Holiday joy still happening here.
We’re having a Christmas movie marathon of sorts and have successfully gone through:
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
*side note: my holiday isn’t officially kicked off until I see Chevy Chase get nailed in the face with the attic ladder.
A Christmas Carol
Tonight….I’m thinking, Christmas with the Kranks.
The Christmas Carol version we watched this year was the one Jim Carey did for Disney many years ago.
We took Reagan to see it for her birthday when it was released in theaters, and she never wanted to see it again. It freaked her OUT.
At the time, I thought she was just being the dramatic little diva she can be, but after watching it again (because I only saw it the one time) I can see why it upset a younger child…
Ah well, parenting fail. We all have those. So she may never read Dickens. There are worse things.
I do have to say, though, this particular version was brilliantly done. I don’t think it gets enough credit for how dramatic it is, and the social justice implications that it holds. Jim Carey is one of those talents that is a kaleidoscope of possibility. His interpretation of so many of the characters from this beloved story is exactly what it needed to be told to a new generation. If it didn’t scar them too much in the process.
I’ve seen a lot of cutesy versions in my lifetime. And I appreciate them driving home the message in a way that can be related to by all ages. But the true Christmas Carol was NOT a lovely, neat-and-tidy kind of tale.
Aren’t we so good, as humans, to sanitize things and make them into something more digestible and easy to live with?
The weekend was full of holiday baking.
My mom was down with the flu, so our annual holiday baking extravaganza was cancelled and I was left to my own devices.
Which, on the whole, wasn’t terrifying so much as disappointing. I mean, I DO know my way around a kitchen. I definitely missed her company, though. I did, however, make travel arrangements for her, my grandmother, sister, and myself for late February. Yay!!!! Something to look forward to!!
But, back to the baking.
We (mom and I) always make these homemade cinnamon rolls…..and….I’ve never successfully attempted them on my own.
But the di was cast, and it was time to put on my big girl panties, er, apron, and give the attempt my best effort. For Mom, and for Narnia!
I dove headlong into that pastry recipe with all the gusto of a seasoned professional. When that yeast started bubbling, my anxiety started subsiding, and when my dough actually doubled like it was supposed to, I knew I was in the clear!
I did it! All by MYSELF!!!! It’s only taken me a decade to get to this point! 😂😂😂
Look how pretty….
It’s not that this is a super complex recipe, I just don’t do well with….chemistry in baking. So I was super proud. Also because I was supervising Reagan’s baking project while trying to remember how many cups of flour I had already used. It’s really pretty impressive that these turned out.
We did a couple of simple things also, like…..
And some traditional, rolled in sugar cookies before we do the ones decorated with royal icing.
All in all, the holiday baking went off without a hitch and I was way less stressed this year because I didn’t have the half a dozen gifts yet to buy weighing on the back of my mind. Because I’m DONE.
Yes, me. Ms. Procrastinator extraordinanaire was finished (with the help of Amazon Prime) with more than a week to spare. *Mic drop*
My book club, the Monday Night Page Turners, decided, since we were late meeting in November and everyone is so busy in December, that a holiday brunch and gift exchange would be fun.
So, instead of our usual gathering and book discussion at my house, we carpooled into the big city on Sunday and had the loveliest of brunches at Table 100.
When there is a Mimosa/Bloody Mary bar, it kind of made this venue the obvious choice for our celebration.
In addition to the fabulous atmosphere and cozy corner table, we were entertained by a jazz trio that came around and played requests. Someone with our party suggested “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, and the bass player actually hit a few licks before convincing us all to do a Jingle Bell sing-a-long, which he said, and I have to boast, that we were the best table he’d had to do so.
Just look at us. As one of our members exclaimed upon our exit (and she swears it wasn’t ONLY due to her cocktails): “We are freakin’ delightful”.
I have to agree.
The food was to die for. I ordered the brisket and eggs and didn’t leave a scrap on my plate.
My Bellini wasn’t bad either, but it tasted more like a Mimosa. No complaints, just not what I expected.
I don’t usually attend or host holiday parties, except for the one that my employers holds each year. But this was an idea I could get behind: A group of people I thoroughly enjoy, eating food someone else made while making a mess someone else must clean up.
And I tipped our server handsomely. Because he was “freakin’ delightful” also, and made our celebration all the merrier.
Yesterday it was back to work, but only for 5 days. Then it’s a long weekend and lots of quality time with my family. They’re even saying we have the slightest chance of snow on Christmas! That would certainly top off one of the best Decembers I’ve had in recent memory.
But even if it doesn’t, I’m content with the fact that at least it’s not going to be a balmy 78, but an appropriate 40ish degrees on the big day.
Happy Holidays indeed! I’m enjoying the heck out of mine.
Our book club’s September/October selection was one I had already read. In fact, I’ve since read several other Liane Moriarty books since this one, and enjoyed them all.
This selection was probably the first book since our first (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) that everyone in the club enjoyed and mostly agreed on. We also had a newcomer to the club so our dynamic has now increased by another voice.
When all of us have a general consensus about a selection, our discussion often turns to what resonated with us personally about the story. This, to me, is one of the best parts of our meetings. It’s in these moments that our fellow readers become more than a woman that sits beside us once a month at a book discussion. She becomes a sister. And it is continued proof to me of the healing power and profoundness of art to bond people who might not have connected otherwise.
As far as the book itself, it, too, is about a sisterhood.
Big Little Lies is deceiving upon first glance. The member who selected it even introduced it as a “basic, white-girl book”. And certainly there are elements of that within it. But the subject matter is much deeper and complex.
You might have heard of Big Little Lies. HBO released it this year as a mini-series and it recently won several Emmy awards. I’m just starting to watch it, but I highly recommend reading the book first. I’m only one episode in and they’ve already made some major changes to the characters’ stories from what I can tell.
Those characters include:
Madeline: a mother with a side hustle and some blended family issues.
Celeste: former attorney, now SAHM. Gorgeous and wealthy.
Jane: single mom with a mysterious past. New in town, looking for a fresh start.
I love how these seemingly superficial characters are the vessels for a plot that goes places you don’t always see coming. I mean, if Stephen King says it’s a hell of a good book, you should probably listen. When someone who (1) can twist a story into something entirely spellbinding, and (2) is a master of creating rich, complex characters compliments another author’s story, I take note.
It’s very hard to write about a book like this without giving away spoilers and I just really don’t want to spoil it so let me just say that King’s compliments are well placed and this is a book that never leaves the reader bored. It’s a quick enough read for a vacation, yet complex enough to result in a discussion that lasted well over an hour.
As a mother, I related a lot to the story. Because the fears of these parents are real fears. Technology, and our inability to police it 24/7. How our choices, good and bad, affect our children.
It also evoked a lot of discussion among our group about just how much times have changed, just in the last decade or two, in terms of marriage, parenting, and the discussion of abuse starting to be less and less taboo.
I highly recommend Big Little Lies. If you’ve also read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments!
I’ve written pretty frequently about my book club, aka the Monday Night Page-Turners.
I’ve posted about why I love book club and about most of the books we’ve read, but we’re about to hit our first milestone and I just want to incorporate MNPT into the Triple T feature this week.
When I first put out the invitation to join me for this idea of a monthly book club, I was really surprised at the enormity of the response. We started with 9 committals, and have kept 7 regular members since the beginning. In addition to the 7 of us, my daughter and her bff cousin Emma also meet on book club nights.
So, since the number is ALMOST right, here is a little recap about the books that have been covered this inaugural year of MNPT, and a little bit about the members that chose them.
1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Chosen by Allison)
I got the recommendation for this selection from another book nerd friend who had also been in a book club. She always makes solid recommendations so I thought this easy read would be a great one to kick off the club.
All of my reviews are listed on our Facebook page or here, under the “Page-Turners” or “Book Club” tabs. I’d link to them here if I was not such a lazy blogger and my internet was not being quite so sketchy.
The Storied Life is the quintessential book club book. It’s not too hard, not too easy, and there’s lots of pretty uncontroversial stuff to discuss from its pages. It was a good icebreaker.
That being said, I wondered how shy people would be to share their opinions on certain topics, but after our first meeting, it really felt like these women had all known each other for years. There was some immediate bonding, which, to me, only proves the power of art and books to unify while also making room for discussions about differences.
As far as stuff about me, this whole BLOG is pretty much about me. If you read it at all, you know I’m a reader and a writer and I love all the words. Even the dirty ones. =)
I’ll just say that my book club which has now become our book club, is one of the best ideas I’ve ever implemented.
2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Chosen by LaRue)
In my humble opinion, as far as subject matter, this has been our hardest read so far. We lost our first member at this point and had one other that didn’t finish this selection.
It’s definitely not a “light” read, and the entire dystopian genre can be downright weird, but it is considered to be an important piece of modern literature by a lot of smart people and we were laughing last night about how we use the title to impress people!
With this selection, we went straight from easy read fluff to some hardcore discussion.
LaRue is one of my dearest friends. We became connected through her work as a graphic designer, and the rest is history.
I love the way she picks apart a book in many of the same ways that I do. We read between the lines and think in similar patterns about underlying themes. She’ll be picking our selection again in a couple of months. I’m mentally preparing now, because I think she likes to challenge us all!
3. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (Chosen by Anna)
This selection was a good palate cleanser after Brave New World. It wasn’t a heavy read, though the subject matter itself was based on true (and pretty sobering) events.
It was here that I learned that not all historical fiction is 800 pages long! But, for most of us, Orphan Train focused too much on current events and not enough on the history it was trying to share. There were missed opportunities all over the place with the writing. We critiqued the hell out of this book so I give high kudos to Anna for taking it all in stride.
Anna is my cousin, but I call her my niece. At almost 17, she’s our youngest member. And probably the only reason we keep our discussions as…..acceptable…as they are! Because they do get interesting!
I’ve written about Anna before, and she’s just one of my favorite people. Considering we were only 3 meetings in before she had to pick a selection and then we tore into it like a bunch of hyenas into a wildebeest carcass, I’m sometimes surprised she still likes any of us! But that’s the great thing about these women. Nobody is taking any of this stuff personally about their selection, even if they liked it and someone else didn’t.
I love to hear Anna’s perspective on things. As our youngest member, hers is one of the most unique opinions we get, I think. But she is usually pretty quiet. I know she loves book club, but I wonder sometimes if she isn’t taking notes on how to NOT turn into a crazy 30+ woman!
4. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Chosen by Meredith)
Honestly, and I probably shouldn’t do this, but if I had to pick a favorite selection thus far, this would be it.
It’s also the first and only book I didn’t finish before a meeting.
The book itself is a bit depressing and deals with some heavy subject matter. But it’s an excellent read. It combines a lot of heart and humor, and the characters were great, though not as fleshed out as I normally prefer. But it wouldn’t have really served the books purpose for them to be more of a focus because the book is about Ove. The author describes him very well and gives a lot of dimension to the man over the course of the story.
Meredith is just…..lovely. She’s funny. She’s sweet. She’s sassy. And the woman can COOK like nobody’s business. I’ve known her for 18 years but didn’t know she was such an avid reader until she became part of my book club.
See? Book soul mates can be right under your nose and you never know it!
5. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (Chosen by Kacie)
This is the first book in a historical fiction trilogy. Set during WWI, this 900 page epic novel is one that downright haunted some people over the summer break we took from our MNPT meetings.
We had a couple of people not finish this one.
It’s an undertaking to devote the time to a book like ‘Giants’. I’m personally a fan if Ken Follett so I was geeking out about the selection. But, second to Brave New World, this has been our hardest read simply for its enormity and the incredible number of storylines happening at once.
Kacie and I also met through professional circumstances, but it was really through our mutual friend, LaRue, that we became more than acquaintances.
Kacie is my writer kindred spirit in MNPT and her perspective on the writing itself is one that I always love to hear. Of all the folks in our club, I probably know the least about her. But that changes more and more all the time. Books can gain you friends for life, and Kacie is definitely a keeper.
6. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Chosen by Jennifer)
Even though my daughter reads a lot and I’m pretty well informed about a lot of YA books, I had not heard of this one. By far, it was the most fun out of our selections thus far and had some great points to ponder about virtual reality, technology, and relationships. I won’t say much more because I’ve really got to get this post finished and I’m going to write a full review of this one by the weekend so you can just stay tuned and be watching for that.
Jennifer and I have known each other for about 22 years. But, again, I wasn’t really aware of her love for reading until she signed up for MNPT.
Jennifer is a teacher, and her experiences with children and her quirky sense of humor never cease to entertain and send us all into fits of giggles.
She really has one of the most fun personalities of anyone I know and she’s a wonderful writer herself. Her summer break diaries on Facebook are legendary!
7. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Chosen by Rebecca)
1. We just got the title yesterday so I’m not going to write about it.
2. I’ve already read this one so I’m holding back my spoilers.
I will simply say that this is going to be a great discussion and I really, really enjoyed this book and several others by this author as well.
Other than Jennifer, I have known Rebecca the longest of any of our members. She is our hopeless romantic, as well as our comic relief. Of all the people to sign up for MNPT, she surprised me the most. And I can’t imagine our book club without her.
8. The Help by Katherine Stockett (Chosen by Reagan)
I love Mississippi authors. They’re special. I personally loved this book so when Reagan and Emma read it for their own little book meeting, I was so excited.
Reagan actually did her summer reading project on this selection and her paper was really well written, if I do say so myself. I love that she loves to read. I tried my best to imprint that love into her soul by reading to her a LOT when she was very little, as young as 6 months old. I think it made a profound difference in her development and her ability not just in her education, but in life. New mamas: read to your babies.
9. Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (Chosen by Emma)
Another great southern story, I read this one MANY years ago, but it’s a powerful story of love, friendship, family strife, and overcoming childhood trauma through the healing of sisterhood.
Emma is like another daughter to me. In fact, my husband and I tend to refer to her as such, mainly to tease Reagan. But Emma is so very special to me and she’s been close to Reagan since they were little bitty girls. As close as I was and still am to many of my cousins, their relationship makes me extraordinarily happy and thankful.
One of the best things about book clubs and the friendships within them is all of the books still to come and all of the good times yet to be shared.
I have always loved to read. And I have always loved to talk about books. And I have always enjoyed hosting people in my home. But this is one of the best parts of my month, and I am so glad I didn’t talk myself out of this idea for fear no one would respond to my invitation or that I’d end up with a lot of members that really….well, just didn’t “mesh” well with me or what I was trying to accomplish.
It turns out my fears were unfounded. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
Ove has not had an easy life.
He probably wouldn’t say that. Ove would probably say that his life had been fairly ordinary, and if people would just do the right thing more often, his life could have been easier. But people seem to have a way of disappointing him. Frustrating him. And he, alone, seems to have the singular gift of common sense in a mad world.
This book follows this curmudgeonly character through a very difficult period of his life. It weaves back and forth from his present to his past, giving the reader a clear picture of an often misunderstood man.
There is humor, and tragedy, and a range of strong emotions in between.
Ove has new neighbors, and much of the book is centered around his interactions with those neighbors, and the ones who have been around for a lifetime. And a cat. Because what better companion for a bitter soul than a cat?
Throughout the story we learn what makes Ove…..Ove. We learn about his simple, yet profound upbringing. Why he’s obsessed with Saabs. Why he has a love/hate relationship with so many people. His love for his wife, Sonja. His deepest wounds and his most glorious shining moments.
All of these paint a picture of a man that, though gruff on the exterior, has a heart that might surprise you.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I tried to be purposefully vague in my synopsis. I could tell you a lot more, but I hope that the brief description of the plot and the main character intrigue you enough to pick up this book for yourself. Because you should. I think, so far, it’s our best book club selection to date.
I’ll be honest though, I didn’t finish it before our book club meeting. I had a lot going on personally that made it very NOT conducive to reading, and especially not a book like this. While I hated I missed out on really diving into our discussion, I’m glad I waited until I was in a better frame of mind to finish it and fully appreciate the profoundness of some of the subject matter.
That’s the thing about this book: it’s really an easy read, but it has so many strong messages.
It also made me laugh out loud, a rare occurrence when I’m reading. I laugh when I read, but it’s always more of an internal chuckle. But there are places in this story that I couldn’t help but at least proclaim, “Ha!” when reading a statement or two.
I love the way the book was written. Each chapter a story unto itself. In that way, it was easy to lay down and pick back up.
The characters are just rich enough to not take away from the title character and give an overall picture of Ove’s life that is both complex and relatable.
I appreciate writing that can do difficult things. The transitions from past to present without feeling choppy and disjointed, the overlay of characters without becoming saturated and lost. The underlying plot that is ever-present, yet remains far enough away for the reader to appreciate what is happening in the story in that particular moment. These are not elements that are easy to achieve, and while I would say this is an “easy” read, the writing is anything but simple.
A Man Called Ove is, at its heart, a love story. And the kind of love story that is both beautiful and realistic. Ove and his wife experienced many ups and downs. But despite how different they were, their level of devotion to one another was inspirational and a testament to the fact that love, even when, and maybe especially when, we love those who appear difficult to love, the impact can be both lifelong and far-reaching.
There was a lot about marriage that resonated with me in this book as well. Perhaps nothing more than this quote by Ove’ s wife, Sonja:
Loving someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.
I judge a good read by a lot of things, but one of my highest forms of praise would be whether or not I’d read it again. And for this one, I would. Just to soak up more of the profoundness of the story that I feel like I missed by reading it when I was so personally troubled by some things and also my disjointed consumption of the book, reading half and then coming back to it much later to finish it. It can be read that way, but it wasn’t meant to be read that way.
If you choose to read it, learn from my mistake and set other things aside and commit to finish this one over a shorter period of time. I think it will leave you quite moved.
Book Club Discussion
Y’all. I’ve slept since we last met. In fact, I’ve slept a lot. And I didn’t take notes at our meeting.
Honestly, our discussion was good, but everyone really seemed to like the book and there wasn’t a whole lot of debate about any one thing. I think the story definitely touched all of us in one way or another, and I wasn’t the only one who felt as though it was quite possibly our best selection thus far.
I promise to be a little more on top of things when we resume our meetings in August. I really won’t have a choice as our summer selection is an epic historical fiction novel that will require me to be much more organized when it comes time to write about it. In fact, I might post about it in segments.
In any case, I hope you have enjoyed my reviews of our selections so far, and wish you a delightful summer of good reading.
I spent a good portion of last weekend listening to a podcast recommended to me by a close friend.
“S-town” is a production of This American Life, and it’s characters and subject matter hit very close to home. Quite literally.
Not a podcast enthusiast, I ventured somewhat trepidatiously into what is, or was, for me, an uncharted medium of experiencing a story.
James B. McLemore lived an uncommonly common life. He grew up in Woodstock, Alabama, and made a living restoring antique clocks.
Never at home in Woodstock, but rooted there, he developed a love/hate relationship with his town, and the people in it. He was, in many ways, “too much” for the people of “S-town”. Many people knew him, but didn’t really know him. And that is the beautiful tragedy that surrounds his story.
I’m sure it’s everywhere, but especially it seems so in the rural south, characters like John are everywhere. I identified with his struggles. To feel like you belong….yet don’t.
To outsiders, that is, those who haven’t lived and grown up in a place like us, it can seem as though we spin our wheels by continuing to live in a place where life can seem anything but progressive. “Why do you stay there?”
I’ve been asked this question. I’ve asked myself this question. And it’s a hard thing to explain.
For me, and I would speculate for John, the simple answer is, “It’s home.”
We live in a place that in many ways we’ve outgrown, yet stay. Maybe to try and leave a tiny splash of color on a landscape that can appear faded and outdated to those who don’t really know it. Or even to those who do.
My hometown is bigger than S-town, but the mindset is very similar. There are people in John’s story that appear to be mirror images of individuals I have known myself.
S-town is a tragic story, beautifully crafted and narrarated, and given to the world. The lessons of time and how we spend it, are an underlying theme sprinkled throughout the words. It is an exceptional piece of storytelling, and one that continues to resonate with me. I suspect that it always will.
I’ve absorbed it. Ruminated on it. Dissected it. And allowed it to inspire me in many ways. That, to me, is what makes art valuable. Its inspirational and transformative abilities.
I’ve included the link to the podcast. If you’re feeling brave, I’d encourage you to listen to it. Fair warning though: the subject matter is mature. The language profane, more than it isn’t at times. But if you’re able to deal with that, I highly recommend it.
John’s life was tedious, and brief. So is mine. So is yours. And all of our stories are tragically beautiful. And whether you’ve experienced the same mentalities that exist in places like S-town or not, I suspect his story will touch you in some way.
Good stories always do. Which is why I love them, and have made a commitment to tell them.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline follows parallel stories of two orphans: Molly and Vivian.
Molly’s present day story is told alongside of Vivian’s, an Irish emigrant who came to the U.S. during the years before the Great Depression.
Molly loses her father to a car accident, her mother to drugs, and is placed in the foster system as a young child.
Vivian loses her family in an apartment fire in NYC and is placed on an orphan train with hundreds of other children and shipped off to the Midwest to find a permanent home.
Their stories converge in Maine in 2011 when Molly, a 17 year old wannabe juvenile delinquent, ends up serving community service hours by helping 90 year old Vivian with a personal project.
The book mainly focuses on Vivian’s journey and how her experience on the orphan train shaped the rest of her life. Molly’s story is sprinkled throughout and provides a contrast for the reader.
I’d give you more of a synopsis, but I’d give too much of the story away. A one dimensional overview seems appropriate anyway because, as a whole, I found this book to be a very shallow read. In places.
In the places where it is the most gut wrenching, I found myself wanting the author to go deeper. I wanted to know how the characters were feeling on more than a primal level and she never delivered. Or if she did, it was only in brief moments. Not enough to really make this book all that it could have, and really SHOULD have, been to do justice to the real life children who rode orphan trains and have also experienced abuse throughout the foster system.
Which brings me to another complaint: there was so much bad in the people represented as foster and adoptive parents.
I know both, in real life, and while I’m sure that there are those who are only in it for what they can get out of it, I don’t think that it’s fair to put such a blemish over the entire sectors of these parents as a whole. Which it felt like Kline did.
I try to be so careful when judging books. As a writer myself, I find that I am becoming increasingly critical of writing styles and that can hinder the reading of a book that I might otherwise have enjoyed just a few short years ago. Maybe my tastes are refining. Maybe I’m becoming a book snob.
There was just a lot lacking in the story, and I’ll address some of that now.
BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION
I was not alone in my overall opinions about Orphan Train. I think all of us were glad we read it, because it taught us all about a real life movement than most of us had never even heard of before.
We generally felt that so much could have been brought out about the real life orphan trains and that the modern day story about Molly sounded like something an editor suggested to bring “relevance” to the story. Make it more relatable to present day readers.
The book read almost as though Kline wrote Vivian’s story and then went back and added Molly’s. It felt…..disjointed.
Another complaint was that there was a scene of sexual assault in the book. And it was completely overlooked in terms of how it affected the victim, a major character. Granted, sexual assault is a topic that is swept under the rug all the time, but it felt like a missed opportunity to give readers further insight into the psyche of the character who experienced it.
One book club member said it felt like it was only used for some added drama, and she was tired of seeing it used in books and movies as a means for just giving some new type of suspense.
Orphan Train had not one loving mother figure character. And we all felt as though that was a terrible shame. After some reflection, none of the men really seemed all that great either. And the whole thing just ended up having a very cynical aftertaste for me.
But before you think we just all LOATHED this book, I want to say this: I don’t just judge a book by what it says directly (or doesn’t say, in this case) but also by whether or not it leads me to other lines of thought and reflection. And this book did that.
Vivian is 90 years old. The community service project that Molly helps her with is cleaning out Vivian’s attic. This is how she learns about Vivian’s experience on the orphan train.
Here is a quote from the book where Molly is frustrated because Vivian is reluctant to throw out any of her old stuff:
Maybe it doesn’t matter how much gets done. Maybe the value is in the process – in touching each item, in naming and identifying, in acknowledging the significance of a cardigan, a pair of children’s boots.
