Monday, July 2, 2018

What did the book club think of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, plus a book club bonus on Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

What did the book club think of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, plus a book club bonus on Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

1. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

The In-Store Lit group met to discuss Lisa See's latest novel on June 4. The group was half divided between readers who'd never before read See and folks who'd finished some of her other books like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I can't say anyone read each book as it came out.  See's novel is focused on the Akhar people of China, one of the country's ethnic minorities. Li-Yan, a child when the story opens, is our window to their customs, and a particularly disturbing ceremony, at least to us non-Akhar readers, foreshadows Li-Yan's own fate later in the book. My group really loved all the details about the Akhar people - some found more information online and watched informational videos.

The story also provides a lot of background information on tea harvesting, and, without giving too much away, Chinese adoption. I think the story works best when it shows the dramatic change in a few short years that has swept Chinese, as old customs gave way to a culture based on economic growth. I should note that in See's novel, the male romantic leads are perfect in every way. Romance is the untouchable genre to both publishers and critics, but my feeling is that sometimes its best to embrace inner romantic, and to me, The Tea Girl had a very romantic vision. And yes, you should serve Pu-erh tea when you discuss the book.

Romance or not, please note that The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane was particularly highly rated by our male attendees.  Sometimes its important to confound expectations.

I've read these other books that pair well with The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane:
--The Leavers, by Lisa Ko (another tale of Chinese adoption and separation)
--The Emperor of Shoes, by Spencer Wise (a novel about an American shoe factory in China. Like See's novel, Wise really gives you a lot of background about how shoe manufacturing wound up in China)
--Sour Heart, by Jenny Zhang. We're reading this next for the In-Store Lit Group. More later.

2. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

This novel was published in hardcover by Pam Dorman with a pedigree. It won the Costa Award for Best First Novel. If you don't know, it's a multi-category prize where each category competes against the other nominees for the grand prize. It strikes me that it's hard for best first novel to win, because if it was that good, wouldn't it be nominated for best novel? But I digress.

Eleanor Oliphant is a quiet office worker in Glasgow (the book is very place-y, which I know a lot of people like), employed at a design firm. Her appearance and looks are schlumpy and her office mates don't treat her very well. It's hard exactly to know whether she is on the spectrum or just has OCD.

Well, it turns out, without giving too much away, that she might have PTSD. And it's the attempt of the new IT worker, Raymond, who tries to befriend her, that opens Eleanor to opportunities, particularly when their lunch is interrupted by the felling of an elder gentleman on the street. While Eleanor would like to look the other way, Raymond convinces her to help get Sammy help.

We cohosted Honeyman at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, and we knew there was a lot of buzz on this book in hardcover. It was a Reese Witherspoon book club selection, and Ms. Witherspoon had also bought the book for film rights too, so the book has that gonna-be-a-movie buzz. I guess there's vibe for the book that's somewhere between A Man Called Ove (the misunderstood narrator), The Elegance of the Hedgehog (what I call the friendship triangle narrative) and Bridget Jones's Diary, or more recently, The Rosie Project. Romantic comedy with a quirky narrator.

The left-field comparison that I would compare the book to that we liked, but hasn't taken off like the others, is Ginny Moon, by Ben Ludwig. The two books share a number of things in common - a character navigating the foster care system. A heroine struggling to overcome the guilt of a missing sibling. The same character unable to detach from bad-influence mother. Read 'em together and you'll see!

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine debuted at #1 on The New York Times paperback bestseller list and is going to be on a lot of book club lists for a long time. The book is featured on our current book club recommendation flyer and display table.

Upcoming book club discussions (Visit our Boswell-Run Book Clubs page for links):

In-Store Lit Group - First Monday of the month (with exceptions), at Boswell:
--Monday, July 2, 7 pm: Sour Heart, by Jenny Zhang (tonight)
--Monday, August 6, 7 pm: Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
--Monday, August 27, 7 pm: Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (this is in lieu of a meeting on Labor Day)
--Tuesday, October 2, 7 pm: The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry (moved to avoid an October 1 event I have to attend/run). We gave readers an extra week for this one, because it's a little longer.

SF Book Club - Second Monday of the month, at Boswell:
--Monday, July 9, 7 pm: Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer
--Monday, August 13, 7 pm: Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar
--Monday, September 10, 7 pm: The Space Between the Stars, by Anne Korlett
--Monday, October 8, 7 pm: An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Books and Beer Book Club - Third Monday of the Month, at Downer Avenue Cafe Hollander
--Monday, July 16, 7 pm: Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cartero
--Monday, August, 20, 7 pm: Mister Monkey, by Francine Prose
--Monday, September 17, 7 pm: Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn
--Monday, October 15, 7 pm: The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak

Mystery Book Club - Fourth Monday of the month, at Boswell
--Monday, July 23, 7 pm: Open Grave, by Kjell Eriksson0
--Monday, August 27 pm: Death on Nantucket, by Francine Mathews
--Monday, September 24 pm: Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke
--Monday, October 22, 7 pm: The Dry, by Jane Harper

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