“But when you’re inside it, the closet is vast.”

marriage of a thousand liesCentral Library launched the new LGBTQ Book club on June 26.with Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu.  This debut novel follows Lakshmi, a lesbian Sri Lankan-American married to her gay Indian-American college friend but caught up with her childhood best friend and first love, Nisha. Just as her complicated relationship with Nisha rekindles, Lakshmi’s front of a marriage is crumbling. In fact, her whole life is quietly changing. She’s lost her full time desk job and is a freelance illustrator. She’s left the home she and Kris share and has moved back with her mother to care for her dying grandmother. Turns out Nisha has a wide circle of local lesbian friends from her college rugby days, who embrace Lakshmi (Lucky) and in whom she sees another way of living. Throughout, she must contend with the secrets and accusations of betrayal within her family.

We agreed that we all liked the book, especially it’s specific lens of the Boston Sri Lankan community. This specificity didn’t prevent the story from feeling universal, however, and each of us recognized part of ourselves in it. We noticed that Kris almost disappears from the story, but Lucky’s mother, who has been shunned and worries about the same fate for her daughters, is a driving force.  The mother’s support is all one-way, with no adaptation. While we sympathized with her feeling stuck, we also wondered if her daughters would ever take her in the same way she did for her mother. Nisha’s support is also one-way, in her own direction. We wondered if she was a user because she was scared (the girls seemed in physical danger when first together as teens by Nisha’s parents) or because she was spoiled and didn’t have to think of anyone else.

Nisha does open up a new world to Lucky through her chosen rugby family. Through these women Lucky reconnects with the physical release of emotion she first discovered dancing with Nisha. We decided that in both dancing and rugby Lucky finds self-acceptance and an identity not controlled by her family. One of Lucky’s sisters conforms to parental pressure and the other one lives independently but with no familial contact. The women of the rugby house offer Lucky one blueprint for the next chapter of her life with her needs and wants at the forefront.  Ultimately, we felt hopeful for Lucky.

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“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

fahrenheit451coverBooks on Tap read Fahrenheit 451  by Justin Torres at Champion Brewery on June 7.  The group votes on the titles we read each period and this was our “classic” selection. Many of us had read it in high school or had watched the 1966 film adaptation (none of us has seen the newest HBO version) and recalled the basic outline: in the near future fireman Guy Montag burns books because they are dangerous, meets a young woman, rethinks society and his role in it and joins a band of outcasts determined to memorize and preserve literature as the government fakes his assassination. Throughout he is surrounded by citizens who use entertainment and drugs to numb themselves, making it easy for a political/military elite to wage a war that seems to destroy the cities in the end.

The group doesn’t read many sci-fi titles and this one was within our comfort zone. The wall-to-wall screens and omnipresent earbuds presaged today’s obsession with Facebook, Twitter, Virtual Reality and fandoms. The mechanical dog functions like today’s drones, complete with the paranoia of being singled out for constant monitoring and crime-fighting-through-DNA. Similarly, Montag’s wife Mildred is repeatedly overdosing and being brought back with little fanfare and with seemingly no harm. Not only was this a way for her to numb herself against the monotony of her life and to distract her and the rest of the population from the war, it also reminded 2018 readers of the current opioid epidemic.

We were most interested in Montag’s boss, Chief Beatty. He seems conflicted – he’s read and hidden books but daily burns them and those who hide them. It was unclear if he was currently reading books or had memorized some and was now just hoarding them as a display of power. Some of us posited that Beatty committed suicide by provoking Montag. We then considered Montag’s young friend, Clarisse. She is the one who exposes Montag to an alternative way of living, where people discuss ideas and sit on porches to meet with neighbors. Not only is she one of the few people to talk to Montag for any length of time, she is one of the few woman with a backstory.

Bradbury’s coda disappointed us. He claims that writers are splintering into ethnic, social and racial divisions but until recently sci-fi was notoriously non-diverse. It was hard to square this novel, a call to arms to preserve intellectual freedom, with his restrictive view of how writing should be presented.

What struck us most about the novel in 2018 was need for deep, sustained reading for pleasure as opposed to purpose. It is an antidote to our plugged in society, getting us out of our bubbles and exercising our attention spans. That led us to list the books that hooked us on reading as children and young adults:

Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Roald Dahl‘s works
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Cherry Ames series
Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope

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Adaptations:
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Read Alikes:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Stand by Stephen King
A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Mr. Burns, a Post-electric Play by Anne Washburn
This is America a music video by recording artist Childish Gambino

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“To give the dog a voice would be silly.”

cvr9781442434110_9781442434110_hrBooks on Tap read The Call of the Wild  (other editions available) by Jack London at  Champion Brewery on January 4. It was the perfect chilly night to discuss a book set in the Yukon. A short, spirited classic about the conversion of a pet dog into a wild, independent creature, it was either a re-read or vaguely familiar to all participants. In it, Buck, a large pet dog, is stolen and sold away from a California ranch to traders in Canada during the gold rush. Beaten into submission, he quickly adapts and then thrives as a sled dog. Eventually, he becomes fully feral and a legend in the woods. Inspired by London’s participation in the Klondike Gold Rush, the story was originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post and built on his earlier success with The Son of the Wolf.

The novel is told from Buck’s perspective, if not in his voice (see the title of this blog for a possible reason why). This choice by London intensifies Buck’s transition from pet to creature of the wild and cranks up the dramatic tension. For instance, we the reader understand why Manuel sells Buck from the ranch in California but come to understand later that Buck was more loved as a working animal with John Thornton on the trail than he ever was as a pampered pet. However, this style of narration did open up London to accusations of anthropomorphizing. Both Teddy Roosevelt and naturalist John Burroughs accused him of creating animals who were “men in fur.” London answered that The Call of the Wild and White Fang were instead “a protest against the ‘humanizing’ of animals,” and that they were motivated not by reasoning but by “instinct, sensation, and emotion, and by simple reasoning.”

According to one interpretation, the characters can be seen as political figures, a la Orwell’s Animal Farm. In that reading, the man in the red sweater is a stand-in for the USSR. It certainly succeeded as a non-political tale. None of the readers around the table were particularly struck by the political interpretation, we pick up on the influence of Darwin’s Origin of the Species (one of two books autodidact London took into the the Yukon, the other being Milton’s Paradise Lost). The brutal survival-of-the fittest ethos is vividly captured in scenes in which Buck fights both men and beasts making us wonder if the novel would be as heavily marketed to children if it were released today. Having read Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms in November, we compared the two self-consciously masculine writers. London won on all counts: description, emotion and heart. Continue reading