“The mind and heart cannot be demobilised as quickly as the platoon. On the contrary, like a fiery furnace at white heat, it takes a considerable time to cool.”

bookofdanielDespite a rave review from the New York Times upon publication, response to E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel in the monthly meeting of Central Library’s Brown Baggers was tepid to say the least. Based on the true story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Doctorow’s novel focuses on a fictional counterpart family, the Isaacsons. The story is told from the point of view of Daniel Isaacson, their son, as he writes his own version of the events. The character of Daniel, as well as his sister Susan, are heavily involved in 1960s politics, which is used as a comparison to the Communist agendas of their parents.

While the novel is nominally told via the character of Daniel, the narration isn’t quite that fluid. The Brown Baggers found that the story did not move smoothly. The book switches back and forth between first and third person and jumps time periods as well. The plotline also meant that while some of the writing was excellent (when members could follow it), it was necessarily a dark and depressing read. Some readers suggested Ragtime or Billy Bathgate as more enjoyable Doctorow reads. Continue reading

“Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in. “

glow in the dark coverA blog post about a face-to-face book club? This brand of old-meets-new, paper-meets-screen sensibility is perfect for the Brown Baggers latest discussion about Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Many of our group members enjoyed this book, a modern fairy tale of sorts. The Brown Baggers, rather a bookish bunch, enjoyed the literary intrigue and focus on the written word. The addition of technology and other modern devices gave this book a fresh feeling.

Some of the details were so fantastical that some readers turned to technology (Google in particular) to confirm whether or not certain references even existed! One topic that came up for discussion was whether or not this new spin on the literary caper would stand the test of time. Despite the high-tech details, most group members felt it would hold up if considered more of a fable or adventure quest rather than a cutting edge story. Even those who weren’t grabbed by the book still appreciated that it was a light, slightly quirky read. It would probably have a lot of appeal to a young adult audience as well. Many Brown Baggers also delightedly commented on the book’s glow-in-the-dark cover. The author notes this feature makes it “something that’s worth buying in its physical edition” — an interesting thought for a digital age.

More information:

Listen to NPR’s Morning Edition story here.
Read a profile of Robin Sloane in the New York Times.

Want another high-tech tale or bookish read? Try one of these titles available at JMRL:

The Circle by Dave Eggers
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Finally, a group member shares this fun video just for laughs.

 

“We say of some things that they can’t be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do—we do it all the time.”

Having valiantly made our way through such tomes as Moby Dick, We the Drowned, and Bleak House, it maybe comes as no surprise that the Brown Baggers were ready to read something shorter. For April, we turned to one of the masters of the short story, Alice Munro and her latest, Dear Life. A well-known Canadian writer, Munro has only written one full-length novel but her work has been widely published in magazines and collections. Last year, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and the committee noted her as “master of the contemporary short story.”

It was an interesting experiment to attempt to discuss an entire collection of stories. After sharing some biographical information about the author, group members started off the discussion by sharing more general thoughts about the book as a whole.  Munro’s unique writing style was at the forefront of our talk. While many of us agreed that she has quite a way of conveying much with her sparse prose, it was difficult to read the stories one after another. The group members who enjoyed the stories most allowed time to lapse between reading sessions, maybe reading one story a day. Others who attempted more than one in a row found the experience especially bleak. While the prose was incredibly well-crafted, the tone and themes of small town isolation and rigid social confinements could accumulate into a depressing reading experience. That being said, we agreed that this showed the real extent of Munro’s genius. Even with few words, she could completely portray a vivid and evocative scene.

More information about Alice Munro:

Find more stories by Munro in the JMRL catalog

Interviews, facts, and more resources on the official Nobel Prize website

Review of Dear Life in the London Review of Books

Read The Bear Came Over the Mountain, originally published the the December 27, 1999 issue of the New Yorker and later adapted into the film Away from Her

Hankering for more short stories? Give one of these a try:

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

The Swimmer by John Cheever

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

 Do you have a favorite short story? Chime in and let us know in the comments!