Knowing how my own 84 year old grandmother is about her “stuff” and what it was like to move 30+ years of it to my parent’s home when she moved in with them 2 years ago, I find that this story softened me a bit.
The things around us often represent some time in our lives that was significant, if only to us. Who am I to tell her what she should and shouldn’t keep?
Also, this quote reminds me of therapy. “Touching each item, naming and identifying….” Sometimes we have to do that to heal from past hurts. Put a name on them. Call it what it was, what it is. And then we can move on.
I found these thoughts to be profound. And I find that my love for peoples’ stories continue. Even when I feel like they could have been told better.
Monday Night Page-Turners is the best new thing in my life. We’re 3 months, 3 books, into it. Just started our 4th.
We have 7 members. “A jock, a nerd, a princess, a basket case, a criminal….” Hahahaha sorry. Couldn’t resist a Breakfast Club reference.
Anyway, I love my book club, and I say “mine” even though it’s “ours” because it’s personal to me, I founded it, and because it has already latched onto my heart.
1. THE PEOPLE
We have 7 women from various backgrounds ranging in age from 16 to 42. There are people in it I’ve known for a long time….20 years or so, and people I’m just now getting to really know.
We all work hard and read with passion.
2. THE BOOKS
The books are our common thread. We each love different types of genres, and this club allows us to diversify our reading experiences.
I haven’t read one yet that resonated with me on an extremely personal level, but each book that has been chosen has provoked interesting discussions.
3. THE LAUGHTER
Our members have the great ability to not take themselves too seriously. We all love to laugh and laugh we do.
Laughter is food for my soul.
One of the reasons I started this club, obviously, is because I love to read. But also because I love to talk about books and I love to create an atmosphere where these women can be, usually at the end of a stressful work day, and unwind with good people and lots of joy in finding meaningful connection with other women.
4. LEARNING NEW THINGS
I can read one of our selections and take away elements no one else got. And vice versa.
Each of our personal experiences is reflected in what resonates with us. I love to hear about how that happens. It’s interesting to me as a student of psychology and of life.
5. THE WINE
I don’t drink often. Really. But a glass of wine while talking about books with a bunch of fabulous women? It doesn’t get any better.
6. NEW FRIENDS
I love meeting interesting people and getting to know them on a personal level.
There are women in my book club that I’ve known for a long time but didn’t really know. The opportunity to change that has enriched my life already.
7. FINDING COMMON GROUND
Like any other art, books give us a place to find common ground among the most diverse of people. Connection is important in a divided society.
Anything that gives you more perspective, I think, is a good thing.
What’s interesting to me is how things come full circle. As an adolescent, I struggled find a “tribe”. I was very different from my peers, raised very differently. But in my 30’s I find that despite how differently many of us grew up, there is so much that now connects us.
8. NO PRESSURE
Book club is a relaxing environment for me and I hope it is for others.
The women I know and love the most make their homes feel like your own home: unassuming, comfortable, safe.
I keep the club at my house so no one else has to worry about hosting 7 women on any night and they can simply show up, kick off their shoes if they wish, and just be themselves.
As an introvert who has to be “on” all day, I know how important that type of environment can be and I do my best to provide it.
9. IT’S A CLUB
I just think it’s cool to have an “official” book club. Oprah ain’t got nothin on me.
These women are starting to bond right in front of my eyes. That’s an incredible thing to watch and be a part of. The things that join us are so much greater than anything we could disagree on and that is a powerful message in and of itself.
I’m so glad to have these women in my life and that they all so readily and enthusiastically supported this venture.
If you don’t have a book club, my question for you is, “What’s stopping you?”
Find one, join one, create one. You’ll be glad you did.
I tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but I had to roll the synopsis and discussion all into one post for this particular book and subsequent book club meeting. Please feel free to leave comments!
In a world where people are “hatched” not born, created in a lab and conditioned to belong to one of 5 castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon, individuality is a thing of an ancient past.
The process of creating the World State came about following a 9 year war which is mentioned only in reference, but it is understood to have been a time of great transformation and the story opens in London sometime in the advanced future, according to guesstimates from what I’ve seen around the year 2540.
In the hatchery, Alphas are designed to be the most intelligent and capable of those in the World State, with each succeeding caste destined to be lesser and lesser so. The Epsilons are actually injected with chemicals and deprived of oxygen to stunt their growth and development so they will be capable of nothing but the most basic of work.
Children continue to be conditioned throughout their growth, treated with electric shocks to make them dislike things like books and flowers, things of beauty. Sleep conditioning happens throughout the developmental years through a type of hypnosis until the children’s very way of thinking is utterly controlled by the World State.
The overall goal of the World State through the conditioning process is to strip away all types of strong emotions, the concept of family, monogamy, or human connectivity that is anything more than surface-level interaction.
The book follows the story of two main characters, Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowe: both Alphas.
Bernard and Lenina both have square-peg-in-a-round-hole tendencies. Bernard is physically subpar compared to his other Alpha male peers, and Lenina is often chastised by her peers for being too monogamous.
To break her cycle of monogamy, Lenina agrees to take a holiday from their native London to the deserts of New Mexico to accompany Bernard on an expedition into a “Savage” reservation.
It is here that they encounter John the Savage and his mother, Linda. Linda was born in the World State, conditioned to it, and lost from her companion on a journey (20 years prior) similar to Lenina’s. Linda had become pregnant (a grotesque and condemnable act in the World State) and ended up giving birth on the reservation and making her home there with her son.
Because of her conditioning, Linda has no real maternal instincts and poor John is left to his own devices. Still, she does teach him to read and even procures a very old copy of some Shakespeare writings for him.
John has been told all his life about the “other world” and is eager to go when Bernard decides to take him and Linda back with him and Lenina to London.
Linda cannot wait to return to the life she once knew, but for only one reason: soma. Soma is a drug that is given freely in the World State to keep people happy, satisfied, and de-stressed.
Bernard’s intentions are to exploit the novelty of this “Savage” for his own benefit, using him as a kind of side-show attraction to gain the things that he is unable to attain on his own in the World State such as recognition, admiration, and respect.
Lenina is very much attracted to John and John to Lenina, but John has high ideals of love, based upon his Shakespearian obsessions. Lenina, on the other hand, knows only what she has been conditioned to know, and that is that she exists for the pleasure of men, encouraged to give herself to as many as possible.
This book follows these characters throughout their individual journeys of unhappiness, which is attacked at all costs by the World State, because “a gram is better than a damn”, meaning that because they have soma at their every disposal, there is no need to ever be unhappy or unsatisfied.
The first few chapters of this book were very disturbing to me, mainly because of the imagery. Children who are encouraged to engage in “erotic play”, babies that are subjected to electrical shock when interest is shown in books, women who are told to give themselves to as many men as possible, the sleep-hypnosis……… all of it was downright freaky.
I honestly related to very few of the characters, but genuinely felt sorry for all of them in some way.
Bernard, who could never quite live up to what he was “designed” to be.
Lenina, who had the opportunity possibly to know real love, but was so deeply conditioned to be only a sexual being and therefore not capable of real human connection.
John, who had such high hopes of a “brave new world” where he might finally find others like himself, only to realize that he was as much of an outcast in it as he had been on the reservation.
Linda, who had the opportunity to be free and make a life of liberty for herself and her son, but only longed to be back in a drug-induced state where she didn’t have to feel anything.
Each of these characters, to me, had a heartbreaking story.
But most heartbreaking of all was the World State itself. A world where free thought and individualism were stomped out, where the concept of family and procreation were disgusting, and where being alone was considered a very bad idea and supremely discouraged by any and all means necessary.
Brave New World was a bit of a publishing disappointment when it first arrived on the scene in 1932, but has recently seen a resurgence of sales along with other novels of its kind, such as 1984 by George Orwell.
People seem to be relating more and more to the concepts described in these novels, and, truly, there were some eerie comparisons that could be made between the World State and the society that most of us call home.
Children CAN be created in a lab, the sexualization of our culture from a very young age, the discouragement to not think for ourselves and to reach for whatever suppresses our need to express feeling………..I see all of these things in our world today.
From my Psychology background, I know that conditioning is powerful. Really, I know that from my own childhood, raising my own daughter, and just observance of others. We can be taught a great number of things and belief systems, I think, if they are repeated to us and demonstrated to us, and reinforced one way or another.
We’d all like to think that we would not “fall” for that type of lifestyle, but in many ways, we all have. Every time we assume that something we read is true without digging deeper for facts, every time we reach for something that calms our nerves, and every time we choose apathy because it’s easy instead of caring because it’s difficult.
Overall, I would recommend this novel to certain people. I don’t think it’s a choice that everyone and anyone could and would appreciate. But there is certainly plenty of thought-provoking subject matter within it for those who dare to undertake reading it.
I’d like to re-read it at some point and take a little more time with my thoughts, as I was rushed to finish it this month. One of the last questions we discussed at our meeting was:
“Do you think there is an overall point Huxley was trying to make in this novel? If so, what is it?”
There were varying opinions by those in our book club. Mine is that knowledge and expression of thought and feeling is the ultimate power and the ultimate freedom.
Even those who were uneducated, like John, or educated and conditioned like another character I didn’t mention, seemed aware of the freedom that there is in being able to think for oneself and use language as a means of expression and art.
These beings were destined for a life of expectations, performance, and had soma to deal with anything resembling an emotion. It made them high when they were happy, gave them a boost when they were melancholy, and simply knocked them out if they just couldn’t deal with stressors. But they were not free.
Others in our club felt that Huxley wrote this book as a kind of warning of what the world could become, and to give people some food for thought about the price of safety, security, and peace.
OTHER DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
I have to stop here and give kudos to LaRue Cook, my friend and discussion facilitator for this selection. Brave New World was her pick and I expected nothing less than something really smart, interesting, and full of fantastic imagery. She came up with some really terrific discussion questions, such as:
Bernard and then John both resist soma in favor of their own “real” feelings. What do you think about the “right” to be unhappy?
I think everyone in the group pretty much agreed that we have the right to our own emotions. We all agreed that we did not like being chastised for or told not to either feel or express them. I thought a lot about the term “pursuit of happiness” as I read this novel, having a whole new appreciation for having that right in the world that I live in.
Lenina and Linda are two of the few women characters in the book. What do you think about how women are portrayed?
It was pretty much agreed that these women were pretty terrible people, but the discussion shifted to whether or not that was a personal bias of the author or whether there was some Freudian influence in his writing. I think how they were portrayed was pretty shallow, but they were conditioned to be that way, so I don’t necessarily think it was a flaw to portray them that way.
What is the most frightening thing about this society?
The pushing of “erotic play” on very young children was considered universally disturbing. The conditioning of the children to hate books personally broke my heart as I read it, dredging up images of my little girl, toddling across the floor as soon as she could walk, to bring me one book after another to read. Her love of reading has so shaped her and made her who she is – I honestly can’t imagine a world where that wouldn’t be possible. In this world, I couldn’t even BE a mother at all. I wouldn’t HAVE a mother, or a father or a sister…….the lack of family was something that really frightened me because I love mine so terribly much.
Aside from these things, the most frightening thing about the novel was the sheer weakening effect that the conditioning had on the citizens of the World State and how easily we can be manipulated when the freedom of individual thought and emotion is supressed.
What are your thoughts on how God and religion were used in the novel?
There were religious themes in the book, but it was a very bizarre mix and all the references were somewhat extreme and eccentric, such as the practices of the savages and of John. Again, perhaps these were reflections of the opinions of Huxley, but the discussion of religion that resulted from this question was interesting and very though provoking as there were people of all faiths in the room to participate.
This is not a book for the weak reader, and I have to admit I was a little intimidated by it especially when I found out that it was a favorite of some extremely intelligent individuals that I know.
But as I finished it, I saw the appeal, and how it has themes that can resonate with so many different people in many different ways.
I find it a little amusing that there are two men that both love this book. One extremely conservative, one who isn’t. And THAT, THAT my friends is why reading, why book clubs, why LITERATURE is so important. It connects us, it brings us together and helps us understand each other.
I’m sure the World State wouldn’t like that at all.
I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes from the book.
Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
…whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered.
But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness I want sin…….I’m claiming the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have to little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right thing live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind……I claim them all.
We have 9 ladies in Monday Night Page-Turners. One couldn’t make it last night due to having a sick child, but everyone else showed up and we ended up with a very diversified group of opinions.
I was really unsure if there would be any trepidation on behalf of these ladies to share their thoughts and opinions. Turns out, there isn’t. This group, I think, is going to be VERY honest and if last night proved anything to me it’s that books really do bring people together in a way like no other.
Here are some of the highlights of our discussion. *Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the book.*
Of our 8 ladies present, all but one said that they liked A Storied Life, but nobody seemed to be “in love” with the selection. There was a general consensus that there was a lack of character development which would have been necessary to care more deeply about some of the individuals in the story, and their ultimate fate.
There was also an agreement that much of the last half of the book felt rushed and put together very quickly – as though the author had a deadline to finish and not a story.
Some of the discussion centered around these questions:
Why do you think the author chose to set the book on an island? How does the island setting reflect A.J.’s character?
A.J. is a grieving widower. He continues to live in the hometown of his deceased wife and only does so because of the business they built there together because he seems to have no love of the place. “No man is an island.” but A.J. certainly tries to be. He is socially awkward anyway, but he has a lack of empathy that makes it hard for anyone to really get close to him.
At one point, Maya speculates that perhaps “your whole life is determined by what store you get left in”. Is it the people or the place that makes the difference?
The consensus of most was that it is the people that make our lives. However, there were others, like myself, that believe it is both. I think I might have been very different if I grew up in different surroundings, though my personality might be the same.
Is a twist less satisfying if you know it’s coming?
Our answer was, essentially, if you know it’s coming, it’s not really a twist.
There were other questions discussed as well, and I just saw a whole slew I missed somehow that I didn’t ask. So I will post them on the Facebook page for further discussion.
I think that overall, this was a great book to break the ice for a new book club. It wasn’t heavy, with no real divisive elements. I look forward to seeing where we go now that we’ve hit the ground running and have a very different kind of selection to discuss next time.
I will leave you with some of my personal favorite quotes from A Storied Life….
Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.
Why do people do what they do? This is the hallmark of great writing.
And the longer I do this (bookselling, yes, of course, but also living if that isn’t too awfully sentimental), the more I believe that this is what the point of it all is. To connect, my dear little nerd. Only connect.
The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.
We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.
In the end, we are collected works.