“Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Treasure Island  by Robert Louis Stevenson, as per our tradition of reading a classic at least once a year. Primarily remembered as a boy’s adventure story, it did lend itself to a lively discussion. 

Those of us reading it for the first time were put off by the nautical terms and more than one was confused by the staging of the action. Others were better able to engage by listening to the audiobook or watching a film adaptation (see below). 

We were surprised to find that many of the things we think of as pirate cliches are present already in this 1883 novel (serialized from 1881-1882). We encountered men with peg legs and one eyes, parrots on shoulders, mutinies, barrels of rum,  pieces of eight and undifferentiated “natives.” Hidden in this adventure tale is an anti-hero. Long John Silver is feared as a violent pirate before he shows up on the page. Jim, our young hero, is terrified of the man until they are thrown together and Jim recognizes the man’s cunning charm. Stevenson doesn’t make a moral judgement but does spotlight the way that greed overcomes ethics and creates shifting alliances. Due to the novel’s dense language, casual violence, sole woman character and questionable representation of “natives,” we wouldn’t recommend it to today’s young reluctant readers. 

Stevensons’s biography intrigued us as much as the novel. Born into wealth in Edinburgh in 1850, he had severe respiratory illness for most of his life. He frequently traveled to warmer areas in Europe, and the United States, dying in Samoa at 44. He followed a widow from Switzerland to the US and later wrote Treasure Island to entertain her son. We wondered if his imagination blossomed during periods of isolation while recovering. One of our members remembers visiting Robert Louis Stevenson-related sites while a child in Northern California. 

Books on Tap will meet again on November 5 via Zoom. For the link, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite,which the library owns in multiple formats. Email Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:
About the Author
Biography (may require library card login)
Great Lives podcast
Wikipedia entry 

About the Novel
Synopsis  (may require library card login)
Wikipedia entry

Other works by Stevenson (including poetry)
Modern parrots who would be at home in a Stevenson novel 

Other Titles Discussed
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
McTeague by Frank Norris 

Film Adaptations:
Available at JMRL
2012 series starring Eddie Izzard, recommended by a book club member 

Upcoming Meetings:
November 5: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
December 3: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

“Then there was the shame of the writer who doesn’t write.”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss The Receptionist: And Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth. As a 19 year old, Groth used her connections to get a job as a receptionist at the New Yorker and stayed in the same position for twenty years, while pursuing a PhD after hours. We were excited to get a snapshot of New York City in the 1960s and 70s and a behind-the-scenes look at the famous names who wrote for the magazine.  Continue reading

“Why did people ask ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Americanah  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  We chose this book because it’s exploration of race and racism in America, originally published in 2013, remains piercingly relevant this summer. The novel follows Ifemelu from her childhood in Nigeria to her education in America and her return to Nigeria as an adult Americanah, a Nigerian who has been Americanized. Through her popular blog, Ifemelu explores what it means to be Black and African in America, the politicization of the Black body and the precariousness of womanhood  worldwide. 

The length of the book prevented many of the members from finishing it before we met. However, even though we found the first two thirds more compelling than the end, we couldn’t point to sections that could have been omitted outright. We delved into the framing story of Ifemelu in an American hair salon shortly before she returns to Nigeria. It was both a clever way to organize the sweeping story and a way to focus on how Ifemelu remains distant from African Americans but exposed to the worst of racism in America. Indeed, her blog becomes popular after she writes about wearing her hair naturally. Comments and criticisms flood in, proving that even innocuous choices are politized in a Black body. By remaining anonymous in the blog, she can tightly focus on her personal story as a African in America and  refuses her African American boyfriend’s request to use it for his social justice goals. 

Ifemelu cannot get legal work in America due to immgiration law, even though she enters the country legally. She must use someone else’s identity to take low paying jobs, including sex work. Her child care job reminded some book club members of Such a Fun Age. Her high school boyfriend, Obinze, loves American culture but due to personal connections, migrates to the United Kingdom for work. Britons claim that migrants there don’t experience racism as they do in America, but Obinze’s experience proves otherwise. Both Ifemelu and Obinze are embarrassed by things they are forced to do as migrants, which exacerbates their separation over 15 years. This called to mind Normal People for some readers. 

Both the author and narrator are dedicated to honesty. It’s this truth telling that attracts Ifemelu and Obinze to each other and keeps them apart when they cannot share the full breadth of their lives outside of Nigeria. Their reunion as adults ends the novel on a hopeful note without distracting the reader from the uncomfortable truths of racism in America.  

Books on Tap will meet again on August 6  via Zoom. For information, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading  The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth. JMRL owns this book in print and as a downloadable book from Freading. Please contact Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:

About the author 

Other works by the author

Interview with the author 

 

Interview with the author

 

We Should All Be Feminists TED Talk 

 

Onyeka Onwenu music

 

Fela music

 

More Nigerian Fiction 

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham 

Blackass by Adrian Igonibo Barrett

Everyday is for the Thief by  Teju Cole

Open City by Teju Cole

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Measuring Time by Helon Habila 

The Travelers by Helon Habila

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya 

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma 

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi 

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Titilola Alexandrah Shoneyin

The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

 

Multiple titles by  Chinua Achebe 

Multiple titles by  Nnedi Okorafor

 

Next Meeting:

August 6th The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth