Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]

Literary Events

Literary Events:

ALICE IN WONDERLAND AT THE RANSOM CENTER through JULY 6th:
The Ransom Center celebrates 150 years of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with an exhibition for the curious and curiouser of all ages. Learn about Lewis Carroll and the real Alice who inspired his story. See one of the few surviving copies of the first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Discover the rich array of personal and literary references that Carroll incorporated throughout Alice. Explore the surprising transformations of Alice and her story as they have traveled through time and across continents. Follow the White Rabbit's path through the exhibition, have a tea party, or watch a 1933 paper filmstrip that has been carefully treated by Ransom Center conservators. The Center's vast collections offer a new look at a story that has delighted generations and inspired artists from Salvador DalĂ­ to Walt Disney.


A Read-Aloud! To Kill A Mockingbird will be read aloud by various volunteers (you can volunteer to read some!) on Monday, July 13th from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM at our La Frontera Barnes & Noble. To volunteer, contact Claudia or Frank. Come listen for a while even if you aren't going to read.


The 2015 Texas Book Festival will be October 17th and 18th.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Was the Atonement in Atonement Atoned?

Atonement, by Ian McEwan, is a complex book, complete with book-within-a-book, seeming truths that are later called fictitious, drama, dramatic personalities, and misleading clues about aspects of the story. It is a book that demands close reading, with single sentences that direct the story line nestled among long detailed sections. Thanks to Linda for giving us some questions to ponder while reading Atonement! Previewing the questions helped me with focus and understanding as I read.

As a mixture of disclaimer and acceptance of responsibility, I will say that during our meeting, there seemed to me to be more than the usual of multiple conversations going on at the same time, and that this was probably my fault. I attempted to simultaneously perform as the designated substitute leader of this discussion as well as the note-taker. Note to self (Twin Peaks, anyone?) and group: it takes one to run the discussion and another to take notes.

Here are the questions and some of the notes that turned up on my computer after the discussion:

The most important question to start with is whether you enjoyed reading this work? Many people refer to McEwan as Ian Macabre.

Marla was angry when she finished the book. Why? The situation, especially as second-time reader, knowing about what was supposedly real and what wasn’t and all the things that don’t fall together in these people’s lives, gave her a sense of despair.

Pam said that the book is dark and that she wondered why anyone would want to read it. Although she didn't hate the book, she said she expected more from the end but that it didn't click for her. 

Rod thought it was interesting that McEwan showed how powerful fiction is: even though the story isn't true, everyone gets into it, readers as well as the characters. Rod got angry at the end of the book because of the happy part of the story not being true. 

Cindy V. was interested in reading Atonement because author James Magnuson, who visited our group last month, said McEwan was one of his favorite authors. When she read Atonement, Cindy was surprised at Magnuson's compliments about the book.

Jay read a bunch of reviews of Atonement on the website, GoodReads. He said there were 25 quotes from the book posted on GoodReads. He said that the sentences seemed revolutionary out of context but not when he was reading the book.

Who is the narrator of this story? Why do you think McEwan hides the fact that it is Briony until much later in the book?

Frank said there is a device in literature: the reliable or unreliable narrator. This book uses that literary device. Leaving the reader with doubt as to whether Briony, as narrator, is trustworthy is an example of this device. Was Briony repentant or making it up? Another example Frank gave to explain the point is that some books have plots with children accusing adults, as in Briony accusing Robbie of molesting Lola and Cecilia. There is often a question in these books (and there certainly was in Atonement) as to whether the child is really innocent.

And, what makes Atonement that much more complex than other books is that the reader didn't even know that Briony was the narrator, rather than the typical omniscient author, until the end of the book.

Personally, I found that because of seeing this question before reading the book, I thought of it often while reading, and it lent a mixture of wonder and understanding to my reading experience.

What must Briony atone for? How does she do it? Is the pen mightier than the sword?

Dennis asked, "Is the penitentiary mightier than the sword?"
Pam said it didn't seem that Briony felt guilty and that she never did atone for the troubles she caused.

Marla suggested that Briony was trying to make her readers feel that she felt guilty, especially by titling "her" book Atonement.

