Tag Archives: Book Club Reflection

Book Club Reflection: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

18 Jun

My book club met up last week and we talked about a book I loved, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. No one in the club disliked the book. It would be hard to, I think. Trevor is such a likable guy!

I was surprised to hear that there will be a movie adaptation of this book in the works! The role of Patricia has gone to Lupita Nyong’o and Noah is on as a producer. Noah is also working on a second book, Place of Gold. It’s set to release in June 2020. This one covers his early adulthood, from late teenage years to his stardom.

We all learned a lot about South Africa, its’ history, and apartheid from this book. Many of us knew next to nothing about this difficult history. Many of us had the misconception that after Mandela was released from jail, things got better but that was clearly not the case. It seems like things got worse before they got better. It was crazy for us to see how divided people were. The white minority had divided the oppressed blacks into ethnic groups and encouraged separatism between the groups, so they wouldn’t unite and rise. It just seems so crazy to us that it worked for so long!

One member read along to the audiobook and noticed that a few names were different. We wondered which ones were ‘real’ or if Trevor was protecting his friends! The audiobook won the Earphones Award for the awesome narration. Trevor talks about how language is used to unite people and the audiobook was even more powerful hearing him speak all the languages that he learned to be a chameleon. His way of speaking is wonderful. A few of our readers had seen him live and said he was wonderful. Another had heard that he was popular back in South Africa as well and I was glad to hear that.

Many of us were a little thrown off by the non-linear storytelling at first. I had trouble figuring out when Andrew was born and when apartheid ended because of it. Trevor’s decision to group his stories by theme did help explain what appeared to be a very complex culture. He was able to address the culture he lived in better this way.

We were surprised at how differently Trevor was treated in his mothers’ village. Not being punished the same way, being an honored guest at events, all these things because of his skin color was so strange. We wondered if there was a risk of him being spoiled because of this treatment, but it sounds like his mother wasn’t about to let that happen.

Patricia was an amazing character in this book. She was very strong and well equipped to raise a son as outspoken and naughty as Trevor. She’s portrayed so favorably that it’s hard to imagine her making a mistake and marrying Able. She fought so hard to keep that marriage and family afloat that she almost ‘settled’ into the misfortune that came to her. She believed in making mistakes and she made some of her own. But she did stop Trevor from making the biggest mistake he could have and ending up in jail!

Trevor’s criminal enterprises didn’t sound quite so criminal from the way he described them. They sounded like smart hustles, almost cheating the system. We did like his insight into the ‘teach a man to fish’ metaphor. Yes, you can teach someone to do something. But if they don’t have to tools to do that new skill, they’re no better of than they were before. Getting the CD writer changed his life. He had the tools to use his skills and become successful when he hadn’t been able to before because of supplies, not ability.

The other insight we all loved was how Hitler was more or less unknown to black South Africans. When they had to name the worst person in history, he wasn’t on their radar. They would choose someone who directly affected their own misfortune, not a group of people in a place they’d never heard of or been to. It led to some rather amusing situations, to be sure!

That’s the last meeting of this group until the fall. It’s nice having one that takes the summer off so I can pick some summer reads for myself. 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: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

4 Jun

My book club met to discuss Exit West by Mohsin Hamid a few weeks ago. For the most part, we really enjoyed this one. We were led by a reader who had found this book a while back when it was featured on PBS. She enjoyed it so much she’s read Hamid’s backlist.

Hamid was born in Lahore, Pakistan and got his undergraduate at Princeton. He ended up getting a law degree from Harvard. Talk about smart! He currently splits his time between Lahore, London, and New York. Like Exit West, his other books have a vein of current events running through them and Hamid is a good analyst of human nature.

A lot of readers were bothered by how vague the setting of Saeed and Nadia’s hometown was. I saw several guesses for its true identity when I was reading reviews, but no one seems to know for sure. Having it unidentified makes the story a little more universal. Throughout the story, Saeed and Nadia are the only named characters as well. It helped focus on the two main characters, but also keep the story vague. You had to suspend disbelief for a moment, as you did with the doors, to not be bothered by this.

When the people passed through doors, they had no idea where they’d end up. Historically, this wasn’t always the case with immigrant groups. People would have boat tickets or train tickets. But today, you get out when you can go where ever you can. It makes the doors scary but that’s the reality today.

We puzzled over the reason for the quick interludes to other characters. They taught us little lessons that Saeed and Nadia’s story didn’t always emphasize. One was about the doors and how lost and disoriented the newly arrived can be. One was about things changing around you when you don’t leave and how it can be just as disorienting as when you do leave. And more than one was about racism and having to face it when you wind up somewhere new.

As more and more refugees started to arrive, they were watched by some over-seeing authority that we never see and is never named. They complied in groups of other people like them to feel safe from this authority figure, though Saeed and Nadia (mostly Nadia) resisted the change.

Most of our group thought the ending was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed to fizzle to a close instead of having more of an event. It was odd that it was fifty years later, putting these characters in their 70s. They’d had coffee on their first date, so it seemed appropriate that they did that again on this, their ‘last’ date. Their uncoupling was done with so much kindness that we believed they could be so civil with each other after so much time.

We had to wonder if the two would have even gotten together if Saeed’s mother hadn’t died. It was her death that pushed Nadia to move into his house. They were very different and were trying to change each other subtly. When they realized it wasn’t going to happen, they realized it was time to split. Nadia didn’t realize that she was unattracted to Zaid because of her homosexuality. Or maybe she was bisexual and was attracted to him. We thought it was more likely that she didn’t realize she could be homosexual and that was part of why she never felt comfortable with Zaid.

I haven’t started our next book yet but I’ve got an extra week because of the Memorial Day holiday. 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 Power by Naomi Alderman

28 May

My book club met last week to talk about a book I didn’t particularly like, The Power by Naomi Alderman. It was very OK for me, nothing outstanding and nothing terrible. It seems we were all a mixed bag on this one.

Despite having so many American characters, the writer is British. She mainly writes science fiction and is friends with Margaret Atwood. She won the Baily’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for this book.

The letters that began and ended the novel were a bit out of place and confusing. We thought they may have been more effective if they’d been scattered throughout the novel instead of only at the beginning and end. Naomi seemed very critical and heavy-handed, but we wondered if this was criticism because she’s a woman or because she was honestly heavy-handed.

The other structural thing that we talked about was the artifacts. They seemed a bit out of place in the book and one reader noticed an inconsistency. One of the artifacts was an Apple device (bitten fruit) and how it was unknown what that thing was. Yet at another point in the book, someone was using an iPad. It just didn’t seem to jive.

The story was quite violent and brutal. Some of our readers felt this was just what one should expect with war and such radical change in a country.

We pointed out that Alderman did address transgender people as it applies to this new world. Jocelyn’s boyfriend at one point has some small power in a skein and he’s ostracized and criticized by both men and women; for not belonging and for thinking he could belong. It was a nice touch for her to include this.

Each of the different speakers gave us a unique perspective on the changes. Roxy was very powerful but she still had the ‘feminine’ quality of mercy. She had mercy on her father when we suspected he would not have had the same. That ended up being her downfall.

Ally raised a lot of questions for us. Some wondered if the voice she heard was a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with the trauma she faced in foster care. If it was divine intervention, did Ally really believe in what she was doing? Or was she enjoying a way to manipulate the system and grow into her power?

Tunde’s classic observer view was great and a lot of us liked him. He was so used to male privilege that he assumed he would be OK and evade the rules. He stayed longer than he should have, as happens to journalists today. We all had to shrug when he said he felt unsafe walking down the street. We’d all felt that way at one time or another. It was just funny coming from a man.

The part that shared the comments section from the UrbanDox site was chilling because of how real it felt. It could have been the comments section of almost any news article today. When someone in power feels threatened, they lash out at a minority or a group that is gaining power. It’s this reason that changes can take so many centuries to happen: the powerful don’t want to give up their power. It’s why we still struggle with racism today in a world that is ‘equal.’

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: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

16 May

My book club met a few weeks ago to discuss Paulette Jiles’ book News of the World. It was a short book, a nice break after some very long titles over the past few months. For the most part, we enjoyed it.

None of us had read Jiles before but she’s published about fifteen books including poetry, memoir, and children’s. If we hadn’t known the author’s name, many of us would have been surprised it was written by a woman. Captain Kidd was well drawn and the world he lived in felt rather ‘masculine.’ Johanna wasn’t a particularly feminine character either. Though, I do love being pleasantly surprised when an author can write another gender.

I listened to the book but those who read it said there was no quotation marks or other punctuation for dialogue. It took a while for the readers to get used to it. We wondered if she wrote all of her books this way. Maybe it was the influence of writing poetry.

A reader mentioned that the style reminded her of Mark Twain. The main character sounded a bit like Twain as well. He was also a printer in the West at the same time period. It was a flashback to a book we read a few years ago, The Bohemians.

Johanna’s time with the Kiowa made her resilient; she was strong and could endure a lot of hardships. If she’d been the young German girl she was born to be, she may not have been able to survive the trip to her relatives. We laughed when recalling the scene where Johanna wanted to scalp the men who tried to kill them and Captain Kidd deemed that ‘impolite.’

The relationship between the two was cemented late in the novel when Captain Kidd saw how Johanna was being used as slave labor by her aunt and uncle. We felt he may have left her if her relatives had been less cruel to her. We felt she began to trust him early on when they ran into soldiers and he didn’t hand her over to them. She knew he was trying to keep her safe. Though, we thought that Johanna leaving may make the aunt and uncle want their $50 back since they ‘paid’ for her in the first place.

We talked about the title quite a bit and had several interpretations. One was that the book gave us the news of the world of Texas in the 1870s. It told us how the world worked with slavery gone and a post-war economy in fluctuation. It was also how Kidd got news, from the people he ran into and how he saw them interact. He also chose what the news was going to be by selecting different stories for different crowds, deciding what they would know of the world.

The book focused on how different cultures come together to learn and accept each other. Johanna and Kidd were as different as could be as far as age, gender, language, and culture. But they still cared for each other and could be a good team together.

Even though the Civil War is over, it’s not really. There’s only one black character in the book, and he’s restricted his travel because of his race. As free as he is legally, he knows that society doesn’t see it the same way.

This book was great for a discussion. I do enjoy meeting with others to talk about the books I voraciously consume. I’m really looking forward to our next title, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

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: Dodgers by Bill Beverly

23 Apr

My book club met a few weeks ago to discuss Dodgers by Bill Beverly. I’m so behind in posts (so many books to talk about!) that I’m getting to this a bit late. That’s why I take notes.

One of the biggest surprises to me was that the author was a white man from Michigan. Those who read the physical books saw the picture of Beverly on the back cover, so they weren’t surprised once the book was over like I was. We wondered how much he knew about his subject matter and what authority he had about it. Beverly now lives in DC and he lives and teaches in an area where he interacts with primarily black people. He’s also written a non-fiction book on criminal fugitives, so he does have some background on the subject. It still doesn’t seem like a fit, but I honestly wouldn’t have guessed he didn’t match East’s background until I looked up his photo. I wonder if someone from that background would feel the same way.

Some readers pointed out that the difference between the beautiful descriptions in East’s head and the eloquent way he thought was a rough contrast to the rough and rude dialogue of the boys. It made the words feel like they didn’t fit.

The shoot out at the beginning had a lasting impact on East and what he felt through the rest of the novel. It was a small team of boys, like the team in the van and something didn’t happen that should have, making the whole thing fall apart. One reader likened it to a school project where one person doesn’t do their part and the whole thing comes crashing down.

We all enjoyed the scene where the boys are buying guns. It emphasized how young they all are and how out-of-place they are in that world. They were trying to get out of a tough situation and felt they were finally making progress when they ditched Michael just to fall into an even tougher situation.

We find out during the novel that the boys didn’t necessarily need to kill the judge, they just needed to be out-of-town for a while. We wondered if Ty might have known. East was a rule-follower and he wasn’t going to deviate from the task, so he would never have suspected. Ty might have. Finn knew he couldn’t tell the boys just to leave town for a while, he had to give them a reason to be out-of-town and killing the judge seemed like a legit reason.

The characters in this book gave us a lot to talk about. Michael Wilson was the idiot of the group. He was impulsive, and it got him in trouble quickly. We wondered why he was referred to by his first and last name. Were there a lot of other Michaels? Or did it give him a level of authority, like his age, to be in charge? He wasn’t much of a leader.

We all agreed that we liked Walter better. He knew more than anyone else in the van except maybe Ty. He knew how they got the IDs and seemed to understand Finn’s operation a bit more than East and Michael Wilson.

As I said, Easy was a rule follower. He sometimes followed his own rules, but he followed them. He was meticulous about the things he decided were important. We have many examples of him keeping himself clean and showering while on the road. He kept the range clean after Perry died because that was his habit. The book ends with him not following a rule for once and running East.

We all felt there was something more to Ty that needed to be explained. Something must have made him the way he was, but we don’t know. He’s clearly a sociopath with no empathy and no possessions. A boy who stops coming home at nine and is moved out by eleven needs help and his family didn’t have the means to get it for him. From early in the book, when we first meet Ty, it’s clear he’s going to be the one to pull the trigger.

Martha Jefferson was a great character. Her plotline came up only because Walter was there. East never would have been able to charm her or been quick enough to join her on his own. We think Martha instantly felt bad for the boys. She understood how lonely it could be as a black person in rural Iowa. She may have known something bad was going on right away but went with it because she felt bad for the boys. We think she must have realized something was wrong by the time they got to the airport. She probably kept moving forward to avoid something worse happening to her.

There were a lot of parallels between East’s life at the beginning of the book and his time at the paintball range. There was a gang in town, the Christian Wolves. It was a white gang, but gangs are born of poverty and it was there in Ohio. The men who come are described as addicted at times, spending their whole paychecks on paintball and ignoring their families to be at the range.

In the end, East heads east. We talked about how historically, people struck west in the US to seek their fortunes. That wasn’t East’s way.

Our next book is The Power by Naomi Alderman. I’ve already finished it and I think it will be an amazing 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: Hunger by Roxane Gay

21 Mar

My book club met to discuss Roxane Gay’s Hunger last week. It was a very emotional book and it made very a very emotional discussion!

I wasn’t the only person who listened to the audiobook. There were a range of opinions about the narration. Gay spoke slowly and some readers listened at a faster speed. She read it in a very monotone voice and some felt it didn’t give the subject matter the right amount of gravitas that a professional reader may have given it.

Many felt the book itself was a bit long and repetitive. By the end, some described it as whiny. Interestingly, there were not many professional reviews that had anything negative to say about the book. I guess it’s hard to criticize someone’s raw pain. No matter how many times she repeated it, though, someone who’s never been her size will never understand what it’s like for her. I can’t get it, even after reading this book. The subject matter was very personal and it felt like the reader was almost too involved in her life to the point of being obtrusive.

Roxane has the conflicting desires to be larger and unattractive to men but to receive the rewards that she sees as coming with weight loss and being small. She’s scared to be small because she thinks that if she is, she could be raped again. This contradiction carries through the book.

One thing that stood out to us was her not being able to tell her family about the rape until years later. We think they would have been more than understanding and helped her get the justice and guidance she needed. For a family that was so accepting of her bisexuality, surely they could accept something that she suffered so terribly.

Reading this book opened many of our eyes to how someone who is overweight feels about being looked at. Our society is very critical of someone who overindulges in food rather than something less visible such as alcohol, drugs, or sex. It’s because it’s something we can so readily see. Saying someone is obese is an accusation of something that is wrong with a person. It’s something medical personnel want to treat and which they get paid to correct. Gay’s problem was compounded by her gender. We all felt it was easier for a man to be overweight than a woman. They’re less likely to be stared at in the same manner.

We wondered if writing this book helped her cope with anything. We felt she firmly cemented that she is always going to be big and that she’s OK with it. We speculated that if Gay did lose the weight, people would comment on it and those comments would likely upset her because she wouldn’t lose weight to gain anyone’s approval. If she ever did it, it would be for herself.

I’ve only just started our next book, Dodgers by Bill Beverly. I’m hoping that one won’t be so emotional, we need a break!

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: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani (Part 2)

12 Mar

Since Trigiani is visiting our area, both of my book clubs read her book, Kiss Carlo, over the past few months. My second book club met to talk about it and we didn’t have too much to say about it. We spent the majority of the meeting picking books for our next season of reading. So this will be short.

I aired the complaints my other group shared about extraneous plot lines and many agreed. We did have a member who just adored this book and I can see how someone would. This reader is from an Italian family and she adored Trigiani’s depiction of an Italian-American family. I married into one and I could appreciate it as well (and commiserate with the sisters-in-law!). It’s clear Trigiani knows what she’s writing about in that respect. Some of our readers come from a Jewish background and they identified with the strong family ties as well. It was well written and relatable. We talked about how her writing, the words on the page, were enjoyable. However, a lot of people agreed that there were some things that were hard to believe and that the book could have been edited nearly in half.

One reader described the book by saying “It was like eating Cool Whip expecting a turkey dinner.” It was nice, light, and enjoyable, but it didn’t have the meat to it that we’d hoped for and it didn’t leave us satisfied.

Most of us have already read our book for next month, The Gilded Hour by Sarah Donati. We’re making up for a snow day in January where we missed a meeting.

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: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

14 Feb

My book club met this week to discuss Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. I’m glad I got my review of the book finished before we talked because there were a long of strong opinions in the group!

We started with a little background about Trigiani. Her family is from Roseto Valfortore and her grandfather was the mayor at one point. They visited the town and had automotive trouble getting there because the road was so bad. This helped explain the random-ness that was the Italian road (more on this later). Strangely enough, her brother is named Carlo and her friends were teasing her about the title of her book.

My questions about the cover were shared. The flowers and the woman on the cover made us believe this was a uniquely ‘feminine’ book. We can’t imagine a man reading it! Apparently, the woman on the cover isn’t a specific character from the novel, but a fashion model from the 50s who’s supposed to give the book a period feel. We felt the title was misleading as well and gave the idea of a romantic plot. One reader pointed out that Trigiani is a well-known author and that she has an established audience. That audience is mostly female and she’s probably not trying too hard to create a male fan base.

Someone brought up how the fight between the Palazzini brothers felt like a Shakespearean feud. It was like Dom and Mike’s dad wanted there to be a fight between his boys and the way it split the family was reminiscent of a Romeo and Juliet style family fight. We felt the story could have paralleled a Shakespeare story better if this was the intention. Or it could have dropped the feud and been a little more focused. There were so many people involved because of it that we needed a family tree to figure out who was the child of who and if they got along with someone else. Ugh.

Hortense felt a bit contrived for some people. She kept to herself at work and had a solitary job, but she was very close to the family. It seemed like a little too much. Maybe if she’d worked in their home it would have been more believable, but with her job in the shop, we didn’t buy it. She also seemed very bicultural and working in that environment didn’t seem like enough to give her that level of fluency in Italian American culture.

Calla was very modern for the time period. She felt more like someone in our modern world than a girl of the 1950s. Cutting her own hair and wearing pants was one thing, there are always those rebelling against fashion. However, going to the bank and being in charge of her own finances and business seemed like a bit too much.

We spent a lot of our meeting time talking about parts of the story that seemed illogical or nonsensical as part of the book. Even though I enjoyed some of these parts, I had to admit they weren’t very logical and some didn’t move the plot well. I’ll bullet to save space.

  • Nicky going to Roseta. Why wouldn’t he just skip town and lay low? Why put himself in such a visible position?
  • Hortense and Minna becoming friends. She’s such a recluse she never leaves the house yet becomes life-long friends with a weekend border?
  • Peachy figuring out where Nicky was. What would make her think that the filer she finds in the trash at his apartment is where he is hiding? That’s a huge leap in logic and a long shot at best.
  • Elsa being Jewish. We wanted so much more out of this unlikely (and slightly unbelievable) marriage. She wanted to go to temple, but we never find out if she does or how the family feels about it.
  • Nicky’s jerk attitude toward Calla before they get together. It was so obvious they were going to wind up together, why was it dragged out in this way? And what was his motivation for being such a jerk? Based on his conversation with Hortense before leaving New York, it seemed clear he went home for Calla!
  • The man dying in Nicky’s cab. We didn’t see how that would be such a ‘wake up’ moment for him. We also didn’t see why it was such a big deal that the man had sullied the cab and they had to get another one. That scene felt like a little too much.

Overall, the book could have been a lot shorter and a lot more streamlined. I’m hesitant to read another book by this author, but I’ll be hearing her speak in April and would normally buy a book as a souvenir. I have some time to decide.

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: 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!

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.

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