We recently discussed Out, by Natsuo Kirino, in the Wednesday morning book group. This was kind of a departure for the group, a dark thriller taking place in the underworld of Japan. Our discussion group was smaller than usual, and we suspected that the violent nature of the book led some members to avoid reading or finishing it. While those who did read it were glad they did, it wouldn’t be accurate to say they liked it. It certainly gave us lots to think about though.
The novel takes place in present day Japan, and is centered on four women brought together by their dismal nightshift jobs in a food-packing factory. They share a prickly friendship, based on proximity, rather than a real sense of camaraderie. All have or had unhappy marriages, and lead miserable lives outside of the factory. Then one of the women commits murder and the others come together to cover up the crime. However, this cooperation is shaky, with the women doubting each other and their motives as they get deeper into the situation, and it gets harder to keep the secrets.
We were surprised to read about the level of subjugation of women in Japanese society, even today. A woman’s appearance decides what jobs she is able to get, and her position is always below those of the men. And they were expected to keep house and raise the children as well, while the men participated or not, as they pleased. We agreed that women still have some limitations in our own society, but nothing like what Japanese women face.
The group found it difficult to like the characters, though we mostly felt sorry for their individual situations. The main character, Masako, is smart and tough, but difficult to understand. We discussed her reasons for participating in the cover-up and concluded that she felt she had nothing else and she needed something extreme to give meaning to her life. All the women had had enough of their lives, and each found a way to escape those who were holding them down.
The main male character was extremely unlikable, although at first we thought he might be redeemed over the course of the novel. He was part of the patriarchy that controlled women’s lives, but he in turn was controlled by his own demons. There was only one male character who really respected women, but he was unable to get by successfully in Japanese society.
In the end, each of the four women finds a way out of her terrible situation, for better or worse. We readers were left with some understanding of how women can be driven to extraordinary actions. Out is a novel you won’t soon forget.
This summer, the Wednesday Morning Book Group discussed Accused, by our recent guest speaker, Lisa Scottoline. Almost everyone in the group enjoyed the book, calling it “fun” and “light”, even as it touched on some serious themes. We like main character Mary DiNunzio, and were glad to see justice served in the end.
It was easy to feel affection for feisty lawyer Mary DiNunzio, and get involved in her life. One reader mentioned that her Italian family was just like Mary’s, even as other readers wondered at the depth of family involvement. Mary is passionate about her cases, which makes her work hard, but we did worry a little that her emotions occasionally clouded her judgment. Her strong-willed tenacity at work did not carry over into her personal life and we felt she should have been able to stand up to her mother and mother-in-law, and behave more maturely in her relationship to fiancé Anthony.
We found the character of Allegra, the 13-year-old genius and instigator of the review of Lonnie Stall’s case, to be sympathetic. While one reader wondered why the firm would take a young teenager seriously, most felt it was right that Rosato & Associates took the case. Allegra was smart and determined, and she had the means to pay for their services, which we agreed was an important factor. We didn’t think Mary would have taken the case (at least not initially) without being sure of getting paid.
Allegra was a complicated character, and although we supported her in her cause, there were times in the story when we doubted her memory and ability to see the case clearly. She was very emotional, which allowed her to connect strongly to Mary (too strongly, in fact) and besides her legal case, she desperately needed the love and support of an adult, since her parents were distant. Mary fell into that role easily, and we were concerned that it might blind her to the facts of the case, especially when a few of us began to suspect that Allegra had committed the crime herself.
All agreed that Lonnie Stall was treated unfairly by the justice system. The police immediately focused on him (the circumstantial evidence certainly pointed that way) and never investigated any other possible suspects. The fact that he was a young black man, and one of the employees, didn’t help his case. Worst of all, he changed his plea to guilty before the end of his trial, so why would anyone doubt that the right man had been convicted? We found it hard to believe that Lonnie didn’t reveal his reasons for doing so, which could have led to reopening his case, especially when he knew Mary was looking into it.
As the story developed, there were a few things that seemed a bit far-fetched – a coincidence here, a perceptive leap of logic there – but they didn’t affect our overall enjoyment of the story. Some readers shared what they liked about other Rosato & Associates titles, and several members of the group were eager to read another one in the series, especially the new one, Damaged, since it again features Mary as the main character.
This month, a smaller than usual gathering of the Morning Book Group discussed Annie Barrow’s The Truth According to Us. Overwhelmingly, we liked it – the writing, the well-drawn characters, even the descriptions of the stifling heat of fictional Macedonia, WV. The story moved us along, although a couple of us thought it could have been a little shorter.
The book is populated by quite a cast of funny characters who form a tight, supportive family, albeit with a few dysfunctions. Jottie Romeyn is the mother figure to her siblings, and a maternal replacement for her two young nieces, Willa and Bird. She is the glue that holds the family together, to the point of not having a life of her own to speak of. Willa is one of the main voices in the book, telling the story from her 12-year-old viewpoint, and learning the truth about human nature along the way. Felix is the oldest brother, and father to Willa and Bird. He is the black sheep of the family, being both the family’s financial support and the source of the town’s disapproval. Rounding out the family are twins (and part-time wives) Minerva and Mae, and youngest sibling, the earnest history teacher Emmett. The Romeyns were once one of the leading families in town, their father being the beloved owner and operator of the town’s biggest employer, a hosiery factory. Then a terrible fire (and the attendant scandal) destroyed the mill and the fortunes of the family.
Inserted into the group is Layla Beck, the beautiful, banished daughter of a senator who is trying to teach her a lesson about loyalty to the family who supports her. She is now earning her keep as a writer in the WPA program, researching a town history of Macedonia, and disturbing the status quo among the family as she boards with them.
We were incensed by the character of Felix, a delinquent in childhood and a man of questionable morals as an adult. As a father, he is little more than a provider of ill-gotten income, often absent for days at a time, yet his daughters adore him. Willa, suspecting that her father is not as upstanding as she’s been led to believe, is anxious to learn the truth about him and the world of adults around her. Although we may not like the truth when it becomes clear, we agree that it is better, ultimately, to know it.
We talked about the nature of truth, agreeing that it is a moving target, and that even our own personal truth can change as we mature and experience the world. Some basic things about our natures always remain the same, but people can change, except Felix, who will always be no good. Layla changes, learning that one should know more about people before making judgements. And lastly, Jottie learns that she doesn’t have to subjugate her life to her overbearing brother, or to anyone. We believe that she will be more independent in the future, although some still have their doubts that much will change.
In July, we’ll choose our books for the next year, so bring a title to suggest and join us in the Fireplace Room, July 20th, 10am.
Our evening book group meets on the first Monday of every month – here is a roundup of what we recently discussed. Check it out and consider joining us next month when we read Euphoria by Lily King.
Thanks to everyone who was able to make the book discussion on January 4th, for Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara. Becky was unable to make the meeting, so I filled in as guest host, and it was a pleasure to be there.
In general, people liked the book ok, but several mentioned that they were interested in hearing more about Dez’s life in New York, but less about her art. Many didn’t care for the main character, Dez, or thought she was wishy-washy, and didn’t get angry enough when her father willed the theatre to Asa (or when her friend took the job she wanted.) We felt a little sorry for her, given that her only real choice at the time was to marry Asa to provide for her father. By not selling the Folio, and hiding it instead, her father manipulated her into the life he believed she should have, as a wife and mother. She, however, didn’t want children, since they would interfere with her painting. She was ahead of her time to want a life other than the one her small town society dictated for her.
When Jacob appeared, she was immediately attracted to him, and as they discussed art and more, she developed a fantasy of what life could be with someone who understood art and understood her. She seemed oblivious that his being Jewish would make a life together unlikely, even if Jews weren’t discriminated against to the degree they were at the time. For example, remember how quickly the town turned on Jacob after the two deaths. By exonerating Jacob, Dez opened Asa’s eyes to their illicit relationship and once again she was forced into a position with little choice for her – that of playing the dutiful, happy wife – appearance and reputation were more important to Asa than their marriage – in exchange for a chance to go to NY for a short time. She obviously didn’t see it as only a visit, as the first thing she did was rent an apartment, rather than a room at a hotel.
Once in NY though, things turned out pretty well for her. In fact, throughout the book, despite the choices she made and the ones made for her, things don’t ever get too bad for her (one book club member was just waiting for something bad to finally happen to Dez!) She finds work and someone to show her art and she becomes successful, despite it being set during the Depression. She wasn’t pregnant after all. Asa agreed to grant her a divorce, and several readers thought that it was only because Cascade was chosen to be flooded – he was able to start over without the scandal of the divorce over his head. She was a little too lucky for it to be realistic for some readers.
