Tag Archives: Book Club Reflection

Book Club Reflection: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

7 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

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Book Club Reflection: Still Life by Louise Penny

28 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

7 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve got ourselves a mystery to read next, about as far from this as possible. Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

15 Aug

My book club met when I returned from my trip and we talked about a book I greatly enjoyed, Commonwealth. Unfortunately, we were deeply divided on how we felt about the book. There were some who, like me, loved the book, and others who felt the best part was the cover flaps that could serve as bookmarks.

One common complaint we could all agree on was that there were too many characters. This became very obvious in the final chapter but even before then, it was a lot to keep track of. We all agreed some could have been deleted, like Father Mike and Beverly’s sister (whose name we didn’t even remember). Some readers felt that none of the characters were easy to relate to while some of us liked Theresa and Franny. One positive we could all agree on was that the time jumps were well done.

The title had a few meanings. The most obvious was a reference to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The second would be an allusion to the book Leon wrote. We felt that it took another definition, in this case referring to a group coming and working together.

The kids took care of themselves. Theresa was involved in her career and Beverly and Bert were involved in each other or themselves, never really paying attention to the kids. When Cal died, it proved that they’d failed at raising each other.

The two families did end up very close to each other. We found three solid examples of the families caring for each other. First was Albie’s involvement in Franny and Leon’s relationship. He cared for her a lot to point out what he saw as problems in their relationship. The second was Franny, Caroline, and Fix taking care of Theresa. This was the most obvious one to me and I thought it really highlighted their relationship well. The third was the close of the book when Franny went to visit Bert.

I felt so bad for Kumar at Beverly’s party. It must have been so demeaning but he took it like a champ. I was furious when Franny left him alone and went to visit Bert. Someone pointed out that it was paralleled to Franny at the beach house with Leon. Leon’s friends treated her like the help and Leon did next to nothing to help out. I would have liked to see her grow from that experience, but it was ironic to see the repetition.

The book Leon wrote was almost therapeutic for the family. It allowed Albie a way to talk about what had happened, a way for things to come into the open that had been ignored for so long before then I think the title as a reference to the book is appropriate, but I still like the community definition as a reason for it all.

It was fun to talk about this book with my club. Our next book is a title I read and reviewed a few years ago so I’m not going to re-read it. Get ready for a surprise and give me your best guess. I’ll give you one clue, it was a controversy when it came out.

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

6 Jul

For only the second time ever, I went to my book club meeting without having finished the book. I was fairly confident this wasn’t a book where the ending could be ruined for me and it ended up fine. As I write this, I’m still finishing up the book but by the time this is posted, I’ll have it finished.

The book talks a lot about dialogue and another form of that is a dichotomy. The book was built around dichotomies. Robert and John are the first and most apparent. The way they view their motorcycles, through classic and romantic reasoning, set up the rest of the book. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was another dichotomy that permeated the rest of the book.

The book had three focuses: Self, trip, and quality. The first is Robert’s search to find himself and rediscover his past. The narrator and Phaedrus are at odds much of the time. Robert has trouble understanding why Phaedrus did things he did and how he reached certain conclusions about life and Quality. Robert strongly believed in preparedness and it seems Phaedrus didn’t follow this as well. Robert was always planning and he believed you had to understand how things worked to get unstuck. He talks about this in terms of motorcycle maintenance, but he was searching for the same understanding in himself. Robert seems intent on pleasing people, wondering how Chris is feeling about the trip and how John and Sylvia are holding up. Before, when he was Phaedrus, he destroyed anyone who didn’t agree with him. With the University of Chicago professor, he felt he was being attached and armed himself with the knowledge to attack back.

As for the trip, we wondered for a while why he picked Chris to come with him, not his wife or other son. I’ve been told this is somewhat explained in the end when Robert talks about the shock treatments he’s received and expresses that he’s afraid Chris will have the same issues with mental health that he’s had.

The search for quality was a huge part of the book and there were a few parts of it that we helped each other understand. The first was classic reasoning. Classic reasoning dealt with achieving the necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. On page 114, Pirsig talks about how since all of these things have been achieved, classic reasoning no longer applies. A member pointed out that we’re at another identity crisis now where work is disappearing and being replaced by machines. We may undergo another crisis of values until we’re able to find new values for this modern world.

Another idea we had trouble defining was how man didn’t create the laws of nature. Man identified them but the laws, such as gravity, that man defined, do not cause things to happen because they are named. They existed before they were identified and will continue to exist if the name is forgotten. They are not tangible things.

We roped ourselves into another conversation about quality and education. Since Phaedrus was a teacher, this seemed a big problem for him. In the US, education is all about the grade and not about learning. I know I’ve written certain things in papers because I knew it’s what a teacher wanted to read and not what I thought and I knew if I said what I really thought, I’d get a poor grade. How is that quality?

We’re discussing Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth next month and I’ll be starting it as soon as I finish this book!

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: Stiff by Mary Roach

6 Jun

I read this book about six months ago but my second book club decided to read it and I thought I’d go without a refresher. It was my first meeting back after school ended so I was just glad for an easy transition. Much of the conversation was like my other book club’s discussion but I thought I’d share some of our thoughts with you all here.

Again, the main question we pondered was if the book was offensive. Some people found the humor to be too much. But we reasoned that the humor is how people can deal with working so close to death. The same way I can be light about a person not getting a job (I’m in recruiting), people have to make light of a heavy situation to deal with sad facts.

We discussed donating our bodies to science. Many in our group had living wills or insurance policies covering what would happen to them after they pass. We talked about how it’s the family, commonly the children of the deceased who have to live with the body donation. Could a child deal with what’s happening to their parent’s body? After reading the book, many of us were turned off to embalming or cremation so donating seemed like a better option. Many liked the idea of being composted into a tree.

We’ve all been to funerals and one thing the book cleared up for us is why sometimes the person doesn’t look the way you remember. If there was an illness especially, modern mortuary science can make the person look more like his or her healthy self than like they did before death.

Roach was very fearless in her pursuit of this book. We were impressed with how much information she was able to gather considering when the book was written. One of our members did question her facts, especially about automotive crash safety. She mentioned on page 92 that you can survive a 60mph crash into a wall. He didn’t believe this was a repeatable statistic from a crash lab, it seemed too unbelievable. It might have happened once, but cars are not designed for that.

This is a really fun book to discuss with a group and I’m glad I had a second go at it. We’re reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance next. I haven’t started yet but I’m looking forward to it!.

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

Book Club Reflection: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss

16 May

I’m back to my book clubs! My class is over for the semester which means I’m free on Monday nights again and can join in on the discussions. I read Once in a Great City a couple of weeks ago and I’ll be posting about it again in a few weeks when author David Maraniss comes to speak in my area.

One issue some people had with the book was the title. We felt it implied that Detroit was no longer a great city, that it had lost that greatness. Our moderator likened it to watching the Titanic movie. This thing is so wonderful and great and you’re looking at it thinking, “Wow! How incredible is this!” and the whole time, you know it’s going to sink because that’s history and you can’t change it. Seeing Detroit built up as this pillar of American modernity and progress just to know that it will be home to terrible race riots, high murder rates, government corruption, economic depression, and bankruptcy feels like watching a beautiful ship sink to the bottom of the ocean. Many of our members remembered when Detroit’s offering of steady employment and strong industry was a draw and sense of price for the city. That’s since faded.

The best description of the book a member gave was “interesting and tedious.” The topics were interesting and Maraniss picked a good time in Detroit history to focus on. It was very well researched, maybe too much so. The level of detail made it dense. For someone from Detroit, the topic was engaging enough because we are around the thing he’s talking about. For someone from another area, they’d likely get bogged down in the details and not want to continue.

Speaking of being from here, many of us were surprised to hear about the Ford Rotunda. It does help explain the road in Dearborn called Rotunda, though. The number of tourists and fame described was astounding and those in our group who were alive to see it feel it may have been a bit exaggerated.

We enjoyed the chapters about Detroit’s Olympic bid. We were all surprised to hear about it. The way Maraniss built it up it seemed like it would be a close battle between Detroit and Mexico City, but the results were a blowout. I wonder if Detroit will ever be a serious contender for the Olympics again.

There were some things we felt were missing from the book. The mob story was glossed over a bit. People think of Chicago when they think of the mob in America but Detroit has a strong mob background as well. The book also focused very strongly on Ford, ignoring General Motors and Chrysler culture. Maybe GM and Chrysler are less controversial and scandalous as they’re not run by a single family. The Fords have dark sides like anti-Semitic backgrounds, affairs, and a distaste for immigrants. That makes for a good book in the times leading to a race riot.

It was great to be back with these ladies and discuss a book again. We’re moving back to fiction next month and I’ll be reading that book soon. Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

7 Feb

My book club met last week to discuss a book I loved, South of Broad by Pat Conroy. I was surprised to find most people who were big Conroy fans hated the book. Apparently, this one is considered one of his worst! Critics say it’s melodramatic and the prose is over the top at times. A favorite criticism our group read was from author Chris Bohjalian:

It’s possible that the sobbing and sniveling occasionally felt inauthentic to me because I am a priggish New Englander who is uncomfortable with what may be a Southern penchant for drama. But as a novelist, I know all too well that there are few easier ways to wrest sniffles from a reader than to have a couple of real men cry like babies in each other’s arms or a good woman stoically sniff back her tears. Been there, done that.

I’m a fan of Bohjalian and despite the negativity, I would say I’m not a fan of Conroy. As always, we started with a little background on the author. Conroy lives in San Francisco and went to Citadel. His father was in the military and he moved a lot as a child. His father was violent and abusive and Conroy wrote about this in his book, The Great Santini. The book was presented as evidence in his parents’ divorce case. Conroy taught English and was fired from one of his jobs for pointing out racial problems in the school. So much of this made it into the story of Leo King and I’m amazed one person could experience so much and turn it into a story, let alone the number of books Conroy has written that draw inspiration from his life.

It was hard to ignore all the terrible things Leo and his friends had to face in the book. All the bad parts of their high-school years and adulthood came up: AIDS, child abuse from the clergy, Hurricane Hugo, racial integration, and racism. Some people thought it was over the top that all of these things happened in the same novel, but I think leaving them out would have been an omission of the times.

The one thing that could have been left out might be Steve’s abuse at the hands of Monsignor Max. Steve was the perfect son to his parents and I think that put a lot of pressure on him to act perfectly. That almost set him up to fail. It’s hard to maintain that level of expectation. If Steve had told his parents, we’re not sure they would have believed him anyway.

Leo was a very kind person and unfortunately, some of the other characters took advantage of him. He was used by Molly, Starla, and Sheba most notably. Maybe it was him not willing to stand up to a woman. He would do things for people that were beyond what was asked of him, like making benne wafers for his new neighbors when it could have been simple chocolate chip cookies. He cleaned and washed Mr. Cannon’s feet in an obvious impersonation of Mary Magdalen and Cannon appreciated it so much he gave him a house.

Starla used Leo more than anyone else. No one wanted them to stay together, even his staunchly Catholic mother. Mrs. King might have preferred seeing him with Sheba! We thought he only stayed with Starla because of his strong Catholic beliefs. This was as much a criticism of marriage as it was of the church.

The group of friends was such a rag-tag bunch that it seemed strange. They had to overcome socioeconomic status (the twins and the Rutledge’s) and race (Ike) but it somehow worked. Fraser and Niles’ relationship was a big bond for the group and Chad was roped in because of football despite his racist father and upbringing.

The twins’ father’s death seemed almost a little convenient. Someone wondered if Niles knew he was in the shed and that’s why he locked him in there. I proposed that Charleston killed him. The city was brought to life so much in the book it was almost a character. Maybe this was the one thing Charleston could do for our human characters.

I’m going to be missing this group until May because of school and I’m very sad about that. I do look forward to reading some books of my choosing, but I’ll miss having someone to discuss them with.

Until next time, write on.

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

Book Club Reflection: Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

17 Jan

My book club had very split opinions about Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River. I was a huge fan. Others disliked Margo and by default, didn’t like the book. With such a strong narrator, it didn’t surprise me we were polarized.

Bonnie Jo Campbell is a Michigan-born author from the West side of the state. She was born in Kalamazoo in 1962 and for those out of Michigan, yes, a lot of our cities have awesomely fun Native American names. She got her Bachelors’ in Chicago, the closest big city to that side of the state. Her Masters’ is in Mathematics and her MFA is from KZoo’s own Western Michigan University (undefeated in the regular season this year!). She’s married but our moderator couldn’t find if she had children or not. Her other books, which have been well received, are primarily short story collections. We were able to find that her first book is about a girl born on the river with a mother named Margo. Um….! I might have to read that.

Being a Michigan-based author, we felt Campbell did a great job creating rural Michigan. The East side, where I’m from, is very different from the Michigan Campbell describes, but it reminds me of the parts of Northern Michigan I visit, where my parents own a cottage. It’s fun to remember how diverse a single state can be.

Though the Stark River and Murrayville, the settings Campbell created, are fictional, they were great representations of the state. The water is very important to the story and it’s used in a lot of ways. Margo is cleaned in it, eats from it, and recognizes that on it, she can be cleansed of her past. It’s also lethal (spoiler ahead). Smoke is literally dragged down into the river and couldn’t be saved. The river is always moving and changing. When Margo needs to run away, she can follow the flow downriver or make her way upriver to find a change and that’s what she likes about the river. Lakes are different. Her mother lived on a lake and Margo didn’t like the feel of it. She craved a river.

One thing we noticed is that while rape and sex were present in this book, they weren’t focal points. Especially when Cal raped her, it didn’t feel terrifying and victimizing. It was confusing and uncomfortable which we felt was likely more life-like. Margo used sex with various men as a survival tactic. She wasn’t looking to have a good time, she was trying to find her next meal and some shelter. I really enjoyed her character and strength.

Not everyone liked Margo as much as I did. We all agreed she was mature for her age and was very resourceful. A lot of people saw her as a misfit who didn’t fit in. I felt she fit in on the river but there were several references to her not fitting in amongst her peers. She was trying to get herself in order and have her life together and as a reader with a much different lifestyle, it was hard for us to recognize at first, but she had her life in order by the end of the book. She had what she wanted as far as a boat and a place to hunt and she was ready to start a family and settle down. Margo didn’t talk much. She was alone a lot so there weren’t a lot of people to talk to. There were some people who wondered if she was mentally impaired. A reporter asked Campbell if Margo had Autism. Campbell didn’t purposefully create a character with Autism but has said it’s possible Margo does. It wasn’t her intention.

A lot of Margo’s luck seemed to come to her because she was beautiful. She never says this about herself, but the men in the story and her mother say she is. She might not have been able to find shelter with men if she wasn’t, but it seemed incongruent with her rugged lifestyle. If she’d spent as much time looking good as her mother did, she would have been a knock-out.

Each of the men who loved her had a different name for Margo. It was a nod to how she recreated herself each time she was with another guy. All the time, she was trying to recreate the best relationship she’d had with a man until then, the relationship she had with her grandfather. In this respect, Smoke was the closest she found. He and Fishbone were the only ones who didn’t try to have sex with her and some of us think it’s because they’re gay. It’s implied in the story that the two loved each other but Fishbone wouldn’t admit to it. It reminded me of Brokeback Mountain. It’s hard to admit to a different lifestyle if there’s a lot to lose and Fishbone stood to lose his family and didn’t want to risk it.

Paul and Margo’s father were both shot in the book. In the case of Paul, Margo was in control instead of her cousin. We wondered if she noticed this. Michael was at risk and she stepped in the way her cousin did to save someone she loved. The difference was that she pulled the trigger instead of watching.

The Indian was the most confusing character for many of us. He was a personification of the river, something Margo loved. He gave her money and a ride, much like the river. With him, she leaves the river for the first time and maybe she needed someone who reminded her of the river to get away from it. We found it funny that he was trying to find his culture and, though Margo was in no way a Native American, she was living the culture he was looking for better than anyone else he’d found.

I’ll be missing my book club for a few months due to my class falling on the same night until May. I’m sad about this, to be sure, but I’m sure they’ll be fine without me. I’ll miss writing these for a few months but they’ll be back! 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: Stiff by Mary Roach

15 Dec

I was apprehensive when our book club picked Stiff for our November selection but I could get the audiobook and I decided not to complain. The audiobook turned out to be amazing and I really loved the book. I was wondering what my fellow book-lovers would say. This is a book that’s hard to talk to people about unless they’re reading it too!

Mary Roach has written several books about unusual topics though Stiff was her first. She’s lived most of her adult life in California and her background is in magazine writing. She stuck mostly to travel writing and light science before Stiff.

A lot of the things covered in the book were things we hadn’t considered. The decay studies stuck with us all. I will say that the Wayne State Universities studies lasted the longest with me. I actually went to Wayne State for a work trip and got it all set up to see their crash barrier before my appointment. Unfortunately, the professor didn’t want to take me into the cadaver prep area. I’m actually kind of glad. The book seemed to oddly focus on my area of Detroit because the McCabe Funeral Home mentioned in the book is less than a mile from my library and I drive by it every time I go there. For anyone else who is interested, a librarian called them to ask about their new cremation techniques. It turns out the state shut them down before it could ever get off the ground. They objected to human remains going into the water supply.

The ethical distinctions between if the soul resided in the brain or heart were really interesting to us. Roach did a good job of explaining why it mattered so much. Another thing she made very clear was that decisions on what happens to a cadaver ultimately should be left up to the family. The living are the ones who have to live with either respecting or going against the desires the deceased had about what to be done with his body. We also discussed where a person is buried and if it’s done in the manner he or she asked for. The deceased won’t have to live with the decisions, but the family does.

A lot of our members felt there were parts of the book that were hard to read. The black box chapter was hardest for a lot. Roach tried to use humor in a lot of the book and sometimes it wasn’t enough to distract from the gruesome topic, the black box being one of those times. Most of the time, the disrespect seemed to be more about what was being done to the cadavers, not in Roach’s writing. She did keep a very detached style which must have helped her deal with her topic. One reader complained that in addition to being detached, the writing seemed to jump subjects a lot and felt a bit disjointed. We wondered if that was how Roach’s brain worked.

Hearing about grave robbing made it easy to see where Mary Shelly came up with Frankenstein. We thought the chapter on cellular memory had the same creepy feel to it. It was almost a disappointment to hear that those who claimed they had characteristics of their donors did not have corresponding claims. We wondered what someone with an animal donor might claim!

A few of our members had personal connections to the book. One reader had done a cadaver lab in college. She found it was hard to cut the body ad disassociate it from a living person. She recalls that not all of the students were as respectful as she had been or had wanted everyone to be. The procedures described in the book sounded different from her memories and she thinks protocols have changed since her time in the lab.

Another member had a family member who had been a breathing cadaver. She remembers that the staff had been very respectful of her family member, talking to him while they were waiting for all the doctors who would be receiving the donations to arrive at the hospital. Like Mary describes, the donor is treated more like a patient than a cadaver.

We’re not meeting in December but we’ll reconvene in January to talk about Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I’ll be starting it soon.

Until next time, write on.

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