Between the Lines Book Club is Back!

Hello everyone! We will be meeting via zoom for the foreseeable future. Our upcoming book is Persuasion, by Jane Austen. We will meet to discuss it on July 25, 2020, at 10:30AM. If you haven’t gotten the zoom invite, let me know in the comments.

Persuasion is a complicated book. Here is a list of the characters in Persuasion and their relationships to each other. In reading Austen, pay attention to who is related to whom, and how they address one another! Also, note ages – this book is unusual among Austen’s novels for having a romance between a couple in middle age, and everyone’s ages take on great importance as the book progresses!

Persuasion – Characters

Ages Given Where Known

Anne’s Family

Sir Walter Elliot, Bt: (Age: mid fifties) Anne’s dad, a widow. Likes Mrs. Clay, a widow. 

Elizabeth Elliot: (Age 29): Anne’s older sister.

Anne Elliot:  (Age 27) Our heroine. In love with Wentworth.

Mary Musgrove: Anne’s younger sister. Married to Charles, who proposed to Anne, was shot down, and then proposed to Mary, who accepted. Is a hypochondriac with several children.

Charles Musgrove: Mary’s husband.

Little Charles: Son of Charles and Mary. Breaks his collarbone, causing Anne and Wentworth to finally reunite.

Louisa Musgrove (Age 19): Charles Musgrove’s sister. Likes Wentworth but ends up engaged to Benwick.

Henrietta Musgrove (Age 20): Louisa’s sister. Likes Charles Hayter (her cousin), then likes Wentworth, then likes Charles again.

Lady Russell: A family friend who is Anne’s surrogate mother.

The Renters and Their Friends

Sophia Croft: (Age 38) Captain Wentworth’s sister and Admiral Croft’s wife. Has happy marriage.

Admiral Croft: adores his wife, admires Wentworth, his brother-in-law

Captain Wentworth: (Age: 31): proposed to Anne many years ago and was rejected. Likes Louisa, then likes Anne again. Ends up with Anne. Is Sophia Croft’s brother.

People in Bath and Lyme

Mrs. Clay: (Age: in her 30s): widow who charms Elizabeth and Sir Walter but might end up with William Elliot.

Captain Benwick: was engaged to Captain Harville’s sister, who recently died. He was devastated, but then seemed to like Anne, and promptly ended up with Louisa. Is a friend of Wentworth and Harville.

Captain Harville: Friend of Wentworth and Benwick.

William Elliot: distant relation and heir presumptive of Sir Elliot. Originally it was hoped he would marry Elizabeth, then he married a rich woman who died, now he likes Anne and also wants to distract Mrs. Clay from Sir Walter. Might end up with Mrs. Clay. 

Mrs. Smith: (Age 30): childhood friend of Anne’s. Widow of friend of William Elliot’s, who will not help her. Gets help from Anne and Wentworth.

Review of Jane Austen Tarot, and news!

Hi guys! For this month’s tarot post I’m linking you to Smart Bitches Trashy Books where I reviewed A Jane Austen Tarot Deck by Jacqui Oakley. As you’ll see, I loved the art, but this deck tried to be too many things at one time. I’ve enjoyed it as a single draw oracle deck since and will continue to use it that way.

Also some news: I’m in June’s issue of Clarkesworld Magazine talking about isolation in science fiction and in reality. Enjoy!

Between the Lines on Zoom

Those of you who attend the book club at Arden Dimick Library should have gotten a zoom invite from me by now – and if not, or if you connect here but would like to be added to my mailing list, drop me a comment and I’ll add you. We will have an informal zoom meeting on Sat, June 27, 10:30AM. No assigned book, just check in and tell us what you’ve been reading! I can’t wait to see your faces!

Sacramento Residents, please get tested!

photo of full moon

Hello everyone, these are busy and interesting times. I want to share with you that Sacramento County is asking EVERYONE, even people without symptoms, to get tested for Covid-19. It is usually covered by insurance with no copay and only takes a few minutes. I have been assured by Sacramento County that getting this test does not mean that one is taking a testing opportunity from a sick person.

