Tag Archives: Book Club Discussion

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!

Book Club Reflection: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

21 Sep

A lot of you commented on my book review of Jeannette Wall’s memoir, The Glass Castle and had wonderful things to say about it. I loved it, too! What a great book. My book club agreed and we had a wonderful discussion about the memoir.

The woman who volunteered to lead our discussion made up some of her own questions. She has a psychology background so some of this discussion might bet a bit technical, be warned! The first thing we talked about was if Jeannette should have written the book. Her husband encouraged her to write it and a part of me wonders if he thought she needed to deal with her past. A lot of us thought she needed to get this off her chest. Walls talks about hiding how she grew up while in school and maybe she wanted to finally put it out there so everyone would know where she came from. The story seems too crazy to be true, but we doubt she embellished any of it. The psychologist among us told us that our memory is heightened by trauma. It’s why we remember being scared of the circus as six-year-olds but not what we had for dinner last week. Some of the back material said that Walls’ siblings remembered most of her stories the exact same way, but from their eyes. Walls has a lot of traumatic memories and she’s ashamed of them. But the book opens with her being ashamed of being ashamed of her mother. She wants to confront what’s bothering her. This book helped her do that.

The style of this book was amazing. Walls is not asking for our sympathy. She doesn’t need it, she’s doing fine. She’s telling us the love story of her family. They didn’t have much, but they had love. She writes from an unbiased mind, the mind of a child, at the beginning. She’s telling us the facts. As she grew up, she was able to analyze things and knew what was wrong and right.

We asked ourselves if the Walls children should have been taken away from their parents. There is a lot of debate around if child protective services are really doing something for the good of the child by doing that. Our group has a lot of teachers and many of them felt strongly that the teachers failed to do their duty and tell someone about neglect at home. But in the end, was it better for them to have stayed together? The children might have been split up and they might not all have had a good foster care experience. Not everyone does. We did agree that Rex crossed the line twice; taking Ben to a whore house (which is implied but never explicitly stated) and when he took Jeannette to the bar and let the older man talk to her. Those were the only things we thought were explicit abuse. Everything else could be counted as neglect.

The kids are lucky they survived the conditions of the house. The older three raised each other for the most part. Maureen was babied her whole life and never had to fight for herself. Their father ignored her for the most part as well. Maybe that was the love she would have needed. The kids appreciated what they had later in life so much more because of their background.

Growing up poor and being neglected are different things. A poor family can be doing everything possible to put food on the table and fail to do so. A neglectful family, like the Walls, isn’t exhausting all its resources. We said that this was different from poverty during the depression because there were other options ($1,000,000 property, house in Phoenix) that the parents didn’t resort to.

Rex is a character and a half. We genuinely think he was incredibly smart, so much so that he didn’t fit in. ‘Severely gifted’ was a phrase we tossed around. He seemed to give up on a lot of things when he felt everyone around him couldn’t keep up with him. The alcohol and confrontational manner didn’t help, but feeling like he was smart but couldn’t get ahead would have been defeating.

Jeannette was disillusioned with her father in her childhood and got mad in her adolescence when she saw that he wasn’t everything he pretended to be. He was killing cats, pimping her out, and stealing money. Toward the end of his life, he seemed to feel some regret about the way he brought the children up. He realized the Glass Castle was never going to happen and when he asked if she’d been let down, their old back-and-forth banter, he knew he had. In the end, it seems Walls had a good amount of respect for her father and what he endured.

There’s no doubt he loved his kids, but he didn’t have a good model of how to show it. We see that Rex’s parents were not ideal, either. They ignored him and dealt with their own issues before looking to their child. We think he loved them more than Rose Mary. In the end, he was the better parent.

On page 155 in my copy, it’s implied that Rex was sexually abused by his mother. A lot of us think that’s likely. We don’t think it excuses what he did and his alcoholism, but it gives us a reason why things might have started off badly for him and why he was reluctant to return home. I’m glad that it seems that cycle of abuse ended with Rex. As I said, the kids might have been neglected, but they didn’t seem abused.

Rose Mary and Rex were toxic together. She enabled him and it’s possible he drank more because she was around. She didn’t hold him accountable for anything and he had no reason to stop drinking. We suspected that Rose Mary was bipolar. Our psychologist told us that many people with bipolar disorder will avoid commitment because they can’t maintain it between their highs and lows. We think part of the hatred toward Rose Mary’s mother was because she tried to put her daughter in a box, a nice safe teaching box. Rose Mary didn’t want this because when she went through her lows, she couldn’t be a teacher. We further suspect that Maureen might have inherited her mother’s bipolarity. She struggled so much toward the end with mood swings that it seems likely.

Our psychologist said that the Walls were the most dysfunctional family she’d ever encountered. The kids thought they were special because their father had always told them they were and that might have been their only saving grace. Jeannette never felt like a victim of her circumstances. She never gave up and always kept trying. We did find it interesting that she has no children of her own. It might be out of fear of repeating her own childhood or another reason, but it does seem like a deliberate choice.

I’ll be missing the next meeting of this book club, but we’ll return in late October.

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 Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

4 Jun

Brad Meltzer’s book The Inner Circle was chosen as the ‘Everyone’s Reading’ selection for 2015. This is a program the libraries in my area work to put together that usually culminates in the author coming to speak in the area. Previously, it was Chris Bohjalian. This year, Meltzer will be speaking in the area on June 22nd. But before he comes to speak, my book clubs usually read one or more of his books. Unfortunately, the meeting for The Inner Circle was moved forward a week and attendance suffered. We’re not sure if it was because of the book or the changed date, but the meeting was only me and one other woman. So here are our musings.

There were questions posted by the local libraries that helped our discussion, but we didn’t find that this genre led to a lot of discussion. It’s entertaining for sure, but not particularly thought-provoking.

The other woman at our discussion did some research on Meltzer. He said that Mr. Rodgers (the television personality) thought him that each person is special and not to let anyone tell him no when he set his mind to something. He also said that the teacher who told him he could write well is his hero. As the wife of an English teacher, this makes me happy.

Meltzer is called to Washington regularly to advise on potential terrorist threats and how the US can prepare itself to fight these. This is where he got his idea to write political thrillers. This book, in particular, was inspired by something George W. Bush whispered in his ear about how hard it is to keep secrets in the White House.

He says that his books have a recurring theme of the fallout from daily choices. We didn’t really see that in this book. Beecher was pressured into covering up the book, it wasn’t a daily choice. He chooses to meet Clementine, but that seemed like a coercion by the end of the book as well. I don’t think this theme was well brought out.

I’ve been to DC before and I never would have thought to go to the Archives to look up anything for myself. I saw the Constitution and called it a day. It sounds fun, but I’m not sure what I would look up!

One of the style choices Meltzer utilized was switching between present and past tense. Chapters narrated by Beecher were written in present tense while those narrated by other characters were in the past tense. I didn’t consciously notice this while reading, but I did feel it was jerky to switch between narrators and I believe this could be the reason. My fellow book-clubber didn’t notice the switches. She listened to the book on audio while following along in a physical copy and wonders if that might have been part of the reason.

We both liked the short chapter style. We think it helped us read the book faster because we got into the ‘One more chapter’ mode. I liked having a lot of places to stop that weren’t in the middle of a chapter.

We both liked Clementine when she was introduced. We believed her story and wanted her to find some closure and happiness. When she turned into a bad character, we were really disappointed. I felt really manipulated by her. At that point in the book, everything was turning out to be ‘not how it first seemed’ and, to be honest, I was getting a bit sick of it. Clementine was the icing on the cake.

We were surprised Tot ended up being a good guy. He seemed a bit suspect at times and I didn’t like that Beecher decided not to trust him when he was told by someone he didn’t necessarily trust to stop talking to him. I don’t see Tot being a major character in the remaining books, but I’m glad he was a part of this one.

It was hard to know what to think of Dallas. He seemed like a slimy character but in the end, we felt sorry for him. It was almost comical that he’d had the wool pulled over his eyes by the President’s inner circle to think he was part of the Culper Ring. I wanted to feel sorry for him because he did seem to have good intentions, but his ignorance made me think he was stupid. I’m still kind of indifferent to him.

Beecher was a hard protagonist to like. He acted very stupidly at times for someone who was also very intelligent. He was sucked in by a beautiful woman quickly. He trusted everyone to a fault. Our questions asked us if he reminded us of Indiana Jones. We didn’t feel that way because Indy was very action-oriented in how he solved historical mysteries while Beecher’s plot was advanced more intellectually. He reminded me more of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon from the Angles and Demons series.

This is the first book in a series so we speculated what would happen in the sequels (I have the second but don’t know how long it will be until I read it). How will Beecher and the Culper Ring find Clementine in Canada and what would they do when they find her? We think that would be the bulk of the story, but I’m not really interested in that story. I’m more interested in Minnie because I disliked her. I don’t know how involved the President will be in future novels because he doesn’t have a secret, only his sister does. But he seems determined to protect it. The other woman who joined me said that this reminds her of the TV series Scandal which I’ve never seen. She says there’s a big secret with his wife and father and the no-good things they get up to.

Hopefully, more people show up to our next meeting. I like discussing with a group more!

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 Round House by Louise Erdrich

21 Apr

It’s been a long time since I went to a book club meeting and no one had anything particularly negative to say about a book. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad it’s one I got to discuss with other book lovers because there was a lot to talk about! To see my thoughts, you can read my review.

Please know that this post will discuss the book in its entirety and will spoil the ending for those that haven’t read it.

When we were introducing ourselves and saying a quick something about the book, one member said something that stuck with me. “I found myself agreeing with things I don’t normally.” She was talking about capital punishment and how much we wanted Lark to suffer for what he’d done. A few said the book reminded them of Stephen King’s The Body, which I haven’t read but feel that the main boys probably help with the comparison.

This book comes with the highest acclaim. Yes, it won the National Book Award but even more than that, it’s highly recommended. One of our members recalled watching a TV special where a panel of authors were being interviewed, one of which was Toni Morrison. When asked who her favorite contemporary American author is, she said Erdrich. And if one only had time to read one of Erdrich’s books, The Round House is the one to read. I tried to find a video of this somewhere but was unable to. If anyone is able to find it, please let me know and I’ll add it here

One of the comments I made in my review and a lot of others agreed with is that Erdrich is very convincing as a 13-year-old boy. She’s a very talented author. Many found the book to be very descriptive, which I didn’t notice. Maybe the audiobook influenced that. The beginning was very heavy and started out with some tough subject matter and we were all surprised by the amount of happiness and humor stored later in the novel. It was a nice surprise after rape and racism early on.

We talked about why it was important that Joe was 13 during the course of the book. The obvious answer was that he was primed for a coming-of-age tale. He was full of raging hormones and emotions, mainly anger and wanted to act out. He lost his childhood very quickly when some of his friends were still boys. These friends were very key to him during such a tumultuous time in his life, especially Cappie. The boys seemed a little older than 13 to us, but we think that is due to the environment where they grew up. They were exposed to a lot and had to have thick skin growing up. A lot of us were struck by the racism expressed by the pregnant woman at the hospital early in the book. It helped set a stage for how the Native American characters were going to be treated throughout. By the end, Joe’s mom was treating him like a man instead of a boy. He had an adult relationship with his parents and he was a man in the other characters’ eyes.

If Joe had been a female character, we think the book might have been a little different. We wondered if a female would have reacted int he same way. Would violence have been the answer? Or would a girl be afraid that she was next? If her mother isn’t safe, she’s not safe and should be scared. On the other hand, a female might have been just as violent, thinking that if she didn’t stick up for her mother, no one was going to stick up for her if the same thing happened to her. It could have gone in a very similar way, but the motivations behind it would have been very different.

Our moderator had pulled up some facts about Native American/White crimes. Approximately 1 in 3 Native American Women are raped by a white man. Why are these crimes not prosecuted? Well, we have to turn to the 1978 US Supreme Court case of Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe which ruled that Native Americans do not have the right to prosecute non-Indians. Wow. There have been a lot of other cases since, I’ll mention, but this is a major decision. We were surprised that with all these statistics and legal loopholes, there weren’t more cases of rape and violence mentioned in the book.

One of the techniques Erdrich used that we liked was the Native American legends and stories. The stories Mooshum told in his sleep, the spirit animals that seemed to follow the characters around, and the rituals all played a bit part in the story. It gave everything a slightly unreal tinge to it and made the whole story feel like a legend itself.

The story challenged the westernized idea of family. The family that took care of Joe and raised him was larger than his immediate relatives. His grandmother fed his friends like they were her own grandchildren and Linda looked out for Joe like he was her own child.

