Tag Archives: Book Club Discussion

Book Club Reflection: X by Ilyasha Shabazz

20 Mar

Here is the first of my two book club discussions that focused on Ilyasah Shabazz’s novel X about her father, Malcolm X. I think it’s worth noting that my two book clubs are a bit different in focus. This club tends to focus a bit more on ‘strange’ books, ones that make you think and take a very different point of view. The other is a much more traditional book club. I think it will be interesting to see how the two different groups perceive the book.

Our leader told us that people in other discussion groups had a hard time with reading a fictionalized account of an actual person. Like the last book our group read, The Paris Wife, this book had to take great liberties as to exact dialogue and fill-in action to account for what’s not known. No one in our group had specific complaints about this, but some in different discussion groups believed that without accurate details, the whole thing was too fictionalized to be taken as fact. I can see that, but I feel that it’s the overall truth, where and who and when, that tells the story, not the specific words that tell the story. The book is aimed at a YA audience and children of this age may be slightly more inclined to believe that every word was true. We thought to call out that the book is a novel on the cover may have been aimed at that age cohort.

I mentioned my opinion that the end of the book seemed rushed and another reader felt that it was more like a teaser for learning about the rest of Malcolm’s life. A few recommended his biography to continue learning about him. The conversion he experienced in prison is true, but we felt the men who pushed him on that path were a bit too convenient, saying things exactly when he was ready to hear them. It was a return to his roots and probably a more gradual process than the book had time for.

Louise Little’s institutionalization was a catalyst in Malcolm’s life. We questioned if she really should have been institutionalized but it’s hard to tell from this novel. She could have been an activist who was deemed a threat to public stability. Or, if she really did need to be institutionalized, she could have suffered from post-partem depression or even PTSD. Given the time period of the depression, it’s easy to see how taking care of eight children would be hard. We questioned the fine line between being too proud to accept public handouts and having hungry children at home. We did notice the comments about the vegetable garden and chicken coop having fallen apart since their father died so maybe she really was neglectful.

There were so many times that Malcolm made the wrong decision when you felt things were finally going to turn around for him. Like many young people, he thought he was invincible. He would never be the one to be lynched or go to jail. That happened to other people, but not him.

The comment Malcolm’s teacher made to him destroyed him and set him on a poor path into the future. He had a very high opinion of that teacher and until that moment he hadn’t experienced much racism in the classroom. He felt like what his father and mother had preached was true, that he could raise himself up on merit. When his teacher said that to him, he internalized it as his father lying to him, not as the teacher pushing him down. When he saw the pride Ella had, he felt like she wasn’t being truthful either and that being pushed down in the dirt was where he was going to end up. It’s so disheartening to see how the comments of one man could steer a boy’s life onto such a destructive path. It really makes you think about what you say and how you can hurt another person.

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: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

19 Jun

I finished reading Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman right before the book club meeting, something I normally don’t do! I’m usually really good about having a book read well in advance, but I pushed it this time. I’m not sure if I think it helped me be more prepared for the meeting or if it didn’t give me time to reflect on the book properly. We’ll see how I feel about doing it at the end of the month, too!

Harkaway’s father is John le Carré, an author I didn’t recognize by name but whose titles include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. Le Carré worked for MI6 before becoming a writer and it’s hard to imagine this didn’t influence Harkaway’s writing.

Thought I was one of few who disliked the book outright, many agreed that the first half dragged quite a bit. I’m glad other noticed this, too! There was a lot of setup for the book and some action earlier on would have been appreciated.

Those who did like the book liked that it was unpredictable. The next step in the plot wasn’t usually easy to find and a few things made for quick changes in direction. Shola, Jack, and the Fleet come to mind. There was also a lot of layers of meaning and commentary in the book. The environment was one that stuck out most to me and others point out war, father-son relationships, and a sense of duty. Many also liked the understated humor of the book. I guess I didn’t find this enough to make up for what I felt was an overwhelming amount of detail.

Of the major characters in the book, most were foreigners on the island. The Wwitch, Lester, NatProMan, the Fleet, and most others were visiting the island, getting something from their time there. Shola, the Boy, and White Raoul are the biggest exceptions. There was a lot of outside influence on Mancreau.

The rest of this will discuss some spoilers so end here if you want to skip them! We wondered by White Raoul didn’t act like more of a parent to the Boy. He seemed to know he was not being cared for at home. We wondered if his physical deformity kept him from being a caretaker. White Raoul seemed to know the Boy was Jack and was likely Jack himself before, maybe passing it on. Maybe the Boy’s mother was Jack before her accident?

The Boy was very smart. He manipulated Lester into becoming the Tigerman. The Boy was influenced by comic books and in the end, he influenced Lester to become a character in one. Lester often reflected on all the bad things he’d seen while serving in Afghanistan and how powerless he had been to stop those things. Becoming Tigerman gave him a way to influence the bad things around him and finally help create a better world.

The Boy’s mother was an odd twist. We saw her accident and subsequent mental illness somewhat like Uncle Ben in Spiderman. Losing his mother made the Boy become Jack the same way Uncle Ben’s death helps Peter Parker become Spiderman. It was just another tie-in to the comic book world. This book had a few of these we felt were well placed and gave it a comic book feel.

We’re taking a month off before this group meets again in August. Maybe I’ll have time to finish some other reads?! We’ll see.

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: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

28 Jul

It’s been a long time since my book club almost universally agreed on a book. We don’t often all like one and we’re usually an even split. I’ll have to remember this book as the one that we all agreed on. We all loved Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings.

We heard they’re making this into a movie (this is listed as ‘In Development’ on IMdB). One of our members was in Charleston a few weeks ago and said they’re going to film it at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston. She said another interesting thing she saw in Charleston was The Citadel, a public military college. She said the Citadel was established to hush the slave rebellion, a fact I could not find on the academy’s website.

The title had a few different meanings to our group. Sarah and Nina are described as the wings at one point but to us, there was a lot more reference to flying on Handful’s side. Her mother talked about the slaves flying away to their freedom which made it to the story quilt. Handful and Charlotte’s favorite pattern was supposed to resemble blackbirds and they would put bird’s feathers inside of the quilts. Wings let someone fly away to freedom

Many liked Handful more than the Grimke sisters. Kidd made up her character and was able to do a lot more with her outside the restrictions of historical accuracy. She was admirable and we liked her direct voice. Kidd used different styles for her characters well. Handful was also very brave. If we’d been stuck in her situation, it was hard for many of us to say we’d do the same thing and rebel the way Handful did.

It seems I was one of few who was surprised Charlotte would return to the Grimke’s. She escaped slavery only to return to it and that shocked me. Others pointed out that she wanted to be back with her daughter and she wanted Handful and Sky to have each other so they could escape. We figured they escaped about 90 miles from the plantation they’d been on to reach Charleston which is incredible with no food or directions.

Someone in our group asked if the church Vesey founded and where Handful was arrested was the same one that was the site of a deadly hate crime last summer. Unfortunately, it was: Emanuel A.M.E. Church.

Sarah remarks that the Graveyard of Failed Hope is an all-female establishment. It’s easy to point out times when the things she wanted were denied to her because of her sex. It must have been hard to want to be a lawyer and see her brother become a lawyer when he didn’t want it. Ironically, he wanted to be a minister and she studied for years to be one. That was not lost on us!

Sarah had her own rebellion, starting with her multiple religious conversions. We found it interesting that one of the most attractive things about Quakerism for her was their anti-slavery beliefs but that they still had a separate bench for blacks. Before Sarah was a Quaker, when she was still Anglican, we loved that she taught Handful and the slave children to read. Kidd explains in her author’s note that this really happened which makes it all the better.

Many of us were surprised with how close abolition and women’s suffrage were tied together. Maybe it did split the issue, but it also seems very necessary when explained through the Grimke’s story. Lucretia Mott is better known as a suffragette than an abolitionist so it was interesting to see her in this first role.

Sarah and Nina had a great relationship. It was very motherly since Sarah took a large part in Nina’s upbringing. Mrs. Grimke was very cruel and Mary took after her mother. We’re glad Sarah taught Nina to be kind. Mary was uneducated and didn’t read and question things so it seems she learned from her mother and all she learned was cruelty.

I picked the book for next month and I have a bad history of picking books everyone likes. Maybe I’ll hit a home run with this one, but not everyone likes John Irving as much as I do.

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 Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

16 Jun

Silly me was in a hurry the morning of my book club meeting on Monday and forgot the iPad to take notes! Never fear, I had a legal pad in my car (some real caveman technology here) and I took some notes by hand. Here we go.

I mentioned that I was frustrated by the structure of the book and how the timeline was disjointed and hard for me to follow. Some agreed, but some thought it added to the book. She structured the book the way she thought. The timeline wasn’t important but she focused her thoughts around certain topics that were important to her and proceeded to make those points. It wasn’t disorganized, per say, just non-linear.

Amanda made a point about the difference between asking and begging and told us not to be afraid to ask. She did seem afraid to ask at times. She could ask her faceless crowd for Kickstarter funds, but she struggled to ask her husband for a loan. She was scared to ask those closest to her until it was needed.

She wasn’t afraid to try radical things. She showed that the traditional structure of the music industry was breakable. She made money from art but cutting out the middle-man usually ‘legitimizes’ someone and was still successful. Self-published authors are enjoying this same success. She could fall back on her fan base when she wanted to try something a bit off the wall which was reassuring for her. Sometimes, we didn’t know what her motivation was for acting the way she did. Was she trying to save $200 or was she really trying to connect with her fans? Sometimes, it seemed a bit like both. She was putting herself out there to be sure. We met mere days after singer Christina Grimmie was shot by a fan in the signing line after her concert in Orlando, Florida. Though it was tragic and out of the ordinary, this is something that could happen to Amanda because of how exposed she is to her fans.

The group talked a lot about how different Amanda is from us. She’s bold and creative and not afraid while many of us have reservations about doing the crazy things she describes. Many of the women in my group have children and they talked at length about how hard it can be to accept a child choosing a path different from the one you are used to but how you have to accept that and try to be supportive. The scene where Amanda and her mother spoke about feminism was really moving to me. Amanda had never seen her mother as an artist and it took her a long time to see that her mother was a feminist just as strongly as she was in a time when it wasn’t as accepted to be a feminist. Some of us thought that this showed a side of Amanda that we could be critical of. She’s very focused in her art world and she didn’t always show the most compassion to those outside of it.

Her most important message to us wasn’t about asking but about art and the value of art. As a society, we’re not willing to pay for art. I could say this blog is art but you’re reading it for the price of your monthly internet connection, of which I receive nothing. I’ve published short stories for no payment except for free copies. Many others could tell the same story. Amanda showed how art can be a job. Art makes the functional things of our world beautiful and without it, we’d be so bored and boring. We need art and we should be willing to pay those that create it.

We’re taking the summer off and we’ll meet again in September with a TBD book. I’m looking forward to a few more books of my choice in the next few months but I’ll miss this group.

Until next time, writes 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 Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier

31 May

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my rights to pick books for my book club. For this group, the last two books I’ve suggested, One Hundred Years of Solitude and now The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, have been flops in the group. The difference, this time, is that I really liked Chevalier’s book while the rest of the group hated it. I recognized a lot of the plot holes they pointed out, but I loved the writing and style enough to look past them. It seems not everyone could do that. I agreed that it was hard to remember the beginning by the time you got to the end. I missed that Isabelle’s maiden name, Moulin, was the name of the woman who owned the Bible. I also recognized it was too convenient that the archivist gave the Bible to Ella. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This book had a lot of information about religious tensions in Europe that many of us were not aware of. In the last paragraph, we thought Jacob was deciding to return to France, to go back to the Catholics because he disagreed with what he saw of the Calvins, which was not very accurate. His father, Etienne, practiced the old religion where human sacrifice could save a house. We suspected that one of Etienne’s brothers was under the hearth of the hold house and that his presence protected the Bible during the house ransacking. One of the few things that bothered us universally about the book was the inclusion of French passages with no translation. It seemed arrogant to assume every reader speaks French but since this book was first published in England, it’s less assuming but still annoying for an American reader.

There were some strong similarities between Isabelle and Ella though there were superficial. Both had problems with skin reactions, both were in bad marriages and had to give up their midwife careers and strangely, both lay naked in rivers. Both had men named Paul that they were attracted to. We felt that Isabelle might have run off with Paul at the end. For a while, we thought he was a figment of her imagination, but she traded messages with him through the Italian courier so he had to be real. The France they lived in was similar as well. Both found hostilities and were able to escape to Switzerland where things were calmer. However, for Isabelle, things were still rough though it was easier on her family.

