Sunday 7 January 2024

Post on the last day of my holiday...

It’s chilly and snowy outside, which means it finally feels like winter.  I’m sad because I go back to work tomorrow and yet I still have so much I want to do.  *sigh* I’m not complaining, but I’m blaming my feelings of frustration on a book I was reading last weekend, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:  the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo.  It all started with my desire to clear out and organize our “Alice in Wonderland” closet (a storage space under the eaves for which the door is only about 3 feet high - I need a bottle that says “shrink me” - or is it "drink me"? - to fit inside!).  While I was at my favourite used book store, I saw a copy of this book and thought it looked interesting, so I put it on hold at the library and started reading it after Christmas.  Well, it sucked me right in and next thing I know, I’m reorganizing my dresser drawers using a new and “better” way of folding so I can see everything, and my closets have also been weeded and reorganized.  Then I started on my bookcases… that’s another story altogether, but let’s just say that I never actually got to really, fully reorganizing and weeding the original storage closet, I just put everything back, but more neatly… I guess there’s always March Break! 

Anyway, my book club met yesterday for our first meeting of the new year to discuss The Queen’s Gambit by William Tevis.  As most people know from watching the recent Netflix series, this is the story of Beth Harmon, a girl who was orphaned at age eight when her parents died in a car crash, leaving her with nowhere to go, so she ended up at the Methuen Orphanage, where they gave all the children tranquilizers twice a day to regulate everyone’s moods.  While there, she stumbles upon Mr Shaibel, the custodian, who is playing chess.  Beth is fascinated by the game and is able to pick it up exceptionally quickly.  He agrees to teach her and they play regularly during Sunday mass, and Beth plays games in her head the rest of the week.  Fast-forward a few years, and she gets adopted by Mrs Wheatley (Mr Wheatley is hardly in the picture at all), at which time she begins to lead what we would call a “regular” life for a young girl.  But her fascination and true ability always lies in chess, and she begins to compete in tournaments, always winning despite having no formal training and playing against people who are much older than her.  This short coming-of-age novel follows Beth on her quest to compete in the World Championship in Russia, but I don’t want to give away any details and ruin the story, if you decide to read it.  Everyone loved it, and we all agreed that the Netflix adaptation did not stray from the original novel, which read almost like a screenplay, with not a word wasted.  We loved the intimate descriptions of the various characters, including Beth’s chess opponents, detailed descriptions of their clothes, shoes or physical attributes done briefly yet perfectly.  Despite the brevity of the book, Tevis was able to offer amazing character development, not just for Beth, but for other minor characters who don’t appear often, including Jolene, her friend from the orphanage.  We thought it was amazing that this middle-aged man could write so convincingly as an eight-year-old girl.  We discussed the relationship between Mr and Mrs Wheatley at length, as well as the possible reasons for the adoption.  We discussed the ending, which was excellent, the path that led Beth there, and what she might do next.  It was a great discussion, and while during my first reading I enjoyed it, now I want to read it again, keeping in mind some of the insightful points of our discussion.  Obviously I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the day, but stay warm!

Bye for now... Julie

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