Carla felt that Briony's impending dementia was a cause of suffering for her.
What role does class play in the novel?
Carry said that when people have serious wealth, they might think their wealth takes care of everything; but the truth is that most everyone else knows it doesn’t.

Pam said that it didn’t seem that class was a big factor in this story, because the father in the wealthy family was supporting the maid's child, Robbie, all through his life.
.
Shirley though that class was important, in that Robbie was treated like part of the family but that it was made clear to the reader and everyone in the story that he really wasn’t part of the family. Briony was aware at some level even as a child and even though she accepted Robbie and had a crush on him for a while. The family maybe helps Robbie to rise out of the poor class, but Briony sends him back lower than ever.  Later, as a nurse, Briony makes the French boy like her, to show she is atoning and being nice to someone she thinks is from a lower class.

Carla noted that Paul was of the wealthy class. This was a major theme of Paul throughout.

Rod brought up the topic of racial/class profiling. He said that just as police will stop a strong-looking black man on the road for no legal reason, people accepted Robbie as dangerous based on Briony's sketchy accusation. We had some further discussion here about To Kill a Mockingbird and whether/how Briony's and Scout's accusations are related.

Here we went off on a bit of a tangent about Briony's accusation of Robbie. Someone (Frank?) asked how soon after the searching the twins and Briony's accusation did Briony realize she made a mistake. At age 18, Briony narrates a tale of talking to Cecilia about officially and legally recanting her accusation to clear Robbie's name. I said that at age 11 Briony, as author, went into great detail about the time right after making the accusation, saying over and over that Briony (before the reader knew that Briony was the writer) was conflicted right away.

Joyce said that Briony's accusation and its consequences show an example of mob psychology, wherein the judicial system leaves a vulnerability for people to be convicted by such lies as what happened in Atonement.



Here we had another slight turn of direction to the conversation away from the original question but following the train of thought about the accusation. Shirley asked the group whether we thought Lola knew it was Marshall?

Carla: Lola knew.

Pam mentioned Emily, Briony's mother (and Lola's aunt) here. Emily's history includes her sister (Lola's mother) who had all the attention as a child (drama queen). Emily has headaches now, and there is an implication that they are a way for her to get attention (poor imitation of a drama queen). Pam suggested that Briony was making the accusation of Robbie to get attention, just like her Mom did things to get attention. Once she got the attention for being the one who had seen the supposed criminal, Briony liked the attention and stayed with her story rather than lose that limelight, even though she wasn't sure about the accusation.  Pam was angry at end of the story that Briony received attention she didn’t deserve, even as an old woman.
  
Shirley said that the audience at the end hadn’t read Briony's book yet but might read it later and hate Briony.

What major themes is McEwan dealing with in this book? (guilt, loss of innocence, order, the power of writing.)

Janice opened the question as to whether Briony was possibly not motivated by jealousy but was really wanting to protect Cecilia.

Marla thought Briony knew what was happening and was jealous, partly because of her previous crush on Robbie and Cecilia's now claiming his romantic attention.

At the end, what does Briony face instead of death that is worse than death?

Carla said that Briony loses both her sister and Robbie, as they were dead without reuniting with her, and the scene that Briony wrote with the small potential for a reconnecting among them (and redemption) was fictitious.


Janice said that Briony was victim of own Victorian upbringing. She thought Briony was innocent of any understanding of what was happening between Robbie and Cecilia and the meanings of Robbie's note, because Briony didn’t know about sex and lust. But Briony did understand a lot about Lola being molested (and yet she didn't, did she?) 

Marla mentioned noticing that Briony didn’t have fear.

Carla brought up the later plot twist where Lola married Paul.

Janice interjected that Lola liked rough sex. We got some comic relief from that statement, but the truth within the story wasn't really far from that; as Lola was apparently treated roughly by Paul (see section later about Paul's scratched face) and ended up marrying him. I asked whether the movie showed that Lola was mean to Paul during their marriage, maybe getting back at him all his life? Shirley said that the movie didn’t show Paul & Lola relating.

