Tag Archives: Book Club Reflection

Book Club Reflection: Old School by Tobias Wolff

4 Dec

I was so excited to discuss Old School by Tobias Wolff with my book club. I was delighted to find many loved the book as much as I did!

Wolff would be just about the same age as the narrator in the time period given so we wondered how autobiographical this book might have been. One of our members commented that Tobias Wolff is a Jewish name so the main character might have been a reflection of Wolff. However, our biographical note included that Wolff has a sister named Mary Elizabeth. That’s not a very Jewish name at all. Wolff also moved to Washington state with his mother. The cover image of the copy we had was supplied by the author and consisted of boys in matching uniforms sitting at rows of tables with their heads bowed in prayer. Reading the legal notices also told us that many of the short stories in the novel were previously published in the New Yorker. We’re assuming this is Wolff’s work. It all points to a fairly autobiographical work.

It was strange that the protagonist didn’t have a name. One of our readers picked the name Arthur for him while reading and we used this for him while we discussed him. Arthur seemed to have some strange ideas about how someone became a great writer. He talked about wanting to be anointed by Frost when he visited as if a touch could transfer his greatness. He later copied Hemingway’s stories, word for word, as if he could learn how to write his own by copying these. He needed to live to have his own ideas on how to write. Later in life, we hear he is a great writer but we’re not sure how he learned to write. The process of becoming a great writer seems to also involve becoming yourself and being unique. There was a danger that Arthur walked in copying those he admired without trying to be original.

A few commented that the kids seemed very well read and mature for high school students. We understood that this book was written in hindsight, but he made his high school self very mature. Arthur talks about the strong literary community at his school but we only see a few people who are involved in it or who Arthur agrees are ‘good.’ It seemed a stretch that high school students would produce writing that was good enough that the likes of Frost, Rand, and Hemingway would want to read it. We find out later they only send a few, but it still seemed a bit odd.

Ayn Rand did not get a good representation in the book. We were surprised she agreed to come at all. She was quite radical, and the school seemed very conservative and traditional. I wouldn’t think she would agree to do something like speak at a private high school, but it did help make a strong point.

A lot of us felt the ending was out of place and that it could have been cut or shortened. It circled back to questions the boys asked Makepeace at the beginning about Hemingway but most of us forgot that had even happened. Focusing on such a different character made it seem like a separate story instead of the ending of a novel.

However, it shared similar themes to the rest of the book. We identified honesty, identity, and insecurities as major themes. Arthur and Makepeace must deal with not being honest about something and pretending it’s true. Arthur is searching for his identity as many teenagers do. He has a lot of insecurities about being Jewish and about being less well off than his peers. This book does an amazing job of telling his story and we all just loved it.

We’re taking December off and have our next meeting at the end of January. We’ve got a 900 pager to keep us busy until then.

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

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Book Club Reflection: Not Me by Michael Lavigne

26 Nov

I’m always glad to go to a book club meeting and enjoy what my fellow readers have to say about a book I disliked. It’s usually eye-opening and sometimes changes my opinion of the book. I can’t say my mind has been swayed this time, but I have a bit more of an appreciation for the book now.

We started off with a question that I hadn’t thought to ask. When does this book take place? With each year, we have fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors around. We thought this book may be set a few years back, possibly 2000 or 2001. There was a Starbucks and Michael had a flip phone, so it seemed somewhat modern, but still a little dated.

It takes Michael the entirety of the book to start coming to terms with his father’s history and process the story in the journal. He’s a very self-absorbed character. At first, he doesn’t want to learn about his father. The distanced relationship the two have is comfortable for Michael, and he doesn’t want to leave it. He has a similar distance with his son, Josh. The relationship seemed to emphasize how self-centered Michael was. Maybe Heshel’s focus on his philanthropic endeavors kept his focus away from his son. Michael may have assumed such a relationship was normal and formed a similar one with his son. The first time we really see Michael do something for someone else is when he kills Karen and puts her out of her pain.

I wasn’t the only reader who questioned I the journals were factual. Because they’re written in a third-person, novel-like format, it seemed plausible that we’d get to the end of the book and Michael would discover they were from his father’s imagination. He finally believed it was all real when he read his mother’s letter. Writing in a third-person voice may have helped Heshel distance himself from the terrors he witnessed and committed.

We talked a lot about why Heshel made the change he did. He seemed to have a ‘come to God’ moment when he was in the hospital, realizing what he’d done to Moskovitz and feeling responsible for all the other crimes he’d committed. We questioned if he was a con artist his whole life, deceiving others to think he was a great, big-hearted man when his motivation was to make amends for his terrible actions. He felt that his daughter’s death was some form of retribution for his actions earlier. He was given accolades for his actions, but his motivation was far from honorable.

One of the loose ends that bugged us the most was Israel Rosenheim. We assumed he was the one who left the journals for Michael to read, assuming he’s real. We also guessed that Israel was the one visiting Heshel in the nursing home. This would have meant that Israel was in Florida so we wondered why Michael wouldn’t look for him.

This book had a lot of other loose ends. We guessed that Israel and Heshel had a long relationship because of references to money that had been paid to some unknown source. We guessed this was school payments of some sort. The relationship with April was a big question mark at the end. The relationship with Michael seemed superfluous. She seemed to be there just for Michael to find out his father brought orphans over from Europe. April being one of them was a bit too ‘clean,’ especially the way we found out. We all wished that April had been the one to leave the journals. That would have given us a lot more closure.

I didn’t leave this meeting liking the book anymore. I understood why some others may have liked it a lot, but it still wasn’t a book for me. We’re not meeting in December so it will be January when we have another one of these great talks.

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: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

6 Nov

I’ve been looking forward to our group discussion of Dark Matter since I read it. Apparently, not everyone was as thrilled with this title as I was. Some really disliked it and there were others who loved it as much as I did. Some said it read more like a screenplay than a book as if Crouch knew it would be adapted for television. A few complained that the middle dragged while he was going through door after door.

The premise required a solid suspension of belief. It reminded me of The Flash a bit because of the other ‘Earths’ that Jason visited. There was a lot jammed into this book and it left some of us wondering more about dark matter. A few people recommended two books, We Have No Idea by Jorge Cham and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. The different worlds showed infinite possibilities and how profound the Butterfly Effect can be.

We started to wonder about our own lives and the different versions we might find. Something beyond our control, like a decision a parent made, could produce a drastically different world. It might not be any relation to you, but that decision could mean you were never born. While there are big decisions in a person’s life that make you wonder, it’s probably the small ones that make large differences. Jason went looking for happiness because he missed it. But the happiest Jason pined after the success he could have had. Everyone lives with regret. For Jason, family was the right choice, but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone.

We had a lot of questions about the box. Jason sees himself at some point. Does that mean there are infinite numbers of every person who’s entered the box somewhere in the box? Is there a doppelganger of Jason 2 wandering around in there? What about the other people who went into the box and never came out? Are they in there, too? In a way, all of the Jasons that return are deserving of Daniela and Charlie. Jason2 is the only one who’s not.

When the plot first switched to Daniela and we see her welcome ‘Jason’ home, it’s not obvious that it’s Jason2. Some of us thought life was continuing like there was a reality split somewhere else and in one version, Jason had come home with no run-in. We wondered if the Daniela in Jason2’s world was happier. Maybe her career and being an artist was her best path. It seemed odd that she completely stopped being an artist to be a mother of one son. We thought she could have kept it up a bit at least.

We wondered about the world Charlie would create for them to live in. Would it be unpopulated? Similar to their own? They were leaving with nothing and taking only memories with them. It reminded us of immigrant stories around the turn of the century. It must have been terrifying.

We’ll be meeting again just after Thanksgiving so I better get reading quickly! 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: Artemis by Andy Weir

30 Oct

Yes, I’m already in two book clubs. Also, yes, I tacked on another one. But just this one time. Probably.

One of my librarian friends told me her SciFi/Fantasy group was reading Andy Weir’s Artemis and I groaned because I knew she would talk me into reading it and coming to the meeting. I loved Weir’s first novel, The Martian, and I had to see how his Sophomore attempt measured up. It seems a few other readers were in the same boat as me.

We had a lot of questions about life on Artemis. At the same time, we didn’t want too many details because it would have weighed down the story. We did wonder about the education system and how you’d put together a school system for so few children. Was there enough demand for teachers?

The book felt a lot like a Western. There was one sheriff, a lot of vigilante justice, and death from the elements was just a hair’s breath away. Only instead of angry Native American tribes, cholera, or snakes, it was temperature, pressure, and lack of oxygen. None of us would want to live on Artemis. First of all, no paper books! That would be hard for bibliophiles like us. But also, the lack of justice wasn’t attractive. We’re not the ones to live in the Old West it seems.

Artemis is the Greek goddess of the moon. We wondered why Artemis was chosen and not the Latin equivalent, Diana. It would have made even more sense for a Kenyan god to be selected. Maybe the name recognition or pronunciation would have been more difficult.

We enjoyed hearing about the small differences in life on Artemis. Coffee didn’t taste as good, stairs were half a meter high, how fun! We felt that these changes and new technology were introduced well into the story.

Of course, we had to talk about Jazz. I’ve already said my share in my review, so I’ll leave that out. One reader was surprised by how rough Jazz’s language was. She was very much the rebellious daughter. She was as opposite her father, a devout Muslim, as one could be.

Despite this, the relationship between Jazz and her dad played a central role in the plot. Her father was very proud of his honesty and trustworthiness. It made sense that he found his criminal daughter hard to get along with.

Jazz’s father was many of our favorite characters. Another liked Rudy and his own brand of space justice.

This group alternates SciFi and fantasy so fantasy is up next. I’m likely passing due to time but I’ll keep an eye out for the next book this group picks. I’ll likely drop in as I’m interested.

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: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

10 Sep

My book club met recently to talk about a book I adored, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Thankfully I’m not completely out on my own and almost everyone in our group really liked the book.

Krueger is primarily a mystery writer and has a series focusing on the Ojibwas. He is a back-to-back Anthony Award winner, an award given to mystery writers. He wakes up at 5:30 AM and writes long-hand in wire-bound notebooks. Krueger did not finish his degree at Stanford after he was forced to leave due to some student protests he participated in. He currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The first thing to talk about was Bobby Cole’s death. We were all hoping Doyle was somehow involved and that there was a dark side to him after all. With all the sneaking around he was doing, we wanted something more to be afoot. We felt the explanation that Cole was just a spacy kid to be a bit vague and didn’t feel that mystery was completely solved.

Karl’s death was a surprise to us all, too. We debated if it was an accident or suicide. From what we know, both are plausible. We hoped Jake didn’t feel responsible for Karl’s death. He was trying to help Karl by explaining he wasn’t a murderer, he was simply a ‘faggot.’ Too bad he didn’t know what he was saying. He wanted to help so badly.

The Drum family took up most of our discussion. Frank was a great narrator. He was very understanding of people’s differences and gave us a rather unbiased view of people in town. He only briefly mentioned his sister’s harelip and his brother’s stuttering never seemed to phase him. Karl’s sexuality never made him think differently. A lot of people weren’t the person others thought they were and Frank helped the reader see through that. He and Jake were under a lot of pressure to be the perfect sons of a minister and they dealt with the pressure rather well.

Ruth dominated the second half of the book. She never wanted to be a pastor’s wife and felt she gave everything up for Nathan and his way of life. She thought of him as God and she was angry with God and took it out on Nathan. Nathan clearly cared more for his wife than she did for him. It was hard to see how much she pined for the life she could have had with Emil. She seemed to keep her smoking and drinking inside the house as much as possible until Ariel’s death but it seems some people still noticed and didn’t think that was appropriate for the minister’s wife. Ruth is the last one who would care.

In a way, we felt Emil was responsible for the whole book. If he’d never left Ruth, if he’d left Ariel well enough alone, all the tragedy could have been avoided.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough. We all gave it two thumbs up. Our next book has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, I’ve already read it and feel it’s a worthy follower. 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: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

18 Jun

My book club met last week to talk about Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn. I enjoyed the book a lot myself but it had been almost three weeks since I finished it when we finally met. I was a bit fuzzy on the details of the story so I did a lot of listening.

This book was selected as the National African American Read-In book for Black History Month in February. Our group sponsor had read it for that and enjoyed it so much that she put it on our docket.

Woodson was born and raised in Columbus, South Carolina, and New York City. She currently lives in New York. A lot of her other books are either picture books or ones aimed at a YA audience.

The style was very poetic. Others described it as a dream and feeling like a stream of consciousness. The structure of the book was very non-linear. Some people disliked that structure. One reader described it as a ‘Swiss cheese’ story because of all the holes in the plot. One of the times we talked most about her non-linear writing was when there was a trauma. When Gigi was raped, when Angela’s mother died, the death of August’s own mother. All of these were alluded to, circled around, and the event itself only stated outright after we’d heard the effects and feelings of those involved.

We loved the female friendships in this book. The girls grew from 8 to 16 during the book and it was easy to see the intensity of young female friendships during this time. They acted like mothers to each other when they needed it. This complicated their relationships as well because disappointing a friend or being betrayed by her was as painful as disappointing your mother or being betrayed by family. August had a series of mother figures in the book. Her friends, their mothers, her dad’s girlfriends, and other women served in guiding her to womanhood. One of the few memories she shares of her mother is being warned not to let other women too close to you. We wondered if this influenced her inability to forgive Sylvia on the train. Maybe she was mad Sylvia had children when she didn’t. Maybe she was shutting herself off emotionally, the way she had when her mother died. Or maybe she’d started taking her mother’s advice.

Again, the bits about August’s mother were very cyclical so it’s not completely clear what happened to her. We suspect she may have been paranoid schizophrenic. Maybe just paranoid. She seemed to be suspicious of her husband being with other women all the time and didn’t trust anyone. This may have been the source of her advice to August. We don’t know if she had reason to be suspicious of her husband. We thought it was odd advice to give a daughter not to have close friends so wondered where the anger came from. August had shut down completely when her mother died to the point that she doesn’t remember it. She hints at it many times, remembering the funeral and leaving with her father. We debated if it was a coping mechanism that kept her from realizing her mother was dead or if she was too young to understand what it meant to die and she really believed her mother would follow them to Brooklyn. It seems that her brother was too young to understand but August was at an age right in the middle. Did her father explain to her what happened, or did he hide some of the truth to save his children the pain? Her later interest in anthropology and death traditions seemed to be a way for August to look at how she should mourn and what to do when someone dies.

The father was left with a difficult situation and he did fairly well. They may have been poor but they were clean, fed, and clothed. August comments on how other children were not so lucky. Her father is also resourceful, sending her across the street to a woman who can braid her hair for her since he doesn’t know how. Sister Sonja was a great woman for August and her brother to have in their lives. Their father may have dated a lot of women, but the ones that stuck around were good people. Her father didn’t have the friendships and community that August found in her friends. He and her brother turned to religion for their community.

I thought the title referred to the difference between the Brooklyn August remembers and the one she sees when returning for her father’s funeral. Someone else proposed that it’s a contrast to Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I love this idea, how two stories in the same place can be so different.

The ending was hopeful for August. She had something to look forward to, a life she’d made for herself. The other girls didn’t have as much hope. They were stuck in the new Brooklyn and it was so different from the one August loved.

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: Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

22 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

19 Apr

My book club met last week to talk about a book I really enjoyed, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. The consensus was that we liked the book but it wasn’t what we expected. The title and the first few chapters gave us a different sense of what we would read than the rest of the book delivered. The young protagonist gave the sense at times that this might be a YA novel, but the themes and writing were clearly not YA. Fridlund has said in an interview that she likes writing the YA perspective but that it didn’t mean her books were YA novels.

The structure of the book was somewhat unusual. We know from the first few pages that Paul will die. The story is like a mystery because we’re trying to figure out why and who. Knowing that he’s going to die gave the whole book a sense of foreboding that kept us on our toes. We kept waiting for it to happen and we didn’t know if he’d be attacked in the woods or fall into the water on a canoe trip. It also made Linda seem sinister. She always seemed a little off and while I personally doubted she would hurt Paul, it made me feel like she’d be complicit somehow. In a way, she was. A bit.

The book was split into two sections, Science and Health. The titles seem to come for the Christian Science text, the book of Science and Health. The book also had two plot lines which some of us struggled with (see my review for my personal grievances). We talked about how they were intertwined. The biggest was grappling with action versus inaction. In both cases, there was someone who felt guilty for doing nothing. Linda struggled with feeling that she should have done more to help Paul. Mr. Grierson struggled with convictions for something he didn’t do but thought of doing. They both felt guilty. When Linda is angry after the trail, she wants to lash out at Patra but she can’t. Instead, she thinks of lashing out at Lilly. The two plots also played with the idea of the predator being prey. While Leo seems like an alpha male predator, he also suffers the death of his son. While Lilly is the teenage girl who ends up ‘in trouble,’ she also ruins Mr. Grierson’s reputation and gets him sent off to jail. The punishment in the two plot lines contrasts as well. Both the Gardner’s and Mr. Grierson did nothing wrong. However, Mr. Grierson’s other crimes were dragged up and he ended in jail. The Gardner’s inaction resulted in their son’s death and they didn’t serve any criminal charges. Christian Science convictions of negligence have varied by state, per one of our group members. In another state, it might have ended differently.

Linda’s home life did not prepare her well for the life she experienced with the Gardners. She finally felt loved in their home and she felt like Patra needed her. She was afraid to act against Patra because she didn’t want to be rejected from the first place she felt loved. Linda was an outcast at school and since Tamika left, she hadn’t had a female friend. She was so desperate to be Patra’s friend that at some points, we wondered if there was anything sexual between them, but ultimately decided there must have been just Linda’s lack of understanding. Linda’s relationship with her mother seemed strained as well. After the trial, the emotional turmoil Linda had to go through, her mother wouldn’t comfort her. We debated if they were really related (we don’t understand the beliefs of their commune very well) and if her mother was mentally stable. The anecdote of her living in the shed for a winter doesn’t emphasize sound judgment.

For anyone interested, I do encourage you to look up a bit about Christian Science. There was some confusion in our group about the differences between Christian Science and Scientology. They are quite different!

We’ll meet once more in May before taking a break for the summer. I always miss these fine folks during my summer adventures!

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: X by Ilyasha Shabazz (2)

5 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: 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.

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