“On what slender threads do life and fortune hang.”

penguin-count-monte-cristoBrown Baggers had a full house, or at least full Madison Room, at the discussion of the classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas on January 19. Written in 1844, Monte Cristo is a tale of revenge. Edmund Dantes, the main character, is wrongfully imprisoned for over a decade. Upon getting out and learning he has lost his love and his family, he recreates himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and seeks vengeance against those who caused his misfortunes.

Assuming new identities was a common occurrence in this book. In addition to the Count, many of the characters he is after also reappear under other names or with new titles. In the Count’s case, readers felt this also came with a personality change. This could be the result of his harrowing time in prison, or maybe just the persona he needed to complete his vengeful acts.  Once he completes those acts readers noted he again seems to make a personality change.
Revenge versus justice was a discussion point as well. Monte Cristo obviously felt he was meting out justice as he regularly states he is just doing God’s will. Or he may have felt they were one and the same. This speaks to Cristo’s sense of omnipotence.  Readers suggested it might have been from the seemingly unlimited wealth that was bestowed upon him. Alternately it could have stemmed from his near dying in prison, as well as his having nothing left to lose once he got free. Either way his story of “dying” as a way to get out of prison only to be “reborn” felt strongly reminiscent of the killing and resurrection of Jesus. This omnipotence also surfaced in his treatment of characters whom he cared for and was trying to help with his constant mantra for them to trust him despite his outlandish requests.
The lack of actual politics in a book that incorporates political story lines surrounding Napoleon’s return to power surprised readers. They felt this might have been a result of publishing for a general audience and not wanting to offend anyone’s sensibilities. It was remarked that the book seemed to be comprised of simpler, less flowery language making it perhaps easier to read for the masses. Although readers familiar with the original French version felt it was the result of translation . Regardless, it was agreed upon that Dumas thoroughly understood the segment of society that he writes about which is not surprising since they are events that occurred in or near his lifetime.

Many in attendance had read this title before but a few were new finishers of the 117 chapter tome. Everyone enjoyed the story if agreeing that it was highly implausible. Favorite features were Dumas’ generous details, sense of humor, and excellent dialog. It was also acknowledged that the story went slightly off course in the middle. Once the action picked up, though, the final few hundred pages really flew by.

More Information:
Author bio
Harvard Magazine article about how his father influenced the book
Mental Floss article with random trivia about the book
Gizmodo article on real life inspiration for the character of Abbé Faria
2005 French movie featuring Gérard Depardieu

Other titles that came up:
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac (we have the film)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum


Next meeting will be February 16, 2017 at noon. We will be discussing The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale.

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.