“Just Go Knock on the Door!”

81E84+ww+YLBooks on Tap read Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak at  Champion Brewery on December 6. Hornak, a journalist, got the germ of the plot from a friend who underwent a voluntary 30 day quarantine after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. In her novel, it’s older daughter Olivia who forces her family into a week’s quarantine over Christmas when she returns from treating the fictional Haag virus. Her sister Phoebe resents the parties she’s missing with posh new fiance George; Emma is thrilled to have everyone back at the estate she’s inherited despite her hidden health problem and father Andrew’s love child is about to make himself known. A soapy holiday drama, the story nevertheless reminds us of our own family dynamics and was a quick read for the busy end of the year.

Hornak’s characterizations are pretty thin but her dialog and descriptions spot-on. She describes the family estate so well that it becomes a (cold, cluttered) character itself and it’s easy to imagine a movie adaptation. While the family members were one-dimensional, they all seemed to have grown at the tidy conclusion. Giving each character his or her own chapter kept any one’s grievances from becoming overbearing. The various subplots and coincidences, like the “gay intrigue” were a bit much, but generally we all liked this big-hearted family story.

More Information:
About the author
About the book

Read Alikes:
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
“The Dead” by James Joyce
Get Out

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“Message in the Closet”

pasted image 0Books on Tap read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood at  Champion Brewery on November 2. The book, originally published in 1985, is being read again both because of the current political climate and the Hulu television adaptation (many JMRL book clubs have read the book this year). The novel is based on the taped diary of Offred, a women living in the Republic of Gilead (one the United States), a monotheocracy where women are only valued for their reproductive potential. It is #37 on ALA’s frequently challenged list and #34 in PBS’ The Great American Read.

Book club members liked Atwood’s writing style, although the story itself was creepy. Those of us who have seen the movie or tv adaptations said their strong visual styling replaced their own mental images. We also thought that they story was believable; her Gilead was recognizably America. Why she never explains how the theocracy gains total power, Atwood has said repeatedly that none of the restrictions and oppressions in the book are invented. Everything that happens in Gilead happened on earth prior to 1986. The near-future setting allowed us to wonder what we would do in similar circumstances, and is clearly resonating with others today, like those have been dressing as handmaids at recent protests. While Atwood was writing about fundamentalism, evangelicals and environmental disasters specific to the mid 1980s, history repeats and keeps this story current.

Offred serves as a handmaid, a reproductive surrogate, for the Commander and his wife Serena Joy. While Offred had been an educated, caring woman before the establishment of Gilead, her current isolation dampens her personality. She once had friends, a child and a partner. Now, she only speaks with another handmaid on her weekly shopping trips and secretly both plays Scrabble with the Commander and meets with his chauffeur, Nick.

The isolation works to tamp down a small resistance movement. Communication is difficult. Ofglen, another handmaid, has to hide a message to Offred in a closet. The murdered bodies of resistors are displayed in public. Offred at first thought her husband could protect her from Gilead’s restrictions and then laid low in hopes of protecting her daughter. She seemed resigned at the hanging she witnesses, possibly due to Stockholm syndrome.

Rationalization was possible because Gilead’s policies didn’t touch anyone Offred knew at first. Then, women policed each other, saving themselves but reinforcing the patriarchy. While people must have believed in the religion at some point, it is now used as a weapon. Those not practicing face peer pressure and family alienation. The only way to integrate in the culture is to participate in the religion.

The epilogue revealed that the bulk of the story is taken from an incomplete set of of tapes of Offred’s oral history. It’s hard to judge if Offred is an unreliable narrator or if missing parts of the story are captured on the yet-to-be discovered tapes. Offred, whose true name is never known, is further sidelined from her own story by the male academics presenting a paper on her edited tapes. They care so little about her humanity that the reader is left wondering: did she escape?

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Hulu series
1990 Movie
Gilead in the Bible

The Great American Read #1 is To Kill a Mockingbird. #100 is Dona Barbara.

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“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments when you shouldn’t be?”

thehateugiveBooks on Tap read and discussed the CvilleOneBook title The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on Thursday, October 4 at Champion Brewery. The award-winning young adult novel is being read and discussed in local schools this fall thanks to a specially printed edition of the book funded by community donations and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

There was a lot to unpack with this book and the discussion was lively and lengthy. The plot revolves around 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses a police-involved fatal shooting of her friend and the subsequent impact on her, her family and her community.

While the book dealt with many difficult issues, everyone in the group gave it positive reviews for how the subjects were handled. Themes include stereotyping and racism, activism, bravery, family and community. The characters make historic references to Emmett Till, The Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Tupac Shakur (title reference/Thug Life), Dr. Martin Luther King and mention very recent victims of police brutality.

One reader said that her church discussion group found the language in the book offensive. The Books on Tap group felt that the book would not seem authentic if the author had cleaned up all the language. Who is the book meant to appeal to? Teens.

The group also discussed the extent of code-switching that Starr and many THUG characters go through in order to fit in. Many of us also do the same, but to a generally lesser degree and the group discussed a few personal examples.

We briefly discussed the importance of reading diverse books to get exposure to other people’s worlds and build understanding and a sense of community. The characters and the issues in THUG are deftly portrayed to make the book appealing, not defensive.

National Book Award Longlist
Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee (Mystery Writers of America)
Coretta Scott King Honor (Author)
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
William C. Morris Award

Other books mentioned:
Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

More information:
Upcoming movie (release date 10/19)
Controversy around THUG as required reading

The Atlantic
Huffington Post

At the November 1 meeting, the group will choose titles to discuss January-May 2019.

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