My latest book club meeting was with my lovely neighbor, Sasha. She is an inspiring host! Not only did she get through Cormac McCarthy’s The Road without complaining (it’s seriously dark!), she prepared end-of-the-world themed food! And not just a can of beans, if you please. She made corn chowder from scratch and stuffed mushrooms AND four layer mud pie! I mean, delish! I’ll live out the end in her kitchen, please.
Things The Road taught us. 1 Travel with someone handy. The narrator (a dying father who remains nameless throughout) was extremely resourceful and knew how to fix almost anything. 2 Don’t be afraid of the cold. There were a lot of terrifying buildings, which forced the heroes to sleep outside most of the time, under a tarp, in freezing weather. Though they could have died of exposure on numerous nights, the vulnerability of the cold DID seem better than what occurred inside certain abandoned houses. I’ll leave it there. 3. Carry matches. Running low on fuel and lighting materials is clearly a big deal at the end of the world. Take all the matches you can carry. You WILL want to cook that possum. 4. Scavange. There was no end of uses for scraps of fabric, retired coats, etc for these poor souls. Somehow, the tarp/coat/scraps all tied up into a portable bundle. So keep the provisions THIN and LIGHT. Clearly twine is a high value item as well. 5. Carry all the food you can. Somehow, the travelrs did find water on the road. What they never had enough of was food. They went five days, I think, with nothing to eat one time. It seemed certain one of them would starve. But they didn’t! Eating mud pie is really pretty terrible to do, when you think about it — in a conversation about the starving. Still, I confess I licked my plate.
Sisters of the Page
The amazing women of my book club met last night (October 20th) at Alicia’s new digs, an amazing Victorian three-story home on a vintage street near Franklin Park conservancy. There was surely a ghost in that walnut paneling somewhere. And the light fixtures and balconies were amazing. Her dining table sits sixteen, at least. Loved it.
We discussed one of Doris Lessing’s older titles, the “phantasmagorical” Memoirs of a Survivor. What a strange, altered state read that was. We raved about it but felt pretty uncomfortable between the lines.
Next month we read Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids.
Jones Middle School 8th grade book club
I have the great advantage of being a volunteer at my district middle school’s 8th grade book club. With the guidance of Miss. Lombardi, Jones Middle School librarian, we meet monthly to discuss a book the members have selected.
MARCH book selection: Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian
Can you believe that the nationally decorated author Sherman Alexie worked an ENTIRE DAY behind the counter of an independent bookstore in 2013??? This started a fad — a writer-in-the-store phenomenon that all began when Alexie forgot to show up for his reading at a Seattle book store.
From the LA Times, November 23rd of that year. . .”Thanks to this act of forgetfulness, booksellers across the U.S. this week will celebrate “Indies First” day. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, one of the biggest sales days of the year for any retailer, hundreds of authors like Alexie will work as volunteer booksellers at their local independent bookstores. More than 1,000 authors will staff some 500 bookstores across the U.S., including such prominent names as Dave Barry, Daniel Handler and James Patterson. (the rest of the article is on Alexie’s author site at the “Media” tab of http://fallsapart.com/novelsandshortstories/
There’s also a great interview with the author at Sadie.com, part of it excerpted below:
Sherman (laughing): I grew up on the reservation across from the tribal school. So, I mean, in terms of geography and actual placement, I am way rez! But, you know, I was a basketball player growing up so I wasn’t—I’m still not very religious—so I wasn’t a ceremonial guy.
Jesse: Did you find growing up, that you faced a lot of prejudice for being Native American?
Sherman: You know, that’s one of the things that’s definitely changed, certainly in Eastern Washington. There was a lot of random racial slurring growing up, and there’s far less of that now in Eastern Washington than there was when I was a kid.
I remember once my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters and I were walking in Spokane and a truck pulled up and the guy inside leaned out and called us dirty Indians and spit on us. (continues at http://www.sadiemagazine.com/past-issues/issue-no-4/centerfold/the-absolutely-true-interview-with-sherman-alexie-an-amazing-part-time-indian)
Our new book for January 2017, dun dun duhhhhhhh is Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep. I found a copy in Hilliard and read it in about a week. Fast read, accessible voices, very funny and at times seriously disturbing.
Here is the section of the Pacific where the trench occurs.
Ms. Lombardi and I discussed providing some reading prompts for this book, it being the first for the group to discuss since holiday break AND it being kind of a disappear down the rabbit hole prose style.
So, to that point
Reading Prompt 1: Readers, did you find your mind wandering when Caden wanders in and out of the present, home, going to school point of view? Or did you, like me, wrongly assume that the sailing ship chartered for the Marianas Trench was the real world setting of this story?
Prompt 2: What happens to Caden in Las Vegas? How does the thrill ride there reappear elsewhere in the book? Do you think he had some kind of psychotic break in LV?
Prompt 3: Do you mind that there are so many absurd characters? Which ones are well described? Are any just too over the top?
Prompt 4: There have been a lot of unreliable adults in the selections for 2016/17. How do Caden’s parents and teachers fit into this category?
Prompt 5: Does the voice in this book strike you as an unreliable narrator? Close to anything we’ve read previously? Or totally unique from the rest of the year’s reading?
Prompt 6: Who do you trust in the psych ward? Aboard the imaginary ship? Can you describe a one-to-one swap Caden does across his imaginary and real world? For example, there are two characters with eye patches. What are other pairs of stand ins between Caden’s lucid and schizophrenic mind?
Prompt 7: Does Caden tolerate his meds? Does he suffer worse in the hospital than in his deteriorating world? Is his doctor over-prescribing in his parents’ opinion? How about in your opinion? What liberties SHOULD a kid with schizophrenia be allowed — i.e., should he be allowed to go to school, socialize with peers, drive, play baseball, video games? How does anyone know when a person is stable enough to be released? Or join normal society? Would you be afraid of Caden?
Thanks for playing. Write me some of your answers in the response section below. Your comments may help you get through a sticky part of the narrative and and can lead us interesting places on our meeting date.
December, 2016’s title was We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.
I enjoyed hearing how readers invested in the plot (they seemed fascinated by the wealth and naiveté of the Sinclair children) even while admitting that the pace was slow. The somewhat irrational style of certain chapters makes some pages creep, but as tensions mount toward the end, the reading picks up.
None of the club members felt familiar with the privilege of these overindulged teenagers, but were, non the less, shocked by the violence of the end. The unreliability of the narrator, though confusing, did engage Jones readers, and allowed them better access to a mind corrupted by trauma.
Our next book will be the award winning Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep. An article about his adventure title appears here: