Monday 11 March 2013

Tea and books on a messy March morning...

I’m back from my week of sun, sand and surf, and am ready to write about our most recent book club meeting.  But first I wanted to comment on something I noticed while I was away.  The most popular book I noticed people (women) reading during my week in Cuba was, not surprisingly, the Fifty Shades trilogy.  I saw it by the pool, I saw it by the ocean, people were reading it in the reception lobby, and it was in English, French and Spanish.  It was always the trilogy, never the individual titles.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was a bit taken aback by the sheer number of copies I saw around the resort.  It always impressed me, then, when I saw someone reading something else.

I also wanted to mention that I met a woman at the resort who lives in Etobicoke and is the author of three novels.  Marta had been there with her husband, Max, for two weeks. Her website is:, in case you are interested in reading about her books.  I haven’t read them, nor do I know how readily available they are, but I thought it was interesting to meet a published author who lives not far from me while on vacation in another part of the world.

So Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford was indeed a good book club selection.  Just a refresher… this novel tells the story of Henry and Keiko, a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl who meet and fall in love at the age of twelve in Seattle during the 1940s, just as the Americans are sending Japanese Americans to internment camps.  They strive to keep in touch and to carry on their relationship, but things don’t work out as they hoped, and they are forced to continue on alone.  As we went around the table to give our first impressions, my ladies used terms like tender, an easy read, and well-drawn characters to sum up their reading experiences of this novel.  Some members echoed my comments about the flat writing style and felt that it was not gripping, but that it was a nice story.  When I mentioned that I felt it was somewhat repetetive, someone pointed out that much of the novel was written from the point of view of a 12-year old boy, so perhaps that was how he would have experienced life.  They particularly liked the character of Mrs. Beatty, the cafeteria woman who appears to be hard as nails but turns out to be a perceptive, caring individual.  They also liked Sheldon, the black jazz musician who befriends Henry when he faces trouble with the bullies from school.  They thought the relationship between Henry and his father was sad, but also very realistic. We discussed the aspect of jazz in the novel, a mix of cultures that is easy-going and freestyle, not rigid and fixed, and thought that this could represent the difference in generations between Henry and his father.  We agreed that Henry grows during the novel, from the small boy who initially runs from Chas, the leader of the bullies at school, to a young man who is willing to face his opponent with courage and stand up for himself.  This also occurred when Henry faced his father, and we thought that he was much like his father in his stubbornness.  We commented on the nature of the Japanese community in America at the time, and how they showed a sense of loyalty, both to their community and to their new American country, and their obedience to authority.  We discussed the communication issues between Henry and his son, Marty, and noted that things seemed to improve once Marty found out about Henry’s secret past and lost love, which may have made him appear more human in his son’s eyes.  We also discussed Henry’s mother, who would have been in a very difficult situation as she tried to be both a dutiful wife and a supportive mother.  But most significantly, at least for me, was the discussion about Ethel, Henry’s recently deceased wife.  From the beginning of the novel, she is deceased, yet her presence hovers throughout the story.  There is little about her character or the relationship between her and Henry that is revealed until late in the novel.  Once the reader finds out more about her story, she becomes even more interesting, and we wonder about her role in the events that shape Henry's experiences, her innocence and her motives.  I won’t give anything away here, but if you read the novel, pay particular attention to her character.  I’ll admit that I just dismissed her while reading it, but then someone mentioned her during our discussion and it suddenly became so clear, I wondered how I could have missed it! That’s what’s so great about book clubs - we get the perspectives of others on books that we’ve read, and they will always be different than our own responses.  I think the most significant thing I took away from this novel is that we are sometimes faced with a choice not of doing what is right and what is wrong, but what is right and what is best.

And now I must select another book to read.  I finished reading The Suspect while I was away, and it was as good as I knew it would be, complex enough to keep me guessing to the end, even though I’d read it a number of times before, and written in a really gripping style.  I have taken from the library I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  If you recall, I recently listened to Smith’s novel as an audio book, but it had only four parts so I’m thinking that it was abridged, as the actual novel is nearly 400 pages.  The Guevara book is non-fiction, which I rarely read, so I'm not sure if I’ll want to read it or just wait until the DVD comes into the library for me and watch it.  I also have Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea sitting in front of me, begging to be read (can you see the Cuban influence here?!).  And my book group is meeting in three weeks to discuss Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which I seem to recall is a difficult read, not just lengthy but also complex.  Hmmm… so many decisions.

That’s all for today…

Bye for now!

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