Between the Lines Book Club: Voices From Annawadi

between the lines book club logoBetween the Lines Book Club will be meeting tomorrow (September 24, 2016) at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM to discuss Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo.

In this space, I’ve shared some interviews with Katherine Boo. After her book came out, people wanted to know how the book affected the neighborhood she wrote about (Annawadi, outside Mumbai). Here’s an interview in which she talks about the connection she has to the people of Annawadi, and how things have an have not changed. when asked if she still has a connection to people, she says this:

My husband (Sunil Khilnani) and I are still engaged with the community, funding education, training and emergency aid to help families get through health and other crises. Some students have risen heroically to the challenge of good private schools — schools where even the guards at the gates make them feel unwelcome.

“Inspiring” is an overused word, but those kids inspire me — seriously. But progress in communities like Annawadi is often incremental, given structural issues like the prevalence of disease and the almost total absence of permanent work.

As for individuals featured in the book, Manju now has a master’s degree, and she and her new husband run two tuition centers. She’s a very popular tutor, with a particular concern for poorer students. Manju’s brothers have become drivers — work they like — and are also doing well. The Husain family now owns a home and business outside of Mumbai, and four of the younger children are doing well in a private school that is considered the best in their area.

But one person I wrote about died of TB-related disease, and another is fighting an addiction. This is real life, not a fairy tale with a happy ending. And a month from now, the circumstances of the people I’ve just mentioned may be utterly different, because if there’s one constant in places like Annawadi, it’s change.

Reader’s will remember Manju’s drive to get an education. Manju has read the book, and in this thoughful peice for Dawn she talks about what she thinks of the book, and what her mother thinks of it:

“I have read the book, and I liked it even though it made me cry,” Manju, who speaks good English, told AFP in Annawadi, a slum located next to Mumbai’s international airport and tucked behind the five-star Hyatt Regency hotel.

“It is truth, not fiction,” she says. “Everyone in Annawadi knows. If I don’t say these things about my family, someone else will, so why let them gossip?”

If you are curious about what Annawadi looks like, here’s a very short video from 2012:

 

I hope you all enjoyed the book! See some of you on Saturday!

My Con-Volution Schedule!

cropped-2016ConvoAgeOfMonsters_withDates-100pxI’m so happy to be retruning to Con-Volution: Age of Monsters! I have so many friends at Con-Volution that I’ve come to think of it as a family reunion.

Con-Volution is happening at the Hyatt Regency SFO from Sept 30 – Oct 2. Here’s my schedule:

It’s Shirley Been 100 Years

Friday 17:00 – 18:30, Boardroom V (Hyatt Regency SFO)

In December of this year, Shirley Jackson turns 100. Best known for her story “The Lottery” (1948), Jackson has been read by teenagers across the world. But her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle endure almost as strongly. What is Jackson’s legacy to modern horror? What women are carrying her torch in today’s horror market?

Carrie Sessarego, Lillian Csernica (M)

Our Favorite Fangs- Vampires and Werewolves

Friday 21:00 – 22:30, SandPebble D (Hyatt Regency SFO)

A look at our favorite toothy monsters in fiction and media.

Shael Hawman, Fred Wiehe, Horror Author (M), Carrie Sessarego, Zoë Moss, Lex Rudd

Making Monsters: For the Love of Frankenstein

Saturday 8PM – 9:30PM, Sandpebble C

Discussing Mary Shelley, and why her monster continues to have such a strong place in genre stories through the ages

Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews with Katherine Boo

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading Behind the Beautful Forevers by Katherine Boo. You can participate in book club by leaving comments after any book club post, or by meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, California. Our next meeting will be on September 24, 2016 at 10:30AM.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-ficiton work that reads like a novel. Katherine Boo, with the aid of translators, spent about three years getting to know the residents of Annawadi, a slum on the edge of Mumbai, India. This review by Amit Chaudhuri gives an Indian perspective on the book (Boo is an American who married an Indian).

In this interview at npr, Boo talks about life in the slum as compared to the village, what it was like being a blonde American in the slum, and the lives of women. I found this especially interesting:

“Often in journalism, stories about the poor began with a reporter going to an NGO and saying, ‘Tell me about the good work you’re doing, and let me follow you, and maybe if you could just pick out some real success stories, I’ll write about them.’ I think that those kind of stories do an injustice to the enormous amount of creative and enterprising problem-solving that low-income people do for themselves, that most of the ways that people get out of poverty in the United States, in India and anywhere else I’ve ever been is through their own imaginations and their own fortitude.”

In a Q&A on her wepage, Boo goes into a lot of detail about why she chose the topic she chose, her writing process, and how she wanted readers to see the people as more than objects of pity:

When I talk to friends about Annawadi experiences that haunt me, they’ll sometimes ask, Why didn’t you write about that? But I was intent that this book not be some dolorous registry of the most terrible things that had ever happened at Annawadi. A book like that wouldn’t have done justice to what Annawadi felt like, day to day. Annawadi life was also about flagpole ring-toss and tell-all sessions among teenaged girls at the public toilet and parents comforting and delighting in their children. It was Sunil and Sonu the Blinky Boy applying their rich imaginations to gathering trash and figuring out their place in the world.

Sunil and Sonu have tough, tough lives but if a reader comes away from this book thinking of them only as pathetic socioeconomic specimens I’ll have failed as a writer. They’re cool, interesting kids, and I want the reader to sense that, too. Because we can talk all we want about how corruption or indifference robs people of opportunity–of the promise our societies squander–but if we don’t really grasp the intelligences of those who are being denied, we’re not going to grasp the potential that’s being lost.

The video below has interviews with Katherine Boo and with Meera Syal, an actress in the National Theater’s stage adaptation of the book. It also has footage of Annawadi and it’s residents.

Sacramento Public Library Presents: To Kill a Mockingbird

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird (1)I’m so excited to be part of Sacramento Public Library’s presentation on To Kill a Mockingbird. This presentation will include live music, performances, and a panel discussion with Sacramento Theater Company Director Buddy Butler. The presentation is happening at Central Library at 1PM on Sunday September 18.

You can find more information about the event here.

And for more information about Sacramento Theater Company’s adaptation of the novel, look here!

Between the Lines Book Club: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

between the lines book club logoThis month’s book club pick is Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. You can participate in book club by leaving comments after any book club post, or by meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, California. Our next meeting will be on September 24, 2016 at 10:30AM.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers  is a non-fiction book about a slum (Annawadi) on the edge of Mumbai, India. The author, Katherine Boo, is an American woman who lived in Mumbai with her Indian husband for several years. She spent over three years following the lives of Annawadi’s residents. By keeping the focus on the lives of specific characters, she gives the book the feeling of a novel with the rigor of a peice of journalism.

Next week I’ll be providing links to some interviews with Katherine Boo. In the meantine, I have reading to do!

51fb-u69ShL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

In Honor of Labor Day

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

What with all the special events and sales, the people who are most supposed to be honored on Labor Day are least likely to get the day off. Here are some people I’d like to recognize. They add joy and luxury to my suburban life. May they all be thanked often and paid well, and may we all vote in favor of a higher minimum wage, increased maternity and paternity leave, paid sick leave, and health care for all!

Janitors, streetsweepers, and trash collectors.

They move about almost unnoticed and without them city life would be unbearable. I’ve spent the year in and out of hotels and convention rooms and public attractions and schools and movie theaters and I owe all the men and women who keep these places liveable, and in many case actually spotless, a huge debt.

People who grow coffee and cocoa and tea (and all my other food, of course).

You know why I can have my hot cocoa every morning, and an occasional mocha or frappachino, and five or more cups of tea a day? Because someone somewhere worked their ass off to grow it and pick it and process it and sell it. From the farmer to the barista to the guy who gave me a free iced tea today, thank you.

The people at the grocery store who always say hello.

If I were a grocery store cashier, I would never make eye contact, EVER. But the people at my store always say hello to me, and let little kids help them fill the bags. I’ve seen them cheer up babies and chat patiently with older custormers who pay entirely in change. When my daughter started riding her bike to the store sometimes by herself, they said, “Don’t worry, it’s good to give kids some independance! We all know her! We’ll keep an eye on her!” That’s above and beyond. That’s community.

Daycare workers and preschool teachers.

I have done daycare at the Salem, Oregon YWCA where we took care of any baby over ten weeks old. I ran my own daycare. I’ve worked in preschools. And I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that my daughter was able to attend two wonderful preschools herself. Taking care of other people’s children is hard work. It involves shit and piss and vomit and tears. It involves memorizing 15 different recipies for playdough and an ability to hear the word “lice” without screaming. to the kids I’ve taken care of – I miss you all. And to the people who took care of my kid – THANK YOU!

 

 

Between the Lines Book Club: Feminism in Girl on the Train

between the lines book club logoBetween the Lines Book Club will be meeting tomorrow, August 27, 2016, at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM.  The Girl on the Train is one of a string of thrillers involving women, including Gone Girl and The Woman in Cabin 10. All of these thrillers involve women in the context of parenting, marriages, romantic relationships, and familial relation ships. They’ve hit a nerve, and some say it’s because by presenting women as the center of the story, and by presenting the reader with women who are not victims, the books are feminist in nature.

In “Why Everyone’s Talking About The Girl on the Train,”  Claire Fallon states:

By using our assumptions about how women can and should behave to set up shocking plot twists, or by pushing these assumptions to the logical extreme, a thriller can make use of its genre conventions to undermine societal conventions. In these novels, within the gripping mystery at its heart, the inherent dangers of femininity in modern life are gently unearthed, dusted off, and presented for us to see clearly. As much progress as women have made in our society over the past century, it’s clear that many of us are still hungry for this dramatic explosion of the sexism around us.

Heroine Jones points out that the characters in The Girl on the Train grow through a point in which they define themelves by the men in their lives into a place of more independence:

Without spoiling anything, I want to comment on the feminism of The Girl on the Train.  The message on traditional gender roles is subtle at first but eventually comes forward as an important final note.  Throughout the novel, Hawkins’ female characters all see their worth through the eyes of men.  As the story comes to a close, though, they all seem to find some level of personal strength to do what they know they have to do.  In confronting their individual fears of rejection in some form, they take one firm step towards emancipating themselves from the destructively limiting gender roles which they had previously fully accepted.

At Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Elyse writes about the Gone Girl phenomena:

To me the killer in the basement is far less scary than a book that makes you question what the fuck is going on here? and by moving female characters out of the “victim” space and into something more complex and explored, it gives female characters more credit, makes them more human. The “innocent” blonde haired, blue eyed Midwestern girl gone missing will always draw readers — hell, it draws me — but I want my fiction to do more, to be a little bit more, and to give me the unexpected. I want more than the body in the woods. I want my female characters to be a little bit dangerous too.

Elyse lists several other books to try in the above article. She also reviewed The Woman in Cabin 10. In her review, it’s clear that The Woman in Cabin 10 deals with many of the same themes of manipulation that The Girl on the Train tackles:

Nilsson acts like Lo’s sleeplessness and antidepressants mean that Lo can’t be trusted to differentiate reality from fantasy, and the fact that she calls him on it is perfect. This is a common theme in mysteries/ thrillers/ horror fiction–you must be crazy! There’s not really a killer/ monster/ alien/ bigfoot hanging out here! Ooops I just got my face eaten, guess you were right. The thing is, most heroines don’t deal with their doubters are directly or forcefully as Lo.

What do you think? Did The Girl on the Train make you want to read more books in the genre? Do you think the book is feminist? Why or why not? Let us know in person tomorrow, or in the comments below!