Joe’s immediate family relationships were challenged through the novel. His parents were older than most, calling him ‘Oops’ because he was unplanned. He thought of his father as old and slow at the beginning because he didn’t take action, but the relationship between the two matured quickly after Geraldine’s accident and they two were very respectful of each other at the end. He respected his father’s inaction and recognized that it was the right thing for him to do. Basil was so far into his wife’s pain and helping her deal with it that he wasn’t processing his own pain and it was putting a damper on his relationship with his son.

The point of view used in the novel was that of a memory. Joe was talking about what happened when he was 13 from an undisclosed age, likely around 50. He reveals some things about the future to us, such as his marriage to Margaret, his job as an attorney and his father’s eventual death. So the open-ended ending does have some answers.  If he’s a successful attorney, he likely never went to jail for a crime. Or if he was prosecuted the Native American/White discrepancy kept him from being charged and he was still able to practice law. A lot of our members felt a little more at peace with then ending after ruminating on this.

The minor characters in this story were great. Sonja was a favorite of mine though many of us were surprised when she took Joe’s money. Surprised and a bit mad. She’d had a very hard life before Whitey and though being with him felt like being rescued, she was still in a bad place. Maybe even a worse place. We were surprised when Whitey said she was coming back. Maybe she’d run out of money already because we couldn’t think of another reason to come back.

Linda was a great character as well. None of us knew how she was going to react to her brother’s death  and we think her relationship with Joe before the event was a big reason she reacted so mildly. If she and Joe had been strangers, she might have pressed charges. I was surprised that Joe hid the gun at Linda’s house, but we rationalized that after Linda had saved her brother’s life, she would be the last person anyone suspected of killing him.

Joe felt a strong need for justice. To him, the issue was black and white. A man hurt his mother, someone needed to hurt the man. He didn’t see shades of grey, but his father did. If Basil had taken up the shot-gun, would he have been prosecuted. I have my theory on why Joe never went through the justice system and it mainly has to do with Cappie. Basil would have made the first shot. Would he have been charged with the crime?

But the story we’re presented with has Cappie killing Lark. He’s Joe’s best friend and always had his back. Then Whitey covered for him at the gas station because (I don’t understand why) he knew what had happened. They all covered for each other because the sense of an extended family was present. They were all in it together. They’d been taught from childhood that they had to watch out for each other because the government and legal system were against them. I liked this part of the ending.

The part I didn’t like was how abrupt the book’s ending felt. One of our members saw an allusion to Cappie’s death earlier in the book, but many of us missed it. I don’t understand why it had to end that way and it made me sad. Thought I still loved the book.

Our next selection will take us into the world of science fiction with A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. I’m halfway through now and have some mixed feelings. We’ll see how I feel when this is over.

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 Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

30 Dec

This is quite long delay, but my work book club had a quick little discussion of Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Bean Trees that I want to share with you all. You can read the review I wrote of the book here. I gave this one a full five out of five.

The other ladies agreed with me that the book had a delightfully strong voice. A lot of Taylor’s personality came out in the way she spoke. We didn’t get to know Lou Ann as well because her portion was narrated in the third person. When we were first introduced to her character, one woman really wondered how they would come together, being so far apart geographically and having so little in common. Well, we came to find out very quickly.

We liked all of the characters, even the smaller characters. A favorite was Taylor’s mother. She was a strong woman to raise Taylor on her own and she was a good mother and still let Taylor be herself. It was sad that Taylor wanted to leave so badly, but it was good that her mother let her chase that dream.

We thought Lou Ann had a very non-traditional approach to family. She had a strained relationship with her mother, who had a bad relationship with her mother-in-law. However, Lou Ann loved her ex-husband’s family because they mutually disliked her ex-husband. It wasn’t really a surprise that her character would so easily accept Taylor and Turtle into her extended family.

Matti was a great character as well. She was very brave to do what she did and even braver to be so outspoken about it. She was a good person at heart and it was her warmheartedness that led to her breaking the law.

My very own Turtle, Jane.

My very own Turtle, Jane.

Turtle was a good name to give Turtle/April. We know Taylor gave it to her because she was grabby, but she was also in her own shell a lot of the time. (As a side note, not all turtles are afraid of everything all the time. This is my turtle, Jane. She’s very outgoing.) She was able to be pulled out of her shell gradually so that she wasn’t afraid all the time. But can you really blame the girl? I don’t.

