me like it more, to be honest. There was a lot about modern Italian culture that I didn’t pick up on because I’ve never lived there. We couldn’t picture the people and setting very well because it wasn’t something familiar to those of us who didn’t grow up in Italy. We didn’t understand the class and regional differences in the writing. Leda was brutally honest, but the focus of her wrath was not always very apparent to us.

Part of what I didn’t like about the book was that Leda was so selfish and unlikable. Yes, she was honest, but to most of us, that could only go so far. She seemed damaged by her own childhood with a mother who continually threatened to leave her. Leda had the nerve to do what her mom always talked about and actually left. We found it odd that she made a point of being meticulous in her pregnancy (page 122) but once her daughters were born, seemed to neglect them. It was hard to read (listen) to her talk about not comforting her children when they cried. She wanted people to like her and understand why she did what she did, which was hard to do. She wanted Gino to like her and think she was right and she grew so mad when he didn’t agree. It was like when she flirted with her daughter’s boyfriends and was mad when they didn’t return her affection. She was so selfish.

The doll said a lot about Leda. She wanted to be the hero to the Neapolitans on the beach, the lower class people who Leda thought should look up to someone educated like herself. She seemed jealous of Elena and Nina. They were close like her family never was and was likely to never be again. She wanted to make them suffer, to be as unhappy as she was. Once she had the doll, she kept trying to fix it, to make it pretty, but what was inside it was so dark and dirty, coming out over and over unendingly. We felt she inserted herself into their story so she could be a part of it just to feel important.

There was something I caught that some didn’t so I wanted to see if anyone else caught it. Nina’s family was part of the Camorra, the Italian mafia based in Naples. It’s implied when Gino talks about them being bad people. Did anyone else catch that? Only some of our group did.

A few people pointed out that if you reread the first few pages after finishing the book, you can see that the whole thing is told in flashback after Leda gets into a car accident. She has a pain in her side and wakes up in a hospital seeing her family around her. The pain is a reference to her stab wound but we couldn’t decide if we thought her family had come from Canada to see her or if she was hallucinating. My vote was for hallucinating. Thoughts?

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Stiff by Mary Roach

15 Dec

I was apprehensive when our book club picked Stiff for our November selection but I could get the audiobook and I decided not to complain. The audiobook turned out to be amazing and I really loved the book. I was wondering what my fellow book-lovers would say. This is a book that’s hard to talk to people about unless they’re reading it too!

Mary Roach has written several books about unusual topics though Stiff was her first. She’s lived most of her adult life in California and her background is in magazine writing. She stuck mostly to travel writing and light science before Stiff.

A lot of the things covered in the book were things we hadn’t considered. The decay studies stuck with us all. I will say that the Wayne State Universities studies lasted the longest with me. I actually went to Wayne State for a work trip and got it all set up to see their crash barrier before my appointment. Unfortunately, the professor didn’t want to take me into the cadaver prep area. I’m actually kind of glad. The book seemed to oddly focus on my area of Detroit because the McCabe Funeral Home mentioned in the book is less than a mile from my library and I drive by it every time I go there. For anyone else who is interested, a librarian called them to ask about their new cremation techniques. It turns out the state shut them down before it could ever get off the ground. They objected to human remains going into the water supply.

The ethical distinctions between if the soul resided in the brain or heart were really interesting to us. Roach did a good job of explaining why it mattered so much. Another thing she made very clear was that decisions on what happens to a cadaver ultimately should be left up to the family. The living are the ones who have to live with either respecting or going against the desires the deceased had about what to be done with his body. We also discussed where a person is buried and if it’s done in the manner he or she asked for. The deceased won’t have to live with the decisions, but the family does.

A lot of our members felt there were parts of the book that were hard to read. The black box chapter was hardest for a lot. Roach tried to use humor in a lot of the book and sometimes it wasn’t enough to distract from the gruesome topic, the black box being one of those times. Most of the time, the disrespect seemed to be more about what was being done to the cadavers, not in Roach’s writing. She did keep a very detached style which must have helped her deal with her topic. One reader complained that in addition to being detached, the writing seemed to jump subjects a lot and felt a bit disjointed. We wondered if that was how Roach’s brain worked.

Hearing about grave robbing made it easy to see where Mary Shelly came up with Frankenstein. We thought the chapter on cellular memory had the same creepy feel to it. It was almost a disappointment to hear that those who claimed they had characteristics of their donors did not have corresponding claims. We wondered what someone with an animal donor might claim!

A few of our members had personal connections to the book. One reader had done a cadaver lab in college. She found it was hard to cut the body ad disassociate it from a living person. She recalls that not all of the students were as respectful as she had been or had wanted everyone to be. The procedures described in the book sounded different from her memories and she thinks protocols have changed since her time in the lab.

Another member had a family member who had been a breathing cadaver. She remembers that the staff had been very respectful of her family member, talking to him while they were waiting for all the doctors who would be receiving the donations to arrive at the hospital. Like Mary describes, the donor is treated more like a patient than a cadaver.

We’re not meeting in December but we’ll reconvene in January to talk about Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I’ll be starting it soon.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Slade House by David Mitchell

13 Oct

The day after I finished reading David Mitchell’s Slade House, my book club met to discuss it. As much as I don’t like pushing it to the last minute, it’s nice to have it fresh in my head. I realized only after finishing it that it’s set in the same world as one of Mitchell’s other (much lengthier novels) The Bone Clocks. One reader in our group had read both and said they were both enjoyable.

As always, our moderator gave us some great background on the book. This is Mitchell’s seventh novel and several of his have been shortlisted for the Man Booker award. He currently lives in Ireland and we wondered if the Irish folklore had influenced his writing of this novel, dealing with reincarnation and dueling beings across generations. Like Nathan in the first story, Mitchell has an autistic son.

Many liked the short story format, something I wasn’t completely fond of. Nathan’s story was the most confusing for us because of the location jump to Africa seemingly randomly and having an autistic narrator who was hard to follow. After that, they seemed to flow better. I thought it was wrong that Norah narrated the last story, but someone pointed out how the victim always narrated and in the final story, Norah was the victim. That convinced me and now I think it’s genius to have Norah narrate at the end. Yay for book clubs.

Horror is a genre where books are generally more plot driven than character driven but this title had a lot of character development. Each of the characters had his or her weakness exploited to make him or her vulnerable. They would have their desires fulfilled just to be ripped away from them. Nathan had a friend and saw his dad, Gordon had a woman lusting after him, Sally had a by crushing on her, and both Freya and Marinus were getting answers they had searched out for so long. We noticed that, except for Marinus, the characters all thought they were at least slightly intoxicated. Maybe that was the effect of the banjax.

We thought of the number of victims there must have been prior to Nathan. If that was 1979, then we’re looking at likely victims in 1970, 1961, 1952, and 1943. Nathan sees them we realized; the girl in the pinafore, the soldier, the pinched lady in the hat, the man in his 20s, and the woman whose ghost he’d seen. That’s four times and five victims. Maybe they had to kill to create the orison? Or is one of them Norah or Jonah? I’m only realizing this now so I didn’t have time to ask my book club. Thoughts?

There were a lot of things that showed up through the novel that were only slightly explained. I missed that the hairpin Sally got was from Nathan, now I see that. The Fox and Hounds shows up over and over and must be a place the Greyer twins were familiar with. The jogger in neon showed up over and over as well and was never explained. We wondered if it might be Jonah directing the victims toward the ally. There were things from other Mitchell novels as well. I recognized Spyglass magazine from Cloud Atlas and another reader recognized Marinus and the Chetwynd family from other books as well.

There were a few things that made us scratch our heads. The first was why the soulless bodies of past guests would care to interfere in later times. Was it revenge or were they saving others? Either way, could they do this without a soul? We didn’t understand why they got physical bodies anyway. How would a soulless ghost grasp a hairpin? We didn’t get it. We were also a little lost with Gordon’s story. It seems that he was the only one who went to the house and was able to leave again. Why was he able to do that?

One of my issues with the book was the info dump in Freya’s story. Some others didn’t mind the story and we agreed it made the twins much less frightening. Some wondered if the story Fred told was all lies when we found out it wasn’t really him.

Our member who had read The Bone Clocks explained that her character had shown up in that book as well. She gave us some details about the character that I won’t go into detail here so as not to ruin another book. I do, however, want to talk about the ending so if I haven’t ruined Slade House for you yet, please finish reading here. Bye! Anyway, the ending. We debated if Marinus let Norah get away or if Norah managed to escape. It seemed obvious there was something darker in Norah that was more than what had been bound by Norah’s physical body. But did Marinus think she’d destroyed it or was Marinus outplayed? We couldn’t decide.

It was, as always, a great discussion. We’re reading Stiff by Mary Roach next and I think it will be a good one for discussion.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

19 Sep

The day after I finished reading Boy, Snow, Bird, I was sitting in Starbucks writing my review and knowing I was heading to our book discussion. I always try to write reviews before my book club meets because, many times, that changes my feelings on the book. However, I don’t really feel much differently about Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi after discussing it with my book club. Many of the others were caught off guard by the ending and how quickly it came about. We know that some of her fans like this, but we were frustrated and confused. We wished it would tie up nicely. The insight one of our members gave was that Snow was told she was going to live with her aunt for just a week and she never came back. If Boy is taking the girls away for ‘just’ a week, we don’t think they’re ever coming home. A few readers compared the book to The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, which we read about a year ago. I think it’s a fair comparison but if you read my review, you’ll see I wasn’t a fan of that book either. While some liked the book more after our discussion, I wasn’t one of them.

Newspaper reviews of this book were very positive. Many of us felt lost. There were several times we just didn’t ‘get’ what was going on and through our discussion, we realized it was because there were often several layers to the plot, comparisons we didn’t see, and thus what happened didn’t really make sense. We didn’t get deep as the reader wanted us to. The majority of readers missed the comparison to Snow White. Oyeyemi said she found the original Snow White an odd character because when she was sent to live with the dwarves, she seemed to be a ‘blank slate’ with little reaction to being sent away. I’d say Snow had slightly more emotions about being sent away, but now many.

There were times we felt the plot was a bit out of line from what we know of American culture in that era. Wearing the US flag, nose piercings, and hoolahoops didn’t seem to line up. The book covers three decades, so maybe we were a bit lost with what time it was. Maybe the author’s background made the US an odd choice for a setting. She was born in Africa and lives in Europe. What kind of research did she do in American culture for this book? Another thought was that she wanted it to feel like a fairytale and grounding the book in culture wasn’t important for that. It was better to create a utopia for the characters.

Some readers found the book hard to read because of the ugly reminders of real life. Sending away a child, parental abuse, and disliking a child or grandchild are ugly realities of the world we live in. The book spoke a lot about wealth, marriage, race, beauty, and motherhood, but it used ugly examples of human flaws to bring these up.

We wondered if the town ever realized Arturo and the Whitmans were black. The doctor at the hospital thought Boy had an affair. Did the rest of the town? This is never addressed head-on. Olivia continued to host her gatherings of neighbor women. Did they let go of their prejudices and include her or never accept that she was a black woman?

The snake seemed like an odd image through the book. The story Mia and Boy told each other involved a woman with a snake coming out of her heart. The woman couldn’t be changed by a magician. When Arturo gave Boy a bracelet with the same image, it struck us as an odd choice for someone he loved. Maybe, we thought, Arturo knew she was like the woman in the story and wouldn’t be changed when someone told her something to try to change her, like finding out her husband’s black.

We tried to reason Frank’s hatred for Boy. We think Frank had a dissociative personality disorder (spit-personality) and that while he was pregnant with Boy, he fluctuated back and forth between his masculine and feminine personalities. His male personality won in the end and despised everything feminine, possibly as a repercussion for the rape Francis suffered. In a hope to keep a daughter from being too feminine, he named her Boy.

Frank was looking in a mirror when he had his first break. The image continued on through the book. We felt that the reflection characters saw represented how they thought the world saw them. Boy thought the mirror was her friend because she felt isolated. Snow and Bird thought the world didn’t see them. Maybe this is because of the status of women in that time. More likely, it was because they felt the world overlooked them because they were black. The world would see them if they passed but once Bird was born with dark skin and Snow was raised by her black relatives, they weren’t passing, they were out and they were overlooked. We wondered how Olivia saw herself in the mirror.

The women in this book had polarized relationship. There was the wicked stepmother in both Olivia and Boy. Whereas Boy is described as so sweet and beautiful, she acts very harshly and wicket. The blonde hair of Boy and Snow’s dark hair are compared often, as is the angelic feminism of Boy and the tomboy attitude of Bird and Frank. Women were very key and central in the book while men seemed to disappear into the background.

I can’t find the page, but someone read a quote about Sidonie where she was described as not wanting to come inside the house (or store?) but how she didn’t want to stay outside. We thought this was a good analogy for how Clara, Bird, and Snow didn’t like the negative prejudice and discrimination of being black but didn’t want to pass as white either. They were in the middle, especially Snow, who could go either way depending on who she was standing next to. It was a battle of what was best for her and what was easy.

This wasn’t my favorite book, but few are. Our next selection has a slightly spooky/eerie theme to get us in the mood for Halloween. And best of all, it’s short.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

7 Jul

As has so often happened with my book club selections, what I liked, everyone else was iffy on or didn’t like. This was one of my favorite books of the year so far and a lot of people felt it fell flat. Sigh.

The majority of us had seen the movie as well as read the book and most of us agreed that the two were pretty similar. It was a nice touch for me after so many movies I’ve seen have strayed so far from their book origins. We had an interesting question from the reader guide that said we should compare the book to the TV show I Love Lucy because the two were set in the same era. It seemed an odd comparison when Lucy was trying to make us laugh and show the funny side of life while Brooklyn was a reality that wasn’t fun at all. The only thing we could really pull from the exercise was how well Ricky Ricardo was received by a television audience that was rejecting Italians and Irish in stores. It seems that Cubans were better accepted than many European settlers.

There is a lot to say about the author. Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Ireland and set part of the novel there for that reason. This was his sixth novel and he’s written another book, Nora Webster, which employs some of the same characters but is set in Ireland. Many people were surprised that a male author wrote with a very feminine vision, a surprise I expressed in my review. Toibin is heavily influenced by Hemingway and I could easily see that in his sentences and rhythm. There was a lot unsaid that the reader had to infer. Some readers didn’t like that and wanted some more from Eilis. I’m a big Hemingway fan and it was right up my ally. Toibin writes most of his books in an uncomfortable chair with a pen and paper, transferring his words to a word processor later on. Brooklyn, however, was his first book not written longhand, which he composed during a residency at Stanford.

This story resonated with many because while it’s the story of one girl, the things Eilis went through mirror what many immigrants go through. A woman in our group shared her immigration story and said Eilis’s desire to find a purpose in Brooklyn and belong there was something she went through as well. Members of our group who had moved around the country on their own felt the same way. Eilis was a reluctant immigrant, sent to America against her will almost. Rose seems to have sent her away knowing that she herself was ill and didn’t want Eilis stuck at home taking care of their mother but living. The path she followed was set for her, work, school, and later on, Jim. She was very passive in the book and only stood up for herself when Mrs. Kelly forced her hand and she decided to leave Ireland.

We contemplated if Eilis would have stayed and married Jim if she hadn’t been found out. Jim didn’t look her way at all before she went to America, giving her the cold shoulder. She was only interesting when she had a story. She says that she didn’t think Jim could accept her if he ever found out and we think that was true. The relationship she had with Tony was hard for us to understand. Eilis felt, to some, very flat and we wondered why he was so attracted to her. He seemed to like Irish girls but doesn’t really say what it is about them. She seemed attracted to him because he felt safe. She didn’t feel she fit in America but Tony made her belong and she loved him for that. We were bothered that once he was out of the picture, she didn’t even read his letters. We couldn’t decide if it was because it would make her miss him too much or because he was easy to forget.

The edition our library handed out had an excerpt from Nora Webster in the back that brought up a good question. We felt that Mrs. Lacey was proud of Eilis for being successful in America when she returned, but when Eilis left, she was both angry and sad. We wondered how their relationship would be after. The quotes from Nora Webster talk about May Lacey being unable to look at pictures of her daughter and her American husband, much the same way Eilis couldn’t read Tony’s letters. It’s too painful and forces up a lot of repressed memories.

Our next book is another historical fiction, this time from the early 1800s. I’m liking this trend! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

9 May

I promise this is my last post about Child 44. I’ve already done the book review and the movie review. Last is the book club reflection. If you recall, I wasn’t a big fan of the book (mostly because of the narrator) and I thought the movie was okay but was disappointed by a few missing parts that I thought made the book bearable. It seems I was alone in my opinion because my book club found it gripping.

The scary thing is how many of the details of the murderer were real! There was a murderer known as the Butcher of Rostov who had a similar background to Leo’s brother. His name is Andrei Chikatilo and he killed from 1978 to 1990 before being executed. There was an HBO series about him called Citizen X. Reading about him in Wikipedia, it’s terrifying how similar the case Leo chased is to this man’s life story.

Tom Rob Smith was born in London and went to Cambridge. He’s written for British TV shows and found out about Chikatilo while researching for a show he was writing about. Child 44 is his debut novel.

We learned a lot about life in Soviet Russia, assuming what we read is all true. The biggest takeaway was the fear and status of a criminal state that these people lived in every day. One of our members read that the mentality of turning people in, the fear of persecution, is returning to Russia again under Stalin and this book comes at a good time to remind people how damaging that can be.

There were parts of the book that were really hard to believe. Surviving the escape from the train was a big one for us (and maybe why it was cut from the movie). Vasili ending up in the basement at exactly the right moment was a bit convenient as well. We didn’t understand why he was able to take on such a big role in the investigation in the first place. His status didn’t seem to deserve that.

I brought up my biggest complaint about the book, which was Leo’s motivation. He had no children so he wasn’t afraid for their safety: why did he begin the investigation? Why did he feel such a personal connection to these crimes? We decided he felt guilty, likely as far back as his war service. He also had a major shift in his worldview when Raisa was charged. He was traumatized by the idea that his family could be the target of suspicion and rough treatment. If that could happen to him, what else could happen in life? He wanted to do something to make the positive impact he thought he was making as a KGB. When he realized officials were lying about interrogations and that there was no virtue or honor in his position, he changed and started to see the world differently.

Raisa’s charge was a big change in the book. We wondered who turned her name in because we seriously doubted that the veterinarian actually gave her name. I thought it was his commander trying to see how far he would go for the state. Others wondered if it was Vasili or the doctor she refused to sleep with.

Leo and Raisa adopting the girls at the end seemed a little too ‘pretty,’ wrapping the story up with a nice bow on top. We thought about it and it’s a new beginning for Leo. He was adopted by two parents who originally meant to do him great harm. Leo didn’t have it out personally for the girls, but it’s easy to see why they might be afraid of him. He knew from experience that they could grow to have a good relationship. He was living proof of that.

Our next read is The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier which I’ve almost finished! I love her writing.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!