Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday Morning Book Club: "Rise and Shine" by Anna Quindlen

Today was my book club meeting where we discussed "Rise and Shine" by Anna Quindlen.  I had a hell of a time getting my hands on this book due to some bizarre glitch in the system where books that had already been sold were still listed for sale.  Dang it!  So, I ordered another and the same thing happened.  For my third attempt, I ordered the book at regular price through Barnes and Noble.  Had it not been such a busy week, I would have notice how far this would put me behind and just picked up the book from the library as is the original intention of our book club, but that would be far too logical.  We have two weeks to read each book and, by the time I received this one, there were just over two days left. 

So, Monday morning I set out to voraciously read and was surprised at the ease of this book.  By the end of day one, I was a little more than a third of the way through the 269 page book.  I probably would have made it through sooner if I didn't have to compensate for my poor vocabulary skills by constantly looking up words.  Sure, I can gain a gist through context, but I like to take the effort to gain clarification.  I did a lot of that with this particular book. 

By the time I met with my book club to discuss, I had gotten up to page 171 - almost one hundred pages yet to go.  And I might have finished thousepages were it not my turn in the book club to present suggestions for an upcoming read.  Although I had been researching choices by asking friends and looking up reviews, I had not officially compiled the list until yesterday.  The good thing is that while they asked me to present about three choices, I came with seven.  It is very important to me to not disappoint.  My first choice had already been read by the group and boy were they excited when I mentioned it "Ohhhhhhhhh!  Yes!  We've read that one already."  The response was enough to confirm that I should read it on my own.  I described my second choice and asked them if they like it or should I go on offering choices.  They were pleased and let me stop.  Funny thing was that while we were waiting for the book club to begin, there was chat about how a good mystery would be welcome and someone made the comment, "Do we ever consider writers who aren't American?"  Turns out, the book I suggested was both a mystery and written by a European man. 

My first choice book that they had already read -- "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shafer and Annie Barros (2008)

My second choice book that they are anxious to read -- "Amagansett" (sometimes referred to as "The Whaleboat House") by Mark Mills (2004)

One of the ladies at the club is from Long Island and knows how to properly pronounce this name.  She said it has roots in Native American Indian heritage.  It will be nice to tap into her personal insight as she said she spent some time in Amagansett as a child.

This leaves five other choices left on my list that I can save until it is my turn again.  At this moment, I would like to thank Nicole [St. Pierre] Morris and Jane St. Pierre for these two suggestions.  Thank you!

Now, back to "Rise and Shine."  As I said above, this book is a quick read.  Its fairly uncomplicated and offers no real message.  It is simply a nice story about two sisters who live diametrically opposed lifestyles yet seem to maintain an inexplicable bond or need between them.  They rely upon one another.  The protagonist is a social worker and her sister is a morning show host for a national network.  When the hosts life starts to unfurl after a dasterdly on-air emotional breakdown, the sister is left to pick up the pieces. 

The ladies in my book club tell me that they were disappointed with the happy ending this book provides all nicely tied up with a pretty bow.  I will have to find out for myself when I conquer those last hundred pages.  If you've read it, I'd love to know your opinion on this.

I think in contrast to Margaret Atwoods "Surfacing", this book ("Rise and Shine") was a welcome no-brainer that we didn't have to fret much over.  So the general consensus was that the girls in the club liked it, minus the ending.  Huh.  I think they didn't like the end of "Surfacing" either.  I'm sensing a pattern.  Ha!

Today we also had a new member join in much the same way that I did a month ago.  And, apparently my friend from Long Island had joined just before me.  So I inquired as to why business was suddenly booming within the group and the ladies said that the head librarian had been promoting the group.  I hope that this is good.  We sure wouldn't want the group to get too big to be fun anymore.  We shall see.

I'm happy to say that I not only survived another meeting but actually did well and quite enjoyed the experience. 

If you'd like to join in on the discussion, up next for reading are:
1st) "The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton (1905); and,
2nd) "Amagansett" by Mark Mills (2004).

I love that my group chooses books that are written 100 years apart.  Thank goodness they are not stuck in any particular timeframe or genre.  Love love LOVE them!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday Morning Book Club: "Surfacing" by Margaret Atwood

At home with my first book club book, amidst my piles of writing research. 
Why clean when you can read instead?

So how much do I love my new book group?!  Oh holy cow.  I never realized exactly how much happiness discussing a good book brings to me. 

Two weeks  ago, I dropped into my local library to inquire about volunteering.  While waiting for my volunteer application, I  stood around reading all the little flyers and information signs and saw that they had a summer book group for teens.  So, I asked, "Do you have a book group for adults?"

"Why yes.  In fact, they are getting ready to meet right now.  Would you like to meet them?" the Librarian replied.

Tapping into my inner sister, Nicole, I snapped out a reply, "Yes, please!" and was quickly escorted into a small sideroom.  She introduced me to the group who welcomed me and invited me to have a seat.  The Librarian excused herself and there I sat.  I was completely unprepared and had a burrito waiting for me in the car. 

Yet, there I sat with eight little white haired ladies - ladies with names like Eunice and Ginger.  One of them is 87 years old.  They were discussing a book.  They said it was the prequel to Jane Austen's "Emma" and they didn't much care for it.  The ladies discussed the book in earnest, respectfully debating one anothers perspective.  They kept it brief, speaking on the book for a mere 60 minutes, and then they smiled their good-byes and went about their day until the next meeting in two weeks time.

I fell in love.  I've always respected the wisdom and experience of elder persons.  I mean, I know how I feel at forty-two and how the world weighs on me, so I clearly respect that they are still here and still smiling.  Life is hard so that smile is valuable to me.  So in recognition of all that this group had to offer, I signed up and ordered my first book for the next session, "Surfacing" by Margaret Atwood.

Diligently, I read myself into sickness.  I have a difficult time making reading my priority, so this was a challenge for me.  Then, when I finally would commit to reading, my eyes would give out.  I'm past due for a new glasses perscription, so I literally did get sick - headache, nausea, light sensitivity.  Fun stuff.  But, I enjoyed the read.

When we discussed the book in todays meeting, there were mixed reactions.  Most of the ladies said that they liked the first third or two-thirds of the book.  It has three parts.  The first is fairly status quo, the second gets a little tricky and the third section takes you into the deep end.  And, if you are not accostomed to reading literature with an analytical eye, the ending to this book can clearly pull you under and drown you.  I think a lot of the ladies just got out of the pool.  Ha!

But I was nervous.  I didn't want to be the freshly graduated smarty pants, yet I wanted to be seen as a valuable contributor to the group.  So, my hope was that a few of the ladies would speak about the book before they turned to me.  However, Ginger introduced the book, gave an extremely slight reaction to it, announced she would like to know what everyone else thought and immediately turned to me, "Dione, what did you think?"


First up with little premise to go on, I went blank.  So, I nervously chatted about how I buy the book versus checking it out from the library (likely the whole purpose of our group is to keep the library in business by checking out books every two weeks).  I show them the highlights in my paperback while nervously looking at all faces for reactions and frantically trying to remember what it was I wanted to say about the book.  And, not helpful in the least, was the facial expression of one of the ladies who looked mortified that I would ink up a book like that.  I quickly recollected the author and that I had read only one of her books before, "The Handmaid's Tale" for a moral philosophy class I took in my undergrad at USC (I actually passed this book to my sister, Nicole, a few years back).  At this point, I told myself that I better produce something valuable to say and stop clambering or soon they would doubt letting me walk in the door.  So I blurted out something in reference to having never read anything relative to the hippie era before and how I welcomed that idea, and that I agreed with them about the first two sections but found the third section to be quite supernatural and wasn't yet certain how I felt about it.  This was all they needed from me and Ginger asked the next lady to speak on it.

I sat back, exhaled and then kicked myself.  But when I saw that they were open to comments on their responses, I felt at ease that I hadn't lost all chances of contribution and am certainly confident enough to re-enter the discussion should the opportuinity arise.

The discussion continued around the table and interjections were welcome.  I felt compelled to explicate on a few areas of ambiguity and quickly earned the respect of my fellow literary ladies.  In fact, at a certain point when we seemed to be done discussing, one of them introduced a slight idea of metaphor and I womped them with a big one, stating clearly that this was purely my opinion and forgive me if I'm reaching but, "It seems to me that the lake in this book is a metaphor for the protagonist's womb and, given the era, a speak on feminism.  Consider that most of the characters in this book are male and that only the males enter the water.  And, that the water is dangerous.  Her father died there.  Her brother almost drowned there.  She had an incident there.  Numerous men appear in the lake, men who we don't know.  There is a fence surrounding the cabin to keep you safe from the water..."

Gulp, again.

A momentary pause and the group buzzed in discussion once again.  All but one thought this was a remarkable theory that offered new perspective.  Ginger announced, "Well, maybe we actually did like this story afterall!" as she laughed. 

The risk paid off and I was welcomed in with warmth and smiles.  They said I brought a new perspective to the group and they were glad I joined.  Yay!  Abound in getting-to-know-you conversation, Ginger walked me to my car.  Being a UCLA grad, she teased me for coming from USC, calling it a terrible terrible school, as she chuckled some more.  

I left feeling happy and renewed.  I've already ordered my next set of books for reading and am quite excited about this social journey that also feeds my literary geekdom.

If you'd like to join in on the discussion, up next for reading are:

I found both books on for 75 cents apiece.  After that, its up to me to bring a reading suggestion to the group.  Whatever it will be, I hope they like it.

Read on, Sisters.  Read on!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers Day, Mom!

Dione, Judy, Lee - Grayson Farm, 1971

Mom is a pillar.  What she has endured in her lifetime boggles my mind.  And yet, she has been nothing but pure love to me for my entire my life.  She is kind, gentle, pleasant, loving.  She tried her best when we were little to bake us yummies and fry us pork chops and sew us costumes of gypsies and super heros.  She took us to 4-H and Lutheran Sunday School for a bit, doing everything she could think of to encourage us.  She helped me with my homework and taught me tricks in 4th grade math that I still use today.  She shared the gift of music with me by singing her heart out shamelessly during Saturday morning housecleaning and trips to town for groceries.  But most of all, she smiled.  She smiled and she hugged.  And she still does.  Through her own discomforts in life, she has smiled and laughed and hugged away every single little boo-boo I've ever encountered.  My mother is real and down-to-earth and never self-serving.  And I try my best to model my own behavior after hers when parenting my beautiful daughter, Patience.

Thank you, Mom.  I love you!

Mothers Day, May 1978