Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews With Bill Bryson

between the lines book club logoThe month we are reading At Home by Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson is a prolific speaker – we had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Sacramento Central Library on one occasion. Here are some interviews with him regarding At Home.

First, a fun Q and A from The Guardian.

Bill Bryson on Colbert Report is a hoot – check out his hybrid American/British accent (he was raised in the USA but has lived in England for many years).

Here he is on the radio program “Here and Now”

Finally, here’s a brief but entertaining interview with The New York Times.

We’ll be meeting to discuss it in person on January 27, 2018 at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM. Join us!

 

Between the Lines Book Club: Epistolary Novels

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club! This month we’ve been reading Gilead, a novel by Marilynne Robinson. We’ll be meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, California, at 10:30AM on October 22, 2016.

Gilead is written as a series of letters form Reverend Ames to his young son. Ames had his son late in his own life and he knows he will not live to see his son grow up, so he wants to leave a communication with the child he will soon leave behind. This format is known as an “epistolary novel.” An epistolary novel is one that consists of a series of letters. It can also consist of a colleciton of documents. For instance, World War Z, by Max Brooks, is made up entirely of a collection of interviews, and Carrie by Stephen King, consists of letters, newspaper articles, and excerpts from books.

If you are interested in the idea of the episotolary format, here’s a sample to get you started!

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen

Lady Susan was finished by austen, but probably not fully edited and polished. It appears not to have been intended for publication. Despite it not being as fully developed as Austen’s published works, this short novel is hilarious and wicked, as Lady Susan, a woman with no morals whatsoever, wreaks havoc on the lives of the proper people her surround her. You can find my full review here and my review of Love and Friendship, a movie based on the book, here.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

In this classic horror novel, the story is told through letters by Mina, Jonathon, Dr. Seward – in fact, almost every character except for Dracula. This gives the story a sense of immediacy and increases the feeling that Dracula is unknowable. We never hear his point of view – we simply sense his prescence, looming over all of the characters at every moment.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

This classic novel is told as a series of letters from Celie to God and later to her sister Nettie. As Celie becomes more confident, her letter become longer and more fluent. Because the novel is in Celie’s voice, the reader has a visceral sense of her struggles against racsim, sexism, and poverty, and the reader thrills at Celie’s liberation as she develops a sense of self and a place in her community.

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

This book is told in the form of diary entries and emails. In the near future, Lenn is a middle-aged man, the son of Russian immigrants, who falls madly in love with Korean-American Eunice Park. Meanwhile, America faces political and economic collapse. The story of these mismatched lovers is funny, sharp, and yes, super sad.

 

 

Between the Lines Book Club: Gilead and Transcendentalism

between the lines book club logoOur October book club selection is Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. If you are in the Sacramento area, please join us at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on October 29, 2016.

Gilead is the story of Reverend Ames, his father, and his grandfather, and their approaches to war and civil rights. The book is profoundly influenced by transcendentalism.

Transcendentalism is a philosophical school of thought that developed in the late 1820s. It was made famous by, among other people, author Ralph Waldo Emerson. Other followers included Louisa May Alcott and her family, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau.

Transcendentalism was a movement that was influenced by Romanticism, as well as by Indian religions. Transcendentalists believed that all people are inherently good, that nature is inherently good, and that the more self-reliant people are, the better they are. The movement was notable as being American in origin, and most of its followers were Americans. It was also notable for sparking a literary movement that mirrored its philopophical aims. Emerson’s magazine, The Dial, was a home to many new essays and stories by American writers.

In an article for The New Inquiry titled “The New Transcendentalist” Susan Salter Reynolds says,

I like to think of Robinson as a member of a merry band I call the New Transcendentalists, a group that builds on the luminous work of Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, Melville, and others. The New Transcendentalists include, besides Robinson,  Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Mary Oliver, Rebecca Solnit, and others. I am sure that I have left names from both categories, New and Old, but the message is the same: belief in the human spirit and its capacity for community, generosity, and stewardship; in what Whitman called “radical uniqueness,” and in the vital connection to nature as a source of creativity and innovation. The effect is also the same: elevation, followed by freedom.

By tying her work, both consciously (Robinson is a big Emerson fan) and unconsciously to Transcendentalism, Robinson is able to explore the healing power of nature, the pros and cons of communities, and the role of faith in matters and large and small. She also gives her work a distinctly American feel by tying it to a rich legacy of American thought and American fiction.

Between the Lines Book club: Gilead

between the lines book club logoTime to announce our October book club selection, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. If you are in the Sacramento area, please join us at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on October 29, 2016 for an in-person discussion of this lyrical book.

Gilead, which was published in 2004, is Robinson’s second book. It won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for best fiction. Her first novel, Housekeeping, told the stories of three women. In Gilead, the story focuses on men – Reverend John Ames, his father, and hid grandfather. Ames is writing a series of letters to his son about the history of his family. The story deals with faith, conscience, mortality, and forgiveness.

Gilead is the first in what is known as “The Gilead Trilogy” although all three books in the trilogy work as stand-alone novels. It is followed by Home, which follows the struggles of Ames’ neighbors, and Lila, which tells the story of Ames’ wife. All three books pay tribute to the philosophies and writing styles of transcendental writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Emily Dickenson by using simple yet lyrical language to describe not only the dramatic events of life but the beauty of simple, everyday moments.

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We hope you enjoy this selection! You can participate in book club in person or by leaving comments here.

 

 

Between The Lines Book Club: Blindness in All the Light We Cannot See

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club, which meets in this space every Friday and will be meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library on June 25, 2016 at 10:30AM. This month’s book is All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

One of the main characters in All the Light is a blind girl named Marie. Marie is fiercely protected by every other major character with the exception of the arch-villain of the story. Her father bathes her and dresses her and helps her put on her shoes well into her teens. Marie usually seems much younger than her actual age – at the start of the book she is six, but although later she is a teenager seems more like a girl between the ages of ten and twelve. She is presented as without flaws, other than a kind of passivity. However, she does show resourcefulness and increasing independence.

Most reviewers have praised the book, but some have pointed out that Marie represents an unrealistic version of life as a blind people. Blind people learn to navigate without ropes and model houses, and they can most certainly dress themselves. In this passionate essay by Sheri Wells-Jensen, Wells-Jensen (who is blind) analyzes the portrayal of Marie as a character “without agency”.

Not everyone agrees – here’s a dissenting essay by blind author Beth Finke. She felt that Marie was a well-rounded character, and she especially admires the way the writing stays within Marie’s point of view, so we don’t see anything she doesn’t see.

What do you think? Is Marie realistically written? Is she more, less, or equally passive than Werner, who drifts along with the army and makes very few choices on his own behalf?

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Between the Lines Book Club: Jo Walton Mini-Bio and links!

between the lines book club logoThis month Between the Lines Book Club is reading Among Others by Jo Walton. Love comments here or join us in person at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM. Sat Oct 24.

Jo Walton was born in Wales and she speaks Welsh fluently. She moved to Canada in 2002. She’s the author of many science fiction and fantasy books, as well as a recent book of non-fiction titled “What Makes This Book So Great.” Her earlier series were relatively light fare (I’m crazy about them, by the way) and included fantasy (The King’s PeaceTooth and Claw) and alternate history (The Small Change Series). Her recent series, The Thessaly Series, kicked off with a critically acclaimed book called The Just City. The series asks what would happen if Plato’s theoretical city was actually built, and populated by real children and adults.

Unlike many authors I write about, Walton seems to have led a relatively calm, or at least private life. Her bios are largely lists of awards – Among Other, for instance, is one of only seven books to be nominated for The Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award (it won the Nebula and Hugo). Luckily for me, she wrote a bio, she uses on her blog (jowaltonbooks.com), and to introduce some of her works. Here’s Jo Walton’s autobiography:

Jo Walton
has run out of eggs and needs to go buy some,
she has no time to write a bio
as she wants to make spanakopita today.
She also wants to write a new chapter
and fix the last one.
Oh yes, she writes stuff,
when people leave her alone to get on with it
and don’t demand bios
and proofreading and interviews
and dinner.
Despite constant interruptions
she has published nine novels
in the last forty-eight years
and started lots of others.
She won the Campbell for Best New Writer in 2002
when she was 38.
She has also written half a ton of poetry
which isn’t surprising as she finds poetry
considerably easier to write
than short bios listing her accomplishments.
She is married, with one (grown up, awesome) son
who lives nearby with his girlfriend and two cats.
She also has lots of friends
who live all over the planet
who she doesn’t see often enough.
She remains confused by punctuation,
“who” and “whom”
and “that” and “which”.
She cannot sing and has trouble with arithmetic
also, despite living ten years in Montreal
her French still sucks.
Nevertheless, her novel Among Others
won a Hugo and a Nebula
so she must be doing something right
at least way back when she wrote it
it’ll probably never work again.
She also won a World Fantasy Award in 2004
for an odd book called Tooth and Claw
in which everyone is dragons.
She comes from South Wales
and identifies ethnically
as a Romano-Briton
but she emigrated to Canada
because it seemed a better place
to stand to build the future.
She blogs about old books on Tor.com
and posts poetry and recipes and wordcount on her LJ
and is trying to find something to bribe herself with
as a reward for writing a bio
that isn’t chocolate.

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Between The Lines Book Club: The Sustainable Food Movement

between the lines book club logoHey Sacramento followers – Between the Lines Book Club meets tomorrow (9/26/15) at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM! Not in the Sacramento area? Leave your comments about The Third Plate here!

In The Third Plate, chef Dan Barber talks about the importance of making sustainable agriculture part of elite cooking. Barber wants to make it fashionable to use all the parts of an animal or vegetable, rotation crops like barley and rye, and humanely and sustainably raised livestock.

Every culture has in some way grappled with the concept of sustainable agriculture, a term which basically means how to use land without using the land up to the point where it is no longer productive.. An early example from the Americas is that of the “The Three Sisters.” Several Native American Tribes had a practice of planting “The Three Sisters,” maize, beans, and squash, together. Each plant has components that keep the soil healthy, ensuring good farming in future years. The crops also proved a balanced diet when eaten together.

Sustainable agriculture is described today as agricultural practices that maximize human nutrition and quality of life while also maximizing the health of the environment and its ability to continue to provide food. This means that a farm cannot exhaust the nutrients in soil through over-farming, nor use chemical fertilizer that damages local water sources. My California readers will be most familiar with the concept in terms of water usage. While water is a renewable resource, California farms pull water out of the aquifer much faster than the aquifer can be refilled. The term “sustainable agriculture” became popular in the 1980’s. Other issues to consider are how much land is being used and how much energy a farm uses.

Discussions about sustainable farming can take a low-level approach (using different fertilizers and crop rotation, or a more radical approach (urban farming, vertical farming, and changes in the economy as a whole.

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