“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Illustration - Street Cars of DamascusDuring the summer months, many Brown Baggers travel for vacations near and far. Appropriate, then, that we gathered in our “little corner of the earth” to discuss Mark Twain’s travel classic, The Innocents Abroad. Because various group members were off jet-setting, we had a smaller group but a great discussion as always.

Opinions were split on our latest title. While a few readers loved the gentle pace and subtle humor, others found the style meandering and repetitive. We did note that originally, Twain had published Innocents in installments, so the serial nature necessitated including some expository details. All ranges of opinion — including the indifferent — agreed that it was not a book to be read for its thrilling plot. Those who enjoyed it most savored it slowly, as if they were traveling with Twain and his shipmates in real time.

Along with the pace of the book, we also discussed how different and how much slower travel was at the time of writing. This particular voyage took many months — a far cry from an transatlantic overnight flight today. The cutting descriptions of Americans abroad seemed to still ring true, though! While Twain’s depiction of his countrymen was tongue-in-cheek, some of us were amused to note the endurance of certain stereotypes. A little less clear was the level of sarcasm regarding his commentary on other cultures, often decidedly non-PC.

The Brown Baggers also discussed the title of the work. While we figured the “Innocents” were a Biblical allusion appropriate for a Holy Land journey, we also noted that this also highlighted the relatively naive worldview of the travelling Americans. Unfortunately, most of the editions that we read lacked the original illustrations, but the readers who did have them enjoyed them immensely and felt they contributed to the story.

Check out the University of Virginia’s wide range of Innocents Abroad resources, including the sales prospectus, selected illustrations, contemporary reviews and more.

The UVA site also has more information on other works by Mark Twain.

More fun resourcse are can be found on the official website of the Mark Twain House & Museum.

Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, August 25 at noon to discuss Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

“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.