“Once a story you’ve regarded as true has turned false, you begin suspecting all stories.”

Having read and discussed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in September 2018, the Central Library Brown Baggers tackled The Testaments at their September 2020 virtual meeting.  Set in the fictional American state of Gilead, and Canada, 15 years after the conclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale, the story is told through three perspectives, (two of whom change names at least once).  Aunt Lydia is a continuing character from The Handmaid’s Tale and provides background information on Gilead as she is writing her life experience for future researchers.  The plot revolves around an underground road to escape Gilead and strategies to bring about the eventual collapse of the oppressive society.  

The group also discussed at some length the various themes including abuse of power, conformity, and gender roles in a dystopian society, especially compared to our modern world. They also considered the literary intentions of both Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, and whether or not these intentions were clear or successful.

Brown Baggers admitted being confused at first by the various voices telling the tale, and expressed confusion at the shifting timeline and landscapes.  They also felt that The Handmaid’s Tale was a much more compelling story than this sequel.  The ending seemed to happen quickly and was unbelievable for some.  Most did not find this to be a hopeful story, despite Atwood’s conviction that it is. Some were pleased to have more backstory for the character of Aunt Lydia, who appears in both books and the companion TV series, and said the additions to her character were worth reader confusion.

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on October 15 at noon to discuss A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books Mentioned:

Homefront by Kristin Hannah

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Film:

The Lavender Scare 

Links:

CBS News: “I Can Never Believe It Can’t Happen Here – David Rothman

Los Angeles Times: Margaret Atwood on Her Virtual ‘Testaments’ Tour Wardrobe, Totalitarianism, and Trump

National Public Radio: Atwood Hints at a Brighter Future in ‘Handmaid’ Sequel – Maureen Corrigan

The Atlantic: Margaret Atwood Bears Witness – Sophie Gilbert

KCRW Radio: ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Testaments’ Author Margaret Atwood on Villains, Aunt Lydia, and Hope  –  Madeleine Brand

Margaret Atwood’s Biography

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”

On August 20th, the Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually to discuss Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

This book tells the story of Kya Clark, called the ‘Marsh Girl’ by the small town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina. She has survived most of her life out in the marsh, after escaping an untenable family situation. But Kya’s attempts to get closer to other people comes to an unthinkable climax when popular local Chase Andrews is found dead, and she is implicated as the primary suspect. This story manages to encompass the vibrant, detailed life of a naturalist, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and the court drama of a murder mystery.

With a record-breaking turnout for their digital meetings, there was lots of lively discussion for the Brown Baggers. As a whole, the Brown Baggers had mixed reactions to  this book. Although most agreed it was a worthwhile read, many questioned if its fame and accolades had swollen their expectations beyond what the title could actually deliver. Several found parts of the book to be over-dramatic, bordering on melodrama, especially the court scenes.

There was much discussion of the heartbreaking angle of child abandonment and abuse, which led to discussions of prejudice and interpersonal violence that harked back to previous book discussions from earlier in the year. The character of Kya was critiqued at length, with many Brown Baggers pointing out that she was a prime target for an abusive predator, after her years of loneliness and mistrust, and that a real friendship or support system may have saved her from the further abuse she endured.

Overall, opinions were mixed on almost all elements, but many said it was a gripping enough story that they could not help but finish it, despite misgivings about certain elements.

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on Thursday, September 17th, to discuss The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which the Brown Baggers read back in September 2018. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books mentioned:

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy

Educated by Tara Westover

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

Links:

New York Times: The Long Tale of ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ – Alexandra Alter

What is Behavioral Ecology

Learn More about Behavioral Ecology

Where the Crawdads Sing Book Club Guide (includes interview with the author)

The New Yorker – The Hunted – Jeffrey Goldberg (includes information about the poaching stepsons)

“What kind of idiot goes on a picnic and ends up buying a house?”

The Central Library Brown Baggers met virtually on July 16th to discuss Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant.  

Grant, a British travel writer, and his partner Mariah (a library science  graduate student) move from NYC to Pluto, Mississippi on a whim.  They buy an old house with land in the Mississippi Delta, which comes with inherent home, garden and nature challenges. From the outset it seems like this will be a short adventure, as Grant admits to a nomadic existence. Grant purposefully sets out to get a feel for his new home, meeting his neighbors and learning their stories. Published in 2015, part memoir/part travel/nature writing, the book touches on the impact of the area’s history, poverty, limited employment opportunities and the complexity of race relations in the Delta. Grant also throws in chapters about Parchman penitentiary, local politics, area traditions and limitations of the public school system.

As an outsider, Grant’s British accent seemed to make him novelty and grant him entry into various environments where he inevitably meets a cast of unique characters.  

Some Brown Baggers found the book contrived, as if the author moved to Pluto and set up introductions with people in order to write a book.  However, most enjoyed reading and learning about a place that few will likely visit. There was much discussion of poverty and systemic racism, and the ways it appears throughout the United States, as well as what being an ‘outsider’ really means, and what privileges and disadvantages this offers one.

Links:

“Richard Grant Returns to Pluto”

Other books mentioned:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East

The Red Address Book

Stoner

Dear Committee Members

Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time

Flannery O’Connor

The Yellow House

Travels with Charley; In Search of America

In America

Democracy in America


The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on August 20th to discuss Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone