Tag Archives: Book Club

Book Club Reflection: In the Distance by Hernán Díaz

21 Sep

It is rare for me to not finish a book before our book club meets, but that’s what happened this past week. I couldn’t manage to finish In the Distance by Hernán Díaz in time for our meeting. I had less than two hours left of the audio when we met.

Our leader had some great information about Díaz. The book was sent int during an open call for manuscripts and is his first novel, which he’d been working on for years. Díaz lived in first Sweeden and then Argentina before moving to New York. He didn’t travel to the locations he mentioned to research the novel. It’s a bit of a travel novel and a Western. The story shows the chaos of the Wild West more than the heroic side that’s often portrayed in Westerns. The corrupt Shariff is an example of the American Dream of the West gone sour. It was pointed out that most Westerns set in the late 1800s like this one were not written during that time period. Most Westerns are about an idealized and mythological West that’s common in literature but isn’t necessarily true of history. (From this article from The Nation)

There were a few of us who listened to the audiobook for this one and we found that those of us who listened disliked the book more than those who read it. We didn’t feel the narrator’s voice matched the story. Those who read the book noticed something that passed me by. There was almost no dialogue in the first half of the books because Håkan didn’t speak English and didn’t understand what was being said. He’s a foreigner in the West, even though everyone there is not from the area. He’s the most foreign foreigner in the land.

During the book, Håkan has a lot of different companions and one reader counted nine in total. I wasn’t a fan of this episodic storytelling and a few of my fellow readers felt the same. We were disappointed when characters like the woman with black gums never showed up again. It made us question the purpose of certain parts of the book. Lorimer was one character we tended to like. Many of us felt he was comparable to Darwin.

Many of us were frustrated that Håkan never found his brother, but many people suspected it. Marking it to New York wasn’t part of his story. When he decided to return to Sweden, most weren’t surprised. A reader suggested that he’d lost touch with reality a bit in thinking he could walk across Russia, but others thought he’d honed his skills enough to be able to do it. One reader was very familiar with Sweedish immigration and told us that many Swedes who left for the US went back to Sweeden so it’s likely Lionus may have done that and they’d be reunited at home. So maybe there is a happy ending?

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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Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Club Reflection: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

6 Aug

Our book club met over Zoom again and this time we were able to discuss The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. We got a little background about Richardson to start us off, finding out that she’d grown up in a bad orphanage situation in Kentucky and struggled with homelessness for a time. There was a lot of disease and poverty in the book. Characters suffered from hunger, infections, and Pellagra (a disease none of us had heard of).

I wasn’t the only one who listened to the audiobook and some said they found the narrator to sound very authentic and liked her a lot. I’m inclined to agree.

Many of us didn’t know about the blue people of Kentucky. Some thought it was science fiction at first and most of us ended up Googling it. The way the people reacted to Cussy’s family showed how evil some people can be. We wondered how much of that evil is human nature and how much of it is taught prejudice. In the case of some characters, it seemed a taught behavior (Harriot) whereas others seemed mildly curious about something so unusual (the doctor). We wondered how much Angeline’s husband knew he was a blue. I thought he knew, but others thought he was an unknowing carrier. Angeline didn’t know she carried it. We were a bit surprised that her husband hung himself. With his anger, we thought he’d hurt the baby. But we were glad he didn’t.

There were some great historical aspects of this book that we enjoyed. The scrapbooks were a great community project for the dispersed people to participate in. It let the neighbors learn different ways of doing something or learn a new skill while they were spread out. It seemed a bit odd to us that so many people didn’t want to take WPA jobs, but we also understood the pride involved in not taking government handouts. I’m involved in hiring and I’ve talked to a lot of people struggling with taking government assistance with the COVID fallout because of pride.

