Friday, August 12, 2011

The Red Tent: A Book Club Request and (Re)Read

I know, I know: worst book club blog ever.  As it is unproductive to discuss these failings I won't do more than mention them, and I'll jump right into The Situation:  Because she is the only friend who consistently texts me during my "free time" (i.e. after 9:30 p.m.), Helen often has my full attention.  Therefore, when she asked if the book club was rolling (#sad face) and if I'd like to read The Red Tent, it seemed to me a reasonable time to revive the blog, even if only for us two.  So.  Helen and I will be reading (or rereading, as the case may be) Anita Diamant's lovely retelling of the biblical story of Dinah.  Please join us (particularly if you haven't read this one yet, as I can recommend it wholeheartedly) and check back to join the discussion.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Let's Start Discussing

Who’s ready for a discussion of the first half (or so) of our book, through “How to Tell a True War Story”?

The Things They Carried is a compilation of war “stories” and remembrances that reads as a novel, told in the literal sense. Rife with visceral realities, O’Brien succeeds in conveying not the successes or failures of war, but rather the reality of living the war on boys who are given the responsibilities of men.

In the title essay/story“The Things They Carried,” are the tangible or intangible things more burdensome to carry? What does O'Brien mean when he says, "They carried their principles in their feet"?

What’s a true war story? Is it about battles and lives won and lost; or the tedium of being at war; or the effects of anxious boredom? How is a true war story “never about war”? How is a true war story “never moral”?

Culturally speaking, the Vietnam War did not produce “war heroes.” It’s a controversial statement, and I don’t aim to argue that some of the men who enlisted or were drafted and went to Vietnam were not heroes; but it is known that when they returned home they were largely not given a “hero’s welcome,” and this, coupled with fighting an ambiguous, unwinnable war, has impeded veterans’ ability to heal psychologically. In “On Rainy River,” O’Brien was paradoxically a coward if he chose to flee to Canada and a coward for not and ultimately fighting a war he was against. Let’s talk about why Elroy Berdahl was a hero and O’Brien was a coward.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First Book-of-the-Year

by Emily

My book club pick: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I know some of you may be groaning at the recommendation of a Vietnam war story, but resist the urge to make hasty judgments. A Pulitzer finalist, The Things They Carried is a novel that explores the way a story is told and the concept of truth. You should read this one.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year; New Book Club Plan

by K.A. Lewis

After a very slow fall (the season, I mean, and only a small bit of actual descent) I, for one, am ready to get back on the online book club wagon.  And there is a plan.  The big question: how to choose books?  A: I'm gonna let you do it.  I spoke to a number of people in other successful clubs, and my favorite solution to the "which book now?" issue was to have each member take turns selecting a title.  A scattering of choices based on individual interests should inherently introduce variety, and hopefully lead to a not unwelcome sense of investment in the club.  Right?  What do you think?  Seriously, I'm too indecisive for this job, but as I'm who you're stuck with you are just going to have to Sign Up and Send Feedback.  To begin I'll compile a list of book-pickers, which will then have to be arranged.  Possibly I'll use the order names are volunteered or maybe a more scientific system is called for: Level-of-Awesomeness or simply Birth Date (either way I think we can make a strong case that Emily K, born January 9, should be first *wink*).  Once said list is in place and the dear reader at the top (ahem, Emily) has made his/her choice I'll post again with our next book.

Please (pretty, pretty please...) post your name and date of birth in the comments.  For kicks and so that we can get to know each other a bit better you can include a few of your likes and dislikes, Amélie style (idea credit: Shannon O).  My Entry: "Kristin; June 14; I enjoy riding in cars alongside moving trains and paying with exact change.  I dislike the smell that tomato vines leave on my skin, when bands that repeat their own name in every song, and the term "lover"."  I sincerely hope that this list will morph with time, you can always pass or trade when your turn comes up, and really no pressure.  Just let us know you are here.  And that you are awesome.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

by Emily

Finally readers are some seriously overdue thoughts on Kate Chopin’s exquisite novel, The Awakening. My excuse: a lack of leisure.

