It’s the end of the first week of fall, and while the past couple of weeks have been chilly-ish, this weekend has been decidedly summer-like, and the forecast for the coming week is calling for more of the same. Still, the mornings are beautiful and golden, and the Harvest Moon on Friday night was huge and bright, and we usually get one last kick at summer weather before it settles into fall weather, so I guess this is it.
My book club is meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss Ali Smith’s novel Autumn, and since the book club has grown since making up this list, I noticed that the libraries probably won’t’ have enough copies for everyone, so I read my copy this past week and have offered it to others if they need to borrow it. I read this about five years ago, and here’s what I said in my post of September 30, 2018:
“Autumn, by Ali Smith, is the first in a quartet, Seasonal. It was a book I’d picked up at the Owen Sound Public Library book sale about which I knew nothing, but I loved the book cover design. According to Wikipedia, it is a novel about "the state of the nation" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autumn_(Smith_novel). Of course I wanted to read it as the summer turned to autumn, and I’m so glad I did, as not only is it about the state of the nation, but the season itself, and what it represents, how it relates to time and memory, and what the “autumn of life” might look like. The novel opens with an unnamed man being washed up on the shore of a lake, with wild ramblings about being both young and old, making a suit out of leaves, watching young women dancing around, and being dead. It turns out that this unnamed man is Daniel Gluck, a former songwriter who, at the age of 101, now resides in a long-term care facility. He is visited by the acerbic Elisabeth, a young woman who grew up next door to Gluck and formed the type of special friendship that can only exist between individuals of vastly differing ages who, nonetheless, share a particular view of something, in this case, the world of art. Gluck becomes Elisabeth’s unofficial tutor and mentor, as her feelings towards her mother growing up, like most teenagers, are condescending at best. We are treated to snippets from Elisabeth’s life growing up, to her present day experiences, as well as to Gluck’s early years. They often discuss art, mainly the collages and art of Pauline Boty, the only female British pop artist of the 1960s, according to Elisabeth. She is fascinated by Boty's art, and goes on to become an art history professor, never giving up her dedication to promoting the love of art to young people. These snippets are interposed with memories told in poetry, with song lyrics, with bits of news (this novel is set during the EU Referendum, with its political uneasiness, people both rejoicing and feeling miserable), and fragments of Boty’s life before her premature death shortly after her first child was born. I know nothing about this Bailey Prize-winning author, but I was intrigued by the cover design and picked it up for about $2.00 at the book sale. It was definitely an interesting read, lyrical and melancholy, sad and bittersweet, at times tender and also jarring. The friendships between unlikely individuals, the connections between those who consider themselves to be isolated, was moving and true, a real reflection of the human condition. It reminded me of the Man Booker nominee I read a while ago, From a Low and Quiet Sea by Irish writer Donal Ryan. Both dealt with isolation and connection, about the need to reach out and break down invisible walls that are the barriers to forming relationships with others. I loved it, and have just put on hold the next book in the series, Winter, as well as Ali’s Bailey Prize-winning 2015 novel, How to be Both. An aside: I went to see Linwood Barclay at the Waterloo Public Library One Book One Community event this past week, and something he said rang true while I was reading this novel. Being a writer of crime fiction, he, like most other crime writers, is able to put out approximately one book each year. He was speaking of Wayne Johnston, and how writers of literary fiction sometimes take four or five years to write a book, and he wondered aloud whether maybe their computers were broken or their keyboards weren't working. He also said that literary writers just didn't know how to create a plot. Of course he was kidding. He then clarified that even if he had ten years, he could not write a book as fine as one of Johnston's novels. I thought of this as I was reading Autumn, and how it was not about a plot so much as character, and how it would have taken time and focus to create such a lyrically-resonant work that so succinctly captures the human experience.”
Yes to all of the above! I’m afraid, though, that it may not be a hit with my members, as I’ve already had one person contact me to let me know that she won’t be able to make it due to a previous commitment, but that she didn’t really enjoy this book at all. I thought that it might be too many literary books in a row, and since I happened to go to Lee Valley this weekend to purchase something and also happened to pick up a flyer, I was reminded of the Lee Valley/Canadian Tire book dilemma. Please see this explanation below from June 8, 2014:
"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 they 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.”
Since this post seems to have written itself (or rather, that I’ve already written it in previous posts), I have nothing much to add to this except to say that I’m sure this book will generate interesting and lively discussion, even if no one liked it. And it was also worthwhile to look these posts up because I put Fifth Business on our list for next year and just realized that we’ve already read it! Still, most of the members now were not with me in 2014, so maybe it’s ok to stay on the list… I’ll ask at our next meeting.
That’s all for today. Take care!Bye for now…