It’s a lovely, mild morning as I sit with my cup of steaming chai… I’ve even opened the patio door to let in some of the fresh Spring air and listen to the birdsong in the backyard (although it’s mostly for our cat, Riley, to enjoy, as he’s been deprived of “the real thing” all winter, having to make do with the silent view from the closed glass door). I have no treat this morning, but I plan to get a date bar from City Cafe later this afternoon as a reward for the long walk I will take - I have learned that, no matter what I may buy as a treat on Saturday, my will is always broken as I pass by the Cafe, and I know that, as the Borgs used to say in Star Trek, “resistance is futile”.
I wanted to talk about book clubs for a minute before I tell you about our book club meeting yesterday. I am in two book clubs, and recently one of the members in my Friends book club mentioned that her friend was interested in joining our group and asked if this would be OK. I was going to suggest asking the other members, since I’m not the only one who can make these decisions, but she decided not to invite her to join. This got me thinking about book club dynamics, and what makes a successful discussion group. The Friends book group already has seven members who come out for meetings regularly, and we meet in a coffee shop downtown on a Monday evening. This means that it is a noisy environment to begin with, and if we’re lucky, the big round table in the corner is available, allowing us all to see and hear each other better, but sometimes we’re stuck at a long table and so conversation is difficult; in this case, we also have to pull up an extra chair at the end of the table to accommodate everyone. And we’ve got an interesting mix of personalities, too: four of us have worked together at our local public library, two of us now work at an elementary school, two members work in the social services field, one with seniors and the other with people with mental health issues. Some of us are introverts, a few are extroverts, some of us have extensive experience dealing with books and reading, others are just avid readers, but we really work as a group. It’s hard to say what would happen if we had another member join us. After this member said she wouldn’t extend an invitation to her friend, I suggested that we could have a special “bring a friend” night - I’m not sure if this will happen, but I think it’s a reasonable option.
My Volunteer book group met yesterday to discuss E M Forster’s A Passage to India. I haven’t read this book in years, but I still remembered what it was about, and I really enjoyed rereading it last week. Set in British Colonial India in the 1920’s, this book relates the experiences of two English women as they visit India for the first time. Mrs Moore is the mother of the City Magistrate of Chandrapore, Ronny Heaslop. She is accompanied by Adela, Ronny’s childhood friend and potential fiancé, as they make their way through the busy, bustling city. Not content to stick to the British Club and the sanitized experiences offered by Ronny and his friends, they insist on seeing “the real India”. Mrs Moore, during an evening stroll, meets Dr Aziz at a mosque, where they form an instant bond, an encounter which leads them on a fateful journey to the Marabar Caves, an experience which changes their relationships and their lives forever. This novel, Forster’s last book, represents the inability of the British to comprehend the spirit of India, which is incomprehensible, while also trying to conquer and tame it. It presents the racial tensions between the Anglo-Indians and the Indians, and the challenges each culture faces when attempting to understand the other. None of my ladies really liked this book, and none actually read it through from beginning to end. One member stopped about 40 pages from the end, and I had to agree that I thought the novel could have ended significantly earlier than it did, perhaps before the third section, “Temple”. But, as we also discussed, this third section brings the story around full circle, and provides a happy-ish ending for all. Everyone agreed that the descriptions of the landscape were quite beautiful, but they felt that the characters were not likable, even Fielding, the one British character who actually tried to understand the Indians, or at least be kind to them. They thought these characters were “cold and despicable”. This surprised me, because I found the main characters to be quite realistic, and sympathized with most of them. They found the complexity of religions and spirituality difficult to understand, and wanted to know what the echoes in the caves were, and why Adela kept hearing them. We thought that they represented the primordial spirit of India, the essence of the land before man tried to tame it. The echo represents spirituality as well as sensuality, the “boum, boum” that Forster describes, and then, when Adela’s echoes end, there is nothingness, which may be the “nothingness” that represents the end of a soul’s cycle of reincarnation, which can also be said to be attained when a soul achieves self-knowledge. Forster’s novels often explore the pursuit of personal connections despite the restrictions of contemporary society (think A Room with a View and Howard’s End). Although no one really enjoyed the book, they could appreciate the talented writing style and the intentions Forster had in writing it. It was certainly an interesting discussion, and sometimes the best discussions take place when there are opposing views. I’d say it was a success, but I do generally hope that people will enjoy the books at least some of the time!
That’s all for today - get outside and enjoy the gorgeous day!
Bye for now…
PS I'm not sure what I will read next, but I have this sudden urge to read Anne of Green Gables since watching the excellent new CBC series "Anne", just to find out how accurately they are portraying the characters and situations in the book and where they are taking liberties!