The Boys in the Boat Discussion Journal

This month we met to discuss our greatest generation – as revealed through the eyes of Daniel James Brown, Joe Rantz and The Boys in the Boat. The group did not unanimously enjoy it, but everyone seemed to have been moved by it.  Some found it slow, easy to put down. Others were gripped from the beginning. One member believed that the book should be required reading for young adults and several others agreed. We realized that the story had the sheen of a tall tale, like when our grandfathers told us they had walked nine miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways! And yet we were still awed by the hardship and the resilience, the power, strength, and opportunity.BoysInTheBoatCover

We shared stories from our own parents’ and grandparents’ experiences during the Great Depression. Thula was generally considered a villain. But is it fair to judge her from our modern parenting beliefs? After learning of their struggle, can we imagine what would have happened to the boys in the boat if the United States had boycotted the 1936 Olympics? What about the Olympics in Brazil—the Zika virus and reports of dirty water? How fortunate the boys were to have had each other, to have had their boat builder, George Pocock, and his outstanding insights and skill. How different the world is now, with fiberglass boats and technology for tools and obstacles.  How will our descendants view our world and our struggles in another eighty years?

We discussed the Olympics, sports and fitness.  One of us described the athleticism in elite bicycling. Only one of us had played a team sport in school—basketball—and she corroborated the camaraderie. We discussed how little we knew about the precision and skill necessary for rowing. I had done some minor internet research into the fittest sport and found it to be quite controversial.  ESPN listed boxing first and rowing 39thForbes listed squash first and rowing second. Men’s Fitness reported in 2013 that rowers have the healthiest hearts.[i]

One member found it hard to believe that the anti-Semitism would not have played a bigger role in the story and the boys’ experience; but then we remembered that the ongoing prejudice in the U.S. allowed us to ignore the realities of the Holocaust for as long as we did, to continue to discriminate against African-Americans, even those fighting the war for us, and to relocate and incarcerate Japanese-American citizens – all of which we’ve read about and discussed before.

I first decided to select The Boys in the Boat for our book club because my husband kept exclaiming and reading me sections out loud. Enthusiasm is contagious. One of the members mentioned once that my recap is a lot more organized than our meetings seem. It reflects my memory, just as the book is the author’s impression of a memory. Every member of our group brings something to our meeting – presence, attention, ideas, experience. Thank you for joining the discussion.

  • Other works discussed:
  • Barskins by Annie Proulx (2016)
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (2011)
  • Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride (2002)
  • Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (2007)


Station Eleven Discussion Journal

Station Eleven is a novel about the time before and after a pandemic that kills 99.99 percent of the world’s population. But unlike some other apocalyptic stories, it didn’t focus on as much of the violent aftermath, or the worst of humanity. Instead, author Emily St. John Mandel focused on what was worth saving, what was lost and what was gained.StationElevenCover

Our first responder liked the book and found the descriptions vivid and easy to envision. One member liked the writing but found much to criticize. Another said that the book could be picked apart 2000 ways, but that wasn’t the point. Perhaps she didn’t say it in quite that way – but I remember the number 2000 and the suggestion that what makes a book worthwhile isn’t always in the details so much as in the complete package.

We did tear the book apart for some of the details (or lack of them). We discussed the location around the great lakes (fruit country). Why didn’t they collect books? Surely there would have been more resources to help people survive.  Why did the author have the Prophet come from Israel? We discussed Shakespeare’s timeless themes and iconic characters. We didn’t directly discuss the core concept of “survival is insufficient.” When we discussed our choices to add to the Museum of Civilization, we mentioned eye glasses and toasters and waffle irons, but nothing really personal. I was fascinated that the majority of us thought of catalogs and newspapers and books.

One of the highlights of the discussion for me was when we considered whether anyone in the book was the main character: most thought Kirsten, the young girl who met each character and survived into the future; someone mentioned Clark, the curator of the Museum; another defended Arthur as the most fully developed, if most unlikeable, and the definite link between everyone.

We discussed so many things.  Isaac Asimov and Emerson. M.C. Escher’s “Hand with Reflecting Sphere.” Arthur’s development into a performer in life as well as on stage. The use of present tense as a transitional device. The author said that her “idea was to write about the modern world through writing about its absence.” [1] I put out battery-powered lanterns to help set the mood and make the meeting memorable, but after awhile the darkness was distracting. Staion Eleven is a wistful novel.  Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder.

  • Other works discussed:
  • Dog Stars (2012) by Peter Heller
  • Nightfall (1941) by Isaac Asimov
  • The Stand (1978 )by Stephen King
  • Walking Dead (Television series)
  • Works of Shakespeare (especially King Lear and Macbeth)

1 Wilder, Amy. “Deeper into ‘Station Eleven’ with Emily St. John Mandel.” Web log post. Art Axis. Columbia Daily Tribune, 06 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 May 2016.


Go Set A Watchman Discussion Journal

From reviews and buzz I had read about Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s much anticipated second novel, I had expected more dissent, dislike of the sometimes rough writing, disillusionment with the change in Atticus, disgust with the publishing hype, and perhaps even open political warfare! Nothing quite so exciting happened at our meeting, yet, like the book, it was an inspiring and moving discussion.GoSetAWatchmanCover

Two of our members had read the book previously and had not liked it; but reading it again, they really liked it. One member hadn’t liked the first half, but by the end he understood why his wife had been compelled to read it twice in a row. Another felt that he now understood more about the South and the Civil War. Still another found it easy to read.

We discussed a bit about the development of character: Atticus from the beloved icon in To Kill A Mockingbird to the more realistic older lawyer; Scout to Jean Louise, a spoiled and lucky Finch; Henry, the suitor and young, Southern “white trash.”  Would Uncle Jack have hit Jean Louise? Was Atticus racist? Was Jean Louise color blind? We weren’t all clear on how the book ended.

We agreed that there wasn’t actually a plot. We were so much more taken with the philosophy, the history. We all seemed to be watchmen, reporting on what we’ve seen – and read — over our varied lives. We wondered if the concept of “white trash” still exists. We wondered about the right to vote and one member suggested that politicians should be required to take a literacy test! We remembered being in all white schools and towns. We were amazed at the idea that there actually had been places with separate drinking fountains and bathrooms.

One of us remembered that she had been in a school with people of all the same race, but that they were mostly Christians, and Muslims were not understood, different.  She had parents with good, Federal jobs, so she had been able to afford the bus, riding past three Caucasian schools, literally looking down on those who had to walk.

Go Set A Watchman made us think and recall and wonder. We’ve wondered much of this before. We didn’t resolve anything. We didn’t always agree. We don’t all know if we were changed because of what we read. Yet we made an us, without needing a them, all because of a book.

  • Other Works Discussed:
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Puddin’head Wilson by Mark Twain
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • When The Killings Done by T.C. Boyle
  • Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
  • The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
  • Same kind Of Different As Me by Ron Hall
  • The United States Constitution

The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson Discussion

I first read The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson  over thirty five years ago in an high school English class on Mystery Fiction.  I remember only two works, Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and a short story, A Nine Mile Walk, by Harry Kemelman (1947). Classic fiction is always particularly inspiring to me because it is often a snapshot from a time and place and attitude, rather than historical—and the test of time tends to weed out insubstantial works.  This does not mean that everyone will like it or find value, and PuddnheadWilsonCoverour discussion was exemplary!

Our first responder found the sentences in the book to be extraordinarily long! Another found the writing to seem more modern than he had expected, and still others found the vocabulary antiquated.  We had a lot of discussion about how confusing and unbelievable the story line was, almost as if Mark Twain had just thrown it together – which fit with his own afterword explaining that he had wanted to write a farce about Siamese twins but was forced to throw out the farce in favor of the tragedy! Many of us felt that the story still depended on the Siamese twins, others finally proved that the author had taken “those twins apart and made two separate men of them.”[i]

We discussed issues of race and Mark Twain’s intention, as well as some of his other works. One member felt that the racial issues and local attitudes were similar to Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. Several members had read that book and we discussed it a bit more than we would usually stray. I think we may need to read and discuss Go Set a Watchman on its own this year!

Despite many of the negative comments, the majority of the group seemed to like the book or were at least glad to have read it.  One member referred to the discussion question about what had been happening in 1894. She had researched it and gave us a great picture of the time period – depression, bank failures, and the obvious failure of reconstruction after the Civil War.

The novel, and our discussion, has given me a lot to think about over the last few days. Which is as it should be. What connections will we make or see in the days and years ahead? Nature versus nurture? What prejudices are we harboring that will seem so obvious in hindsight? The discussion never really ends.

  • Other Works Discussed:
  • Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
  • Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen
  • Striptease by Carl Hiaasen (film and novel)
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
  • Authors:
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Herman Melville

[i] Twain, Mark.  The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. Author’s note to Those Extraordinary Twins. Signet Classic Edition 2007.

The Yellow Birds Discussion Journal

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, was not easy to read – and not just because of the subject matter. It is definitely not a book to read late at night, when you are tired and falling asleep. I re-read pages, sometimes just trying to understand content, but other times just to savor the concept or imagery. “Where little drifts of snow sketched the December wind.” “When I got fed up with nothing.” “Empathy is an imaginative act.”YellowBirdsCover

I was not surprised at all that our first responder emphatically shared that she hated it – and several members agreed. Several had not finished the book, and one member had nearly vomited trying to read it. I had skimmed through many of the hardest scenes, but members were often able to clarify what happened, even quickly find the necessary passages. One member liked the book. She found the writing beautiful, and several others then agreed. Some of us would want to have our children’s bodies returned to us, whatever the condition.  Others adamantly would not. All seemed to agree that Bartle should not have been imprisoned for his part. Fifteen people at our meeting – the same yet different.

We discussed how family members and friends never talk about what happened during their service and how different our wars have been.  The world wars were fought to fight great evil and veterans are generally admired.  The Vietnam and Korean war veterans met disdain at home; their wars seemed lost and purposeless to those at home.  Veterans of our current wars are often met with gratitude and thanks for their service, even though we may disparage the war itself. Yet the author shared his own sense that in fighting a senseless and purposeless war, he was ashamed and uncomfortable with the gratitude. “It was a sign and we knew what it meant, that hours had passed, that we had drawn nearer to our purpose, which was as vague and foreign as the indistinguishable dawns and dusks with which it came.”

The Yellow Birds was a National Book Award finalist. But the author is primarily a poet, and as we discussed whether his writing was any good, I read from an interview in which Kevin Powers was asked about “the deeply lyrical quality” of his prose. He responded in part: “In trying to demonstrate Bartle’s mental state, I felt very strongly that the language would have to be prominent. Language is, in its essence, a set of noises and signs that represent what is happening inside our heads.” (Kindle Version)*

One member mentioned that to truly understand the author’s intent, she would have to read it again and again.  Another member said he would like to read it, now that we had discussed it. But would we? Could we? Does our understanding make a difference? Do we have any power? One member said that we should give the book to our politicians to read.

Even then, the author often describes rather than tells, and the reader’s perception is everything.  I read aloud a passage that had moved me, “I knew that at least a few of the stars were probably gone already, collapsed into nothing. I felt like I was looking at a lie.” One member quickly responded, “Why a lie. History.”

Our next book is more main stream, the sixth in a mystery series that includes dogs. After The Yellow Birds, I think we are all ready for something lighter. I seldom read books before I select them. I have read reviews, looked at lists, thought about themes, diversity, and content. If I read them first, I’d be hard pressed to choose a book I didn’t like, so we’d be limited. As one member commented, “We’re all in this together!” Thanks for joining the discussion.

*A conversation with Kevin Powers and Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles Bookshop, London

All book and interview quotations taken from the electronic version of The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2012.

  • Other Works Discussed:
  • All’s Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
  • Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Wilfred Owen (Poems by)
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay (Short Stories – 2014 National Book Award Winner)
  • Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel (2013 Non-Fiction)

We discussed a few more, but I didn’t get the names. Most of these are from the First World War. If you have additions, please comment!

The Namesake Discussion Journal

NamesakeCoverImageThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri brought out a nice crowd for our meeting. The room seemed smaller than usual, the atmosphere both relaxed and animated. Although we had a few observers, almost everyone contributed and I was impressed by how naturally and respectfully members disagreed, expounded, and added to the discussion.

Our first responders enthusiastically liked the book. One member had seen the movie, considered it a close adaptation, and had been so impressed by the acting and imagery that she was still moved just thinking about it. Most reviews I have read about this book considered the son, Gogol, to be the main character, but many of our group seemed most impressed by the parents. Gogol seemed distant, passive, unambitious, compared to his father. We discussed whether or not this was common to second-generation immigrants. Many of us identified with the story, not as immigrants, but as humans. And some of us did consider him the main character, the namesake, the representative of the journey.

One member had been struck by the symbolism of the train, used throughout, as a sign of self-discovery. Gogol’s father is nearly killed in a train; his mother loses and then abandons her gifts to her father on a train; Gogol meets his first girlfriend and then loses his wife on a train. Certainly there are more. I had been struck by the incongruity of Gogol’s Indian relatives not having indoor hot water and other “conveniences” while still having servants. Other members shared stories – from the Philippines, where not dropping trash on the ground could be considered depriving someone of a job, to a not-so-distant past when people in the United States would take in family, friends, and immigrants in exchange for services.

Although everyone seemed to agree that the novel was easy to read, some of us found the story to be more detailed than necessary regarding everyday experiences while not describing Indian clothing, food and experiences in enough detail. We differed in how immersed we felt in the story, in the language, in the culture. Understanding references and symbolism can make a big difference in our appreciation of any novel, but particularly when we are trying to learn about a different culture. This particularly highlighted the benefit of e-readers in allowing instant definitions of unusual words. Looking things up continually can interfere with the flow of the language, though, even with an e-reader.

We had the longest discussion about names, which is appropriate given the novel’s title! Two members had been given different names at school because of how common their names were. Another identified with Gogol because she had hated her first name. One man asked how the women in the group felt about changing their names for marriage, and we had several interesting stories, including that in Sweden a man may choose to take his wife’s last name.

We covered many more things. In retrospect, it seems impossible that we discussed so much in just an hour.

Our snack for the evening was Jhal Muri, adapted from the book with help from Ally Johnson in “Reading, and cooking, with The Namesake”:

  • 2-3 cups Rice Krispy Cereal
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • ½ cup dry roasted peanuts
  • ½ can mild, diced green chiles
  • ½ tsp garam masala (spice)
  • Juice squeezed from one small lemon over the top and then stirred—not so much to make it soggy. Just enough to hear it “snap, crackle, and pop!”

Other works discussed:

  • Chef [2014] (film)
  • Chocolat [2000] (film)
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol [1842]      The overcoat, and other tales of good and evil by Nikolai V. Gogol [1842]
  • Eat, pray, love : one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert 2006 (also 2010 film version)
  • The hundred-foot journey : a novel by Richard C. Morais [2011] (also 2014 film)
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Pulitzer Prize Winner 2000)
  • Life of Pi : a novel by Yann Martel [2001] (also 2013 film version)
  • Like water for chocolate : a novel in monthly installments, with recipes, romances, and home remedies by Laura Esquivel [1992] (also 2000 Spanish-language film version)
  • The Lunchbox [2013] (Hindi-language film)
  • The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith [1998]
  • Tortilla Soup [2001] (film)
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz [2012]

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Discussion Journal

At the end of our discussion of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, we all laughed as one member asked if we ever thought an author was just pulling random ideas and images out of the air. We had discussed meaning and mythology, repressed OceanAtTheEndmemories, reality and more. The group’s review of the book was mixed – some found it hard to understand, depressing, even purposeless; others found it better than they had expected – but no one seemed particularly impressed.

One member asked why I had chosen it. This was a difficult question because I considered many factors – genre, gender, diversity, subject, awards. Neil Gaiman has crossed my radar for years. According to UXL Graphic Novelist database, “many consider Neil Gaiman to be one of the greatest writers in the field of comics and graphic novels, and he is certainly one of the comic industry’s biggest stars . . . His works American Gods and Coraline dominated the New York Times best-seller list, and both were honored with the Bram Stoker Award and Hugo Award.”[1] I had actually expected The Ocean at the End of the Lane to be harder to read, more like Wicked, and at only 181 pages, I considered it a good choice to challenge ourselves.

One member had researched the mythology of the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. She gave us some good information regarding symbolism and the author’s Sandman series. Another had researched the name Hempstock and although she hadn’t found anything definitive, she couldn’t help but wonder if by using the prefix hemp, the author was referring to a drug-induced dream. Many of us remained unclear about whether anything in the story was real. Several members noted how incongruent the father’s constantly serving burned toast seemed, especially once he admitted hating it.

Two members talked about vultures. One had been disturbed by the image of black birds tearing apart Ursula. Another offered her own memory of seeing vultures standing, orderly, like perfect gentlemen, carefully taking their portion of road kill. It is amazing what memories are triggered from our readings and meetings.

I was impressed by the imagery and kept picturing surrealist art – but art can be constantly viewed and considered, as I pass it in a hall or visit a gallery. I would have to keep reading and re-reading to pick up all the subtleties! I actually found The Ocean at the End of the Lane quite uplifting. I am fascinated by how the human mind might perceive and explain the horrors and wonders of the world.

Stories can entertain us, educate us, and make us think. We discussed how, no matter what the author intended, our reception is what matters. If it confuses us, if we miss the point, is it the same as if there never had been a point?

[1] “Gaiman, Neil.” UXL Graphic Novelists. Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast. Ed. Sarah Hermsen. Vol. 1. Detroit: UXL, 2007. 127-135. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 10 June 2015.

  • Other works discussed:
  • Author Amy Tan
  • Author C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia)
  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  • Life of Pi by Yan Martel
  • Neverwas (DVD) 2005 Aaron Eckhart/Ian McKellen
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales
  • Red Riding Hood origin stories
  • Greek Mythology

Where’d You Go Bernadette Discussion Journal

Our discussion of Where’d You Go Bernadette was shorter than usual. Several people had been initially turned off by the epistolary format, but many had been hooked by the laugh-out-loud scene descriptions. Without looking at the discussion questions, we naturally covered many of them. It seemed for most to be an enjoyable read with some sharp WheredYouGoBernadetteCoverinsights into character and a fascinating description of Bernadette’s art – the Twenty Mile House.

But what was the point? I was most taken by that question. A couple of members drew a comparison with Carl Hiaasen. But is this book satire? Caricature? Realism? Bernadette was over the top in general, but we all agreed that she had been severely depressed since her loss of the Twenty Mile House, untreated, and self-absorbed. We agreed that she had a close relationship with Bee, but we were divided on her relationship with Elgin. Was it salvageable? How much of everything that happened is simply a plot device?

We discussed the different characters and agreed that the story was being told by Bee because she was the most likeable and steady. We laughed at various scenes and looked for parallels in other books. We all liked the virtual assistant – even if it was a member of the Russian Mafia! And to my surprise, no one seemed interested in Antarctica!

A pleasant read and a pleasant discussion! Our next book will be Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I read aloud an excerpt from a lecture he gave in 2013 about the importance of libraries and the value of Science Fiction in opening doors to possibilities. His story may be different than those we’ve read before. We’ll meet next month and know.

  • Other works discussed:
  • Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen
  • Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Ordinary Grace Discussion Journal

With all the construction going on in our library this month, meeting in our usual location seemed like a gift! Although the discussion doesn’t officially start until 6:30pm, many of us arrived early to get settled in, look at the discussion questions, and visit. The room was bright and warm, soiled from years of use, too few tables for our large group, yet the friendly faces and lively chatter were refreshing.OrdinaryGraceCover

Everyone seemed to like the book. Because of the religious references and easy mystery, I had anticipated some possibly serious dislike, but members were impressed by the writing style, the nostalgia, the quintessentially American story. Several of us remarked on the food descriptions. Instead of expecting a novel of suspense, we accepted, as one member described, “a novel of characters.” One member had been so engaged by the writing that she never snuck a peek at the end (as she admitted often doing!).

Several members were particularly moved by the father’s sermon after the loss of his daughter. We discussed the title and the concept of grace. One member wished she had thought of the term “ordinary grace” when a family member would use gatherings as an audience during holiday dinners. Another reminded us of the author’s use of a quote from the Greek playwright Aeschylus, “the awful grace of God.” Still another had been inspired to lookup and find a multitude of meanings for the word grace and ordinary grace.

The mother, Ruth, was well liked by our group. She was not a typical minister’s wife, although her musical talent fit perfectly for the position. Nathan was so calm and caring, forgiving, and never seemed to raise his voice, even when justifiably angry. Emil Brands gave us the most lively part of the discussion. Was he “blind: to others, self-centered, recluse, or outcast? Was Ariel an angel? A typical infatuated teen?

As we discussed possible unanswered questions, everyone wanted to know what had happened to Nathan in the War. We wanted a better understanding of the relationship between Nathan and Gus. The wrapup at the end seemed too easy for some of us.

One member was incredibly disturbed by the immorality of listening in on private confessions and the devastating consequences. Small-town morality, homosexuality, and more than I can even remember filled out our discussion. As I watch a group of unrelated people, drawn together by the community of books – shared experiences that may never have been but that will always be better for our discussion – I can’t help but feel that all is as it should be.

  • Other works discussed:
  • The Body (1982 Short Story) by Stephen King
  • Stand by Me (1986 Film adaptation of The Body)
  • Dandelion Wine (1957) by Ray Bradbury
  • She’s Come Undone (1992) by Wally Lamb
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee
  • Previous Whitney Book Bistro Selections:
  • Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian (2007) by Sherman Alexie
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (2003) by Mark Haddon
  • Nature Girl (2006) by Carl Hiaasen
  • The Round House (2012) by Louise Erdrich
  • Sacred Clowns (1993) by Tony Hillerman
  • Tallgrass (2007) by Sandra Dallas

Quiet: the power of introverts Discussion Journal

Quiet. Sometimes I wonder what that is. Birds and bugs in a forest could drown out the sound of a falling tree, even if someone were there to hear it! Is that a plane overhead? Or a motorcycle? A leaky faucet? Or just the roar of silence in my ears? And in our library, cell phones buzz and spout music and alarms, often without anyone attempting to silence them. Friends and tutors chatter. We answer phones and give directions. Babies even laugh more annoyingly than they cry. And we discuss books and movies QuietBookCoverwith a passion that sometimes needs to be shushed as much as anything else.

Perhaps that’s why Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, seemed like a good fit for our book club. Well, that and the number of best books of 2012 recommendations I read.

I decided to break our discussion group into three smaller groups, with six people each, because Susan Cain mentions that smaller groups are more productive than larger ones. This makes reporting on (and moderating) the discussion quite challenging! In addition, the novelty of the arrangement was off-putting to some members and this book is a new kind of non-fiction for us – informative and anecdotal rather than strictly historical or biographical.

Several members had not finished the book or had only read at it. One member hadn’t read it because it felt like a textbook. For another, it just didn’t hold her interest. Yet another had read it months ago and was enjoying it even more listening to it on audio. One felt that she understood her sound-sensitive grandson better. One was moved to form an action plan to present to her employer to improve working conditions in her office. Still another could not follow the logic. And yet another was so taken with the book that it seemed to rekindle her spirit.

At the end, I asked what had stood out. In review, each group mentioned Susan Cain’s discussion of a culture of character versus personality and how modern politics are plagued by extroverts whose personality reigns. In particular, one member passionately mentioned the rush to war for non-existent weapons of mass destruction—an example of extroverts rushing in where introverts would have waited. Many of us seemed to like the book and find it relevant, although some of us also wanted more solutions!

But that’s just an opinion, based on my observation. I obviously didn’t hear it all! Reading non-fiction reminds me how important accuracy in reporting can be. Susan Cain’s book seemed well researched. But it is not that difficult to find research to fit an opinion. One member mentioned that although the example of Steve Wozniak was inspiring as related, it did not tell the whole story.

My discussion journals never tell the whole story either. We bring with us not only our own life histories and unique perspectives to the discussion at hand, but also our understanding of our discussion group members after years and many meetings. A video couldn’t capture it all. But I hope these journals remind us why we met – and choose to continue . . .

  • Other works mentioned:
  • Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
  • Mindset: the new psychology of success by Carol Dweck
  • Outliers: the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Twenty Miles From a Match by Sarah Olds