One of the other women pointed out that Taylor was very passive aggressive, which I hadn’t noticed the first time through. When someone handed her a child, she didn’t object.  I’m not sure you can get more passive aggressive than that. There were other times when she didn’t fight back against what was happening to her; when she realized she loved Estevan, when she was initially uncomfortable with the relationship with Lou Ann, etc. What changed her was when she might lose Turtle. She couldn’t stand that thought.

We found it strange that there was no concern over money in the book. Lou Ann and Taylor are both making minimum wage (or there about) but don’t seem to worry about what they can buy or how they’ll pay rent. I make more than minimum wage and I still worry about that stuff! I wish I had their confidence.

One woman in our group made a comment about how much violence there was in the book and I hadn’t noticed it until she said something. It was all implied violence, none of it really happened in the plot of the novel. There was the death by tire explosion, the murders and kidnappings that chased Estevan and Esperanza out of their country, and there was Turtle’s implied abusive background. I liked that Kingsolver kept the violence in the background so it wasn’t a focus, but it was used to move the plot along.

We also found a lot of religious satire in the book. Jesus is Lord Used Tires was kind of funny in name, but the place itself was a haven for the refugees. They were some of the most religious people in the whole book. When Taylor saw the 1-800-THE-LORD phone number, she thought it was going to be somewhere she could turn to and get answers, but it turned out to be a fundraiser. The characters found religion in very unexpected places.

The event we talked about the most was the adoption scenes. Reading about Esperanza giving Turtle away was so hard to read because of what it put Esperanza through. It was a lot for Taylor to ask of her new friends. It was almost as if Esperanza was loosing her daughter twice. I asked if it might have been therapeutic, but we agreed it wasn’t. Turtle even looked like their daughter, which only makes things worse.

Ultimately, was the adoption the right thing to do? We think that there were a lot of other things Taylor should have tried first. There were relatives somewhere, even if the mother was dead. The woman who gave Turtle to Taylor could have been a surviving relative. Speaking of that, Taylor might have tried resisting the child in the beginning. If someone hands me their kid, I think I’d ask a few more questions. Mattie might have been helpful in locating her parents, she seemed to have some good connections. However, the adoption is what was best for Turtle. It gave Taylor a purpose, too, and the two of them were a great team.

The adoption was a big step for Taylor’s character. In the beginning, she resisted the non-nuclear family she was forming with Lou Ann, thinking that it somehow meant less because they weren’t related. But the non-nuclear families in this book were the strongest. Taylor left her mother behind, but not Taylor. Lou Ann’s ex-in-laws loved her more than their son. And the closest relationships were friendships.

The next book we’re reading together is Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, which I’ve just started. We’ll be talking about it in the new year.

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 Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

15 Dec

To round out my week of ‘The Namesake,’ I’m ready to share our book club discussion of the novel. If you missed the other posts, you can read my opinion on the book and the movie in these links.

Everyone in our group enjoyed this book, which doesn’t happen very often. The last book I remember us all liking was The Light Between Oceans. We tend to have very eclectic tastes.

Lahiri had a very descriptive style. Granted, most authors describe things in detail, but her way of being descriptive of small details and still keeping a relatively high-level narrative was distinct enough that we all noticed and commented on her abilities. I think it’s a real gift of hers.

Lahiri herself was born in England (the reason she was eligible for the Man Booker prize in 2013) though she lived the majority of her life in the US and says she feels American. Like Gogol, she remembers visiting Calcutta during her childhood and learning about her Bengali culture.

I had never heard of Gogol before this book and in truth, I have no interest in reading any of his work. (Fun fact, we have the same birthday!) No one in the group had read any of his work, but some had heard of him before. I like that Lahiri chose a real though not very popular writer for this work. It makes the name mean a lot more and the characters seem even more tangible.

One thing a fellow reader noticed that I’d totally missed was that everything seemed to happen on a train! Ashoke’s accident, Gogol meeting his first girlfriend, Ruth, and him finding out about Moushumi’s affair. All on trains. I guess I would think that this has to do with travel and having a journey toward learning something or discovering something about yourself. But that sounds like high school English teachers reading too far into a book. Or maybe my teacher was right about metaphors.

Gogol’s name seemed to follow him his entire life. he hated his name and wished it wasn’t his and toward the end, seems to wish he had kept it as it connected him to his father. Even after he legally changed his name, the narrative still referred to him as Gogol. We felt that was a reflection of how he viewed himself. Our group suspected he might change his name back after finding out about his father’s accident, but he didn’t seem to have any inclination toward it.

We felt that the name Nikhil was a mask he could wear that helped him blend in with white America. I think having a Russian name was confusing for him because he wanted to have a name that gave him an identity and his name clashed with his ethnic identity and his surroundings. Being Nikhil, he could identify himself as Bengali-American and this gave him confidence. He was confident enough to be Maxine’s boyfriend and leave home for school and work.

One of our discussion questions asked if we think he would have been happier if he were born with a ‘good’ name. We couldn’t say conclusively that he would be happier, but he wouldn’t have worried so much about how others would perceive his name.

We talked about why Ashoke keep his accident a secret from Gogol for so long. I thought he might tell when Gogol wanted to change his name in an attempt to explain why it was so important. We thought it was likely because he wanted to save his children from knowing about his pain. As children, we see our parents as superheroes who are incapable of being hurt. Telling his children too young would have shattered this image for Gogol and Sonia. We did think that betrayal was a bit of an over-reaction on Gogol’s behalf as a result of hearing the story.

Gogol’s life became very ‘anglicized’ and American from a cultural standpoint. He never spoke his parents language and for most of his life, he rejected anything that reminded him of his culture. It seemed that his parents were slightly disappointed in this for a long time and only after the kids grew up were the parents more accepting. Ashima encourages Gogol to make amends with Max at one point and the family is very accepting of Sonia’s non-Bengali husband. After all, Gogol’s ‘perfect’ Indian wedding ended terribly.

Gogol seems to have no luck when it comes to a lasting relationship. He was with Max for a long time, but decided he wanted something more in line with his culture. Then he had Moushumi and she wanted something less in line with her culture and parents. Our group felt that she wasn’t mature enough to be married from the information we have about her and her past with men. There was no mutual ‘finding’ in these characters; they couldn’t find each other at the right times. Gogol has picked the wrong people until the end of the book; nothing’s making him happy.

Mo seemed to seek out her affair, which is one reason our group didn’t think she was mature enough to be in a lasting relationship. At the first signs of her and Gogol disagreeing on something or her feeling restrained by him, she sought out Dimitri; recognizing him by his handwriting. She seemed to have developed this pattern of behavior when she lived in Paris. She didn’t learn how to be in a steady relationship and getting married was no way to figure it out.

One of our questions was how the story would have differed if the people were from less affluent background. We’re not sure the story would have existed in that circumstance. The reason Ashoke came to America is because he had the means to get to the US. The same goes for all the Bengali families, including Moushumi’s. They had the education and money to attend school and be trained for high-paying jobs. Because Gogol enjoyed this lifestyle, he met Max. Without money, the story might have happened in India and that would have been quite a different story altogether.

We were all frustrated with Gogol when he was dating Max and seemingly replaced his family with hers. He was ignoring his mother and father, hiding among Max’s family. He seemed so interested in her family and learning to become a part of it that he didn’t have the energy to devote time to his own family. Many of the people in my group have children of their own and they gave me the great nugget of wisdom that kids don’t realize how much their parents care about them until they have children of their own and can realize how strong the love between parent and child is.

Gogol seemed so disinterested in visiting his family in Calcutta that someone asked if we thought he would take his family to India to see relatives. He was so miserable when they would go visit that we doubted it, but remembered his change of heart after his father died and he was more than willing to go spread his father’s ashes. The sad truth is that Gogol won’t have much family left in India that he knows well and can go back to visit. Most of them have passed away. Ashima lamented this when describing how the party to meet them at the airport grew smaller and smaller each time they’d go back. Even if he wants to go back, there may not be anyone who remembers him well enough to welcome him in.

I really really really loved this book and it was awesome to discuss it with some other bibliophiles who enjoyed it as much! If I can get my hands on a copy of Lahiri’s other novel, I’ll be sure to snatch it up.

ALSO! If you’re interested in joining my on-line book club, please take the time to vote below for our next selection. You can read more about past Read-Alongs here.

 

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!