Book Club, RA Programs

The After Party – Books and Bagels – Feb. 2017


Books and Bagels Discussion on Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Rating: Did You Ever Have A Family received ratings between 2.5 and 5.0 with an average rating of 3.73.

Review: We appreciated another excellent discussion with most members either praising the novel or disliking the novel.  One member noted that this is the case for many authors and genres at the library—people definitely enjoy different novels.  She further noted that the discussion is always exciting when there is disagreement. Also, she complimented the array of selections presented to the book club.

Did You Ever Have A Family is Bill Clegg’s debut fiction novel. Members had not previously read either of his memoirs. All members were moved by minor character Cissy’s role in the lives of several main characters.  Cissy states, “Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part…..Someone down the line might need to know you got through it. Or maybe someone you won’t see coming will need you…And it might be you never know the part you played, what it meant to someone to watch you make your way each day.” p. 289 (paperback)

Discussion Highlights:

  • The members who gave the novel high marks cited the following reasons:
    • Fabulous writing, excellent techniques, and complex structuring
    • Author’s exploration of different points of view in the novel, the use of closed third person narration for the three main characters and the selection of first person narration for the minor characters— members enjoyed the multiple narrator aspect
    • Found the minor characters fascinating and thought this was a testament to the often overlooked people who offer solace and kindness everyday
    • Liked that the novel was character-driven
    • Satisfaction in discovering how characters were connected
    • Members appreciated piecing all the characters together. One member stated it was like putting a puzzle together.
    • Lots of characters, probably an homage to being human and our interconnection with others as we travel through this world
    • Rich, complex, multi-layered, mesmerizing
    • Members were reminded of another novel previously selected for book club: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. These books had a very similar format, structure, and character development.  Interestingly, the same members who liked Did You Ever Have A Family enjoyed The Spinning Heart, likewise, those that disliked Did You Ever Have A Family disliked The Spinning Heart.
  • The members who gave the novel low marks cited the following reasons:
    • Too many characters (at least 42) for a shorter book (219 pages)
    • Clegg frequently uses pronouns and descriptions instead of using first and/or last names which makes tracking the characters even more difficult
    • Members had difficulty in keeping track of all the characters and often felt lost
    • Due to the amount of characters, members felt that when they put the book down, they could no longer pick-up where they left off
    • Again, due to the number of characters, members who read the book weeks before had a difficult time remembering all the characters
    • One member politely said: I really enjoyed the discussion, but the novel wasn’t my style, way too many characters that are not clearly delineated.
    • Members were not invested in any of the characters


From 14:51-21:07, Bill Clegg discusses his interesting hometown and its effect on his novel.

From 29:53-35:58, Bill Clegg reveals how he started his novel with this sentence,“She will go.”  p. 7 (paperback).  Additionally, Bill Clegg talks about his love for the “accidental pairing of people in life.”  This concept is definitely explored in his novel.

Check-Out Bill Clegg’s Memoirs!




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