Beartown Discussion Journal

Last year, in July, the Whitney Book Bistro discussed The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, a book about baseball. Since the Golden Knights took Las Vegas by storm this year, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in June during their first season as a hockey team, it seemed fitting to read and discuss Beartown by Fredrik Backman, a book about hockey.  Although, of course, the books are never just about the sport.  They are about the players and the spectators, the lovers and the haters, with a lot of details in between. And Beartown is more about the culture of hockey and the community that relies on it.BeartownCover

Our discussion group was small—five women, one who hadn’t read the book and four who don’t care too much about sports in general. Our first responder had not liked the first part of the book at all, but had become more interested as the plot started to develop in the second half. Another had been a pediatrician in Minneapolis and shared how children had to start skating at four years old if they were to be able to play hockey in junior high. Kids would come in with injuries and parents would be angry that their children couldn’t keep playing. We continued to discuss our personal experiences with sports and injuries.  I was incredulous that people could experience the injuries and pain as described and continue to play. Another one of us was angry that people can allow someone to compete when injured or ill, as happened in The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown.  One member reminded us how Benji would step on his broken foot because the physical pain was easier to deal with than the emotional pain.

We discussed the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, “based on the true story of the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE in football players, and the uphill battle he faced in bringing the information to the public.”[i]We also discussed Dick Francis, who as a professional jockey probably understood the injuries and pain he describes in his heroes. One of us thought that people too often watch the sport specifically for the injuries and fighting, or the crashes in NASCAR. But then one of us is a NASCAR fan and described the skill and talent necessary to successfully drive a sports car at high speed. As always, issues and perspectives are so much more complex than they first appear.  If ever we needed more people in a discussion, it was then!

The second half of the novel deals with the aftermath of a rape and its effect on the girl, the family, the team and the town. We wondered how backward the town seemed in dealing with the rape, especially considering the evidence produced by the girl’s bruising.  Since I worked for several years at the Rape Crisis Center in Tucson, I felt that the author dealt with the rape too stereotypically.  We discussed the MeToo Movement, Bill Cosby, and more.

I liked the book because it explained the town’s obsession with hockey, but others found it not interesting enough and depressing. Hockey is a violent sport, especially as described in Beartown. It was a hot, humid and melancholy July evening.

I started moderating the Whitney Library book club over five years ago.  The group has been meeting for many more years.  I learned just before the meeting that one of our long-time members, Norm Henderson, passed away. He will be sorely missed.  My husband always reminds me to find out what Norm thought of the book! Our heartfelt condolences go out to Carol and her family.

  • Other Works Discussed:
  • The Art of Fielding(2011) by Chad Harbach
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics(2013) by Daniel James Brown
  • Author Dick Francis and son author Felix Francis
  • Concussion(DVD) Will Smith, 2015
  • Smooth Talk(DVD) Laura Dern, 1985


[i]Landesman, P. (Director). (2016). Concussion[Video file]. United States: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from


Beautiful Ruins April 2013 Discussion Journal

BeautifulRuinsBookCoverAt the start of each meeting, I usually ask if people want to share their responses to the book — did they like it, love it, hate it, or any number of possible first reactions to a book.  This can be risky, like a leap of faith, asking people to share what might turn out to be a minority view. Often, many of us can appreciate the book much more after the discussion, looking at it through others’ eyes, discovering meanings missed, and, like laughter, enthusiasm can be contagious.  But that immediate response may be the truest, because it reflects the likely impact of the book — undiscussed, perhaps cast aside in favor of another book, or cherished and passed on among family and friends. 

This month, we discussed Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and the first responder said she had trouble getting into the book and wondered if anyone had been unable to finish it. Several of us did find the book to be slow to start, and the changing characters and times were frustrating at first. One patron found it repetitious and another wondered about its relevancy, especially since so much concerned the making of the movie Cleopatra in 1962. Who is the audience? Would younger readers even care?

In general, most members seemed to like the book. Characters we dislike at the beginning become more interesting by the end and the last chapter recap of what happened to all of the characters, even minor ones, was mentioned by several of us. Two members had listened to the audio version and said that the reader was excellent.

The discussion questions I had printed from were especially helpful this month, although I forgot to distribute them with the books, so we hadn’t all been able to think about them ahead of time. The intersection of art and life brought up several images–from Pasquale’s vision of the tennis court, the bunker art, reality shows, the movie version of Lydia’s play about Pat, and more.   Many of us remembered the furor surrounding the Elizabeth Taylor – Richard Burton love affair and one member had seen Cleopatra because of the publicity — just like in the book! Art intersecting with the book club!

We continued to jump about among the questions, discussing the theme of love that ran throughout. I hadn’t actually thought of the book as filled with humor, and the question made the group think a moment, but as we discussed it, we found bits of humor, words and images, that made us smile — the battle of insults between Pasquale and his friend, the absurdity of the reality shows. We skipped over many questions that I think would have been great to discuss.  Although meeting for only an hour keeps us on task, it can leave a great many things unsaid; but I like to think of it as jump-starting our brain.

We were left with several questions, about how much of this fiction book might really be true. (according to, Richard Burton died in 1984 and had three children, one with Elizabeth Taylor). Could you really bake lye into a loaf of bread and would it kill you? And who, in 1962, would have nausea, miss a menstrual cycle, and believe cancer over pregnancy? Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction, so we get back to that art intersecting life question.

Beautiful Ruins is a book that spans 50 years and has at least eight main characters and their perspectives. One member’s first reaction to the book was that the main point is that “we want what we want.” Every character and every reader comes back to that reality. In  the book, Alvis Bender tells Dee, “All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character—what we believe—none of it is real; it’s all part of the story we tell. But here’s the thing: it’s our  . . . story!”  (pg 266 )  Another member highlighted Pasquale’s mother: “ ‘Sometimes,’ she said,’ what we want to do and what we must do are not the same.’ She put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Pasqo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.’ “ (pg. 304) I certainly want life to continue intersecting art in the Whitney Book Bistro!

Other works discussed:

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (movie recommendation)
  • Beginners Goodbye by Ann Tyler (March selection)
  • Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby (June 2012 selection)
  • Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (March Movie Club selection)