WHIRL (What Have I Read Lately) Books is a site for readers to find books for themselves and their book clubs. Liz at Literary Masters runs book groups and literary salons where we "dig deep" into literary treasures.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
This book not only cries out for a post-reading discussion, it also demands to be read twice. Honestly, the second reading makes all the difference--and makes the first reading worth the time. So what can your book club discuss?
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
Warp speed plot summary:
Set mainly in England between 1910 and 1967, this novel tells the story of Ursula Todd and her family who live at Fox Corner. The thing is, Ursula is a very unique character; she keeps dying and coming back to life. Each time she returns, the life she leads is different from the one before. Sometimes it's slightly different, and other times it's radically different. So what is going on? We readers wonder this as we follow Ursula through her many lives and through the history of the time, especially the wars and the Blitz.
If this sounds like science fiction or fantasy to you, I would argue that it is not. This book is so well done--as a piece of realistic fiction that is also perhaps a thought experiment--I urge you to give it a try. Twice!
Your book club should "dig deep" into the following:
Two main things seem to be going on in this book: the exploration of philosophies or life beliefs, and a telling of the history of England. As for the first:
You'll want to really ask yourselves: what is going on with Ursula? Is she being reincarnated? Is she living parallel lives? Is there some sort of circularity happening, or is it more like a palimpsest? Is the book saying anything about all of the above? Or is it merely exploring all these concepts? A good place to start is to ask yourselves: Is Ursula conscious of what is going on? Is she consciously making choices in her life that set her on a different course?
Or is she dreaming? Or crazy?
Whatever you decide is happening with Ursula, is it also happening with the other characters? Why, for instance, does Ursula's mother have scissors at one of the births? What does this mean if it is happening with all the other characters?
These questions will no doubt carry you into the area of fate vs. randomness. You'll want to discuss how much agency or free will Ursula and the other characters have. How much free will do you think YOU have? Is your life fated, or are you its master? What is the book saying about this? Is there a point to Ursula living her life over and over again? Does she learn to improve it in any way? Or is that irrelevant? Is she finding ways to have agency over her fate? Is that even possible?
Another major concept you'll want to explore is whether there is a core or essence to a person. Is there a core to Ursula? Is she essentially the same throughout all her lives? Or is her identity shaped largely by her experiences? Which points in the book do you think are pivotal with regard to Ursula's identity?
What about the other characters? Does each one change depending on the life that s/he is experiencing? Two interesting characters to "dig deep" into are Sylvie and Izzy. This touches on the history of England aspect of the book also. Think about the change from a traditional, pastoral, idyllic England (set in cozy Fox Corner) morphing into a modern, post-war, industrialized England. Where do Sylvie and Izzy fit in this picture? Where do the others fit, and what is the book saying about this change?
This may take you into a discussion of the role of women and what choices they had at different times of history.
There is much more imagery to explore--you will no doubt come up with many more questions than answers! Kate Atkinson seems to be, among other things, having fun with all the names in the book. And you'll want to discuss all the literary references. Is Maurice purposely named? Are we meant to think of E.M. Forster's "homosexual novel" and thus make the connection that Maurice is a closeted gay man whose repression of his true self has resulted in his being a mean person? Is Pamela purposely named? Are we meant to think of Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded? Is she virtuous? Does she get her reward? Is the Miss Woolf mentioned above supposed to make us think of Virginia Woolf?
You'll want to discuss Hitler. What role does Hitler play in this book? Why does the book start with the scene that it does? Does Ursula kill Hitler?
You'll also want to discuss the book as a meta-fiction. Talk about how it's exploring the writing process itself. You can start with the chapters titled "Snow," where every story starts over; they are like a clean sheet of paper.
There is so much more to this book, but time is flying and I must attend to other aspects of this life I am living. Hopefully this will get you started in your discussion! Let me know how it goes!
Monday, October 6, 2014
My memory of the book is that it was a page-turner that dragged on a bit too long and had somewhat of a surprising ending. Oh, I should probably mention here that this blog post has spoilers. So, if you haven't read the book or watched the movie and you don't want to find out what happens, don't read this post. Lots of people didn't like the ending because the two main characters--Nick and Amy--end up staying together. After all they have been through! I remember thinking, "Good. They deserve each other."
Even though I have an appalling memory, I do recall that the book's first plot twist is done really well. That's when the reader finds out that Amy has not died at the hands of Nick; indeed, Amy has not died at all. She is alive and well and taking out a terrible revenge on Nick, setting him up to take the fall for her meticulously (and admirably) planned (faux) murder.
The book gets a bit loopy toward the end, but at that point I just wanted to finish it and see how everything would be resolved. And as I said, Nick and Amy stay.together. Done. I shut the book and promptly forgot about it.
Until I saw it had been turned into a movie. With Ben Affleck! I gathered four friends and we went to the matinee yesterday.
Three out of five of us had read the book. I sat next to a woman who hadn't--Kim. And all during the first part of the film, when we meet angelic Amy and the philandering and potentially murdering/murderous husband Nick, I kept wondering if Kim and I were having completely different reactions to the story. I kept wondering if Kim would suspect Nick at all.
Because here's the thing--in the book, Nick is not a sympathetic character. Nor is Amy. Like I said, they deserve each other. And I have to hand it to Gillian Flynn for writing a book where the characters are so unlikable. You may recall from other posts that I get really annoyed if someone tells me that they didn't like a book because they didn't like the characters. Claire Messud, who wrote The Woman Upstairs, has quite a lot to say about this subject. She expressed herself much more eloquently than I ever could; click here to read her opinion.
So, what's up, then, with casting Ben Affleck as Nick? Ben Affleck? Probably one of the least unlikable stars one could cast. Everyone loves him! He saved all the hostages who were hiding in the Canadian Embassy during the Iranian Revolution. And he did it practically single-handedly. He's married to that fresh faced beauty who never stops smiling. And we know why. It's because she's married to Ben Affleck!
Ben Affleck? Come on.
Also, in the recesses of my mind, I think there's something from the book about his relationship with his dad--and possibly not wanting to turn into his dad? Isn't that a motivating factor for staying with Amy? I can't remember.
As Amy toys with Nick and Nick toys with Amy in the never ending "game" that goes on in the book, we readers realize how much fun Gillian Flynn must be having with us. And we play along, enjoying the twists and turns of plot, as loopy (as I said) that they get. And the movie is kind of camp in this way--it seems to bring attention to its ridiculousness--starting with the silly music and Amy's melodramatic voice.
Kim couldn't appreciate any of this, and instead just saw the flaws and gaping plot holes. Well, even I had to wonder how anyone could green light the scene where Amy staggers home, then is questioned by the authorities at the hospital and finally allowed to return to her house covered in the blood of her alleged kidnapper whom she has killed. Oh, yes, thanks for showing up after all these months and filling us in on what's been happening--why don't you go home and clean yourself up now--take a shower and rinse off all that nasty blood and evidence and stuff.
Bottom line: to really enjoy the movie, read the book first. Then you know what kind of ride you're about to take. Kim was unable to suspend disbelief because she was expecting something more clever than fun. She may have been looking forward to a good murder mystery when we readers knew that Gone Girl isn't about the mystery of murder so much as it is about the mystery of marriage. It's just a shame that the marriage in the movie isn't the fair match that it is in the book.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
However, I am thoroughly impressed by the Kiwi author, the youngest ever to win the Man Booker: 28 year old Eleanor Catton. Why, you ask?
Ms. Catton has decided to take the money from her latest awards and set up a grant that will enable writers "the time to read."
Let me repeat that: "the time to read"!
How awesome is that? We all know that the best writers are READERS. But really, you should read this article from The Guardian to learn Ms. Catton's reasons for her generosity. In a world that lately seems to have gone stark raving mad, it is absolutely heart-warming and inspiring to witness such a move.
Click here for the article and enjoy!
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Posted by Liz at 8:17 PM
Friday, August 8, 2014
Posted by Liz at 2:49 PM
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Click here for the link to see the twelve titles on the long list; this will eventually be whittled down to six for the short list. What do you think? Have the judges got it right this year?
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Children model their parents' behavior (scary concept, I know); what their parents DO is much more important than what their parents SAY. So, if you want your children to read, make it clear that your home values reading. Carve out some evening time to read and suggest your children do the same. Even better, carve out some time to read together. And best of all, join a Literary Masters Parent/Child book group to discuss what you've read together. Not only will you learn something about the book--I guarantee you, you will learn something about your child!
Click here for an awesome article that Frank Bruni wrote for the NY Times.