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Book Club Reflection: Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

22 May

My book club got together last week to discuss a fun book, Mister Monkey by Francine Prose. Many of us found the book light and fun, but that was after finishing it with hindsight. While reading it, the piece felt somewhat heavy. All the characters have some rather serious flaws and they struggle. But in the end, it ended happily for most of them. Well, mostly.

There was an interview with Prose that our group shared (link here). In it, she talked about the number of things in the book that were pulled from her experiences. The first was her granddaughter asking her during a show if she was interested in what was going on during a quiet moment in the plot. The second was observing a really bad date, though the one she witnessed involved a man calling his friend to complain about his blind date while she was in the bathroom. The final was a dinner party she went to with her granddaughter’s classmates’ parents. She felt like any question she asked about something non-school related was treated as ludicrous and that the parents talked down to her the same way they did her granddaughter. I love that all these things were brought together in one book.

The structure of this book was very unique. It allowed us to see how the characters saw each other. Rather than just Margo’s opinion of herself as a washed-up aging actress, we see Mario admiring her and Leonard’s impression that her costume is ridiculous. Sonya tries to rationalize her date and thinks that maybe Greg isn’t terrible but Ray and Mario can both clearly see that it is awful. The cast thinks Eleanor is a terribly brusque person but she’s staying in character and is very polite. The character’s stories are resolved, but not in their own plot line. Roger resolves Lakshmi and Eleanor resolves Edward and Leonard. We felt like we could reread the book and get something else out of the nuances we missed the first time. A good comparison to the structure would be Lakshmi’s play where we learn about one character through the stories of the others. Talking about this made us all a bit worried about how others see us.

The Chekhov quote that is sent to Margo at the beginning of the book sums the whole plot up. It’s on page 20 in my copy and reads, “Failures and disappointments make time go by so fast that you fail to notice your real life, and the past when I was so free seems to belong to someone else, not myself.” Many of the characters are wrapped up in their own lives so much that they don’t notice what’s going on around them.

There were two stories we talked about at length. The first was Ray. The story he wanted to write about his experience in Vietnam was so twisted that it bears no resemblance to the story in the play. His experiences are lost and he feels happy at his success but also a bit disappointed with what has become of the book. He seems to regret having been so successful.

Eleanor struck us as the only person in the book who was happy with her life. She wasn’t looking for her next unhappy love affair and she wasn’t trying to be at a different stage in her life. Everyone else wanted to be older or younger, in love or out of it, but Eleanor was happy.

There were some themes in the book we hoped would be flushed out a bit more. The monkey theme was obvious but seemed unfinished. With how much Darwinism and evolution were brought up, we thought they’d play a bigger role in the book and were a bit let down when they didn’t.

I left with a ‘lighter’ impression of this book than when I’d finished it. I love being able to flesh out the book with the other readers in my group! We have one more meeting before our summer break and I’m looking forward to it.

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!

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Book Club Reflection: X by Ilyasha Shabazz (2)

5 Apr

As promised, here’s another post about Ilyasha Shabazz’s novel X. This title was the Great Michigan Read selection and I believe I’ve missed all the author appearances so this may be my last post on the book. You can read my first book club discussion and book review as well.

I wondered if the discussions between these two groups would be different but they were surprisingly similar. In both, we admitted some ignorance about Malcolm X overall. Some had read the Biography of Malcolm X or seen the movie, but to many, this was new information.

There was agreement that the time jumps started to have more impact on the plot as the book went on. The farther he was from Lansing and his childhood, the more those memories seemed to guide his decisions and actions, especially upon his return to Boston and his time in jail. Malcolm’s criminal actions were a way of rebelling against what he’d been told when he felt pushed down.

We felt Malcolm was a lot like his father. Both were not afraid to speak up and be strong and loud. Sometimes, what they had to say upset people and unfortunately, we see the way that was punished in both cases. They recognized that they may run a risk but it was the best way to advance the cause they were fighting for.

We continually reminded ourselves how young Malcolm had been when he left home. We thought it would be hard to leave at any age, especially a young 15. It was probably easier to leave because he had been in a foster home and separated from his siblings. If he’d been with his mother or with more family, he would probably have stayed. He didn’t feel great times to his foster family or the system he was living in and it was easy to pick up and leave.

One of the hardest character changes for us to see was Laura. She had been dreaming so high and her aspirations were ripped right out from under her, the way Malcolm’s had been. She was also not able to land on her feet.

We had a lot of questions about Malcolm’s mother. Was Mrs. Little really mentally insane? There were things that pointed to yes and others that were a resounding no. We wondered if she was suffering from depression. The way she let her garden grow and seemed to buckle when she lost her job seemed like she’d lost hope and was no longer the vocal woman we get an impression of in Malcolm’s earlier years. She was a victim of circumstances during the depression so it’s easy to see why she could be in such a difficult position. Her decision to try to ‘pass’ as white when she was so proud of being black seems very planned and we felt that pointed to her not being mentally unstable. It was purposeful for her to act that way as a way of working and providing for her children. She was capable of that so she could be capable of caring for them.

Our next book is one many of you have commented about: The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah! I’m enjoying it so far.

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 Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

18 Jan

My book club met last week to discuss The Professor and the Madman. We usually read at least one nonfiction book per year and I’m glad we picked this one. The subject was one few of us knew about before reading the book so we were all amazed at what we were reading.

Our discussion leader is a library and we meet at a restaurant on the other side of the parking lot from her location. She was able to grab the compact version of the Oxford English Dictionary with her to our meeting. If that’s the compact version, I’d hate to lift the full version! This copy had the text of nine pages printed on each one. It comes with a magnifier so you can read it!

We started off discussing the author, Simon Winchester, in detail. He’s written a lot more than I realized. The title listing at the beginning didn’t cover all his titles. He picked up his pace of publication in the 1970s and this title is twenty years old. His focus seems to be accessible and readable nonfiction. I’ve heard this referred to as narrative nonfiction and these characteristics are the same things I enjoy in Erik Larson’s books. We found it interesting that Winchester dedicated the book to George Merritt. One of the complaints that several members had about the book was that Winchester’s opinions and voice came through strongly. It was clear he sympathized with Minor. He heralded all of the things he was able to accomplish despite his illness and this rubbed some people the wrong way. Minor was a murderer, even if he was ill. He continued to show signs of illusions and even harmed himself. He may have been a genius, but he needed to be in that facility. He wasn’t misunderstood or unrightfully prosecuted, he was ill.

We looked at the book as having three main characters: Minor, Murray, and the dictionary. Murray was a unique man in that he was so dedicated to a single project and didn’t waver for 58 years. He was also very accepting of Minor despite his housing. We wondered how he would be received today. If it was found out someone with schizophrenia had contributed to a project like the OED, would people react more severely now or in the 1800s?

Minor was one of the top contributors to the OED. While many came and went and some seemed in it for the free books, he kept on. A large part of that was the free time he had in his home. He’s very fortunate that he had the money to receive treatment in that facility. His life would have been very different with his condition if he’d been in a different setting. Presently, paranoid schizophrenia like we conjecture Minor suffered from is treated with ‘upper’ and ‘downer’ pills. We wondered how Minor would have lived with modern treatment. Would the pills have hampered his mind and made it impossible for him to contribute to the project like he did?

The dictionary was a truly massive feat. We were impressed that it was not abandoned during the long effort. It made us really think about life before a dictionary. It’s crazy to think that men like Shakespeare wrote without that resource that many of us take for granted. It’s relatively recently that the dictionary was completed so much of human history was lived without such a resource.

Our next selection is one I’ve already read and really didn’t like. I’m interested to see if the discussion sheds any positive light on it.

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: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

12 Dec

A few weeks ago, my book club met to discuss Our Souls at Night. I ended up liking this book a lot more when I reflected on it after finishing. It was a great little book and there was a lot more to it the more I reflected on it and talked about it.

Most of our group enjoyed the book. Many recommended his other book, Plainsong, and said it was even better than this one. Our Souls at Night was the last book Kent Haruf wrote before he died and he knew he was sick while he was writing it. All his books take place in the same fictional Colorado town, Holt.

We had some good debate over the meaning of the title. I thought it referred to them spending time together at night. The things they talked about required them to really bare their souls and be open about the topics they picked. Another reader interpreted ‘night’ to refer to them doing this at the end of their lives. I like this analogy more.

The first word in the book is ‘and.’ We could think of many reasons Haruf chose to start like this. It’s a very conversational way to start a story, which made the writing very engaging. It also implies there was something before. It’s as if he’s skipped the exposition and started right in with the interesting part. We also skip over Addie thinking about a way to be less lonely and considering the men she knows who she could ask.

We wondered why there was so much protest to Louis and Addie. They were both single, but everyone seemed to protest. Gene’s protest was the easiest to figure out. He was jealous of Louis for bonding with Jamie in a way he struggled to do. He also worried about Addie’s money. He was strapped for cash at the time and was likely thinking of borrowing from his mother. If Louis gained control of Addie’s money, he’d be in a tough situation, even worse than he already was.

We wondered what motivated Addie. She was clearly lonely, but why did she want to share her bed and talk? It was clear her marriage changed a lot when Connie died. Her relationship after that was never as strong as it had been. We suspected that on some level, she was hoping to find what she’d had before her daughter’s death.

One thing Addie mentioned didn’t make sense to us. She said she used to go to Denver by herself. How did she explain that? Did her husband even care that she was disappearing for a weekend? He might not even have cared. She needed the escape, to let her live in a fantasy world for just a bit, to keep her happy.

One of the objections to Louis was that he’d cheated on his wife. We wondered if Louis would have been attractive to Addie if he’d been divorced. She didn’t seem to care too much what people thought of the two of them, but it might have been different if Louis had a negative image around town. The two were loyal to each other after they started, shaking off their children’s disapproval. Addie only broke up with Louis because gene forced her to, threatening to take away her grandson. It was odd how Gene started acting like the parent to Addie, forbidding her to see her boyfriend. I think a lot of teenagers could relate. Addie was looking out for Jamie. We think she felt bad for how Gene’s childhood turned out and was looking for a second chance at raising a boy.

The book gave a few good insights on aging as well. As they got older, Addie and Louis stopped caring so much what everyone thought of them. They wanted to be happy in their own rights.

We won’t meet in December so it will be January before we’re ready for our next book. That will give me plenty of reading time! 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: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

7 Nov

Sometimes, I’m overly excited to talk to my book club about a book I liked and that was the case with Rules of Civility. I may or may not have skipped out on another meeting to come to this book club. (OK, I did.) I was so glad to hear that a lot of the other readers really enjoyed it as well. Sometimes I think I’m in my happy reading bubble and it will be popped at the meeting, but not this time.

We all agreed the writing was great. It was clear Towles is very well read. There were loads of literary references dropped into the book but it never seemed forced or snobbish. The one complaint a reader had about the book was that the end was not satisfying because a lot of the characters’ plotlines didn’t have sufficient closure. They seemed to wander off on their own paths but, in reality, that happens in life sometimes. Another small complaint was that it was harder to relate to the characters because of the period. That can be a struggle when writing a period-specific piece. I personally didn’t have that problem but I can see how some would.

Many of us felt Katey was far too modern to be believable in the 1930s. Her rebellious attitude and confidence are more reflective of young women today than those 80 years ago. Some of us hoped for a little more insight into her background and why she was the way she was. We wondered if her father had more to do with it than we gathered. Katey rubbed us the wrong way a few times. The first was when she was cruel to Charlotte, the other secretary on the train, and the other (which bothered me most) was when she used Dickey. She was social climbing but she was slow to admit it to herself and to the reader. It hurt that she left other people in her dust in the process.

Tinker was such a central character in the book. One scene that stuck out to us as a good reflection of Tinker is one he wasn’t even in. When Wallace and Katey are looking at the picture of the boys’ years in school, Katey sees two Tinkers. He had run so fast that he appeared in the picture twice. We thought that was a very true reflection of how two-faced he was. He was somber-faced on one side and blurry and smiling on the other. You had to wonder, which was the real Tinker. I’ll argue it was the solid and stoic one.

A lot of us were put off by the scene where Anne hit on Katey. She’s a woman who aggressively goes after what she wants, but we didn’t understand why she wanted Katey. Anne’s appetites were confusing and, if I’m going to be honest, I started getting hits of a 50 Shades of Grey relationship between the two of them. It was surprising when Anne turned her eyes to another woman.

We started to speculate on why Eve left so suddenly. We understood that she didn’t want to marry Tinker but she moved very suddenly from being happy with him to fleeing to the other side of the country and trying to forget about her life in New York. One of our readers speculated that Eve might have found out about the relationship between Tinker and Anne. I think it makes a lot of sense. We read in an interview somewhere that Towles is looking to write a book about Eve’s time in Hollywood. (He previously wrote a short piece but is looking to turn it into a longer one.) Maybe we’ll get some answers.

This was a great discussion and we used our entire allotted time to discuss it. I’m looking forward to our discussion again next month (and I’m glad it’s a short read).

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: Still Life by Louise Penny

28 Sep

My book club met earlier this week to talk about Still Life by Louise Penny. I was able to read the book and watch the movie for this title in the last few weeks so it was really fresh in my mind when we were talking about it, a refreshing feeling!

We were able to get a little background on Penny. She lives in a small town in a very similar area to Three Pines. Her background is mainly with the CBC in radio. She took a break from writing when her husband, Michael, (to whom this book is dedicated) was ill. He passed away in September of 2016 and Penny has now returned to writing.

Most of us liked the book though there were a few dissenters. We all agreed it was a bit slow to start but that it picked up nicely a few chapters in. I mentioned that the head jumping was a bit annoying and a few others mentioned that it made it confusing to know who was talking. A new member of our group likes Penny and said the head jumping gets better later in this series.

The title has an array of meanings that we could dig into. The first is obviously the art term for a painting of an inanimate object. That’s a bit at odds with the subject matter in the book, however, because Jane paints people. The title is referenced other times, first by Myrna when she talks about being frustrated with her former psychiatric patients for not wanting to change and get better. It’s referenced again toward the end of the book, talking about people, like Ben, who are never growing and evolving, ones who are standing still and waiting for life to happen around them (page 304 in our copies). It seems obvious this last reference is a better analogy for the title but it’s nice that the first ties in so well.

One thing we debated was how Clara felt about Ben. I thought she meant she loved him romantically when she said she loved him, but others hadn’t read it that way. There’s a reference to Ben having feelings for Clara when they were younger, but Clara and Peter became a couple instead. Peter and Clara seemed to have a strained relationship, too, and we’re told that’s developed more in later novels (I’ll save the secret about how!).

A question we were asked was about how a person’s decisions affect them every day of their lives (it was a quote from the book but I didn’t write down the page number). Of course, Ben and Nichol are good examples of this. Another is Matthew Croft. He chose to admit to things he never did and live with the stigma that comes with them. I wonder how many people will really think he hit his son.

I expressed my frustration in my review that Agent Nichol didn’t resolve. A lot of others shared my frustration! She felt unresolved and dangling at the end of the book. We wanted to see if she would grow, if not in this book, then in the series. Someone in the group had read the fourth in the series and didn’t remember her being in it. I checked Goodreads and it lists Nichol as a character in the 2nd and 3rd books of the series so maybe there’s hope for her yet! Can anyone confirm she’s in the other books?

The reader guide we used identified three main couples in the book: Clara and Peter, Gabri and Olivier, and Gamache and his wife. We frankly disagreed. Clara and Peter are both a bit flat in this book, they have no arc. Gabri and Olivier are there for pure comic relief. Gamache’s wife has a very small role, though we’re told she’s a bigger character in later books. We also pointed out Yolande and Andre, whose relationship I’d like to hear more about! It sounds like they’re very different people raising a very rotten child! Jane and Andreas had more of a role in the plot than the Gamaches. Sometimes we’re smarter than the reader guide.

Thanks for reading along. I’m excited about our next book, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

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: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

7 Sep

My book club’s latest pick was one I read about a year ago, so I didn’t reread it. I did, however, attend the discussion of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee to see what other people thought.

I listened to the audiobook so I was not aware that there were points in the manuscript where there were ellipses. Some in my book club thought it indicated a place Lee intended to add later but never got around to adding. I think this would have detracted from how I felt about the book even more. I’ll get to that later. We all seemed to agree this was nothing like TKAM but some people said it grew on them, especially the ending where they liked Uncle Jack a lot more.

The title is a Biblical quote from Isiah. The Watchman mentioned is a man’s conscious so it’s telling us to make sure our conscious is vigilant and evaluating what’s going on around us.

As Northerners, we have a very different view of race relations than those in the South would. The Civil Rights movement created tensions that were not there before. During segregation, there was a balance even though it was unfair and unequal. There was a status quo. When previously withheld rights started being granted to blacks, whites didn’t know how to react. What Scout and the reader see as racism probably seems like a poor adjustment to the Southerners who are having to re-evaluate their situation in life.

All of this makes Scout think negatively of Maycomb and where she grew up. Her ‘people,’ the ones that raised her, aren’t what she remembers. Many of them want her to come home, to meld back into the family and friendships she left, but she views things so differently that she can’t do it anymore.

The biggest problem Scout has is with her father. She had a child’s hero worship of her father and how he acts changes that. She thought he wanted her to move away but now she feels like he wants her back and Scout has trouble reconciling that. She doesn’t think having her back in town would give the town a new opinion like he seems to. She feels too removed from everyone and unable to connect with those she grew up with.

The big question of this book seems to be if Atticus is a racist. It seemed clear to us that he was. He stated that every black man was incapable of acting in a government job and that criminal politicians would be better than a newly elected black man. It’s hard to see that as any other way than racist.

The Finch family has an elevated place in Maycomb that allowed Scout to speak out. Her family was the spunky, gutsy ones in town. Scout could walk around in shorts and it was OK for her. Even so, she didn’t feel her opinions would let her remain uncontested.

A lot of us liked Henry Clinton and almost wished Scout could stay in Maycomb for him. Even though their backgrounds didn’t match, even Atticus could see they would be good together. Henry had a chip on his shoulder because he came from ‘trash,’ but he could have been good for Scout.

The scene where Scout visits Calpurnia was heartbreaking. Cal was under a lot of emotional stress from the arrest of her grandson. Her family was demeaned by being connected to an accused murderer and Cal was embarrassed. She also didn’t feel the need to act the same way she would have at the Finch house. Cal was with her family in her neighborhood. Scout was an uninvited guest and Cal didn’t want to even have the appearance of being spoken down to in her home.

To me, the biggest question about this book is if Lee ever wanted it published. The more I read the story around its publication, the more I think she was taken advantage of. This book is not how I think Lee would want herself remembered so I try to forget about it and remember TKAM.

We’ve got ourselves a mystery to read next, about as far from this as possible. 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: 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.

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