Necessary Lies Discussion Journal

Our discussion of Necessary Lies, by Diane Chamberlain, started quietly but had moments of intense passion. Our first responder said she liked the book—she found it so easy to read that it didn’t seem like a book club book! This prompted a discussion about NecessaryLies“good literature” versus “popular.” One member had a professor who kept murder mysteries hidden in a closet! Another member said she is often bothered by long, detailed descriptions that don’t necessarily add to the story and wondered if that was a trademark of some “good” literature that made it hard to read. We discussed James Patterson, a highly popular and prolific author, as well as our next book club pick, Landline, by Rainbow Rowell, which will give us the opportunity again to discuss our expectations and likes for entertainment and more.

Our second responder liked that Necessary Lies was filled with dialog and personal thoughts and discussions. She cared about the characters. She had lived in North Carolina, working on a doctoral thesis. She had travelled to schools in some poor areas, giving intelligence tests to young children, and she had had no knowledge of the Eugenics Program. Now she can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t somehow complicit in the selection of children for sterilization.

Another member shared that eugenics programs continue in other parts of the world, amounting to genocide.  Our own government admitted to the sterilization of “3,406 American Indian women without their permission between 1973 and 1976.”[1] She said this is the equivalent of one in four Native American women, significantly impacting the gene-pool for native people in the United States, and her anger was palpable.

The author included a link to a video of the actual North Carolina hearing she mentions at the end of her book and one of our members watched the entire two and half hour video.[2] She was still powerfully moved by the stories and the reality behind the fiction in Necessary Lies.

When we discussed the book more specifically, we were just as passionate.  Why hadn’t the discussion questions included anything about the relationship between Jane and her husband?  They must have been written by a man! When did we first realize that Jane and Robert were so mismatched? Times were different then. It was over 50 years ago! We’ve come a long way baby! The ACLU has fought hard for basic rights. Has intelligence testing changed? Was Ivy smart or just “street smart?” One of our male members was adamant that Robert knew exactly what he wanted in a wife and was at fault. Would we have taken little William from the family? Why in the world did Jane tell Mary Ella the truth when no good could come of it? Didn’t she need the proof to persuade Ivy that she was in danger? Did Mrs. Gardiner know of her husband’s abuse? Did Nonnie – how could she not? The social workers were evil! How could we know what it is like to be that poor? The discussion actually got overheated for a moment.

I am surprised that we never discussed Jane’s decision to hide Ivy. What would we have done?  It was a powerful, informative, yet easy-to-read book. We mostly agreed that the happy ending was a little bit unlikely, but would we have liked the book without it? Could we have handled it? Although there was more we could have discussed, I think we were ready, as the hour ended, to move back into our world, a world that is perhaps stranger than fiction but better because of it.

  • Other works discussed:
  • Call the Midwife (2005) by Jennifer Worth
  • A Fine Balance (2001) by Rohinton Mistry
  • The 100 year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared (2012) by Jonas Jonasson
  • A Man Called Ove (2014) by Fredrik Backman.
  • Vinegar Girl (2016) by Anne Tyler

[1] U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web accessed 7-13-2016.

[2] Victims of sterilization tell their stories. Web accessed 7-13-2016.

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 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

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

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

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