Book Club

The After Party – Morning Book Break – March 2017

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Morning Book Break Discussion on My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Rating: My Name Is Lucy Barton received ratings between minus, minus, minus 1.0 (member sarcasm) and 4.5 with an average rating of 2.28.  This is the lowest combined rating for a book discussed in Morning Book Break in the last four years.

Review:  Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions and snow cover at the time of the meeting, many members were unable to join us for club. Some members were snowed in; nevertheless, many members did email the facilitator their comments and ratings. Hooray for participation from home!  These comments/ratings were read aloud at the end of club during the critiquing session time.  The members who were able to attend really enjoyed the in-depth discussion; they felt the discussion shed new light on the novel and elevated the reading experience.  The discussion was thought-provoking and one member commented that each member present seemed to uncover a hidden element in the story that other members had not formerly discovered.  My Name Is Lucy Barton is a novel that leaves so many things unsaid, leaving readers desiring to meet in clubs to piece together the story.  Nancy Pearl, librarian and author of Book Lust, says My Name Is Lucy Barton is the perfect book club read, as it is a novel that lends itself to discuss what is not written on the page.  Discussions will center on what is unsaid and clubs will enjoy working together to fill in the gaps.

Discussion Highlights:

Several members commented on how much they hated the book—this cannot be understated.

  • Members stated that the writing was flat, vague, and too bare bones.
  • Members did not like filling-in-the-blanks regarding specifics about the characters.  Members felt they were left in the dark about many things in the novel.
  • Members were frustrated and wished the author wrote more about the characters and their relationship to other another.
  • Many members could not relate to the characters and didn’t care about the characters.
  • Some members thought the book needed more character development.
  • Some members thought the author demanded a lot from the reader, and they really did not want to work that hard to understand what was not written on the page.

Several members liked the book and three members thought the novel was exquisite.

  • They enjoyed the cadence and the poetic language of the novel.
  • They liked Strout’s skillful use of dialogue and her use of stream-of-consciousness like writing.
  • Members liked the raw, emotional, and very real relationship between Lucy and her mother.
  • Members enjoy books when authors’ require readers to fill-in-the-blanks and piece together the storyline.
  • Members enjoyed the shared gossip between mother and daughter and felt this to be so very real. The gossip portrayed in the novel is the odd love language between mother and daughter and provides comfort to daughter during her hospitalization.
  • Members like the “ruthless” aspect of Lucy which allowed her to overcome such a tragic beginning. (A father possibly suffering from PTSD and a mother with a possibly abusive past.)(Lucy suffers possible sexual abuse.)
  • Members love the fact that Lucy as a child becomes a reader and later in life becomes a writer.

Members liked the metafictional aspects of the book.

  • One member thought the take away message of the book was that we can overcome much, but some mistakes cannot be repaired—we only have one story(life).
  • One member like the symbolism of the marble statue on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Lucy visits the statue again and again as it reminds her of the love/hate relationships she has with her parents and siblings—Lucy saw how really unhealthy her family was, but also “how our roots were twisted so tenaciously around one another’s hearts.”
  • Members liked that the author’s writing allows the reader to engage at a variety of levels.

Resources:

2:20-3:50 and 7:45-8:28 Elizabeth Strout discusses choice of first person narration and risks involved.

27:20-29:34 and 34:42-36:31 Elizabeth Strout answers the following questions:

“Your writing, at times, sounds mystical. Is that something you aim for?”

“Is Lucy or are any of your other characters, based in reality?”

“Was fiction writing always your aspiration, or were you drawn to other forms of literature at first?”

Read-a-Likes:

The facilitator thought Alice Munro’s writing to be very similar to Elizabeth Strout’s writing. An interesting note:  Kimberly Farr is the reader for both audiobooks—Dear Life: Stories and My Name is Lucy Barton.  Kimberly Farr excels in bringing the characters to life.

For other books by Elizabeth Strout in our collection, please click here.

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We also own the mini-series Olive Kitteridge, based on Strout’s popular novel.

My Name is Lucy Barton

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Book Club

The After Party – Books and Bagels – March 2017

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Books and Bagels Discussion on The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

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Rating: The Golden Son received ratings between 3.5 and 5.0 with an average rating of 4.02.  This is a very high average for this club.

Review:  Members thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it was very favorably received.  They loved Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s extensive research about the education of medical doctors in the United States and the challenges presented.  Members enjoyed the author’s exploration of the panchayat system, an Indian tradition of settling disputes within a community.  Members are life-long learners and view discovery into novels with historical and cultural perspectives from other countries as an exciting quest.  They found the panchayat system intriguing and they appreciated Gowda’s coverage.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Members appreciated the exploration of internships and residency in the medical profession. It was interesting to see the evolution of a trained physician.
  • Members were interested in arranged marriages, dowry, and bride burning discussed within the novel.
  • Members liked Gowda’s use of metaphors such as; the dispute of the mango tree and the clay as a metaphor for life.
  • Members really liked the vignettes presented throughout the novel showing the panchayat system and the arbitration process.
  • Many members’ only negative comments were about the ending.
  • Several members found the ending to be contrived, but not completely like a Hollywood ending.  It was more realistic that one of the main characters, Anil, did not end up with the other main character, Leena.
  • A few members thought the ending needed to be tighter.
  • Members found this to be an easy, enjoyable read without many literary devices and sometimes this is a nice break.  They enjoyed the dialogue between characters and found it to be realistic.
  • Three members had read Gowda’s first novel, Secret Daughter, and they commented that her second novel The Golden Son contained an improved writing style.

Resources:

Read Gowda’s inspiration for The Golden Son:
http://www.shilpigowda.com/tgs-behind-the-book/

Gowda is interviewed by Liza Fromer about The Golden Son:

Read-a-Likes:

Book Club, RA Programs

The After Party – Morning Book Break – Feb. 2017

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Morning Book Break Discussion on Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Rating: Secret Daughter received ratings between 3.5 and 5.0 with an average rating of 4.06.

Review: Most members were delighted to read a book for club that they really enjoyed. The last three books for club, while interesting, informative, and producing lively discussion, did not generate as much favor as Secret Daughter. Members enjoyed an excellent, easy read. Many members have established life-long learning as a core value, so they felt they benefited from the historical and cultural perspective the novel offered.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Members like Gowda’s style of writing. They liked her use of descriptive language and felt they were transported to both the slums of Mumbai and the lavish, elite neighborhoods of Mumbai. Gowda uses effective sensory language.
  • Most members felt the dual-narration was easy to follow, a few members stated this is definitely not their prefer style of storytelling.
  • Members enjoyed learning about Indian culture.
  • One member listened to the audiobook and highly recommends it, she loved the accents.
  • Several members simply could not put the book down and they read the book in one day. One member stated, “I enjoyed every page.”
  • Members thought Asha, Somer, Kavita and the other women in the novel were fully-fleshed out characters. The members thought the male characters needed further development, particularly Vijay.
  • The members gave their opinions on the main underlying theme the author tried to address: “How much of our life is destined for us—by our gender, our economic class, or the culture we’re born into? How much is within our power to change?” (p.2 paperback edition—The Story Behind The Book—A+ Author Insights, Extras, & More…)
  • Dialogue also included conversations about many weighty topics:
    • Adoption
    • Infertility
    • Motherhood/Women’s roles
    • Gender inequality in other countries/Female infanticide
    • Identity/Belonging Issues
    • Nature/Nurture Debate
    • Migration/Immigration/Assimilation
    • Cultural differences between US and India
    • Relaxation techniques/Yoga/Meditation

Resources:

Read-a-Likes:

Further explore the Mumbai slums
by reading the narrative nonfiction,
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope
in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author,
after three-years of research and investigation,
tells a moving story of triumph and tragedy.

Book Club, RA Programs

The After Party – Books and Bagels – Feb. 2017

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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

Resources:

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!


Read-A-Likes:

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Book Club, RA Programs

The After Party -Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – Jan. 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Discussions on Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Rating: In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 2.5 and 3.5. The average of the ratings was 3.2.  Three members declined to rate the book, citing that it would be unfair to rate as they disliked the book so much they could not finish it.

In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between -1.0 and 5.0.  The average of the ratings was 1.97. About six members gave the book a zero and stated that they disliked the book and were unable to finish reading the book.

Review: Almost all members would not have chosen this book to read on their own. The Books and Bagels members, on the whole, were grateful to learn about new technologies and new communication tools that have emerged in our modern era.

How people meet their mates across different periods is a significant theme of Modern Romance therefore; last month, the members were asked to come prepared to share one of the following stories:

  • How did you and your significant other meet?
  • How did your parents or grandparents meet?
  • Share an interesting story about how a couple you know met.
  • Of course, members were also given the option to opt out.

The members were told that these shared stories would allow us to compare and contrast how people found their mates in the past and the present. Several members in Morning Book Break suggested bringing in wedding photos or photos of themselves as young singles and all members took this suggestion to heart and arrived with a photo to share. These stories and photos were well-received and this segment of the discussion was very popular.

At the end of our discussion time, members were asked to critique the book and answer the follow question:

  • Did Modern Romance help dispel the social stigma of online dating? If you were in your 20’s or 30’s would you use it as a tool?

The discussions in both groups were lively, fruitful, and interesting. Normally, the discussions end around 11 am, in both groups, the discussion lasted until almost noon.

Discussion Highlights—Books and Bagels

  • Several members did not care for the book, so they skimmed the contents or did not finish the book.
  • Most members found the comedian’s use of foul language to be off-putting, irritating, and a distraction to the contents of the book.
  • Some members questioned the methodology of the research studies conducted and they discovered that the statistics within the book did not add up.
  • Much discussion centered on how cell phone usage, specifically texting, has not only changed the dating scene, but ordinary, everyday conversations in general.
  • There was a great deal of discussion about the use of the internet and how googling has allowed us to search for the best which opens up endless options and yet, our lives are more complex and not necessarily happier.

Discussion Highlights—Morning Book Break

  • Most members did not care for Ansari’s humor. They found the humor to be boorish, insulting, and disrespectful. Some members found him to be humorous and a few enjoy his stand-up comedy routines.
  • Many members expressed concern for younger generation and their future; this brave new world seems to have lost the art of lively conversation. Many members were glad that they had been born in an earlier generation.  One member stated that colleges are now offering courses in conversation skills, indeed, a lost art.
  • Several members were not able to finish reading the book and those that did found it to be redundant and repetitive.
  • A few members shared that the information about romance in Japan, Buenos Aires, and France was interesting and informative.
  • A few members discussed the book with younger people over the holidays and found the information to spark lively and interesting conversations. A few people thought having knowledge about current romantic practices was paramount in interacting with the younger generation and on that note, thought the book offered insight.

Resources:

http://azizansari.com/

Read-a-Likes:

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