“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

Books on Tap met at Champion Brewing Company on Thursday, November 4 to discuss Feed by M.T. Anderson. Feed is a young adult dystopian novel from 2002 within the “cyberpunk subgenre.” Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction; cyberpunk books include “countercultural antiheroes trapped in a dehumanized, high-tech future” (Britannica). Put another way, it is “high tech, low life.” It’s dark and gritty, but hey, there are flying cars (upcars) and air factories! Plus you can vacation on the moon, and a beefed-up version of the Internet (social media, mind-chatting, and most of all, online shopping) is literally implanted in your brain. Meet the feed.  

We talked about Titus, the main character, who qualifies as a “low life.” Some readers called him a “disappointing” character, noting his lack of empathy, immaturity, and inability to cope with challenging life situations. It was especially hard to read his romantic involvement with Violet, a feed-resisting rebel girl, who served as a foil for Titus. Our group noted that love as we experience it was not modeled for Titus; his society was broken in more ways than one. This problem could not be blamed simply on the feed. It wasn’t a single piece of technology that served as the antagonist; Anderson drops us into a whole new world, one in which parents buy new cars for grieving teens, expecting the shiny new thing to make everything better. These people are different from us (we hope), even beyond the feed, and that was uncomfortable and dizzying to read at times. 

In another way, we appreciated Titus as a literary device. What made the book so powerful was Anderson’s ability to both blame the feed and blame humanity separate from the feed. The human layers of this story — bad decisions, cowardice, a loose cannon teenager without support or guidance from trustworthy adults — hit you hard. The flaws and mistakes we read could eerily often be seen in our own homes, and that’s what gives the book urgency as well as intimacy with its readers. 

Who are we investing in in our own society? Feed prizes consumerism. In today’s culture, what do we prize? Productivity? Self-sufficiency? Individuality? Allegiance to a political party, cultural standard, or label? Similarly, we can ask what content fills our own feed. And who fills our feed. There is a time in the book when Titus essentially becomes Violet’s feed; the only information inputs she receives are from him. We’ve heard that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with — in fact, some research suggests the sphere of influence might be a lot larger. So take stock of not just your five most frequent friends, but all your friends and family, your work, neighbors, and community. 

These books often lead us to want to do something. We began talking about how we are worried for the next generation. We talked about technology like it’s unstoppable and unknowable, a force of its own. There are three things I’d say should come next, hopefully in balance with one another: 1) intentional mindfulness about our consumption habits, the power of corporations, and environmental decay — plus small steps of self-growth in these areas; 2) time to relax our minds about the future — as one group member said, “every generation worries about their children, but so far everyone has made it out okay”; and, 3) allow yourself to simply enjoy the book! Appreciate the crazy lingo and the super impressive creativity and thoughtfulness of sci-fi writers like Anderson, who can seemingly predict the future. If you want to read more cyberpunk, try the following titles: 

Neuromancer by William Gibson 

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (now also a TV show on Netflix)

Infomocracy by Malka Older

Moxyland by Lauren Beukes 

Want by Cindy Pon (technically YA) 

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, December 2, at 7 pm, to discuss Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

“Peter swept aside Yogi Tea and Harmony Herbal Blend, though he hesitated a second over the chamomile. But no. Violent death demanded Earl Grey.”

Books on Tap met at Champion Brewing Company on Thursday, October 7 for a lively and loud discussion of Still Life by Louise Penny. Library events are not all quiet and subdued, that’s for sure! 

“Cozy mysteries” are an entire subset genre of mysteries, defined by NoveList in this way: “In ‘cozies,’ an amateur or professional sleuth investigates to uncover the truth behind puzzling circumstances (frequently involving murder, or some sort of unusual crime). Traditionally set in a small, close-knit community full of colorful characters, the criminal/murderer in question easily passes as just another local. While serious issues may be raised, cozy mysteries are generally intended as an escape from day-to-day stresses. The tone is humorous; paranormal elements may be present. Violence occurs ‘off-stage’; murder scenes are briefly described, without undue lingering on graphic details. By the end of the story, justice is always served (arrest and trial optional). Cozies are often written in themed series and may have modern or historical settings.” Common characteristics include avoiding overt sexuality, profanity, and graphic descriptions of violence. In fact, the mystery itself is almost secondary. Instead, memorable characters and relationships take center stage. 

Characters were certainly central to this book! We found the story entertaining and easy to zip right through, in part because of the characters: likeable lead detective Gamache, jovial townspeople, incompetant yet prideful newbie-detective Nichol, and plenty of “usual suspects” to keep us guessing. One of our favorite moments, for its wholesomeness, intrigue, and peculiar poignance, was when Gamache gathered the entire community to gather information, potential leads, and general thoughts. While we didn’t think it would ever happen in real life, it was strangely appropriate in this book, because Gamache genuinely needed the perspective of the town, as he was an outsider. Many readers enjoyed (or at least noticed) that this book was different from plot-driven, cliffhanger-obsessed mystery novels. 

We discussed plot holes, plot questions, and what elements of the structure were “weak” in our minds. One reader lamented: “If this had happened in real life this mystery could not have been solved. In many books, you finish and think, ‘I should have known!’ But in this one, I didn’t have that feeling, because it was all so crazy and unbelievable.” Book clubs are amazing ways to connect with other readers, share your opinions, and also ask questions. We enjoyed hearing readers ask “why would this character do that?” and “what was going on inside her head?” 

Towards the conclusion of our discussion, we asked an ominous question. Would you do something if you knew you would get away with it? Maybe murder, maybe something else — where is the limit of what you would do? A reader followed up with: what if you did something accidentally, and then found out the full scope of the negative consequences — would you come forward? How strong is your moral compass? And how does reading a mystery novel, centered on a murder, shape that part of you? Food for thought for you today!

Other authors mentioned: 

Janet Evanovich

Lee Child (Jack Reacher novels)

Michael Connelly 

Robert Parker

Carl Hiassen

Agatha Christie 

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, November 4, at 7 pm, to discuss Feed by M.T. Anderson. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

“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.