“I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

Books on Tap met outside at Champion Brewing Company on Thursday, September 2nd to discuss J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  

As usual, we started the discussion with some background information on the author, who was a World War II veteran and later in life a recluse. The success and controversy around the book as well as aspects of his personal life (including a nine month relationship with eighteen-year-old Joyce Maynard when Salinger was fifty-three) brought him undesired publicity.

A coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye takes place over a few days in New York City, 1951. The protagonist and unreliable narrator, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, has become a cultural touchpoint, often referred to as an important 20th century literary character. NYC is also a “character” in the novel as Holden visits so many NYC landmarks over the course of his wanderings.

Several in the group had never read this classic; others had read it years ago and were revisiting it. Most enjoyed and recommended the novel, finding the theme of adolescent angst timeless, but a few of our readers found the story exhausting and didn’t care at all for Holden.

While written for an adult audience, The Catcher in the Rye is often on English class required reading lists in many high schools. As such, it has also been frequently challenged or “banned” due to some of the profanity and behaviors of the characters. A timely read for Books on Tap, as Banned Books Week 2021 takes place later this month.

Other books mentioned:

Frannie and Zooey

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (discussed by this group Nov. 2015)

Salinger/Joyce Maynard on PBS 

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, October 7th, at 7 pm, to discuss Still Life by Louise Penny. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information.

Bring Your Own Book Club

Did you know that Louisa has a Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) club? This monthly gathering is a new, different kind of book club. Instead of worrying about finding and reading the library-chosen book for each month’s discussion, no preparation is needed — just show up ready to talk about anything you’ve read recently (or even not so recently). You’ll connect with other readers, walk away with recommendations and new ideas, and get a chance to sing the praises of your favorite books. This club meets on the 4th Tuesday of every month, from 4-5 pm, at the Louisa County Library

At the August meeting, members discussed a wide variety of titles and enjoyed meeting in person. If you are suffering from “Zoom fatigue” and are looking for an in-person program, consider joining the BYOB club! The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, September 28. Email Ophelia at opayne@jmrl.org with any questions. 

Titles Discussed: 

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult 

Brought to book club because….generally a Picoult fan, but this title didn’t work for this reader. Too heavy-handed with research and dry descriptions of a thematic topic that didn’t captivate in the way many other Picoult topics do. 

The Sweet Taste of Muscadines by Pamela Terry

Brought to book club because….it’s amazing! So many settings, each one interesting. It starts right off with a bang, and continues to be a page-turner, as you are genuinely searching for clues throughout. Told with universal themes of family, faith, and community. 

A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies

Brought to book club because….stylistically, it almost felt like a parable, with nameless characters of “the wife” and “the boy.” With a fascinating, controversial topic like abortion, this title begged the question….science has evolved to accomplish so much, but have our psyches evolved to accommodate the wealth of information?

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Brought to book club because….couldn’t put down this sweeping, emotional, inspiring story about a family within the throes of the Vietnam War and the Land Reform (1954-1956). So much beauty and sweetness, but also heartbreak and terror.  

The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff 

Brought to book club because….this book did its job in bringing forth powerful emotions. This reader was upset and frustrated, but that shows how evocative the book was. Connected the underground setting, which was such a vivid image and contributed greatly to the emotions, to Colum McCann’s This Side of Brightness.

What book are YOU going to bring to the BYOB meeting on September 28? Hope to see you there! 

“We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it.”

Brown Baggers book club met virtually on Thursday, August 19 to discuss The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. One of Patchett’s strengths is her ability to use setting creatively. Her settings push and pull characters, or they transcend into characters themselves. They are more than the where and when; the setting of each novel is as powerful as the plot, capable of influencing character behavior, affecting dialogue and tone, and shaping reader expectations, beliefs, and biases. Imagine reading Bel Canto, State of Wonder, The Magician’s Assistant, or even Truth and Beauty in another setting. These are not stories that could have happened just anywhere, and The Dutch House is no different. In this novel, the titular house (and buildings and architecture at large) takes on a new dimension — it is plot, setting, and character, all three — and also the passion, compulsion, addiction, and dysfunction that drives so much of the book.

As much as Patchett brings the house to life, the characters who live inside are the heart of the story. As one reader put it, “Ann Patchett tells the story of people. You don’t have to try to figure out what will happen, you just flow along.” Like a fairy tale, this book includes housekeepers and cooks, an absent mother, distant father, and evil stepmother, plus a pair of stepsisters. These are the spokes of life around Danny and Maeve, who, though seven years apart in age, align themselves to each other before all else. Together, they navigate what it means to be rich and also peculiar, and then poor, the vindictive blood in their hearts keeping them hotly alive. While their wounds may come from abandonment by their mother or dismissiveness by their stepmother, they park in front of the Dutch House and look at it, all the way through, and believe they are seeing clearly what they have lost. 

We talked about the house, and after making a long list of descriptors, we concluded that the house was like two sides of a coin: super light, almost crystalline, and super dark, shadowy and villainous. The novel is circular, with Danny following in his father’s footsteps, repeating history in both his successes and failures. There is a feeling of coming full circle as Maeve’s portrait, an imitation of the grand Dutch VanHoebeek portraits, finds new life in a newer generation. In the push and pull of competition between Danny and his stepsisters, readers feel as if they are watching certain actions around and around again. The circular nature of the story, layered over the house, light and dark, feels like night and day. Death and life. The house is as complicated as any human character in the book; it is beloved by some and hated by others, a source of secrets, and yet the only place in the world that feels truly known. It is a symbol of greed, but also innocence. It’s all jumbled together, like a snowball rolled down a hill, growing larger and larger.

We talked extensively about Elna and how we judged her. Some were baffled by her character, failing to see any love for Cyril, her husband, or her own children. When it came to her leaving the children, some cut her slack because the children were so cared for, even without her. Others had trouble forgiving her. Reflecting on our conversation of Elna, compared to our conversation of Andrea, it’s fascinating how when a mother leaves her family, we feel the need to discuss if she was right or wrong. We feel the need to form an opinion, and then also tease apart what the author’s opinion might be (for the record, we concluded that Patchett portrays Elna’s actions very objectively). We connected Elna’s storyline to Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler. 

But Andrea, who spends much more time on the page, and makes decisions that affect the children with more frequency, if not with more force, is not the object of our scrutiny. It would be really interesting to consider if any of Andrea’s decisions — perhaps what she did to Maeve involving the window seat, for example — might have come close to the effect Elna had on her children. Who’s to say that all of Andrea’s slights and wounds might not add up to Elna’s life changing decision? After all, in Maeve and Danny’s minds, Andrea is the evil stepmother. All we had to say about Andrea was that for one reader, she was the favorite character (a “love to hate” character). 

This is the only Ann Patchett novel written in first person, and we discussed the experience of relying on Danny, who declares himself early on, “asleep to the world.” We see the influence of parents in this story (good, bad, or indifferent) but we do not get inside their heads. This might have been frustrating at times, but clearly created the perfect balance of mystery and omission to keep us hooked as readers. 

While this novel was unanimously enjoyed (our hour-long discussion featured almost no complaints), almost every person in attendance had other Patchett novels they had loved, as well as Patchett novels they had hated. Some loved Run, others hated Run (and so on, with almost every book she’d written). It stands to reason — while Patchett’s signature as an author is consistent, each book has its own flavor. If you read an Ann Patchett book and you’re not sure about it, try another! You just may fall in love. You could also try the audiobook version of The Dutch House, which is not simply “read,” but rather “performed” by none other than Tom Hanks. Indeed, those who listened to the book on audio raved about it, saying that Hanks really disappears into the story. He truly becomes Danny. Sound off in the comments: what’s your favorite (and least favorite) Ann Patchett novel?  

Brown Baggers will meet to discuss A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré on Thursday, September 16. Please email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

Links:

‘Ann Patchett: “We’re so embarrassed by grief. It’s so strange”’ by Hannah Beckerman for The Guardian

Books Mentioned: 

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Taft by Ann Patchett

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

Run by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

What Now? by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett