“Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.”

vinegar girl.jpgBooks on Tap read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler at Champion Brewery on September 5. Anne Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was a delightful summer read in which everyone made it out happy (or happyish) ever after. Many participants had read Tyler’s other novels but only a few had read or seen the original play. As was pointed out, marriages don’t fare well in Shakespeare. This particular work seems ripe for adaptation because the original reads as cruel and misogynistic to the modern audience. 

In Tyler’s playful, broadly funny version, Kate is in her late 20s and  lives at home with her eccentric scientist father and 15 year old sister. Having dropped out of college after insulting a professor, she seems stuck. She is wildly out of sync with the ethos of the pre-school where she works, she follows her father’s bizarre efficeniety regime at home and is at odds with her outgoing sister. Her life is shaken up when her father strongly suggests she marry his Russian lab assistant Pytor, who is in danger of being deported when his visa runs out later in the year. 

Against her inclination, she begins to see the benefit in teaming up with Pytor. It’s not a fully emancipated stance, because she’s still viewing the marriage as a transaction and a fairly patriarchal one at that. However, she acknowledges that compromises are necessary in a relationship and that if she gives Pytor room to express all of his feelings (loneliness, joy, grief, curiosity) they can share the emotional work.

What we most enjoyed in this work was the call back to other adaptations (“Kiss me, Katya”), the comedy and the gentle, sympathetic touch Tyler took with all her characters. While it may not be a classic in it’s own right, it did spark some of us to check out her other novels.

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Reviews from The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, The New York Times and NPR.

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“Life can be hard. I know how hard it can be. And then she said, ‘Déjate querer.’ Let yourself be loved.”

9781471171031The LGBTQ Book club met way back in March at the Central Library to discuss The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It follows Sal through his senior year in high school as he struggles with his identity as the adopted white son of a very supportive gay Mexican-American man, his place in his loving extended family and the trials faced by his best friends.

Book club members liked this poignant coming-of-age story. It isn’t plot driven, but the characters are so well conceived and complex and the story is so uplifting that the pace doesn’t flag. Even in a long book we wanted to hear more from Sal’s supportive family and his best friend, a girl named Sam. It was refreshing that Sam and Sal could be friends without romantic complications. However, we agreed that Sal’s father Vicente was the real star of the novel. His unending patience allowed him to embrace his ex-boyfriend Marcos, to take care of both Sam and Sal’s other friend Fito and to have a successful career as an artist. At times he seemed too saintly, but is certainly an aspirational character. His orientation was both slowly revealed and fully integrated into the story. He becomes the de facto dad to these three motherless teens.

Vicente gives Sal a letter Sal’s dead mother wrote to him. The plot hinges on Sal’s decision to open the letter but we all felt that was secondary to getting to know the characters. We were a bit surprised with what he does with it (especially in a world with social media) but thought the ending was deserved.

We also discussed intersex. Here’s one explanation.

Join us tomorrow for our final meeting as we discuss The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara. We’ll also be hosting an LGBTQ book swap at Central on September 15 from 2-4. Bring your own books and leave with new-to-you  titles. 

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“That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.”

The Brown Baggers met on Thursday, August 15 to discuss Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel, A Place for Us.

place for usA Place for Us tells the story of a Muslim Indian American family and their close-knit community in California. The novel opens at the wedding of the oldest daughter, Hadia, where her estranged brother, Amar, also the youngest child and only son, has returned after a long absence. As Mirza goes back and forth in time and alternates points of view, the reader learns why Amar has been gone for so long and the ups and downs that led this family to gather at Hadia’s wedding.

The Brown Baggers had a generally positive reaction to the novel. One member remarked that it was the best fiction they had read in years. Others said they recognized their own family members in the characters and were emotionally moved when the point of view shifted towards the father. Some noted a few stylistic flaws in the novel that they attributed to the author’s young age and inexperience. One of the biggest criticisms was the novel’s unconventional structure. As Mirza weaves through the chronology of events and changes perspectives, the reader can get easily confused about dates and characters.

Despite these quirks, all were impressed by how Mirza captured the story of immigration, particularly how different generations of this Muslim American family assimilated. The parents hold fast to their faith and the old world. The children, on the other hand, feel more inclined to create their own identities and embrace the new world while still respecting their heritage. As a result, each family member relates to their faith and culture differently, thus revealing the power of community and the uniqueness of the immigrant story.


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy

Islamic Society of Central Virginia

The Brown Baggers will discuss The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian on Thursday, September 19 at noon in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.