“I believe in Christmas and the New World. I believe that there is good in each of us no matter who we are or what we believe in.”

woodsonThe Brown Baggers met on Thursday, March 12, to discuss Jacqueline Woodson’s book, Brown Girl Dreaming.  Woodson’s memoir in verse chronicles growing up from Ohio, to South Carolina, and finally home in Brooklyn throughout the volatile racial and class tensions of the 1960’s.

Told in verse in a series of vivid snapshots, Woodson’s book tells the story of her birth in Ohio, and then her move to South Carolina where she spent much of her childhood living with her siblings under the care of her grandparents. She grows up with segregation, religion, and violence, but also a strong sense of family and a love of place. Finally, she tells of her family move to Brooklyn, which brings its own kinds of gains and losses.

The Brown Baggers had a lively discussion about both the themes and technique of the book. All were very impressed by Woodson’s ability to fill even the sparse text used with imagery and feeling, praising her use of verbs. Some found difficulty grappling with the experience of an ongoing story told in verse format, while others found this refreshing and useful once they became accustomed to it. It was suggested that the audiobook, which is read by the author, might improve the experience.

Many Brown Baggers were pleased to find commonalities in Woodson’s life with their own, despite varied experiences. The ideas of community and family featured heavily in the book, along with migration. Even though not everyone had the same sort of lives, many empathized with Woodson’s experiences gaining and keeping friendships as she grew up, and the powerful feelings which accompany them.

Woodson’s work brought up thoughts and comparisons on diversity in religion, personal experience with not fitting in, and at what age certain topics and experiences are common.

The Brown Baggers agreed that they enjoyed the book and conversation immensely, especially as a Same Page pick, and were interested in looking at more of Woodson’s work in the future.

The Brown Baggers will discuss Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata at our next meeting. During the current closure, the dates have not yet been finalized. When the meeting happens, it will be at the Central Branch, and newcomers are always welcome.


Other Books Mentioned:

Brown Girl Dreaming (Audiobook Version), read by Jaqueline Woodson
—-Also available as an Overdrive eBook and Audiobook
Red at the Bone by Jaqueline Woodson
Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson
Run by Ann Patchett (read by Brown Baggers in January 2009)
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

NPR Interviews with Jaqueline Woodson:

“The most frightening thing in the world is to discover the abnormal in that which is closest to us.”

woman in the dunesThe Brown Baggers met on Thursday, February 20 to discuss Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes.

Considered one of the greatest Japanese novels of the twentieth century, The Woman in the Dunes is a surreal, existential exploration of the individual in a modern, post-WWII society. Abe’s protagonist, who remains unnamed until the end of the story, is an amateur entomologist exploring the seaside for new species of beetles. When he is invited to stay with one of the villagers for the night, he is led down a steep sand dune to find a woman living in a run-down house half-buried by sand. During the night, two shovels and a bucket are delivered from the top of the dune and the woman begins to dig the sand that has fallen into the pit. When a ladder does not appear the next day to carry the man out of the pit, he realizes he is imprisoned with this woman and they must shovel the sand every night or else die of dehydration. In this nightmarish allegory similar in tone to works by Abe’s idols Franz Kafka and Edgar Allen Poe, the man comes to terms with living in a world of “ceaseless and mindless labor.”

Abe leaves much of the story’s ending open to interpretation and the Brown Baggers had a lively debate over the allegory’s lessons. The main character, who we later learn is named Niki Junpei, is a self-involved person who believes he can outsmart his captors. However, his arrogance slowly abates when he accepts to work for the greater good rather than himself. The group also questioned whether or not Junpei connects with the community by the end of the novel. Is he content where he is at or will he attempt to escape again? Some believed that now that Junpei has a routine and thus a purpose, he is satisfied with his new life.

The group was also unsure what to make of the character who shares her home with Junpei and is referred to only as “the woman.” They were confused by her erratic behavior and felt that her portrayal as a second class citizen, although accurate for the time period in which the novel was written, reads as outdated and misogynistic to today’s audience. 

Despite the lingering questions, many of the Brown Baggers enjoyed this challenging book. The Woman in the Dunes continues to intrigue with its mysteries and forces readers to question the role of the individual in modern society.

Film version (English subtitles not available)

Also mentioned:

Jean-Paul Sarte – No Exit

David Guterson – Snow Falling on Cedars

The Brown Baggers will meet again on Thursday, March 12 to discuss Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.

“Libraries were havens for everyone, he might’ve told her, not just the clean and productive.”

midnight book coverThe Brown Baggers met on Thursday, January 16 to discuss Matthew Sullivan’s novel, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  Sullivan, a short story writer and former bookseller at The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and Brookline Booksmith in Boston, pays homage to his bookselling days with this literary mystery set in a Denver bookstore. 

When Joey, a regular patron at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, commits suicide in the shop, the life of bookstore clerk Lydia is turned upside down. Bequeathed with Joey’s possessions, Lydia finds herself unraveling a series mysterious clues Joey has left hidden in books. As she gets closer to deciphering Joey’s message, Lydia must confront a violent memory of her own past with unanswered questions, including the identity of a murderer known as the Hammerman.

Many of the Brown Baggers noted that as a mystery, the book kept them on their toes. Like any good psychological thriller, Sullivan keeps his readers guessing as he balances two puzzles: Joey’s cryptic messages and the cold case from Lydia’s childhood.  No one was able to identify the murderer before they were identified, which kept them wanting to read on. As a “literary mystery,” however, the book felt too contrived and not as well written as others in the genre. Despite the intricate plot, or perhaps because of it, there were too many coincidences and the connections between seemingly unrelated characters too farfetched to be realistic. 

The Brown Baggers will discuss The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe on Thursday, February 20 at 12pm in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.

Other Books Mentioned:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie