Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September 2009 Book Club Meeting

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

Last evening, my book club met to discuss OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout. If you read my review that I posted earlier today, you will see how much I adored this book. I was very anxious to see if my fellow book clubbers felt the same way. I wasn't surprised when they weren't quite as enthusiastic about the book as I was, but I was a tad bit surprised that no one really loved it. A few members thought it was just okay and one member actually hated it!

I thought it was interesting that our appreciation of the book was all over the map because it made for an excellent discussion. I thought we'd depend on the 20 discussion questions, but we really didn't need them. We used a few of them, but we actually talked about this book for hours without them. I think that says a lot for OLIVE KITTERIDGE. No matter what you thought about the characters and the story, there was no doubt that it was a fantastic discussion book.

One of the best parts of our discussion centered around the character of Olive. I absolutely loved her, flaws and all; however, a few of the women couldn't stand her. I admit that I felt the same way at the beginning of the book, but as I read more about her and saw her weaknesses and insecurities, I became quite fond of her. Some of the women never could get past their original impression of Olive, and I thought that was so interesting how differently we interpreted Olive. The more we talked about Olive, the more complicated I realized her character was. One of the women described Olive as an onion with many layers that could be peeled back. I loved that analogy -- probably much better than my Archie Bunker comparison!

Next month, we are switching things up and reading a non-fiction book called SIN IN THE SECOND CITY by Karen Abbott. I actually read and reviewed this book when I first started my blog, so I'm not sure that I'll be re-reading it. (I think it was my one of my earliest reviews if not my very first one.)

Summary: Step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history–and the catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation. Operating in Chicago’s notorious Levee district at the dawn of the last century, the Club’s proprietors, two aristocratic sisters named Minna and Ada Everleigh, welcomed moguls and actors, senators and athletes, foreign dignitaries and literary icons, into their stately double mansion, where thirty stunning Everleigh “butterflies” awaited their arrival. Courtesans named Doll, Suzy Poon Tang, and Brick Top devoured raw meat to the delight of Prince Henry of Prussia and recited poetry for Theodore Dreiser. Whereas lesser madams pocketed most of a harlot’s earnings and kept a “whipper” on staff to mete out discipline, the Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac.

Not everyone appreciated the sisters’ attempts to elevate the industry. Rival Levee madams hatched numerous schemes to ruin the Everleighs, including an attempt to frame them for the death of department store heir Marshall Field, Jr. But the sisters’ most daunting foes were the Progressive Era reformers, who sent the entire country into a frenzy with lurid tales of “white slavery”——the allegedly rampant practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into brothels. This furor shaped America’s sexual culture and had repercussions all the way to the White House, including the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

With a cast of characters that includes Jack Johnson, John Barrymore, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Howard Taft, “Hinky Dink” Kenna, and Al Capone, Sin in the Second City is Karen Abbott’s colorful, nuanced portrait of the iconic Everleigh sisters, their world-famous Club, and the perennial clash between our nation’s hedonistic impulses and Puritanical roots. Culminating in a dramatic last stand between brothel keepers and crusading reformers, Sin in the Second City offers a vivid snapshot of America’s journey from Victorian-era propriety to twentieth-century modernity. -- Random House


Nise' said...

I did not like the books as much as I thought I was going to. I was to distracted by the other stories and wanted more of Olive. One moment you liked her and the next you hated her. She's a great character.

Heather said...

Sin in the Second City should make for a great discussion. You should contact Karen Abbott - she is super nice and would probably love to hear from you. She visits book clubs by phone. She has contact information on the SitSC website.

bookbliss said...

Olive Kitteridge was just one of those books I could not get through. I just don't like short stories at all and even though this was about one character, it still had too much of a short story feel to me.

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like the book was a huge success even if no one loved it but you!

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

Olive Kitteridge looks wonderful. I had that happen with my book club too... I loved Pope Joan and we just reviewed it as a book club last night. While it rated above average, it did not get the praise I thought it would... a few even said it was slow in the beginning... SLOW???? LOL

Kim said...

I'm the facilitator for one of my book clubs, and as I want ladies to feel comfortable recommending books, I try to impress upon them that it doesn't matter to me if people have differing opinions--we should be able to be open minded. There are still things to discuss. Most la-la books don't have that. If a book doesn't create some emotion within you, what's the point of reading it?

When it comes to characters, some readers superimpose their standards on to them, thereby not liking them. I evaluate them based on the time and circumstances of their life. I haven't read this book, yet, but want to give it a whirl.

Jenners said...

I got a copy of this book to read since I've seen it everywhere and felt I should read it. I'm anxious to read your review ... and I tend to like polarizing books!

Pam said...

I also started off a bit turned away by Olive but she is now one of my favorite literary characters. I think that in the beginning we're watching her mostly through the eyes of people in town and she just comes of as totally unexplained but through the last part of the book she is completely lovable as she brings out inherent flaws in all women. I loved it. I'm glad your book club had differing opinions. they're just no fun when everyone agrees@

Molly said...

I agree with your assessment of the character. I really did not care for Olive at all in the beginning of the book, but as I tried to keep an open mind while reading, I grew to really appreciate her.

Your book club sounds like such fun. I would love to sit and discuss books for hours and hours - and be comfortable enough with the group to agree to disagree.