This is NOT the test that determines whether you have antibodies. It only tests whether the virus is in your system. It’s important for the county to get as many people tested as possible so that they can map the location and progression of the virus. You get results back in 2-5 days. These results are used to determine things like who the State can re-open, and when, and where.

I was nervous because I heard that the test is uncomfortable but actually it was very easy. You put a cotton swab about an inch up your nose on both sides. It’s very easy to get an appointment and while the test wasn’t something I’d do for fun it wasn’t painful either. The test I had is being offered at Cal Expo – other sites still use a longer swab.

For more info and to make an appointment,

Here’s info about this less invasive test for the faint of heart (seriously it was so easy):

And here’s a link to the form you fill out to make an appointment.

Covid-19 is a worldwide and national issue but it’s also a social and racial justice issue. The disproportionate number of Black and Latino people who have contracted and died of the disease is yet another manifestation of systemic, institutionalized racism. Any of us who have the privilege to get tested owe it to ourselves and to everyone our communities to do so.

On a personal note, this will be a very quiet blog month! Don’t worry, I’m just rebooting for the summer. Love to you all!

Always Know where Your Towel Is

photo of Douglas Adams
Today is Towel Day, an international day of celebration when we remember the late, great Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy among many other works. Adams’ work influenced a generation of writers and humorists and also got me in trouble a lot in junior high when I tried to read his stuff during math class and always got caught because I would laugh out loud.

Towel Day is inspired by one of Adams’ mottos: “Always know where your towel is.” As detailed in Hitchhiker’s Guide:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

Thank you, Douglas Adams for teaching us not to panic, even if the dolphins abandon earth, which could happen at any moment. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Between the Lines Book Club: Books About Immigration in California

between the lines book club logoThis month our book club is reading The Other Americans by Laila Lalami. If possible we’ll meet on May 30th, but since the library is closed at least until May 22 we are having a discussion right here in the comments section. What did you think of this book? Did the pacing work for you? What about the romance? Did you guess who done it? Who ARE the “other Americans”?

If you enjoyed this book try these other books about immigration in California:


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otuska

American Street by Ibi Zoboi


The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande

The Devil’s Highway,  by Luis Alberto Urrea

Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman






Eliza Doolittle Day!

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, selling flowers

This week is an auspicious one, for Wednesday, May 20th, is Eliza Doolittle Day, as foretold by Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Celebrate with singing, with proper elocution, with chocolates, and by witnessing the execution of your enemies. Well, at least have some chocolates.


Between the Lines Book Club: All About Laila Lalami

between the lines book club logoThis month we are having book club right here in the comments section! The library will be closed at least until May 22 and I’ll keep you updated if I get any new information. Our book is The Other Americans by Laila Lalami.

Lalami was born in Rabat, Morocco in 1968 and moved to the United States to attend college in 1992. She is fluent in French, Arabic, and English, and uses English as her writing language. Her novel The Moor’s Account was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and The Other Americans was a finalist for the National Book Awards.

In this essay, Lalami talks about speaking and writing in different languages.

In LitHub, Lalami talks about growing up, writing, and other topics.

And here’s an interview:




Between the Lines Book Club: The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

between the lines book club logoWelcome Book Clubbers, I hope you are all well! Quarantine may come and go but Book Club stays strong! This month we are reading The Other Americans by Laila Lalami, available from Sacramento Public Library as a digital read. Our scheduled meeting date is May 30 and I’ll keep you posted about that (at this time the library is closed until at least May 22) but for now let’s keep our comments going online!

Just to get us started, here are some discussion questions as recommended by the publisher. What did you think about this book?

1. The Other Americans explores themes of immigration, community, and identity. Discuss each of these topics with relation to The Other Americans. How is it a novel of immigration? And community? How do these connect to identity?

2. How is The Other Americans a novel about storytelling and the importance of stories, everyone’s stories? And the importance of telling and listening to stories?

3. Why do you think Lalami tells this story using many different voices and writing in the first person for each voice? And why does she turn to the second person for Salma’s chapter? How does this affect your reading? How do you relate to the various characters?

4. Nora is a composer who loves music and sees music as colors. How does this affect how she views the world and interacts with other? Do you think she is more sensitive than other people?

5. Throughout much of the novel, Jeremy is filled with nostalgia for Nora in high school. She was kind to him after his mother died and his father fell apart. Compare and contrast the Jeremy in high school with Jeremy the ex-Marine and policeman.

6. Both Jeremy and his friend Fierro fought in Iraq. How do they separately deal with the trauma from that time? How does it affect their relationships with women and with each other? Do you think Fierro will ever recover from fighting in the war?

7. How is A. J.’s voice and story important to the novel? How do his bullying and racist comments connect with his fierce devotion to dogs and to his mother?

8. “Lalami captures the complex ways humans can be strangers not just outside their ‘tribes’ but within them, as well as to themselves.”(Publishers Weekly, starred review) How has Nora been a stranger to herself? Is it because, as her mother says, she has her “head in the clouds” (p. 17)? Why does she have a tattoo on her wrist reading “a voice crying out” (p. 93)? Has she been running away from herself and chasing something that isn’t necessarily what she needs/wants? How does she find her way home?

9. Nora’s mother, Maryam, moves to the United States from Morocco, away from her parents and extended family, and feels “it was like being orphaned” (p. 31). In the United States, she says, “All I ever wanted was to keep my family together.” (p. 79). How does Maryam keep the family together and the family narrative intact?

10. How does Nora’s relationship with her mother evolve over the course of the novel? Why?

11. “How strange the work of memory . . . what some people remembered and others forgot.” (p. 138) Comment on this quote in relation to the novel as a whole.

12. Everyone in the novel is an outsider in some way. How? Discuss each of the characters and their place as outsider or “other,” whether it is by race, religion, or class.

13. How is this a general tale of our time and a story specific to its place, Southern California? Describe the setting. How does nature (and in particular the Mojave Desert and the Joshua Tree National Park), play a part in the novel?

14. The Other Americans begins with a death and ends, in a way, with a birth and a rebirth. Why do you think Lalami has ended her novel with a pregnant Nora?

15. “Home was wide-open spaces, pristine light, silence that wasn’t quite silence. Home, above all, was the people who loved me.” (p. 301) How does this novel revolve around home? Noticing home, returning home, discovering home, creating home? Discuss several of the characters’ relationships to home. How are Nora’s and her mother’s connection to home both similar and different? How about Coleman’s and Efraín’s? And how about Jeremy and Fierro?

16. Despite both being immigrants, how and why are Driss’s and Efraín’s lives and roles in the town different?

17. The love story between Nora and Jeremy is central to the novel. What does it take for Nora to open up to his love and to accept her love for him?

18. Discuss the differences between the two Guerraoui sisters. What are their similarities and differences? How have their lives taken different paths since graduating from high school and leaving home: where and how they live, what professions they have, what kind of partner they gravitate toward?

19. “Stories help us see the world through the eyes of others: We see what they see; we’re provoked or inspired or amused; we take sides or withhold judgment—but in the end, we find order in disorder. We make sense of the world around us through the language of stories. Reading fiction also allows us to expand the limits of our imagination and helps us develop empathy—qualities that seem to be in short supply at the moment.” (Laila Lalami in an essay in The Nation) How does this quote from Lalami dovetail with this novel? How has reading this novel (or fiction in general) opened your eyes or helped you develop empathy?



Tarot in a Time of Turbulence

Four of Swords Rider Smith Deck
As many of you know, I teach Tarot and give reading in person (when social distancing is not in effect) and online. Email to set up a session. This month, I want to talk about what we can learn from Tarot during a time of uncertainty.


Tarot is not for the weak at heart. The cards don’t reveal anything that you, the querent, don’t already know, but they do encourage you to look at your own behavior, emotional state, and patterns honestly. Happily, even with the toughest of readings and the toughest of times, tarot is eternally hopefully for these reasons:

The tarot does not determine your future.

You determine your future (within limits, which I’ll address below). That is not to say that that we aren’t all influenced and constrained by a million different factors. However, it does say that you have at least some autonomy in your life, if only in how you deal emotionally with challenges. You certainly shouldn’t feel bossed around by a deck of cards!

The future is not set.

Don’t like your reading? Change your behavior. Change your mindset. Change your patterns. Tarot is a great tool for helping you work through what to tackle and what to let go of.

There is no endpoint.

The Fool is numbered zero or not numbered at all because he/she/they is on a never-ending journey. Get to the World card? Pass through and start a new journey. There’s always another challenge and always another thing to learn.

The tarot values community and self-care.

Lean on your family and friends. Value your accomplishments. Rest when you need it.


There’s a kind of philosophy of positivism that can be deeply victim blaming and oblivious to societal factors. Things will happen that are beyond our control. We live with various levels of racial, economic, sexual, and gender privilege. When I say that you determine your future, I say that with many caveats.

However, during this time in history when we feel so little control over what is happening in our lives, it’s worthwhile to take stock of what we can control. We can take certain steps to manage stress. We can take certain steps to reduce health risk. We can write letters and emails and make phone calls to our elected officials to advocate for the well-being of others. Also, as the Four of Swords points out, it’s never a bad idea to take a nap!

Between the Lines Book Club: Discussion Questions for The Ocean at the End of the Lane

between the lines book club logoThe Sacramento Public Library will be closed until at least May 1, but that can’t stop us from reading! Be sure to check out some of their online events and services. More are being added every day.

I hope some of you are reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane even though we can’t meet in person. Here are the discussion questions from the publisher. Leave your thoughts here!

1. It would be easy to think of the Hempstocks as the “triple goddess” (the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone) of popular mythology. In what ways do they conform to those roles? In what ways are they different?

2. The narrator has returned to his hometown for a funeral (we never learn whose). Do you think that framing his childhood story with a funeral gives this story a pessimistic outlook, rather than an optimistic one?

3. Because the narrator is male and most of the other characters are female, this story has the potential to become a stereotypical narrative where a male character saves the day. How does the story avoid that pitfall?

4. The story juxtaposes the memories of childhood with the present of adulthood. In what ways do children perceive things differently than adults? Do you think there are situations in which a child’s perspective can be more “truthful” than an adult’s?

5. One of Ursula Monkton’s main attributes is that she always tries to give people what they want. Why is this not always a good thing? What does Ursula want? How does Ursula use people’s desires against them to get what she wants?

6. Water has many roles in this story — it can give and take life, reveal and hide. How does it play these different roles?

7. One of the many motivators for the characters in this story is loneliness. What characters seem to suffer from loneliness? How do adults and children respond to loneliness in different ways? In the same ways?

8. On page 18, the narrator tells us that his father often burnt their toast and always ate it with apparent relish. He also tells us that later in life, his father admitted that he had never actually liked burnt toast, but ate it to avoid waste, and that his father’s confession made the narrator’s entire childhood feel like a lie: “it was as if one of the pillars of belief that my world had been built upon had crumbled into dry sand.” What other “pillars of belief” from childhood does he discover to be false? How do these discoveries affect him? Are there any beliefs from your own childhood that you discovered to be false?

9. When the narrative returns to the present, Old Mrs. Hempstock tells our narrator, “You stand two of you lot next to each other, and you could be continents away for all it means anything” (p. 173). What does she mean by this? Why is it “easier” for people, our narrator especially, to forget certain things that are difficult to reconcile?

10. Though the narrator has a sister, he doesn’t seem to be particularly close to her. Why do you think it is that he has trouble relating to other children? Why do you think his sister is not an ally for him?