As I said in my review, Ella’s relationship with Rick bothered me most. She treated him unfairly as she fell out of love. Some of our members didn’t like Rick as much as I did. They felt he was shallow, being afraid to touch her psoriasis and being concerned with his flowing hair. I thought he was confident enough that he didn’t care what others thought about his appearance.

Our impressions of Jean Paul changed through the book. He was a good listener when Rick wasn’t and he really cared about Ella’s project. He got sucked in even when he was trying to withdraw. We understood why he wanted to withdraw after hearing about his past relationship and it made him sympathetic.

Ella’s hair change was one of the strangest parts of the book to me. It was very unbelievable and for me, planted this book in the magical realism realm. We believed it more with Marie, whose hair seemed to be slowly changing.

Ella is very convinced that the baby she conceived is Rick’s. We thought she felt less guilt in carrying Rick’s baby than Jean Paul’s. Who know who the real father is, but she wanted it to be Rick. We wondered if he would stay involved in the child’s life. He’s moving to Germany and doesn’t seem to be around for the pregnancy. Does he want to be? I explained the situation to my husband and he said if I was pregnant and was going to leave him for a lover, he’d want me to be carrying the other man’s baby. He would not want to be involved. That was a fun thought exercise.

I’ve already read our next selection, Brooklyn, and I think it will be a fun 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 Pt 2: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

19 May

The problem with my book clubs both being based out of my hometown library is that we tend to read the same books from time to time. One book club read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls back in September of 2015 and my other one read it for our May selection. I didn’t reread the book so I did a lot of listening this time around.

A few people in our group had read the title when it first came out a few years ago, but most were reading it for the first time. It’s been a few years since Walls wrote the end of the book to tell us where her family was so our moderator looked it up for us. Walls and her husband live in Virginia and last was heard, her mother was living with them. No idea how long that lasted, but that was the update. Brian is a police officer in NYC with a wife and children. The oldest sister was illustrating children’s books. Not much is known about what’s going on with Maureen. She didn’t support writing the book and it seems Jeannette avoided talking about her problems as a sort of compromise. Brian read the book and had no problems with it, remembering a lot of the same events Jeannette did. Both her mother and older sister read the book eventually and it seems they had no problem with it. Jeannette feared that she would be rejected by her peers for writing the book. She felt that if they knew where she came from, no matter what they thought of her when reading it, they would no longer want to have anything to do with her.

Even though the Walls children suffered from neglect at the hands of their parents, there’s been evidence to suggest that children who are overindulged are more damaged than those who are deprived growing up. I can see how this would happen. Children in poverty learn resilience and confidence like the Walls children did. When faced with an obstacle, they learned how to fight it. Children who have everything handed to them don’t know how to solve their problems. I think the Walls children would have had a harder time keeping on par with their peers in the modern day. Technology is so integrated into the classroom and socialization that not having access to a computer can be detrimental. If they couldn’t get to a library to do homework, they would fall behind.

It felt like Rex and Rose Mary were the focus of our conversation. They seemed very cohesive and like they were on one team until they moved to West Virginia. It felt like Rex couldn’t live well in that town and it tore him away from the family. His alcoholism caused a lot of the financial problems in that family and he, like his wife, was a narcissist. Interestingly enough, what Jeannette says about her father being smart is true. There’s a physicist in our book club and he said that he was shocked when Rex started talking about thermodynamics because everything he was saying was scientifically accurate. Most of the parts about Rex were surprisingly positive seeing as he stole from his family. We wondered if, in light of his death, Jeannette didn’t want to say anything negative about her father.

We felt Rose Mary was more to blame for the family’s status. With Rex, it’s easy to say ‘Oh, he’s an alcoholic. We can’t expect him to act in his children’s best interest because he’s sick.’ It was harder with Rose Mary. We think she suffered from some kind of mental illness but her refusal to see a professional made it impossible to understand why she acted the way she did. While Rex let the kids down with his actions, they had no expectations of their mother for her to live up to so she was less of a disappointment. We think she might have been affected by the baby that didn’t survive, even though she says Rex was the one affected. The only smart thing she did was holding on to the $1,000,000 property in Texas. If she’d sold it or cashed in somehow, that money would have gone straight to Rex and the local bar.

