Frankenstein Discussion Journal

Frankenstein is what I consider a shared cultural icon. If we saw a squared head with boltsFrankensteinSpanish on the side, many of us, around the world, would think of Frankenstein. And many of us might even know pertinent details, having seen only snippets of the story in print, film, or costume. But would we know Frankenstein? And does it even matter?

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was written and published nearly 200 years ago. Considered by many to be the first science fiction novel, the book is short, readable, often requested by students for reading assignments – and yet only five people out of the 20 at our discussion had read the story before it was selected for our book club. And were we surprised! Most of us agreed that the story was not at all what we had expected. Sad–yes–but so much more than horror, murder, and mayhem!

One member had read the annotated version, which included pictures of some of the handwritten pages and detailed information about the historical setting, style, and more. FrankensteinBookCoverSince the original story was published anonymously with an introduction by Shelley’s husband, many people had assumed the poet was the author – and he did contribute to the prose. Handwriting differences indicate his poetic influence on word choices and meanings. This member highly recommended the annotated version and was able to give us authoritative information to some of our questions.

We all agreed that Frankenstein is philosophical, filled with literary references, science, politics and religion. I had been particularly captivated by Shelley’s references to the discovery of the Americas and by such beautiful language as “inspirited by the wind of promise.” Another member wondered about Shelley’s knowledge of Judaism. Discussions of God figure prominently in the work. We wondered about the ornate language and the use of the epistolary form. Was Mary Shelley writing about her own search for parental validation through Frankenstein’s monster? Who has time or energy to philosophize like this any more? She was only 18 when she wrote the story, but for that time she was nearly middle-aged and had already lost a parent and one child. In addition, what was the moral, if Robert Walton only turned back because his crew insisted? Perhaps it has something to do with knowing when to cut your losses.

One of us even wondered whether Victor Frankenstein couldn’t have also been the monster – an intriguing suggestion that might solve some of the problems with the story. Victor Frankenstein wasn’t likable. He abandoned his family, not writing for months during his obsession. He made a big and dangerous monster. He fell into fits for months. He didn’t share his knowledge of the monster to help others. And he abandoned his orphaned brother. We all laughed when one member mentioned how Victor Frankenstein’s ramblings and musings (sigh!) seemed just to go on and on.

And of course, we discussed science. Several times we came back to the question of how Frankenstein could find so ugly something he created. Yet aren’t we still so blinded by possibilities that we don’t recognize the dangers until too late? Mary Shelley was kept indoors during the cold summer of 1816. No television. No video games. No internet. What a different world it might be . . .

Fortunately we do still get together and discuss philosophy and literature and life. Our discussion was full and self-sustaining. As always, not to be missed.

  • Other works discussed:
  • Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker
  • On the Origin of Species (1859) Charles Darwin
  • “Yes, Frankenstein really was written by Mary Shelley. It’s obvious – because the book is so bad.” article by Germaine Greer (The Guardian. April 12, 2007)

Twenty Miles From A Match Discussion Journal

Creating shared experiences through books is my primary objective for our book club. Reading can be pleasurable, educational, and more! But in a large community, especially TwentyMilesFromAMatchone populated from around the world, it can bring us all a little bit closer, give us a reason to get together, help us understand each other, make us all insiders — privy to a history and legacy that is much more than the “Sin City” outsiders see. Participating in this year’s Nevada Reads: First All State Community Group Read is exactly the kind of experience I feel privileged to share.

We had over 20 library patrons and eight staff members read Twenty Miles From a Match by Sarah E. Olds. Staff members shared (and continue to share!) their thoughts — often with a smile or laugh. One staff member was particularly taken by Sarah Olds’ “great determination.” She was impressed by how “a positive attitude goes a long way in making our lives happier and contented.” Another was more unbelieving that the tall tales were actually true!

At our meeting, we had the same mix of awe and incredulity: Pollyanna, Eyeopener, Superwoman! Several members commented that they like their “city life” and couldn’t imagine choosing to head out into the desert wilderness. This was pioneering, not just homesteading! One felt that the book was “like a window into another world.” Another loved the silence in the story. Our world today — with television and internet — is always demanding our attention. He said that the book “hit me and gave me a sense of loss.”

We discussed our own experiences.  One member grew up in rural Hawaii, laughingly sharing with us how the word macadamized seemed made for the macadamia nut shells they used to cover roads. We all seemed to be struck by the sense of community. Thirty-five miles from Reno and twenty miles from a match, Sarah Olds’ family seemed more a part of a community than we are with neighbors ten feet away. Another member had taken her children in the 1970s to rural North Dakota to escape city life — a fabulous experience but hard. Bad things can happen anywhere.

Which brought us back to the importance of that positive attitude. That horse that never died! A one room school — basically in your own house! Can you imagine dancing all night long? We thought longingly over these possibilities. I asked about the feminism in the book and many seemed to think women had it easier in the West.  Sarah Olds was accepting of the prostitutes as a business, even if she didn’t want associate with them. A few of us wondered about A.J. He seemed certainly a crotchety old man, who just kept living despite being seriously ill! But he made sure everything was in her name before he died. One member felt that songs and hymns seemed to keep Sarah’s spirits up throughout. She was the quintessential supermom. One staff member shared the quote: “Mama, you can think the queerest things are fun! My back aches, my eyes are full of dirt, and my fingers are sore. I intend to stay with this job till it’s finished, but it isn’t a bit of fun!”

We spent a lot of time discussing fiction versus nonfiction. How can we know what is true or not?! How true is any memory? Any memoir? We agreed that the story was easy to read. Sarah Olds had a great voice. She was a natural storyteller. There were no literary pretensions. We decided that she was writing oral history. We discussed the differenceI was surprised to learn than none of the members present had read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. I was a huge fan and even though her books are marketed as fiction, the people, places and stories are seemingly as real to me as those of Sarah Olds — if not more so because she has a museum with pictures and artifacts.

I cannot emphasize enough how important sharing our history can be. In a scrapbook, in a journal, in short written anecdotes. At one of my first book club meetings a member TwentyMilesMtgDec2014mentioned that she didn’t think her grandchildren would care about her stories. Maybe not now, but in twenty years. . . Whose stories will we be reading in another fifty years?

We never reviewed any of the book discussion guide questions. Time flies — and in my memory, it was wonderful. I still haven’t covered everything. As always, the discussion can continue here, or wherever we meet someone who shared this experience. It matters!

  • Other works discussed:
  • Works by Willa Cather
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (book and dvd)
  • Death Valley Junction : the story of the Amargosa Opera House by Marta Becket.
  • Gold Camp Drifter, 1906 – 1910 by Emmet L. Arnold
  • Friendly Fallout 1953 by Ann Ronald.
  • Lazy B : growing up on a cattle ranch in the American Southwest by Sandra Day O’Connor
  • Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Little house in the Ozarks : the rediscovered writings by Laura Ingalls Wilder ; edited by Stephen W. Hines.
  • Martha and the Doctor : a frontier family in central Nevada by Marvin Lewis ; edited by B. Betty Lewis.
  • “Portraits of an Antique West” by William J. Shepperson. Nevada Historical Society Quarterly Fall 1980. web accessed 12-4-2014 nsla.nevadaculture.org

Nature Girl Discussion Journal

For the last ten years in the library, I have heard people mention Carl Hiaasen’s books as funny and environmental. His young adult book-to-movie, Hoot, was inspiring. Nature Girl did not come with ready book-discussion questions, and although the book covers aNatureGirlCover plethora of issues we could discuss — mental illness, sexuality, telephone sales, marriage, religion, and parenting — I found myself researching satire, parody, and humor. I was repulsed by the crudity and disturbed by the light-hearted treatment of a serious mental illness. A co-worker tried to encourage me to lighten up! Surely I had to admit that sewing a man’s chewed-off fingers onto the wrong parts of his hand is funny! And I suppose it is as absurd as suggesting we eat children to solve the Irish potato famine.

Book Bistro to the rescue! Everyone seemed to agree that the book was so absurd that I shouldn’t take anything in it too seriously. One member liked that Hiaasen’s female characters have substance. Another new member suggested that society is so used to absurdity that we require even more outrageous behavior and images to be shocked enough to respond. She was so enthusiastic and reminded us of parts that made us laugh out loud. I felt as if we were discussing a different book, and yet I recognized the story. It was cathartic, which is perhaps the point. In an interview with 60 Minutes, the author states that he likes writing fiction because he can make the bad guys have the ending they deserve, “and then light a cigarette.”

Carl Hiaasen is a journalist who writes a column for the Miami Herald. His work has also appeared in many well-known magazines. One member liked the bits of political and topical issues that pop into the story throughout and another had researched the story on the internet and drew our attention to the author’s name choices. Another member grew up in Miami and thus we discussed the area, the climate and the environment. After we watched the ten minute interview with 60 Minutes, drawing our attention to the reality in Carl Hiaasen’s absurdity, one member wondered if anyone else had noticed the similarity of Las Vegas to the maligned Miami!

Although we had mixed reactions to the book, we had a great discussion.

  • Other works discussed:
  • There’s Something About Mary (1998) (DVD) Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon
  • Beauty Queens (2012) by Libba Bray (satire)
  • Edge of Eternity and Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
  • Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay
  • Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Jack Reacher books by Lee Child

The Language of Flowers Discussion Journal

I chose The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh because it covered a serious topic, aging out of foster care, and included an engaging subtopic, the language of flowers. In addition, over 3,000 Amazon reviewers had given the book 4.5 stars out of 5. Potentially, something for everyone.LanguageOfFlowersCover

The first responders could not identify with the main character. The overwhelming majority seemed to be unable to sympathize with Victoria’s abandonment of her baby, of her refusing assistance. The story was romanticized and unrealistic. And yet, didn’t that make it readable? Some members shared personal experiences. Others wondered how a professional midwife could not have known that Victoria needed more assistance and helped her with the constant nursing. One new member wanted to know more about Meredith, the social worker. Another felt that Meredith had set Victoria up for failure as she warned each family how difficult she was. We discussed mental illness and drug addiction. Even though the author has experience with foster children, we didn’t feel the book gave us a good picture of the foster system. So what was the point? We didn’t really get there.

One of the discussion questions asked us to define what makes a family. Catherine and Elizabeth were related, but were they family? As I listened and watched the discussion, about families now including all manner of support systems, not just blood relations, I couldn’t help but think about communities as families. Work families, library families, book club families. All needing support in different ways. All communicating in different ways. It makes me think of a story in Robert Fulghum’s All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten about a kid who plays hide-‘n-seek too well — “Get found kid!”

The room seemed filled to the brim with familiar and new faces, attentive and engaged. Although I know that everyone did not speak, the discussion moved between members and no one seemed to dominate. A large group has both the potential to bring in a lot of viewpoints and to make it more difficult for some to speak out. After the meeting, one member shared that she really liked the book. Another commented on learning about the Camellia Network, co-founded by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, “a support net(work) for youth aging out of foster care” (https://camellianetwork.org/). I wonder now, looking back, if we shouldn’t have broken into smaller groups. It’s a work in progress!

  • Other works discussed:
  • Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
  • White Oleander by Janet Fitch

 

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Discussion Journal

I chose The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for July because I knew that the series is No1LadiesDetectiveAgencyCoverincredibly popular, funny yet substantive, and I hoped its ease would make good summer/vacation reading. The ready availability of many books, including sound recordings, is also a big plus for our book club!

Since I heard Alexander McCall Smith speak at the American Library Association conference here in Las Vegas, I was ready to show some YouTube clips of his comedic routines, a YouTube sample of Botswana pumpkin cooking, and the sweeping shots of Botwana shown at the start of the HBO television series adapted from the book. We had cookies and bush tea (red rooibos from South Africa).

Then we had some technical difficulties. W-fi, plugs, connections, laptop, i-pad, dvd, television. In hindsight it is rather funny to think of taking a seemingly simple story, people who have chosen to take time reading and coming out to discuss a book, and then throwing in technical media! It all worked out in the end, but not necessarily as planned!

I had anticipated enthusiastic, devoted readers and some skeptical newcomers. What we had was a rather quiet group. Those who had re-read the book found it appealing again. Others seemed to like it as well. Since none of us have been to Africa, we couldn’t truly judge its reality.

Before the meeting, one member commented that he found the narrator to be unreliable, since he knew that it was a white male writing about a black female detective. In general, since the author was raised in Africa, we accepted his narration. We discussed the accuracy of the dialogue. I was enamored of the author’s language and read several sentences that I had highlighted throughout. I also mentioned his use of many archaic words I appreciated. We discussed HIV and how it is not spoken of directly. About how positive a view this is of Botswana. We noted that the book is more like a collection of short stories than a novel, and how the author himself says he is afflicted with “serial novelism.”

Every member spoke and brought out interesting aspects prompted by the discussion questions and on their own. As we wondered about Mma Ramotswe’s youthful acceptance of her abusive husband, one member mentioned reading Of Human Bondage. Another compared the opening lines of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa with the opening lines “Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill.” I marvel at the common association we all now share.

As always, if there is something I have missed or something you’ve thought of that you would like to add or share, make a comment!

  • Other works discussed:
  • Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

The Dog Stars Discussion Journal

This week so far we have a hate-crime killing in Las Vegas which left two police officersDogStarsCover and three other people dead, and another school shooting, this time in Oregon, leaving two people dead and at least one wounded. I’m sure many other violent crimes became known during the same time period, and more remain behind closed doors, hidden for years, if ever even to see the light. Movies in our local theaters include Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maleficient, Godzilla, and A Million Ways to die in the West. Pretty violent fare – with something for everyone, good and bad alike. Yesterday was election day, too, which in this social-media world sometimes seems more like spin-the-bottle dare than choice. In this environment our Book Bistro met to discuss the dystopian future presented by Peter Heller in The Dog Stars.

Several book club members liked the novel, one even more so after a second reading. Our first responder found the clipped, journal-like narrative style to be beautiful, like a long poem, and easy to read. Yet some didn’t like the writing style and struggled to read it. One member so fervently disliked the book that she felt if she were ever to ban a book, this would be it! Many of us had mixed feelings, but the majority felt that in a post-apocalyptic world, survival of the fittest, as described by Heller, would rule at first, civilization only later.

Some of the details seemed too easy. This limited point of view left a lot of questions and seemed almost like cheating. If flying out of the valley was too dangerous with the extra weight, why didn’t Hig pick up both father and daughter on the road? Why weren’t more people connecting by radio? We discussed global warming as a continued threat and disagreed about whether the ending was happy or bleak.

The meeting was surprisingly calm, but the members are a respectful group and avoided the potential divisiveness of opposing views—at least outwardly. I have in the past been told that a member was hesitant to speak out because of fear of confrontation. Several members did speak at once, which is unavoidable and even a good sign of passion. But some of us are better at interrupting. After the meeting, one member wondered why the discussion guide did not ask about Hig’s killing his wife. That would have been an excellent discussion point! Why that detail?

One of the reasons I write this journal is to offer an opportunity for members to add comments they would have liked to make. Or maybe, only on reflection, hours or days after the meeting, an answer comes to us! Post a comment here or give it to me at the library to post for you.

We answered only a couple of the questions from the discussion guide and finished early enough to introduce our next book, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith. Many of us were surprised that this bestseller had not been read by everyone. None of the four men in the group have read it! I asked them to think about the believability of a black, female narrator written by a white male. If you have read the book before, re-reading is a great time to pay attention to the language and how the author conveys his ideas. Reading Dog Stars, I couldn’t help but wonder, where was the library? So many books and all the time in the world . . .

Other works mentioned:

  • The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
  • Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • “Time Enough At Last” episode Twilight Zone (DVD)  (Based on the short story by Lyn Venable)

Call the Midwife Discussion Journal

In general, Call the Midwife: a memoir of birth and joy and hard times seemed to be wellCallTheMidwifeCover liked. Reactions were positive, even inspiring one of us to read the other two books in this series, Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. The first member to speak said that he had expected to be overwhelmed with descriptions of childbirth but was surprised to find the book interesting and engaging. Another member mentioned that he had been impressed by the writer’s easy style and believability.

Since several, but not all, members have seen the PBS television series that is now in its third season, the discussion was a bit uneven, including some comparisons we could not all share in understanding. However, the dramatization brings up an important issue regarding fact vs. fiction – something we often take for granted when we see words like: based on a true story, non-fiction, or memoir. The author’s style is analytical, including a lot of social commentary and gritty details glossed over and changed in the television series. Yet it is also a memoir, written 50 years after the fact. An article in the Daily Mail quotes the author’s daughter Suzannah: “All the eccentricities of Sister Monica Joan in the books . . . are based on Monica Merlin.” *  British actress Monica Merlin, not an Anglican nun. The group did not seem concerned by this fictionalization, but perhaps it informed the thoughtful and lively, even occasionally contentious discussion that followed.

Discussion points included: No woman should have 25 babies. She was a prisoner. Breastfeeding is not a reliable method of birth control. All mothers are biologically driven to protect their children. Everyone is different. Expectations for fathers were different then. No baby as small as described could have survived. No baby would be forcibly removed from a mother in the United States, even in the 1950s. Yes possibly. Biology shouldn’t matter in the treatment and love for a child. He not only accepted the child but forgave his wife. Many, many, different, similar, and passionate opinions. I cannot stress enough how valuable all opinions were and are! Everyone was impressed by the author’s willingness to admit her failings, and we all thoughtfully considered our own history of judgment and enlightenment.  

Before the meeting, one member’s first response was that the book was sad. Stories take us so many places – real and imaginary. Inside and out. We cry, laugh, and learn. From the Land of Oz, to the docks of East London, to a post apocalyptic Colorado. Where will the Whitney Book Bistro go next? Join us and find out!

        * ”Cor… the midwife! An affair with a married man at 16? Pass the gas and air: It’s the wild past of Call The Midwife’s creator, by her own family.” By Jo Knowsley. January 25, 2014. MailOnline. Web accessed 5-11-2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2545981/Cor-midwife-An-affair-married-man-16-Pass-gas-air-Its-wild-past-Call-The-Midwifes-creator-family.html

  • Other works discussed (all non-fiction):
  • The life and times of Call the midwife : the official companion to seasons one and two by Heidi Thomas
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
  • Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
  • Historical non-fiction by Erik Larson

Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West Discussion Journal

Wicked was published in 1995 and over the years several people have told me I just “had” to read it. The musical has a great soundtrack and a happy ending, so the book seemed like a good pick for our group. And it was. Although not in the way I had anticipated!WickedBookCover

I struggled reading it, at least for the first half. Little seemed familiar to me—the descriptions were coarse and sexual, and the gnarly baby teeth gave me serious nightmares. I could tell that it was heavy with symbolism, religious and political innuendo, and much that seemed to pass directly over my head. I struggled to keep names and locations straight, and nearly panicked at the thought of my book club members’ responses!

Of course, I shouldn’t have worried. Although I wasn’t alone in my struggles, most members had tried to finish it. Some had read it before, liked it, and wondered why it was more difficult this time. Another still considered it one of her favorite books and had found even more to savor at this reading. Reading it for the first time, one member was ready to start on the second book in the series, although he had been disappointed in the ending.

Most of us were not surprised that the Witch was not as evil as she was portrayed in the Wizard of Oz. We discussed whether any fairy tales are intended only for children and what could be found with deeper analysis. Our last two books dealt with the nature of evil and I can’t help but wonder how much of our understanding and tolerance is because we are a well-read group. Does this transfer to our understanding in real life? How could it not?

On several occasions the room was quiet with thought. Several members agreed that the use of Animals vs. animals as a theme was not just a statement for animal rights, but for the rights of all societal outsiders – and Elphaba is the ultimate outsider. We disagreed whether Elphaba would ever really add wings to monkeys. The author was working with popular source material and he stays true to things not assumed, although more is inferred than we might otherwise imagine! The opening prologue served not just to set the stage, letting us know that the story would eventually lead to a known world, but showed us how people use gossip to help them understand their world, explaining things that don’t make sense.

We were surprised that Frank L. Baum’s classic was first published in 1900 as America’s first original fairy tale. We did not discuss the nature of science fiction and fantasy and how it serves to point out moral truths, creating a recognizable world that is still separate enough to keep our defenses down and penetrable. I am glad I read Wicked, and like others in the group, I would like to know how the story is continued. One member who has read more of Gregory Maguire’s books said that this was his heaviest. Perhaps one day . . . .

  • Other works discussed:
  • Defending Jacob by William Landay
  • Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
  • The Wizard of Oz (DVD)
  • Oz the Great and Powerful (DVD)
  • Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  • Saving Mr. Banks (DVD)
  • Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes
  • Other Gregory Maguire books

 

Round House Discussion Journal

RoundHouseCoverRound House by Louise Erdrich was easy to read.  That was the last question I asked, and the consensus seemed to be positive, even if not everyone liked the book. One member was incredulous that thirteen year olds could be so mature.  We started the meeting discussing the age of the narrator, drinking, driving, and sex. We wondered if this was something distinctive to Native Americans, but some of us remembered our own early teen years while another wondered if this freedom isn’t common in white families with two parents working.  Our own experiences growing up—rural, urban, protected, wealthy, poor, free—have a profound impact on our reading and acceptance of a story, and this was clearly evident in a thoughtful discussion in which members referred to each other’s comments with respect and consideration.

One member felt that the tragedy of alcoholism and hopelessness on reservations was treated too lightly in the book. He referenced a recent article in the Review Journal about increases in suicides among Native Americans. Everyone understood that the author’s main concern in writing the book had been Indian law and jurisdictional issues – especially concerning violence against Native American women. We spent a good amount of time discussing respect and violence – how Americans seem to admire rudeness and be obsessed with crime, about the impact of violent video games and the value of positive role models.

Growing up, seeing our parents suddenly as old and flawed, facing Wiindigoos, spirituality and belonging: so many themes and characters that some of us found the book a bit hard to keep straight. One of us said that reading about the camaraderie made her wish she had been a boy growing up! We all agreed that Cappy was a true friend and felt the sorrow of his loss. We could have kept discussing. In many ways, we only touched the surface.

As I read Round House, I could not help but see connections to many other books I have read, in and out of the Book Bistro. The impact of reading on my understanding of the world around me and the variety of people I meet and serve in the library is profound and one of the most valuable, even when I read strictly for pleasure and when a book seems forgotten as soon as put down. I handed out a list of the many books long-time members may have read over the last several years and I encourage all readers to take an opportunity to stop and think about what they have read—as an exercise for the brain as well as because what we read has become a part of us, good and bad, and this shared community experience brings us all closer together.

  • Other Works Discussed:
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Jeremiah Johnson (DVD)1972; Robert Redford; Sydney Pollack (Director)
  • Stand and Deliver (DVD) 1988; Edward James Olmos
  • Stand by Me (DVD) 1986; River Phoenix (based on the short story “The Body” by Stephen King)
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Defending Jacob Discussion Journal

As we gathered to discuss Defending Jacob, the room was filled with chattering and DefendingJacobCoverenergy.  Several members noted that the book had been easy to read and kept them engaged. One new member said she was glad she read the book, but she couldn’t say she liked it.  Another was impressed by the realistic picture of our justice system. Yet another felt the book was full of holes and too much foreshadowing. One new member was disappointed by the ending, even angry. Perhaps, like the parents in the story, she had wanted the twist to be exoneration.

Does a murder gene exist? Which plays a larger roll in determining behavior, genetics or environment? We were mixed in our opinions. We asked: What does the author intended for us to get from his novel? Why does it matter? This is fiction, a novel, something to be read for pleasure. True. But many of us want more and our book club challenges us like a lateral thinking puzzle.

We discussed the reliability of the narrator, especially a character who had the “murder gene.” One member suggested that the Grand Jury interview sections were imagined rather than real. Another wondered about the mother—we only heard her side of the story through the narrator. Some felt that the mother’s actions in the end were admirable; others considered her insane. We had several conversations going on at once and the enthusiasm was palpable.

The biggest surprise, though, was when one member mentioned that our discussion had actually made her dislike the book! Quite the opposite of the usual response! Books, like people, are full of surprises.  Our book club keeps us guessing!  Our next book, Round House by Louise Erdrich, is a National Book Award winner.  Give it, and us, a try and join the discussion!

  • Other works discussed:
  • The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
  • The Sopranos (Television Series)