Read With Us

Throwing Caution To The Wind

Read With Us

Generally speaking, I'm cautious when it comes to recommending books to other people. I actually don't do it very often, and only if I really, really understand someone else's reading tastes and can match my recommendation to what they may enjoy.

I mean, I'm notorious among people who know me . . . for liking books others don't find appealing. You see, I'm a big fan of the gritty, messy, "hard" books. The ones with ambigous endings. Or books that feature characters without names. Or books with weird punctuation. I tend to appreciate authors that stab you in the heart, and then twist the knife around a bit. Sometimes more than a bit. That kind of thing. (Although I absolutely draw the line at books where animals die or come to harm.)  

So I've learned to be careful about making recommendations.
Because not everyone likes that kind of book.
I often say . . . I loved it. Your mileage may vary.
And people generally get what I'm saying.

Our most recent Read With Us pick . . . 

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ummm . . . well. It might fit into that category of books I'm cautious about recommending. It's gritty, and definitely messy. Some people might say it's "hard," (but I'd just say it's life.) The ending is kinda-sorta ambiguous (spoiler alert: everything is not tied into a pretty bow, neat as you please, by the final page). All the characters do have names, and the author uses standard punctuation -- but there is a lot of dialect (which can be somewhat challenging until you get the hang of it). And, yeah. The author definitely stabs you in the heart and twists it around - real good - a few times.

I loved it.
Your mileage may vary.
But I'm going to throw caution to the wind . . . and recommend it to you anyway.
I really do hope you'll pick up a copy and give it a try!

Because Shuggie Bain . . . is definitely a book worth reading. The writing is brilliant, the story compelling. It's completely "readable" . . . despite the dark subject matter. And that . . . is a testament to the mastery of author Douglas Stuart. He writes so tenderly about hurt and damaged people who are just trying to make their way in a world that isn’t helping them at all. You'll care about his characters so much and so deeply, despite their ugliness and all their flaws. It's Powerful Stuff, I tell you.

While not a memoir, author Douglas Stuart did draw upon his own experience as a queer boy growing up in Glasgow with a single mother who struggled with addiction in writing the novel (his first, by the way). NPR's Scott Simon did an excellent interview with Douglas Stuart in November 2020, just days before Shuggie Bain won the Man Booker prize. It's worth a listen -- and at only 6 minutes long, it's quick and easy, too. (Plus, Douglas Stuart's accent is absolutely charming.)

Speaking of accents . . . Much of the book is written in Glaswegian dialect (also known as Glasgow patter) (and I'm not making that up). It doesn't make it impossible to read or understand the book -- I had no trouble getting the meaning through context, but this little Glaswegian Dictionary would have been a helpful reference. I started out reading the hardback version of the book, but before long, I found I really wanted to hear the voices and the dialect, so I grabbed the audiobook version and alternated between reading with my eyes and my ears. I highly recommend this approach, as it added depth to my reading experience.

Although our turnaround time from announcement to discussion is a bit shorter than usual for this book, you've still got plenty of time to read along. We'll be posting our blog book discussion questions on Tuesday, June 8 -- and then we'll be hosting another Zoom book discussion later that same evening at 7:00 pm Eastern time. (I know that makes it early if you're in the Mountain or Pacific time zones, but Bonny, Carole, and I all live in Eastern time -- and we turn into pumpkins if it gets to be too late.) I hope you can make plans to join us for the Zoom. We've had a couple of great discussions now. It's a lot of fun to get together and talk books with blog friends. 

I do hope you'll join us!

I highly recommend this one. . . 
I really do.

 


Better Together . . . C'mon Along

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"For most people, what is so painful about reading is that you read something and you don't have anybody to share it with. In part what the book club opens up is that people can read a book and then have someone else to talk about it with. Then they see that a book can lead to the pleasure of conversation, that the solitary act of reading can actually be a part of the path to communion and community."
        --bell hooks

Some books . . . just cry out . . . to be discussed.
You can't just read them alone, and then keep them to yourself. 
You need to talk about it!

And that's what's so great about a book group.

Keep that in mind as we reveal our next Read With Us title . . . 

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NPR has this to say about Shuggie Bain (2020's Booker Prize winner):

"Shuggie Bain is a novel that cracks open the human heart, brings you inside, tears you up, and brings you up, with its episodes of unvarnished love, loss, survival and sorrow."
        -- NPR Interview with Douglas Stuart, Author, November 14, 2020

So, yeah.
It's kinda dark.
It's kinda long.
It's sad.
And very real.

But it's . . . So. Dang. Good.

And it will be even better when we share it together! Shuggie Bain is one of those books that cries out . . . to be talked about. Preferrably with friends. (And maybe with a glass of wine. Your call.) I hope you'll take a chance on this book with us. It may not offer an everything-works-out-in-the-end kind of read, but it will make you feel all the feels.

The book is currently available on Kindle for $8.67, and it's recently been released in paperback as well ($14.30 for Prime members). My local independent bookstore has it on the shelf for full price, and it's also available through Audible if you'd prefer to listen. I was able to pick it up right away at my library. It is a little bit longer than any of our previous Read With Us selections, so you may want to get your hands on the book sooner than later. (I will say that it's quite compelling, and once you get started, it reads pretty quickly.)

We'll be talking more about the book and providing some background information later in April and May. Then . . . mark your calendars now for our blog book discussions AND a Zoom discussion on Tuesday, June 8 (probably 6:30pm Eastern time; Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel).

I hope you'll c'mon along. 
Read with us!
And then . . . let's talk about it.

==

Previous Read With Us book selections:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

 


It's a Wrap

Thanks so much for coming along on our Read With Us adventure! 

Read With Us

A week ago, we hosted the book discussion for our latest selection, Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, on our blogs and then with a lively Zoom meet-up. The discussions were interesting and engaging, and I think it's safe to say . . . people had strong feelings about this book! (Which is truly the hallmark of a great book group selection in my estimation. Discussable books always make the best book group picks.)

Leave the World Behind

After reading the blog book discussion comments, and then being part of the Zoom discussion, I think it's safe to say that readers were in agreement with three things:

  1. The book was, indeed, creepy. The scenario as laid out in the book was just a little bit too believable. Or, maybe if not exactly believable . . . certainly imagine-able. While the details didn't always add up (we're looking at you, vacation house rental website . . . ), we could all picture just what it might be like to lose internet, cable, and cell connections . . . and how that would translate to the ways we get our news, communicate with our families, and navigate our days.
  2. The characters weren't particularly consistent . . . or even likeable. Most of us had a hard time relating to the parent-child dynamics going on in the book, especially given the bizarre and unexplained "weirdness" that was happening in the world. (Just sending your kids out to "play"? We thought not. . . )
  3. The writing was very good, which kept us all turning the pages of this compelling story. Even if the story didn't actually wrap up with a nice, tidy explanation (and a bow on top, thankyouverymuch).

And there, really, was the main complaint with this book for many Read With Us readers. It was frustrating . . . to be fed so many partial details and possible clues without ever finding out what happened. Really, author???? And that, apparently, was by design! I read and listened to several interviews with the author in preparation for our discussions, and he claims that even he didn't know what happened! In one interview he states that the book presents about 13 different questions, and it only answers 7 of them. (And we weren't sure that he even answered 7, actually.)

Some of us didn't mind the ambiguity, and just enjoyed the ride. But at least an equal number of us DID mind that ambiguity, and felt the book suffered for those loose ends. And we all decided that if you couldn't suspend your disbelief while reading (about certain facts like the "AirBnB hosting situation," for example), the book would probably not be as enjoyable for you. At least one of us actually changed her feelings about the book following our discussion -- declaring that while she had kinda liked the book coming into the Zoom, she had downgraded her assessment to "not so much" by the end of the call.

Yeah. It was that kind of book.

All in all, it was an interesting book which led to a very good discussion. (I told you it was going to be . . . chewy!) I thank you all for joining in to . . . Read With Us.

(And stay tuned. We'll be announcing our next book group selection soon.)

 


Read With Us: Let's Talk About It

Read With Us

Welcome to Read With Us book discussion week!

Bonny and Carole and I are each posting a different question (or questions) on our blogs today about our latest RWU book . . . Leave the World Behind. Join the discussion (which you're welcome do even if you didn't read the book).  I'll be answering your posts within the comment section for this discussion -- and you can comment on other people's comments, as well. Y'know . . . like in a real book group. (Please know . . . that because of the limitations of Typepad, I can't "layer" or "stack" the comments in my comment feed. Sorry. Bear with me.)

Let's begin. . . 

Leave the World Behind

First . . . I'd really like to know what you thought of the book. How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Do you think it deserves all the media attention and award nominations it has received since its publication last October?

Next . . . Leave the World Behind is a work of fiction, written before the COVID-19 outbreak and the societal uprisings that have shaped 2020. If you had read the novel before 2020, do you think you would have had a different response to it? If so, in what way?

Last . . . In Leave the World Behind, the families grapple with the sudden loss of communications technology --- cell phone, internet and satellite services all fail. What is your relationship to technology? Do you embrace it? Do you wish our society handled its role in our lives differently?

When I read this book, I was completely creeped out. The whole not-being-able-to-communicate (or find out what was even going on) thing just gave me the chills. When I think about how online-connected all of us are now and how much I've bought into digital-everything, it was nightmare-inducing to even think about this for me. And I'm pretty sure that reading this during the pandemic just heightened all the "creep" for me. This was certainly a book that brought out a lot of "feels."

I can't wait to hear what you think!

==

Don't forget: We'll be discussing the book on Zoom tonight - 7:00 pm Eastern Time. There's still time for you to join us! Just let me know of your interest either with a comment or by sending me an email (see sidebar, above) -- and I'll send a Zoom invitation. 

 


Quick Reminder

Just a little Friday reminder here.

Our next Read With Us book discussion is coming right up!

Read With Us

First, the book . . . 

Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. If you haven't had a chance to read it, you still have plenty of time. It's a quick read and quite a page-turner! (The tricky part is getting hold of a copy, if you're relying on your library. It's a popular book right now, and wait times can be long.)

Then, the discussion.

We'll be talking about the book on Tuesday, March 2 -- both on our blogs and with a Zoom meet-up. 

  • Bonny, Carole, and I will each post a different discussion question on our blogs on Tuesday, March 2. Feel free to post your thoughts about the book by commenting throughout the discussion week.
  • Later that same evening, we'll be hosting a Zoom meet-up at 7:00 pm to discuss the book "live" and in person. (Yeah, I know there are limitations with the timing, especially if you're on the west coast. But Bonny, Carole, and I are all in the Eastern Time Zone . . . and we turn into pumpkins if it gets to be too late.) If you want to join us (and we hope you will; we all had a lot of fun with our last Read With Us Zoom), all you need to do is . . . let us know! Just RSVP by leaving a comment on any of our blogs beginning today -- or you can send us an email. I'll be sending out the Zoom information prior to the meet-up -- AND I'll be sending out some background information about the book and the author that will deepen our understanding of the book prior to the discussion.

If you've read the book - or are still planning to - we hope you'll join us for the discussion on March 2.

==

I wish you all enjoy a restful weekend, with plenty of time for reading.

 


Take A Bite

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Some books are just . . . chewier . . . than others.

A little grittier.
Harder to swallow.
Stuff gets stuck in your teeth.

They're the kind of books you may not like, exactly. But you keep thinking about them. And you really want to talk about them with anyone else who's read them.

In short, they're perfect for a book group read! Because there's usually quite a bit to talk about with one of those chewy books. Ideas to work out. Blanks to fill in. Endings to ponder. That kind of thing.

Well. Have I got a book for you!

Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam, is our current Read With Us book selection. And it is definitely a chewy one!

A true "genre-bender" (NPR calls it a "slippery and duplicitous marvel of a novel"), it defies categorization. Thriller with dystopian overtones? Satirical comedy of manners? Coming of age/hero's journey tale? Check. Check. Check. The novel lulls us into thinking we're headed in one direction, when it suddenly veers in another. And pretty soon, we can feel the walls closing in. Or maybe it's the ground falling away under our feet.

However you categorize it, it's definitely unsettling.

Anyway. It's a book worth reading - and it's especially fitting, given The State Of The World.

You've got plenty of time to read the book. (I read it almost in one sitting - it's very compelling and not very long at 256 pages.) We'll be posting our blog book discussion questions on Tuesday, March 3 -- and we'll be hosting another Zoom book discussion later that same evening at 7:00 pm Eastern time. (I know that makes it early if you're in the Mountain or Pacific time zones, but Bonny, Carole, and I all live in Eastern time -- and we turn into pumpkins if it gets to be too late.) I hope you can make plans to join us for the Zoom. We had a great discussion last time - and it's fun to get together with blog friends, too. 

Because the book is still new and popular (given it's timely "buzz" AND as a finalist for the National Book Award), you might encounter a longer wait if you're on hold at the library. If you're interested in getting a copy for yourself, the book has recently come out in paperback, and it's currently available on Kindle for $12.99.

I do hope you'll join us.

Take a bite.
And chew!

==

PS - If you're wondering about the lower ratings for the book when you look at Amazon or Goodreads, I'm just going to say . . . a lot of people don't like the ending. At all. (Chewy, I tell you. And good for discussing with other readers.) If you'd like to check out some other reviews before reading, you can click into the NPR link in the post above. Here are a few others for you:

From The Guardian

From The Washington Post

From the LA Times

 

 


Hold On To Your Hats

Read With Us

Batten down the hatches . . . we've got a live one here!

Yep. Our past Read With Us selections* have run the gamut from memoir to historical fiction to books by authors of color. Good books, interesting books -- but this time . . .  Bonny and Carole and I looked to recent releases.

We looked at lists of books up for awards in 2020 this time, walking right into the Best-of 2020 lists. And we chose . . . 

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Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam.

It turns out, all three of us had this book on our "to read" lists -- and according to Goodreads, it looks like a lot of you do, too.

It's one of those . . . rather chewy . . . books. Y'know. Lots to think about and digest. 
Racism.
Classism.
Inequality.
Climate change.
Overreliance on technology.

So. Nothing comfortable, then.
(Especially during a pandemic. But hey.)
But great for book groups! Apparently it's very well written (I haven't read it yet), with a storyline that sounds sort of reminiscent of Jordan Peele's Get Out. It was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award. And . . . well. . . it's already in development for a Netflix series with Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.

Lots of potential.
Certanly lots to discuss.

This book is getting a lot of buzz.
We want to check it out -- and we hope you'll join us for what looks like a really interesting read. 

One potential drawback: it's a new release, so there aren't really any "deals" out there if you're looking to purchase the book. It was recently released in paperback, though (about $17 on Amazon), and it's available for Kindle ($14.99). I've been on my library's hold-list for some weeks now, but I'm finally next-in-line.

We'll be talking more about the book and providing some background information in January. Mark your calendars now for our blog book discussions AND a Zoom discussion on Tuesday, March 2 (probably 6:30pm Eastern time).

C'mon along! 
Read with us!

==

*
Previous Read With Us book selections:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

 

 


Read With Us: Let's Talk About It!

Read With Us

Welcome to Read With Us book discussion week!

Bonny and Carole and I are each posting a different question (or questions) on our blogs today about our latest RWU book . . . The Women of Brewster Place. Join the discussion (which you're welcome do even if you didn't read the book).  I'll be answering your posts within the comment section for this discussion -- and you can comment on other people's comments, as well. Y'know . . . like in a real book group. (Please know . . . that because of the limitations of Typepad, I can't "layer" or "stack" the comments in my comment feed. Remember when I was having so much trouble with my comments last summer? Yeah. It was because of my attempt at "stacking." Sorry. Bear with me.)

We have another "book lovers" surprise package for you with this book discussion. Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blogs and your name will be entered in the drawing -- the more you comment and participate in the discussion, the more chances you have to win!

Now, let's get on with our discussion.

The Women of Brewster Place

First . . . I'd really like to know what you thought of the book (or the movie, if you watched that). How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Do you think it deserves the attention it got when it was first written? How does it compare to more recent/contemporary novels you've read?

As I read the book (and, later, watched the Oprah Winfrey movie version), I was captivated by the physical "location" of the walled-off Brewster Place. That wall! It just kept everything/everyone in -- or out. And, then. Well. There was that ending! I know a lot of readers didn't like the ending of Brewster Place, or were confused by just what it meant. So, let's talk about that, too.

The actual street - Brewster Place - and its wall are like characters, personified. Do you agree or disagree? And would you say the street/wall is a protagonist or an antagonist? And does the street/wall, itself, have any impact on the story or its outcome?

Okay . . . that ending! What do you make of it? It's meant to be Mattie Michael's dream-scene, with the women of Brewster Place dismantling the wall brick-by brick. Does that work for you? Or not?

I can't wait to hear what you think!

==

Don't forget: We'll be discussing the book on Zoom tonight - 7:00 pm Eastern Time. There's still time for you to join us! Just let me know of your interest either with a comment or by sending me an email (see sidebar, above) -- and I'll send a Zoom invitation. 

 


Updates and Changes and Zooms . . . Oh, My!

So.

Wasn't TODAY . . . supposed to be THE DAY we all discussed the latest 

Read With Us

book selection . . . The Women of Brewter Place????

The Women of Brewster Place

Oh, yes, my friends.
Yes. It was.

And I sincerely hope you'll . . .
understand,
be okay with,
cut us some slack for
. . . making a last minute substitution here.

You see, well. The election and resulting exhaustion got the better of us. We hope our change in the "starting lineup" won't be disappointing for any of you, and that you'll stick with us for a week.

Here's the adjusted plan:

Next week - on Tuesday, November 17 - each of us (Bonny, Carole, and I) will post a book discussion question on our blogs. As always, we encourage discussion-by-comment through the week.

But-wait-there's-more! Also on Tuesday, November 17 at 7:00 pm Eastern Time we will be hosting the FIRST EVER READ WITH US ZOOM book group meet-up! To join in, all you need to do is RSVP to either Bonny, Carole, or I. You will receive a Zoom invitation next Monday. We hope you'll join us. Come along to talk about the book, share a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), and just . . . hang out with us for a while.

So. If you haven't read the book yet - or if you're not quite finished - you've got an extra week to do it. And if you want to supplement your reading (or substitute your reading altogether), you can watch the story unfold before you on Amazon Prime. 

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Oprah Winfrey's The Women of Brewster Place is available to rent for $3.99 (or you can purchase if for $7.99) on Amazon Prime right now. I rented and watched a couple of weeks ago, and found the movie version follows the book very closely. If you don't have time to read the book - or if you just want a refresher - I highly recommend watching this film version.

So.

I hope you'll forgive us for this last-minute change in plans.
And I really hope you'll join in either the discussion or the Zoom meet-up or BOTH next Tuesday!

And, as always, thanks for reading with us!

 


Read With Us: The Women of Brewster Place

Read With Us

As we announced last month, the latest Read With Us book selection is . . . 

The Women of Brewster Place

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor.

This book was first published in 1982, and was awarded the National Book Award for First Novel in 1983. The book is not very long - only 192 pages - but, boy! Does it pack a wallop! Now considered a "contemporary classic," the story is told in 7 interconnected stories -- technically not short stories -- but 7 related stories. As in . . . characters we meet in one story appear in another story. (Think Olive Kitteridge. Or Girl, Woman, Other.

Why did we choose this particular book? Well . . . we know that many of you - like us - are on your own journey in understanding racism. We're trying to be/become allies. We're learning together. We're moving forward. So we thought a book from the Zora Canon might resonate for many of us right now.

Bonny and Carole and I landed on The Women of Brewster Place because it sounded like a book we'd be interested in reading as a sort of fictional "partner" to the non-fiction books we've also been reading: The Warmth of Other Suns, Caste, How To Be An Anti-Racist, I'm Still Here, etc. The women characters portrayed in Brewster Place . . . represent the very women described in those non-fiction books. It's like they come to life in novel form -- a great way to expand our understanding and make the issues more relatable.

Here's a quick summary description of the book (from Goodreads):

"In her heralded first novel, Gloria Naylor weaves together the stories of seven women living in Brewster Place, a bleak inner-city sanctuary, creating a powerful, moving portrait of the strengths, struggles, and hopes of black women in America. Vulnerable and resilient, openhanded and open-hearted, these women forge their lives in a place that in turn threatens and protects—a common prison and a shared home. Naylor renders both loving and painful human experiences with simple eloquence and uncommon intuition. Her remarkable sense of community and history makes The Women of Brewster Place a contemporary classic—and a touching and unforgettable read."

You have plenty of time to grab the book and read along!
We'll be hosting our blog-based book discussions on November 10.

 I do hope you'll Read With Us . . . The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor.