Sunday, 5 February 2017

Books and tea on a toasty morning...

It’s been chilly these past few days, but apparently the groundhog did not see his shadow so we should expect an early spring.  I believe it’s already milder outside today than it was yesterday, when the wind howled, making the already low temperatures feel even colder.  Thank goodness for tea and books to get us through the winter months!!

My volunteer book group met yesterday to discuss The Martian by Andy Weir.  I put this book on our book club list for a few different reasons:  a good friend highly recommended it, it was on the bestseller lists for months, and I like to pick a genre title once or twice each year, just to give us a bit of variety.  This debut novel by software engineer Weir tells the story of one man’s efforts to prolong and/or save his life when faced with impossible odds.  Mark Watney is a botanist and mechanical engineer who is part of the crew on the Ares III mission to Mars.  When a violent storm erupts on the planet while they are exploring, the crew struggle to return to their Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), but Mark is fatally wounded and blown away by fierce winds.  The other crew members, faced with a difficult decision in desperate circumstances, leave his body on the cold planet and abort their mission.  When Mark miraculously survives the accident, he realizes that he is left alone on a planet with no way to communicate with NASA and no one to help.  He could give up, but his determination to survive for as long as possible, along with his wit and optimism, fuels the novel, and the reader empathizes with him as he faces extraordinary challenges with perseverance and creativity, and a good dose of humour.  Can he figure out a way to contact others and let them know he’s still alive, and if so, can he survive long enough to be rescued?  This novel is written mainly from Mark’s point of view as he writes log entries explaining his methods of survival and his thoughts about his situation, including how he fills all that free time he has (he’s not a big fan of disco!).  While these entries are filled with scientific facts and explanations, they are conversational in tone, making them accessible to the average reader (although my book club ladies and I admitted that we skimmed over most of the scientific stuff).  Was Mark’s struggle to survive realistic?  Probably not, but it seemed like it could possibly happen this way, making this science fiction novel mainstream enough to appeal to a wide audience.  The first thing we talked about at the meeting yesterday was poop, and the many attributes of various types of manure (if you read the book, you’ll understand why!).  We then discussed man’s innate will to survive, no matter what conditions he faces.  One of my ladies thought that there was too much science in the book;  her exact words were, “less science, more potatoes!”  (she wanted to know how he prepared and ate his potatoes).  While we all acknowledged that it was not realistic, we felt that it was an interesting read, not something any of us would have picked up on our own, but a book worth reading.  One member said she wasn’t surprised that they made it into a movie, as it reads almost like a script - I felt the same way as I was reading it, that it read like a movie.  One of my ladies read half of the book, then watched the movie.  I asked if she was going to finish the book and she said no, that once you know whether he survives or not, there was really no reason to read the book, and I agreed -  it was not great literature that considered the human condition, more of a "Canadian Tire" book than a "Lee Valley" one.  We compared it to The Sparrow by Marie Doria Russell, and agreed that Russell's book was deeper in its consideration of the human condition, good and evil, and the meaning of life, while The Martian was more entertaining.  All in all, it was a good discussion, and I am happy to add a sci fi title to my list of books read in 2017, as it is a genre I rarely read.

That’s all for today.  Stay warm and keep reaing!

Bye for now…
Julie

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