Brown Baggers’ Book Picks

openbook_218939077The Brown Baggers Book Group skipped their usual discussion in December and instead spent the hour deciding what titles the group will read in the upcoming months (and eating delicious snacks).

Many current and classic titles were suggested by members, but after several rounds of voting we had some clear winners. Upcoming titles that the group will read include both fiction and nonfiction books as well as some award winners.

Here are the upcoming titles for June 2017 through May 2018:

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

1984 by George Orwell

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

If you would like to join the Brown Baggers Book Group, you’re welcome to come to the Central Library on the third Thursday of the month from 12-1pm and participate in our lively discussion. You can call us at 434.979.7151 ext. 4 for more information or send us an email. Also, check out JMRL’s wiki for the books that weren’t picked this time as well as book club selections from previous years.


“Which police? I asked. Exactly, he said.”

the-round-houseThe Brown Baggers book club read The Round House by Louise Erdrich for November. This novel won the National Book Award winner for fiction in 2012 and Erdrich has won numerous awards for her various works.

Set on a fictional Indian Reservation in North Dakota, The Round House is a coming of age story that centers on a crime story. The story is narrated by Joe Coutts, who is looking back at his time as a thirteen year old boy during the summer when a violent crime was committed against his mother. The novel showcases the problems with the justice system between the Indian Reservation and the state government. Joe learns that justice can be hard to obtain, especially when the jurisdiction on where to prosecute the crime is not clear. One of the main characters, Joe’s father, Antone Bazil Coutts, is a tribal judge and is also featured in Erdrich’s 2008 book The Plague of Doves. Bazil knows that the conviction of the crime is complicated by jurisdictional rules and he explains this to his son as they try to cope with what has happened. We recognize that Joe has a need for vengeance especially when the conviction takes too long and he sees the defendant walking around town instead locked up in jail.

So, what did the readers think about this book? Generally, they really enjoyed the book, loved the main characters, and thought the supporting characters were very likeable. Other readers pointed out that for a book with such a heavy theme there were some hilarious stories interjected by characters. Some readers shared their experiences of visiting Indian Reservations and the differences between cultures. Members of the book group also brought up parallels between the confusion of who had jurisdiction over the crime in the story to the current construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and jurisdiction over the land that it will go through.

More Information
Author Interviews
From NPR: In ‘House,’ Erdrich Sets Revenge on a Reservation
From PBS: Conversation: Louise Erdrich on her New Novel, ‘The Round House’
From BookPage: Louise Erdrich- The Heartbreaking Toll of Revenge

Other Erdrich Works
Erdrich has written numerous novels, as well as poetry, non-fiction, and children’s literature. Her most recent novel is LaRose which was published this year. LaRose takes place in the same setting as The Round House.

Similar Reads
Canada by Richard Ford
Thirteen MoonsThirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
The Plague of Doves by Louis Erdrich

Other topics to think about:
Dakota Access Pipeline Protests covered by Time
Tribal Justice and the prosecution of non-Natives for sexual assault on Reservations by PBS Newshour
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization 2013

Brown Baggers will meet again on December 15 to select the books to be read for the upcoming months.

“Is this reality, the final reality, or just a new deceptive dream?”

kingqueenVladimir Nabokov’s King, Queen, Knave was our Brown Baggers choice for September. It features, not surprisingly, three main characters – head of household Dreyer, bitter wife Martha, and impressionable youth Franz. Readers agreed that not a single one of these characters was sympathetic. They are extremely superficial and had a significant lack of moral bearing. Both Dreyer and Martha engage in affairs (Martha’s being with Franz), perhaps because it’s expected of them –  one of the many accepted activities in their social class. Martha and Franz spend much of the book plotting Dreyer’s murder. Dreyer has a myopic, some considered jovial, view of the world that doesn’t lead him to heavily involve himself in the life of others, including his wife. Manipulation and greed were par for the course, and readers suggested the drive to murder and cheat might be a result of the characters’ staid lives and a need for more excitement. While the mystery of would they or won’t they kept the pages turning, most readers were just glad to reach an ending and didn’t have strong feelings as to what became of these characters, especially as the ending was not entirely fair to some of the characters.

Aside from the characters, Nabokov’s writing, especially his description and language, were praised. Readers were also entranced by his ability to paint a fever dream of surreality, notably when Franz experiences Berlin without his glasses, and later when he starts to come unhinged from the pressure to commit murder from Martha. Nabokov also employs seamless transitions between one character’s story line and actions and another which was impressive. The author relied heavily on metaphor – including a whole automannequin (robot) sequence that emphasized the robotic nature and actions of the main characters, especially Franz doing whatever Martha told him, and also served to symbolize the growing Nazi following in Germany at that time. Another metaphor was the repeated mentions of the film King, Queen, Knave which readers took as a metaphor for the dramatic and theatrical lives the characters were leading.

Those who had read Nabokov’s other works, like Lolita, and other noted Russian authors, found this book to be less intense and introspective than those. The internal lives and extended internal dialog of characters was not found here.

More Information:
Author who inspired Nabokov – H.G. Wells
A few of the authors inspired by Nabokov – Thomas Pynchon, Jhumpa Lahiri, John Banville
Paris Review interview with Nabokov (1967)
Excerpt from James Mossman interview with Nabokov (1969)


Similar Books:
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink – This former Brown Baggers choice about an older woman-teen boy affair came to mind when reading the Martha-Franz relationship.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – This former Brown Baggers choice about a death and the subsequent cover up matched the intrigue of this book.

The next Brown Baggers meeting will be October 20. We’ll be reading Gray Mountain by John Grisham.