Saturday, January 12, 2008

Shaken Confidence

This week something happened to me that I've never experienced before and it gave me chills. Advice please! I have been leading/moderating book discussions for Lee County for at least 12 years now and I have never faced a room full of women with absolutely nothing to say. Oh sure, they all agreed they "liked" it but, come on folks, a book about assisted suicide and its aftermath? Grief and loss? Native American culture? Surely someone should have been moved to speak. I tried all the usual probing questions and was still faced with blank stares. I'll admit, I started to sweat. I wanted to shake them and say "what part of the word "discussion" don't you understand?"
One of our more erudite participants, who we can always count on, bailed me out more than once but it felt like we were having a one on one conversation. The fatal book? Returning to Earth. Now I'm doubting all my other choices for the season. I can hardly wait til March to see what they think of The Space Between Us!

Speaking of mistakes in judgement, I've got to diss myself for waiting so long to read The Glass Castle. When everyone and his brother is touting a book, something like The Secret (gag), I just steer away, I swear, to be ornery. In this case, shortly after the James Frey fiasco, I had decided that I just wasn't going to support one more whiny-pants book about dysfunctional families. Then Maryellen and I heard Jeannette Walls speak in DC and she was just so warm and funny that I thought I'd better cave in. I'm so glad I did.
The audio version is narrated by Julia Gibson whose voice holds just the perfect blend of childlike innocence and teen-age cynicism. The story of the Walls family is so apallingly outrageous that the listener is torn between laughing out loud and sobbing. Just when I think that I might actually agree with these parents on some of their child-rearing philosophies, they do something so cruel or irresponsible that I gasp out loud.
If listening to their story is like a roller-coaster ride for the reader, just imagine what it was like for the four kids whose nomad existence took them all over the southwest, running from bill collectors and child services. How does one coincide the image of Ray Walls, a father who tossed Jeannette's cat out the window of their moving car because it was just too crowded, with the other Ray Walls who, unable to afford a birthday gift for Jeannette, took her out into the desert, looked up at the sky and asked her to choose a favorite star for her very own.
Who knows, if I had chosen this book for discussion maybe they'd have been clamoring to share their own dysfunctional stories. God knows, we all have our share of them.


Andrea said...
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Andrea said...

So sorry to hear the discussion did not go well and surprised as well that some people at least did not engage. I just had a student working on a "Near Death Experience" topic here at the University who is a Hospice nurse and we touched on the fact that some personalities are naturally more fascinated with after-life than others who want no part of that discussion. But surely the people left behind would hold interest?! Never a dull moment at the library....

Infobabe said...

The Fall issue of RUSA had an article about book discussionsm part 2 of 2, actually, and the conclusion of the article based upon a study was, "the success of discussion is less about whether everyone in the group liked the book, and more about whether the book invited them as readers to fill in its spaces or consider more deeply the implications of the situations it described." Perhaps there was no room in the spaces for them.