Tag Archives: Book Club

Book Club Reflection: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

24 Dec

As sometimes happens with two book clubs based out of the same library, I now have two discussions of News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I don’t think this book was the best fit for my ‘edgy’ book club, but since it’s going to be made into a movie, we allowed it.

It was pointed out again that there are no dialogue marks in the book, similar to how McCarthy writes. Some people didn’t like the switches to Johanna’s point of view and I believe I remember them as a little confusing in the audiobook since there was no narrator change and they felt a little abrupt. The book felt a bit like a movie. We all want Sam Elliot to play Captain Kidd, though Tom Hanks will do nicely!

The three men who have Johanna at the very beginning are based on some historical figures. Brit Johnson’s family was stolen by the Comanche and he was able to successfully ransom them. He spent later years trying to rescue a girl from the Kiowa but was ultimately killed in his attempt. This is mentioned in the book (and subsequent movie) The Searchers by Alan LeMay.

The internal arguments Captain Kidd had with himself felt real to us. He had a very sound sense of justice. Though, overall, he did feel a little one-dimensional. Not much changed about him over the course of the story. I don’t think his time with Johanna changed how he felt about her or children in general. I honestly felt he was going to adopt her from the beginning. Kidd understood people well and knew a lot about the world outside of Texas. He didn’t develop that during the book.

No one was surprised that Johanna was unhappy with her aunt and uncle. Compared to the freedom of living with the Kiowa, it must have seemed unsafe and dangerous. Her family was harsh on her and she wasn’t ready for it. We wondered why they’d pay so much to get her back. It must have been either pride and appearances or the free labor she could provide.

Captain Kidd’s livelihood was unusual. He picked news from abroad to expand people’s sense of the world and purposefully picked local politics. We were impressed that he got the newspapers he did in rural Texas. It seemed odd to get London newspapers. We figured that this might be the job Jiles would have wanted if she lived in that time period.

The gunfight scene was very memorable. One reader pointed out that the range would have to have been shorter for the dimes to shoot in the way they’re described but without that knowledge of physics, I was fine with it. We thought it was interesting that she didn’t see the value of dimes the same as Kidd. They weren’t money to her so they could be weapons. She is very stealthy getting to the wagon and back which we attributed to her Kiowa upbringing. It’s emphasized more when she goes to scalp the men she’s killed!

We’ll be back in January with more. I’ve already finished the book, now I just have to remember 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: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

10 Dec

My book club met to discuss Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter pretty soon after I finished reading it. It feels like ages since this happened because of my NaNoWriMo slow down so I’m glad I can finally tell you about it.

I was the only person in the group who hadn’t seen Cleopatra. I’m not sure I want to see it now that I know more about it and understand that its popularity was due to the romance between the leads. It sounds like the movie itself wasn’t that great.

Many felt Walter’s description of Italy brought the place to life. I loved the descriptions of Pasquale’s home and family. It was very vivid and easy to envision.

Most of us didn’t like Pat and we felt that his section was a bit ‘too much’ and hard to believe. He was an addict like his father. He was also dramatic and a good actor like his father. He wasn’t much like Alvis, his adopted father, except toward the end when he became very domesticated. We thought this might be a way of dealing with his addictions. It was hard reading about Dee and how she didn’t tell him for so long. She never resolved how she felt about Dick and we think she was avoiding him coming back into her life. She was trying to escape from Dick. And it got harder and harder to tell Pat after time went by until it was forced on her.

We all felt Pasquale was the most likable male character in the story. He was also the only one who didn’t want to be an artist, but he was still a dreamer, trying to make a wonderful hotel. He never seemed young to us, likely a case of an ‘old soul.’ He also wasn’t described much physically except for his eyes.

Within the book, Walter has a lot of different stories, like Alvis Bender’s first chapter and Shane’s pitch. When each plotline started, it was like getting pitched a new script because they seemed so separate at first. It took Walter 15 years to finish this book and we could see why.

One of the memorable lines from the book was, “People want what they want.” We felt that the motivator was present throughout most of the book. These characters hurt others in pursuit of getting whatever it was that they wanted. The town Pasquale lives in translates to ‘Port of Shame’ and each character seems to air their shame during the story. Michael Dean went even further than that and took someone else’s shame (Dick and Liz) and turned it into a spectacle for everyone to ogle.

We felt that almost every character could be described as their own Beautiful Ruin. Most of them are striving for beauty and art in their lives. A ruin survives time, but it’s not intact and most of these characters have to go through trouble to get through their struggles. The gun bunker and the port town were physical examples of beautiful ruins. We thought the moment with Dee and Pasquale in the bunker was one of the sweetest moments in the book.

Most of us were not fans of the ending. The story wrapped up too quickly and it felt like everything worked out too well, almost like a fairy tale. We were also left a bit confused about what happened between Pasquale and Dee. It felt like a romance, but not much romantic happened. And we were confused about how she managed to travel the way she did if she was so weak. It felt a little magical.

I missed the November meeting because I was out of town and we’ll skip December because of the holidays so I’ll be back with this group in January to discuss Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m already loving the 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: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

10 Oct

I was beyond excited to talk to my book club about Hillbilly Elegy. I enjoyed the book a lot and I thought that living in the Midwest, a lot of people would have some personal connections with the story and Hillbilly culture. There were some, but not as many as I’d hoped. It was still a good discussion.

This book was released in 2016 and many early reviews said it would help explain the phenomenon of Trump winning the election. A lot of us weren’t sure that it helped us understand that at all. It was a mix of a memoir and a policy book. He didn’t have specific recommendations for policy and how to fix the problems he pointed out many times. Vance had a lot of description and didn’t let the reader’s mind picture something the way a fiction writer would. He told his story and some of our readers felt his story was very specific to him while others felt the story could be generalized for the region and people.

The Hillbilly culture Vance describes goes back to the Scotch/Irish immigrants. Those groups left their homeland to escape poverty, the same reason that Vance points out they’re now leaving Kentucky and the hills. One of our members felt that the break-up of the Hillbilly people wasn’t the only small ethnic group being broken up. She saw parallels with the Jewish communities she grew up with and how they had begun to fracture with the next generation.

Vance points out a lot of positive values in the Hillbilly culture that we felt were a little double-sided. Loyalty was stressed a lot and family was very important. Mamaw was a strong character and applauded for pouring gasoline on her husband and lighting him on fire though she could easily have been a murderer for that. We wondered if her strong character made it hard for Vance’s mother to form an identity and become her own person.

Many of us admitted that we have a very one-sided view of poverty and people on welfare. Vance provided us another side to the story and reasons why people end up taking the payments. He could have so easily ended up on welfare we well. He was lucky and admits that if any one element of his upbringing had been different, he would have ended up somewhere completely different and not have had the success he does.

J.D.’s mother’s addiction was a big part of his childhood. We talked a lot about the biological reasons she could be addicted, but also about the social and cultural reasons that could have led her to addiction. We speculated, but there wasn’t a ton of background that explained her addiction well.

Vance was very aware of his culture and the poverty associated with it from a young age. He started reading about it in high school. He seemed very critical of those taking food stamps but when the government was offering him something for free (college) or his grandmother (social security), he wasn’t critical at all. For his GI Bill, he seemed to feel that it was OK to get government assistance when he’d earned it with his service. What the difference was between those on food stamps and his grandmother’s Social Security checks, we didn’t really understand.

There were a few key elements to J.D.’s life that made him successful. He always knew he had someone who would be there for him. His grandmother and later his wife were huge supporters for him and gave him something to fall back on. His aunt was another constant in his life that he relied on. He was also able to figure out what he didn’t know and was open to asking for help when he needed it. Not everyone can do that and not everyone has someone to ask so Vance was very fortunate. He was told about the Marines and that seemed to force him to grow up a lot and he has his cousin to thank for telling him about that. He was also very intelligent and got to where he is because of that intelligence. But without one of the other elements, it might not have been enough.

This book was great for discussion and I’m really glad we finally read it. I wonder if book clubs in other parts of the country would have connected with it so well.

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: Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian

30 Sep

I don’t like to do it this way, but I went to my book club before I had the chance to write my review for Michael Zadoorian’s Beautiful Music. I hope these notes and opinions didn’t influence my opinions too much in my personal review. For the most part, the group liked the book even though it fell short to me.

Zadoorian is local to Detroit and grew up in the city. He now lives in Ferndale, a suburb north of the city. A few people in our group had heard him speak live and wish he had read the audiobook because the readings he did at his event were great. We liked all of the local references and his love for the city felt very authentic. The book is slightly autobiographical, including Zadoorian’s love for music and a character who is the same age he would have been at the time.

The book was listed as one of Oprah’s Summer Reads for 2018. Zadoorian’s first book, The Leisure Seeker, was turned into a movie starring Donald Sutherland. Zadoorian has another book coming out next year,

The radio station became a big part of Danny’s life quickly. Despite him being dismissed from reading the announcements, we hoped it would continue to be a big part of his life going forward. He realized it was immature of him not to take the opportunity to be a part of the station in another way. The realization started him down the path of exploring other music and growing his interests. We thought it would be easy for him to go back to it and become involved again, the teachers seemed like they’d still welcome him.

Race relations rightfully played a big part in Danny’s story. One of our members was about Danny’s age and lived in Indianapolis and remembered suburbs that were much more integrated than the one described by Danny. Members who lived in Detroit at the time say the description was pretty accurate. We’ve heard that Detroit was one of the most segregated cities at the time.

It was very clear to us that Danny suffered from some degree of anxiety. It was harder to detect at first when he was bothered by anxieties of starting high school, something that makes a lot of students nervous. When his father passed away, it was kicked into a higher level. The ‘fade’ that he talks about happens when his anxiety is creeping up. He doesn’t like quiet and needs the sound of music or the radio to keep him calmer. His mom has the same coping mechanism, though hers is TV.

The struggles Danny’s mother has with mental illness wouldn’t have been recognized at the time she was suffering from them. We liked how Zadoorian did the same thing with her, making her problems more obvious over time but more conspicuous at the beginning. When she told Danny she didn’t want children, we all felt this was incredibly narcissistic and probably a result of her mental illness. Danny’s mother as a stark contrast to Mrs. Tedesco, a much more stereotypical woman of the time. It was good to see another mother figure in this story.

The emotional attachment Danny had to the living room and its furniture we contributed to it being part of his ‘dad’s stuff’ and also leaving the room as it was when his family was together. Cleaning up the dining room would recognize that something had changed and was permanently altered, something Danny wasn’t ready for.

I didn’t have time to bring up my issues with the end so I’m not sure if I’m alone in my feelings or not. Oh well. It was good to talk about this book with some people who connected with it differently than I did. I always appreciate my book club’s perspective.

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: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

12 Sep

I don’t normally cut it close between finishing a book and the book club meeting, but I was really close on this one, finishing the book the morning of the meeting! It was great because the story was fresh in my head. Not sure if I’d do it again, though.

Many of our readers hadn’t read Jones before though I think some will go back to her backlist now. Jones holds a degree from Spellman, which was featured prominently in the book. She’s won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with An American Marriage. This book was also picked for Oprah’s Book Club and President Obama shared it on Facebook as one of his favorite summer reads in 2018. The book is currently being adapted to film but no word yet on the casting.

There was a lot to talk about with this book, a lot of ‘what ifs.’ We did find it strange that Celestial and Andre seemed to think Roy was never going to get out even though Uncle Banks was working on a defense. Did they have no confidence in him? We wondered if the story would have been significantly different had Celestial been the one in jail. Would Roy have been faithful to her? We suspect he may have been emotionally faithful, but he didn’t seem to put much stock in physical faithfulness. He’s mentioned buying lingerie for other women and is very quick to jump to Divina.

We wondered about the woman who accused him of rape. She’s not well described except that she reminds Roy of his mother. Many of us initially thought she was white but looking back at it wondered if she was black. I read that Jones deliberately kept this vague because it shouldn’t matter, but it does make you wonder. Would Roy have opened up as much to a white woman? Would she have reminded him of his mother?

Andre made a point of not apologizing to Roy at the end. We felt that he should have. A lot of other characters called him out for what he was doing to a man who he had at one time considered his best friend. Mr. Davenport and Big Roy were two that come to mind. He was being a bad friend and Big Roy told him he was going to get beaten up and to just take it. I felt he should have said he was sorry.

Celestial is not blameless in the story. She wasn’t a very strong character, often seeming to go with the path of least resistance. She’s talked about as being a strong woman and having learned to be independent at Spellman, but we disagreed. Maybe Andre took advantage of her emotional state at Olive’s funeral, but she wasn’t easily played.

The big question in the novel is if Roy and Celestial could have made it work. We don’t think so. They might have peacefully co-existed, but their relationship was too damaged to have recovered to what it had once been.

We wondered about Celestial and abortion. Did she want to have the abortion, or did she want the baby? We wondered how much she did it because she wanted to or because Roy wanted her to. And if she didn’t want to have it how much did that increase her anger at Roy? It seemed she didn’t want to have the abortion at first, but she also seemed relieved not to have a child with a father in jail.

Another reader pointed out something I missed. Ol’ Hickory was a great representation of a promise. Marital promises break down in the book and Ol’ Hickory is damaged, but both pull through, though not in the way you think they will. I bet that’s why the tree is featured on the paperback cover image.

We talked a lot about the title and what it could mean. One reader thought it referred to the state of marriage in American and how marriages are short and entered into under questionable circumstances. There are a few examples of infidelity as well (Roy, the Davenports). But there were also examples of a long-term marriage in the book, most notably Big Roy and Olive. I felt that it referred to the black experience in America and how mass incarceration of black men makes this story a uniquely American experience. Our group leader pointed out how there are a lot of examples of justice in the book and the ways that people experience social, racial, and personal justice. Many things seem unfair to Andre, Celestial, and Roy and they must find a way to seek their own justice within the American system.

This was a great book for discussion and I’m glad we read it. My mom’s book club is reading it soon, so I’ll have another discussion with her about it shortly.

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: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

5 Aug

My book group met to discuss Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal last week. We got off the topic of the book a bit because a lot of us wanted to discuss the same topic more than what Gawande had to say about it. Many of us have had loved ones go through end-of-life care so we all had a lot to share.