Our group read and discussed Atonement in 2008. The group had a few of the same members then as now. There is a summary of that discussion on the blog. Read it here.  The biggest differences seemed to be that this time we analyzed the ending more closely and ended up more sure of the author's intent as to what really happened to Robbie and Cecilia, and that last time the movie was newly released and was a topic of discussion; whereas this time little was said about the movie.

If you read the previous blog summary of our discussion of Atonement, you might notice that someone in the book club disliked Ian McEwan's books (Ian Macabre). I looked through my old notes to see who this was. I couldn't find any reference to it! And I realized I wouldn't disclose it anyway, especially not online. I do try to be respectful; and of course, if you ever see anything you don't feel comfortable with on the blog, please let me know and I'll change it.

What I did find in my notes that I didn't write on the previous blog was insight about the scratches on Paul's face!  I brought up the topic this time around, in 2015, and I apparently had taken notes on it and brought it up last time, too.

This time we discussed that Paul Marshall came back from searching for the twins on that fateful night (p. 223) and then in the next pages about the family and the search, there was no word of scratches on him. He gave the police cigarettes and then was just mentioned in passing as one of the people around the house during the next time period. Much later, when she goes to Paul and Lola's wedding  (p. 417), Briony she remembers "...the scratches on Lola's shoulder and down Marshall's face..."   So I asked at the meeting:  Wouldn’t Paul have been implicated by scratches?  I wondered whether  it a fiction aspect, that the scratches weren’t there but that Briony is supposedly remembering them in the story she wrote?

Shirley said that maybe his face was scratched but he was above suspicion because of his class.
Carla said maybe Paul had actually bruised Lola before the dinner, before the twins left. And Carla was right, though I didn't realize during the meeting that she was speaking directly from the story and not just speculating. In my notes from our 2008 discussion, I have notes on Paul's scratches that begin on p. 149, where Lola shows Briony that her arms are chafed from the twins' supposedly twisting her skin. (I didn't see anything about shoulder, but it might be there.) Lola is extremely upset, and Briony wonders to herself how the little twin boys could bring Lola to such desolation. Then Briony rationalizes to herself that Lola has had a lot of family problems lately and so could be easily upset. At this time, Briony also enjoys a feeling of taking Lola under her wing; thus, Lola's early injuries feed Briony's ego. Then everyone goes to supper, and during the supper, on p. 161, Robbie notices to himself that Paul's face is scratched. Then the supper conversation involves the twins, Robbie, and Briony; all put together, this conversation causes the reader to be distracted from the twins' (and also Paul Marshall's) possible involvement in Lola's arm bruises. Then the twins disappear, etc.  

Paul and Lola's marriage is an interesting twist to the whole story! Many twists!

By the way, Linda informs us that McEwan is leaving all his papers to the Harry Ransom Center. Yay!  Article About the Archive Acquisition

Saturday, June 6, 2015

And the June Nominees are....


Hello fellow readers. Here are the books I will be nominating on June 15th, one of which we will select to read August 17.  I read each of these books for the first time in the last 3 months and each earned a stellar **** in my 5-star rating system.  The Tortilla Curtain and Where's You Go, Bernadette were recommended to me by my former book discussion group in Boulder, CO.  A Walk in the Woods has been staring at me from a bookshelf for about 5 years and I finally decided to read it (instead of unpack). I am nominating it just in case I'm wrong about "everyone" having read it except me - because the film version will be released Labor Day weekend.

The Tortilla Curtain, 1995, T.C. Boyle.  Fiction. Although T.C. Boyle has written more than two dozen books, we've not read anything by him (not sure if he's been nominated).


Where'd You Go, Bernadette, 2013, Maria Semple.  Fiction. This is Maria Semple's 2nd novel.  She is well known for her TV writing having received Award nominations for Mad About You and Arrested Development.

A Walk in the Woods, 1998, Bill Bryson.  NonFiction. In 2005 we read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

I look forward to telling you more about my experience with these books.  I believe they all provide food for thought and would make for good discussion!  See you on the 15th when we discuss Atonement!!

 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Of Magnuson, Michener, and the MFA

We had the honor and pleasure of hosting a visit with James Magnuson, author, television writer, and Director of the Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin. We had read Magnuson's newest book, Famous Writers I Have Known, and some of us had read other books Magnuson has previously written. We enjoyed reading Famous Writers I Have Known! The book was funny, with quirky characters and a fast pace that started on the first page and continued to surprise us and make us smile and laugh. Our discussion tended to touch on the book occasionally but mostly focused on James Magnuson's career, his interactions with the legendary James Michener, and the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at the Michener Center for Writers.

Magnuson told us how he got his big break when he was 28 years old and broke. He met a religion professor from Princeton University who nominated him for a position at Princeton for promising but unknown writers. Magnuson sent in an application and got the job. He wrote a play while at Princeton the first year and stayed at Princeton for 5 years, writing more plays.

Janice asked Magnuson the question I think we all were wanting to ask: about his career in television script writing. Magnuson  told us that one of his friends from Columbia University became in charge of Knots Landing and asked Magnuson to help with the writing. Magnuson, totally unfamiliar with the show, saw some pictures from Knots Landing in a copy of People Magazine on the plane to Los Angeles. He then wrote scripts for the show for a year. Magnuson was told he was 1 of the 3 best 1-hour script writers in Hollywood. His friend was fired, but the new boss thought Magnuson was the best writer and asked him to stay. All the other writers were fired.

Magnuson continued writing books.

Pam mentioned that she had noticed that Magnuson had published a book approximately every 8-10 years and that each book had a different publisher. This double question was a powerful one for Magnuson. He became nostalgic for a moment. He remembered that he had published every 2-3 years when he was young, accumulating 9 novels, 12 plays, and 20 hours of television scripts. Back to the present, he seemed glad to announce that his next book is on the way, making the most recent gap between books a short one. As to publishers, which apparently are fickle, he told us that the young people, even the new MFA graduates from his program, command higher bids on their work than older writers. This seems counter-intuitive to a reader, but it makes sense looking at the world from a media/business point of view.

Magnuson works hard, writing 3 hours/morning 7 days/week. He told us a few stories of grueling rewrites, being turned down 6 times for one book, spending 9 months on a rewrite of another book for a publisher and then having to spend another 9 months rewriting before the publisher accepted the book.  He has completed 5 drafts of the book he is going to be publishing soon.

James Magnuson met James Michener in Texas, when Michener was writing Texas.  Magnuson was teaching  writing at UT Austin, and Michener sat in on some classes. The famous author donated $2 million to the UT MFA program and soon after that another $18 million, the biggest creative writing award ever.  Not sure at what point in the process, but the program was named after Michener, now the Michener Center.  Michener published 10 books while he was aged 80-90 years. It unusual and amazing to think of Michener being so productive at those ages! Magnuson told us a few details about Michener; he said the older writer was generous but enjoyed a bargain when he had a chance. Magnuson said that Michener had great ideas and was credited with bringing in 60% of Random House profits for some years. Yet Michener wasn’t taken seriously by the critics, who didn’t like those big books.  At this, Dennis mentioned that he liked Michener's early novels but noticed that they got worse and were poorly edited. Magnuson mentioned that for all historical those pages Michener published, he did have researchers but not writers.

I asked Mr. Magnuson whether the character, Rex, in Famous Writers I Have Known, was based on Michener; and Magnuson said the character was indeed based on Michener. He said that during the last 5 years of Michener's life, people were vying for his money. Michener reminded Magnuson of his father, growing up during the depression. Magnuson did make some creative changes with Rex; he mentioned that there was no Ramona, no cook, no rivalry with Salinger, and no feud, but there were battles with Mailer and Buckley. So you can draw your own conclusions as to what James Michener was like as an elderly man.

The Writers' Workshop at the Michener Center now accepts 12 among 1200 applicants and gives a $27,000 fellowship. The students have been successfully published. The Center website has a page listing the books students have published:  Michener Center Student Books. The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, has made a big splash, and Benedict Cumberbatch is starring in a movie based on the book, for 2016 release. Jake Silverstein, who studied nonfiction for his MFA at the Michener Center and was editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly magazine, is now the editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine. Philipp Meyer was a Pulitzer Prize finalist last year for his book, The Son.  Student F.T. Kola is currently on the short list of 5 contenders for the Caine Prize for African Writing, with a book called A Party for the Colonel. The list of honors won by students of the Michener Center is also easily accessible at the website.

Patty asked Magnuson what sort of classes and student-teacher interaction are involved in the MFA program. Magnuson said part of the program is a workshop with critiques of everyone's work. Part of it involves writing exercises, similar to some mentioned in Famous Writers I Have Known. Magnuson said one successful exercise is writing 2 pages starting with "My mother never..." He sometimes asks the students to describe something from an odd point of view. Magnuson also helps with theses and meets one-on-one with the students. He says he often finds himself in the role of counselor, as the young writers are going through a difficult part of their youth and need plenty of support of all kinds.

Linda asked another tough question. She asked what the true benefits of the writer's workshop are, in that the classics were written without the benefits of writers' workshops. Magnuson seemed to have considered this, as he had a several-part answer ready. He said that he is glad the UT program has become famous and popular, so that it can be as selective as it is and avoid selling classes to any untalented writers or setting up any untalented writers for later disappointment. With 250 writing
programs now available across the country, Magnuson indicated that there are probably many students who will probably not be able to pay for their education directly from a writing career.

Then Linda asked what Magnuson thinks is the best way for a writer to be educated. The simple answer was: reading! Magnuson made an analogy between a writer reading and a musician listening to music. He said his students tend to be avid and intense readers. As an example, he told us he suggested that a student from Montana who had been a carpenter should read Anna Karenina, and the student read the book immediately.

Pam asked Magnuson to list his favorite books and authors. Was there going to be a Frankie Abandonado moment? Of course not! Magnuson quickly listed Ian McEwan and his Atonement; The Good Soldier, by Ford Maddox Ford; Parade’s End, by Thomas Hardy; Trollope as an author; Don Quixote; the Russian authors, perhaps Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and particularly the book The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov; Edith Wharton;  Larry Wright;  Stephen Harrigan; Sarah Bird; and Dennis Johnson. An inspiring list for any of us!


The final question was from Pam, who had read 3 of Magnuson's books before our meeting and thus earned the right to the last question! She asked Magnuson to tell us which author(s) he feels he should be compared to. Thanks to James Magnuson for making us feel comfortable enough with him to ask the questions we had on our minds, and for answering them candidly! Magnuson likened his books to those of Peter Carey and, since we had told him we will be discussing one of his favorite authors, Ian McEwan, next month, he mentioned that he liked to grab the reader on the first page as McEwan does.

Magnuson told us what his new novel is about: the early life of a famous legend, whose name I don't feel right disclosing. The rest of what was said at the RRNN Book Discussion Group stays at the RRNN Book Discussion Group. But I'll bet Magnuson's upcoming book will catch the reader on the first page!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

I just finished our July book Not Between Brothers - Texas Rising on History Channel starts Mem Day

I just finished our July book Not Between Brothers and have spent the last 15 minutes online trying to figure out exactly what days and times "Texas Rising" (based on the book) will be on The History Channel. I see it on Monday and Tuesday nights 8-10pm Central but good luck figuring it out after that.  Appalling fact - they changed the character names!! Apparently Remy is James in the TV version and Kills White Bear is BILLY.  At least Sam Houston is still Sam Houston :).

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rosie Project Paints a Rosy Picture of a Difficult Disorder

The Rosie Project, by Graham Simsion, presents an unusual main character, a man who clearly is “on the spectrum” of autistic disorders. The character, Don, seems to have Asperger’s Syndrome, though he never claims the diagnosis in the book. The author leaves a few ambiguities, and Don’s actual diagnosis is one of them. During the story, the small amount of Don’s past that is offered to the reader shows that Don was always “different” and had a lot of problems due to his quirky personality but never was considered to have any kind of disorder that might be common to anyone else. Don was misunderstood from the start, by his father and brother in particular. After Don was involved with Rosie, it “came out” that his family had long thought he was gay. Don also had problems fitting in with his classmates during his childhood, to the extent that he studied and practiced martial arts. Marla, who nominated and presented the book to us,  indicated that the martial arts practice was a way of saving himself from bullying.  Janice noted that Don grew up in an era of less self-awareness than now, which could explain the scene where Don speaks to the Asperger's group without realizing that he's one of them: funny scene in the story and maybe in the originally planned movie. Marsha said that “Autism” is the modern label for at least some of what used to be called “mental retardation.” Don, of course, wasn’t retarded in every way, as he was brilliant at academics, especially science, and had an abnormally accurate memory.

We had some confusion and disagreement as to who Rosie’s real father was. Carla and I thought it was the doctor who was photographed at Rosie’s mother’s reunion, whose friend hinted strongly at this when Don questioned him during the inquest of all those who attended the reunion. Most everyone seemed to think it was Phil, the man who had raised Rosie but who she didn’t think was a good father to her. Ellen, our newest member, said that she Googled a question as to who was supposedly Rosie’s father, and that many hits came up and that many pages have been written on this topic. The author somewhere indicated that Phil was the father.

Marla asked us to suggest why the author included Gene in the story. Here are notes I wrote for some answers; some may be fairly direct quotes (I'm always open to corrections):

Pam: Marla had said that the author originally wrote the story as a movie script and then changed it to a novel…and so since a movie needs a focus on sex, Gene was it.
Carla: At the end, the tables turn and Don shows his character to have grown when he gives Gene advice to stop acting like a child in his getting involved with too many women.
Lydia: Gene was another possible father for Rosie, which added some excitement to that aspect of the plot.
Ellen: Gene was a friend for Don as well as a candidate for Rosie’s father.
Dennis: Gene was a collector, of women from foreign countries.
Pam: Gene was an unfortunate choice of character.
Cindy T.: Both Gene and Don were coming of age during the story, each in his own way.

Marla started another conversation by stating that the author was trying to depict empathy and asked the question as to whether love is empathy and how that relates to happiness. If Asperger’s syndrome renders a person unable to feel empathy or maybe unable to understand it if they feel it, how can they love another person? There was some discussion about Don changing his ways for Rosie and whether this would be sustainable. Pam said that Don will constantly be working on changing his natural inclinations or at least his actions. Carla said that while Don was changing some behaviors to be more appealing to Rosie, he was benefitting from these changes by broadening his range of experiences and he was aware that he was enjoying and feeling better in some ways after making these changes.

Patty asked whether empathy or friendship can be taught. A number of people shared personal experiences about family members who have been diagnosed with autistic-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s Syndrome and about their own feelings of not fitting in. This moved to a discussion about introverts and their coping mechanisms in our society, which seems to value extroverts. The conversation was lively, and I was thinking of asking the group, “How many consider yourself an introvert?” I wondered particularly about our group because of so many of us being prolific readers. The conversation moved on before I had a chance to ask the question, and it became off the subject. But, you might now think about whether people who love to read tend to be introverts.

Those who didn’t completely enjoy the book had the following criticisms:
Offensive depiction of autism and Asperger’s, complete with mockery and oversimplification.
Don as an unappealing choice for a woman to fall in love with, so the love story was contrived.
Not funny.
Didn’t ever figure out who was implied to be Rosie’s father.
There were an equal number of rebuttals to these disagreements, Kathleen saying that it was uplifting that the story showed that Don could enable himself to lead a full life. Carla said that Don was a stereotypical man in some ways and that everyone has to play some games sometimes to fit in. Janice compared Don to the very popular Sheldon character on the TV series, The Big Bang Theory. Patty said she laughed at the part where Don was practicing his dancing with a skeleton. Others laughed during reading this book, too.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Texas Rising, Memorial Day start for show based on "Not Between Brothers"

You can find more info and a trailers on the history channel website.  This is an eight hour mini series.  If I have time I will be watching it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Unbroken: So Exciting It Doesn't Spoil the Reading Even if You Know How it Ends

True war stories never cease to amaze! Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, is no exception, and it is an exceptional book! This is a best seller, that people claim as favorite, best book ever. I have trouble choosing one of those, but that's off topic. A group of more than 20 met to discuss the book, and all had read it! I don't think we even bothered to take a vote as to how many "liked" this book, as it is obviously an excellent book.

