Sunday 4 October 2020

Rain, rain, go away...

It’s raining right now, and it’s supposed to do so all day, so I guess it’s a good time to prepare for the cooler weather, both in my closet and around the house… it’s also perfect weather for reading and drinking hot tea!  Good thing I went to the library yesterday and filled my “library loans” shelf with a wide variety of books to choose from.  Right now I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a Date Bar to lift my spirits and brighten my morning.

At my Volunteer Book Club meeting yesterday, we discussed Deborah Ellis’ collection of Young Adult short stories, Sit, and we all loved it!  There are eleven stories in this short volume, and some of the stories are directly interconnected, while others just seem to so obviously belong in the collection.  Sitting is something we do everyday and never think about.  Each of these stories features a child or young adult who is facing a difficult situation, and each of these children is also sitting.  But their sitting is not something they can take for granted, and they use each of these situations to contemplate or reflect on serious issues in their lives or the lives of people around them.  A boy is working in an Indonesian furniture factory, toiling away making chairs under the watchful eye of a cruel boss.  A girl is visiting a concentration camp on a school trip and fixates on the latrines the prisoners were forced to use.  Another girl shares her views about her home situation while sitting in the pink plastic “time out” chair that she has long outgrown but that she is forced to use regularly by her callous mother.  These children face difficult situations or obstacles, but they somehow manage to overcome these challenges and come out alright in the end, due in large part to their resiliency of spirit.  This collection is clearly written for children (each story is brief and fairly simplistic), but my ladies loved them.  The overriding theme of the discussion was the sense of wonder at how Ellis was able to elicit such huge emotion from such short stories.  One of the members said that there were “so many little stories but so many life-changing events”; another commented that there was “so much emotion in so few pages”; another wondered how “something so little could be so big”.  We speculated about some of the characters: we thought the girl in the pink chair would grow up to be rebellious, and we considered the reasons behind the decisions of several other characters.  We noted that many of the stories featured children looking out for each other, and sometimes for adults.  We all agreed that it was the many small details in each story that created a clear picture of each situation, and that it was these small details that make these stories difficult to sum up if trying to relate them to someone else, that somehow the emotional impact would be "lost in translation".  Overall, it was a great book club choice, and I would highly recommend it to just about any reader.  It is short enough to read in a couple of hours, and the stories are very accessible, so there’s no reason not to try it.

And speaking of simple stories with big meanings, I also read The Wall by John Lanchester.  I was reluctant to read this novel directly after The Memory Police because it is also a dystopian novel that takes place mainly on an unnamed island, and I thought it might be too many depressing dystopian novels too close together, but I started it and was sucked in immediately!  John Kavanaugh is a young man who is beginning his requisite two-year posting as a Defender on The Wall, a concrete wall that surrounds the coast of the island where he lives to keep out the Others.  He shares details about his first days, weeks and months, the conditions under which he fulfills his posting, his relationships with the other Defenders, and his experiences both on and off The Wall.  All seems to be going well and one day is much like the next ("concretewaterskywindcold")… until the Others attack.  The early chapters of this novel reminded me of the early chapters of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, with the details of the tediousness of the characters' existence, but Atwood’s book is much more complex, while Lanchester’s novel is more simplistic, but no less powerful for its simplicity.  In fact, I think the simplicity adds to the significance: without much detail, this story could be applied to any situation, making it more disturbing.  And it’s obviously based on current controversial political agendas, which makes it even more unsettling, because it’s not just speculative; it’s actually happening.  I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys reading dystopian or speculative fiction.  Once again, it’s an easy read, but it gave this reader so much to think about.  

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and pick up a good book.

Bye for now…

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