Wednesday, August 12, 2009

August 2009 Book Club Meeting

Summary: Even though former slaves Annie Coats and her son Gabriel have managed to buy their freedom, their lives are still marked by constant struggle and sacrifice--to the extent that Annie secretly recalls her days on the plantation with fondness. Washington's Georgetown neighborhood, where the Coatses are seeking to build their new lives--with Gabriel, a tailor, producing uniforms for soldiers and fine suits for pompous politicians, and Annie, a seamstress and laundress, catering to the nearby brothels and stately homes--is supposed to be a safe haven, a "promised land" for former slaves, but is effectively a frontier town, gritty and dangerous, with no laws protecting black people. In fact, the city's own emancipation efforts in 1862 serve only to compromise the Coats family's status, putting Gabriel's three young daughters (each of them born free of free parents) at risk of becoming the property of the Coatses' former master. The remarkable emotional energy with which the Coatses rise their daily battles--as they negotiate with their former owner, as they assist other former slaves en route to freedom, as they prepare for the encroaching war, and as they struggle to love each other enough--is what fuels this novel and makes its tragic denoument so devastating. -- Back Bay Books

Last evening, my book club met to discuss STAND THE STORM by Breena Clarke. I wouldn't say that any of us loved the book, but I think we all agreed that it was a very interesting and worthwhile read. I was pleasantly surprised by how much discussion this story and its characters generated. We actually talked about the book for a long time, especially the characters and their motivations. And although there were terrific discussion questions, we didn't have to go through them one by one to get the conversation flowing. I think we did manage to at least touch upon most of the questions in one way or another.

A few of the members pointed out that they thought parts of the book were rather choppy -- I could definitely see their point. They were somewhat bothered by how certain sections of the story were told in a very detailed fashion, while other sections just kind of came from nowhere and ended without much explanation. We discussed some of the reasons that the author might have chosen to tell the story this way, but I'm not sure we ever came up with something we all could live with.

I think most of us would recommend STAND THE STORM to our other friends because it was such an insightful book into that time period. We all agreed that we learned a great deal from reading this novel.

I will be hosting book club next month so it was my turn to pick the book for September. I selected OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout for a number of reasons. The first being that I've been wanting to read this book since it first came out and I read all of the wonderful reviews. Secondly, I've read some of Ms. Strout's other books and have thoroughly enjoyed them. Another reason that I want to read this book is that I am not a big short story reader, and I want to change that. In fact, in my book club's seven years of existence, I don't think we've ever read a collection of short stories. Lastly, OLIVE KITTERIDGE won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, and I figure it wouldn't hurt us to read an award-winning piece of literature.

I'm hoping that everyone enjoys OLIVE KITTERIDGE (or at least appreciates it!)
Now, I just have to think of what I'm going to serve for dessert!

Summary: At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.
As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires. -- Random House


Beth F said...

I've been wanting to read Olive Kitteridge too. Good choice!

bermudaonion said...

It's amazing how a book that no one loved could generate such a great conversation! I'll be looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks of Olive Kitteridge.

Bonnie said...

It sounds like you had a great discussion even though not everyone loved the book. I find that in my own book club that we are never 100% in agreement on any book. Except The Book Thief, we all found that one of the most powerful books we had discussed and we've met for 7 years.

Olive Kitteridge sounds like a great choice, I have it TBR.

I understand your dilemna about dessert! I made a wonderful lemon pound cake in the spring for my book club and would highly recommend it. It was a Barefoot Contessa recipe. It was a big hit, everyone including my family loved it. I posted a picture and link to the recipe if you're interested, HERE.

Serena said...

I haven't read either of these books yet, but sounds like a good selection.

joyh82 said...

isn't it interesting how sometimes if the group doesn't even like the book it still starts a great discussion.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Olive K reads like short stories, since most of the characters reappear. I loved it...hope you do too!

Anonymous said...

Stand the Storm sounds like a worthwhile book club read, thanks for sharing your experience with it.

I'm thinking about suggesting Olive Kitteridge for one of my book clubs. I think it is the most readable prize winning book I've come across, and it has so much material for discussion!

Pam said...

I think that Olive Kittridge is mislabled as a short story collection. it's more of a life of a town through various points of view, with the same people showing up. I was originally turned off (only for a second because I have to buy the Pulitzer on Pulitzer Day!!) because of the short story "issue" which turned out not to be a problem at all. Enjoy!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

OLIVE KITTERIDGE IS outstanding! I read it last fall when Elizabeth Strout came to our local Author's Festival, then our book group read it over the winter. Olive is about as *real* a character as you can get :)