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.

The Friends of the Georgetown Library’s Hill Country Authors Series will feature novelist Ann Weisgarber on Monday, November 17, 2014 at 2 pm at the library. Doors open at 1:30 pm. Ann is the author of The Promise which will be featured on November 17. See article posted below for more details or go to http://www.folgeorgetown.com/web/

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Leo Tolstoy

Today is Tolstoy's birthday. In his honor, let's all of us re-read War and Peace today!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Author Ann Weisgarber Visits Georgetown Public Library - About her Historical Novel of Galveston

The Promise is shortlisted for the United Kingdom’s Walter Scott Prize in Historical Fiction and is a Spur Award finalist in the United States.  She wrote much of the novel in Galveston where pelicans glide along the surf and cows graze in pastures.  Here is how she describes the genesis of the novel:
“When I finished my first novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, I signed on to write a monthly article for The Islander, a Galveston-based magazine.  …It was an interview with a brother and sister on the west end of the island that eventually inspired me to write The Promise.  Like many who live along or near the Texas Gulf Coast, I was fascinated by the 1900 Storm, the worst U.S. natural disaster of the 20th Century.  If Galveston’s west end was isolated in 1963, what was it like during 1900?  Did people live there then?  If so, who were they?  Did they survive the storm?  The Promise is my tribute to the women, men, and children who lived down the island on September 8, 1900.”
The Promise has received many glowing critical reviews.  Among them are:
“…. the story is nuanced, psychologically sensitive, detailed and highly visual. … moves at a rhythmic pace that constantly tugs at readers.  The characters, setting and plot synchronize perfectly. …the drama flows naturally from the story’s style …. brims with themes and conflicts that balance and deepen the novel — man vs. nature, the individual vs. society, struggles with honesty, and colliding religious beliefs and moral standards. …This is fiction from a gifted author who knows the territory.” – David Hendricks, San Antonio Express-News
The depth of each character, particularly the two women that make up the focus of the story, is phenomenal.  The author brings the reader right into the fears and motivations of each woman, and it makes for what is easily the best first-person narrative I’ve been fortunate enough to read.  Not only are the characters detailed, but so is the setting.  Weisgarber makes Texas come alive in a way that few authors could.” - Christie Spurlock, San Francisco Book Review
Ann was born and raised in Kettering, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton.  She graduated from Wright State University in Dayton with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work and earned a Master of Arts in Sociology from the University of Houston.  She has been a social worker in psychiatric and nursing home facilities, and taught sociology at Wharton County Junior College in Texas.  She now splits her time between Sugar Land, Texas, and Galveston.  She and her husband, Rob, are fans of America’s national parks and visit at least one park a year.
Ann serves on the selection committee for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction.  She is currently working on her next novel that takes place in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, during the winter of 1888.
Tickets for the event are $15 in advance and $18 at the door, and may be purchased starting Wednesday, October 1, at the Second-Hand Prose bookstore on the second floor of the library or by contacting Marcy Lowe at 512-868-8974.  A dessert from the Red Poppy Café in the library will be served with the presentation.  The library is located at 402 W. 8th Street in Georgetown.
If members of your book club would like to attend as a group, we’ll be happy to reserve space for you if you will let us know how many tickets have been purchased.  One of your members should arrive by 1:45, soon after the doors open, to hold your table reservation, so that other attendees do not inadvertently sit there.  If you’d like to reserve seats for your club, please contact Marcy Lowe at the email address or phone shown below.

All proceeds will go toward meeting unfunded requirements of the library.  For FY 2012-13 the Friends of the Library donated over $40,000 to fund unbudgeted needs.

Contact:
Marcy Lowe

512-868-8974

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?