True Grit: The Re-Read

True Grit by Charles Portis 
3 words: plain-spoken, dramatic, unsentimental
The month of re-reading continues…
It’s rare that I allow myself the luxury of re-reading a book, but sometimes I’m fortunate and my assigned reading causes me to re-read something I loved.
Enter: True Grit.
And, as always, the second reading was a different, more complex experience than the first.
(I love how this happens.)
The first time I read this book, I marveled at Mattie’s clear, strong narrative voice and her toughness.
The second time, I knew to expect those things, so instead, I really felt the feels.
And man, this book is filled with them. 
It was only on the second time through, that this book made me get teary-eyed.
(Did not expect that)
It reminded me of that time I re-read The Sisters Brothers and felt it the second time. 
This re-reading can be hard on a person. 

So guys… Ever been surprised by a book you re-read?

It’s book club month!

I love it that October is National Reading Group Month.  
It’s the month when I start to feel like settling in for some cozy evenings at home with a book. 
And sometimes, a book and some friends and some beverages and some snacks.
My current book club’s been on the go since 2007, and we continue to surprise each other with the books we select. And sometimes, we don’t surprise ourselves at all. (We each have types of books that are deal-breakers.)
Whatever our quirks, I find our full list to be a weird and wonderful thing. 
In other book club-y news, earlier this year, I rolled out the Discussability Score, which prompts me to really analyze how well a book performed under the pressure of a 5 to 45 minute discussion. (The ones that don’t do so very well? They’re the 5-minute discussion wonders.) 
And soon I’ll do another book club update, but for now, suffice it to say: we’ve recently read a children’s classic, followed by a contemporary popular work of sociology, and there’s a fantasy novel on the horizon. (It’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Had to tell you that, because I’m about to ask…)
All you good people of book clubs… What’re you reading this month?

Book club update: Summer is for kids

Shhhhh…. Quiet….

It’s book club update time again!

Last time, I introduced the Discussability Score* and yep, we’re rolling with it.

So here’s what our book club has read since then…
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Discussability Score: 5
Because: Either you are an introvert, or you know lots of them. And this book makes it cool to be introverted, and it validates many of the tendencies we true introverts possess. This one’s gonna live on in future discussions.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Discussability Score: 4
Because: While we’d all read it before, we each re-read Jane Eyre with new eyes. It’s a nuanced novel, and there was plenty to discuss, particularly about character development and plot believability.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Discussability Score: 3
Because: We discussed the charm of this story and admired its many fine attributes. One book club member wished there were zombies in the story, to add some pizzazz. (That person was not me.)

Next up:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
(We’re doing that summertime children’s book thing again this year. I like it.)
*In case you’re just yearning for a refresh, here goes…

Two factors feed into the Discussability Score:

  1. How engaging was our book club’s discussion? Did we discuss the book in depth and/or at length?
  2. How discussable do I think this book would be for other book clubs?

The Discussability Score is on a 5-point scale:

1 = Nobody has a word to say.

2 = You talk about the book for 5 minutes before someone mentions upcoming vacation plans and you never allude to the book ever again in your natural life.

3 = The book generates some discussion, but none of it is very zippy or interesting. But you’ve done your duty and now you can drink some wine and feel virtuously intellectual because you talked about a book.

4 = You all have interesting things to say about the book, and you’re all excited to be talking about it. The discussion goes on for quite a while, and it’s lively.

5 = Your group keeps talking and talking. Eventually, you talk about your vacation plans, but you keep leaping back to the book. And this thing has an afterlife… you’ll bring it up again and again at future book club meetings.

A new favorite children’s book

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
3 words: charming, old-fashioned, feel-good
UNIVERSE!!!!! Why didn’t you give me this book when I was a child?
I seriously would’ve loved it.
I mean, I’m seriously loving it as an adult, though: some of the magic that would’ve been there as a kid… let’s face it: it diminishes with age.
Still, this is one of those lovely books about childhood, that does all the usual things. Only it does it better than most books.

The language alone got me. Like this: 

“He had a cowboy hat on the back of his head, and four pistols stuck into his belt, and a plastic ray gun in his hand. ‘I heard there’s a guy here who likes to play Space,’ he announced.
Foster rose from his chair. ‘I’m who he is,’ he told the boy.”  (p. 20)

See? Charming.