We did talk a bit about Gawande before we began. He’s a very impressive person. He was born in Brooklyn and earned his MA from Oxford and his MD from Harvard. He served as a health care advisor under Clinton during his campaign. He’s currently working on developing a new kind of health care company with major players in the business world called Haven. I’d love to get coffee with this guy, but I doubt he has the time.

We had a new member join us this month who works as a social worker with older adults and she had a lot of personal insight to share. She revealed to us that many older adults are afraid of death and how they will die. Some members of our group were surprised. They talk about death and dying with their families and friends openly. Of course, these are trusted loved ones, but the topic still comes up.

The social worker mentioned that she met Bill Thomas, the man who brought birds and plants into his retirement community to bring life back to it. She said he’s a little crazy, but most people with radical ideas are a bit out there. The idea of it is to make people feel useful. Sometimes, this is accomplished by having residents wash a dish or peel carrots for dinner. Thomas’s way was to have them take care of animals. Often, you see these ideas implemented incorrectly. A birdcage in the lobby where the staff care for the animals is in the right vein but doesn’t put the responsibility on the residents and defeats the purpose.

Suicide among the Baby Boomer generation is increasing (see this article). One of the reasons cited is the loss of power. We read a lot in Gawande’s book about how you lose your individualism as you grow older and the power to control what you do. This loss of power can fuel depression and it seems to be growing as the Baby Boomers age.

We talked at length about the difference between hospice and palliative care. I was still a bit unsure of the difference after reading the book. Palliative care is meant to keep someone who is ill out of the hospital and anticipate problems before they occur. It’s a bit of ‘comfort care,’ but it’s also on the preventative side as it mitigates side effects. Hospice means you are no longer being treated for the disease you are dying of. You won’t be rushed to the hospital for a symptom of your disease. This is the idea of ‘making every day as good as possible.’

These are hard topics for some people to talk about because they’re very personal. Our conversation got emotional but I’m proud of us and how much we trust each other to talk about these difficult issues. It was interesting how this book focused on keeping the elderly or sick person in control of their situation while the book we read about cadavers, Stiff by Mary Roach, focused on how what happens to our bodies after we die is completely out of our control. We can’t forget that the change should happen only at death and not before.

I can’t believe summer’s almost over but we’ll meet one more time in August before the fall picks up. 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: Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens

9 Jul

My book club met to discuss Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens a few weeks ago. I’m behind on getting this up and I apologize but it works out nicely that this is going up the day after I posted my review, right? I totally planned that.

Smolens is based in Marquette, one of the largest cities in Northern Michigan and the location of Northern Michigan University, which I believe is the largest school in the Upper Peninsula. Smolens teaches English at NMU.

We were all interested to hear that there were really five POW camps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). Au Train was the largest and considered the least violent and had the least security. It’s a remote location! There were a total of 400,000 POWs located throughout the US. We appreciated the perspective of this book, how it was about an Italian soldier in an US-based POW camp. I’d never read a book about this before. It was also fun hearing the misinformation that the Axis powers had spread about the US.

The phrase in the opening pages that led to the title, Wolf’s Mouth, is from an Italian phrase whose equivalent is ‘Break a Leg.’ It was wishing luck to Frank when he had to be brave and face something intimidating, whether that be the woods of Northern Michigan or Vogel. There was a lot of humor in the book about misunderstood colloquialisms. I liked that this was one I misunderstood as an English speaker.

We spoke a lot about Vogel in our discussion. We wondered if he was protecting himself and what he’d done in the camp, or if he really felt he was protecting the Reich. Having his son working for him was an odd situation as well. We wondered how much of his father’s story Anton believed. And we wondered if his beliefs changed when he went through the trial or visited Munising. It was hard for everyone in our group to believe that there would be groups in the US carrying out the Nazi’s war. Especially with the war over for so many years.

We were asked to describe the book in one word. Troubling came up, as readers were troubled by the Nazi’s running the training camps and how the Axis powers mistreated each other. Forgiving came up since Frank was asked to forgive so much through the course of the book. And nostalgia as many of our members have fond memories of Detroit in the 50s when Frank was living there.

We had very few complaints about the book. One was that there were too many characters introduced during the Detroit section. We lost track of them and they didn’t come into play in the book again. There was one specific complaint where it was mentioned that in 1956, buses in Detroit were segregated. Our members didn’t remember that at all. There was no true segregation on the buses, though there were buses that stayed north of 8 Mile Road, the border road between the city and the suburbs (is anyone else singing Eminem now? Just me?). This was brought up again when Leon got on the Greyhound and seemed to sit at the front.

Overall, we enjoyed the book and the memories of Michigan that it brought up. It was fun to read a book in our home state. Maybe we’ll be able to again 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: 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.’

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