We were surprised that Cussy’s father married her to her first husband. Her father seems to be so caring and fond of her, yet he seems to turn a blind eye to such a poor match. We figured that he probably knew he was sick and wanted her to be married to someone who could care for her before he died but still felt he was a bit too quick. It seemed odd that he turned Jackson down six times after that much desperation to marry her the first time. We also wondered about the inconsistency of her being able to marry. Her marriage to Jackson is illegal, but she could marry Frasier? Maybe the law changed, but we figured the most likely answer is that no one cared enough to report it the first time.

The women in town were unnaturally cruel to her. The scene where she took her medicine to appear white and was still so strongly rejected was especially difficult to read. She was pretty and smart and the women felt threatened by her if they couldn’t put her down and make her feel like an underdog. The people on her route were much more polite and open-minded. We wondered if they were honestly better people and more open-minded, or if their reliance on Cussy helped them forgive her skill color.

Cussy’s relationship with the doctor was very confusing. Many disliked him because he was an opportunist. He certainly knew he had an upper hand on Cussy and blackmailed her to get her to submit to his experiments. He treated her like she was sick and that she wouldn’t be well unless she was white. He’d been after her mother, too, trying to get samples and cure their blue skin. At the same time, he was grateful to Cussy for giving him something to publish that he gave her pills and food whenever he could. He was just looking for a way to make himself famous.

I expressed my frustration with the end and a few people agreed with me. The wrap-up seemed a bit hurried and less authentic than the rest of the book. It was a story with a lot of heartbreak and hard-won joy and the ending was just a little too neat and happy to jive with the rest of the story.

We’ll be meeting again next week for our next book, Old Baggage by Lissa Evans. I hope I finish 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Club Reflection: These Women by Ivy Pochoda

27 Jul

I’m back! I took a week off due to some craziness in life, but it’s given me a chance to read more and get excited about blogging again. I’m glad to be with you all again.

Our book club had another successful Zoom meeting to talk about our latest book, These Women by Ivy Pochoda. We learned a lot about the author that I wouldn’t have guessed. Her other novels are more gritty crime novels, which wasn’t too much of a surprise. I was a bit surprised to hear she’d been a collegiate squash player and very successful. She was also working with Kobe Bryant before his death on a YA series called Epoca. She uses the pseudonym Ivy Claire for these books. The first was released in November 2019.

Pochoda lives in LA and has been there since 2009 but she wasn’t raised there. Her portrayal of the city felt very real to us like she’s been there even longer. A lot of the description reminded us of Detroit; a city run down and trying to revive itself but having a hard time of it.

Pochoda’s women are empowered and have the ability to change their futures and the outcomes of what they do. We never get inside the male killer’s head. He’s not the focus of the stories. One reader figured out the killer quickly since he was the only man in the book and she figured it had to be a man. It seems obvious to me now, but I didn’t see that at the time. The time jumps threw off a few readers who were reading digitally or on audio for the first time and weren’t used to the new formats.

It was very timely of this book to include BLM protests. You have to think Pochoda knew to include these before they became front-page news. She was tuned in to what was happening and put them in her book, making it feel like she could tell the future. The book felt less escapist than crime novels normally do because it felt so real and connected to the headlines we’re reading now.

Pochoda created some very memorable characters. Feelia’s section was raw and had a lot of course language in it. Those of us who listened to it enjoyed it more. Her language was coarse, but she was describing some beautiful things. Most of us liked Essie. She had some great quirks, like her gum chewing. We’d love to see her as the detective in more books. Her backstory felt a little rushed so more books would give us more into her character. We wanted to know more about the car accident since it didn’t seem fleshed out enough. We also wanted to know more about her former partner, Debbie. That seemed like a good story, too. All of the narrators ere the victims of something; Dorian of her murdered daughter, Jujubee of murder, Marella of a broken home life, Anneke of a bad marriage. Essie needed to be the victim of something, so maybe that misunderstanding is what made her compelling in this book.

Most of us felt Dorian was the least compelling of the narrators. It didn’t help that she started the story. We weren’t sure why we were hearing her story because it didn’t seem to connect to the larger narrative until much further into the story. She might have been more sympathetic if she’d been second or third. We started to care more about the characters as the chapters went on. They became deeper. Juliana is a dancer, but she wants to be an artist like Morella. Morella is an artist, but she’s having an identity crisis and ends up using someone else’s photos in her show. A few said they cared about Morella less at the end of her section. I think she lost the intrigue she had when she was nude and covered in blue paint.

Women are viewed as sexual beings in Western culture and those in power are disrespected and brought low so they can be objectified and seen as sexual beings. They’re not listened to; Dorian keeps the dead birds to show people so she can be believed. Feelia reports her stalker for years without anyone taking her seriously. Anneke, unfortunately, buys into this view of women as sexual beings. She says that the women are at fault for their deaths, causing the killer to want them and kill them. She blames them for what happens.

We’ve got at least one more virtual meeting in us before we can meet again. We’ll see how soon that comes about. 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Club Reflection: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

29 Jun

I think it’s safe to assume my book clubs will continue to meet online until the fall. I can’t say I mind. I like being in my athletic shorts and having a beer. And finishing dinner five minutes before it starts. We were able to attract a lot of new members this month, too. I’m not sure if it’s because the book was available easily online, people are bored, or this was an interesting book to more people, but I didn’t mind. As with my last group, we also had to find some COVID connection. This time, it was how Charlie’s brother’s PTSD seemed to jump to her as if it were a virus that could be transmitted. But we had a lot more to say about Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network than that.

There were a lot of great characters for us to discuss in this one. Eve was a group favorite and we spent a lot of time on how she changed from 1915 to 1947. We talked about two things that seemed to change her. The first was her relationship with Rene and the intimacy she engaged in with him. She seemed to start feeling strongly about herself and what she was doing when she enjoyed their intimate forays. She wanted to hate it because of who Rene was, but she found pleasure at times. What he did to her hands brought out her bitterness toward him. The second event was when she thought she’d betrayed Lily. She saw herself as a failure and couldn’t realize that she might be guiltless. Her job really changed who she was at heart. One member brought up how glossed over her abortion decision was, but felt that it changed how she saw her job and her commitment to it.

Rose’s story was hard for a lot of us to process. We thought it wouldn’t end well but were still wishing for a happy fairy tale ending. We hadn’t heard of the massacre. Besides Finn’s story of the gypsy girl, the survivor’s story was the most haunting moment of the book. One member had done more research and found that there was an elderly survivor in the town who stayed and she had the same name as the character in the book. History shows that there was a woman in the church with a baby who was killed in a similar fashion to Rose. It’s even more horrible when you know it’s true.

Lily was also a historical figure. She was often overlooked during the war because she was a short woman and wasn’t suspected of doing any spying. We were split on if we thought woman would be as effective as spies in modern times. On one side, women are more involved in military activities and are seen as more likely to engage in risky activities. Still, they are a bit more conspicuous than men, but the difference is much smaller than it was 100 years ago.

Rene was hard to read about. He was evil and cruel, seeming to have no respect for human life. One reader felt he was so moralless as to be almost unrealistic. Others felt that there were, unfortunately, people like him in the world. Even worse, we still have people like this in our world. We saw a parallel between his moral hardening between WWI and WWII parallelled with the German its change. We debated if Rene should have faced legal justice, or if the vigilante justice Eve inflicted was right. We weren’t sure that the public would have had the stomach for it at the time after the Nurenberg Trials had been carried out. He was a man of violence and a violent end seems appropriate for him. It was even more appropriate that the statue of Boudelaire was used.

Finn was a welcome character in this book. He was also damaged by war and was very non-judgemental of Eve and Charlie for how the war had affected them. He was parallelled well with Captain Cameron. Eve’s affection for Cameron and Charlie’s affection for Finn were both rooted in mutual trauma but blossomed into something beautiful.

The women in this book had some strong friendships. Eve and Charlie started as enemies but grew to become very trusting and reliant on one another. Lily and Even started as friends and their friendship carried them through some hard times. These friendships were strong like family ties and the women passed no judgments for what had to be done. Charlie’s pregnancy and Eve’s abortion were never questioned on a moral level. These women were thrown together in very intense situations which can help strong relationships form. You understand someone and how they think quickly. They were also fighting the same enemies which gave them something to bond over quickly. Eve, Charlie, and Rose all had overbearing mothers as well. That may be generational, but it’s something that would have helped them bond, too.

This was a great discussion and I’m only sad that I read the book so long ago that I didn’t remember the details well. I’m looking forward to connecting with the group again soon. Maybe we can see each other again in the fall. 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!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Club Reflection: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

19 May

I read the book so long ago that A Mother’s Reckoning felt like this meeting was never going to happen. We have had some disruptions at our library so that it even got canceled for a few days but then was back on. I ended up volunteering to lead the discussion. This was an emotional discussion for us because of the nature of Sue’s tragedy but I think we still had a good discussion.

It was hard for Klebold to grieve the loss of her son because outside of her immediate family, no one was grieving with her. They were angry at what Dylan had done and unable to see that she’d lost a child, too. One of our readers felt it was amazing Tom and Sue could get up every morning. Not only did they lose Dylan, but they also lost the child they thought Dylan was. Their Sunshine Boy ended up doing something unforgivable and they had to reconcile that. Sue did well writing this book and acknowledges she had help to do so. One thing we found throughout her writing is how much she blamed Eric for the tragedy. She says she recognizes that Dylan was a part of it, but she still seems to point a finger toward Eric.

There are a few parents in our group and we talked about the secrets that are kept between parents and children. Some readers shared stories of things they found out their children had done as teenagers that didn’t come out into the open until their 30s. Almost all of us admit to doing something our parents didn’t know about or lying to our parents about what we did. Some felt sorry for the parents of this generation. Growing up, there was a house phone and you knew who your kids were talking to and you had a chance to talk to their friends. Now, parents need to check their children’s phones for text and social media. Still, kids can hide a lot by deleting texts and creating second social media pages. Kids will always find a way if they want to.

Eric and Dylan were both early releases from their diversion program even though that was rare. They were able to put up a good front, similar to Ted Bundy and other unsavory people who knew how to win people over. Dylan lied about how he was feeling and the depression he was suffering from during his intake for the program. One reader pointed out that many times depressed individuals will lie about how they’re feeling because they don’t want to feel like a burden and talking about their depression can feel like burdening others.

The Columbine tragedy caused a lot of changes to our society. It was one of the early indicators of the problems associated with bullying. The teachers in the school are accused of not stopping a toxic culture of bullying that fueled the anger Dylan and Eric felt. They saw it so often that they thought it was normal and didn’t think it was worth speaking out against. This showed how dangerous it can be to normalize that behavior. There were two other readers on our call that were around my age and shared what they remembered changing in school after Columbine. We didn’t remember active shooter drills. I think those became more common after Sandy Hook. There’s been research that the drills are traumatizing for children. What we do remember is the number of bomb threats that were made in our schools afterward. One girl remembered monthly threats before a girl’s friends finally turned her in for making them. We recalled people who were known to do them to get out of tests. I remember one that was in the middle of my AP Spanish exam.

I think it’s fair to say school shootings are a curable disease in American culture. There’s a lot that can be done to limit them besides gun control measures: education around adolescent brain illness, anti-bullying campaigns, and encouraging students to speak up when their peers need help. Klebold is fighting for treatments for brain illness and we all commend her for her effort.

Our next meeting will be virtual as well, but the hope is that we’ll return to meeting in person soon. I just want to order some duck nuggets while we meet. 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

16 Apr

I already had one book club read and discuss Exit West by Mohsin Hamid so I didn’t reread the book. After the discussion, part of me wishes that I had. It seems that with the pandemic going on, this group got some very different messages and related to the characters differently than I did when reading it about a year ago.

Hamid was born in Pakistan but lived in the US in his childhood before returning to Pakistan and then to the US again for school. He studied under Joyce Carol Oats and Toni Morrison at Princeton and I could see some elements of Morrison’s melodic prose. Hamid’s novel Moth Smoke was turned into a movie that gained a fair amount of popularity. Some of our members enjoyed the writing style more than the plot. In retrospect, there isn’t too much of a plot to the book. One reader described it as a novel of ideas which doesn’t require character development or plot. Saeed and Nadia’s relationship isn’t the focus of the book, but it’s what’s happening during the book. The writing keeps the book moving.

It took some readers a while to realize that the doors were physical and not metaphorical. The helped make the logistics of migration disappear so that the book didn’t focus on how people get from one place to another but rather on the emotional side; why do people move? If we could all travel this quickly between places, would we migrate? We wondered if we would leave our homes and go somewhere with more freedom. I hear Sweden isn’t locked down. In the end, Saeed and Nadia have a happy ending and we don’t think that’s always likely. Our society will have to start accepting migrants more readily for these outcomes to be more common.

Many were struck by the short vignettes peppered through the story. They helped us see a variety of migrant experiences. Saeed and Nadia’s journey is what a lot of us think of when we hear that someone migrated but the people in the vignettes moved for a wider variety of reasons. For some migrants, there isn’t a single driving reason pushing them away and it can be hard to explain why they are going. In the end, some people did start to go home. As the situation at home changed, some went back. But others were settled and comfortable and stayed. One story that stuck out was the woman in California who lived in her house for so long that the world around it changed. There’s a great quote here, “We’re all migrants through time.” As things around us change, we adjust to the new normal. And once you leave a place, it continues to change. You can never return and expect something to be as it was before you left. Like you, it has changed. And when you leave, you damage the relationships left behind. Even if you don’t intend to. Technology makes it possible to keep up with someone, but it’s never the same. And often it ends completely.

Because of the current pandemic, some of the themes in this book spoke to us in different ways. The confinement that the characters felt when they were new was relatable because we can understand that feeling better. We’re also seeing drastic changes to socioeconomic status. People who were middle or upper class are losing jobs and unemployment and underemployment are running rampant. The characters didn’t realize their lives were about to change until they did, much the same way this pandemic has taken the world by storm and changed everything in a matter of weeks. Saeed and Nadia don’t know where they’ll end up or what the world they find will look like. We’re equally blind.

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: What the Eyes Don’t See (Round 2)

16 Mar

I had my second book club meeting about Mona Hanna Attisha’s book What the Eyes Don’t see. It was great to talk about this with a different group of people and see that we all hold similar opinions about how terrible the crisis is and how it’s shown us there is a lot of injustice built into our political system.

Our leader mentioned Dr. Mona’s TedMed talk which I’ll include here. She said it’s a good summary of the book. I have it playing in the background as I write this and so far I’d have to agree. This title was selected as the Great Michigan Read for 2019-2020. However, her events in Southeast Michigan were last year and I missed them all. There are a few more events outside my area if there’s anyone else in the state who wants to hear her speak. Another reader shared my surprise that there wasn’t a ghostwriter listed on Hanna’s byline. We wonder if maybe an amazing editor is responsible for this comprehensive book.

Hanna shared how many people knew about the crisis before she spoke out and how many people tried to discredit her when she did speak out. We had a debate about if these people were indifferent to Flint residents and just didn’t care or if they were coving their own butts. We’d like to think that they did care about people but were worried about themselves first. It’s not a great situation, but it seems more humane. We liked that Hanna pointed out that the people of Flint did notice there was something wrong and that they spoke out. They were ignored. They have pushed away because they were poor and minority. But they did speak out. They did care and they wanted something to change. They just needed another voice to speak along with them.

Again, none of us had heard about the DC Water Crisis. We’re all shocked that something of this magnitude is so unheard of. As a result of the Flint crisis, water testing in Michigan has changed and as of this past summer, five cities in my county (not my city thankfully) have found high lead levels. One of these, Birmingham, is a very wealthy community. So it seems the problem isn’t a wealth-based issue, but the solutions will be.

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: What The Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha

9 Mar

I’m glad to say we had a better discussion in our book club this month than we did last time. I think we all felt a lot more vested in this book than we have in some of our fiction books. With Flint being so close to home, most of us related to something in the book as a personal experience we’d shared or known someone who’d shared it.

Hanna picked a great title for her book. She’s talking about a lack of knowledge, not being able to ‘see’ something because you don’t know to look for it. But lead is also colorless, tasteless, and odorless, so it was something the eye couldn’t see. I wondered how much of the writing (and title) were her doing and how much assistance she might have gotten from a ghostwriter.

Hanna had to be very brave to do what she did. I think she was very lucky to have her brother prepare her for the personal attacks she received. We agreed she had a good network to support her when she spoke out. We had a member describe her as ‘hyper’ because she was doing so many things at the same time. One member spent time in medical school and felt that she was typical of many doctors. To get through school, they have to balance a lot of things in their lives and learn to function at a level like Hanna. She also felt that many doctors tend to lose their empathy because they’re dealing with illness and death so often. Hanna didn’t give that impression. She also came off as rather humble. We noticed she didn’t have Dr. or MD in her author byline.

None of us were aware that DC had a similar lead crisis. We were shocked, especially that more people didn’t suffer legal consequences. It seemed appropriate that some of the players in the Flint crisis faced criminal charges. Though we were surprised the governor didn’t. Snyder was so well-liked before this crisis and took a huge fall from grace. Many of us had the impression that he was more culpable than those who were charged. Many of them were likely following orders from higher up the food chain.

Some of the facts that hit us the hardest were about the developmental future of these children. Hanna talked about the PTSD that children can have from their environment and the toxic stress that their environment can create. It was devastating to hear about the home for neglected children with 5,000 ppb levels. With all the stressors in those children’s lives, they don’t have much of a chance.

I look forward to talking about this book with my other club in a few weeks. It will be interesting to see what a different group has to say about the same text.

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 Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison

17 Feb

It’s always interesting how much a book club discussion can change your perspective of a book. I’m almost always glad I went to a meeting, especially when I didn’t like a book.

There is a sequel to Frank’s story, Frank Derrick’s Holiday of a Lifetime. From the cover, it seems he makes it the US to visit his daughter. I read this book, but another member listened to the audio and said it was well done. This wasn’t the kind of book we normally read and I wasn’t surprised to hear that our organizer was a fan of the author’s music. If you knew us, you wouldn’t be surprised either.

The book spoke a lot about getting old and the loneliness that it can entail. The older members of our group identified more with frank. When his wife died, he was very lonely. One member has a British husband and she described for us that the attitude toward retirement is very different in the UK. In the US, retirement is a time to travel, indulge your hobbies, and volunteer. Her husband grew up feeling that retirement was when you sat down and waited to die. Thankfully, he’s changed his tune about retiring with an American bend to it.

One reader felt that Frank was a crotchety old man. If he’d been younger, we might not have described his pessimism and sarcasm this way, but because he’s older, the word seems to fit. Many suspected that he was in the early stages of dementia and wondered how that might have accounted for some of his behavior.

The structure of the book gives us only Frank’s perspective. We don’t get anything about how Kelly feels about him or how his daughter is dealing with being so far away. The daughter is a real mystery because we don’t know what’s going on in her house or in her head. She might well suspect that her father is perfectly fine after his accident and that’s why she didn’t come. Or she may really have a financial burden that makes her unable to come to visit. Some felt she was a neglectful daughter and others wondered if she knew her father all too well.

A lot of us wanted to talk about the scene where Frank went swimming. A few thought it was a suicide attempt. Others saw it as a baptismal scene where he was able to wash himself of the loneliness that had surrounded him since Sheila’s death and find a way to move forward. I’d never considered that it could be a suicide, I saw it as more of the latter.

One of our members works with the public in a similar fashion to Kelly. She’s run into situations where the patients didn’t want her to leave and were a lot like Frank in how much they clung to her. I was surprised to find out I was in a vast minority who thought Frank and Kelly’s beach trip was a bit too much. Others said Kelly was kind, and to think of it like a teacher who buys school supplies or clothes for kids who don’t have them. When she became more professional and formal with Frank at the end, it was because she realized they’d gotten too close and that she needed to put up a boundary. I’m still on the fence about this one.

We contemplated if Frank really thought he had a chance with Kelly. He did think she was going to kiss him at one point and he seemed nervous about being bathed by her but he doesn’t explicitly say much else about her. It seemed more like a schoolgirl crush than anything serious to me.

We meet again right after my Greece trip so everyone wished me happy travels. I’ll look forward to sharing my travels with this group.

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: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

6 Feb

My book club met recently to talk about a book I loved, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Unfortunately, we had some members who seemed more interested in talking to each other than they were in talking about the book. Those of us who pushed on were able to have some semblance of a discussion, but it was much shorter so this will be a smaller post.

One member brought some Korean wedding ducks a friend of hers had given as a gift. The friend was living in Korea and sent these wooden ducks to our member. Ducks mate for life so the wish was for our member’s marriage to be the same. It was fun to see a bit of the book’s culture join us for the meeting.

A few members commented on the speech in the back of our books that Caroline Kennedy gave. She calls the book a ‘fun summer read’ and many felt that was off base. We think of summer reads as light and short novels without much depth. This book was the complete opposite, so we wondered if the remark was supposed to be read sarcastically.

Many of us didn’t realize it was so hard to be Korean in Japan. Because it’s an island, Japan has historically had a very closed culture and it was not very welcoming to foreigners who came for any reason.

I was surprised how many people showed up to the meeting with a hand-written family tree! It was an easy way to keep track of the names. (I was one of two without one.) Some people felt this was a flaw in the book and that there were some characters who were unnecessary and that the book could have been shortened a bit by removing them.

Many were shocked at the prevalence of sex in the book. Hana was a clear example of this, but Noa’s Japanese girlfriend was highly sexualized as well. We were most surprised by the quick scene in the park when Goro’s wife (I may have this wrong) ran into a prostitute. We weren’t expecting the prevalence of sex, though we agreed nothing was graphic. It was very noticeable in a culture that was otherwise so formal.

This book tells us over and over that a woman’s lot is to suffer. Honestly, we didn’t feel that things had changed too much from the time this book was set until now. Two or three generations ago in the US, women had the same expectations out of life as Sunja did on a small island in Korea. The suffering of a woman seems to be almost universal.

None of us had heard of Pachinko before and we imagined it like upside-down Plinko. In the end, every man’s job revolved around it and it was very central to their stories. It is a game of chance and it’s always rigged just a bit. But the player remains hopeful that they can win, even knowing that they probably won’t. We believed it was a good metaphor for life.

Noa was a great character and very dynamic throughout the book. One thing that seemed inconsistent with him was that he was so smart, but he couldn’t figure out that Hansu was his father. It seems if someone’s paying for your school and living expenses, you might expect they’re more than a friend of your mother. It was understandably hard for him when he did figure this out and his subsequent death was tragic. We were bothered by how little attention seemed to be paid to Noa’s death. It was so sudden and tragic but we’re spared the suffering it caused and the book moves on.

Hansu makes many appearances in the book to come to Sunja’s rescue. We never get a solid answer on how he came to be married to a rich Japanese woman besides his good looks. We felt there might have been something more buried there. We did see that he had a bad side. Even though he risked a lot to help Sunja, we still see him hitting a prostitute and being controlling at other times. He’s a very unpredictable character and was someone we enjoyed seeing come up periodically.

Most of us adored this book and I’m so glad I was able to hear Lee speak about it. I hope our next book is as engaging! Until next time, write on.

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