The Rosie Project Discussion Journal

I’m pretty sure everyone liked The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Some of us really liked the book. I suppose there is a spectrum of likeability. I hear and remember RosieProjectCovercomments. With fifteen smiling and reflective faces around the table, I make a judgment call and record it here. We didn’t take a survey.

Perhaps our discussion seemed quieter because we were on the stage. Sounds were muted and the air had a foggy quality—diffused light from high ceilings and shadows behind thick dark curtains. When I mentioned we were meeting in the theater, one member had worried that our group had gotten so big we needed an auditorium!

When I asked for someone to offer the first response, quiet chatter reigned. Finally, one member drew our attention and our discussion began. She found the book to be utterly believable and lifelike. Another had never before heard of Asperger Syndrome. Yet another described his experience with an obviously much-loved brother.

We spent much of the hour discussing spectrum disorders. Not just autism, though mainly so. The autistic stage is universal. Autism was not identified until 1944. Do all people with Aspergers have a good memory? Most also have SID (Sensory Input Disorder). Early training and socialization make a difference. Why are so many more boys diagnosed with Autism? Some previously diagnosed schizophrenics are now found to have autism. And in the future it may be schizophrenia again. How do we really know? Is psychology a science?

Bill Gates. Vladamir Putin. Steve Jobs. Our family members, friends, maybe that obnoxious man or woman we try to avoid. And my favorite – Mr. Darcy.

Loveable to some of us, obnoxious to others, Don Tillman described communication issues that made us laugh out loud. One member said the book had been written as a play and polished over eight years. Even though the main characters were from Australia, it seemed very American. Those who listened to the audio book said that the reader sounded American.

We discussed a lot of other books and movies, although none of the same ones Don Tillman mentions. Several of us mentioned The Big Bang Theory television show and the ever-more culturally recognizable Sheldon. Now our group has Don Tillman. And we are part of an even larger group. As of today, Amazon had 6,873 reviews of The Rosie Project—4072 five-stars ratings and 2034 four-star ratings.

Working in a library, I’ve had people ask about the value of fiction. Is it just entertainment, escape, relaxation? Aren’t we any different now that we have read this book, alone and as a group? Do we view the world any differently? Are we less biased or more accepting? The Rosie project was an engaging, easy to read story. Although it’s main character is Gregory Peck-handsome and perhaps not truly as awkward and obnoxious as many people we encounter, the issues raised are pertinent and brought us together. We didn’t always agree, but we listened and shared, exercised our brains and our hearts.

  • Other works discussed:
  •  Big Bang Theory (television show)
  • Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  • Defending Jacob by William Landay
  • House Rules by Jodi Piccoult
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Some very interesting read-a-likes — just ask at your local library!

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)

Destiny of the Republic Discussion Journal

From George Washington to Barrack Obama, forty-four men have served as president of the United States. Some names we recognize as founding fathers, others because DestinyOfTheRepublicCoverwe associate them with wars, the Great Depression, our hometowns, current events. None of us at the meeting knew much about President Garfield before reading Candice Millard’s book, Destiny of the Republic: a Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. I barely remembered that he had been assassinated, let alone that he served less than six months before being shot and then lived for nearly three months before succumbing to an infection. We liked the book, found it easy to read and were impressed by President Garfield’s character and constitution. Although I found the depiction of President Garfield almost too saintly, we accepted the book’s accuracy because it has been well-reviewed and includes copious notes.

We started the discussion with an absent member’s suggestion that medicine hasn’t really changed much – hospital workers still often don’t wash their hands enough and many don’t get flu shots. Although some of us felt that we are so much more advanced now that we couldn’t agree, we also couldn’t help but think of the recent re-used needle scandal that convicted Dr. Dipak Desai; and of the mother and newborns that died of undiagnosed tuberculosis this last month. Our incredulity that Doctor Bliss’ authority could go unchallenged was tempered by our discussion – not only is truth stranger than fiction, but it is always easier to see the truth in hindsight. I was reminded of the member who told us about penicillin toothpaste.

We briefly discussed the changes in the approachability of the president, the politics of patronage, the change in Chester Arthur, the love story between Garfield and his wife, and the insanity of his assassin. We did not actually use the entire hour for the discussion. The book had little that was controversial but much that was new to us, and the discussion was thoughtful and considered, as is the written review another absent member gave me to share, and I will post it as a comment below. Destiny of the Republic is a book about President James Garfield, but also about the country, moving from war toward a new millennium. I was particularly moved by individual contributions – Julia Sand, who wrote to vice president Arthur and inspired him to rise to the challenge of the presidency, and all the individuals who lined the tracks of Garfield’s train as he traveled to the sea, finally pushing the train up the last hill to his cottage. Individual contributions and shared community experiences make a difference!

  • Other works discussed:
  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • Jerry Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia v. 1 (includes a song about Charles Guiteau)
  • American President (PBS Series – DVD)

The Buddha in the Attic May 2013 Discussion Journal

BuddhaInTheAtticBookCoverAs I read The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka, I was awed by the first person plural narrative voice. I thought about how, when I write these notes on our meetings, I often use the collective We to share our experience. Even though individuals make the statements, the group absorbs them, refutes them, nods, smiles, scowls, laughs, even remembers. It is really very powerful, which is why I am drawn to record the meetings. For future members. For the Us.  But to continue that voice for 138 pages . . .

Most of us agreed that the book was repetitious. Some of us skimmed as we moved along in a chapter. One of us didn’t feel as connected to the characters as individuals and was not as moved by it as she might have been if it had shared the detail of an individual experience. Another felt as if he were reading a non-fiction book. Which of course can be dangerous if the book is not well researched and accurate.  Is that my statement or the group’s? It’s tricky!

We discussed the book in snippets, much like it’s written. We looked up the reference to the laughing Buddha, hidden in the attic when the Japanese leave for the internment camps, hidden away like they were during the war. We read the discussion questions and realized that we didn’t remember specific enough details to answer many of them. “Women are weak but mothers are strong.” Some of the Japanese women were mothers before they came to America. Are the Americans the most savage tribe?  One member pointed out that the buying up of the Japanese-Americans’ goods was reminiscent of the Jewish holocaust. And the “I am Chinese” buttons similar to the Jewish armband. Is this human? American? Considering Muslims and our fears today, have we learned anything from these experiences?

One member said that she hadn’t liked the collective We voice at first, but when she got to the end, she realized how powerful it was that the We disappeared and was eventually forgotten by the We left behind. Which of course brings up stories from those of us left behind. Some of us admitted knowing nothing about the internment until hearing about it in school. Many had known only of the fear — fear of war, fear of the Japanese.  One of us had worked for a Japanese woman whose property had been held for her by an “Irish” friend. Another member remembered Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson, in which a son refused to honor his father’s promise to a Japanese family.

The Buddha in the Attic seemed sometimes like a long poem, with anaphora and alliteration a choice not just repetition. The We is more common in poems. Some of us found the beauty and the story enough, as if the details of experience were carried by the feelings evoked, with some individual facts and images impressed on our consciousness. Others still would have liked more detail, which is also important, if it keeps us searching for answers and ever learning.

At the end of the meeting, we discussed whether authors really intend all we find and discuss in a book.  Who writes these discussion questions? How important are they? I believe that our discussions are exercises for the brain, and sometimes, when I am searching really hard for an answer, I am convinced that I can feel my brain hurt with the strain, just as if I am exercising any other muscle. Many of the members agreed. Though not every one.

Other Works discussed:

  • “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner (famous for its first person plural narrative)
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand (first person plural narrative representing collectivism)
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (our November 2012 selection)
  • “1917” by Mary Swan (acknowledged by Julie Otsuka as inspiring her first chapter — the story is written in a very similar style)