“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”

handmaids taleThe Brown Baggers gathered on September 20 to discuss The Handmaid’s Tale by award-winning author Margaret Atwood just in time for Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association, The Handmaid’s Tale has been one of the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books” since 1990.

The novel is told by Offred- her real name is unknown. She is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian state that has replaced the United States of America. In this future there are dangerously low reproduction rates, so Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that can’t conceive. Offred’s freedom, and the freedom of all women, is completely restricted- women aren’t allowed to have jobs, own property, or have money. Offred tells the story of her life, sometimes through flashbacks.

The Brown Baggers loved this dystopian novel- and also hated it. The group was divided on the book- some thought it was thought-provoking and really enjoyed how the messages in the book were portrayed. But others found it difficult to read and even upsetting.

Some readers mentioned that the caste system in Gilead was similar to other caste systems (past and present) around the world. Colors were referenced throughout the novel, and readers quickly picked up on the meanings of colors that the women in the book were forced to wear. Some also mentioned that there was a lot of reporting and spying on neighbors depicted in the novel and thought this was very reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Most Brown Baggers agreed that they like the character Moira- who was Offred’s best friend and had a fiery, strong personality, and it was sad that we did not find out her fate. Other readers did not like the ending of the book because it was so ambiguous, but some didn’t mind this. Overall, most felt that the book was interesting and made for a great discussion!

The Brown Baggers will discuss H is for Hawk on October 18 at 12pm.

More Information:
Article about Atwood from the New Yorker
Review from the Washington Post (from 1986)

Titles mentioned:
Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Children of Men by P.D. James
Pure by Linda Kay Kline
1984 by George Orwell
Educated by Tara Westover

“Some things were inevitable. You’d have to be a fool to think otherwise.”

51k4tgddlulBrown Baggers met on March 16 to discuss Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, JMRL’s 11th NEA Big Read book selection. Silver Sparrow follows the story of teen daughters of one man, but two separate women.  One teen daughter knows there are two families, but the other does not.

Readers discussed a variety of themes and characters in the book.

The main take away was that this story seemed to hit on the universality of family problems. While the family in the center of the novel is black, readers felt that their race wasn’t really the point and that the author endeavored to keep it as neutral an element as possible. Instead Jones set a family drama in  a neighborhood familiar to her which happens to be a primarily black neighborhood in Atlanta.

Readers went on to discuss what the notion of family meant in the story. They noted that non-blood related “brothers” James and Raleigh seemed to have a stronger familial bond than blood-related sisters Dana and Chaurisse.

Some readers thought James was neither good nor bad, because as humans we all make poor choices. But others felt he was definitely bad due to the discord he sowed with Dana and Gwen, although they sometimes realized this only later in the story. Some felt he was not as vibrant a character as any of the women. Readers suggested his fatal flaw was the lying it took to maintain his bigamist lifestyle. His value of family bonds and loyalty led him to make the decision he did at the end.

Speaking of women and their vibrancy, we talked about whether the girls confidence or lack thereof was a result of how their father treated them or having to share him. Readers felt more that the behaviors and attitudes modeled by the mothers were what ultimately had the strongest impression on the girls. Gwen being self sufficient, independent, and confident in her looks and abilities made Dana behave similarly, whereas Laverne being unsure of herself and condemning  of her own looks impressed similar behaviors on Chaurisse. Overall readers enjoyed the mother-daughter relationships.

One reader said it best when addressing the bigamy, “Sometimes you don’t do the most sensible things.” While readers enjoyed both stories, in the end they only felt sad for all the characters because no one ends up happy as a result of their decisions.

Mentions
Steel Magnolias play and film
Hair Story book
Good Hair film

Additional Information
Author bio
NEA Big Read website

Brown Baggers will meet again on April 20 to discuss Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough.

A Discussion of Silver Sparrow

Written by Stella Pool, Monticello Avenue Coordinator

51k4tgddlul

Like many book clubs in the JMRL area, my book group often reads the title for the NEA Big Read. We’ve been together as a group for 15 years and have a diverse reading list of both fiction and non-fiction. We routinely collect a quarter from each member at our monthly meetings and over the years, have donated several books to JMRL. We chose to read Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones this month and as a result, had a lively discussion at our meeting.

Instead of a discussion of who did what in the book, our discussion of Silver Sparrow focused on the relationship between fathers and daughters. We talked about our own fathers and how that relationship affected us as girls and the women we eventually became. Characteristics including displaying affection and our general sense of self-worth were influenced by how we were raised. Some of us are stronger women because of our fathers while others succeeded in spite of them.

Our discussion also touched on whether a man should be judged by the good he does in his lifetime or by his “bad” behavior. Could you excuse James Witherspoon’s infidelity because otherwise he was a good son, husband, father, and friend? Our group was divided over the question while some felt we shouldn’t judge him at all.

I recommend Silver Sparrow if you’re looking for a thought-provoking book for your book club. If you aren’t a member of a book group, join in the discussion at several JMRL branches in March. Just check jmrl.org/bigread for the dates/times.