Friday, March 14, 2014

Less Than Perfect Book Discussion a Disappointment

Yesterday I hosted a book discussion at the library. I was expecting a huge crowd because it's March, a busy time in Florida, and because the book, "The Round House," by Louise Erdrich, is such an outstanding novel. I originally wrote about it here right after it won the National Book Award.

So what went wrong? I'm still mulling it over. I had invited a special friend who is a Canadian judge with a special interest in and knowledge of the difficulties of the native people of Canada. Erdrich, one quarter Ojibwe, is renowned for her activities and writing about the plight of the native people in the United States, and all of her novels are informed by this activism.

Briefly, in case you're not familiar with the novel, it involves a horrific crime committed against a native woman on the reservation by a non-native man. The problem is that we readers aren't, at first, privy to this information. We only know that Geraldine was blind-folded, beaten and raped. Later, she is either unwilling or unable to explain to the police where this happened and who perpetrated the attack. We come to understand that she does know all of the answers but that she keeps silent in hopes of saving another life.

My friend, the judge, expressed disappointment with the discussion, saying that we barely touched the surface of this deeply complex novel. I could sense that a few others agreed and were leaving frustrated. So many times during a discussion, all the stars are aligned and thoughts flow freely, but yesterday I felt that some people were holding back.

Several admitted that they disliked the book, yet when probed, they could not express why. Others obsessed over Ms. Erdrich's personal life instead of examining  the book on its own merits. A few found it unbelievable that a thirteen-year-old boy could plan and execute a revenge killing. I guess they don't read the papers.

I'm left with the feeling that I failed the group somehow. It never ceases to amaze me how off base I can sometimes be when my judgment is clouded by my own strong opinion. When I love a book, when an author's writing brings me to my knees, I blithely assume that everyone will see it my way.

It's too late to change the dynamic of yesterday's discussion. Since I'm now retired, I no longer have much say in how the discussion group is run, what books are chosen for discussion, or how many we host per year. We'll soon have a change of management at my home library and that may further affect my influence.

Still, I'll continue to advocate for more programs rather than fewer, for better quality books rather than lesser, and for more democratic input from the participants. I've already gone out on a limb and promised, if I'm allowed, to tackle the 800 page behemoth, "The Goldfinch." I'll keep you apprised.

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