Here’s what goes on, plot-wise:
First, the parents are dispelled with, because parents are a buzzkill in children’s books. So Portia, who’s spending the summer with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin Julian are allowed to wander off for All Day Long, with very little explanation of their whereabouts.
(Granted, the book was published in the 1950s, and It Was a Different Time Back Then. But still.)
And there’s the typical boy-and-girl close childhood friendship that often happens in books, but not so often in real life. (Am I wrong about that?) Though here it’s a friendship between cousins, so I found it more plausible.
And Portia and Julian, while roving in the woods, encounter a tumbledown series of houses that have been almost abandoned. Except that an older lady and her brother inhabit two of the houses.
At first, I wasn’t sure if they were real people or ghosts. (I’m not gonna tell, either.)
Anyway, they’re delightful, and they invite the children to take over one of the other houses as a clubhouse.
And dang, that was totally my childhood dream! They have a secret hideaway, people! And they decorate it!
Oh, it’s a lovely book.
And I’m still mystified over how it eluded me for so many years.
Here’s how it finally presented itself to me:
First, I was listening to the What Should I Read Next? podcast, episode 21, in which Anne suggests books to her 8-year-old daughter. And Gone-Away Lake was one of the books. (I put it on my TBR right that minute.)
Then I was looking for a children’s book for our book club, since often we read children’s books in the summer. And I looked at one of Gretchen Rubin’s posts about the children’s literature groups she belongs to. And guess what book was on her list of favorites?
And now it’s one of my favorites, too.
So, my fellow adults… What children’s book did you discover only in your dotage?

Book Club update… the Discussability Issue

Book club snacks!
With this book club update, I’m introducing a new element: the Discussability Score. 

(I know: thrilling!)

Two factors feed into the Discussability Score:
  1. How engaging was our book club’s discussion? Did we discuss the book in depth and/or at length? 
  2. How discussable do I think this book would be for other book clubs?
The Discussability Score is on a 5-point scale:
1 = Nobody has a word to say.
2 = You talk about the book for 5 minutes before someone mentions upcoming vacation plans and you never allude to the book ever again in your natural life.
3 = The book generates some discussion, but none of it is very zippy or interesting. But you’ve done your duty and now you can drink some wine and feel virtuously intellectual because you talked about a book.
4 = You all have interesting things to say about the book, and you’re all excited to be talking about it. The discussion goes on for quite a while, and it’s lively.
5 = Your group keeps talking and talking. Eventually, you talk about your vacation plans, but you keep leaping back to the book. And this thing has an afterlife… you’ll bring it up again and again at future book club meetings.

So let’s score these puppies!

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Discussability Score: 4
Because: We talked about the things that surprised us in this book, and also about the things we would’ve done differently if we were writing the book

Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
Discussability Score: 5
Because: We kept talking about the characters’ motivations and their social circumstances, and the fact that the book has surprising depths that creep up on a person

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Discussability Score: 5
Because: We talked and talked and talked about this book — the motivation of the characters, whether we could identify with the main character, how it reflected the era when it was written, and how it fit into the suspense genre 
Next up: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Book club: end of year something-or-other (lots of good years!)

The pu pu platter of book clubs!

Our book
club’s been all over the place this past half-year, and everything we’ve read
has been pretty darn terrific.
Here’s
the line-up:
Hondo by Louis L’Amour
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson 
We’ve
done it all, folks: Western, science fiction, romantic comedy, self-help
nonfiction, horror, adventure, classics. 
Eclectic as all heck.
Next up…
Who knows?? 
(Actually, it’s my turn to pick, so I might kind of know… but I ain’t sayin’.)

A book you can sink your teeth into

Dracula by Bram Stoker
3 words:
complex, creepy, original
The
classics and I have a complicated relationship. I tend to resist reading them,
out of a concern that the books will be stodgy and dated and difficult. Yet so
often—as with my book club’s reading of Dracula—I
find that the reason a book has become a classic is that it resists those
dreaded concerns. 
So yeah,
I just keep learning.
Reading Dracula was actually rather a delight.
My favorite surprise was that the story is told via journals and letters, and it’s
narrated from multiple viewpoints. This made it seem strangely modern—that the
novel has such a complex structure. I had Wilkie Collins flashbacks, and that’s
always a good thing.
And I
was delighted with the gradual, creepy build-up of suspense in this story. Well
done, Mr. Stoker!
My
happiness with the book grew further when I read Lark’s review and discovered
that it’s one of her favorites and she had highlighted similar aspects of the
book.
Finally,
I found it fascinating to read Dracula after
having read Frankenstein several
years ago. Both novels share the theme of coming to terms with death, which is
infinitely preferable to the unnatural state of un-death evoked in the stories.
A great
read for late fall.

My mom always told me castles were drafty…

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
3 words:
romantic, youthful, creative
This
book had me from the first line: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
Seriously:
how can you resist that?
My first
reading of this lovely book was in 2000, at a time when I yearned for some
serious comfort reading and found it in these pages.
Reading
it this time—for book club—I no longer was seeking comfort, but it found me
anyway.
This
book is one of those gloriously comfortable old-fashioned novels that
transports you into a story and a place far away.
Narrated
by 17-year-old Cassandra, the younger sister of a quirky family that lives in
a decrepit castle in England, this is a story of family, creativity, coming of
age, and finding love.
There
are shades of Pride and Prejudice here:
a financially strapped family residing in a grand house, daughters of
marriageable age seeking husbands (or not), and a cast of exuberantly vivid characters
flailing their way through life.
So I
mentioned that this book feels old-fashioned, and I mean that in the best way.
Smith releases the story into various small tangents that reveal some of the
messiness of people’s actual lives, and that made me really happy.
But since
the book was published in 1949, the grittiness that would be included in a
novel written today is buffed away. Things are hinted at, not made explicit. 
And there’s
a more stately rhythm to the language.
So what
we have here is a novel that beautifully combines the neat and the messy. 
Relationships
are textured and complex, but none are beyond repair. Some
storylines are wrapped up neatly at the end, and others are open-ended. 
Smith
leaves room for the reader to express her or his creativity as the book ends. What’s
next for Cassandra?
I’m
pretty sure it’s something good.

Book Club: season whatever-this-is

Previously on Book Club, we saw our faithful readers devouring works of science fiction, memoirs, and classics.
In recent days, the randomness has continued, with the only trends being:
– Books
that satisfied various Book Bingo requirements (two of us are Bingo-ing fanatics)
– This
Western genre thing we’ve been doing recently
Here’s our list since the last update:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak  
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt   
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury   
Shopgirl
by Steve Martin
White
Tiger
by Aravind Adiga
Songbook
by Nick Hornby
Riders
of the Purple Sage
by Zane Grey
Shane by
Jack Schaeffer

Some of them I loved, loved, loved. (The Book Thief, The Sisters Brothers, and Shane… I’m looking at you.)

Some of them I liked quite well. (Songbook and Fahrenheit 451)

Some of them… I made it through. (Shopgirl [I wanted to like it, really, I did] and White Tiger [the narrator just wouldn’t shut up!] and Riders of the Purple Sage [which I liked better when I read it back in library school])

On our next episode… the group discusses Hondo by Louis
L’Amour. 

The suspense builds… How will L’Amour’s writing stand up against Grey’s prose? How will his plot compare with the perfect tension of Shane?

Tune in next time…

Too hot to handle

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
3 words:
dread, dystopian, thought-provoking
Anyone
else avoid some books like the plague, and then one day you’re ready for them?
Me, too.
It’s
embarrassing to admit, but I’d never read Fahrenheit
451
until last month.
And
about halfway through, I felt so uncomfortable and ill at ease, I knew why I’d
waited.
I don’t
do well with dystopia situations, guys.        
So
probably everyone knows the set-up here: books are forbidden, and firemen set
fire to any books they find.
I know!!
It’s horrific.
So even
though I knew what to expect, the thing that surprised me was the intensity of the
feeling of dread. It was overwhelming. That thing happened, where I just thank
my lucky stars that I wasn’t born into a totalitarian society.
And the
other thing that surprised me was Bradbury’s anticipation of the tyranny of the
screen. In this book, interactive television is more emotionally significant to
many of the characters than the actual human beings in their lives. And that
was a little bit creepy, too—that he could foresee that so many people would be
overinvolved with the digital representations of reality that their actual
lives would waste away.
And
toward the end of the book, when Montag frees himself from the dictates of
society, there is an immense feeling of relief and rebirth, even though his
life has just become more complex and difficult. He’s become a human being
again. And I felt jubilant.
I’ve
always known this book was a contemporary classic, but now I know why.