Thanks to Joyce! Presenting the book, she brought some notes and questions and added depth to our understanding. Joyce told us about some ex prisoners of war she remembered from her teen years. One was a priest who had been a POW in Germany. Joyce's description of him, from her teenaged self, was that he shook and was mean and said "damn" in front of the teens; which, at that time and in that place, was unusual and out-of-control behavior. The second was the father of one of her friends. This man had been a POW of the Japanese. He was very thin, because he had severe digestive problems (likely from the war). Maybe he had encountered Zamperini and/or been at that awful camp where Zamperini had been. Another was a man Joyce remembered as "Mr. Martin." This man had been a POW of Japan. He was considered "shell-shocked" and lived his adult life with his parents. Joyce currently has a nephew who was a medic in Afghanistan and now has a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. It is upsetting to think of how much disruption is caused in the lives of those involved in almost any aspect of war.

Joyce asked us to share our most memorable impressions from the book:
Marcia: the sharks in the water around the raft
Dennis: the brutal training, complete with beatings
Carla: the dangerous poorly maintained planes, "flying coffins"
Cindy T.: Louis had bargained in prayer that if he lived, he would devote his life to religion, and this did happen, though it was many years after the end of the war
Joyce: the prisoner who was going to drink a drop of water from a leaf, and the guard who took that opportunity away from the prisoner
Me (Claudia): the Bird's unrelenting meanness and how hard it must have been to cope with every aspect of it
        The Bird sent us into a tangent: Carla said he was interviewed and said that his actions were                        expected of him, but that she thought he was psychotic.
         Linda H. thought he was a pervert

We didn't discuss a lot of the action in the book in detail. There were some interesting comments about the writing of the book and the veracity of the history. Amy told us about an interview of Laura Hillenbrand, the author. Hillenbrand communicated with Louis Zamperini for 6 years while writing the book, interviewing him 75 times, according to the New York Times. She didn't meet him until near his death. He went to visit her, as she was mostly housebound. She wanted to see the scars on his hands. Scars would have been from when an albatross bit him, when he was on the raft and was catching albatrosses for them to eat as well as use for bait to catch fish. Perhaps some from catching sharks with his bare hands on the raft, for food and bait. Carla remembered that another scar might have been from when Louis hoisted himself from the sinking plane via his class ring that had hooked onto the plane's frame. Hillenbrand said she felt that she had been better able to write about Zamperini without meeting him.

Kathleen voiced a concern about her suspicion that so much detail might indicate some fabrication. Pam also felt that not every detail was completely true. However, as Carla argued, Zamperini had kept a lot of notes in his notebook, and Dennis and Linda remembered noticing the parts in the book where the prisoners purposely memorized details and told each other the details while on the raft to keep their minds active and sane. Another factor is that Zamperini did tell his war stories for many years between the 1940s and Hillenbrand's researching his life a few years ago. Many renditions are available via news articles, interviews, television, lectures, etc. Zamperini's war stories are part of U.S. history. For the skeptical, there is still room for some fabrication, as the memory is what it is.

Zamperini lived to see the book plus an unfinished version of the movie that director Angelina Jolie showed him when he was in the hospital. I think it was Carol who told us about Jolie visiting Zamperini. He apparently liked the movie. There has been some controversy about the detail and emphasis on his religious transformation at the end of his life, which some critics believe was minimized too much in the movie. According to Angelina Jolie's visit with the hero, his religious feelings were personal and he was comfortable with the movie rendition. This concern of his might have influenced the movie.

There are a number of articles and reviews about the movie online (duh). Here is a link to a trailer on YouTube. Unbroken - Trailer  If you watch it, you will be led to more videos about/from the movie. The movies doesn't seem to be around, but you can watch on Amazon for $15.00. (I'll wait.)

There are many interviews and reviews about this book and its history. So, that would indicate that there is a lot of truth in the book, or at least that it matches Zamperini's memories. The central figure in this biography, Louis Zamperini, certainly survived almost unbelievable hardship during the war. It's great that such a detailed history has been recorded about him and that the evils of war are publicized by this bestseller.

Films that were mentioned in conjunction with this book that had relevant subject matter, ie, the Japanese in World War II:
The Bridge Over the River Kwai
The Great Raid
King Rat
The Camp on Blood Island
Empire of the Sun
Letters From Iwo Jima
Flags of Our Fathers
The Railway Man