I thought there was no rain in the forecast, but as I was baking and cooking and doing laundry this morning, I checked today’s weather and found that there is a 60% chance of rain this afternoon. While the chance of rain will make me rethink my plans for the day, it is only a mild irritation. Maybe instead of getting outside for a walk or a bike ride this afternoon, I will have to stay home and read! I hope my laundry outside dries before the rain starts, as there’s nothing better than freshly washed sheets that have been dried outside on the clothesline… well, except the smell of freshly baked date bread on a plate next to a steaming cup of chai tea (got those, too!). Oh yes, I almost forgot that I’m supposed to talk about books in this blog!
My book group met yesterday to discuss Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business, the first book in the Deptford Trilogy, written in 1970. I won’t summarize here, as I wrote about the novel extensively in last week’s post. What I will do is relay the general responses I got from my book club members. Of the seven ladies who showed up yesterday, only one had read this novel before, but this was her fifth time reading it (she is a retired high school English teacher). She said the first time she read it, she loved it. The second and third times, she enjoyed it less, the fourth time she didn’t enjoy it at all, and she was dreading having to read it again for this book club. But the fifth time she read it, she loved it again. Four other ladies said that it was much better than they expected, and felt that the first two-thirds of the book were easier reading than the last bit, when it got too “bogged down in Ramsay’s running around, chasing after saints”. One woman was surprised at how much she enjoyed it, and made no comment on which parts were better than others. We talked about those people who were significant in Ramsay’s life, most of them women, and about the significance of his search for information on obscure saints. We talked about persona, and the mask we present to others while we keep our true selves hidden from most people, except perhaps a confidante, who may be a most unlikely individual. We discussed the significance of heroes, and why we need them. We also discussed “love”, and what that means at different times in a person's life. We discussed truth, guilt and denial, and the reliability of the narrator, Dunstan, whether his views of the actions of others are to be believed whether they are open to interpretation. And we discussed how he presented himself, and what his aspirations may have been. We also discussed the book covers, as each of us had a different edition. I was very apprehensive about including this novel on our reading list, as it is so very literary and “high-brow” (one of my ladies used that term), but I feel confident that everyone was glad to have read it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few of them went on to read the next book in the trilogy, The Manticore, which I am also thinking of rereading. Further to this topic, one of my ladies confided that, while she doesn't feel she'll ever reach the level of "high-brow" literature appreciation, since joining our book group she no longer takes much pleasure in reading the "low-brow" authors she used to enjoy, which I think was meant as a compliment, although she now has a more difficult time finding books that are engaging for her. So the discussion was a success once again, and I would highly recommend this novel to just about anyone, but I believe that better appreciation for this book comes with either a second reading or discussion with a group.
When I’m making up the book club reading list, I try to choose books that lend themselves well to discussion. I don’t include too many “literary” texts, as they are sometimes just too difficult to read, and I want this group to be fun, not like reading for school. But I also try not to include anything that is too “light”, as these do not offer enough discussion potential. I started yesterday’s meeting off by presenting two flyers, one from Lee Valley and the other from Canadian Tire. The Lee Valley flyer features fewer products with extensive descriptions of each item. For example, here is the text accompanying the photo of Grill Tiles: “As a barbecues’ lava rocks become old and saturated with drippings, flare-ups can blacken even the most carefully attended food. The solution is to replace the old lava rocks with these cordierite ceramic tiles that distribute heat uniformly. Their shape allows them to catch drippings, reducing flare-ups. They are even self-cleaning, as they can be simply flipped over to burn off any residue”. I’ve never heard of these things, but after reading this elaborate description, I want a package of them! Compare to Canadian Tire: “Sale $16.99 Reg $25.99 Yardworks Decorative Cast-Iron Hose Hanger. Hose sold separately”, accompanied by a photo that is at least as large as the description. These, I argued, were like comparing great literature to bestsellers: one is comprised of text that stays with you long after the reading is done, with each word carefully chosen to convey the message the author intends and to appeal to the audience on a personal level, while the other is all about flash and instant satisfaction, something you can flip through quickly and easily and then move on to the next flyer. The first you have to spend time reading and considering, the other you look at and forget the instant it hits the recycle bin. One of my ladies, the newest member of my group, said that she struggled with Fifth Business, then moved on to a Jeffery Archer novel, but while reading Archer’s book, she was left wondering, “But what are the characters thinking? Why are the acting this way? What are they feeling?” It was the Lee Valley/Canadian Tire dilemma, and we all agreed that we can’t only read great literature, as it takes too much time and effort, and that sometimes we need something light, with maybe more story and less psychological exploration, depending on our personal reading mood at the time. Watch what is going on next time you are out shopping or at work, and I bet you will notice that these comparisons as presented above are all around you in life, and consider what your responses to things are based on the content and intention of the material.
WOW, that was more in-depth than I thought I was prepared to discuss this morning, but there you have it - literature and bestsellers all around us. Have a great day, whatever you decide to do!
Bye for now…