Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver

"A woman is at a loss to control her morbidly obese brother in the latest feat of unflinching social observation from Shriver...Pandora, the narrator of this smartly turned novel, is a happily settled 40-something living in a just-so Iowa home...Her brother, Edison, is a New York jazz pianist who's hit the skids, and when he calls hoping to visit for a while, she's happy to assist. But she's aghast to discover he's ballooned from a trim 163 to nearly 400 pounds...the book truly shines as a study of family relationships...Shriver reveals the complex push and pull between siblings and has some wise and troubling things to say about guilt, responsibility and how what can seem like tough love is actually overindulgence. The story's arc flirts with a cheeriness that's unusual for her, but a twist ending reassures us this is indeed a Shriver novel and that our certitude is just another human foible..."(Kirkus Reviews)
 Some of our discussion questions for this complex and multi-layered book include the following:

How does overeating differ from other addictions—to alcohol or to drugs? Is obesity the sign of a character failing? Why does it still seem OK to make jokes about fat people when we now frown on, say, making fun of people for being gay?

If Pandora made up the entire weight loss story, why would she end her tale with Edison gaining his weight back? Why didn’t she allow herself a happy ending? How did Edison die in Pandora’s real version of events 

Pandora complains about her success and says,"Wise high-flyers kept this battle with the baffling flatness of success discreetly to themselves. Picture how bitterly hordes of the frustrated, disappointed, and dispossessed would greet any complaint about being too satisfied and too wealthy. Be that as it may, it really isn't a very nice sensation to not want anything" (28). Can you sympathize with this? Whether in success or food, why do you think Pandora finds it so frustrating not to want anything?

Please feel free to add your insights, questions, theories, etc. to this blog! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Room, by Emma Donoghue

"Imagine living within the confines of a 12x12 room, the only natural light coming from a skylight, a television your only link to the outside world. That’s just what Irish-Canadian novelist Emma Donoghue does in Room, a book so original and daring it recently landed on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize. To five-year-old Jack, Room is his entire world, where he was born and where he lives with Ma, where he learns and plays. It is also where, at night, Jack crawls into Wardrobe to sleep, and to hide when Old Nick visits his mother (when the bed squeaks). For Jack, Room is the only home he’s ever known, but for Ma it’s a prison where she’s been held captive for seven years after being abducted at the age of 19. If this sounds like the stuff of tabloids, luridly sensational or gimmicky, in Donoghue’s talented hands it’s anything but.Told from Jack’s perspective, Room turns the usual victim/survivor story on its head, transforming it into something else entirely—a meditation on the nature of reality and a testament to the ferocity of a mother’s love." (Bookpage Review, 9/2010)

From author Emma Donoghue: "Room is a book about the smallest of worlds, and the biggest.... In my experience, the bond between mother and newborn is a tiny, cozy world that gradually relaxes its magic to let the rest of the world in...Our culture is constantly telling stories about psychos who capture women. I deliberately kept my kidnapper out of the spotlight. The more I read and thought about it, the more it seemed to me that there is no comfortably fixed moral distance between a kidnapper and the rest of us. (The existence of entire slave-owning societies reminded me that humans often find it both convenient and pleasurable to own others.) It was not Old Nick’s evil that fascinated me, but the resilience of Ma and Jack: the nitty-gritties of their survival, their trick of more or less thriving under apparently unbearable conditions."

Tales and Talk book discussion group members found Donoghue's novel excellent fare for discussion. The following is a list of the questions we bandied about. Feel free to post more, elaborate with answers, and generally chime in on this fascinating book!

1. Why do you think she chose to tell this story from Jack’s point of view? (I.e. from the point of view of a 5 year old?)
2. Why do you think she never tells us anything about Old Nick? (E.g. his real name, his background, etc.)
3. Were you bothered that Ma had not weaned Jack? Why do you think she was still breastfeeding him at such a late age?
4. How would you have taught Jack the difference between “real” and “Outside” and “Room?”
5. What did you think about her father’s reaction to Jack?
6. What purpose does her being adopted serve in the story?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Twilight by Sara Meyer

The May discussion groups found much fodder in Meyer's runaway Young Adult hit featuring vampire heart-throb Edward Cullen and his awkward object of desire Bella Swan. From dissecting the author's claim of inspiration by Pride and Prejudice to examining dismissive backlash against "Twi-hards" and their defense by feminists, discussion was lively and much remained to be said. We touched on such subjects as the increase in popularity of gothic fiction such as Wuthering Heights among young readers, and the possible impact of social networking on their desire for escapist fiction. We'd like to invite group members and other interested readers to weigh in with their thoughts here on the library blog. Also, Twilight is now available as one of our "Traveling Tales" selections.

In our discussion group, we approached Twilight on two levels: as a book and as a cultural phenomenon. Readers, what say you?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Starring Books Festival

On April 18th the Johnson City Public Library is hosting Starring Books. The festival culminates with a book discussion by best-selling local author Lisa Alther at 2:00 p.m. in the Jones Meeting Room. Ms. Alther will talk about her latest book, KINFOLKS falling off the family tree, available for purchase at the library. Booklist Magazine starred review says of KINFOLKS: “Drolly hilarious and incisive, Alther attempts to decode family secrets, gets to know self-declared Melungeons, and considers her unexpected ties to Pocahontas, ultimately presenting a provocative take on the South’s obsession with skin color.”

Following the events at the library, the Friends of the Library will host a special “Dinner with the Author” at the Carnegie Hotel at 6:00 p.m. Tickets for the event are $30 each and are available for purchase at the library.

I'm finding Kinfolks to be lots of fun to read!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Jacob Jankowski is a student at Cornell University with a promising future in veterinary medicine. That all changes when his parents are killed in a car accident. Grieving and unable to pay his college tuition, Jacob leaves school and joins the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus. Jacob's job is to care for the animals in the circus menagerie, a task made more difficult by the abuses heaped upon the creatures by the circus's boss, August. Jacob forms a close relationship with an elephant, Rosie, whom he strives to protect from August. He also falls in love with August's lovely, abused wife Marlena. This atmospheric tale is based on actual circus stories and is documented with historical circus photographs. Have you read this book? Post a comment. You can also come to a discussion of the book as a member of Johnson City Library's Tales & Talk book group. For more information about Tales & Talk call the library at 434-4454 or come by the Reference Desk on the 2nd floor.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Discussion

ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail by Charles E. Cobb Jr. Howard Zinn's recommendation: "Cobb was in the heart of the Southern movement and one of its keenest observers...His book is rich with history, drama, and emotion." Read about the marches, struggles and triumphs. The library will host a book discussion on Chapter 9. This discussion will be on Tuesday July 8 at 6:30 and will feature small group discussions and two speakers who will bring the Civil Rights movement full circle to Johnson City. Charles Cobb Jr. will visit Johnson City this winter. Come to the discussion and post a comment or even if you miss the discussion feel free to participate.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Discussion

Revenge by Laura Blumenfeld
As a college student, Blumenfeld vowed to avenge the shooting of her father, a rabbi. Years later, as a Washington Post reporter covering many of the world's hot spots, she develops an obsessive curiosity about revenge. She uses the occasion of a one-year stay in Israel to find the Palestinian who tried to kill her father and to exact some kind of revenge. She saw Israel as an ideal place to study this most primitive of emotions, a land that "possessed an archaeology of revenge that layered all the way down to the beginning of time."

What does "revenge" mean to you?