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Don’t worry, we’re still keeping this WordPress blog as an archive; however, please visit the new location for up-to-date information!

March Meeting

Please join us for our discussion of Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. Already a huge bestseller across Europe, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a fun and feel-good book for all ages.

*Summary courtesy of Goodreads

The discussion will take place on Thursday, March 13th at 7 pm. All are welcome, no registration required.

On February 13th, Fixed on Fiction met to discuss Philip Caputo’s The Longest Road. Below are some of the comments made during our meeting.

First, Elizabeth reminded the group of the Big Read programs which correspond with this title. Handouts with Big Read event information can be found at the Reference and Connection desks or online.

Similar to last month’s title, the majority of the group found The Longest Road to be a so-so read. One member stated that she “really liked” the book while other readers confessed that despite the fact that they enjoyed certain aspects of the book, they also had a lot of struggles/dislikes. First, here’s what worked for the group-

Likes… Several readers mentioned that while Caputo made his own political stance clear in the text, he appeared to present an unbiased narrative by including opinions that differed from his own. One reader mentioned that she really enjoyed the fact that Caputo interviewed people from all walks of life and included their thoughts and beliefs, even if he disagreed with them. Additionally, most readers were very interested in Caputo’s overall concept. His big question, “How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united?” intrigued us and served as a great hook when we first picked up the book. Lastly, our group confessed that we loved the fact that Caputo has a Chicago background. Any reference to the south side or surrounding suburbs was met with enthusiasm by group members.

On the other hand, there were aspects of the text with which the group struggled-

Dislikes…Overall, the number one point of contention among readers was a sense of dissatisfaction with the answer to Caputo’s big question. While we appreciated the author’s inclusion of interviews and the responses he received to “What holds us together?” ultimately most readers were left needing more reflection. Naturally, Caputo received a wide array of reactions to his query and most readers wished that he had summarized his findings in the conclusion of the text. Additionally, the majority of group members referenced some difficulty getting through the book. A few readers described this as “the book failed to lead them along” or draw them back in. One member mentioned that she found the book a bit tedious which could have been the result of a lack of dialogue.

On history/geography…Throughout the discussion, several readers mentioned that The Longest Road seemed to “be many things at once.” For example, the text was a travel memoir, a story of marriage, a discussion of “What holds us together?” and also a history lesson. When asked if readers enjoyed the inclusion of Lewis and Clark and other historical aspects, most replied with an enthusiastic yes. One member noted that the geographical tidbits made the story especially interesting. For example, most readers found Caputo’s brief description of the size of Alaska to be especially enjoyable. Another group member pointed out that she loved the “mishmash” of themes because if the entire book had been devoted to history or geography it would have been boring. Instead, Caputo provided just enough historical references to keep the reader engaged.

On tourists vs. travelers…At one point during his journey, Caputo told his wife that he was a traveler, not a tourist. When asked what the author meant by this phrase, the group proceeded to share stories of their own personal adventures that applied to this concept. One reader described tourists as people who visit gift shops, stay in chain hotels, and eat in restaurants where the menus are in English. Another reader recounted a story regarding her trip to Paris when she mistakenly spent one day with other Americans and it ended up being the worst day of her vacation, i.e. it was more of a “touristy” experience. While some readers initially found Caputo’s traveler vs. tourist comment to be a bit pretentious, most group members ended up agreeing with him. The majority of readers were more appreciative of their traveler experiences rather than those as a tourist.

Final thoughts…Despite the fact that most members had a few struggles with this title, nearly everyone found some part of Caputo’s tale to be an enjoyable read. As we were wrapping up our discussion, one reader noted that she most enjoyed Caputo’s descriptions of incredible, national sites. She appreciated his message that: “You don’t have to leave America to see amazing things.” Nearly everyone agreed.

February Meeting

Please join us for our discussion of Philip Caputo’s The Longest Road.

Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.

* Summary courtesy of Goodreads.

The discussion will take place on Thursday, February 14th at Lisle Library. Everyone is invited to attend, no registration required.

Last night, the Fixed on Fiction book group met to discuss Jeanne Ray’s Calling Invisible Women. Below are some of the comments made during our meeting.

Collectively, our group found Calling Invisible Women to be a so-so read, meaning that no one loved or hated this title. Multiple readers mentioned that it took a long time to get into the book, but the hook of invisible women was intriguing enough to keep them engaged and invested in the story. Some group members also mentioned that Ray’s humor made Invisible Women more enjoyable. Most readers especially appreciated the tattoo parlor scene and the scene in which Clover warns Gilda’s son of the dangers of pot smoking. Despite needing time to become engrossed in the novel, some members mentioned these scenes made them laugh out loud.

As a warm up question, I asked the group members if they woke up invisible one morning, would they have the same reaction as Clover? Meaning would they wait and see how long it took their families to notice their absence or would they be more vocal about their predicament? The majority of group members insisted that they were far too outspoken to behave like Clover, they wouldn’t allow their family’s to ignore their invisibility; however, a handful of readers stated that they would be too accepting of their invisibility. Like Clover, they would wait to see how long it took their loved ones to notice the change. But one reader did point out that the story would have lost a lot of suspense if Clover’s family noticed her absence right away. So while some of us felt frustrated with Arthur, Nick, and Evie’s lack of awareness, it ultimately made for a more engaging read.

On Invisibility- With a premise involving a group of invisible women, we naturally had to exercise our imaginations a bit and “just go with it” regarding some of the finer details of Clover’s ailment. Our group did spend some time questioning some of Clover’s adventures. Would it really be possible to board a plane without bumping into anyone? Would these women really be comfortable walking around naked, invisible or not? Wouldn’t invisible women be front page news immediately? Finer details aside, we invested more time in talking about invisibility metaphorically rather than logistically. One group member questioned if a younger person could identify with Clover’s invisibility, to which another reader replied that everyone has felt invisible at some point in their lives based on age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. We also discussed how almost everyone has been guilty of thinking of their “mother as mother” and not a unique person. So while this book might appeal to readers in their 50s and up, there were certainly themes with which a younger reader could identify.

On Clover- Despite the fact that our narrator made us laugh out loud at times, some readers struggled with Clover’s self-esteem issues. We discussed how it was Clover’s responsibility to set the standard that she wasn’t just a wife/mother/housekeeper/etc. but rather, her own unique self. By constantly putting her family’s needs above her own, she enabled her husband and children to take advantage of her. This point led to a discussion of how some mothers may want their spouses and children to be dependent on them as it gives them a sense of purpose. Other readers struggled with Clover’s constant sympathy towards Arthur rather than investing time and energy in her own needs. Again, we discussed how these flaws were at times frustrating, but ultimately made for a more interesting read as we watched Clover’s slow build of self-esteem throughout the novel.

What Would You Do? Of course we had to discuss what we would do should we wake up one day and find ourselves invisible. I asked the group if they would follow a family member around for a day (a la Clover shadowing her husband at work) and was surprised to receive a resounding “NO!” While members confessed that the temptation to spy would be great, but most readers agreed that the practice would be unhealthy. One person pointed out that if your invisibility was a secret, you wouldn’t be able to do anything with the knowledge you gained as a spy anyway. Another reader compared this shadowing practice to reading another person’s diary- tempting but ultimately invasive and wrong. Instead of spying on friends and family, one group member confessed that she would probably use her invisibility for smaller, selfish things like traveling unseen or going to the movies for free.

Despite Calling Invisible Women being labeled as a “so-so” read, our group certainly had a lively discussion. Additionally, ballots were distributed for future reading selections. These can be turned in at the February meeting or emailed to Elizabeth directly.

January Meeting

Please join us for our discussion of Jeanne Ray’s Calling Invisible Women.

A mom in her early fifties, Clover knows she no longer turns heads the way she used to, and she’s only really missed when dinner isn’t on the table on time. Then Clover wakes up one morning to discover she’s invisible–truly invisible. She panics, but when her husband and son sit down to dinner, nothing is amiss. Even though she’s been with her husband, Arthur, since college, her condition goes unnoticed. Her friend Gilda immediately observes that Clover is invisible, which relieves Clover immensely–she’s not losing her mind after all!–but she is crushed by the realization that neither her husband nor her children ever truly look at her.  She was invisible even before she knew she was invisible.
   Clover discovers that there are other women like her, women of a certain age who seem to have disappeared.  As she uses her invisibility to get to know her family and her town better, Clover leads the way in helping invisible women become recognized and appreciated no matter what their role.  Smart and hilarious, with indomitable female characters, Calling Invisible Women will appeal to anyone who has ever felt invisible.

*Summary courtesy of Goodreads.

The discussion will take place on Thursday, January 9th at Lisle Library. Everyone is invited to attend, no registration required.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

On Thursday, December 12th, the Fixed on Fiction group met to discuss Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Below are some of the comments made during our meeting.

Statistically speaking, Dorian Gray seemed to be a so-so read among our group. Out of our seven participants, one person disliked this title, two loved it, and four liked (not loved) it. Additionally, three of our group members had read Wilde before while this was a first read for the remaining four readers. One of our members, who loved this selection, found that reading classics can either be a really boring or really great experience, and she thought Dorian Gray was the latter in that it was very accessible and readable.

Given the fact that Dorian Gray was first published in 1890, our group spent some time discussing the novel’s historical context. We talked about the aestheticism movement very briefly, but spent a great deal of time describing Wilde’s descriptions of social class. One reader mentioned that the snobby attitudes of the upper class was too foreign a concept, making it difficult for her to really enjoy the book. Another member suggested that the upper class society in Dorian Gray actually have terrible lives that are unfulfilled. The life of the rich is so boring that they seek out scandal and manufacture horror simply because it’s interesting. We also discussed the political statement Wilde was making in his descriptions of how the scandalous/immoral Dorian Gray was still accepted into high society because he was good looking and interesting.

In response to the above reader comment that the division of social classes made her feel isolated from the story, group members were asked if the themes found in Dorian Gray are still relevant today. One reader pointed out that she found that Wilde’s descriptions of the obsession of youth and beauty to be very similar to the current boom in plastic surgery. We also discussed some well known actresses in their forties and fifties who seem to be almost fanatical about maintaining their youth.

Additionally, we also discussed the fact that if Dorian Gray was written today, it would be much more explicit; however, most group members found Wilde’s subtlety to be very powerful. For instance, in the scene where Dorian blackmails Alan Campbell  he simply writes some sort of threat down on a piece of paper and slides it across the table to his former friend. We the readers have no idea what secret is written on the paper, yet we know Alan Campbell must find the prospect of it being publicized so horrible that he is willing to commit a grotesque crime for Dorian. Our group mentioned that if Dorian Gray was written in present day, the threat would have been simply stated out loud and lost some of its shock value as a result. But the mere implication of a scandalous secret heightened our intrigue and curiosity. Similarly, we also discussed the subtlety of Dorian’s wish to remain forever young. Once again we wondered if this scene would have been more explicitly written had this novel been published today.  Dorian’s wish to exchange places with his portrait was such a minute part of the text that many readers had to go back and re-read the section which serves as a major turning point in the text. Had this been a current novel, most of us agreed that readers would have been given a more detailed explanation of Dorian’s Faustian exchange. Again, the majority of group members were happier with Wilde’s version, in which Dorian’s bargain is not described in great detail but rather is presented briefly in Dorian’s conversations with Henry and Basil.

Our group probably got the most animated once we started discussing Henry Wotton. Some group members enjoyed Henry and appreciated the comedic relief he brought to the story, occasionally laughing out loud at some of his one liners. Other readers argued that Henry was pure evil, making an interesting contrast to Basil who always seemed to argue for morality. When asked who was responsible for Dorian’s downfall, almost all readers agreed Dorian was responsible for his own fate; however, some members argued that Henry played a significant part in Dorian’s destruction. Others found that Henry was simply an excellent observer of people, but he didn’t really goad Dorian in any way. Dorian was simply too impressionable and weak-willed to separate himself from Henry and his aphorisms. The group’s divided stance on Henry and whether or not he was evil made for a great reminder that we all read a different book. What appears as a plain truth to one reader could be interpreted in a completely different manner by another. Ultimately, this made for a very lively discussion of one of our “classics” picks for 2013.

http://fc04.deviantart.net/fs71/f/2013/279/9/2/the_picture_of_dorian_gray_by_ivan_albright_by_chaos5five5-d6pbwa5.jpg

Ivan Albright’s “Picture of Dorian Gray,” photo courtesy of The Art Institute

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