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Book Club Reflection: What the Eyes Don’t See (Round 2)

16 Mar

I had my second book club meeting about Mona Hanna Attisha’s book What the Eyes Don’t see. It was great to talk about this with a different group of people and see that we all hold similar opinions about how terrible the crisis is and how it’s shown us there is a lot of injustice built into our political system.

Our leader mentioned Dr. Mona’s TedMed talk which I’ll include here. She said it’s a good summary of the book. I have it playing in the background as I write this and so far I’d have to agree. This title was selected as the Great Michigan Read for 2019-2020. However, her events in Southeast Michigan were last year and I missed them all. There are a few more events outside my area if there’s anyone else in the state who wants to hear her speak. Another reader shared my surprise that there wasn’t a ghostwriter listed on Hanna’s byline. We wonder if maybe an amazing editor is responsible for this comprehensive book.

Hanna shared how many people knew about the crisis before she spoke out and how many people tried to discredit her when she did speak out. We had a debate about if these people were indifferent to Flint residents and just didn’t care or if they were coving their own butts. We’d like to think that they did care about people but were worried about themselves first. It’s not a great situation, but it seems more humane. We liked that Hanna pointed out that the people of Flint did notice there was something wrong and that they spoke out. They were ignored. They have pushed away because they were poor and minority. But they did speak out. They did care and they wanted something to change. They just needed another voice to speak along with them.

Again, none of us had heard about the DC Water Crisis. We’re all shocked that something of this magnitude is so unheard of. As a result of the Flint crisis, water testing in Michigan has changed and as of this past summer, five cities in my county (not my city thankfully) have found high lead levels. One of these, Birmingham, is a very wealthy community. So it seems the problem isn’t a wealth-based issue, but the solutions will be.

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: What The Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha

9 Mar

I’m glad to say we had a better discussion in our book club this month than we did last time. I think we all felt a lot more vested in this book than we have in some of our fiction books. With Flint being so close to home, most of us related to something in the book as a personal experience we’d shared or known someone who’d shared it.

Hanna picked a great title for her book. She’s talking about a lack of knowledge, not being able to ‘see’ something because you don’t know to look for it. But lead is also colorless, tasteless, and odorless, so it was something the eye couldn’t see. I wondered how much of the writing (and title) were her doing and how much assistance she might have gotten from a ghostwriter.

Hanna had to be very brave to do what she did. I think she was very lucky to have her brother prepare her for the personal attacks she received. We agreed she had a good network to support her when she spoke out. We had a member describe her as ‘hyper’ because she was doing so many things at the same time. One member spent time in medical school and felt that she was typical of many doctors. To get through school, they have to balance a lot of things in their lives and learn to function at a level like Hanna. She also felt that many doctors tend to lose their empathy because they’re dealing with illness and death so often. Hanna didn’t give that impression. She also came off as rather humble. We noticed she didn’t have Dr. or MD in her author byline.

None of us were aware that DC had a similar lead crisis. We were shocked, especially that more people didn’t suffer legal consequences. It seemed appropriate that some of the players in the Flint crisis faced criminal charges. Though we were surprised the governor didn’t. Snyder was so well-liked before this crisis and took a huge fall from grace. Many of us had the impression that he was more culpable than those who were charged. Many of them were likely following orders from higher up the food chain.

Some of the facts that hit us the hardest were about the developmental future of these children. Hanna talked about the PTSD that children can have from their environment and the toxic stress that their environment can create. It was devastating to hear about the home for neglected children with 5,000 ppb levels. With all the stressors in those children’s lives, they don’t have much of a chance.

I look forward to talking about this book with my other club in a few weeks. It will be interesting to see what a different group has to say about the same text.

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 Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison

17 Feb

It’s always interesting how much a book club discussion can change your perspective of a book. I’m almost always glad I went to a meeting, especially when I didn’t like a book.

There is a sequel to Frank’s story, Frank Derrick’s Holiday of a Lifetime. From the cover, it seems he makes it the US to visit his daughter. I read this book, but another member listened to the audio and said it was well done. This wasn’t the kind of book we normally read and I wasn’t surprised to hear that our organizer was a fan of the author’s music. If you knew us, you wouldn’t be surprised either.

The book spoke a lot about getting old and the loneliness that it can entail. The older members of our group identified more with frank. When his wife died, he was very lonely. One member has a British husband and she described for us that the attitude toward retirement is very different in the UK. In the US, retirement is a time to travel, indulge your hobbies, and volunteer. Her husband grew up feeling that retirement was when you sat down and waited to die. Thankfully, he’s changed his tune about retiring with an American bend to it.

One reader felt that Frank was a crotchety old man. If he’d been younger, we might not have described his pessimism and sarcasm this way, but because he’s older, the word seems to fit. Many suspected that he was in the early stages of dementia and wondered how that might have accounted for some of his behavior.

The structure of the book gives us only Frank’s perspective. We don’t get anything about how Kelly feels about him or how his daughter is dealing with being so far away. The daughter is a real mystery because we don’t know what’s going on in her house or in her head. She might well suspect that her father is perfectly fine after his accident and that’s why she didn’t come. Or she may really have a financial burden that makes her unable to come to visit. Some felt she was a neglectful daughter and others wondered if she knew her father all too well.

A lot of us wanted to talk about the scene where Frank went swimming. A few thought it was a suicide attempt. Others saw it as a baptismal scene where he was able to wash himself of the loneliness that had surrounded him since Sheila’s death and find a way to move forward. I’d never considered that it could be a suicide, I saw it as more of the latter.

One of our members works with the public in a similar fashion to Kelly. She’s run into situations where the patients didn’t want her to leave and were a lot like Frank in how much they clung to her. I was surprised to find out I was in a vast minority who thought Frank and Kelly’s beach trip was a bit too much. Others said Kelly was kind, and to think of it like a teacher who buys school supplies or clothes for kids who don’t have them. When she became more professional and formal with Frank at the end, it was because she realized they’d gotten too close and that she needed to put up a boundary. I’m still on the fence about this one.

We contemplated if Frank really thought he had a chance with Kelly. He did think she was going to kiss him at one point and he seemed nervous about being bathed by her but he doesn’t explicitly say much else about her. It seemed more like a schoolgirl crush than anything serious to me.

We meet again right after my Greece trip so everyone wished me happy travels. I’ll look forward to sharing my travels with this group.

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: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

6 Feb

My book club met recently to talk about a book I loved, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Unfortunately, we had some members who seemed more interested in talking to each other than they were in talking about the book. Those of us who pushed on were able to have some semblance of a discussion, but it was much shorter so this will be a smaller post.

One member brought some Korean wedding ducks a friend of hers had given as a gift. The friend was living in Korea and sent these wooden ducks to our member. Ducks mate for life so the wish was for our member’s marriage to be the same. It was fun to see a bit of the book’s culture join us for the meeting.

A few members commented on the speech in the back of our books that Caroline Kennedy gave. She calls the book a ‘fun summer read’ and many felt that was off base. We think of summer reads as light and short novels without much depth. This book was the complete opposite, so we wondered if the remark was supposed to be read sarcastically.

Many of us didn’t realize it was so hard to be Korean in Japan. Because it’s an island, Japan has historically had a very closed culture and it was not very welcoming to foreigners who came for any reason.

I was surprised how many people showed up to the meeting with a hand-written family tree! It was an easy way to keep track of the names. (I was one of two without one.) Some people felt this was a flaw in the book and that there were some characters who were unnecessary and that the book could have been shortened a bit by removing them.

Many were shocked at the prevalence of sex in the book. Hana was a clear example of this, but Noa’s Japanese girlfriend was highly sexualized as well. We were most surprised by the quick scene in the park when Goro’s wife (I may have this wrong) ran into a prostitute. We weren’t expecting the prevalence of sex, though we agreed nothing was graphic. It was very noticeable in a culture that was otherwise so formal.

This book tells us over and over that a woman’s lot is to suffer. Honestly, we didn’t feel that things had changed too much from the time this book was set until now. Two or three generations ago in the US, women had the same expectations out of life as Sunja did on a small island in Korea. The suffering of a woman seems to be almost universal.

None of us had heard of Pachinko before and we imagined it like upside-down Plinko. In the end, every man’s job revolved around it and it was very central to their stories. It is a game of chance and it’s always rigged just a bit. But the player remains hopeful that they can win, even knowing that they probably won’t. We believed it was a good metaphor for life.

Noa was a great character and very dynamic throughout the book. One thing that seemed inconsistent with him was that he was so smart, but he couldn’t figure out that Hansu was his father. It seems if someone’s paying for your school and living expenses, you might expect they’re more than a friend of your mother. It was understandably hard for him when he did figure this out and his subsequent death was tragic. We were bothered by how little attention seemed to be paid to Noa’s death. It was so sudden and tragic but we’re spared the suffering it caused and the book moves on.

Hansu makes many appearances in the book to come to Sunja’s rescue. We never get a solid answer on how he came to be married to a rich Japanese woman besides his good looks. We felt there might have been something more buried there. We did see that he had a bad side. Even though he risked a lot to help Sunja, we still see him hitting a prostitute and being controlling at other times. He’s a very unpredictable character and was someone we enjoyed seeing come up periodically.

Most of us adored this book and I’m so glad I was able to hear Lee speak about it. I hope our next book is as engaging! 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: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

10 Dec

My book club met to discuss Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter pretty soon after I finished reading it. It feels like ages since this happened because of my NaNoWriMo slow down so I’m glad I can finally tell you about it.

I was the only person in the group who hadn’t seen Cleopatra. I’m not sure I want to see it now that I know more about it and understand that its popularity was due to the romance between the leads. It sounds like the movie itself wasn’t that great.

Many felt Walter’s description of Italy brought the place to life. I loved the descriptions of Pasquale’s home and family. It was very vivid and easy to envision.

Most of us didn’t like Pat and we felt that his section was a bit ‘too much’ and hard to believe. He was an addict like his father. He was also dramatic and a good actor like his father. He wasn’t much like Alvis, his adopted father, except toward the end when he became very domesticated. We thought this might be a way of dealing with his addictions. It was hard reading about Dee and how she didn’t tell him for so long. She never resolved how she felt about Dick and we think she was avoiding him coming back into her life. She was trying to escape from Dick. And it got harder and harder to tell Pat after time went by until it was forced on her.

We all felt Pasquale was the most likable male character in the story. He was also the only one who didn’t want to be an artist, but he was still a dreamer, trying to make a wonderful hotel. He never seemed young to us, likely a case of an ‘old soul.’ He also wasn’t described much physically except for his eyes.

Within the book, Walter has a lot of different stories, like Alvis Bender’s first chapter and Shane’s pitch. When each plotline started, it was like getting pitched a new script because they seemed so separate at first. It took Walter 15 years to finish this book and we could see why.

One of the memorable lines from the book was, “People want what they want.” We felt that the motivator was present throughout most of the book. These characters hurt others in pursuit of getting whatever it was that they wanted. The town Pasquale lives in translates to ‘Port of Shame’ and each character seems to air their shame during the story. Michael Dean went even further than that and took someone else’s shame (Dick and Liz) and turned it into a spectacle for everyone to ogle.

We felt that almost every character could be described as their own Beautiful Ruin. Most of them are striving for beauty and art in their lives. A ruin survives time, but it’s not intact and most of these characters have to go through trouble to get through their struggles. The gun bunker and the port town were physical examples of beautiful ruins. We thought the moment with Dee and Pasquale in the bunker was one of the sweetest moments in the book.

Most of us were not fans of the ending. The story wrapped up too quickly and it felt like everything worked out too well, almost like a fairy tale. We were also left a bit confused about what happened between Pasquale and Dee. It felt like a romance, but not much romantic happened. And we were confused about how she managed to travel the way she did if she was so weak. It felt a little magical.

I missed the November meeting because I was out of town and we’ll skip December because of the holidays so I’ll be back with this group in January to discuss Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m already loving the 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: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

10 Oct

I was beyond excited to talk to my book club about Hillbilly Elegy. I enjoyed the book a lot and I thought that living in the Midwest, a lot of people would have some personal connections with the story and Hillbilly culture. There were some, but not as many as I’d hoped. It was still a good discussion.

This book was released in 2016 and many early reviews said it would help explain the phenomenon of Trump winning the election. A lot of us weren’t sure that it helped us understand that at all. It was a mix of a memoir and a policy book. He didn’t have specific recommendations for policy and how to fix the problems he pointed out many times. Vance had a lot of description and didn’t let the reader’s mind picture something the way a fiction writer would. He told his story and some of our readers felt his story was very specific to him while others felt the story could be generalized for the region and people.

The Hillbilly culture Vance describes goes back to the Scotch/Irish immigrants. Those groups left their homeland to escape poverty, the same reason that Vance points out they’re now leaving Kentucky and the hills. One of our members felt that the break-up of the Hillbilly people wasn’t the only small ethnic group being broken up. She saw parallels with the Jewish communities she grew up with and how they had begun to fracture with the next generation.

Vance points out a lot of positive values in the Hillbilly culture that we felt were a little double-sided. Loyalty was stressed a lot and family was very important. Mamaw was a strong character and applauded for pouring gasoline on her husband and lighting him on fire though she could easily have been a murderer for that. We wondered if her strong character made it hard for Vance’s mother to form an identity and become her own person.

Many of us admitted that we have a very one-sided view of poverty and people on welfare. Vance provided us another side to the story and reasons why people end up taking the payments. He could have so easily ended up on welfare we well. He was lucky and admits that if any one element of his upbringing had been different, he would have ended up somewhere completely different and not have had the success he does.

J.D.’s mother’s addiction was a big part of his childhood. We talked a lot about the biological reasons she could be addicted, but also about the social and cultural reasons that could have led her to addiction. We speculated, but there wasn’t a ton of background that explained her addiction well.

Vance was very aware of his culture and the poverty associated with it from a young age. He started reading about it in high school. He seemed very critical of those taking food stamps but when the government was offering him something for free (college) or his grandmother (social security), he wasn’t critical at all. For his GI Bill, he seemed to feel that it was OK to get government assistance when he’d earned it with his service. What the difference was between those on food stamps and his grandmother’s Social Security checks, we didn’t really understand.

There were a few key elements to J.D.’s life that made him successful. He always knew he had someone who would be there for him. His grandmother and later his wife were huge supporters for him and gave him something to fall back on. His aunt was another constant in his life that he relied on. He was also able to figure out what he didn’t know and was open to asking for help when he needed it. Not everyone can do that and not everyone has someone to ask so Vance was very fortunate. He was told about the Marines and that seemed to force him to grow up a lot and he has his cousin to thank for telling him about that. He was also very intelligent and got to where he is because of that intelligence. But without one of the other elements, it might not have been enough.

This book was great for discussion and I’m really glad we finally read it. I wonder if book clubs in other parts of the country would have connected with it so well.

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: Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian

30 Sep

I don’t like to do it this way, but I went to my book club before I had the chance to write my review for Michael Zadoorian’s Beautiful Music. I hope these notes and opinions didn’t influence my opinions too much in my personal review. For the most part, the group liked the book even though it fell short to me.

Zadoorian is local to Detroit and grew up in the city. He now lives in Ferndale, a suburb north of the city. A few people in our group had heard him speak live and wish he had read the audiobook because the readings he did at his event were great. We liked all of the local references and his love for the city felt very authentic. The book is slightly autobiographical, including Zadoorian’s love for music and a character who is the same age he would have been at the time.

The book was listed as one of Oprah’s Summer Reads for 2018. Zadoorian’s first book, The Leisure Seeker, was turned into a movie starring Donald Sutherland. Zadoorian has another book coming out next year,

The radio station became a big part of Danny’s life quickly. Despite him being dismissed from reading the announcements, we hoped it would continue to be a big part of his life going forward. He realized it was immature of him not to take the opportunity to be a part of the station in another way. The realization started him down the path of exploring other music and growing his interests. We thought it would be easy for him to go back to it and become involved again, the teachers seemed like they’d still welcome him.

Race relations rightfully played a big part in Danny’s story. One of our members was about Danny’s age and lived in Indianapolis and remembered suburbs that were much more integrated than the one described by Danny. Members who lived in Detroit at the time say the description was pretty accurate. We’ve heard that Detroit was one of the most segregated cities at the time.

It was very clear to us that Danny suffered from some degree of anxiety. It was harder to detect at first when he was bothered by anxieties of starting high school, something that makes a lot of students nervous. When his father passed away, it was kicked into a higher level. The ‘fade’ that he talks about happens when his anxiety is creeping up. He doesn’t like quiet and needs the sound of music or the radio to keep him calmer. His mom has the same coping mechanism, though hers is TV.

The struggles Danny’s mother has with mental illness wouldn’t have been recognized at the time she was suffering from them. We liked how Zadoorian did the same thing with her, making her problems more obvious over time but more conspicuous at the beginning. When she told Danny she didn’t want children, we all felt this was incredibly narcissistic and probably a result of her mental illness. Danny’s mother as a stark contrast to Mrs. Tedesco, a much more stereotypical woman of the time. It was good to see another mother figure in this story.

The emotional attachment Danny had to the living room and its furniture we contributed to it being part of his ‘dad’s stuff’ and also leaving the room as it was when his family was together. Cleaning up the dining room would recognize that something had changed and was permanently altered, something Danny wasn’t ready for.

I didn’t have time to bring up my issues with the end so I’m not sure if I’m alone in my feelings or not. Oh well. It was good to talk about this book with some people who connected with it differently than I did. I always appreciate my book club’s perspective.

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: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

12 Sep

I don’t normally cut it close between finishing a book and the book club meeting, but I was really close on this one, finishing the book the morning of the meeting! It was great because the story was fresh in my head. Not sure if I’d do it again, though.

Many of our readers hadn’t read Jones before though I think some will go back to her backlist now. Jones holds a degree from Spellman, which was featured prominently in the book. She’s won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with An American Marriage. This book was also picked for Oprah’s Book Club and President Obama shared it on Facebook as one of his favorite summer reads in 2018. The book is currently being adapted to film but no word yet on the casting.

There was a lot to talk about with this book, a lot of ‘what ifs.’ We did find it strange that Celestial and Andre seemed to think Roy was never going to get out even though Uncle Banks was working on a defense. Did they have no confidence in him? We wondered if the story would have been significantly different had Celestial been the one in jail. Would Roy have been faithful to her? We suspect he may have been emotionally faithful, but he didn’t seem to put much stock in physical faithfulness. He’s mentioned buying lingerie for other women and is very quick to jump to Divina.

We wondered about the woman who accused him of rape. She’s not well described except that she reminds Roy of his mother. Many of us initially thought she was white but looking back at it wondered if she was black. I read that Jones deliberately kept this vague because it shouldn’t matter, but it does make you wonder. Would Roy have opened up as much to a white woman? Would she have reminded him of his mother?

Andre made a point of not apologizing to Roy at the end. We felt that he should have. A lot of other characters called him out for what he was doing to a man who he had at one time considered his best friend. Mr. Davenport and Big Roy were two that come to mind. He was being a bad friend and Big Roy told him he was going to get beaten up and to just take it. I felt he should have said he was sorry.

Celestial is not blameless in the story. She wasn’t a very strong character, often seeming to go with the path of least resistance. She’s talked about as being a strong woman and having learned to be independent at Spellman, but we disagreed. Maybe Andre took advantage of her emotional state at Olive’s funeral, but she wasn’t easily played.

The big question in the novel is if Roy and Celestial could have made it work. We don’t think so. They might have peacefully co-existed, but their relationship was too damaged to have recovered to what it had once been.

We wondered about Celestial and abortion. Did she want to have the abortion, or did she want the baby? We wondered how much she did it because she wanted to or because Roy wanted her to. And if she didn’t want to have it how much did that increase her anger at Roy? It seemed she didn’t want to have the abortion at first, but she also seemed relieved not to have a child with a father in jail.

Another reader pointed out something I missed. Ol’ Hickory was a great representation of a promise. Marital promises break down in the book and Ol’ Hickory is damaged, but both pull through, though not in the way you think they will. I bet that’s why the tree is featured on the paperback cover image.

We talked a lot about the title and what it could mean. One reader thought it referred to the state of marriage in American and how marriages are short and entered into under questionable circumstances. There are a few examples of infidelity as well (Roy, the Davenports). But there were also examples of a long-term marriage in the book, most notably Big Roy and Olive. I felt that it referred to the black experience in America and how mass incarceration of black men makes this story a uniquely American experience. Our group leader pointed out how there are a lot of examples of justice in the book and the ways that people experience social, racial, and personal justice. Many things seem unfair to Andre, Celestial, and Roy and they must find a way to seek their own justice within the American system.

This was a great book for discussion and I’m glad we read it. My mom’s book club is reading it soon, so I’ll have another discussion with her about it shortly.

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: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

5 Aug

My book group met to discuss Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal last week. We got off the topic of the book a bit because a lot of us wanted to discuss the same topic more than what Gawande had to say about it. Many of us have had loved ones go through end-of-life care so we all had a lot to share.

We did talk a bit about Gawande before we began. He’s a very impressive person. He was born in Brooklyn and earned his MA from Oxford and his MD from Harvard. He served as a health care advisor under Clinton during his campaign. He’s currently working on developing a new kind of health care company with major players in the business world called Haven. I’d love to get coffee with this guy, but I doubt he has the time.

We had a new member join us this month who works as a social worker with older adults and she had a lot of personal insight to share. She revealed to us that many older adults are afraid of death and how they will die. Some members of our group were surprised. They talk about death and dying with their families and friends openly. Of course, these are trusted loved ones, but the topic still comes up.

The social worker mentioned that she met Bill Thomas, the man who brought birds and plants into his retirement community to bring life back to it. She said he’s a little crazy, but most people with radical ideas are a bit out there. The idea of it is to make people feel useful. Sometimes, this is accomplished by having residents wash a dish or peel carrots for dinner. Thomas’s way was to have them take care of animals. Often, you see these ideas implemented incorrectly. A birdcage in the lobby where the staff care for the animals is in the right vein but doesn’t put the responsibility on the residents and defeats the purpose.

Suicide among the Baby Boomer generation is increasing (see this article). One of the reasons cited is the loss of power. We read a lot in Gawande’s book about how you lose your individualism as you grow older and the power to control what you do. This loss of power can fuel depression and it seems to be growing as the Baby Boomers age.

We talked at length about the difference between hospice and palliative care. I was still a bit unsure of the difference after reading the book. Palliative care is meant to keep someone who is ill out of the hospital and anticipate problems before they occur. It’s a bit of ‘comfort care,’ but it’s also on the preventative side as it mitigates side effects. Hospice means you are no longer being treated for the disease you are dying of. You won’t be rushed to the hospital for a symptom of your disease. This is the idea of ‘making every day as good as possible.’

These are hard topics for some people to talk about because they’re very personal. Our conversation got emotional but I’m proud of us and how much we trust each other to talk about these difficult issues. It was interesting how this book focused on keeping the elderly or sick person in control of their situation while the book we read about cadavers, Stiff by Mary Roach, focused on how what happens to our bodies after we die is completely out of our control. We can’t forget that the change should happen only at death and not before.

I can’t believe summer’s almost over but we’ll meet one more time in August before the fall picks up. 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: Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens

9 Jul

My book club met to discuss Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens a few weeks ago. I’m behind on getting this up and I apologize but it works out nicely that this is going up the day after I posted my review, right? I totally planned that.

Smolens is based in Marquette, one of the largest cities in Northern Michigan and the location of Northern Michigan University, which I believe is the largest school in the Upper Peninsula. Smolens teaches English at NMU.

We were all interested to hear that there were really five POW camps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). Au Train was the largest and considered the least violent and had the least security. It’s a remote location! There were a total of 400,000 POWs located throughout the US. We appreciated the perspective of this book, how it was about an Italian soldier in an US-based POW camp. I’d never read a book about this before. It was also fun hearing the misinformation that the Axis powers had spread about the US.

The phrase in the opening pages that led to the title, Wolf’s Mouth, is from an Italian phrase whose equivalent is ‘Break a Leg.’ It was wishing luck to Frank when he had to be brave and face something intimidating, whether that be the woods of Northern Michigan or Vogel. There was a lot of humor in the book about misunderstood colloquialisms. I liked that this was one I misunderstood as an English speaker.

We spoke a lot about Vogel in our discussion. We wondered if he was protecting himself and what he’d done in the camp, or if he really felt he was protecting the Reich. Having his son working for him was an odd situation as well. We wondered how much of his father’s story Anton believed. And we wondered if his beliefs changed when he went through the trial or visited Munising. It was hard for everyone in our group to believe that there would be groups in the US carrying out the Nazi’s war. Especially with the war over for so many years.

We were asked to describe the book in one word. Troubling came up, as readers were troubled by the Nazi’s running the training camps and how the Axis powers mistreated each other. Forgiving came up since Frank was asked to forgive so much through the course of the book. And nostalgia as many of our members have fond memories of Detroit in the 50s when Frank was living there.

We had very few complaints about the book. One was that there were too many characters introduced during the Detroit section. We lost track of them and they didn’t come into play in the book again. There was one specific complaint where it was mentioned that in 1956, buses in Detroit were segregated. Our members didn’t remember that at all. There was no true segregation on the buses, though there were buses that stayed north of 8 Mile Road, the border road between the city and the suburbs (is anyone else singing Eminem now? Just me?). This was brought up again when Leon got on the Greyhound and seemed to sit at the front.

Overall, we enjoyed the book and the memories of Michigan that it brought up. It was fun to read a book in our home state. Maybe we’ll be able to again soon.

Until next time, write on.

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