Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Did Our Book Discussion of "Room" Go? Spoiler Alert. And Note a Change for Our September Meeting (Which Was Formerly August 29 but is Now Back to Labor Day at 11 AM).

One of the problems of hosting a book club on the first Monday of the month is that you are always going to have a problem with Labor Day, when we are normally not open in the evening.  This year we had the double distinction of having the 4th of July also fall on a Monday.  We decided to hold that talk on the 4th, at 11 am, and what do you know, we had quite a good turnout, including several new attendees.  It's all in the timing--post parade (at least East Side and Bay View) and pre-picnic and fireworks.

I did have one frantic call from my neighbor, wondering where I was for the Bay View parade.  Sadly, I told her I had to miss it this year.  I'm hoping to hear the highlights when we next talk.  Let's talk about Room, and then I'll tell you how our schedule looks for the next few months, including what we're doing with our September selection.

Room is the story of a woman (Ma) and her son (Jack) locked up by a captor in a space that's 11x11.  Jack is five years old, and has no perception of what the world is outside. They have a television, but he thinks it's make believe.  They've created a world out of meagre previsions in close quarters, and that's precisely what Donoghue has done as well, by telling the story through the eyes of Jack.

Emma Donoghue's breakout novel seemed like it might be a tough discussion, as it's so hard a bad review of Room, at least in well-indexed newspapers.  It won the Irish Book Award, the Indie Choice Book Award for Adult Fiction (that's the one that booksellers vote on) and was shortlisted for the Man Booker.  I did find some bloggers who didn't like the book, but unless I'm well acquainted with the blog, it's sort of like asking a stranger at a bus stop whether they liked a book.

Now other blogs are like asking someone at the bus stop what they think, and they are someone who always seems to be reading interesting books, and you've talked to them before, and they seem to have provocative takes on things, and on top of everything else, you really like their shoes.  That's what I aim for in my blog. Only I don't have good shoes.

Should I say spoiler again?:  Don't read this if you are planning to read Room.  On the other hand, if you think you weren't going to read Room, this might convince you to read it.

We turned to have a much more vibrant discussion than I expected, with about half the group in love with the book and the other half filled with concerns and quibbles (which is a concern where even the person doing the questioning knows it isn't a big issue). Who am I kidding? We all love to quibble.

So much of the book's appeal is in the viewpoint of Jack during the captivity.  The publisher did a very good job of convincing reviewers to not focus on anything past Jack and Ma's attempt to escape.  Despite all the reviews I had read of the book, the book's structure took me by surprise. (Spoilers here, but not major ones--I'll be careful).  Based on the marketing of the book, I thought the story would be scarier, and to me, even the jacket has a literary thriller look to it.  I did read, and totally concur, that the genius of the book is that Jack's voice softens the edges of what could have been a horrific tale.

It is definitely enlightening to read Emma Donoghue's various interviews about Room.  She takes about how writing historical fiction prepared her for creating this limited world, and how important to her that there would be all kinds of different ways to be a family in the book.  She discussed many of refrences that are in the book, from the Bible to James Joyce.  I'd love to see someone annotate that.  You know me--I'd love to see someone annotate anything.

N. wondered what the story would have been like if it had been told in multiple voices, like so many other books we seem to read. There was even some thoughts as to how Old Nick would have told the story.  Well, that's the spin-off novel she would write.  Then I noted that because of the changes in copyright law, we'll probably never read a book with Room told throught he eyes of Old Nick, much as we treasure these new takes on Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare and other writers in public domain. Sigh.

I think we all agreed that the first part of the book is pretty much flawless.  It's later on that we started to reimagine scenes and wonder how the family maneuvered social services so easily, why there were so many Britishisms (or Canadian-isms) for a family that was American, and whether the book was actually an indictment of fatherhood as it celebrated motherhood.  That's not a flaw at all; J. just noted this.

I thought the second part of Room was a vital continuation of the first part.  Without that, it's all gimmick.

And once again, G. revealed that books that seem like perfection the first time around can have unforeseen impediments on the second try.  One day, my experiences in the book group will lead me to write an essay called "Against Rereading." It's true, it often leads to trouble.

So after nine months of hand-selling the book, do I feel bad for any of the 175 or so copies we sold of the book (about 125 or so in hardcover, which is very good for us without an event)? Fortunately, I can say I stand by every copy (and to note, I never, ever lie and say I've read a book I've haven't, and I even try to make it clear so there isn't an implication that I read something).

Our next meeting is Monday, August 1st, at our usual time of 7 pm, where we are discussing Jennifer Egan's, A Visit from the Goon Squad.

The September meeting, formerly scheduled for August 29, is now set for Monday, September 6 (Labor Day), at the special time of 11 am.  Hey, it worked once.  We're discussing Luis Alberto Urrea's Into the Beautiful North.

I'm pretty sure that October's book (October 3, 7 pm) is going to be Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor.  But I'm not positive.

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