No bracket indecision here: picking a March selection is always a piece of cake for the Brown Baggers. For ten years now, JMRL has been participating in the Big Read, an NEA sponsored program. Although the range of programs is wide — think musical performances, art contests, film showings, and more — there are always plenty of traditional book discussions centered around each year’s pick.
Starting more generally in the discussion, a few Brown Baggers mentioned that they had read another book by McCullers, The Member of the Wedding. Another group member hailed from Columbus, Georgia, McCullers’ hometown and probable background inspiration. Starting with some base knowledge always lets our group dive into finer points of the novel right away.
Much of our discussion focused on Singer, the deaf-mute man that many of the other characters gravitated towards. Because of his silence, they grew comfortable sharing personal stories and read into his presence what they needed to. Many of our readers compared Singer to a religious figure: either truly supernatural, like a deity, or more as a caring confessor, imparting no judgment. His mysterious origin also contributed to this impression. Interestingly, many group members had differing opinions on which one of the four town misfits Singer may have had a closer, more sympathetic relationship with.
The Brown Baggers touched on other topics in the novel as well, such as mental illness, introversion, and race relations. Mick’s fascination with music was interesting to many, leading some to believe she was perhaps a musical genius without the necessary tools or opportunities to artistically thrive. Some readers also pointed out that McCullers once compared the structure of the novel to a fugue. While a “Southern” novel in theory, the group agreed that the novel’s universal themes made it widely applicable and relevant even now.
See all books by McCullers in the JMRL catalog.
From the Washington Post’s ‘Second Reading’ column in 2004, Jonathan Yeardley takes a fresh look at The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
Learn more about the Carson McCullers Center, the author’s childhood home now maintained by Columbus State University.
Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, April 21 to discuss The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.