The Awakening: A story of unrequited love; one woman’s journey to find her identity; a hopeless tragedy? The Awakening should not be categorized as such, but should be read as a timeless piece of Romanticism, in which Chopin eloquently illustrates the relationship between human longing, Nature, and the codes and customs of society and its effect on a troubled soul.

The original title Chopin chose, A Solitary Soul, while perhaps more apt, would certainly lend a different interpretation to a narrative which “follows Edna’s consciousness to its extinction.” (Robinson xvi). From a feminist perspective, focusing on Edna’s awakenings implies that there is a sense of enlightenment or progress, and possibly there is, but in a grim sense; “perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life” ( Chopin 147). While it is true that her summer spent in Grand Isle was a period of self-discovery, critics also argue that Edna experienced regression; that her infatuation with Robert was nothing greater than her earlier, distanced infatuations.

Edna’s variety of anguish is certainly specific to her class position. Edna is a woman of wealth; she receives assistance in the rearing of her children; she does not want for material things, and she is at liberty to pursue her interests. Her husband, who has minimal expectations for her domestically, is certainly not domineering or patriarchal, and rather more likely to make excuses for his wife’s ill behavior. Chopin does not place Edna as a victim in a patriarchal society; rather she has “created the least onerous situation imaginable for Edna, one that is leisured and without coercion, ready to accommodate her choices (Robinson xii). Instead Edna’s anguish arises from the the stirring of her soul: her acute sensitivity to art and beauty; her sense of disillusionment and hopelessness with her marriage and motherhood. In the end Edna deems her situation so insufferable that she walks out to sea.

Edna continually pushes the constraints of social norms and it becomes clear that she will not be satisfied until those constraints are broken. Those around her, including Robert, possess the ability to feign misbehavior, while Edna “understands that a game is being played by those about her, but refuses to understand what the game is, or why its rules must not be broken nor its essential artfulness forgotten” (Robinson xv). Edna yearns for a freedom that she realizes cannot be attained in living, and so she exits life.

Whether we sympathize with or abhor the sequence of decisions Edna makes, the reader gets a sense that Edna’s disillusionment symbolizes something greater than oneself; that her dilemmas are real human dilemmas.

Below are some book club questions/discussion topics (some gleaned from the internet).

1. Some critics view Edna’s suicide at the end of the novel as a failure to complete her escape from convention—an inability to defy society once stripped of the motivation of a man by her side. Others view her suicide as a final awakening, a decision to give herself to the sea in a show of strength and independence that defies social expectation. Which interpretation do you find more compelling, and why?

2. Two of the strongest characters in the book are women, Madame Ratignolle and Madame Reisz. Contrast their roles as women in the late nineteenth century to Edna’s character.

3. Describe how Edna’s encounters with “nature” in sensuous and fecund Grand Isle lead to her transformation (not to mention enrich the text).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Update: The Awakening

by K.A. Lewis

After a two week wait on the library, serious mp3 player angst followed by miraculous mp3 player redemption, "The Awakening" is in my possession and fit to be read (or read to me, as the case may be).  How is everyone (anyone?) else doing on this title?  If you had any doubts before I am here to assure you: you are not behind in this here club. 

There has been a request for a book discussion by live chat to compliment our face-to-face meeting, which sounds swell, I think.  With that in mind, please consider and possibly post restrictions or suggestions you may have regarding your availability to cozy up in an online chatroom for one of our upcoming club meetings.  I am very excited about extending the reach of our real-time discussions with the oft-overlooked non-Nevadan point of view.   

Monday, September 13, 2010

What We Are Reading Now: The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

by K.A. Lewis

For our next read we've settled on a novel that is a world apart from the dystopian future of The Hunger Games: The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  I, for one, am still waiting for my audio version from the library, so there is plenty of time to for you to locate this book and plunge into The Club.  Can't wait to hear your insights and impressions of this before-its-time classic!