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:

On September 9th, at 2:00 PM, Ernest Cline will be visiting the La Frontera Barnes & Noble, as part of the BN Pop Culture series of events. If you enjoyed our book club's visit with Cline, you can go see him again...and probably his DeLorean!

September 9th at the LBJ Library, 6:00 PM: Elizabeth Crook will speak about her book Monday Monday, about the UT Tower shootings in 1996. The event is free but you have to pick up tickets in advance. For more information, click on this link: http://www.lbjlibrary.org/events/the-harry-middleton-lectureship-presents-elizabeth-crook

The Texas Book Festival, which will be the weekend of October 25th. A great annual event, different every time...fun to visit or volunteer.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Miracles Flow in Peace Like a River

As we dug into the depths of Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, one theme seemed to surface most often: Miracles. This book was full of miracles, which our readers considered and explained in all sorts of ways. Marsha led us through our discussion, which seemed to keep circling around to one or another miracle as part of the plot or subplot. She told us that the author grew up with parents who had strong Christian beliefs but were not outwardly religious and did not go to church. This family attitude was similar to that of the family depicted in the story. This book is considered a mainstream novel, not in the strictly Christian genre, but is accepted by many Christians as a religious testament. Looking at reviews of the book and searching online, it is obvious that this is yet another book that our group has chosen that could easily fill a semester of college-level interpretation. Think what fun you might have had writing a semester paper about this one!

Miracles in Peace Like a River begin with the narrator's birth: Reuben almost died at birth, and it was his father, Jeremiah's, strength of faith that kept him alive. That is the implication. We batted it around a bit. Reuben didn't breathe for 12 minutes, which pushes the usual 10-minute envelope for brain damage; it seems within the realm of possibility but also what most of us would call a miracle.  With such a beginning and a character named "Jeremiah," 6 members at the meeting said that the beginning of the book made them expect proselytizing in the book. All said they didn't find that to happen and that they liked the book. Once again, our book club members powered through the part that might cause them to put the book down if they weren't reading for book discussion, and were rewarded for it!

When we talked about Jeremiah walking on air, Ken noted that this was seen through Reuben's eyes. Janice suggested that Reuben saw miracles and that was why there were miracles. Pam thought that Reuben would be likely to see his father as miraculous because he knew the story of the miracle his father supposedly performed at his birth. So these ideas begged the question as to whether the miracles in the book were meant to be taken literally.

When Amy brought up the question as to why Jeremiah healed the (undeserving but who am I to judge?) superintendent of his boils but did not heal own son's asthma, we got into the idea of Jeremiah having no control over his healing gift. Thus, the gift became both more realistic but also more potentially stemming from a power beyond the literal world. Carla then brought up the idea of the book as having Biblical allegorical qualities, such as Jeremiah turning the other cheek in his seeming decision to heal the superintendent, even as the superintendent was firing him from his job unreasonably. I was disappointed that the superintendent didn't change his tune at the time of the healing...but with miracles, it can take some time to sink in. Carla also suggested that when Reuben was having the asthma attack while wrestling with keeping the secret of Davy's whereabouts; Reuben's dream of a nasty little man on his chest might represent the devil.

The theme of Biblical allegory continued to surface in tandem with the miracles in our discussion. Ken agreed that the book had Biblical parallels, giving the examples of the walking on air correlating with walking on water, and the laying on of hands as a Biblical healing. Later Ken, in my humble opinion, clinched the Biblical allegory theory by suggesting that the heaven scene, where Jeremiah, the father, sacrificed his life to save his son, was opposite but certainly closely parallel to the story of the sacrifice of Jesus' life.

We covered other questions and answers in this simple-to-read but complex-to-understand novel. Another great live discussion, enjoyed by all!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Snow Child Refreshes Us on a Hot Summer Day

The Snow Child

First order of business when we met to discuss The Snow Child, by Eouwyn Ivey, was for Priscilla to tell us about the name "Eouwyn." The author was named after a J.R.R. Tolkein Lord of the Rings character. Without researching, I'm guessing that this is an Elfin name, which I think is important to our discussion because the author's Faina character seems so Elfin in so many ways. The author grew up in Alaska and still lives there. She has some photos of Alaska posted on her blog. Oddly, there are no photos of the dead of winter, when footprints disappear under blizzards as soon as steps are taken.

The Snow Child was a deceptive mixture of straightforward-reading story and inexplicable fantasy. We uncovered both aspects in our discussion. First we talked about why Mabel and Jack moved to Alaska to farm as middle-aged adults who had never been to Alaska. Patty noted that it was Mabel's idea because she was unhappy among all her friends and relatives at home who had children, because she had lost a baby and not gotten over it. Dennis said that at the time when the book took place, there was probably a lot of publicity encouraging people to move to Alaska, some of which probably painted a prettier picture of Alaskan life than reality could offer. We talked about Mabel's changing moods and her rising to the occasion when Jack was injured and needed her help in the fields.

Patty told us that she had visited Alaska on her travels in the spring, and she noticed that there were no pharmacies or doctors in cities smaller than Juneau. So, we could think of Alaska as being a lot like the way it was in the story. Visiting Alaska during the summer months and not needing a pharmacy or doctor is nice to think about...

Then we got into the main question of the story: Did Faina exist or was she a figment of Mabel's imagination? Patty said she was unsure throughout the beginning of the book as to whether Faina was real. Dennis noticed that there were no quotation marks in the book when Faina talked! Marsha suggested that Mabel created Faina. Dennis reminded us about Jack burying Faina's father, which added to the argument for realism. Dennis then presented the term "Magical Realism," and this began to be a theme of our discussion. Janice thought the author meant Faina to be more than just Mabel's imagination but a magical character. Patty remembered that Mabel said something like, "You have to believe in miracles." The first episode with Faina came up, where there were tracks leading away from the snow child that Mabel and Jack had built but no other tracks in the snow. Pam joked that Faina was heavier after putting on the scarf and gloves than she had been when arriving at the snow child, and that was why she had become heavy enough to leave tracks. Carla's opinion was that part of the charm of the story was that the reader could draw their own conclusion as to whether to think of Faina as real or magical or imagined.


We had more ideas and references to the story concerning whether Faina was meant to be considered real by the reader. Put to a vote, most of us said we had at some point in the book gone with the idea of Faina as a real child. This book gave all of us a delightful story, and our conversation brought out so many aspects of the story and angles about the ephemeral Faina that I doubt many of us thought of all of them while reading. This discussion was one of those magical ones that add to the pleasure of reading the book and make you glad you braved the sunshine to sit in the air-conditioned cafe with good company and coffee and cookies!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Round Rock has a Main Street, and My Home Town Did — Did Yours?

After reading a book, it's often interesting to learn about the author's life. Reading Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis, I was thinking that Lewis was amazingly brilliant, so it was a fitting surprise to learn he had won a Nobel Prize for his writing. And look what I found today: Click here to read Lewis' autobiographical message on accepting the Nobel

Oh, dear! The World Wide Web trapped me in the early 20th century for a while, and it will take a bit of extricating before I can continue with the summary of our meeting. I thought I'd quickly verify that alcoholism killed Lewis, so I googled...and turned up a fascinating review of a biography of Lewis. The review is from The New Yorker (magazine) in 2002 and was beautifully written by none other than John Updike. The article caught me when it said, "Lewis typed with his two forefingers, which as he aged became so sensitive from hard use that he taped them. He produced the lesser novel The Prodigal Parents (1938) by writing from five in the morning until seven at night for two months. He composed two hundred and twenty-one thousand words of Main Street in fourteen weeks..."  Updike compares 2 long biographies of Lewis and goes into some detail about Lewis' apparently colorful personality and other aspects of his life. If you are curious about Lewis the man, you will enjoy this article and maybe even the biographies! Click here to read Updike's review

At our meeting, Patty gave us some history about Sinclair Lewis and then launched a question and answer discussion that covered many salient aspects of the book. Patty summarized parts of the book before asking questions about them, which helped us to navigate this long book for our discussion. I will mention just a few insights from among 9 pages of notes that I took.

Dennis noticed a theme in the book: inertia! This was evident in Carol's ambitions and the results of those ambitions. Marla brought in the idea that Carol's multitude of ideas for change reflected the character's dissatisfaction with her life. Her efforts had little result, partly because of her own immature way of approaching people. On a later topic, Carol's relationship with Eric, Patty noted that Carol didn't understand that you can't change people quickly. This applies also to Carol's interactions with the town's leaders in trying to make changes. Lewis brought out the inertia of most of the conservative leaders, using sometimes rather funny satire to show how they dodged Carol's suggestions about changes. The mixture of excuses for staying with the status quo included the reality of warring factions sharing limited funds - a situation all too common in our world today.

As our conversation jumped around and back and forth a bit, I will list here some of the thoughts we had about Kennicott. When Patty asked about the episode when Carol tried to interest Kennicott in poetry, Jan said that Kennicott idolized Carol and tried to please her. Marsha said he was a father figure for Carol. Carla said Kennicott tried to be supportive but didn't "get" Carol. This was where we talked about Eric, and Pam said that Eric was the only one who really understood Carol. Janice said Kennicott seemed jealous of Eric. Pam later suggested that Carol returned from Washington DC because she realized that Kennicott was as good a husband as she was likely to find and that their relationship was probably as good as it gets.

The end of the book was acceptable to us as readers, just as it seemed to be acceptable to Carol. On Carol's return from Washington DC, upon learning that Kennicott intended to continue respecting Carol's having a separate room, Carla figured that Carol realized that her life on Main Street was the best of her choices. Our Carol G. said that Kennicott meant home and children to the Carol in the story. Carla said that in the end, Kennicott's role as the practical part of the parental partnership was acceptable to Carol (or maybe necessary?). Marla said that Kennicott would stay in control of his and Carol's lives and wouldn't change much. At the end of the book, Pam, and most of us, saw Carol as capitulating. Then Patty reminded us that there had been a hint in the book that Carol's life as a Mom would include planning her children's education, with all the grandiose hopes a mother can have for her children.


We then had a lively conversation about our experiences with small towns. Some funny anecdotes were mentioned, but you had to be there to hear those. A lot of us had grown up or lived in small towns. I wonder whether our children's book clubs reading Main Street when they are our ages will have many personal anecdotes about life on Main Street.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Author Visit: Jennifer duBois

The Round Rock New Neighbors Book Group Discussions are always a welcome addition to the great books we read. An author visit brings us more of everything we like about our book club: more incentive to read the author's book, more looking forward to the meeting, and more depth of understanding of the author and the book. It was exciting to have a visit with Jennifer duBois, author of A Partial History of Lost Causes, published in 2011; and Cartwheel, published in 2013 (and available in paperback the day after our visit with the author)!

DuBois began the meeting by reading the beginning of Cartwheel aloud. We had a question and answer session, with Marla first asking whether duBois found it difficult to act as a neutral narrator when writing Cartwheel, which is about a murder case somewhat similar to the current Amanda Knox case. (I didn't read Cartwheel yet, so please pardon any inaccuracies or confusion I might inadvertently create.) The author answered that she had her own ideas about the case in the book but tried to present the story from a neutral point of view. She accepted the challenge of trying to imagine the characters as individuals who could think differently from her. She suggested that the reader could probably decipher her personal position by the end of the book. Dennis asked whether politics induced her to change her position about the murder case, and duBois answered that she tried to ignore them but that her original position didn't change. Comments are welcome from those of you who read Cartwheel.

Also about Cartwheel, Joyce asked whether duBois interviewed anyone in the Knox camp; and duBois responded that she did not. Here she mentioned that she likes to write about point of view, especially when two (or more) people look at the same thing and form opposite viewpoints. Highlighting point of view was also duBois' goal in the title and the event attached to the title, the cartwheel that the accused character, Anna, performed during her interrogation. When Priscilla asked why duBois made the character do the cartwheel, duBois answered that there had been a rumor that Amanda Knox had done a cartwheel under similar circumstances. This seemed to have been a sensationalized media version of Knox doing a stress-relieving Yoga pose. DuBois considered the idea a good showcase for point of view, in that reactions to both Knox in the real world and Anna in Cartwheel included accusations of callousness as well as emphasis on the youth and naïveté of the accused.

Although A Partial History of Lost Causes also contains many examples of discrepant points of view, I want to highlight the ways that our questions about this book uncovered more influences from Jennifer duBois' personal life. Cindy asked whether it was research or imagination that created the implications about Vladimir Putin's political crimes in the book. DuBois majored in political science in college, and she enjoyed researching the story. She said the events in the book were mostly true, outside of the conspiracy, which she added to the novel. She said she is still interested in political science and has been surprised by Putin's recent behavior. In response to a question Pam presented as to whether duBois is now persona non grata in Russia or perhaps worse, duBois answered that she was interviewed about the book by the Voice of Russia state-run radio station and that everyone was friendly. She did not indicate any upcoming travel plans, though!

Along those lines, Ken asked her whether she had experienced the kind of cold weather she describes in the book, because she captured the aspects of cold so well. I think all of us felt the influences of the bitterly cold weather and also the seasonal changes while reading the book. DuBois grew up in Massachusetts, so she did have some background in winter. Later in the discussion, duBois told us that her father had suffered from Alzheimer's disease and that that this had influenced some of her choices in the story. The strong theme of a mentally debilitating disease with uncertain genetic implications and a long, slow decline certainly added a dynamic dimension to the story. Of interest to us also was duBois noting that she noticed both valiant efforts and small efforts in watching her father's decline. The valiant efforts of a family coping with such a disease are known. What duBois also noticed were subtle ways in which her mother helped her father and worked to increase his comfort even though he was unable to notice or openly appreciate them. The idea of small and uncelebrated but caring comforts added richness to the ways Alexsandr treated both Irina and Elizabeta and even sometimes his wife.

I enjoyed reading A Partial History of Lost Causes! The book was a well-crafted story involving chess and Russian politics. As an omnivorous reader but with little interest in either chess or Russian history, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the story kept a pace of human interest without ever slowing down for a history lesson. The timing of this read was particularly poignant for me because of the recent Putin perpetrations, which ended up juxtaposed against the political indecencies in the novel that were attributed to Putin's rise to power at the beginning of the century.

Although I didn't think to take a poll of raised hands, I know that several other book club members enjoyed Cartwheel, and at least 4 or 5 read both books. We were fortunate to get such personal interaction with Jennifer duBois, and we look forward to her next book.





Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Questions to Ponder on Main Street

While reading Main Street for our June 16th discussion, please consider the following ideas, maybe take some notes so you remember what you think of as you read:

The book was very popular when it came out in 1920.   It was #1 on the best seller list in 1921.  What contributes to the book still being printed, read and studied today? Why? 
Discuss the book as a novel of  sociology?  As a novel of satire? 
Compare and contrast the first impressions Carol Kennicott and Bea Sorenson have of the town on their first arrival.
Think of some of the ways Carol endeavors to bring culture to the town.
How are small towns different and alike today?

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Moveable Feast (4 of 5 stars for me)

I had not read Hemingway since H.S. and had never read Moveable Feast. I read in Claudia's post that later wives edited this book? Hmmm. To me it was clear in this book that Hadley was the love of his life so I'd be skeptical that a later wife edited it. Having said that, Hadley only had a few quoted lines in the entire book. However Hemingway made several comments like "we had no idea at the time" how it was the greatest time of our lives.... Also a tremendous insight into the relationship Hemingway had with "Scott" Fitzgerald. And how his relationship with Getrude Stein developed and ended (although I've already forgotten the latter). I especially loved Hemingway's writing style and always felt like I was right there with him/them. I am so glad I read A Moveable Feast.

P.S. I decided to inundate myself in Hemingway and also watched the video of the 2011 HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn (his 3rd wife). If you haven't had enough of Hemingway yet, I recommend it. Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman.
Pam

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hemingway's First Marriage is a Casualty of  'The Lost Generation'

 Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife, grew up in foster homes. Her mother disappeared, and her father was in trouble often. She wrote a memoir called "Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses." How sad is that? Sadder than the subject she decided to write about in The Paris Wife, Ernest Hemingway's first marriage of four, or happier than the oddly matched couple's rise and demise? McLain did a good job of writing The Paris Wife! It read like a romance, but a literary one with quality writing. I am thankful that our book group chooses books such as this that are well-written, impressive fascinating page-turners rather than the thousands of "romances" that are out there, that boil down one small group of ideas, bloated phrasing, and thoughts of Fabio air-brushed on the covers to look younger than he is.

Remembering that The Paris Wife was based on a true story, our discussion centered around the whys and wherefores of the characters' personalities, choices, and underlying psychology. Janice opened the discussion by asking us why the 21-year-old Hemingway and the 29-year-old Hadley (Hem&Had) were attracted to each other. Answers:
               Cindy - Hem might have married her for her family's money
               Janice - They filled each other's needs
               Patty - Hem was handsome, and Hadley had been closed in for much of her adult life, so naturally she couldn't resist!

I never quite got why Hem&Had called each other "Tatie." Did I miss something? Was it just what evolved, or perhaps, as Peggy suggested, easier to use a simple nickname than to remember anything else when you're drunk? And what could be easier to remember than just one nickname for two people!
              
Our conversation moved quickly, with Janice asking us questions she had prepared. We had a mixture of comments about a variety of topics. For example, as to why Hem&Had went to Paris instead of to Rome, where Hem originally wanted to go. Seems it was because of the influence of Sherwood Anderson, who seemed to lead a number of writers to Paris. Much of our discussion was based on the factual information in the book and the analysis provided by McLain's Hadley as the first-person narrator of the book. Even though the book was a novel, it was clearly a historical novel; we could tell that the author had done considerable research and had mostly followed factual information about the writers and artists she chronicled. We all seemed to enjoy the book, but we didn't need to guess too much about the characters, because it was all there.

I felt that our discussion's original contributions to our understanding of the book, its time, and the people it involves, were our observations based on the history of Europe after the time of the book. Thus, we have some perspective advantages that Hadley did not have in analyzing her and her cohort's situations. Mentions during our discussion that seem to illuminate the dynamics of the story include that had the modern understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression been available in the 1920s, it might have helped people in the book and might have reduced some of the drinking. Although alcoholism is not something that is easily conquered, it does seem that some of the drinking might have been reduced  by therapy and even antidepressant medication.

Also, there was some discussion about the influences of World War I, called "the Great War" at the time in the book. Frank started this part of the discussion by suggesting that the art of the time was based on reactions to the war and that behavior, especially the "party while you can" attitude exemplified in the book, was also a reaction to the horrors of war. Patty said that at that time, successful artists were influential leaders, e.g., Sherwood Anderson leading artists to Paris, Gertrude Stein gathering them at her successful "Salons," and even "La Dolce Vita"  in Italy, which offers another historical world that we could enjoy reading about. Ken suggested that after the war, all of society was in upheaval. He said that "the rules were changed"  by this war that used gas and other new devastation tactics from afar rather than the more conventional hand-to-hand combat. After the trauma of the war, people were finding new ways to live and making new rules. Ken gave the example of Gauguin, who indeed found a way to avoid the upheaval of Europe by settling in Tahiti and creating his body (pun intended) of work there.

Some of our members had read or encountered Ernest Hemingway's autobiographical A Moveable Feast, which seems to tell about his wives but has been edited by one of the wives or several family members over the years or something like that. Any of you who know the details are welcome to post them here - as a post or comment, or on Facebook. A Moveable Feast seems to be a tedious read. Patty finished it but didn't like it and went so far as to say it was poorly written and that Hemingway wouldn't have published it in its current state.

 Here's an interesting website that tangentially touches on The Paris Wife:

 Librarian Linda gave us the following listing of some books available at the Round Rock Public Library that we might enjoy now that we have read The Paris Wife:

Little Demon in the City of Light, by Steven Levingston
How Paris Became Paris, by Joan DeJean
Paris, by Edward Rutherford
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan
A Master's Muse, by Varley O'Connor
Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnick
And 2 more that Jay recommended on our Facebook page:
Running With the Bulls: My Years With the Hemingways, by Valerie Hemingway 

Dennis brought a book of photographs called Kiki's Paris. Kiki was a model, and many famous people of the 1920s are in the photos. I believe I saw Hemingway, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein among the many photos.