The frustrating part of reading the book is that it’s so void of self-reflection and pity when the reader is feeling so much pity for Jeannette. The three oldest took care of each other, creating their own world where they could survive. Maureen was too young to join them. The oldest three recognized the bad situation they were in and got out. Once she moved away, it seemed Jeannette was very defensive about her upbringing. She would put her walls up when she was asked about it (like in her college course). Writing this book might have been very therapeutic and very difficult for her.

Our next book is another memoir, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I’m already almost finished with it (#overachiever) and it will be a good talk.

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 Discussion (Round 2): Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

11 Apr

Because Lisa See is coming to my area to speak this week, both of my book clubs decided to read her title Shanghai Girls. You can read my review and previous book club discussion for some of my other opinions on the book.

Most of the group liked this title. See made us care about the characters, especially the sisters, and they were well-developed. I don’t have sisters, but those who did said the fighting between the characters reminded them of growing up with their siblings. It felt like See knew Pearl and May well and we wondered if they might be based on members of See’s family.

The first thing we had to talk about was May turning Sam in. None of us could believe she’d do something so stupid. It was hard to believe that she honestly thought she was helping. If she did, then she would have told Pearl and Sam. By keeping it a secret, it’s very evident that she’s trying to hide what she did. May is too modern and open in the American style to keep her mouth shut. If Pearl had done something similar, she never would have told. She would have died with the secret. The fight the two had at the end was a very central part of the plot and adds to my frustration of the book seeming unfinished. We were really shocked that it took 19 years for May to throw in her sister’s face who Joy’s real mother was. It seemed like something May would have resorted to it much sooner. A lot of us hadn’t realized how much Pearl was martyring herself until May brought it up. It wasn’t something that Pearl ever complained about. She almost seemed to enjoy her life and felt safe being a martyr. It was unlike Pearl to erupt at May the way she did and we wondered if some of her anger were misplaced and was really anger at Sam more than it was at her sister. We asked ourselves if May and Pearl could have repaired their relationship if Joy hadn’t run off. Would they have cut each other out of their lives if they didn’t have Joy to pull them back together? Pearl is always upset that their father preferred May though we felt that their mother preferred Pearl. The way their mother acts toward Pearl before she dies felt that way.

A lot of us hated May for what she did to Pearl in having an affair with ZG. I was alone in being blindsided by this twist. Everyone else saw it coming! I guess I’m blind to it all.

Several times, it was pointed out that May wasn’t as smart as Pearl. We didn’t really agree with that. On Angle Island, May shows us how smart she is and how she kept them there long enough for the baby to be an American. She didn’t let on when she was doing something smart. Only when it benefited her did she let on. May was good with money and found ways to keep the family going. She hid money away for an emergency the same way their mother had. She was resourceful, even if she wasn’t as book smart as Pearl.

One of the things that seemed inconsistent to us when it came to the girls was being Beautiful Girls at the beginning. We couldn’t believe that their parents would allow them to do that in Shanghai. The money must have been good for their parents to allow it. It seemed to be very against the cultural expectations they had for the girls.

In my last book club discussion, we focused on the Zodiac signs of Pearl and May. This time, we focused on Sam. He was the Ox, one who would plod along and be reliable, working for the family and doing what was needed of him. His suicide fits into this role, in a way, because it was a selfless thing for him to do in order to protect his family. We questioned if the Zodiac sign of a person morphed him or her into what they were instead of being a prediction of their personality type.

A lot of us learned a lot of history from the book. We weren’t aware of the Paper Son phenomenon and were a little blown away with how meticulous and thought-out the process was. We were equally shocked at the number of people claiming citizenship after the San Francisco Fire. I’d never heard of that! Most of us were familiar with Ellis Island immigration stories but Angel Island was something new. The holding and treatment of the women described sound terrible and we were shocked it hadn’t come to our attention prior.

Lisa See is 1/8 Chinese. She had writers in her family but never wanted to be a writer. She was told that you had to have sadness in your life to be a writer and didn’t want to be sad. I think it worked out for her anyway.

It was a really good discussion for us and we had a big turnout. Our next book is Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. We’ll see how the discussion goes, 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: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

27 Oct

Reading a local author is fun. Especially when he sets his book in your local area (though you’re unable to identify the river in the book) and one of his friends from high school is in your book club! If only my tweets had gotten him to join us.

There were a lot of comparisons to ‘The Walking Dead’ in our discussion. A fellow member and I were reminded of Terminus when Malorie reached the school. We were both afraid she’d be eaten! The man at the end is even named Rick, the main character from ‘The Walking Dead.’ In fact, this book was ready to publish in 2007 but publishers delayed publication date because they felt the market was too saturated with the genre. Fortunately, it has been optioned for film. I’d be curious to see how this could be made into a film when so much of it is about not being able to see.

We talked a lot about the title. The bird box didn’t seem to be a very big part of the plot, but the author thought it was important enough to merit the title. We thought it was an allegory for being on your own in a small, dark little world, but Malerman has come out and said that’s not true. The box is very similar to how the housemates lived in the house, shut off from everything outside and afraid when something came near.

People in the book either died violently and quietly. The contrast between Tom’s daughter and George are startling. We think some died quietly because they knew what they were going to see, they knew they were risking something when they opened their eyes or peeked. We suspect some of them killed themselves before completely losing their minds so they couldn’t kill others. Or maybe, as Gary suggests, people are affected differently and some of them wouldn’t get violent. I don’t like the idea of Gary being right about anything.

The scene where Malorie almost blinds her children was disturbing. In reality, why wouldn’t she? The children would be much safer and live better lives if they didn’t have to worry about seeing something that could kill them. We thought it was a sign of hope that she didn’t take their eyesight. She had to believe that things would get better to keep their eyes. Not giving them names could be construed as a sign of hope as well; that they would someday live in a world where names to distinguish one Boy from another were needed. Though we also would have been able to guess the climax from their names and would have known they weren’t twins. Malerman commented on this as well and said Malorie didn’t name the children because names were a luxury to her. They didn’t help her survive so she didn’t need them.

We had a lot of discussion about the creatures. Were they real? Was Gary the monster? Or was Gary right and it was the idea of something that was scaring people? We thought the ending scene where Malorie’s blindfold is lifted off her face implied that they are real creatures with real mass. That begged the question: Do these creatures know what they’re doing? Are the purposefully destroying humans on earth? We suspected this was the case only because of a scene toward the end. The birds that die in the skies have survived for more than four years. With how quickly a human died when looking out a window, we suspected that the creatures could choose to affect someone or something and chose to affect the birds to cause Malorie and the children distress. If the effect was mental like Gary thought, the animals wouldn’t be affected but the blind would.

Gary came off as very odd and less developed than the rest of the characters. We thought this was purposeful because our conclusion is that he was crazy. He was crazy enough not to be affected, like the man on the river. Some of us wondered if the man on the river was Gary, but we thought he would have said something creepy to scare Malorie and she likely would have recognized his voice.

A few members were dissatisfied with the ending of the book. They felt it was lacking and to an extent, I agree. The whole book, the reader is trying to figure out what these creatures are and we never find out. It felt like the school was a very contrived way to end everything neatly. Though how the ending could have been satisfying is hard to say. For a while, we thought Tom was going to be alive because Malorie heard his name on the speaker and we didn’t know about his death yet. That might have been satisfying, but not fitting.

In the end, how much better off was Malorie? It still could have been a Terminus kind of situation, she had no reason to trust the people there. How much longer could Malorie have survived alone? It seemed like her food supply should have run out long before the children were four. She’d have to have a lot of trust in these people she’s just met. What if there’s a breach again and they want to blind her and the children? She might have been better off alone.

We enjoyed the pacing of the book. It was enough to keep us on our toes and a lot of people (like me) raced through the book. There were a few characters we didn’t think were necessary to the plot, specifically Felix and Cheryl. The only thing this book lacked was sexual tension and that seems like something they could have added. You could argue there might have been something between Malorie and Tom, but I never felt like that was going to happen.

Our next book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I’m listening to the audio now and didn’t realize how much I’d forgotten since I read it in high school. It’s sure to be a fun 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!