When she meets with Jacob again, years after his marriage, she finds out that he never really understood her, since he didn’t understand the message of her painting for him. But it doesn’t matter now since she was married to a wealthy art benefactor (but why does the author keep that fact hidden from the reader?) She was able to preserve her father’s theatre and even the loss of the folio wasn’t too hard to bear.
Several readers mentioned that they enjoyed the Shakespeare references in the story, but didn’t see Dez’s story as a tragedy. My sense of the book group’s take on Cascade is that it was a nice little book to read, but it doesn’t delve into the issues too deeply and doesn’t give rise to any strong opinions about it. It might have been more interesting if it focused more on her life in New York, and if she had been pregnant on her arrival there. The big mystery left was how Dez could carry Portia’s casket around for so long without opening it – that didn’t seem very realistic.
I don’t think many group members would go out of their way to recommend this title.
The documentary about the Quabbin Reservoir is called Under Quabbin .
Finally, Jason from the group sent along a link to an article about a Shakespeare First Folio that is going on tour for people to view. It won’t hit Massachusetts till May, but you might be able to see it in New Hampshire in April.
The science fiction world is in mourning this week with the death of Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008.) He wrote over 100 books, and not all were fiction (although there was plenty of that.) He also wrote nonfiction works on space and underwater exploration, and came up with the idea of communications satellites years before such a thing existed. (Such satellites move through space in “Clarke” orbits in acknowledgment of his contribution.)
He’s probably best known for his sci-fi series that began with 2001 : A Space Odyssey. The novel evolved alongside the movie of the same name directed by Stanley Kubrick, and Clarke went on to write three more related books (see below.) Other popular novels include Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama and The Hammer of God.
Clarke has been honored with nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize (1994), his name has been given to a diverse group of objects including: a dinosaur (Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei), an asteroid (4923 Clarke), a space orbiter (2001 Mars Odyssey) and the Arthur C Clarke Learning Resource Centre at Richard Huish College, Somerset, UK (Clarke was a student at their grammar school.) He was invested as a British Knight Bachelor in 2000. He’ll also be remembered for inspiring many scientists and astronauts: “All of us around the table said we read Arthur C. Clarke…That was the thing that got us there.” – planetary scientist Torrence Johnson.
For more information:
- Image from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation, March 20, 2008
- All books, audios, etc. by, about or related to Arthur C. Clarke in MVLC libraries
Once upon a time, I was a genius. Straight A’s, scholarships, cum laude and honor societies – the whole deal.
Now, I have children.
Even before they arrived, I began to doubt myself. I read too many books about babies and was amazed by what I didn’t know. (I’ll take a moment to note that my husband had no such qualms and was sure he knew all about babies.) The children arrived, two daughters in two years, and we learned together. I learned how to understand my little girls’ needs and my husband learned that knowing about babies was different from owning them.
The babies grew into school-age girls and here I became a genius again. I could help with all the homework and answer endless questions about the world around them. My head swelled with pride when I would overhear “Ask Mom – she’ll know,” spoken with complete confidence and trust that this would be so.
Then another baby arrived and I lost my genius status again. This baby was more challenging than the first two and I forgot everything I had learned. When she got to school age, she didn’t need any help with homework and so I couldn’t dazzle her with my brilliance. The older girls were still impressed with my ability to answer Jeopardy questions in the stress-free comfort of my living room, but they too had started to doubt my genius in the wider world. (I could tell by the sighs and eye-rolling that occurred whenever I shared my wisdom.)
Now they are 15, 13 and 9, and I doubt that I shall ever be a genius again. The world has changed so fast that my 20th century IQ is irrelevant and inadequate. Lucky for me, the publishing world has seen my pain and come through with books clearly written just for me (and maybe you, if you’re honest.)
Feeling less than smart? Try a book from the “For Dummies” series – MySpace for Dummies, Violin for Dummies, Irish History for Dummies, etc. They cover computers – Wikis… and eBay…; business – New Product Development… and Accounting… ; education – Athletic Scholarships… and Algebra… ; health Diabetes Cookbook… and Low Calorie Dieting… and a hundred other topics – Nostradamus…, Betting on Horse Racing…, Genealogy Online…, Golf’s Short Game… and my personal favorite Parenting for Dummies.
Feeling even less than dumb? We also have titles from the Complete Idiot’s Guide series – Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cigars, …Going Back to College, …the Bible, …European History, …Middle East Conflict and one that makes me a little nervous, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Electrical Repair.
But perhaps you don’t feel like a dummy or an idiot. We have books for you, too. Try You, the Smart Patient : and insider’s guide for getting the best treatment (Roizen and Oz), Smart organizing : simple strategies for bringing order to your home (Sandra Felton), The Genius Engine : where memory, reason, passion, violence and creativity intersect in the human brain (Kathleen Stein), What Would MacGyver Do? : true stories of improvised genius in everyday life (Brendan Vaughan).
Finally, for those among us who have a special kind of genius that is bored with the details of ordinary life, we have just the book to help you channel your energies – 51 High-Tech Practical Jokes for the Evil Genius (Brad Graham).
All the titles mentioned above, and many more like them, are available to dummies, idiots, geniuses, and everyone in between, at the
A few weeks ago, I posted an article about humorous books at the library. One I included was Rejection Collection : Cartoons you never saw, and never will see, in the New Yorker. Since then, a new volume of rejects has been published, and it’s every bit as warped and wacky as the first. If you enjoyed the first one, be sure to take a look at Rejection Collection vol. 2 : the Cream of the Crap. Let me know if you think they’re funny, too, or if it’s just me.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a good laugh today. No matter where you get your news – newspaper, TV or Internet – not much of it is good (the Red Sox notwithstanding) and certainly not likely to make you laugh (though you can always try skipping the front page of the paper and going right to the funnies.) School is back in session and the kids have lost their senses of humor. Only Mother Nature is in a joking mood, and she finds it hysterical to send the mercury from one end of the thermometer to the other, often in the course of a single day. If you’re in need of a chuckle like I am, the Library is here to help.
Start with a well known humorist or comedian: Dave Barry’s history of the millennium (so far) (Dave Barry), Insanity defense : the complete prose (Woody Allen), There’s nothing in this book that I meant to say (Paula Poundstone), Out of my mind (Andy Rooney), Real men don’t apologize (Jim Belushi).
Find humor in the everyday: Way off the road : discovering the peculiar charms of small-town America (Bill Geist), 50 bosses worse than yours (Justin Racz), House of testosterone : one Mom’s survival in a household of males (Sharon O’Donnell).
Perhaps you’d prefer some timely political humor: I am America (and so can you!) (Stephen Colbert), Unusually stupid politicians : Washington’s weak in review (Kathryn & Ross Petras), Remarkable Millard Fillmore : the unbelievable life of a forgotten president (George Pendle).
If the relatives have you down, lighten up with some family humor: I [love] my in-laws : falling in love with his family, one passive-aggressive, over-indulgent, grandkid-craving, Streisand-loving, Bible-thumping in-law at a time (Dina K. Poch), Mom loves me best : and other lies you told your sister (Linda Sunshine), You never call! You never write! : a history of the Jewish mother (Joyce Antler).
Reconnect with a comic strip favorite (Garfield (Jim Davis), Calvin & Hobbes (Bill Watterson), Dilbert (Scott Adams)), or try some of the new comix in Attitude, v. 1, 2 & 3: new subversive…cartoonists. Take a look at the hilarious and odd Rejection collection : cartoons you never saw, and never will see, in the New Yorker (New Yorker).
Or try one of these funny takes on “regular” topics like self-improvement: Faking it : how to seem like a better person without actually improving yourself (Ethan Trex), Who moved my secret? : the ancient wisdom that tells you it’s ok to be greedy (a parody) (Jim Gerard); sports: Andy Roddick beat me with a frying pan (Todd Gallagher); rock’n’roll: Mom, have you seen my leather pants? : the tale of a teen rock wannabe that almost was (Craig A. Williams); and the uncategorized: Ant farm : and other desperate situations (Simon Rich), 1001 things to do if you dare (Ben Masilow).
And these are just the books! We also have DVDs, videotapes and CDs of comedians and comedy films. So the next time you need a laugh, come by and see us, because there’s definitely something funny about the library.